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.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


One of the stupidest developments in schools in America is the disappearance of recess. Kids are balls of energy, who need to move, burn up calories, clear the chalk dust out of their heads every couple of hours. Educators the world over have known this for centuries, but still, opportunities for energetic physical activity in schools a couple of times a day have dwindled almost to zero. Because of overcrowding, because of a lack of funds, because of this, because of that, because of the other lame excuse. And we wonder why there are so many behavioural problems! Hello! The kids just need to let off steam! Force some physical activity on them and you're half way to solving the problem.

Big item on the news tonight. A school principal in Tampa has come up with an "innovative" idea. Apparently the children used to be expected to eat their lunch and then sit quietly [right!] for the remainder of their half hour before returning to their classroom. But now, if they eat their lunch quickly and behave in a civilized fashion in the lunch room, they are being allowed, nay, encouraged, to go play on the monkey bars, swing on the swings, jump rope, play tag, in a word, move, expend energy, burn calories and--are you ready for this? It has been observed by the school administrators that after such activity the children return to the classroom in a much calmer frame of mind ! They concentrate better, are more receptive to learning and there are fewer behaviour problems . Duh! It must be true that there is actually nothing new in the world. Each generation has to rediscover everything for themselves and then it's "Eureka!" , "I've got it!", " Wow! What an earth shaking discovery!" Too bad some of the nuns, who tirelessly broke up our chatfests in remote corners of the playground, and insisted, instead, that we run and jump and get our blood circulating before going back inside to class, aren't alive to hear how cutting edge they were!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Dinner for One

When I got married I didn't know how to boil an egg. . My mother, an excellent cook , had no tolerance for a messy kitchen and preferred to go it alone. Mouthwatering aromas greeted us at lunchtime every day when we dashed home from school. My interest in food lay more in the eating than in the preparing.... One job she did have me do occasionally was to sit on the step outside the kitchen and shell peas . But twice as many of those juicy morsels went in my mouth as in the pot. Another job I liked was peeling apples for pie. My fascination was to see if I could peel each apple without breaking the ribbon, which didn't exactly speed the process along .

At college in Dublin I lived in a hostel run by nuns [yes, more nuns!] who served us three meals a day. We had a small kitchen where we conducted daring and adventurous culinary experiments involving tea and hot cocoa. My mother-in-law was right to quake when she realised that her darling son was about to marry a person who didn't know how to peel a potato. My own mother apologetically bought me a cookbook and slunk away.

I've peeled a lot of potatoes and boiled a lot of eggs and baked a lot of pies in the past thirty six years --- even became good at it and enjoyed being chief cook and bottlewasher, and creator of my own mouthwatering aromas... With five hungry children I learned to cook in quantity. And then, just when I'd gotten the hang of it, they grew up and started drifting slowly off to their own lives and I had to adjust. Which took me a while. Leftovers were never a problem with teenagers prowling around. But each time another one left I'd continue to cook as though they'd be home at any moment, ravenous. The leftovers would pile up in the refrigerator and turn green. Strange, furry organisms would grow under the saran wrap and finally I'd realise, again, that I needed to downsize.

There's something very basic about cooking for and feeding people you love. It must be that urge to nurture. And in another way it's aggravating. There'll be no resting on your laurels. No matter what manner of magnificent feast you fed them today, as sure as the sun rises they'll wake up tomorrow and want to eat again! It's not so much food itself that I love as how it brings people together. Gathering around the table to eat together is such a comfortable, companionable thing to do. Which brings me to my present dilemma--how to get excited about dinner for one? Hot dog anyone? tuna sandwich--again? how about a couple of nice boiled eggs? or maybe a lovely ham sandwich? And don't forget the veggies! pickled beets [good source of iron], store bought coleslaw, baked beans, crunchy raw carrots....yum,yum, yum! Personally, without company around the table, I'd just as soon get my nutrition intravenously.......

However, not to end this on a glum note, may I direct your attention to a short movie called "Dinner for One". We were first introduced to it in Germany where it is a tradition to watch this movie every New Year's Eve. It's in English, and very, very British but the Germans love it --and you will too. Unfortunately I haven't a clue how to link over to it from here but it's easy to find on Google so, enjoy--"Dinner for One"!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Wildlife Abounds

It was almost twelve and, before calling it a night, I stepped outside into the velvety midnight air. The rain had finally stopped and a big chunk of moon hung behind the trees. The moon's reflection lay motionless on the surface of the pool. Sounds peaceful, right? Hell no! It was deafening out there! Every sawing, buzzing, and chirping insect in creation had descended on my back yard and they were filling the night with noise. The recent rains had created a soggy nirvana for frogs and toads and they were croaking and barking joy and praise to the frog god, and, undoubtedly, making lots of new little froggies.

It had been a critter-filled day. Before breakfast I looked out at the birdfeeder, expecting to see the usual feathered friends . But the local punk squirrel had figured out how to upend the feeder and was on the ground under the tree, gorging himself on birdseed. He all but stuck his tongue out at me. May he grows feathers and get caught by a marauding cat. Then, in the afternoon, I pulled over on the shoulder to help a gopher tortoise make it safely to the other side. Such benign and gentle creatures. Too bad they have to deal with all our scary traffic.

And when I came home at dusk, after visiting the elders, there was a family gathering of quails in full swing under the pomegranate tree. I crept, ever so quietly, closer for a better look. It was a large extended family. There were important looking patriarchal types with expansive chests and spiffy plumage; worked-to-the-bone looking mother types racing around after their high-spirited children, who ran so fast you'd think they were on wheels; rakish looking batchelor-uncle types; and maiden-aunt types looking very peeved when they were nearly bowled over by the exhuberant youngsters. There was lots of chasing and chirping. I wished I understood quailish....

Then this morning a good sized black racer found his way inside the pool enclosure. He did not want to co-operate with my efforts to return him to the great outdoors, probably because my efforts involved a [very] long-handled broom.....but after a crazy pas-de-deux, he was finally back on the outside and I was panting on the inside. He was probably as glad as I that it wasn't a cheek-to-cheek dance. If physical contact had become involved I would have passed out on the spot, fallen into the pool and never been heard from again!

So..o..o---life in central Florida sans kids, ohne mann, but wildlife abounds....and its raining....again.