Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Writingly Way.

    For as long as I can remember I have loved to write. One of my earliest memories is of covering a page with indecipherable squiggles and proudly showing it to my father, sure that his heart would swell with pride at my cleverness. And of course it did.

    The nuns were another story. We toiled, in Senior Infants, to get our upstrokes light and our downstrokes dark, or risk an ear-wigging from Sr.Mary. Good work was rewarded with a gold star, but just because you had a few gold stars, and no blots on your exercise book, didn't mean you should go getting notions about yourself.  If, God forbid, you should begin to think you might be above average, Sr. Mary's caustic tongue would soon set you straight. Let us now lower our eyes and be humble!

    In secondary school, Sarge (aka Sr. Bridget) always gave me top marks for my essays, but she seemed to judge them on length, rather than content, when I had the temerity to think the content was pretty good. But that was an opinion best kept to myself, given the importance of the above mentioned virtue of humility. Writing well was seen as a tool to help us do well in other areas, not as an end in itself. I continued to write, and hide what I wrote, and feel apologetic about it, though once in a while a piece would come out just right and  I'd smile and get notions that would have earned me an ear wigging from Sr. Mary.

    When I was safely out of reach of the nuns I started writing letters, to my parents every Friday night from college; to my friends and relatives after I married and moved to America; to friends I left behind each time we moved and even, sometimes, to a few of my favorite nuns! The parents were glad I was still alive and coping; the nuns were delighted to hear from me but cautious about giving out gold stars. My friends were the ones who wrote back saying "Write more!"  That's what friends are for I guess.

    Even though my years of scribblings are a disorganized mess of notebooks, letters and journals I continue to cope with life by writing it down, finding just the right word or phrase, and delighting in it when it all comes together well. If nothing else they'll be a trip down memory lane for my children when I'm gone, proof that I was not just their mom but a real person of my own.

    In looking back I'd like to thank a lot of people, if not for encouraging me, then for at least providing me with ammunition for my pen.
    • My mother, who always dressed me in sensible laced up shoes, when my peers were wearing cool slip-ons, and for keeping my hair short when I longed for flowing locks; 
    • Stephanie M in 5 th. grade who made it her mission in life to disavow me of the notion that babies were found under cabbages;
    • Sr. Margaret Ryan in 6 th. grade who got to my Dad before me with some very exciting news, thereby cheating me of the thrill of telling him myself;
    • My brother for how he behaved at school, causing me endless embarrassment;
    • Tommy O'Conner in 10 th grade for turning and fleeing when he landed in front of me at a Paul Jones dance at the Jesuits;
    • George R, whom I worshipped from afar in H.S. for never even acknowledging my existence;
    • Des O'M for being a gentleman and not taking advantage of my vast ignorance in the realm of what it is boys really want from girls;
    • All the guys at all the dances in Dublin who never asked me to dance;
    • The Old Curmudgeon for being the Old Curmudgeon;
    • My children for making me grow in directions I never thought I could; for teaching me that they were not just chips off the old block but, intelligent, unique and beautiful people in their own right; for surviving my muddled attempts to do it right and, as often as not, getting it wrong anyway;
    • To all the advice columnists who repeated over the years that "to have a friend you've got to be a friend;"
    • To those friends I made by following that advice, who love me just the way I am, unlike some who continuously find me wanting;
    • And most of all to those friends and family who think it is worthwhile to sort life out in a writingly sort of way and have encouraged me in my efforts to do so. 
    To all of these people I am extremely grateful, though I was not always so, because without them and the ways in which their lives touched mine I'd have nothing to write about. And finally, I would like to say how thankful I am that Sr M is no longer in the room.

    Wednesday, November 29, 2006

    Not Just Plain Old Banana Bread

    As promised to Daysgoby and Velcro, here is the recipe for Double Chocolate Banana Bread:

    *For best flavour use really ripe bananas, ones with deep-yellow, brown -flecked skin and soft flesh.
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 2 eggs
    • 1/3 cup veg. oil
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
    • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
    • 1 tsp baking soda
    • 1 1/4 cups mashed ripe bananas [about 3]
    • 1 cup semisweet choc. chips
    1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray bottom of 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray.
    2. In large bowl, beat sugar, eggs and oil at medium speed. Beat in vanilla. In medium bowl, stir together flour, cocoa and baking soda; beat into sugar mixture at low speed just until combined (batter will be very thick). Stir in bananas and choc. chips.
    3. Spoon batter into pan. Bake 60 to 70 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes. Remove from pan; cool completely on a wire rack.

    Great with a cup of tea when you're craving something chocolatey! Much as I would like to impress the socks off you by telling you I made it up myself, unfortunately, I cannot tell a lie. I found this recipe in Cooking Pleasures Magazine back in the August/ September '05 issue. It was submitted by a reader who is also a writer..........Bon appetit!

    Tuesday, November 28, 2006

    Oh, to be an Octopus

    Hey house! I'm home! Silence. It's me. You know, the troublesome one. The one with the penchant for pissing people off. The one who can't control her blubbering , blithering emotions. It's nice to go gallivanting about the country, but it's even nicer to come home. In Irish they say "Neel aon thinthawn mar dho hinthawn fain" [Please, no groaning from all you Gaeilge scholars out there--the spelling is phonetic so people can make a decent stab at the correct pronunciation....] It literally means "there's no hearth like your own hearth." Chivers marmalade had a label on their jars, a picture of a blazing old fashioned fire in an old fashioned kitchen, with cooking pots hanging over it and a little black cat curled up nearby. It was done in shades of yellow, gold and black and made me want to crawl right into the picture and curl up with the cat. The phrase and the label, though unrelated, always go together in my mind.

