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!

Monday, January 31, 2022

The Arctic is Vacationing in Florida

" Nothing since August 14th. ~ ~ ~ time for an update to the chronicles. "

This was the terse text from Marilyn early in January. 

In block capitals.

Wow, I thought. I have surely blogged since then, in my head at least? 

Turns out blogging in your head doesn't quite make it to the page. Kind of like having a gym membership, does not, in and of itself, bestow a fit and slender physique. You have to actually visit the gym and maybe sweat a little. As it is now the very last day of January, I thought it might behoove me to provide an update, for Marilyn, and for anyone else who wanders over here and wonders - What has happened? Is she sick? Or, God forbid, dead?

 I'm happy to report that the grim reaper has not come for me yet, though, if our oft taken for granted warm weather does not return soon, I may yet freeze to death. I know, I know. Our recent lows would be welcomed as a heatwave in many parts of the world but it's all relative. The blood thins. The bones shiver. One promises not to complain about the heat when it, inevitably, returns. And meantime one has dug deep in the closet for the winter clothing that, mercifully, was still buried there and not off finding new life in some thrift shop. The OC, being less of a weather wimp than I, has remarked in recent days, on seeing my outfit - You look like an Eskimo! Well, welcome to my igloo. One offers thanks for pack rat tendencies. They do have their uses, Q.E.D.

~ ~ ~

So, what's to report? Since August 14th?

My major accomplishment for 2021 was starting and finishing, a king-sized quilt for California Girl. 

The house was in disarray for months as I moved furniture aside to make floor spaces large enough to lay it out for a bird's eye view so I could piece it together correctly. It wasn't until September when I picked it up from the longarm quilter, who, by the way, did a beautiful job, that I spotted a big mistake. 

But I'm not telling.

 CA Girl went on a big adventure to Europe where she fell headlong in love with Italy and threatened to never come back. Reality, however, finally kicked in and she returned in October, stopping in here to pick up her quilt. And she loves it, I'm happy to say. *

October and November saw us visiting Oregon. The OC got to play farmer and logger and general dogbody as he and YS got lots of work done. December saw holiday visits from two sons, brief but lovely, and before I had fully registered that it was Christmas already, even before I'd stowed away the decorations and vacuumed up the pine needles, here's Marilyn, calling me to order, demanding, in her inimitable way, and pronto if you please, that I get to blogging. 

So that's my update. More to come. And if by chance I should fall off the wagon again, I'm sure Marilyn will rise to the occasion with another terse text. 

*Blogger, the universe, my computer or maybe a conspiracy of all three is/are refusing to allow me to add photos which is good news and bad news. Good because it means you cannot see my big mistake but bad because you cannot see the stellar job the longarm quilter did. I'll keep trying.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Gallivanting for Fabric

Good morning Noreen! Are you dressed? Face on? Had your coffee? Feel like going for a spin? 

Well, no. And no. Not soon?...where to? Puzzlement leaked through the phone. What was I up to?

It sometimes takes coaxing to get her out of her house. I know it's good for her to get out and, after she's been persuaded, she does too.

I need more border fabric, I told her. Nine yards -  no kidding,  nine yards - of backing. This quilt will cover a football field. Sale today at Nana's. How soon can you be ready?

She was still arguing with herself when I got there. Did she feel well enough to go gallivanting? Though still vacillating, she was dressed, spiffed and caffeinated. I took that as a yes and off we went.

Noreen is almost a decade older than me (and I'm getting up there!) She had a stroke a few years ago that put an end to her dancing days but she still has all her marbles, stays up with the latest in politics, world news and health care. Me? I'd rather hide under a bush, or in a quilt shop (as we were about to do) and hope that the politicians all sink into the oceans they don't seem to give a rat's hind quarters about and choke on all the plastic accumulating there.

