Thursday, December 28, 2006

One Lovely Book

I discovered a wonderful book this Christmas. I guess it's true, for better or worse, that we buy gifts for others that we'd love to receive ourselves, allowing for our knowledge of their tastes, of course. So, after I'd picked it off the shelf in the bookstore, and read enough to love it, I had to decide whose gift it would be. Hmmm.......several people came to mind, but I settled on S, my little four year old granddaughter. It's not the kind of book a four year old could read by herself. But I didn't buy it with that intent. I bought it so that my Oldest Son could read it to his daughter. Because he will love it too.

OS has been passionate about books all his life [30+yrs.?Aghhh!]. The depth and breadth of his interests is astounding. DIL despairs of ever getting his book collection under control.....Their daughter, S, is a bright, highly imaginative child [who me? bragging? no.o..o...o! just stating the facts...] who already shares her Daddy's addiction to books and stories.

The book in question is "The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane". It was written by Kate DiCamillo, of whom I am extremely jealous.......because I would like to have written it. It's charm is enhanced by Bagram Ibatoulline's lovely, old fashioned illustrations.

And then I was shopping again. And bought another copy. For another relative. A relative who is the same age as me. Stay tuned for a report on whether or not I scored a coup.

It is an acknowledged fact in our family that the penny drops slowly with me. Turns out Kate DiCamillo is probably familiar to many eager readers. She has other books up her sleeve --- Newberry Medal and Honor books. And one of her books was a National Book Award Finalist. Now that my head has been pulled out of the sand, one of my New Year's resolutions is to read everything she has written. Because I love how she writes. This resolution should ensure that I'll be off the streets and unavailable for trouble-making of any least in January. So, tell me, what wonderful and enthralling books did you discover this Christmas?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Merry Christmas, One and All

It was a lovely morning and the sun beckoned me to walk out back, among the pine trees. Not the most beautiful trees in the world, like telephone poles with a few wisps of green, way at their tops. The payoff is underfoot. I strolled along the soft piney pathways carved out by YS and his friend , John Deere. The air was a warm hug around me, the little breeze delicious. And once again I thought, "there's no place like home."

I've always hankered for a Norman Rockwell sort of life. You know the one, with the old homestead, where all the children grew up, and to which they flock back at the holidays, offspring in tow, to gather round the groaning table....And hark! I hear the OC groaning too, in exasperation. Option #1 : Stop lurking! Option # 2 :Bear with me while I indulge my little fantasy!........The NR grandparents are portly [we're not], and jolly [hmmm]. They've got their **** figured out, and don't visit their angst on the younger generations. They love all their children and grandchildren, regardless of long hair or piercings, or strong opinions or outlandish choices in clothing..... The grandchildren run and jump and laugh, and swing on the same swing, under the same old oak tree that Mama and Papa swung on in their day.....ok, ok, even I'm laughing now.......

At the back corner I walked in under the graceful, whispering shade of the Budda's Belly, pride and joy of the OC and YS both. They brought it home five years ago in the back of the car, a mere sapling, and now it reaches thirty feet into the sky. Up front, near the road, another variety of bamboo flourishes, lower-growing and spreading, beloved by quail and other shy creatures. Along the side of the house I come to YS's pepper patch. The boy has a green thumb--from farmers on both sides---Ukrainian and Irish both, perhaps? The plants are past their prime now, and probably need to be pulled up, but skinny peppers, like miniature red and orange lights, still cling to their tired stalks. A few yellow blooms still swagger, nearby, on the bedraggled marigold plants.

The azaleas are blooming by the front door, blazing red, just in time for Christmas, and behind them, bunches of red berries hang on the tall nandina. But best of all is the maple, between the front porch and the road, half of its beautiful foliage already deep red.

"He that planteth a tree
is the servant of God;
He provideth a kindness
for many generations,
and faces that
he hath not seen
Shall bless him."
My boys, on this score alone, have secured their places in heaven. Over on the opposite side from the pepper patch, in a shady little grove, a camelia is blooming---beautiful creamy white blossoms---what good, after all, is red without a little Christmas white to set it off?
So it's not a NR homestead, and it's not the Lake Isle of Innisfree, to which, in lonely moments , my heart often flies. Nor is it exactly a small cabin "of clay and wattles made". We don't have "nine bean rows " here, nor " a hive for the honeybee". But peace does "come dropping slow", and I realise maybe I've come to love this latest "home".
Holidays make of me a worse emotional wreck than usual. I miss the children my children used to be. It all went by in such a blur, too fast, before I had a chance to savour each one of them.....and then they were gone.
My eyes, like the rims of overflowing buckets, carefully carried over uneven terrain, can spill over at any moment....sending the menfolk running for cover. Best to talk to her only of the weather, or politics, or bills to be paid, or the aged and infirm drivers out there on the roads, endangering the rest of us........just don't get into any family drama.....please.
I need to get comfortable in this new Phase.....After all, isn't this what I dreamed about all those frazzled, child-raising years? To not be needed so much and so constantly; to not have to have all the answers; to, once in a while, have a moment to daydream, all by myself, without the chorus of " mommy, mommy, mommy!"
"you may give them your love but not
your thoughts,
for they have their own thoughts."
"their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow
which you cannot visit,
not even in your dreams."
And so "I will arise and go now", to the kitchen, to count my blessings, and banish that persistent Grinch to his dark corner, and set to baking....
I wish for peace in the world at Christmas; peace in my family and in yours; peace for my children and their families; for my OC and YS, who I'll be so glad to have home; peace for my scattered friends everywhere, and for all my lovely new blogger friends. A merry and peaceful Christmas to one and all!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Reindeer Droppings

