Wednesday, January 03, 2024

Goodbye 2023, Hello 2024!

    Maybe, I thought, as I sat on my gardening stool, clipping the mint plant by the front porch, I should rename my blog. There's not been much in the way of chronicling anything here in recent years. "Occasional Random Ravings," maybe? Or "Very Occasional Random Ravings"? "Books, Quilts and Random Ravings"? Because these are the things that clutter my mind, especially the random ravings.

 Intoxicated by the scent of cut mint, I thought what a good omen it was that the first day of the year should be so inviting that, after a chilly and wintery week since Christmas, whatever needed doing inside was abandoned as we headed out into the warmth and the sunshine. 

  It was so beautiful, sitting out there, the air balmy, the sky blue, the only twitterers I love twittering away in the trees and the OC being neighborly, trimming crepe myrtles for the neighbor across the street. That's him - the grey blur among those bushes.

I've always loved that week between Christmas and New Year. Frosty outside. Frosty, snow-flakey etchings on the windows. Curled up by the fire with books I'd gotten as gifts or, if it was getting dark, just watching fantastical shapes thrown by the flames onto the dining room wallpaper. Walking outside, you'd better be bundled up with scarves and mittens, crunching along the icy paths. It's the feeling of it all I miss, certainly not the temperature.

The new year fills me with optimism. Maybe this'll be the year I'll kick all those half-made quilts to the curb; or get back to writing regularly; or unravel that bainin sweater I started eons ago and abandoned when my mistakes made it a joke that nobody would ever wear; or maybe even dig those boxes of pre-digital photos out of the darkest regions of my sewing room closet and make the books for my children that, so far, I've only fantasized about. 

Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Meanwhile, I had downed tools on the porch and swapped them out for pen and paper. Want to write? As the OC is fond of saying "There's nothing like the doin' to get things done!" It's no longer safe to leave things 'til tomorrow when we know that our tomorrows are numbered.

Yup. A new year is a sure sign that time's a-passin'. The balmy weather of New Year's day certainly passed and now we're back to huddling inside!

Maybe my enthusiasm will hold this time, and you'll find, if not exactly chronicles, at least a few, occasional, random mutterings. 

Monday, July 10, 2023

Dog Days

The title of an early Edna O'Brien book was

 "August is a wicked Month."

 I don't think it had much to do with meteorology but what a perfect description of August's weather, and July's too, here in Florida! Back in the first flush of my current biking enthusiasm (February? March?) I didn't think I'd still be peddling in mid-summer so call me surprised! That I am. These last few weeks we've moved into the dog days - high nineties, even a hundred some days with humidity to boot. Five minutes outside and you need a change of clothes. But, somehow, once on the bike, moving through the air, it doesn't feel so hot. Even with the long sleeves. As long as there's room for air to flutter between them and my skin. 

So. Another Monday morning of wicked weather.  Climb into the shorts, down the coffee, climb on the bike. Helmet? Check. Gloves? Check. Water bottle? Check. Sunglasses? Check. Off we go. With ever creakier knees, I'm not much of a long haul walker or hiker these days but put me on the bike and I'm ten again, climbing Cratloe hill with my dare devil friend, Mary G, then freewheeling back down at gravity-induced speed, hair flying (no such thing as a helmet back then)

 "Look Ma, no hands!" 

Our mothers would've killed us.  But we had the run of the countryside back then, especially in summer, free as the day was long.

On our way back, in along the Ennis Road, there was an old ruined castle that stood out in a field full of cowslips and thistles and lazily munching cattle. No question, of course we stopped, leaving our bikes in the ditch, off to climb and pick wild flowers. We had such fun, in that ruined pile of rocks, trying to get up as high as we could on the rickety steps, half of which had tumbled to the ground decades before we were born. 

Best that our mothers couldn't see us. Helicopter  mothering hadn't been invented yet. Ours made sure we knew the rules and woe betide us if we broke them - there would be consequences. I think they trusted that we had enough brain cells, not to mention fear of those consequences, to stay out of trouble and danger. But adventure was another story, even if it involved the possibility of a few broken bones. 

Hacyon days.

*   *   *

There was, mercifully, a little cloud cover this morning. And a breeze. Rain predicted for later. Wrestling with the wind slowed me down some but there were places the wind missed where, in spite of the distant moan of a lawnmower, it was so still you could hear the sun shining and the sound of a leaf hitting the ground. 