Nana's was humming. Their sale was a fiftheenth anniversary celebration of their opening. It's a small, cozy quilt shop and I settled in to do some vacillating of my own. One of the biggest challenges in quilting, for me, is choosing the fabric. Especially when there is so much to choose from. But, miraculously, I found what I wanted in less than ten minutes. The quilt in question is in Kaffe Fassett fabrics which break all the rules I learned when first I started to quilt. 

Light, medium and dark for starters. KF designs blithely ignore that one. Small, overall designs (think calico) was another. KF specialises in big, splashy florals. Suffice to say I'd been intimidated even contemplating such a quilt. But now I was one furlong from the finish line. No more vacillating. Nine yards please.

That's it, behind pieces of the KF.
It should calm things down

Spotted in the restroom
Can you read the sign?

Oh, I don't know if there's that much here, said the assistant, eyeing the bolt doubtfully. But I had counted folds and felt confident. Turns out there was eight and three quarters. I'll make it work!

Onwards to Quilted Twins for the yard and a half I needed for my last two borders. They were opening at one o'clock. We got there at twelve thirty and thought we'd have to kill half an hour - until we saw a light inside and "Open" on the door. The quilt gods were smiling on us. We had the store to ourselves - a bonus for Noreen - not having to navigate around crowds of intent fabric shoppers and risk falling. 

Because they weren't busy yet we even chatted with Rachael, the woman who started the store with her twin sister,        

She told us how the shop got started. Her sister was in Poland with her missionary husband. While the husband preached the gospel Becky saw the need for warm blankets in the freezing winters there and decided to make quilts. She asked Rachel, her twin, to send her fabric. Rachael's children were grown, she had the time, so she started hunting. And found that, though not a quilter herself, she loved selecting fabrics. Soon she had more fabric than even her sister could use so she started selling it on line. Some of her customers begged to be allowed to come and select fabrics in person. The rest is history. Quilted Twins is only open a few days a week. The other days Rachel and her staff are kept busy filling orders on line. And with Covid, anyone with half an inclination to quilt has moved into hundred percent mode so they stay busy.

I was elated. Not only had I found backing fabric that would work to calm my KF quilt, I'd got the last piece on the bolt of my border fabric. Noreen used to make beautiful quilts when first I knew her. She doesn't have the energy for it much anymore. But she did get fabric to make a baby quilt for her soon-to-be-born first great-grandchild. We were both happy as larks, but exhausted from spending all that money. 

And hungry.

Off to The Green Door for a delicious lunch. Then home again, home again, jiggedy jig. 

I called Noreen again this morning. She's still kicking. She took a nap when I dropped her off and is feeling no ill effects. It's good to have friends to go gallivanting with.

Saturday, August 07, 2021

One of Nature's Gentlemen

 I run to answer the telephone which hangs on the wall between the kitchen and dining room. The desert sunshine streams through the open windows while the yellow curtains billow gently in the breeze. 

Life is good. We're young, our beautiful baby girl is down for her nap. Our first child - a black Labrador named Suzy, is curled up on the grass outside, chasing rabbits through doggy dreams. We're on the OC's first AF assignment in the middle of the Mojave dessert. When first we arrived here I thought we'd come to the ends of the earth, but now it's the birthplace of our firstborn, we live in a house on a tree -lined street with a fenced-in garden, our neighbors are all friendly, young like us, starting out. This is how life is supposed to go, right? 

But I was only playing at being a grownup. When my mum's voice came crackling down the line from the other side of the planet, my world crumbled. The sun still streamed in through the window, the curtains still billowed in the breeze, Suzy yawned and stretched in the grass outside, stood up, circled a few times for a more comfortable dreaming position, then settled back down. Mere seconds had passed but my life, in those few seconds, was changed forever. My dad, my beloved dad whom I adored, was in the hospital, about to have surgery for a tumor on his brain. The outlook was bleak. Life was a tragedy and I was a four year old.

Marilyn, a woman who lived across the street from us, stepped into the breach. Our husbands worked together, she had a daughter the same age as ours and two other children, but I hardly knew her. Nevertheless she took command of the situation. Our little girl, barely eighteen months old, had no passport. No worries, said Marilyn. No arguments, said Marilyn. Go see your dad, said Marilyn. I'll take E every morning while J goes to work. He can have her back in the evenings. Everything will be fine here. Go see your dad. 

