Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Yonder Peasant, Who Is He.....

“The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
St. Stephen’s day was caught in the furze.
Up with the kettle and down with the pan,
Give us a penny to bury the wren!”

I listened and listened, when I woke up this morning, but couldn’t hear the raucous cries and tin-can clatter of the Wren Boys.

“That’s because, Dorothy,” a little voice in my head reasoned, “we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Boxing Day, the English called it. We thought that sounded awfully posh. To us it was simply St. Stephen’s day, of Good King Wencslas fame, and, more locally, the day the Wren Boys, bright and early, came prancing and rattling around our houses, begging for pennies to bury the wren. There was nothing posh about them. They came in loose, raggle-taggle, straggling bands, faces blackened, dressed in rags, making an awful din with tin cans and makeshift instruments, chanting their rhyme at the top of their lungs. All the children rushed out to see them. We didn’t know who they were or where they came from, or where they went when they got too hoarse to sing anymore. They were simply carrying on a centuries-old tradition, whose origins had been long ago forgotten. If you didn’t have keen ears you might miss them altogether. They never lingered for long. They were on a mission to raise enough pennies to give the wren a decent burial. Wink,wink.

Soon it was quiet again and we all wandered off. St. Stephen’s day was still part of the Christmas holiday. Everyone sighed contentedly. If I got a new book for Christmas you’d find me blissfully buried in it, curled up by the fire. Sometimes, joy of joys, a fire would be lit in the front sitting room, where there were comfy couches and you could pretend to be a grand lady. Usually the front room was off limits to hooligans like us, and warmed up and used only on state occasions, a few days around Christmas included. Sometimes you’d wonder if those raucous, wretched Wren boys had such a comfy place to go at the end of their adventures, and vaguely wonder why some people did and some people didn’t…..and feel a little guilty for being, undeservedly, among the lucky ones.

Ghosts of Christmases Past

How strange to sleep ‘til nine o’clock on Christmas morning. Time was when you couldn’t nap past sunrise at our house on Dec.25th. Shiny eyed, excited munchkins would insinuate themselves into the bed with us and whisper that, even though it was still dark, it must be time to get up since Santa’d been, as evidenced by the empty glass and the plate of nothing-but-crumbs. And most of all by the intriguing packages he’d left under the tree. They’d already investigated the contents of their stockings and could hardly wait for the big stuff. But they knew the rules. Those pesky rules. So everyone could share in the fun, you weren’t allowed to open your presents until all were awake, and at least semi-coherent. Their father said it would strengthen their character.

When said father had been provided with a cup of strong tea or coffee, and was ready to preside, the ritual began. They vied with one another to be the one to pass out the presents.Each one had a turn. We all waited while each present was opened and oohed over. Or surreptiouslyly booed. Clothing items were low on the popularity list, no matter how painstakingly selected by their grandmother. The Bean, being the youngest, despaired of ever getting “his turn to pass out!”

And now the morning is slipping away and he is still passed out. Not excited to get up and find that, contrary to his explicit wish, Santa did not gather his siblings from the four corners and assemble them under the tree, all tied up prettily with ribbons and bows.

Christmas is not so much about presents as about presence. The presence of people you love. Christmas makes me long to be around the people who know me best and love me still…………Just for Christmas, I want them all here, for my sake as much as for their “little” brother’s. I want the chatter, the arguing, the clash of opposing opinions, the hum in the air, the energy. I want to have to put the extensions on the dining room table. I want to have to round up extra chairs. I can handle the chaos in the kitchen, the mess of dishes. No problem.

But “to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” Not to mention thousands of miles. I guess my season for munchkins at daybreak is over. I put my time in, and in my saner moments I know I wouldn’t want to go back. Not unless I went, armed once again, with youth and energy and lots and lots of stamina!

We had a very pleasant day. The OC is home. He even devised a surprise for the Bean that kept him happily busy for most of the afternoon. Under the heading of “some assembly required!” We are grateful to Mr. Alexander Graham Bell on whose ingenious invention we spent a good portion of the day, yakking ---to Columbus, California and Ireland. We didn’t have to shovel any snow. The sky was blue, the air balmy.