    So, one more venture into the wild blue yonder, one more safe landing, thank you God, and one more opportunity to see our tax dollars at work. I have yet to see an octopus in an airport security line, even though an octopus is the one creature perfectly designed for the job: a tentacle to hold the purse; another to hold the I.D. card, which must needs be kept outside of the purse due to the neccessity of showing it over and over to security personnel; a tentacle to hang onto the carry on bag; a tentacle to hold the coat, which must be removed, presumably to reassure said security personnel that one does not have dangerous assult rifles strapped to one's person ; yet another tentacle to hold one's boarding pass out for inspection; a couple of tentacles to assist in the neccessary removal of one's shoes, while making sure that all the other tentacles don't lose the run of themselves and forget what it is they're supposed to be holding onto....

    And today, the pinnacle of idiocy. Because I did not have it in a ziploc bag, I had to surrender my tube of lip balm which is a hair less than three inches long, but a threat, apparently, to national security. A kind gentleman behind me in line, who was also rolling his eyes at the nonsense, put it in a plastic bag with his own stuff, carried it through the security equipment and returned it to me on the other side. Did the plastic bag neutralize the threat from the lip balm?? I can be quite dense on matters of national security. Maybe I missed something.

    The kicker is, stowed in my carry on bag was a truly lethal pair of knitting needles about which I was hassled not at all. Is it just me or is there really something cuckoo about all this?

    Monday, November 27, 2006

    Illogical Tangents......and Rocks

    There were some thoughtful and thought provoking comments on yesterday's post. Which makes today's easy. In Stuntmother's words "what is your rock?" What anchors you and keeps you safe at the edge of the precipice? What gives your life meaning, stability and the feeling of being "home"?

    Looking back thirty plus years, I realise my Dad was right - youth is wasted on the young. I'd like to be young again, and carefree, and have all those choices. But would I also have to be again so gauche? To live again a muffled, underwater sort of life, not fully awake or aware? If so, I'll keep the white hair, the creaky knees and the crows' feet. I'm finally at a stage in life where I'm comfortable in my skin, even if it has lost some of it's elasticity; a stage where I like my own company, even when I "babble", or go off at illogical tangents [my Dad was right there too - when you talk to yourself you're always assured of an attentive audience ]; a stage where I still love music, but silence is often my favourite song............

    So, how about it?" What is your rock?"

    Sunday, November 26, 2006

    Strolling Down Broad Street

    We went for a walk today. Down Broad Street [for anyone familiar with Columbus] towards Franklin Park. It was a beautiful, mild, autumn afternoon. Piles of faded leaves, painstakingly raked into huge mounds, just waiting for a big wind. Which didn't come. It was positively mellow.

    I have a thing about big, beautiful, older houses. I have no desire to own one, with the attendant taxes and remodelling headaches, but I do love to look and daydream. And along Broad Street there was plenty to look at. Palatial older homes with beautifully landscaped gardens. Gardens that have seen generations of children with their nannies and their pets; barbeques in summer; the sound of tennis parties; maybe even the occasional wedding.

    The imagined continuity is what mostly makes me wistful. I had it growing up and took it for granted. My children never had it. Each time Uncle Sam reassigned us, we packed everything up and moved, and tried to turn it into an adventure. Each time we left part of us behind - a house that had become home, schools and teachers that had become familiar, friends we'd grown to love, a garden we had made our own, a little niche in a community.............and in each new place we started out as nobodies, knowing nobody, known by nobody, without friends. But each time we made it work.

    Only now, with the clarity of hindsight, does the enormity of what we lost hit me. How do my children answer the perfectly normal question "Where are you from?" Being from Ireland is what anchors me. When I'm sad I find solace in Irish music. My children tease me about the Ireland I love. They say it no longer exists, except in my head. That may be partially true, but the rocks don't change, the sky doesn't change, the Cliffs of Moher don't change, the feeling that your ancestors breathed this same air doesn't change. And because of choices I made my children don't have that. I gave birth to five children half a world away from where their roots are . And right now that's making me sad.

    How did I get from strolling past strangers' houses to here? The same meandering mental processes perhaps, that make those closest to me roll their eyes, or require me to make my point in five words or less. Houses represent stability, comfort, home; the wide and wild variety of manifestations of the nesting instinct.

    Saturday, November 25, 2006

    Books I have Loved

    The purpose of yesterday's post was to not have to think--but it got me thinking anyway---about books I have known. My earliest book-memory is of "The Ugly Duckling". Two things converged: my love of the pictures in that book and my new-found ability to use scissors. The damage was done by the time the parents figured out why I was so quiet.

    My family had an elderly friend, a lady who had introduced my mother to my father. We called her Auntie Ita. She was always invited for special occasions; those special enough to warrant lighting the fire in the sitting room. And she always brought us presents. She knitted beautiful outfits for my dolls, and for my birthday one year she gave me my first "chapter" books. A set of three books: "What Katy Did", "What Katy Did Next", and "What Katy Did at School". At first I was disappointed at the scarcity of pictures. But not for long. I was dazzled by my ability to read such "grown-up"stuff. And the pictures that formed in my head more than compensated for the lack of pictures on the page. Katy was my hero. I wanted to be just like her. She paved the way for a whole slew of new friends like "Heidi" and the March sisters .