And so I went and sat with my dad. I was glad to be with him but wondered how things were going back in the desert. The OC had grown up with European immigrant parents. Men did not cook; men did not change diapers; men certainly didn't wash those diapers or any other clothing for that matter. That was women's work. Would my daughter be scarred for life without even the benefit of ever meeting her grandad? 

The OC meanwhile, applied for a passport for her. My father-in-law (referred to in older posts as The Carpathian Prince) pulled all the strings he could find, both to expedite the passport and get me back to California without going bankrupt. Everything fell into place. My dad was stable for now so I flew home. Miraculously E had survived. In fact she didn't like me anymore! When I tried to give her a bath my first night back, she howled for her daddy. Turns out he'd risen to the challenge with help from Marilyn. He was chuffed that E was now "Daddy's girl."

In a few days she forgave me and we flew back to Ireland. Now two of us sat with my dad. As a child, I used to tell anyone who'd listen that "my Daddy will be charmed with me." Now he was charmed with his granddaughter. But he was getting weaker every day. The operation had removed some of the tumor but couldn't reach it all. It was growing again. And fast. 

I was with him when he died. He was smiling and pointing at the ceiling, but I couldn't understand why. Then I remembered how he had told me that his mother, my grandmother, had done something similar. Our Lady was coming for her, she said. And now she was coming for him.

My heart broke that day and it never completely healed. I know that death is part of life, something we all have to face sooner or later. I wish he could have faced it later. He was fifty six. My children never had the pleasure of meeting and knowing him. He was, as so many people said to us at his funeral, one of Nature's gentlemen.

There was never any love lost between The Carpathian Prince and me. At best, we tolerated each other, but I will always be grateful that he moved heaven and earth to get me home that time.

That was forty seven years ago. Marilyn and I are still in touch on a weekly basis. Nobody could ask for a better friend.

We no longer live in California,

and Suzy long ago went to doggy heaven.

E survived, is all grown up, married with two teenage boys of her own. She replaced her toddlerhood best friend, Suzy, with Marty. She and Marty communicate in Schnauzer-speak, a language unique in that each speaker speaks with a pronounced lisp. Everyone needs a doggy friend!

Our phones are in our pockets now but when they ring, I still, sometimes, get a little tremor of dread, remembering that day in California and the breeze through the yellow-curtained windows.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Plodding Ever Onward

 Sitting on the front porch Sunday morning, it was a treat to see blue skies again after a few grey, rain-sodden weeks. In spite of dire warnings from the weathermen, there was no hurricane, no awful flooding such as Europe has seen. And now China. Is there anyone left who still thinks climate change is not at least a partial cause of all this? We were relieved to hear that our German friends, H&D, were not affected by the flooding but it is heartbreaking to hear of all the people who were, who have lost their loved ones, their homes, everything. Here in the U.S. temperatures are heating up again out west and we're hoping like mad that we won't have a repeat of last year's fires. 

But for now, on the porch, all was peaceful. 

This tiny orchid bloomed last week. It's been with us for at least five years and has never bloomed before which goes to show you should never give up on an orchid, no matter how dead, lifeless or gone it looks. There's likely to still be life lurking deep within, just waiting to reward those with patience to wait...and wait...and wait!

A movement catches my eye. I have visitors.

(This seems to be either mama or papa. I had pics of all three but can only seem to load this one. Such is the life of the technologically challenged.)

 Three sand hill cranes, busy foraging for breakfast in the grass out front. Beyond the birds, I see our neighbor, D, standing in his driveway, watching his son, T, glumly plodding along behind a lawn mower. D recently came to the conclusion that it was foolish to be paying a landscape company to mow his lawn when he had an able-bodied, if a mite too chubby, teenager on the premises. I chuckled to see that the "Make a Man out of T" program had begun. An all round win-win situation - D gets his grass cut, T sweats a little, loses a few pounds, takes a few grudging steps towards manhood. Except I don't think T sees it quite in that light. At least not yet. Maybe in a few years.