These not my favourite Christmas cookies, but they are my California Girl's favourites. So I try to send her a box of them every year. Obviously I'm a little behind the curve this year, but I hope to take them to the P.O. this afternoon. The original name was less than inspiring, so I renamed them, as I only make them at Christmas, and this is what they look like.....They are easy and quick to make. They just need time in the fridge before packing and putting on Santa's sleigh, slapping Rudolf on the rump and telling him you have faith in him that he can gallop through the sky fast enough to get them there by Christmas.

Reindeer Droppings

1/2 cup of butter [1/4 lb.]
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup cocoa[unsweetened]
1/2 cup milk

Mix all the above in medium saucepan until butter is melted. Simmer for one minute.
Remove from heat and stir in:

3 cups of quick cooking oatmeal
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 cup of peanut butter [smooth or chunky] ---optional
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup of nuts [walnuts or pecans]
You can throw in a handful of shredded coconut if you wish [I don't]

Drop by teaspoonfuls on a wax paper lined cookie sheet. You can put them very close together as they won't be growing. Lightly cover with more wax paper. Chill in fridge. Contact Rudolf, as detailed above. Wait for call from California. Expect to have difficulty understanding what C.G. is saying as she will be speaking through a mouthful of fudgy reindeer droppings, her idea at Christmas, of what home tastes like. Happy Christmas C.G. Wish you were here.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

It's All About Love, Actually

Home again ,Home again, Jiggety jig. To find that the calendar apparently didn't stand still in my absence, leaving me barely a week to get it in gear for Christmas. Wrote and mailed a couple dozen cards and went with Youngest Son to find a Christmas tree. Intended to bake tonight, but was feeling a little grinchy, and virtuous about above modest accomplishments, so rented a movie and vegged in front of the telly instead. But not just any movie. I've noticed in many blogger profiles that "Love, Actually" crops up regularly as a favourite movie. I've been curious......

Nothing compares to the luxury of having the house to yourself, abandoning the "should do's" for an evening, and giving yourself over to total immersion in a sloppy love story. They're the best kind, right? There just isn't anything tidy and unsloppy about love or about life. I sniffled and sobbed and empathised freely at all the sniffle- and sob- inducing parts, without fear of masculine ridicule [the cat doesn't count].

It turned out to be a very Christmassy kind of movie with a great cast. Emma Thompson is an awesome actress; of course I bawled when she found out that the beautiful necklace she'd thought he'd bought for her, was actually for her husband's secretary. And what woman, no matter how practical and down to earth, doesn't sometimes daydream of being thought beautiful, instead of damned with the"faint praise"of being adequate? Hugh Grant is no Laurence Olivier, but he is easy on the eye, and reminds me of my Britboy, whose current English lass's name also happens to be Natalie!

And I realised why I've been feeling Grinchy. Christmas is supposed to be about love, n'est pas? But where is it? It's not apparent in the horrendous hordes of cranky drivers; nor in the endless snaking lines at the post office; nor yet in the obnoxious, shouting , mind numbing ads on tv, exhorting us to buy more, more, more. That's easy enough to take care off, and I do--by clicking the "off" button. The commercialization of Christmas gets me down. What happened to the little baby in the stable in Bethlehem? He hardly gets a look in any more. If anything, the other guy, the one with the horns and the pitchfork and the pointy ears, has the upper hand, as greed and materialism spin out of control.

As I watched and empathised, I marvelled at how wonderful movies are. All the problems and misunderstandings are cleared up nicely and tidily in the appointed two hours and thirty five minutes. I, unfortunately , am left with my still-messy, unsorted-out life. I can't afford to hire the best scriptwriters in the land to write my lines for me . I have to blunder through scriptless, adlibbing [and not well] as I go. A bull in a china shop looks dainty by comparison.