    From age ten to about thirteen I was in love with the "Mallory Towers " series by Enid Blyton. There was also a periodical for girls ,"Bunty", that came out every Monday. This was a long time ago, but I can still remember racing to the shop on the way home from school every Monday to see what had happened with "The Four Marys", or "Pocahontas", or "Uncle Tom's Cabin", or "David Copperfield"..............."Girls' Crystal" and "School Friend" were some other girls' periodicals, and all of them published a big Annual at the end of the year. To find one of them under the Christmas tree was bliss indeed.

    In secondary school our reading anthologies opened up new vistas. The excerpts were just enough to whet your appetite for more, so you'd hop on your bike and pedal across town to the library to check out the likes of Jane Eyre, Pride and Predjudice, Wuthering Heights, The Mill on the Floss, Pickwick Papers, and The Old Curiosity Shop.

    When we visited my grandmother out the country, I'd sometimes curl up on the window seat, hidden behind the heavy drapes, with a pile of my aunt's ladies' magazines, which always had romantic stories that I just lapped up, unknown to the grownups , who would have disapproved of me "filling my head with all that nonsense", and chased me outside to play.

    One summer I "roosted " in the tree at the bottom of our garden reading "Gone with the Wind". Our neighbour, Mrs. W, would shout at me from her kitchen window "You be careful, Mollybawn! You're going to fall out of that tree one day and break your backside!" I never did though.

    I was shocked, one winter afternoon, rummaging through the bookshelf by the fireside in the dining room, to find "Peyton Place". Dipping in and out, my cheeks blazed. Oh my gosh! I couldn't believe my staid parents were reading such racy stuff.

    And then my mother gave me Daphne DuMaurier's "Rebecca" to read........and then........and then........and then........Books........I love 'em.

    Friday, November 24, 2006

    Five Books Meme

    Take five books off your bookshelf. I'm at DD's house. Took four from her bookshelf, close enough. And one I borrowed from the library here.

    First book---first sentence.
    Second book---last sentence on page fifty.
    Third book---second sentence on page one hundred.
    Fourth book---next to last sentence on page one hundred fifty.
    Fifth book---final sentence of the book

    #1. "A tall, slim girl,"half-past sixteen," with serious gray eyes and hair which her friends called auburn, had sat down on the broad red sandstone doorstep of a Prince Edward Island farmhouse one ripe afternoon in August, firmly resolved to construe so many lines of Virgil."
    My daughter devoured the "Anne" books by Lucy Maud Montgomery when she was younger and is very miffed at me that I have yet to read of these days.

    #2. "Take it from someone who has left the backpack full of bricks far behind, and every day feels light as a feather." From "Being Perfect" by Anna Quindlen.

    #3. "As they walk on, Nigel makes a limp-wristed dismissive gesture." From "Saturday" by Ian McEwan.

    #4. "But this seems like a poor trade-off for the unhappiness we continue to endure." From "The Art of Happiness" by the Dalai Lama.

    #5. "May your soul smile in the embrace of your anam cara." From "Anam Cara--a book of Celtic Wisdom" by John O'Donohue.

    With thanks to Jess at Daysgoby who saved me from having to think today.......and it was fun.

    Thursday, November 23, 2006


    G leeful tumblers
    R ambunctious wrestlers
    A vid story listeners
    N oisy hiders and seekers
    D ancing dervishes
    S ports crazy
    O H I O State Buckeyes fans - corrected after comment from SIL!
    N imble runners and jumpers
    S weet little guys.....

    Wednesday, November 22, 2006

    Thanksgiving Countdown

    Turkey soaking in brine?...check
    Gravy recipe at the ready?...check
    All the makings for corn pudding?...check
    Potatoes for mashing?...check
    Coleslaw made?...check
    Cranberries and orange juice ready for relish?...check
    Piecrust and apples ready for pie assembly?...check
    Pumpkin pie ready?....check
    YB collected from airport?...check
    Old Curmudgeon en route?...check
    Everyones' sense of humour in good working order?...maybe

    Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Sorry you Canadians and Australians can't join us!

    Tuesday, November 21, 2006

    A Pair of Quilts for a Pair of Boys

    Since I am residing for the week at the house of the All Knowing One , at least in the blog realm, I thought I'd take advantage of her expertise to post pictures of some of my quilts. Trying to do this at home by myself is an invitation to frustration.

    Trucks for T, was made for T, my oldest [at 3 1/2] grandson. I made it in the summer of 2004, when my sister was visiting. She helped a lot and kept me focused! The blocks are machine pieced, from a book whose name I can't remember. I machine quilted "in the ditch" and hand quilted in the sashing.

    Bunnies for B, was made for T's little brother. It evolved from an attempt to put to good use an enormous pile of scraps that was threatening to take over the surface of my sewing table. The attempt took the form of nine patches. Then, instead of tucking them away in a drawer, I spread them out on the floor and started playing with them, and this was the result. The bunnies are hand appliqued and were added just for B. I quilted "in the ditch" again and did some hand quilting in the border.

    Proof positive that I do occasionally finish something . Thanks AKO [aka daughter dear]

    Monday, November 20, 2006

    Hangin' Out in Heaven

    One thing that would make me very happy after I die would be to discover that heaven was a library. Note to God: if You like this idea, you can get some pointers for the design by checking out the downtown library in Columbus, where we went this morning. Not only was it heavenly, it was warm. Which, outside, it was not. Florida turns people into weather wimps. If it drops to sixty, we think it's cold. But, back to the warm, heavenly library.