Meanwhile, back to the birds. I watch with interest as they continue their bug search. The two adults are going at it with gusto, vigorously wresting bugs from the soil with their long beaks, unfazed by the proximity of a mere human. The third, a scrawny teenager (no red feathers on his head yet), is just standing around, looking dejected, making no effort to find food. I wonder if he is sick? Or maybe sulking because mama and papa are not feeding him but acting like he's a big boy now and should find his own breakfast? Trying to make a man out of him?

Speaking of manhood, a condition that seems to have fallen on hard times, we have a couple of grandsons on the brink of it this month, born within a few days of each other seventeen years ago. Both, unfortunately, living in other states, but we had dinner with one last week when he was here on a visit.....

..and spoke to the other by phone on his birthday. 

Sweet boys. Maybe in their lifetimes manhood will become popular again.

Where does the time go? I ask myself this so often I bore myself. And up from some recess in my head comes a quote - "For life moves not backward, nor tarries with yesterday."

And so we plod ever onward, hoping that those just on the cusp of adulthood will be equal to the job of

cleaning up the mess we seem to be leaving them.

At least those handsome boys are smiling. If we all make a concerted effort to do our bit for the environment maybe they'll have reason to continue to do so.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Dream a Little Dream

Earlier this morning:

 We were going on a trip. The kids were all packed and ready, the OC too. I was not. I said I'd follow along after them so they left for the airport and I continued packing. I was having trouble getting everything into my suitcase. The problem was made more challenging by my efforts to carefully squeeze a large pizza box in between my clothes. A pizza box, you might well ask? Yes, a pizza box containing, of all things, a fresh, still hot pizza. The challenge seemed to be to get it in there without squeezing any tomato sauce out onto the clothes I'd packed around it. 

You're probably holding your breath, on the edge of your seat, wondering if I got to the airport on time and if so, if I got to our destination on time, and if so, was the pizza still edible?

I have to disappoint you. I woke up before I even got to the airport.

Last week:

We (not sure who "we" are) were in some kind of vehicle with wheels, riding along at speed on a hard, sandy beach. The wind in our hair, the salty spray stinging our eyes, it felt exhilarating. We came around a headland and suddenly the beach was a lot more watery. The hard sand was now behind us, but still our vehicle continued skimming over the water which had a look of mottled glass, the kind people use where they need light but also privacy. There were opaque circles and blobby shapes on it surrounded by foamy bits and areas of clear water. We were still going in our original direction, parallel, more or less, with the shore. We could see an area closer to shore that had hard packed sand like we'd been on earlier. We decided we should swing around and head back towards it. Easier said than done. The current carrying us along was too swift to drastically change direction. But then we came to an area where the beach swung out towards us and we were able to guide our vehicle there and yeah! Succeeded in getting onto hard sand again. There was a street off to our left so we turned onto it and found ourselves in a picturesque Belgian village. How did I know that? The street signs were in Flemish. I have a shaky, nodding acquaintance with Flemish from the few years we lived in Belgium, though I would certainly flounder if required to speak it. I would have liked to have stayed and explored a bit but that was the point at which I woke up.

This is the only life I have, the only one I expect to have, but these crazy, irrational dreams make me feel like a stranger in my own head. If anyone has a right to know what's going on in there shouldn't it be me? But as soon as I twitch an eyelid, or move a minor muscle, the Killer of Dreams snatches them away and I'm left trying to make sense of the shattered fragments. 

Maybe it's another fallout from the pandemic. Maybe sleeping life is compensating for the ordinariness of waking life - jazzing things up a bit.

It does add a tantalizing element of anticipation to falling asleep - I never know what kind of wild and crazy adventures await as soon as I turn out the light and close my eyes. 

Of course, another possibility is that I'm just nuts