Gradually the grinchiness melted away. Pictures from the past month flitted through my head; SIL on the basement floor, rolling around with his Daddy-adoring sons, our grandsons; my DD making sure a delicious and nutritious dinner was ready and waiting for her boys, big and small, on the evenings she had to work; both doing a loving and conscientious job of raising their sons ; Oldest Son and his family, same thing, different style--home after a long day at work, not to a comfy chair and slippers and oblivion, but to work of another kind, being there for bathtime and storytime and climbing-all-over-Daddy-time, and soothing tears and calming tempers, and rocking over-tired little people to sleep, just barely sooner than he falls asleep, exhausted, himself; my California Girl, handed back to me after talking to her older brother -- brave words not quite hiding the tremor in her voice that tells me she wishes she weren't quite so far away, so she could see her siblings, and niece and nephews once in a while; my DIL, as happy and excited as her children in their wide-eyed wonder when she turns the Christmas tree lights on; the OC all spiffy for his office Christmas party; and YS, there to meet me at the airport, whisking my bags into the boot; the marvel of everything looking so nice in the garden and the house, due to his TLC while I was away.

Such a cheerful positive, happy movie. It cheered me right up and made me realise that love is all around us, actually.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Driving Through Winter to the Promise of Angels

Sunday was a beautiful day, as I set off on a four hour trek from Buffalo to Albany, to visit oldest son and family. True, it was cold, but the sun shone, and the sky was blue. Naked trees , like sentries, stood guard along the highway, rifles pointing skyward.

Upstate N.Y. appeals to my Irish eyes, and I understand why so many of my countrymen settled here. The rolling hills and green fields, albeit presently fringed with snow, remind me of the green fields of home. The wintry sun gleams off grain silos and farmhouses, and the lovely old red barns make my fingers itch for a pencil or some charcoal.

Lazy jetstreams crisscross the blue, and I wonder , as I always do, where all those people are going.......Black deer on yellow signs leap from the shoulder, shouting their soundless warning, "watch out for us!" And then, the surprise of a black kitten with a white shirt, sitting in a snow-speckled field, head cocked curiously to one side, watching the cars speed by. I sent him a mental message: "Dear little kitten, don't step out here, go back to where you came from."

The ever- present highway patrol were in evidence, hiding in low- slung ditches, waiting to pounce on the heavy of foot. No, they didn't catch me [I'm the gngerbread man...]

Needing to get gas, I took an exit through a tunnel of rock, where five to six foot long icicles hung, far from the reach of the sun......"When icicles hang by the wall , And Dick the shepherd blows his nail...And Tom bears logs into the hall, And milk comes frozen home in pail...."

Closer to Albany the trees were more graceful, sporting lacier silhouettes against the dusky pink sky. I took the wrong exit, of course, and got lost. Wouldn't want to tarnish my reputation by getting it right first time.....But, finally arriving, I was rewarded with curly-haired , blue eyed smiles and hugs from two little angels, and who wouldn't travel to the ends of the earth for that?

Friday, December 08, 2006

Weather Wimp

It takes about two and a half hours to fly from Tampa to the Frozen North. Considering the weather we had taken off from, the pilot was hesitant to hit us with the weather we were about to land in, but it's part of his job, so he did . The information included the words "high winds" and "snow flurries", which was greeted with a low rumble of discontent. But what are you gonna do? I dug my high necked woolly sweater and scarf out of my carry-on bag, and broke out in anticipatory goosebumps.

Walking out into the teeth of the icy northern air I was glad I'd remembered my all-encompassing woolly coat, and mad that I'd forgotten gloves. When you live in Tampa, gloves are not at the top of your must-have list. I did have sunglasses, which serve two purposes: protection from the blinding snow glare and from having your eyes bombarded with tiny ice particles.

Frozen fingers fumbled with rental car keys and got me inside, just moments before I turned to a block of ice. With the heat on high I sat, shivering, while body parts thawed. And it occurred to me that my winter coat wasn't the only thing that had been in mothballs for the last five years. My winter driving skills have been in long term storage too.

I inched tentatively out onto the road, wondering if it was icy. The natives were whizzing by at alarming speeds. They knew the roads were dry. I wasn't going to take their word for it though. Better to irk a few natives than to find out about ice the hard way. Confidence grew as I buzzed along. It wasn't so bad after all. Mercifully, I remembered the way to the OC's digs. Where it was warm.

What is the first thing an Irishwoman does after being gone from home for several hours? Puts on the kettle and makes a cup of tea! And he didn't just have Lipton's, he had Barry's, bless his heart. And what does an Irishwoman crave to go with the cup of tea? Company. But one can't have everything, he'd be home by and by. Meantime, safe arrival, in out of the cold, with a cup of hot tea ---no complaints from here!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Words can be Poison

Checking my due dates on the library web site today I clicked, while I was there, on Pulitzer prizes for fiction and discovered, to my surprise, that "Gilead" by Marilynne Robinson won last year. I was surprised because I had checked it out a few months ago. I didn't realise at the time that it was a Pulitzer prize winner. It just sounded interesting. But it didn't hold my interest. I never finished it . In fact I found it a little weird. Which probably says more about my pedestrian tastes [ the rarified air of Pulitzer prize winners being too rich for me] than anything negative about the book. One passage, actually several, did, however, make enough of an impression on me that I wrote it down in my trusty little notebook. And it was this:

"A little too much anger, too often or at the wrong time, can destroy more than you would ever imagine. Above all, mind what you say.
'Behold how much wood is kindled by how small a fire, and the tongue is the fire'---that's the truth".