    We were on a hunt for a sweater pattern for DD to knit. She wants "simple", I'm trying to encourage " adventurous". Which harks back to her childhood --- "no mommy, please let's NOT turn up this interesting looking side road, and get lost and run out of gas and have to push the car home, again..." She has a talent for exaggeration.....My eyes watered at the number of books available for us to browse through. We selected a "few" and staggered to the childrens' section to peruse them while T, 3 1/2 and B, 2 1/2 played in a childrens' play area that was about the size of our entire library at home. We had to beg and cajole when it was time to leave, they were so absorbed........DD checked out several knitting books, the boys some picture books, and I "Saturday" by Ian Mc Ewan, and "Dancing with Cats", which a good friend raved to me about a few months ago. A cursory glance through it makes me think it was written for crazy people, by crazy people, about crazy people and their crazy cats.............But a library is proof that there is room on earth, and in heaven, for all of us.

    Sunday, November 19, 2006

    Dogged Blogger

    Airline travel --not conducive to daily blogging. Up too early, trying to pack enough warm clothes. The bosom of family is a great place to be, but while it warms your heart it doesn't do much for frozen toes. Youngest Son shepherded Addled Mother to correct gate......Waiting in the security lines, AM wondered why she still gets twittery [birds fly, twitter too...... a clue?] after all these years. In the sixties hopped regularly between Dublin [school] and Limerick [home]. Would never have maintained connection with the Old Curmudgeon without frequent traipses through airports.

    Back then you weren't required to practically disrobe before they'd allow you on an airplane; they didn't put you in a box and blow air up your skirt; you weren't sqeezed, like a sardine, between you neighbours in the window and aisle seats...........but waiting at the other end today was Liz, and a little blue eyed "rooster"---dotage has it's compensations. Said "rooster" maintained a wide eyed, uncharacteristic silence on the way home, but when I reached back and tickled one sweet little handful of two and a half year old leg, he offered the other.....

    And how cool is it to sit down to a delicious meal prepared, without apparent effort, by your firstborn, the child you worried would die in infancy because your cluebag, back then, was SO empty? At the prompting of a clued in friend, I pestered the library for books on making baby food from scratch instead of feeding her from a Gerber jar. In some way I'm too tired to figure out, it reminds me of the ladies who paid me to teach them to play tennis and then became so good they left me in the dust.....but happy. YS will shepherd himself to the correct gate on Wednesday and the OC will drive over............ brain breaking up into garbled gibberish...must wash teeth....sleep......zzzzzzzzz

    Saturday, November 18, 2006

    A Mermaid Tale

    I went down the road today to an art show at Weeki Wachee Springs. Lovely day, lovely watercolours. But better than the paintings--I finally saw an underwater mermaid show. It's five minutes from our house, but I'd never bothered before. Wasn't interested and thought it might be kinda hokey. The first performance was by the "used to be" mermaids, from the fifties and sixties. These older ladies, whose once girlish figures had thickened somewhat since way back then, performed their synchronised swimming moves with amazing grace. So of course I had to come back an hour later and see the performance by the present day mermaids. Who were just as graceful and still had their girlish figures. The funniest part [I don't think it was meant as comedy] was watching the turtles do their clumsy little strokes right in there among the mermaids tails.

    I was especially interested because, way back, in what seems like another lifetime, Liz was a synchronised swimmer. Her club practiced at the high school near us [in California]. They practiced hard and were in tip-top shape [she was about eleven or twelve at the time]. At the end of the season they put on a show, and it was wonderful! Quite the little mermaid, my daughter, and I'd almost forgotten, until this afternoon.

    Friday, November 17, 2006

    Chicken Soup for the Soul [of the Kitchen Sink]

    Stomper Girl provided me with inspiration today with her Burnt Bog Girl post! I too burned the beejasus off many a dinner in my culinary career. When we were married first, I couldn't boil an egg. I'm a decent cook now and enjoy it, but along the way we've dined, more times than I care to remember, on "burnt offerings". And I have the warped pots to prove it. "And what are we burning today, dear?" the OC can't resist asking. A foolhardy man, that.

    But, my worst cooking catastrophe was The Incident of the Chicken Soup. I had labored all day making this wonderful soup, totally from scratch. It had onions and garlic and carrots and celery and peppers and herbs and chicken and lemon---all manner of yummy stuff. Time to strain it and remove the bones. I carried the pot, carefully, to the sink and slowly poured the steaming contents into the colander. As my glasses fogged up from the steam, I got a horrible feeling in my gut--Ye Gods!-- had I forgotten to put a pot under the colander? As I howled my dismay, my wonderful soup disappeared down the sink. I sat in the middle of the kitchen floor and wept inconsolably.

    Thursday, November 16, 2006

    Ancient Irish Torture

    When I was growing up, as soon as you'd mastered breathing, and walking upright, and feeding yourself, and learning your numbers and the alphabet, they taught you how to knit. Sr. Bridget initiated us in first grade. My wool was yellow and my stitches were tight. And I don't mean "tight!" in the way my nineteen yr. old uses the word. I mean "tight!" as in impossible to move on the needles. We started with ten stitches and worked in garter stitch. My work mysteriously grew wider with each line. I soon figured out that by knitting two stitches together at either end of each row, I could get things back under control. So when Sr. Bridget came around to check our ten stitches, I was on the right side of the law. Even if my piece did balloon out grotesquely on each side...... it made a very satisfactory hat for one of my dolls.