There was a flock of ten wild turkeys in the drive way and on the lawn of a house I passed. Nine of them were doing their turkey business, beaks to the grass, munching on worms and bugs, a few kicking up flower-bed mulch in search of more exotic fare. The tenth, though, was on a different mission. A pick-up truck was parked in the driveway and number ten was pecking at its shiny crome bumper. He could see his own reflection and had fallen in love. He pecked at it again and again, talking to it in turkey-speak (gobble-gobble) hoping maybe that his new "friend" would come out and help him search for grubs?

I don't pretend to understand a lot of Rumi quotes but  there was one on my calendar a few months ago that spoke to me.

"Anything you do every day

can open into the deepest spiritual place

which is freedom."

I'm not looking for danger, trouble or even adventure these days, but the peace I feel peddling along, blue sky above, trees all around, is truly a pearl without price.

And now the rain is hammering down outside, just as predicted. This being Florida though, it won't last long. Chances are good that, in another hour, the sky will be blue again, the sun shining, the ground steaming and the dog days here to stay for a while.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

The Wheels on the Bike go Round and Round

I seem to be on a three month rotation here - December, March and now June - already! There was a time when I posted every week, even a month when I posted every day - anyone remember NABLOPOMO? 

Life rushes by, I mean to post something but then, in a blink, three months have passed.

Time for an update.

 We dusted off our bikes in January and have been riding ever since. The OC bikes every day - going for land speed records! He never does things by halves whereas I, apparently, do, as evidenced by all those half-made quilts. Finishing them has become my mission. The clock is ticking and the thought that they'd be carted off to the nearest thrift shop upon my demise fuels my determination, this year as never before. So I half-ass the biking too, going not every day but every other day. Which not only keeps it relaxing but leaves time between for quilting, reading, gardening, yoga, navel gazing and, at least once every three months, blogging. 

In the early months the weather was perfect, short sleeves the order of the day. I went out early yesterday in long sleeves, even though it was already eighty degrees. Having spent my childhood in raincoats and wellies, I love the sunshine here, but I burn. And freckle. And wrinkle - and how! And this in spite of slatheration with high SPF sunscreen. So - long sleeves from now 'til cooler days return.  I like and respect Dr. Dermatologist, but I'd rather not give her any more business.

So there I was, a sight to warm the hearts of alien children in search of their mother from whom they'd been separated when their UFO landed - There she is! There's our Mama - in that driveway over there! But they're wrong, of course. I'm not an alien, I'm not their mother, I just look like her.

 It's the helmet.

 The OC insists I wear it even though it flattens my hair. He also makes me wear fingerless biker gloves. At lycra though, I draw the line.

As I peddle down the driveway I note that we have clouds this morning, piled high on the horizon, soaring above the trees, mountains of woolly grey with silver tipped tops reaching up to where there is nothing but blue. I'm glad of them, they'll keep me cooler. There's always the chance,of course, that they'll blot out the blue and dissolve and I'll come home like a drowned rat. But I'll take that chance.

The OC rides for at least twenty miles, even on days where he says he's going to take it easy. The man can't help himself. Habits of a lifetime. And me? On my every-other-days? I peddle faster or slower depending on how much, or not, my knees ache. And when I come to a hill I downshift, and zig-zag, which always brings to mind The Mag. Sr. Margaret was a Kerry woman. She taught us Irish and in one lesson we were reading, in Irish, about a donkey and how, at a hill, he would, as the Irish phrase put it "take both sides of the road with him" meaning he was doing the same zig-zag as I was doing now because he was a clever fellow and knew he'd climb more efficiently that way than if he tried to go straight up. I take comfort in knowing I'm at least as smart as a donkey, and I'm sure The Mag must smile Up There to know that I still remember that long ago lesson.

And now the driveway is in sight again. It's been an hour, give or take five minutes. The clouds cleared. The long sleeves protected me from sun and wind. I don't feel like a drowned rat but I do feel like I'm melting. I glug some water, remove my helmet and stagger inside.

Monday, March 27, 2023

Blessed by a Little Grey Frog

    The newly green trees are crowded these March days with a vatican-load of cardinals - not the red-hatted ones but the red-feathered variety.