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Thought for a Sunday Morning.....

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
Maya Angelou
Amen to that.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

What Child Is This?

Standing in the middle of my closet this morning, wet hair dripping into my eyes, I drew a blank.

"Why are you in here?" I asked myself.

"What are you looking for?

Who let you in?

Who are you anyway?

Name, rank and serial number?

Who's your Daddy?

Why doesn't he come and take you home?

Don't you know it's dangerous in here?

Can you count to ten?

Can you walk along this straight line without falling off?"

So many questions! The light finally came back on in my head, I found what I was looking for, put it on, and went to meet the YB for a wonderful concert of Christmas music, performed by the Mostly Pops Orchestra. If I had to chose my favourite of all the pieces they played, it would have to be Coventry Carol. Why is it that Christmas carols can leave me smiling one minute and blinking back tears the next? Memories, I guess.

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!

    Monday, October 30, 2006

    Bugs for Dinner

    Before he headed back to school yesterday [he comes home most weekends for the chance to sleep in a bed that is actually long enough for him], the YB and I decided to go for a little hike in the Withlacoochee forest. It was still in there, and dappled and sunny and green. We moved along the trail as quietly as we could, the better to spot some "critters". Saw a good sized deer early in the hike, but, as he bounced off into the distance, we thought we'd have better luck if we stood as still as possible for as long as possible.

    In mid standing-still-mode I heard a furtive but steady rustling in the leaves just off the path. No noisy gallumphing creature this. I peered towards the noise and saw --- a long, thick, glossy snake. A few years ago I would have taken to my heels at a high rate of speed. Now I stood, rooted to the spot, not breathing, signalling soundlessly to the YB to come see. "Rattlesnake," he whispered. He has always been a wildlife nut, but still I cocked an eyebrow at him to be sure he wasn't pulling my leg. "Look at the diamond shaped markings..." After his years of devouring Reptile magazine and keeping various kinds of snakes as pets, I didn't doubt him. I was glad, though, that I'd worn jeans and sneakers and thick socks. We watched for a while longer, then went quietly on our way, keeping a wary eye on the path for any of his friends.

    Soon we heard more rustling . Much more vigorous this time, so we stopped, and listened again, and soon spotted the rustler. It was a large armidallo. He looked like a turtle on stilts, or a football, with his scrawny pointy-eared head on one end and his crazy tail on the other. Whatever bug he was finding must have been delicious, he was poking so enthusiastically in the leaves for more. We pretended we were trees as, snuffling this way and that in his quest for tasty bugs, he shuffled closer and closer. Every now and again he'd rear up on this hind legs and sniff the air. His underbelly was ridiculously pink and naked looking. He knew we were there, but it didn't seem to bother him. At least not until the YB lunged at him to see if he'd really roll himself into a ball! He didn't. He just took off nimbly into the bushes. Probably thinking "Silly humans . Why don't they go back where they came from and let me get on with dinner?"

    Sunday, October 29, 2006

    No Pressure.....

    In the spirit of "Don't go out in the sun between ten and two," I'm making myself a new rule. Something like "Keep your butt away from the computer between the hours of, say, nine and six." Otherwise nothing gets done. There's a house to be maintained, weeds to be pulled, quilts to be finished. But, of more immediate importance, there are two cans of paint putting roots down through the tile in my laundry room. If I'm messing about on the 'puter the dull white walls will never be transformed to "pale cowslip", which I desperately want.

    How to make this change now? With the NaBloPoMo thing looming? There will be a lot of drivel, my friends. As it is, I write reams of rubbish, then walk away, do a load of laundry, go grocery shopping, do sudoko. Later, I slash and burn my way through the verbiage in search of what I'm trying to say. Sometimes I find it. Other times I don't. You can always play with it some more tomorrow. Before nine. After six. No pressure......except in November. November should be a trip.

    Thursday, October 26, 2006

    Bemused, Beflustered and Besotted

    Sometimes I stay up late, reading, puttering, making lists of what needs doing [instead of doing ....] So it's a rare morning that I'm up before seven. Except for last Friday. I am not a giddy person.[You, in the peanut gallery, have a little respect.] But last Friday, early, I knew it was going to be a giddy day. How did I know? My eyes flew open at five a.m. and would not close again. Lately I've noticed, the life in my mind is much more exciting than my real life. Hence, even though I have no trouble getting to sleep, once I'm there, I don't get much rest. Crazy dreams with whacko details, one tumbling over the other. Have to wake up to catch my breath.

    So. Five a.m. Lying in the dark. Eyes wide open. A whisper in my head makes me bolt from the bed [move over Mr. Frost]. The OC 's coming home tonight! That's why my eyes are being so stubborn! Stumble to kitchen to make coffee. Shuffle to computer to check e-mail and write. Write? At five a.m.? Yes, write. To turn down the decibels on the din in my head. Besides blogging I have to write for a writing course. A course that is more encouragment than technique. Encouragement to stay off the roads and out of harm's way. Remember, I live in God's waiting wonder the OC jumped at the job up nawth [loved it, stole it from Jess]. Am I babbling ? Those dreams? Ideas. Have to nail 'em 'fore they fly away, nilly willy, like butterflies [I think it should be flutterbyes, but that's neither here nor there...]

