Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Possible Crime Scene?

    Time was when our house was a hive of activity - five children, an assortment of labs, springers, cats, chinchillas, a variety of reptiles and, occasional OC sightings. 

    Life's calmer now and, while I do miss the energy and the chaos, the slow lane definitely has it's charms.

    Yoga for instance. My first attempt at yoga was in Brussels. Four children still at home along with their furry or slithering creatures, not to mention the language handicap. I didn't learn much in those classes since, as soon as I lay down on my mat, my brain took that as a signal for "Nap time!"  As exhausting as life was in those days, a nap was probably more what I needed than yoga. And sure enough, a nod being as good as a wink to a blind tired (wo)man, I'd only regain consciousness when the bodies around me began gathering up their gear at the end of class.

 Restful? Yes.

 Embarrassing? Shamefully so as I slunk like a wraith from the room, still clueless about yoga. 

    Fast forward a few decades. Empty nest. Grandchildren yes, but far away. Just me, the OC, not even a cat. Pre covid we took classes at a yoga studio. During and apres covid we found classes on Youtube - all kinds of instruction on all kinds of yoga - free and right there in our own space whenever we choose. So convenient we never went back to the studio. And now, if a person happened to peek in our windows on any given afternoon in summer when it's too darn hot to be out in the garden, they might think they'd come upon a crime scene. Two bodies, limbs twisted for five minutes at a time into all kinds of knots or, more alarming still, sprawled motionless on the floor.

     What happened here? Should we call 911? 

    No need. We're alive, careful to adapt the poses to our advanced years. We wouldn't want the fire brigade coming to untangle us.

     This is how we roll. Finding forty five minutes to an hour every day to slow down, maintain mental as well as physical flexibility. How can we not feel connected to others when we realise that, while we're on our mats practicing yoga or impersonating corpses in savasana, there are millions, all over the world, doing likewise? All of us looking for peace and serenity. Lying there, eyes closed, just breathing, I find myself calmer, more tolerant and accepting of others just the way they are; calmer and more accepting of myself just the way I am; and more able to let go of the petty differences that divide us only if we let them. 

    

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

A Trail of Books

 I was thinking this morning how grateful I am for small things, the cup of coffee I was drinking for instance and the person who makes it every morning; the way the bright sunshine banishes the dark the moment I open the bedroom blinds; and books - how grateful I am for books! Remember when computers were beginning to be something ordinary people could have in their homes? Books will soon be obsolete, we were warned. I shuddered at the thought. How awful would it be to no longer curl up in a comfortable chair and travel out from your room, in imagination, to meet people and see places you had little chance of meeting or seeing in your own neighborhood? There would still be stories but now you'd be reading them by the harsh, glaring light of a computer.

 My earliest memory of loving a book was turnng the pages of  "The Ugly Duckling". I was enchanted by the pictures of the fluffy little ducklings, especially by the one who was so different from all the others. At that time I was just learning to use scissors and you can guess the rest. I took my beloved book and used it to practice my cutting skills, to my later dismay. Such are the tragedies of toddlerhood.

My first chapter books were a birthday gift from a family friend, an older lady who had introduced my parents to each other.  "Auntie" Ita, with the gift of those three "Katy" books, expanded my reading horizons, sealing her place in my heart forever.

With Heidi I travelled to Switzerland. I loved her gruff Grandfather, the more because one of mine was already gone when I was born, the other died when I was 3 or 4. Little Women took me to America again (I'd been there once before with the "Katy" books) little guessing that I'd one day live there! Of the 4 sisters, as a tree climbing tomboy, I identified most with Jo. I wanted to be Jo, but, being young and fickle, I soon decided, upon reading the Mallory Towers books, that it'd be more fun to be Darrell Rivers and go away to boarding school, out from under the thumbs of the nuns, having midnight feasts and all kinds of adventures. I devoured those books!

In secondary school we were introduced to Dickens, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, George Elliot. When I found an excerpt I liked in our English reader it would send me haring off on my bicycle, across town, to the library, in search of the book it was taken from. 

 In my teens I spent most of one summer up a tree at the end of our garden reading "Gone with the Wind". I had a cozy nest there, hidden from my mother and safe from pesky siblings. The only person who spied me there was my mother's friend, our neighbor Kitty, who would yell from her kitchen window "Molly W! You're going to fall out of that tree and break your arse!" (Kitty was not one to mince words, and, to her credit, she never ratted me out.)

I still have an old and battered copy of "Rebecca" that was a gift to my mother from a beau who predated my dad - the road not taken! Who would I be if she'd married him? Would my name be Rebecca? 