    I liked knitting. Until I got to third grade. In third grade we had to knit a sock . Mine was from yellow yarn, again. Turning that heel on four thin needles almost turned me off knitting for life.

    My mother always had some knitting going. She'd buy the yarn in skeins.... then torture one of her children, usually me, by having them help. I'd stand in front of her chair, arms held out in front, shoulder width apart, with the skein held taut from one wrist to the other, while she wound them into balls. Long after I thought my arms were going to fall off, she'd be coaxing me to do "just one more skein."

    As I got older I started knitting sweaters myself. I liked making Arans the best. Even though they look intricate, if you can knit and purl and read you can make one. And an Aran pattern eliminates the boredom factor...

    One very wet summer in Ireland, my sister and I were housebound by the seaside with our combined offspring. The rain was beating on the roof and the wind was howling. We had played cards and monopoly until we were cross eyed. Then inspiration struck--we'd teach them how to knit! Four of the eight were boy children, but we didn't discriminate. They learned right along with the girls. They never took it to Kaffee Fassett heights, but it kept them busy through a very rainy afternoon...

    And now, to my delight, my eldest daughter has learned how to knit and wants to knit herself a sweater. Which is why I was rummaging around in a yummy yarn store this morning and remembering Sr. Bridget and the ten yellow stitches.

    Wednesday, November 15, 2006

    Riding in Cars with Cats

    When I left town in September and Le Chat had to stay at the cathouse for two whole weeks, he was not pleased. When I arrived to bail him out, I could hear him, yowling obnoxiously, long before I saw him. The Madam was all sweet googly kitty talk . He was so vocal, she enthused, the neighboring businesses suspected her of harboring a full grown tiger. Which means he made a royal pain of himself.

    Next week I'm leaving town again. Guess who doesn't want to go to the cathouse? My friend invited him to stay at her house instead, and hang out with her girls. So today we had a trial run.

    First I had to get him into the car. He's always interested in peeking outside when the door is open, so I maintained an air of nonchalance as I went back and forth, because he's only interested as long as it doesn't involve him. As soon as it starts to look like you might have plans to stuff him in a cage and take him to the vet, he hides under the bed. My acting was superb. I had him in the car , struggling, and very p.o'd before you could say Meow. I didn't even try to wrestle ten pounds of strong, unwilling cat into the cage.

    Being loose in the car was new and different. He sniffed around, keeping up a yowl of complaint all the while. When he tried to climb over my head and left scratch marks on my forehead, I thought I'd made a terrible mistake. But I talked to him soothingly about how we were only going to visit B, and he was going to meet her girls, who, I assured him, were quite lovely. They were just like him, I explained, in my most hypnotically soothing voice, with four legs each, and whiskers, and tails....

    To my surprise he settled down. Not on the towel I'd spread on the back seat of course, but on the passenger seat, where he carved out a nest between the purse and the project bag and my jacket... but at least he'd quit complaining. He turned enquiring blue eyes on me every few minutes,
    and ventured a few questioning mews...but then we were there.

    I got him in the door of B's house without getting my face ripped off and set him down. The girls came to see who the interloper was. He submitted, tensely, to a thorough sniffing from Nugget, whose message seemed to be--"OK boy, you can stay. But don't go losing the run of yourself; I'm the boss around here. " Rosie gave him a dismissive glance and stalked away.

    We left them to their own devices. There was no hissing, no snarling, and no fur flying. Totally civilised behaviour. An altogether successful trial run. Of course, when it was time to leave, there were two grown women with bad knees, crawling around on the floor trying to coax Le chat out from under the bed.

    Tuesday, November 14, 2006

    "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things"

    Earlier today, on Liz's blog, she wrote about her best birthday present ever. I tried to think what mine was, but nothing came. I was trying to envision something wrapped in fancy paper, tied up with a beautiful bow. But my best birthday present ever didn't come in a package. It came on an airplane in May of 2004. All the way from Ireland. And stayed for a month. It was a visit from my sister

    I feel sorry for anyone who doesn't have a sister, because my sister is also my best friend. It wasn't always so. When I was twelve and she was six, I thought she was the biggest pest in the world. I made the mistake of thinking that age made me superior. Had I known then how cool she'd be as a grownup I'd have begged her to tag along with me, instead of hatching elaborate plots to give her the slip. I probably traumatised her for life with my heartless cruelty, but, wonder of wonders, she doesn't hold a grudge.

    We've been there for each other through good times and bad. She's always available at the other end of a transatlantic phoneline to talk me through my latest meltdown. She makes me laugh; she makes me cry; she makes me glad to be alive, even when I'm at odds with the rest of the world.

    So when she called to tell me she was arriving two days after my birthday, I was ecstatic! No warmup was needed. We met, we hugged and we started talking. My, how we talked! We'd start at breakfast and we'd still be yakking at dessert, over our last cup of tea, sitting out on the porch in the balmy Florida darkness . The OC just shook his head, speechless, no doubt, with admiration for our stamina.

    She wasn't much interested in playing tourist. We did take some long walks on the beach. She shopped like a crazy woman, and badgered me into making and finishing a quilt for T, my first grandson. Without her cracking the whip, it might still be among my unfinished symphonies.