    Coffee's ready. To the fridge for cream. Encounter chunk of cow [courtesy of Joke--I'm thieving all over the map today...] It's been sitting in there , shivering , for days. Waiting for me to make pot roast. Brown the cow [how now brown cow? feeling better--a little warmer at least?] Onions, garlic, broth, beer, s & p, herbs. Cover, simmer. Prompt from brain-- "get dressed". Wander out to garden. Sun is up and climbing. Weeds , as usual, flourishing. Fill the birdfeeder. Haven't done so in a while. Not since seeing small, furry, black creature, under the tree, feeding on seeds dumped out by bratboy, the squirrel. It was either a large mouse or a ---no---don't even want to think it.......When I opened the birdfeeder two creatures scuttled. Two large, shiny, black bugs--- the crunchy kind, the kind that make my skin crawl. Poured in birdseed, gingerly, to avoid contact with creatures, in which event the screams would be Buffalo.....but muffaloed by snow.

    The afternoon creeps by. The phone rings. It's the YB, at the airport--- "can't find him." Five minutes later, ring, ring, "we're on our way!" Forty five minutes. Serious pacing. Go sit out front on the porch in the balmy darkness , waiting for lights to turn into the driveway..... Happiness! They're here. The two remaining people from the life I used to have, who stoically clench their jaws and put up with me. Who alternately make me crazy, and keep me from falling over the edge into the abyss. I'm so glad to have them home.

    It's been a week. Time to move on. Yawn. New topic tomorrow. Promise.

    CSM [Chocolate Seeking Missile].

    There is no trouble in life whose sting cannot be, at least temporarily, alleviated by chocolate. I have prowled the pantry late at night, searching, searching......."What are you hungry for when you don't know what you're hungry for?" Chocolate! Don't know what sets the craving in motion. A full moon? A strange cosmic beam? A particular alignment of heavenly bodies?Or sadness? Longing? Loneliness? Whatever. It will not be ignored!

    From the snows of the north he came, to where the palm trees grow, just for the weekend. And when he left again I realised just how lonesome I've been without my Old Curmudgeon. Almost four tumultuous decades and many mutinous plots to pack and leave and now, I miss him? So much that the lonely drive back from the airport triggered a craving. To the kitchen, the kitchen. I'm a chocolate seeking missile. Mutter, mutter, mutter, gotta be here somewhere. At last. In the refrigerator. Two week old, dried out, crusty brownies. That still tasted like heaven!

    Munching, munching. Thought occurs. How did we get from there--- when a pan of brownies was GONE before the pan cooled, to here---when a pan of brownies lasts for WEEKS?

    Better now. Will survive 'til Thanksgiving. And still they linger. Anyone for a crusty, dried out, two week old brownie? It'll cure what ails ya, guaranteed!

    Friday, October 20, 2006

    Been There

    I never thought the word "poop" would appear on a post here, let alone be the main feature! But after reading some intensive and hilarious discussions, cruising through "mommyblogland", the hour is at hand. As starry-eyed new parents, thirty some odd years ago, we quickly discovered that poop, henceforth, would be looming large in our lives. We had just come in the door from the hospital with our first wee bundle and were standing, still in our coats, not sure how to proceed, when said wee bundle let fly. Through diapers and receiving blankets the yellow, breast- fed- baby poop shot noiselessly out, all over my nice grey wool coat. We looked at each other, aghast. For five days we'd been cosseted and babied at the AF hospital. We had been shown how to hold, nurse, burp, diaper, and bathe the baby, but it didn't prepare us for the enormity of the realization that we were alone now; this tiny scrap of humanity was totally dependent on us [ yes US! Had God lost his mind??] for survival. And next thing I knew, the Old Curmudgeon , who was then only a trainee curmudgeon, was cackling maniacally. Why not? the alternative was uncontrollable weeping....

    That first wee bundle grew and thrived, to our delight and amazement. She has always been a very private person, even when she was a very small person. Her grandmother, who is a very clean person, could spot the poop clouds gathering when she was a toddler, and would try to scoop her up and get her to the toilet before another diaper was soiled [no Huggies or Pampers in those days!]. But she would knit her brow and frown, and intone, as she disappeared under a table or to some similarly private location, "Go away Grandma, I don't like you anymore!" This same clever child later coined the word "ire-a-dia".

    When the first wee bundle was fifteen we brought home the fifth wee bundle who, upon attaining toddlerhood, developed his own line of "alphabet poop." Every day the siblings would be summoned to the bathroom by his excited cries, so they could take their best guess at the featured "letter" of the day!

    Reading all these "mommyblogs" is a trip down memory lane. I'm so happy to no longer be intimately involved with anyone else's personal plumbing. Been there, done that, got the tee-shirt!