By the time "The Thorn Birds" came my way, I already had two children of my own. Sitting up in bed reading it one night, I realised my eyesight was no longer perfect and I was going to need glasses.

Years later, I found Angela's Ashes and when I got to the last page, went straight back to the first to start over again. McCourt was writing about my hometown but from a completely different angle than what had been my experience growing up. Which only goes to show, no matter how well you think you know a place, you probably only know a very small part of it, mostly colored by your own life in that place.

Killing time at a library in Oregon a few years ago, waiting for an Uber, I came upon Niall Williams. Hmm. Familiar name, but why? Then I remembered having, many years ago, read a book he'd written with his wife about how they'd left high-paying jobs in New York and moved to Ireland to live in a falling down cottage in Co. Clare that had been left to her by her grandfather. Conditions were spartan and it rained all the time, but they persevered and here he was again! When I returned home I sought out "This is Happiness" at my local library and fell in love. Reading it was like taking a trip back to my roots without ever getting on a plane. 


 And now, for the last few weeks I've been enthralled with "Middlemarch". Where had it been all my life? I'm guessing the nuns balked at it being "a book for grown ups" as Virginia Wolfe famously called it. Safer to stay with "Mill on the Floss." What was most remarkable to me was how spot-on Eliot's perceptions are about us humans. Though first published in 1871, more than 150 years ago, her characters could step out of those pages, get a 2022 hairstyle, some modern clothing, drive a car instead of a horse drawn carriage and no one would be able to tell they came from another era, because under the skin, they are moved and motivated by the same needs and emotions as we are.

 Without books I think I'd have lost my mind during Covid. We couldn't get together with friends but, fortunately, there were legions of new friends waiting for us between the covers of books. One of the great pleasures of reading, for me, is knowing I'm not alone. All the people who love the books I love are automatically my friends. Which isn't to say that if we don't like the same books we can't be friends. Some of the people I love most have different reading tastes and that's what makes the world go 'round! To get lost in books, to be moved by them to both laughter and tears, makes me realise how connected we all are by our shared humanity; that, for all our arguments and disagreements, especially in today's social environment, we are more like each other than different.

As a hopeless card carrying Luddite I'm glad those dire predictions have not come true, and those of us who choose to can still curl up in a cozy corner (or a nest in a tree) with the comforting heft of a book in our hands, glasses on our noses, imagination on "Go!"

 



Monday, July 25, 2022

Today's dessert: Humble Pie


Remember Georgie Porgie? Pudding and Pie?

 He stuck in his thumb and pulled out a plum and said "What a good boy am I!" 

I'd been thinking along with Georgie "What a good girl am I!" But, as it turned out, I didn't have a lot to feel smug about.

In January I started a quilt for eldest daughter, Liz, who finally found a pattern she loved. Since we lived in Montana for several of her growing up years, it was apt that she choose a design - Big Sky Star quilt, from Plains & Pine, a quilter in Big Sky Country. (Since my ability to load photos on Blogger has gone up in smoke you can get some idea of what I'm making on her site.)  And if you've been reading here a while you're probably rolling your eyes at mention of a new quilting project when, Lord knows, there are at least half a dozen UFOs languishing in a closet here, longing to be finished. Hush, I tell them, quit your whining, as I close that closet door. They'll be finished, all in good time. Where I come from - they say "When God made time he made plenty of it." Though I have to admit that, of late, the years are zooming by at warp speed.

Daughter Liz does have one of my earliest efforts but, so worn and faded now, I think it's only fit for her dog's bed - no offense Marty! Not to be too braggy, my quilting skills are better now than they were then, which (the braggy part) might hold the seeds of my current problem. 

 My stash yielded up some of the twelve different fabrics needed. For the rest I had to visit a quilt shop (oh the suffering!) I have been avoiding quilt shops in recent years, knowing that, should I live to be a hundred, I'd have ample fabric here to make a quilt per month. As any quilter knows, once you darken those doors there's no way you'll be leaving without a few yards tucked under your oxter. Addiction comes in many colors.

So. Twelve different fabrics, the problem of where to best place each one, multiple bias edges, mirror images, about a thousand points that needed to meet each other exactly - how could I go wrong? 

Let me count the ways!

  Starch everything, a friend said. But I hate starch. It was slow at first. I'd stitch and measure. The measurement mysteriously not being what it should be, I'd dutifully unpick my too hasty machine stitches. I even took the precaution of hand basting a few seams, then, flushed with success, stitched subsequent seams without that precautionary step. And, woe is me! Ended up groaning at my arrogance and wielding my seam ripper again. Gradually I learned how to slyly ease those (unstarched) bias edges so they'd fit precisely (more or less). Eventually, in spite of the molasses-like pace of un-stitching, I had several of the pieced diamonds stitched in rows. 