 It was Sunday - we were planting basil and tomatoes. The blue dome of the sky arched over me, the sun was warm on my back, while the cardinals serenaded me from the bamboo. They sang their lungs out, full of the joys of Spring. As I eased a basil plant from its nursery pot, a little grey frog jumped to the ground. 

"Well, hello there," I said. 

There was dirt on his back, dirt on his head, dirt between his legs and his torso - he must have been hunkered down and cozy in that litte pot before this lummox of a human so rudely dislodged him. He wasn't holding grudges though. He didn't object when I nudged him onto my wrist, wiggling his hind quarters and sending crumbs of soil flying. He settled down, in no hurry to move away. He wasn't a military fellow - too tiny for one thing - but he was wearing grey camo (under the bits of soil) But then, my new friend and his ilk were probably wearing camo when we were still living in caves.

I don't often go to church these days, which sometimes causes me an uneasy twinge of guilt - the nuns are still very much alive in my head. Looking at this little, trusting creature though, it occurred to me, that God is found, not only in cathedrals, but in gardens, in birdsong, in seashells and flowers and in the littlest creatures with whom we share our spaces. Here was this little fellow, doing and living exactly as his maker intended for him to do and to live, unconcerned with all the problems us humans invent for ourselves. I was glad I had used my hands, and not the trowel, to dig the basil out. He did finally jump from my wrist and settled in close to a nearby clay pot.

 "Stay awhile," I told him, and went back to planting. 

The OC wandered by and I introduced him to my new friend, explaining that we'd been having a chat. He smiled. He knows that when you get helpers in the garden it's wise to humor them no matter how daft they may be, but then he smiled again (this time not his " humouring the crazy lady" smile.) 


He pointed behind me to where two elegant cranes were stepping daintily through the trees. "Ladies" is how I think of them when they're earthbound. They sound more like drunken sailors on a bender when they're airborne, raucously honking across the sky. I was relieved to see Froggy had taken to his heels - just as well not to become a tasty morsel for the "Ladies".

My sister goes running in Cratloe Woods. It's a peaceful, piney place on a hillside out in the country,  a few miles from where we grew up. I've been there with her. In fact the OC and I got married in the tiny church there, so I completely understand why she calls those woods her cathedral.

I am too far removed from Cratloe now so I content myself sitting in pews of grass and mud along with frogs, lizards and sand hill cranes. Sometimes a tortoise wanders in and delivers a soundless sermon. And all the while the cardinal choir sings boisterous psalms in the bamboo soaring over our heads.

Friday, December 02, 2022

I Identify as an Antique

This post was prompted by a comment from Sabine.

A few nights ago, I was making Turkey Pot Pie for supper. Pretty predictable two days after Thanksgiving. The biscuit topping was waiting in the wings, the onions were sizzling away in the pan with the carrots and celery, World Cup soccer a dull roar in the background. God was in his heaven. All was, for now, right with the world. Until New York Times Cooking instructed me to "Add flour."

Whoa Betsy! Flour? What flour?

Nowhere had I seen flour on the ingredients list though, now that I thought about it, it made a lot of sense the next step being to add turkey stock.

Off I trot to consult the oracle and sure enough, there it is, at the top of the second page:1/4 cup of flour, missed by the printer. You probably don't give a rat's ass about my turkey pot pie - you're wondering where Sabine fits in. Well, while I was there the oracle told me she'd left a comment.

Another one? What more could there be to say? Curious, I hunted it down - and laughed. Her new comment was a comment on my reply to someone else's comment. 

Stay with me, I'm getting there.

 I'm a believer in providing backstory, to the OC's ongoing chagrin. I want you to smell those onions, to hear that sizzle, to be in my head while I untangle the story that I know is in there, somewhere. I think one of my ancestors might have been a seanachai.

Sabine wondered (I could picture her eyes rolling in much the same way the OC's and Youngest Son's have often done when they've made similar suggestions) if it might be time I tried making oatmeal the easy way - in the microwave, in the interests of not burning the stuff while I run off to make the bed or such while it simmers. As has happened. 

What the menfolk fail to understand is that here, under their noses, is a genuine antique - me. In currently popular parlance you might say I identify as an antique. They'll appreciate it after I'm gone. When the sobbing is over.

And what qualifies me as an antique you might reasonably ask? 

Mostly my memories.