All is calm, all is bright.

Round yon virgin mother and child,
Holy Infant so tender and mild,

Sleep in heavenly peace.

Slee-eep in hea-ven-ly peace.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A Christmas Meander Through My [Alleged] Mind

Where've I been, you ask? Well, that depends....I've been out in the field, so to speak. The Siberian tundra, to be exact. In search of reindeer droppings, for annual packages to, among others, California Girl. Who has had a discouraging year, where not much has gone right. The least I can do is to ensure the reindeer droppings are of premium quality and arrive on time. Great care goes into the selection of our reindeer droppings. Size is a consideration, as is shape and texture. But our most stringent standards concern taste. We collect only from the finest grain- and peanut butter-fed animals. We do not aim to disappoint.

Subsequent to my field work in the frozen tundra, I've spent considerable time tangled in packaging tape, after which I stood in interminable lines at the post office. But that's OK. Everyone was in friendly, chatty mood, so it didn't seem so long. I got the low- down on one of my fellow line stander's teenage boys, and all their doings, and an in-depth report on the woes of the local real estate market from another line stander, who regaled me with details of how many foreclosures he's been handling per week. Sad for those being foreclosed on......especially at this time of year.

Trips to the airport have been made to pluck the OC, and his sister, from the friendly skies......

Little grandsons came for a day, from their beach sojourn, and lent a hand in decorating the tree. We went to the beach to see them another day, wrapped against the wind and the chill in sweaters and long sleeves, while lunatic tourists disported themselves in bikinis and such....crazy northerners---don't they know they could catch their deaths?

After thirty years of unsuccessful sugar cookie attempts, I finally, this year, found the perfect recipe. Do I get points for perseverance? These are cookies to die for. Except that they're a pain to make----but------oh,yum!

And just to make things super-interesting, the Bean wrecked his car. Fortunately, he is unharmed. But we are now engaged in the subterfuge and skullduggery required to keep such information from the ears of the Ancient Ones.......oy, oy, oy.

Apologies for the dearth of.....anything.....on here for so long. A New Year is coming and that always fills me with the determination to mend my evil ways.....I wish you all peace, above all, in your families and in the world. For me, I don't need perfume. I don't need socks. I don't need gadgets. I don't even NEED chocolate [want is another story.] What I need is harmony. Kind thoughts. Gentle words. And Peace on Earth. Is that too much to ask?

Merry Christmas friends!

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Christmas Kitchen, Part One

Last night a writers' group I recently joined had its Christmas meeting. The venue was the home of one of the long standing members. What to bring? I wracked what is left [after the assaults of this past year] of my brain. It seemed like the perfect incentive to kick-start some holiday baking, so I decided on some cranberry orange nut bread that has gone over well in previous years. No problem. I’d knock out a loaf in no time flat. Until I started to think….

“If I’m going to have all the ingredients out all over the counter, I might as well make it REALLY worth while!”

So out came my three largest bowls and the assembly line began.

First -----2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp baking soda………..measured into each bowl.

Into each bowl of dry ingredients I cut 1/3 cup of butter.

In each of three smaller bowls I beat
1 egg, with
2/3 cup of orange juice and
1 tsp finely grated orange peel.

Three more bowls each held
1 ½ cups of halved cranberries and
1 cup coarsely chopped nuts [I used walnuts.]

All that remained was to add the juice mixtures to the dry, then stir in the cranberries and nuts, gently, and only just ‘til moistened.

Three lightly greased 9x5x3 inch loaf pans stood waiting in the wings. The oven was already at 350 degrees. In they went for 65 minutes. If I didn’t have to clean up after myself I’d cook or bake all day! What I need is my own cooking show on TV. Then I could play all day and let the help handle the aftermath! If wishes were horses……how does it go?......fools would ride?

One loaf was wrapped prettily and duly delivered to the host last evening, one was stashed in the freezer for when Liz and company drop in next week, and I’m heading to the kitchen now to have a slice of the third with a cup of tea. Wish you could join me…..I might manage some Christmas spirit here after all!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Deck The Halls

*The computer is being uncooperative. It wouldn't let me upload a picture. Probably thinks I should get Tony's permission! Let your imagination go wild---it won't be an exaggeration.