So far so good.

Time to stitch the background pieces to the diamond rows. The star consists of eight wedges, two (mirror images of each other) forming a quadrant. I got one wedge beautifully finished. My feathers puffed out with pride and gladness. "Wow!" I congratulated myself, "I've got this nailed!"

I should have remembered what comes on the heels of pride. But, puffed and confident I soldiered on to the next eighth, excited at the idea of having a whole quarter finished.

All was well 'til I laid it beside the first. Alas! Something was not as it should have been. I frowned at it. Nothing changed. I muttered some magic words. Still nothing. I looked at it from another angle......and finally, enlightenment struck - mirror images! How did I not get that?? Out came the seam ripper again

So over the last few weeks I've been eating, not just one slice of humble pie but the whole darn thing, a slice with each mistake. Normally I like pie. Apple? Strawberry? Peach? I'll take a big slice, please. But Humble pie? Not so tasty. My belly has sent repeated messages to my brain telling it to take measures to avoid any more helpings. 

All mistakes notwithstanding, this is a really fun quilt to make. Same old, same old bores me. I love a  new challenge. But maybe, just maybe, that sour, humble pie taste needs to linger a little while longer so I can finish the quilt without further resort to my seam ripper.

Then I'll be as smug and self satisfied as Georgie Porgie.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Surprise!

 


At the end of April we planted a bunch of seeds; made mental notes as to what was planted where; watered and pampered them along until some green popped up. 

We felt so clever.

 A whole forest of dill, several different kinds of lettuce, parsley, sage, cilantro, tomatoes and several different kinds of peppers. The OC likes peppers -  the hotter the better, understandable since, as a small child in Argentina, he ate hot peppers as snacks, the way a normal child would eat candy. As for me, give me some chicken and potatoes, a little salad on the side and pass the salt please. As they grew we were particularly intrigued with one plant that seemed to be doing better than all the other peppers we'd planted.

 "What kind of pepper is this one?" I asked the OC, who is, after all, the CEO of the garden. 

"Not sure," he replied, "but we'll find out by and by." 

Well, by and by came along and our lovely pepper plant developed some interesting buds. A few days later one of the buds started to open revealing a beautiful redish-wine color. 

Finally the penny dropped! That's no pepper - that's the hibiscus we'd thought was over there! We'd planted the hibiscus seeds for fun, not confident that they would actually grow. Of course we're delighted that they did but, lesson learned, we'll not trust to memory next time but physically label everything!

Sunday, June 05, 2022

I Can See Clearly Now


 Windows?

Yup. Nothing to do with computers but rather with those pieces of glass that turn a dwelling from a gloomy cave into a bright living space into which the sun can shine.

Which would you rather live in?

Me too.

But washing windows? Seriously? Not in my top ten favorite things to do. Doesn't even make it into the top twenty. There are forces driving me in any direction but the washing of windows.

Sure, I could hire someone to do the job. But ah. Would they do it right? There's the rub. As thoroughly as I would when motivated, which does happen, though not often enough. But this month - ta da! It's happening. 

Even though at any hour of the day, any day of the week, any week of the year I'd rather be reading, stitching, puttering in the garden, collecting seashells at the beach or pretty leaves at the park for projects yet to be decided upon, it got to a point where, if I didn't address the window issue, we'd soon be living in a cave.

Buckets of water were commandeered, along with Pine Sol, rubber gloves, rags, paper towels, Windex and a step stool. 

For the past week I've been washing windows;

 scouring mud from frames; removing, scrubbing and hosing down screens; evicting an army of  disgruntled spiders and any number of tiny twigs from the tight spaces in which they had set up their housekeeping and reproduction facilities.  At least they looked like little twigs. It wasn't until they wriggled that I realized they were tiny creepy crawly centipedes - agh!

My mother-in-law never wasted her time on the kinds of activities I engage in to avoid or defer domestic chores. Whenever she arrived for a visit, no matter how frantic my last-minute dusting, sweeping and polishing had been, as soon as she'd taken off her coat, she'd set herself to cleaning. Which always got me silently seething. We did not live in squalor! Our house was clean enough! But not for her. In spite of resenting the implicit criticism, I knew from whence her passion came. Having lost everything and every place she loved in the war, she treasured what she'd won back through hard work and perseverance - and she kept it all spotless. And now, those same hardships that had driven her from her home to the other side of the world are happening again to her fellow countrymen. I'm glad she's not here to see it.