    Saturday, October 07, 2006

    Blue for a Boy

    Somedays I get an overwhelming urge to do something new and creative---and no, if I've been working on it for two years it doesn't qualify! Yesterday
    was such a day. Having recently let my mouth get me in trouble [repeat after me: "If you have nothing good to say, say nothing,"] I have been summarily lopped from the family tree, perhaps permanently. Maybe creativity justifies use of space and oxygen. Who knows? Not me.

    And so to the sewing room! Some friends of the YB recently provided a reason for creativity. They had a baby. "And it must follow as the night the day," when someone has a baby, I make a quilt. Not a five year project, painstakingly hand stitched for a sweet grandson who has our blood coursing through his veins, obviously, but a quickly and enthusiastically machine stitched project I can race to the finish line with before the devil knows what I'm up to.

    I had a small stack of six-inch churn dash blocks, in various shades of blue on a light blue background. I had made them a few years ago, for the quilt I was making for T, my first grandson. But I changed my mind [a woman's prerogative!] , and that quilt went in a different direction. The blocks had been languishing, unloved, in a box ever since. "But today, my darlings, is your lucky day. You're going to be the stars of my next production!"

    I spread them out on the floor, El Pussygato's cue to arrive on the scene and throw himself down for a langurous stretch right in the middle. That's one quilt-crazy cat. Or maybe he's just trying to get my attention? Hello? She's making a quilt - aha! If I throw myself down here she's bound to notice me and scratch behind my left ear --- or, at the very least, throw a pincushion my way --- some acknowledgement of my existence.

    Too much blue, I thought. With more blue background and some yellow in hand, I sat in front of my sewing machine. Soon I had a happy arrangement of blocks, the yellow adding some oomph! to the blues.

    Several days later.....

    Top finished, borders on, layered, basted, bound and DONE!! And its only five days since I started. QED ---- that it could be done [by me, the queen of procrastination.]

    Thursday, October 05, 2006

    Words, Feathers and Sport Cars

    Born in Europe after the end of WWII, my husband's first language was Ukrainian. When he was still a baby, his family set sail for South America, where they learned to speak Spanish. No sooner was he fluent in Spanish than they decided to move again, this time to New York ,and more linguistic challenges. He was in about first grade and one day a teacher called him "stupid", because he did not yet know enough English to understand her. He did understand what "stupid" meant. I can't imagine what he felt that day, at the mercy of that thoughtless, cruel woman, but it made him resolve to learn to speak English so well that no one would ever call him that again. He has a great ear for languages and accents, and in addition to fluent Ukrainian and Spanish, he has a working knowledge of German and French. He doesn't speak Italian, but after growing up cheek by jowl with so many Italians in Brooklyn, he understands it pretty well [or maybe it's the hand gestures!] And let's not forget that he can curse fluently in Lithunian.

    I think what my children probably remember best are the litanies of incantations, in strange tongues, that Dad would let fly as he struggled with flashlights and wrenches under the hoods of our various cars. Then on a trip to Ireland one year, he kissed the Blarney Stone! Coals to Newcastle! Suffice to say the man is never tongue tied. While I think, hours later, of perfect snappy comebacks, they roll off his tongue with exquisite timing, exactly when he needs them.

    Today I was reminded of one of his favorite quips [ not coined by him, but funny just the same]. I was filling up at the gas station and a really cool sports car pulled up at the next pump. Out struggled an old geezer of about ninety, bald and wrinkled, with a sizeable paunch. "What a waste", the OB would say! I pulled back out onto the road, and the old geezer in the cool car followed, then moved into the left lane and passed, but kept his signal on, and on, and on! And the OB's voice echoed in my head, "If only I had that car and he had a feather up his a__, we'd both be tickled to death!"

    Wednesday, September 27, 2006

    Oh Canada!

    A negative person could say that if there's a way to screw up, I'll find it. A person who sees the cup as half full, on the other hand, could say that if I had stayed indoors today, safely and unadventurously, this post would never have been written. Whether that is a good thing or not remains to be seen!
    The first order of business was to wash the OB's shirts, #1. because they needed washing; #2. because he's leaving on a business trip tonight; and #3. because I'm going home tomorrow. And so, a pot of coffee, a pile of shirts, "and thou beside me, singing in the wilderness."....but I digress! I started early. Washed, dried, ironed, folded, and drained the coffee pot. Mission accomplished.

    But I had another mission in mind---to visit a quilt shop in Niagara Falls and be back by three thirty to kiss him goodbye. Maps in hand, I headed for the door. Hwy 90 North to 290 West to 190 North. Seemed easy enough on the map. Until you get out there. Then you discover that 90 gives you a choice of East or West---no sign of North. And when it's finally looking like you lucked out and got on the right road they start calling it by a different name. Are they trying to confuse you? And the drivers! Where are their manners? Is this how their mothers taught them to treat visitors? Honking and shaking their fists? How about a little compassion for a stray from the south where the air is warmer and the pace more leisurely? They drive like bats out of hell here. Maybe it's because they know where they're going ? But we're not all so fortunate. Patient they're not. Nor shy with their horns.