When I saw my neighbour, Tony, squatting on his roof with a faraway look in his eyes a few days after Thanksgiving, I knew what was about to happen.

Tony is the salt of the earth, a great neighbour. But he is Italian, with an Italian addiction to decorating, both his person and his living space. And while I would probably go into cardiac arrest if I ever saw the OC bedecking himself with jewels as Tony does, I do believe that the Tonys of the world add a little colour. You could say that he is in touch with his feminine side. If we're a couple of crows, Tony's a fine feathered macaw.

He decorates for every season. Bunnies at Easter. Leprecauns on St. Patrick’s Day. Red, White and Blue on the Fourth. At Halloween it’s witches and scarecrows. For Thanksgiving it’s turkeys. But at Christmas he pulls out all the stops. So when I saw him perched dreamily up there, I knew what was coming.

He toiled all day. By nightfall the results were dazzling.

His house glowed like an ad for the electric company. The eaves were trimmed with white icicle lights. Little red lights twinkled from the shrubbery. The posts by his door were wound around with giant ribbon. On each window hung a wreath of greenery, set off with a big red bow.

Quite a display you’re thinking? But wait. There’s more! On either side of his driveway stand Hans und Franz, two giant,inflatable nutcrackers. By the front door stands an ever-smiling,inflatable snowman, and from the other corner waves a gigantic, inflatable Santa. On the lawn inflatable blocks spell out “Merry Christmas.”

I sigh and shake my head.
It’s too early, I think.
It’s too much, I think.
I’m a grinch, I think.
Tony's inner child, is alive and well, I think,
While mine needs to be reinflated.
If I were five, I think, I’d be enchanted.

For the rest of the month, I think, I’ll pretend I’m five.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Where I'm From

I am from the big green bicycle, from wellington boots, and woolly vests in winter, and long legged bloomers.

From the big brown teddy bear and the stuffed pink dog.

I am from "Nadia" with the long garden, the coal shed and the reading tree;

From cross Mr.Gilburn on one side, and English, odd-as-two-left-shoes Norman on the other;

From Olly Walsh and longers, and boys playing hurling in the street;

From ivy on the wall up to my brother's room, and polished green tiles in the hall. Cosy in winter with books by the fire, watching the shadows leap on the wall.

I'm from lupines and lavender, bluebells and buttercups, fields full of cowslips;

From falling-down castles and tadpoles in jamjars;

From climbing trees in Barry's field, and rawking apples from Roches' orchard;

From exploring blue mountains behind Uncle Willie's, along the lane where the foxgloves still grow.

From tormentor boys chanting "Here comes Frank's dreamboat!" and gorgeous George ignoring my existence.

I am from farming, and horse doctoring, and silver tea trays and relics of ould dacency.

From silent, reserved men with smiling faces, and women with secrets and crosses to bear.

From Annie O'Rourke and Margaret Drake and Walshes and Shepherds.

I am from lonely people who loved and lost, but left us unquenchable optimism.

From "because I said so" and "call him now and apologise".

I am from confession on Saturday, Mass on Sunday, fish on Friday, love thy neighbour, and don't get too big for your britches.

From lonely walks by Shannon's banks.

I'm from Saints and Scholars, poets and musicians, Welshmen and Vikings, Druids and dancers, Cuculainn, Oisin and Tir Na nOg.

From Fryes' cocoa, and brown bread, and beans on toast, and shepherds' pie.

From banana and jam sandwiches at Auntie Ita's, and loving her tiny cottage with the memory-laden mantlepiece.

I'm from Sundays to Granny's in the morris minor, if it didn't break down along the way.

From jumping out first to open the gates along the passage to the farmhouse.

From clip-clopping to the village, warm woollen blankets over our knees, in the horse and trap with my grandmother, and neighbour men lifting their hats and murmuring greetings.

From stories of these people, sparse of words but strong of feeling, carrying their dead on their shoulders, to the top of Ardpatrick, to the highest cemetery in Ireland.

From memories of creeping out to listen to the grownups around the fire at night, talking about the old days and the old ways. And fleeing back to the big high bed if a chair scraped on the stone floor.