But, back to the windows. They're why I haven't blogged this past week. But wait, you say. What about all those other empty weeks? Hmm. Laziness? No inspiration? Too many good books, too many stitching projects? Horror at the brutality, war and intolerance that parts of the human race are inflicting on other parts? Maybe all of the above, and then some. 

Who knew that window washing would be what finally shook me out of my lethargy? But there was another motivating factor. A few days ago, a long-time fellow blogger threatened to quit. I tried to comment, to say Oh no, please don't go! But Blogger wouldn't let me. Why they have to change what was working perfectly well is beyond me. So, this is for you Pam - Please don't go!

Meanwhile, though I'll never be, nor even aspire to be, the domestic goddess my mother-in-law was, there is satisfaction in clean and gleaming windows.

And in not living in a cave.


Monday, March 28, 2022

Let Me Count the Ways

 Oh dear, oh dear. In spite of all my intentions to do better, here we are again with more than a month between posts. I refuse to succumb to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok et al. How noble of me, right? Ha! The OC would opine it's because brevity is not in my toolbox. He's constantly waiting for the point, and I usually have one, just need to provide backstory for clarity. It's not as though we have a tight schedule. We're in the sunset of life, so relax, I tell him, enjoy the dulcet tinkling of my voice before it's silenced forever.

So how have I been staying so busy that I can't write some regular lines here? Let me count the ways!

Burnt porridge for breakfast this morning. How, you might ask, does one burn porridge? Teacher, teacher! I know! Just walk out of the kitchen. Which is what I did. To sort laundry. To presoak filthy gardening socks. To remove an old ironing board cover and replace it with a new one. And while I'm in the sewing room why not quickly stitch that small part of the quilt I'm working on that I'd pinned last evening? While the porridge slowly simmered. On LOW, to my credit. But my thrifty soul got side-tracked some more. Not content with removing the old cover, I decided the strong elastic cord and the perfectly fine velcro fasteners on it were worth saving. It only took a few minutes to snip all around the edges but then I became aware of an ominous odor drifting in from the kitchen. Agh! The porridge!

It was what you might charitably call well done. Stirring it produced black flecks but at least it wasn't stuck to the bottom of the pot. Not wanting to start over, I threw in some raisins and nuts and ate it anyway - for my sins. Which reminds me of the book I'm reading. A Tibetan monk has taken a three year retreat from his prestigious position as teacher and abbot of a monastery. He starts with a little money but after a week it runs out and he has to finally become what he set out to become - a mendicant yogi. No money and he's really hungry. Embarrassed and humiliated, he goes to a restaurant and asks for food. They tell him to come back at closing and they'll give him some. He deals all day with his hunger pangs and returns in the evening to the kitchen door of the restaurant. They've scraped all the food that was left on customers' plates into a large pot and stirred it all together. From this they serve him a large scoop. "The rest would be served to the dogs. I ate standing at the door - a more delicious meal than any I had eaten at five-star hotels." Reading that made me grateful that I have the means to cook my own food, even if I do occasionally burn it!

I've never been good at multi-tasking. I've always known that focusing on one task at a time is a better way for me. Nobody's even had to pay me large sums of money to do this research. Life taught me. Not that knowing stops me, see above. 

Since the Arctic conditions of my last post long ago faded into beautiful gardening weather, we've been outside a lot. The OC became obsessed with removing a large clump of mistletoe from way up high in one of our oak trees. Best to remove it before the tree leafed out completely. Nothing would deter him from dragging out one ladder after another 'til finally the 20 foot extension ladder seemed like it would allow him to ascend high enough into the heavens to remove the offending growth. No mistletoe is going to be allowed to suck the life out of his beloved tree! 

Necessary backstory: No spring chickens living here. Much as I loved climbing trees as a child, I'm comfortable now on terra firma. Neither am I adept at catching people falling out of trees. Especially people who weigh forty pounds more than me. But the OC is nothing if not determined. Just the thought of doing it put a gleam in his eye. Ladder stretched to it's limits he ascended. 

"Don't let the ladder fall backwards!"

 Like I could stop it if it had a mind to! Nevertheless I hung on tight, craning my neck, watching in trepidation. He reached out from his precarious perch and started sawing. I had visions of possible outcomes: if the ladder toppled could he make like a monkey and swing himself to safety on another branch? Would he flatten me along with himself if he came crashing down? How long would it take an ambulance to get here, and, if we were both flattened, who would call them?

Meanwhile our neighbor passed by in his car and stopped to shout up to the OC "I'll be back in thirty minutes J. Wait and I'll help you!"

"Oh I'll be done by then." replied the OC airily.