    Too soon the month was over. On our way to the airport we decided that this was something we needed to do much more often than once every seven years. In 2005 I went and spent a month with her in Ireland. Last summer she cycled across the north of Spain for a month with her husband and their two sons. I'm thinking they can let me have her again next summer........I wouldn't mind at all getting the exact same birthday present as the one I got in 2004.

    Monday, November 13, 2006

    Word Conservation -- Is it Just a Guy Thing?

    If a person is making a quilt and seeks input from the Old Curmudgeon, perhaps asking "which do you think I should use, the blue or the green?" the most likely answer is an absentminded "Yes, dear." Infuriating as this is, the quilt-making person, being an optimist, keeps trying. After all, she knows what he is capable of. That summer of nineteen sixty something, they discussed all sorts of philosophical questions, far into the night. Granted, this was partly due to the fact that the person now making the quilt was resistant to attempts at other activities. Because, don't you know, of the nuns standing behind the couch in his parents' basement in Brooklyn.
    So how did they get from there--talking their heads off all summer-- to here, where the OC wants the quiltmaker, if she must speak, to get her point across in five words or less, and his eyes glaze over when she doesn't? Has he [say it isn't so!] grown weary of her blathering? Words are toys. She plays with them and moves them around. " Getting creative," he calls it, and she feels vaguely guilty. And retreats to her sewing room and decides on the green, and busies herself quilting.

    Sunday, November 12, 2006

    A Dog Named Suze

    Talking with my California Girl recently, and hearing the constant "yip, yip, yip, yip, yip!" of her dog's eleven, yes, eleven, puppies in the background, got me thinking about dogs. Specifically, dogs we have had. Specifically, The Suze.

    The OC never had a pet growing up. His family was too busy establishing themselves in this country. My mother was a farmer's daughter, and to her, animals belonged on farms and in zoos, certainly not in her living room. I regularly brought strays home, thinking this time she'd relent. One time she did. She let me keep a black cat I'd found. But he was a promiscuous fellow, always out chasing the ladies, and getting into battles with rivals for their "affections". One time too many he arrived home, after an evening of adventure, with his ear hanging off....

    And then there was the time a cocker spaniel followed me home. I was flattered that he liked me and fell hopelessly in love. He was a handsome fellow and charmed my mother too, so she said I could keep him until his owner showed up. For a full week, he followed me everywhere and, unknown to mother, slept at the end of my bed. I felt like a heroine in an Enid Blyton novel, the girl and her loyal canine companion. But by week's end the owner of the LCC showed up, claimed his dog and broke my heart.

    When we were first married the OC was studying for his master's and I was teaching. One day in the teachers' lounge I heard another teacher talking about her black lab's beautiful puppies. We went to see them....... And then there were three.....

    We were not allowed to have animals in our apartment so had to be very sneaky. We figured that by the time The Suze [named for the song Suzy Q] became unhideable, we'd be out of there and on our way to the OC's first AF assignment.

    The Suze traveled to and from classes in the deep pockets of the OC's field jacket. He had to wear thick leather gloves so that she could be kept happy chewing on his hand, while profs expressed disgust that graduate students could be so immature as to make puppy noises while they wrote on the blackboard. The Suze was born to chew. Nothing was safe. Not the covers of the OC's LP collection, not our books, not my lovely, new, cork heeled sandals.....

    When we set out on our cross continent trek to the OC's first assignment the Suze came too.

    When our first child was born the Suze never showed the slightest bit of jealousy. In time she and Liz became inseparable. If she tired of toddler ways she'd sigh, get up and move to another part of the house or yard. On New Year's Eve the OC always shared some champagne with his girl. She loved it. If her hero was giving it to her it had to be good, even if it did make her lips curl. The Suze sometimes suffered from puppy flatulence. Feeling something happening 'back there' she'd turn and look indignantly at her tail. Never a dull moment. And when she slept she dreamed of chasing rabbits.

    By the time Liz was in sixth grade and had two brothers and a baby sister, the Suze was in failing health. It was sad to see her getting so old and blind, and finally the vet said the kindest thing would be to put her to sleep. That was a mournful day at our house. She'd been a loyal and loving friend. We hoped that she was in doggie heaven with a constant supply of her favourite bikkies, plenty of rabbits to chase, and angels available round the clock to administer titsie rubs.

    Saturday, November 11, 2006

    Sayonara Rummy-san....

    Goodbye Rummy!
    Slawn Lath...
    Au'voir... ...
    Adios muchacho...
    Ta Ta...
    Bye bye...
    Later gator...

    And don't let the door hit you in the you-know-what.

    Woke up this morning with this in my head. Wondered briefly if it would be unwise. Remember hearing advice to tourists in Ireland---" Just don't talk about Politics, Religion or Sex." And how much that made us laugh. In Ireland, that's all they talk about in the pubs; that and, yawn, sports. Yes, it makes things noisy, and animated, and passionate and sometimes even violent. If it's quiet you're after, visit the churches.

    "May you be in heaven half an hour before the divil knows you're dead." But, Rummy, I hope you have connections.......

    Friday, November 10, 2006

    Ten Happy Things

    1. Children who phone home--can you hear me over there in the northern UK?
    2. Letters from friends.
    3. Polish pottery.
    4. Beautiful fabric.
    5. "Dream a Little Dream of Me".
    6. Visitors bearing chocolate.
    7. Being by the sea.
    8. The giant redwoods of northern California.
    9. A book I can't put down.
    10. Hugs from an old curmudgeon.