From Aunty Bid, and her shopping lists, and tea and marzipan cakes at the Dainty Dairy.

From Uncle Willie shining his shoes, and putting Brylcream in his hair to go courtin' Shelia W, singing The Yellow Rose Of Texas.

From my brother throwing Maria Goretti from his window to a million smashed pieces below.

From Miss McCarthy, in senior infants, telling me crossly to sit down in my place when I tried to tell her about my new baby sister.

I am from a box of old photos in a disused barn;

From piles of scribblings stashed in drawers;

From misty, half-remembered memories of a tall grandfather with a kindly face and a white mustache;

From a quiet, strong grandmother, finder of warm brown eggs under beady-eyed chickens, dispenser of half crowns, wearer of black flowered dresses, black coats and frothy little hats. Iron-fisted, velvet-gloved ruler of the welcoming farm kitchen.

I am from boxes of my own childrens' childhoods, adjusted expectations, new generations; trying to grow old with grace and steeling myself against life's storms.

*Found this at Jess' at Daysgoby. Go read her poetic version! And if you'd like to do it yourself, it's easier than it looks. Jess has a link to a template you can use as a guide.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Baa, Baa, Black Sheep

Gadding about and exploring is all very well in summer, but in this kind of late Fall weather, I’m content to sit home, reading, knitting and, of course, blogging. The leaves are all off the trees. Some are still a beautiful, bright yellow, but raked into heaps on the ground, defeated by the wind and the cold.

So, inspired by a certain mad hatter I brought yarn, needles and instructions to the chilly north. The plan was that I’d knit for a few hours, after which I’d have a lovely warm hat to keep the frost out of my ears. I’ve now joined the ranks of those mice and men of the ill-fated plans.

I am on my THIRD try.

The required circular needle size not being available in Florida, I searched for and found them here, in a tiny little yarn store whose name is a line from Baa, Baa, Black Sheep.

After three visits in as many days, the store is starting to feel like home.

Day one: Baa,Baa,Black Sheep, Have You Any Needles? They did, I paid and went home happy to the nest, curled up on the couch, and cast on.

My smile faded after a couple inches, as I started to realize that it would be just right IF I were making it for a wee elf, but since it is for me, and I’m no wee elf, back to the shop.

Day two: Baa,Baa,Black Sheep, Have You Any Wool? Maybe if I worked in thicker yarn the problem would right itself. Did they have wool?! They did indeed. I finally settled on a lovely blend of heathery blues, greens and purples, which, the lady assured me, would give me the correct gauge. So, back to the nest, curl up on the couch, start again.

Several inches in, it’s looking like this attempt will be just right for the aforementioned elf’s…….. baby sister…….Drat!

Day three: Baa, Baa Black Sheep, It’s Me Again, Have You Bigger Needles? So, she let’s me return the size seven in exchange for size nine and oh, by the way, I think you should cast on in a size ten! Lordy, this is turning into one helluvan expensive chapeau!

When we were growing up, if you didn’t learn to knit at home, you learned at school, from the nuns. We, lucky us, learned from both. My mother was a very good knitter. After I mastered the basics, she encouraged me to try my hand at Aran sweaters. I had often seen her rip out half a sleeve upon discovering she’d made a mistake back near the cuff. No such perfectionism for me. If I got to the armhole and saw that I had twisted a cable the wrong way, back at the beginning, I would not stoically go back and fix it. Life was too short. Besides, a mistake increased its value, proof that it had been hand-knit by a fallible human, not by a machine. Today I’d call it my Amish touch.

This hat would have been tossed aside long ago by the younger, more impatient me. I find as I get older I have more patience. I also enjoy the process as much, if not more, than the result.

This hat will get finished. I’m already through one skein, and it takes less than two. It’s soft, and warm and so relaxing to do, it would ALMOST make you wish you lived somewhere cold. Almost, but not quite!

Baa,baa, black sheep
Have you made a hat?
Yes sir, yes sir, in three days flat!
One to find the needles,
One to find the wool
And one to sit and stitch like mad...