    It seems like there's a conspiracy to distract me. I can get lost all by myself, no conspiracy needed. The signs fly at me. "Lodging exits-1/4 mile". Don't need 'em, don't plan to lodge. "Camping exits-1 mile". Don't plan to camp. Fleetingly speculate on lack of camping over the years, even with five children. Organising such a band of gypsies would probably have made the man lose his mind, but wouldn't it have been fun, wistfully, all of us together, bonding in the wilderness....Niagara Falls, straight ahead, proclaims the next sign as I blur happily by --- I made it Ma! I didn't get lost. [She's up there somewhere, looking out for me, she and my Dad, otherwise my explorations over the years would have gotten me lost permanently, long before now.]

    My Niagara Falls map, courtesy of the car rental company , is sketchy at best. So, even though I have an address, I know not how to find it. Only later does it occur to the addled brain that I could have called on the cell phone, but right now the circuits are overloaded and logic isn't getting much of a look in. I circle through some very dodgy looking parts of town until, just as I am about to give up, I stumble upon it. My bladder is about to explode. All that coffee. The lady smiles and looks ready for a chat. I explain how I've been circling, and that I will be much more coherent if I can first use the bathroom. When push comes to shove my needs are simple. "A jug of wine, a loaf of bread and thou ," I mean a chamberpot, "beside me, singing in the wilderness.........".

    I spend a blissful hour nosing around the shop, looking at patterns, fondling fabrics, picking out a few, and chatting with the owner. Then back to my chariot, armed with directions to the American Falls. I couldn't come to Niagara all the way from Florida and only go to a quilt shop! Followed the directions slavishly. Came to the end and turned right, as instructed. Vaguely registered a sign that said Rainbow Falls. Completely missed the one that said Exit to Canada! So here I am, in no-man's-land, with two choices. Choice number one: Drive back out the entrance and risk ripping my tires to shreds, or choice number two: Keep moving forward, which will land me in Canada! But I don't have my passport! Oh please God, I only wanted to have a quick gander at the Falls, I don't want to go to Canada! Mild panic is setting in. And, when panic comes in the door, logic flies out the window. Take a deep breath. Enter the duty free shop. Wait in line F.O.R.E.V.E.R. behind a group of confused Asian tourists [I can sympathise]. The cashier tells me if I buy a token I can proceed across the bridge, turn around on the other side and come back. At this point I would have traded in my grandmother. A $2:50 token sounds like a bargain indeed. But one thing is still bothering me. "Will they let me back, even though I don't have my passport?" "Yes," the cashier assures me. "You're absolutely sure?" I badger her. "I'm 200% sure," she says, giving me a withering look. "You're not the first [moron], and I'm sure you won't be the last." As I drive across the bridge, the knowledge that I am now a member of a brotherhood of idiotic ninnies doesn't do much to comfort me.

    "What country are you a citizen of?" the burly young woman at the customs booth asks me disinterestedly.

    "Ireland," I answer, feeling ashamed to be letting the side down.

    "May I see your green card?"

    Momentary panic, as I fumble to find it. Relieved, I hand it to her, jabbering about my mistake. Softening a little, she hands it back and comes out of her booth to show me where to go to turn around. Gratefully, I bestow on her my very best SEG.

    As I drive back across the bridge I have a glorious view of the Falls. I'd be able to tell the OB that I'd seen them again [omitting, of course, the detail that this time I saw them from the Canadian side!]

    My humiliation is not yet complete. Before I'm home free I have to stop at the American customs booth.

    "What country are you a citizen of?"

    "Ireland,"I reply.

    "How long did you spend in Canada?" he asks, taking my green card.

    "Almost five minutes." Without even blinking he continues his interrogation.

    "And what was the purpose of your visit?"

    Once again, for his edification, I explain my idiotic mistake. He gives me a look much like the one the cashier at the duty free shop had given me, and waves me through. I can just imagine him telling his wife tonight about his day at work. "Didn't catch any terrorists today hon, but we did have another member of the brotherhood come through.....sigh...."

    So, screw up or glass half full? For myself, I'm an optimist. Had I not sallied forth and gone adventuring, I wouldn't have had that fleeting but glorious view of the Falls from the Canadian side. Nor would I have some lovely pieces of fabric to add to my quilting "stash". Next time I will bring my passport, just in case, and read the signs more carefully. Of course, to do that I will have to ride my bicycle or take shank's mare, as my brain cannot compute at bat-out-of-hell speed. .