 How many of you out there remember hearing the rattle of the milk truck every morning as a child? We'd leave the empties on the front porch every night and the milk man would replace them in the dim light of dawn next morning - with lots of clattering and scant respect for those still sleeping.

Or how about the coalman?  At the first chill of winter, he'd come clopping down our road with his horse and cart, and shoulder bags of coal to our coal shed in the back garden. He was the closest thing I'd ever seen to a black man. He'd probably been a white baby, but his pores were so filled with coal dust now that the only white in his face was the whites of his eyes. I always felt sorry for the horse who usually looked to be, if you'll pardon the vulgarity, three farts from death.

And then there were the chimney sweeps with their black brushes. 

And curly-haired Francis, the breadman, in his van and his green shop coat delivering fresh bread to our door every evening. 

Paddy the post delivering mail on his bicycle every day of my childhood. He was still there, still on his bicycle, still delivering the mail when I'd come home for a break from college.

The OC is a fan of all things modern and innovative. He has had moderate success dragging me into the 21st. century. But not without a struggle. The food processor lived in its original box for many months before I approached it cautiously, as you might a wild animal that could  attack at any moment. I did tame it though and now we are on friendly terms. But I still don't completely trust the microwave. It's all very handy for reheating cups of tea that have grown cold, but cooking my oatmeal in it? It just wouldn't seem right.

The most convincing proof of my claim though is the pony and trap. Whenever I spent any time out the country with my Granny we went everywhere in the pony and trap. And if it was hay saving time, I'd get to ride on the horse drawn float to bring the hay ricks back to the barn with my uncles.

There's a blessing I've often heard, or is it a curse? "May you live in interesting times."

I spent my childhood in wonderfully interesting times. It never occurred to me that things could change so much in one lifetime. I miss them now. "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone," as the song goes. 

These days I live in the present, thankful that I'm still here, thankful for all our blessings, thankful for our modern gadgets, even for the microwave, because how would I warm up my cold cup of tea without it?

Cheers Sabine!

Saturday, November 05, 2022

Nine Stitches per Minute and other Forms of Excitement

 I was stitching binding on the quilt I've almost finished (always a victory for me, sometimes taking years, even decades.) I was trying to be disciplined - 30 minutes each morning, another 30 in the evening. But just because it's on the agenda, doesn't make it happen. This day though, I was determined. My deadline was approaching, I'd been loafing, and loafing doesn't cut it. My 30 minutes turned into 60. 

How many stitches go into binding a queen size quilt anyway? I started watching the clock. Nine stitches per minute (are you yawning yet?) Yes, I timed it - nine, give or take a stitch due to knots and snarls in the thread. Experience has shown that these are not more quickly unknotted or unsnarled by muttering obscenities under my breath, or, in a house with nobody else in it, shouting them. Patience is key. Nine stitches per minute would be five hundred and forty per hour and, with the hours I've already done and those still to go, the final tally would be in the thousands. At this point my head started to throb, Enough math. Two sides done which, as it's square, meant I was halfway there.

My next plan was to make bread. I am not good at multi-tasking. I know this but, as mentioned elsewhere, the knowing does not stop me from occasionally trying. This was one of those occasions.

 And somewhere in the mix I needed to get a package to the post office. 

But I digress. A habit that drives the OC crazy. I tell him I'm too old to learn new tricks, leaving out any reference to dogs of course. Don't need to give him more ammunition. There I go again. You're probably starting to feel his pain. 

Where was I? 

The bread. I mixed up the dough, yeast bread this time, a long-time favorite recipe. 

Ten minutes to knead, an hour and a half to rise. Time enough to clean up the kitchen, get to the P.O. come back, punch the dough down, shape it for the final rise, run to the grocery store for milk, back in time to turn on the oven, pop in the bread, set the timer. 

Run rabbit, run.

Supper for one? Onions, mushrooms, oil, butter. Chop chop chop. Stir stir stir. Boil water, pop in ravioli. Set timer: four minutes. 

Oops! Trouble. 

In my speed and efficiency, I completely obliterated the time remaining for the bread. No worries. It should be done, I guessed, about the same time as the ravioli. Except - when the timer went off for the ravioli my attention was all on draining them, stirring them into the onion mixture and drooling in anticipation.

Bread? What bread?

And then a whiff, mid bite, of something baking. Hmm, what could it be? 