Wait a minute.......
Are you from the knitting police?
Did the mad hatter send you?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Winging It, Coatless, Into Winter

Rise is still ferrying her offspring to and fro. Having a few years on her, I’ve moved on to being the one ferried. A few days ago I was ferried to the airport by youngest son, The Bean. Who overrode my protestations that I would do the driving. He had his motives. Probably had visions of me putt-putting along at thirty miles an hour, and him having to be in a class at nine a.m. I too had motives in wanting to be the one at the controls. He’s a good driver, but he’s male, and he’s twenty. Need I say more? Driving with him is not one of the things I do for relaxation.

The traffic was horrendous. What should have taken one hour took two. Most of the cars on the highway with us, crawling towards Tampa, had, almost without exception, only one occupant. This when our esteemed governor, Charlie Crist, is schmoozing with the green folks in Britain and elsewhere, and taking bows all around for his stated plan of making the greening of Florida a priority. Hey Charlie! How’s this for a plan? Tax low occupancy cars at rush hour. Lots of those hot shots in their Mercedes or Beamers or Corvettes could, with a little effort, team up, thereby helping themselves---they’d get to work faster, without a headache---and helping the environment at the same time. But I digress.

Finally we were there, and The Bean, who had required copious infusions of coffee to get him from sleep to alert enough to drive, given the early hour that was in it, needed to dash inside the departures building to a loo, while I looked unconcerned and tried not to attract the attention of the traffic movers who want you to stop, disgorge passengers and bags, and move on. But at last, here he came, looking beatifically relieved. Yanked the bags from the trunk, gave me a squeeze, hopped back in the car and was gone.

It was early, so check-in was easy. As I headed to the gate I started to feel uneasy. I was heading north, to OC territory. Chilly. Shouldn’t I be carrying something else? Yes-s-s….but what?

Then it hit me! My coat! My lovely warm, navy, woolly coat! Where was it, when it should have been over my arm, but wasn’t? On the back seat of a little red car that, even as I groaned, was humming along the highway, bound for a class. Poor coat. It had probably been a little bit excited to be getting an airing, getting out among shoppers, getting a sniff of brisk, northern, Fall air. It languishes in the closet all year long in Florida. And now it’s back in there, probably sulking. Fortunately, it’s still Fall here, but making winter noises [snow is lurking up there!] Three days in and I’m surviving, doing my onion imitation, with layers of sweaters and fleece. But maybe when the Bean comes to join us later in the week, for Thanksgiving, he could bring my coat. Brrr.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Ode To A Tiger

She was supposed to arrive on the eighteenth. But, she doesn’t like to rush at the last minute, so she came early, and surprised us. Until the night of the twelfth, this pregnancy thing was like a game. Like playing house. You be the daddy and I’ll be the mommy.

The daddy had fallen asleep on the couch. We’d been to our neighbour’s for a dinner party. The food had all been delicious, so falling asleep was easy. The mommy got up to go to the kitchen, pausing to remove his glasses from the daddy. As she continued on her way she seemed to have an accident, without any warning. How embarrassing! Then she realized,
“That’s no accident. Oh-my-God! That’s a damn bursting! Oh! Oh! Oh! What to do? It’s too early….Get a towel….Oh! Get three! Wake up!”

On the ride to the hospital, reality set in. This is no game. This is the real thing. Vague snatches of childbirth classes swam through my head. Assurances that women had been doing this for thousands of years. The constant need to BREATHE!

Piece of cake.

Suddenly I was scared. What if I couldn’t do it? What if I was the biggest coward the world had ever seen and just couldn’t go through with it?

On the other hand, what choice did I have?

“You just have to remember to breathe,” intoned the daddy, knowledgeably. Hmmph! What did he know? Easy to be calm and rational when you’re not the one with Kern County’s prize-winning pumpkin under your bellybutton.

The nurses were business-like and friendly and matter of fact…...

Nothing was happening. Apparently, having a Niagara Falls simulation in your living room doesn’t mean, contrary to popular belief, that you are going to have a baby. At least not right away. They sent the daddy home, and poked and prodded the mommy, and subjected her to all manner of indignities.

Finally, in the middle of the following afternoon, she made her grand entrance, weighing in at nine pounds, three ounces. Ouch.