    Monday, September 25, 2006

    Adventures on the Erie Coast

    I am constantly in awe of the amazing engineering that makes it so easy to get from one place in this country to any other. Of course I make fun of engineers [we have to help them cultivate humility!] but my hat's off to those among them responsible for our wonderful network of highways, and also to the construction workers who're out there in all kinds of weather, building and maintaining thousands of miles of streamlined tarmac ribbons. That said, too many back-to-back hours of highway driving can have a soporific effect, so one must break the monotony now and again with a foray into the hinterlands. And so it was that on my recent jaunt from Columbus to Buffalo, I made a last second decision and veered onto the ramp that took me down to the water's edge. Long, long ago, on an island far, far away, in geography class, the nuns drilled into us the acronym HOMES to help us remember the Great Lakes of North America, Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior. It worked. I've never forgotten. And here I was, on the edge of one of them. And I was alone! Had my husband [the engineer!] been along we'd have been going for the land speed record between Columbus and Buffalo, and deviating from our course to go poke around a sleepy little village on the shores of Lake Erie would have been out of the question. So, deviant that I am, I went and I poked. And was so happy I did. North East is a charming little town on the very edge of the water in the middle of grape growing country. It was a scudding-cloud, blustery kind of a day with promises of plenty of curl-up-by the-fire days to come. But early enough that yellow and orange mums and that gorgeous pinkish-red graced every porch. Pumpkins and bales of hay were everywhere, and splashes already of startling red and unexpected blazes of yellow in the trees overhead. People were milling about on the narrow downtown streets--their annual grape festival was in full swing.

    Finally I reached my objective, the water. No small lake this. More like a sea. Grey and choppy. A few fishermen were casting out hopefully into the waves. A couple with small kids collecting smooth rocks. Walking along I thought of the dear small girl I once had who loved to collect "sost" rocks because she couldn't pronounce her "f "s. And now she is all grown up with little people of her own, but still a dear, sweet girl. Walking by water always puts me in pensive mood. I used to take long solitary walks along the banks of the Shannon as a teenager, alone, since my friends preferred to go to town to hang around, drinking coffee, hoping for "hunk" sightings and making themselves available. A combination of shyness and snobbery kept me away from such "cattle call" settings. I figured when Mr. Wonderful came along he'd have to be willing to come looking for me........

    The beach was fairly small and I soon turned around and headed back to the car and Mr. Wonderful in Buffalo. But not so fast! A voice hailed me and turning towards it I saw an apple- cheeked old man leaning towards me from the open window of his car. He pushed the door open. "Come and sit in for a minute and talk to me ," he said, smiling. Without hesitation, I did. "It gets awful lonesome in that appartment of mine ," he said, offering me a hard red and white candy. "You know," I said, tongue in cheek, unwrapping the candy and popping it in my mouth, "my mother told me a long time ago never to take candy from strangers, but I guess I can make an exception this once." "My name is John," he told me and that took care of him being a stranger. "My wife died ten years ago," John confided ." I was a farmer hereabouts for many years, and I had my own refrigeration business. I was always busy. And when I did retire, why the wife and I would take off in the RV and spend a few months in Florida each year." But now the days are so long, he told me, with nothing to do "in that appartment". "Don't you have any family nearby?" I asked. So he told me that his daughter lived over in Albion, looking at me expectantly, as though I'd have a clue where that was! I smiled, spread my hands and shrugged, and he continued. Told me she and her family would be over tomorrow, Sunday, to take him out to lunch at Mettler's. Another expectant look in my direction. Another apologetic smile and shrug from me. "Good home cooking,"he told me, "just over the NY state line."

    "Reason I'm all dressed up like this," he explained, indicating his shiny satin baseball jacket and crisp blue jeans, "is that I'm going to church at four, but I decided to come out early and come down here for a while to look out over the water," ["and pick up aging bimbos,"my husband wisecracked later when I recounted my adventures!]

    We're all wayfarers on life's journey and to me it is depressing to know that I could have travelled all the way from Columbus, Ohio to Buffalo, NY, hundreds of miles, without ever speaking to or connecting with another human being. My new friend told me that when he was 17 [He's 89 now!] he went up to Alaska for two years. "Wow," I said,"you're brave!How was it? What did you do there?" "Well ," he said, turning his mild blue eyes in my direction with an expression that said "curb your enthusiasm", "I very nearly starved to death. Rented a log cabin for eight dollars a month. Couldn't find a job. Had to chop a lot of wood to keep myself from freezing. But , I did meet my wife there....."

    Before I got out of his car, John once again turned those pale blue eyes on me and said, without a trace of self pity "And now they tell me I have cancer." He was being so matter-of-fact I countered right away with "what kind?" "Prostate," he answered. "Does it hurt?" I asked. "No," he said, "it doesn't hurt at all. But it's just a matter of time........." I was glad to hear that at least this sweet old man was in no physical pain, whatever about the mental pain of long, lonely days "in that appartment."

    John and I shook hands. His grip was firm and strong. "Stick around for another while John, I said, "because when you go the world will lose all your stories and be the worse off." I told him I was delighted to have met him and thanked him for making my little foray so interesting.
    "Thanks for sitting in," he said, looking disappointed that I was leaving. "I never thought you would!" I grinned at him. "I'm so glad I did!" I said and headed back to the tarmac ribbons.