#%@$*! I explode from my chair, wrench open the oven door, extract the bread.

Muttered obscenities don't work in the kitchen either, as it turns out.

That was last week. The OC is home; the stitching is done - yay; the bread was eaten, in spite of needing a axe to slice hack it, though I won't be sharing that info with my dentist.

I'm thinking of using some old, seldom-used lipstick to scrawl a message on my bathroom mirror where I'll be reminded every morning.....

"One task at a time!"

It's worth a try, but - wouldn't life be awfully dull? 

Friday, October 21, 2022

A Day in the Life, or Two, or Three, of a Woman Alone

 The OC is away, out west, visiting our youngest son. I was too, for a while, but I'm back now. I left them to do all the things for which testosterone is a prerequisite. Chicken coop demolition for instance. Son tried, but the racoons, savage beasts that they are, won. It wasn't worth the aggravation, and the chicken murders, especially as eggs are cheap. And chopping logs for firewood? I wouldn't be able to lift the axe, never mind swing it. And if by some miracle I did I'd probably chop off my foot and a trip to the ER would be so inconvenient!

I arrived back home at two in the morning, piddled around, in spite of being exhausted, 'til five when I finally went to sleep. And so, the stage was set for getting up late and indulging my night-owl tendencies which I try to keep in check when the OC is home.

And now, when I do, finally, go to bed and lie in the dark, waiting for sleep, I've been hearing some scritch-scratching overhead and I wonder uneasily if we have lodgers? The pitter-patter of tiny feet...squirrels? mice? worse?

Most mornings, pre-coffee, me and my bucket go for a waltz around the garden, picking up fallen branches and pinecones, things that give the lawn mower indigestion; watering plants that are thirsty; talking to birds. There are hundreds of cardinals around here and they never fail to make me smile. This morning, as I wandered, they were always nearby, flitting in red flashes through bushes, swooping from tree to tree, flirting with each other and, I'm pretty sure, listening to me telling them how beautiful they are. Talks to birds, must be crazy? I'm okay with that, love those birds.

Yesterday I had a bone density test - so much fun, this thinning of the bones! But it was painless and quick and then I met a friend for coffee. We chatted about this and that, including the benefits to health and longevity of healthy eating - all the while munching on our chocolate croissants. We did our best to solve the world's problems and, though we didn't solve any of them, we did feel better for trying. She then went home to her husband, and I went shopping. 

 I went to a favorite shop in search of new sheets, one where it's always fun to browse and, in the middle of the linens' aisle, I was hailed by a familiar voice. Turning around I was face to face with our heavily tattooed, purple punk haired former yoga instructor. We've not gone back since finding, during covid, that it was as easy to practice at home with YouTube videos, and a lot more convenient. So - a little awkward. We small talked our way through five minutes, I heard about her upcoming trip to India, news of a mutual friend and, when there was nothing more to say, we said goodbye and I made a beeline for the stationery aisle.

I didn't find any sheets, but I didn't come away empty-handed. Have I told you about my addiction? To notebooks?  journals? greeting cards? stationary of every stripe? As an addict, this was the aisle from which I should resolutely turn away and hasten towards the exit. But as much as I try to slap my hand away from reaching out in these places.........well, you know how addiction works.

 I don't need any more notebooks.

 I know this, but the knowing doesn't help. 

They're stashed all over the house and when I die my children will find them. 

I can see it now in my mind's eye. It might make them sad; they might wipe away a tear or two - 

"If only we'd known how serious this was, we could have staged an intervention and dear old Ma would still be here, scribbling away faster than ever, trying to fill them all...."

It was getting on into the afternoon. Time to go home. To a cup of tea, a few chapters of my book, a half hour's stitching, something for supper - I'll be glad when the OC's back. I like cooking but dislike eating alone. Food is for sharing. 

The evening reports came in from the testosterone duo - today's project - building steps on the deck.

 At nine p.m. I got a wild hair to make soda bread with raisins and, while it was baking, lowered my bones to the floor for some yoga, the better to make them creak less. I let the bread cool and had a slice with my hot cocoa. And then another slice, and another. It was either delicious or I was hungry, or both - don't judge me. 

 And so, to bed, perchance to dream; perchance to not hear the lodgers scritch-scratching above me. Identifying same and giving them the heave-ho is most assuredly a job requiring testosterone.