It was a Monday, and she was indeed fair of face.
And lusty of lung, prompting the daddy to shake his head with pride, and say
“What a Tiger!”

To me she looked more like an Elizabeth. In fact, exactly like an Elizabeth.
And that is her official name. But she’ll always be our Tiger. Today is her birthday.

Happy Birthday Tiger!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Hungarian Rhapsody

Since several of you asked, here is the F-I-L birthday cake recipe. It’s on a photocopied page from Country Living magazine, month unknown. The recipe was sent in by a reader, Barbara Villareal of Sunrise Beach, MO. Her husband’s mother got the recipe from relatives in the Ukraine and it took Country Living’s grand prize in their “Mom’s Best Cake Contest” in May 2005. She calls it Ukrainian Festive Walnut Torte, but for reasons you will understand if you read this I have renamed it.

It makes 18 servings.
Total preparation time: 1 hour. And if you believe that there’s a bridge in Brooklyn you might be interested in buying……. Plan on being in the kitchen all day!

Hungarian Rhapsody

10 ounces ground walnuts, plus some extra, chopped, for decoration.
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
12 large eggs [better raid the chicken coop!]
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
3 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
¾ cup butter, softened
6 ozs unsweetened chocolate, melted
6 ¼ cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
¾ cup strongly brewed coffee
1 ½ tablespoons coffee liqueur [optional]
2 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons instant-coffee granules

The Torte: Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease two 10” round cake pans with butter. Line the bottoms with buttered parchment paper and set aside.
Combine the ground walnuts, flour, cornstarch and the baking powder in a medium bowl. Beat the egg whites and salt to stiff peaks with a mixer on med-high speed, and set aside.
Beat the egg yolks in a LARGE bowl on med-high speed. Stream in the granulated sugar while beating until thick and fluffy---about 5 muns.
Stir in 2 teaspoons vanilla.
Sprinkle the walnut mixture over the yolks and fold in the egg whites.
Divide the batter between the prepared pans and bake until the cake centers spring back when lightly touched---25-30 minutes.
NOTE: I didn’t have 10” pans so instead I used three 9”pans and reduced the baking time by about five minutes.
Run a knife around the pan sides and turn the cakes out onto wire racks to cool completely.

Coffee Cream filling: Beat the heavy cream, instant coffee, and ¼ cup confectioners’ sugar to soft peaks.

Mocha Frosting: Beat the butter, melted chocolate, remaining 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla, and1 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar together until creamy. Alternately add the coffee, liqueur, if desired, and 4 ½ more cups of confectioners’ sugar and continue beating until fluffy.

Assembly: Split the tortes with a serrated knife. Place one split layer on a cake plate and spread ¾ cup mocha frosting on top. Follow with a third of the coffee cream.
Place second layer on top and repeat with frosting and cream. Repeat with third layer.
Place the final layer on the cake and spread the remaining mocha frosting on top and sides of cake. Decorate with the chopped walnuts. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Take a bow, then exit kitchen left. Someone else needs to do the clean up. You’ve done your bit.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Move Over Garbo! A Cigarette Saga In Two Parts

Part One

As I was waiting at a red light the other day, there was an SUV in front of me. A delicate arm dangled from the open window. Pale, creamy skin, long, narrow, manicured fingers with a cigarette poised between two of them. The arm disappeared into the vehicle a few times while we sat there, presumably so this delicate creature could take a few satisfying puffs.

A little jingle came dancing into my head---

“ Tobacco is a filthy weed
That from the devil doth proceed….”

But, it’s a free country still, in spite of our fearless leader’s efforts, and if a person wants to kill himself with tobacco, well, that’s his business.

The light turned green and as we began to move, the delicate creature, satisfied for now, nonchalantly tossed the remaining few inches of the filthy weed, glowing tip and all, onto the side of the road! Now, she’s making it my business! Doesn’t she read the papers? Listen to the news? Didn’t she ever learn not to leave a mess for others to pick up? Doesn’t her fancy SUV have an ASHTRAY for pity's sake? Doesn’t she have a BRAIN?? As I drew alongside her [to check if she had horns and demon eyes,] I was surprised to see a nice looking young woman. With an unconcerned flick of her ponytail she sped away.