    Thursday, November 09, 2006

    Mary Had a Little Blog

    I love coffee. I love that it kicks me awake in the morning. And I love NaBloPoMo. I love that it makes me do what I want to do anyway---write---and no procrastinating. But too much of either gives me the jitters. Got my post done late last night. Was about to hit publish when " glug....", horrors! my post disappeared. Once I'm done and ready to hit that P button, we're only five minutes away from me having no recollection of what I wrote. I had to work fast to catch the coattails of what I'd written before it galloped off into oblivion. I like to think of this phenomenon as my brain's way of decluttering.......Some, however , say it's CRS syndrome. Can't Remember......yeah, that's it.
    So I wondered if I might give my brain a rest tonight and recite some nursery rhymes. How about

    "Mary had a little blog, oops, I mean lamb," or

    "Mistress Mary, quite contrary, how does the blogging go? " or

    "If you should see a blogophile, don't take a stick and poke him," or

    "Little Jack Horner sat in the corner, writing his blog on the sly..." or

    "Little boy blue come write your blog," or

    "Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard to see if her blog was there,"or

    "A diller, a dollar, a ten o'clock blogger,
    What makes you blog so soon?
    You used to blog at ten o'clock
    But now you blog at noon." or

    " Little Bo Peep has lost her mind
    and doesn't know where to find it;
    Leave it alone and it'll come home
    Dragging her blog behind it." or

    'Three blind mice, three blind mice,
    See how they blog, see how they blog;
    They all ran after NaBloPoMo
    But wrote, sad to say, too slow, slow, slow
    Did you ever see such a show, show, show
    As three madly blogging blind mice."

    I think I'll go to bed now. And in the morning I'll be having tea for breakfast........with tranquilizers.

    According to Webster's ---
    Addiction: enthusiastic devotion, strong inclination, or frequent indulgence. Obsession: the act of a devil or a spirit in besetting a person or impelling him to action................any questions?

    Wednesday, November 08, 2006

    Classes at the Temple of the Written Word

    There was once a woman who watched in awe as her husband and children played games and wrote school papers on a magical machine called a computer. She thought it would be wonderful to know how to use it to write all the stories that swirled in her head. But the computer did not like the woman. Whenever she tried to befriend it, bad things would happen, and the family would grow angry with her because she had pushed the wrong buttons. This made the woman sad. She stayed far away from the unfriendly machine and scribbled her stories at the kitchen counter between tending to the cooking and the other household chores.

    In the fullness of time the children grew, and slowly drifted off to their own lives. The woman missed them and wished to communicate with them, but letters were slow. And already the Age of Instant Gratification had descended upon the land. So the woman went to the Temple of the Written Word and asked to be taught the mysteries of E-mail. The teachers at the Temple were gentle and kind. They did not shout at her when she made a mistake, or call into question the intelligence of her ancestors. And she understood their teachings and all was well.

    For several years the woman wrote E-mails and was happy. She even started to write her stories using the great machine. But she was wanting in skill and became dissatisfied. And so she returned to the gentle teachers at the Temple of the Written Word, in search of further knowledge. Miss Robin and Miss Jeannie, the teachers at the Temple, unraveled for her the mysteries of the Word, the talents of the Toolbar, the delights of Cut and Paste and the wonders hidden beyond the Buttons. The woman was grateful, and enormously pleased, and went home from the Temple and wrote this post.

    Tuesday, November 07, 2006

    "Hooked on Classics"

    " Dad, can we change the channel?"
    " No."
    "Why not?" ...whining.
    "Because." No dirty rotten rappers while I'm driving.
    "This sucks..," glumly.
    The OC leans over, increases the volume slightly on Beethoven, the Three Tenors, Wagner, whatever NPR has on offer. Adversity, he believes, is good for the soul, builds character.
    Destination reached, they climb out, glad the torture is over.
    The OC turns off the radio, and with the ghost of a grin, inserts U2 in the CD player, and continues on his way.

    When we met, way back in the late sixties, I was crazy about the Beatles and the Beach Boys. He was a Stones fan. He introduced me to all his other friends too; Janis, the Bobs [Dylan and Marley], Neil Young, Santana, Cream, Moody Blues, Deep Purple, Three Dog Night, Cat Stevens, Simon and Garfunkel, Judy Collins, Joan Baez, Carole King, Sergio Mendes, Creedence..........I was dazzled and went home to Ireland at the end of that summer, my head awash in great music.

    Fast forward to Sunday night. The YB [youngest son] is taking a music class this semester, for which he is required to attend several live performances of classical music. We sat in the concert hall and listened and watched, while Stefan Sanderling conducted the Florida Orchestra and the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay in a performance of "Schubert's Magnificent Mass". Not once did the YB grumble "Geez Mom, this sucks..... Can we change the channel?" And not once did I have to dig him in the ribs to restore consciousness. Which affirms my faith that there is a God. And He is in his heaven. And, at least for now, all's right with the world.

    Monday, November 06, 2006

    Beware, All ye Who Enter Here

    I'm a grizzly bear. With maternal instincts. And fearsome claws. Don't get between me and my cubs, or the he-Bear either. It won't go well for you...... Growl, lumbering off into the woods.

    Had a large slice of humble pie tonight, served by one who ignored the above warning. The choices were my pride, or irreparable damage to the fabric of family. Practiced some deep breathing en route to the table, to calm the agitated bird trapped in my chest and frantically trying to get out. The pie was dished up with a bowl of failings-and-faults soup, and a side of hair shirt. Humble would not make it onto a list of my favourite pies. I prefer apple or pecan or chocolate. The taste is less bitter and they don't give me indigestion.