 "Or in the hospital," I thought to myself.

But he did it! Mission accomplished, he climbed safely back down to earth, happy as an astronaut returning from a mission to mars.

And then there was my Kitchenaid adventure. I was making a new recipe, Jalapeno-cheddar bread. The dough hook was doing the donkey work so I left the room, for just a moment, and didn't realize how foolish a move that was 'til I heard the crash. You guessed it. My beloved mixer danced its way to the counter's edge and jumped! I don't think it was a suicide attempt. More a reminder that you never put a baby in the bath and then leave the room. Amazingly the mixer survived with only a bent screw and a small scratch. After I picked some shaved bits of steel out of the dough I continued baking the bread. It was delicious, though by now you've probably decided to decline if invited to eat with us.

The elephant in the room of course is Russia's invasion of Ukraine. I did start a draft named "Thinking in Blue and Yellow" but then thought better of it. What could I say that would stop Putin's madness? The OC has done what he can to help his relatives who still live there. 

And these are just a few of the ways I stay too otherwise-occupied to blog. What mostly stops me from clicking 'post' on the several drafts I've started is thinking "Well, this is so nothing, so ordinary, who'd be interested!" But this past week was an exception. Just enough excitement to keep us on our toes.

Wednesday, February 09, 2022

In the Still of the Night

We learned a lot by rote back in my childhood (the old days?) 

The nuns saw it as discipline. We saw it as torture. But, like it or not, we'd read and reread the passage or poem until we could recite it without recourse to the book. And how many times have I felt, finally, grateful to those cruel nuns for forcing that bit of culture on our unwilling psyches? Polonius' advice to Laertes? So many pithy pieces of advice in there....

 "Give thy thoughts no tongue," and "...every man thine ear but few thy voice" or, as my Dad more prosaically put it "A closed mouth catches no flies!"

 Good to remind myself of these, even after the damage is done. I'll know better next time. I knew, even back then, as I struggled to memorize them, they were worth listening to and internalizing. 

Snatches of Kubla Khan resound in my head from time to time just for the rollicking rhythm of it ,and Portia's speech on the quality of mercy - "It falleth as the gentle rain from heaven." A lot of rain hath fallen here of late, both the literal and the figurative.

I couldn't sleep last night. My hip hurt. Got up, stumbled to the bathroom in the dark, rubbed some medicinal cream on the offending part, went back to bed. The ache eased a bit, but I was still wide awake. Serves me right I thought. I prefer regular black tea but, in the evenings, usually drink herbal as it's less likely to keep me awake. But last night I yearned for real, hot, black tea, with milk and sugar of course - I am Irish after all. And between the comforting tea and various happenings of the day, my brain was going at a hundred miles an hour. 

I tried breathing slowly - in for five counts, hold for five, out for five. This should bring some oxygen to the brain, I thought, but, apparently, not enough.

 "Be still, sad heart and cease repining; 

Behind the clouds is the sun still shining; Thy fate is the common fate of all, 

Into each life some rain must fall," 

There we go with the rain again! But, Mr. Wadsworh, does it have to be a downpour? 

Still wide awake. Ease, quiet as a mouse, out of bed, reach in dark for glasses, search with toes for slippers, reach overhead for book, The Handmaid's Tale, of all things - not the most cheering read - and tiptoe to the kitchen.

It's 1:45 a.m.

Through the window an eerie moon glows; inside silence, familiar shapes - chairs, table, lamps; stillness; the hum of the fridge.

 Turn on light over stove; cocoa and pan from pantry; milk from fridge. The OC thinks instant should work. In the microwave. But it's the ritual I need. Every step calms.

 I need The Hot Chocolate Ceremony. 

Remember "Wax on, Wax off," from The Karate Kid? Focusing on the simple steps of a simple task gets other things out of my head, at least temporarily.

Measure milk into cup. Pour it into pan. Heat. One spoon cocoa, two spoons sugar, a sprinkle each of cardamom, cinnamon, tumeric into cup. Stir. Shlurp in some warm milk. Stir again. Pour in hot milk. Stir some more. Pull stool up to stove. Open book. Sip cocoa. Read book. Listen to quiet hum of refrigerator. Nerves calm, eyes grow heavy. Clock says 2:45 a.m. Close book. Creep back to bed. Insinuate self under blankets. Yawn hugely. Close eyes.

Goodnight trouble. 
Goodnight nuns.
Goodnight Shakespeare. 
Goodnight Portia.
Goodnight Mr. Wadsworth.
Goodnight rain.
Goodnight moon.
Goodnight kitchen.
Hello sleep!
zzzzzz!