Part Two

It’s the mid-fifties. I’m about eight. Oldest of three, I live by the rules, say my prayers every night, and try not to attract any negative attention from the grownups.

Mary Grant lives a few doors down with her Australian dad, Maureen O’Hara-esque mum and at least five siblings. To me their lives seem exuberantly chaotic. By comparison, my house is quiet and dull. I like to hang around at the Grants, in hopes that some of their zing will rub off on me. Life there vibrates with noise and energy.

Mr. Grant is handsome and debonair. He thinks nothing of sweeping his wife into a passionate embrace, right there in the kitchen, in front of the children, who seem to think this is normal.

Mrs. Grant is beautiful, and temperamental. She wears dresses with low necklines. When she leans forward to wipe a nose or mop a floor, her endowments practically spill over. I’m fascinated. Cleavage is not something one sees a lot of at my house.

There’s an older brother too, something I think should be standard issue for all little girls, but apparently the gods forgot to issue one to me.

My mother smokes. She started as a nurse on night duty, long before I was born. Mrs. Grant abhors smoking, which is, perhaps, why Mary considers it so glamorous.

One summer afternoon, when we had climbed every tree down the field, and were itchy for something new to do, Mary had an idea!

“Let’s get some cigarettes!”

I wasn’t sure I liked this idea as it involved me stealing them off our kitchen windowsill.And stealing, as the nuns repeatedly told us, was a mortal sin. Did I really want to burn in hell for all eternity just so Mary Grant would continue to be my friend? She pleaded. She threatened. She cajoled. Her eyes danced and every strand of her shiny, dark hair bounced and quivered as she explained to me how easy it would be. I was a dead duck. For one thing she was a full one and a half years older than me which gave her a lot of leverage. For another, there was the ever-present danger she would decide that I was just too dull to waste her time on.

We lurked around outside the kitchen until we were sure Mum had gone upstairs. With quaking heart, I gingerly removed two cigarettes from the pack, terrified that at any moment, my mother’s hand would fall on my shoulder. We fled down the field to the plantation, a row of evergreen trees that divided the field from the football pitch. Settled in the green shade we were safe. My heart was pounding. I was beginning to think this was a little bit too much excitement.

Mary lit up and proceeded to puff like Greta Garbo. I lit up, inhaled and nearly died. After Mary had finished a leisurely smoke, and demonstrated for me, while I spluttered and coughed, the finer points of the exercise, we straightened ourselves up and sauntered home.

Mary’s mother took one look at her when we walked in their back door and declared “You look like you’ve been through a bush backwards. Sit down here ‘til I comb your hair!”

She brushed vigorously, yanking out knots, while Mary yelped. One yelp must have carried vestiges of cigarette smoke to her mother’s sensitive nostrils because, suddenly, they flared. Mrs. G stopped, brush in mid-air. She looked menacingly at her daughter. The silence was deafening. Slowly and deliberately she asked

“Mary Grant, have you been smoking?” Her voice had a dangerous edge to it and took an incredulous upward swing on the last word.

“A nod is as good as a wink…” they say. I didn’t wait for more but took to my heels, down the field to the beloved trees, and climbed, without stopping to breathe, to the top of the highest one and sat among the calming leaves for at least an hour. When my heart rate returned to normal, I crept home in the gathering gloom, taking the long way so as not to have to pass in front of Grants'house.

I decided I didn’t have a taste for crime. Living on the edge was one thing,but I didn’t want to die there. Maybe I had a weak heart......or maybe I was just chicken. Eventually the Griffins moved to Dublin, and life in our neighbourhood returned to comfortable monotony. In spite of Mary’s expert tutelage, I never did become a smoker. If someone wants to smoke that’s their business, but could they at least use an ashtray?

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Emerald Isle With Drugs On The Side....

The usual picture of Ireland promoted by Bord Failte [the Irish tourism board] and American travel agents, and outfits trying to fly you there, is green and misty and romantic. A bicycle propped against the wall of a quaint village pub; a cottage window bedecked with lace curtains and pots of scarlet geraniums; sheep being herded along a narrow country lane; cattle being driven home, with dog and stick, for milking; freckled, redhaired children with shy smiles; fish leaping from sparkling lakes, just begging you to reel them in. You’ve seen them all. They make you want to pack your bags and go there tomorrow.