    Sunday, November 05, 2006

    I'm Just a Woman in a Big Empty House

    I'm usually quite content with silence, but, while making pancakes this morning, I thought I'd liven things up with a little music......and maybe shake the YB [home for the w.e.] from his slumbers. So I put on the Moody Blues and cranked the volume. To the frenetic strains of "I'm just a Singer in a Rock and Roll Band " I poured and flipped. While waiting for bubbles, I boogied around the kitchen, singing along and waving my microphone [aka my spatula]. Not a stir from the sleeping giant. It wasn't until I switched to the mournful and beautiful "Songs from a Secret Garden" that he came stumbling out to the kitchen to know what all the caterwauling was about. Go figure.

    Saturday, November 04, 2006

    Hair--Not the Musical

    One of the things that affects how I feel on any given day is my hair. Long gone is the glossy brown of youth. It started when I was eighteen, the horror of finding stray grey hairs, and gathered momentum through my twenties. My mother had always messed around with rinses and tints and streaks and touch ups. I wanted no part of that. Only once, in my thirties, did my resolve weaken, when my sister begged "Please let me put a rinse in it, I promise you won't be disappointed!" Since wearing a bag over my head wasn't an option, I stoically walked around for a month thereafter with green hair.

    Our first year in Germany we went to Stuttgart's Oktoberfest. Beer was flowing and everyone was having a jolly time when one of the young lieutenants' wives, looking at the OC, brightly inquired if I was his mother in law. She had assumed that our oldest daughter was his wife! The OC was hugely amused, and flattered, and still cackles about it. The young lieutenant's wife scored big with the boss that day, he of the dark haired good looks. She did have the grace to be embarrassed, and of course I gamely went along with the "joke", grrrr, smiling through clenched teeth, while the young lieutenant crept under the table and wept.

    So, for me, the cut is everything. When we moved, eleven times, I'd go on haircut watch. When I saw one I liked I'd just ask who did the lovely job. It worked. Most people are happy to share, and I was happy to find a good stylist, without wasting time on the also-rans.

    I have this fantasy of, in my dotage, having long hair that I could wind into a bun or an elegant chignon. My grandmother and everyone else's grandmother wore their hair this way when I was a child. But when it gets to a certain length, and the neighbourhood dogs start howling at my approach, it's off to the chopping block and back to the short bob.

    I had a haircut this week and I feel wonderful.

    Friday, November 03, 2006

    It's Comfy in our Little Rut

    Adding 'coffee beans' to the list on my fridge this morning I paused, pen in mid air, and decided to live dangerously. Also known [accusingly, by the Old Curmudgeon] as Trying to Change my Lifestyle, Living Dangerously means buying toothpaste other than Colgate, mouthwash other than Listerine, beans instead of ground, so, with a flourish of my favourite weapon, I added '....or ground'. And then I thought I might really go for the gusto and buy something other than Starbucks.........maybe Seattle's Finest .......just hope there won't be an earthquake. I'd feel responsible.

    Thursday, November 02, 2006

    "Crabbed Age and Youth"

    Some of the things I wish for are:

    • peace in the world
    • politicians who actually give a damn about conservation and the environment
    • a measure of "success" for my children, in love and in life [I like Ralph Waldo Emerson's definition]
    • the ability to wiggle my nose--and presto!--land in the middle of my sister's kitchen in Ireland.

    But, more than all of the above I want to grow old gracefully. To:

    • listen with eyes, ears, and respect when young people talk, because they learn from our example;
    • lend an ear to old people because they're lonesome for their youth, and the way things used to be;
    • give time, talent and thoughtfulness, cheerfully, and not keep a tally;
    • exercise and eat healthily to keep the wits and the bones well oiled;
    • give advice sparingly, and only when asked;
    • if I have to dig a little to find something to praise, hand me the shovel;
    • never give up on anyone;
    • hope and trust that God, the Great Pumpkin, or whoever is in charge of such matters, forgives me for all the times I shot from the lip, without care for the consequences, which were sometimes...bad;
    • live with and accept my faults, knowing that, most of the time, my intentions were ...good.

    There was a dog-eared copy of The Oxford Book of English Verse on the dining room bookshelf when I was growing up. I loved to curl up by the fire and dig around in that old book. I learned many of those delicious wordsongs by heart. This one," Crabbed Age and Youth", has been bouncing around in my brain of late.....Growing old does not automatically confer wisdom. I guess you have to work at it. I intend to give it my best shot.

    Wednesday, November 01, 2006

    Time Traveling on Country Roads

    At 6:46 brain peered into the bathroom mirror and asked my body "What the hell are you doing up?" Normally, I don't surface before 7:30 or 8. But for the last few days my body's been thinking it's an hour later than it really is. The confusion is caused by the Spring forward, Fall back thing. Are we gaining an hour or losing it? The brain knows but the body takes a week to catch up .
    I remember daylight savings when we were growing up. It was only in the town though. It would be one time in Limerick, where we lived. But twenty five miles out the country, on my grandmother's farm, it would be an hour later or earlier. So you could, literally, go backwards and forwards in time! Depending, of course, on our cantankerous old Morris Minor, which had a habit of breaking down near The Four Elms, about half way between Limerick and the village of Ardpatrick. Would that have made us frozen in time, I wonder?
    No matter. Just as well to be up early so I can try to stick with my new rule....

    1 down, 29 to go!