Last night I saw a different picture of Ireland. Not one I experienced growing up, but just as true. I watched the movie “Veronica Guerin.” She was an Irish journalist who was murdered in 1996 because she had the courage [foolhardiness?] to write about and expose druglords in Dublin, on whom the government and the powers that be were turning a blind eye.

The movie opens with a scene in bleak and squalid government housing. Small children are playing with used hypodermic needles. Vacant faced, dull-eyed teens sit and lie aimlessly about. Veronica Guerin, played by Cate Blanchett, has come to see for herself. She is appalled, and makes it her mission to bring the people behind it all, brazenly flaunting their ill-gotten wealth and driving their expensive cars, to justice. She is playing with fire, but keeps doggedly writing. She pays with her life, but her murder finally made the authorities sit up and do something about the problem.

Cate Blanchett does a fantastic job. She even does a creditable Irish accent! If you are looking for a riveting few hours, check it out. It might not make you want to jump on a plane to the Emerald Isle tomorrow, but it's a great story about a problem that is so widespread no country or society is safe. And it's a tribute to a courageous woman who had the guts to try to do something about it.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


Seeing last year's NaBloPoMo's logo on my blog and coveting it, inspired Tanya to sign up for this year's marathon. Which makes me glad for Tanya, but also like I'm letting the side down by not committing myself this year. If I did though, I'd have to be committed in an entirely different context, given the current computer situation. Reading first posts today, I'm catching a little of the fever, so although I don't want the stress, I'll hitch a ride, unofficially and post as often as I can. Lame? I have my sanity to consider, and floors to wash [I hear you Isabelle!], and in-laws to visit, and comments to make, and books to read, and "miles to go before I sleep".....Not to mention the quilt I have vowed to FINISH before you all post your thirtieth piece!

On a visit to this farm stand last week, to buy some of their Fall corn to make some delicious corn chowder, it occurred to me that I COULD post a recipe a day for the month, thereby killing two birds with the one stone---fulfilling NaBloPoMo requirements AND organising my favourite recipes. I have played with the idea of starting a recipe blog, Molly Bawn's Kitchen, for instance. There would be many advantages. Liz wouldn't have to hope I could lay my hands on it when she needed a recipe from me, and I wouldn't have to tear the kitchen apart when I was looking for a favourite recipe that I swear, I just saw HERE the day before yesterday!
But a juggler I am not. One blog is as much as I can manage to keep in the air at any given time. So I will content myself with an occasional recipe on here. And I just know that the OC, if he is lurking, is grinning like the cat that got the cream, to hear me admitting, that something he suggested, when I didn't know one end of a computer from the other,is a good idea!

So blog on people! I'll be listening.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

What's In A Name?

My dear daughter, realizing that her mother was in a creative slump, threw me a lifeline. To wit, the Middle Name Meme. Appropriate, when you consider that her first name is my middle name. We had something different in mind for her when she was born, but when we saw her it just didn’t fit, and my middle name did.

Which kind of brought things full circle, as, growing up with my ordinary, dime-a-dozen first name, I heartily wished the parents could have used it as my middle name, and Elizabeth, so regal and elegant and dignified, as my first name. Of course [it just now occurs to me] maybe I just didn’t look regal and elegant and dignified enough.

Elizabeth was my paternal grandmother’s name. She was the epitome of regal and elegant and dignified. Having condemned me to ordinariness with my first name, they threw in the regal grandmother’s name as a consolation. Maybe they thought having it as my middle name would help me to grow up to be all those things.

It didn’t happen. She was a tall, tweedy, wool person. I’m a tall denim, chambray person. She was a smoker when it was cool and sophisticated to smoke. I despise tobacco. She died at fifty seven. I’m older than that and I haven’t died yet. I remember when I was very small, visiting her in Carlow, and having tea in her garden, with all the silver and relics of a passing age. The only other memory I have of her is when she came to the seaside with us, for a few days, one summer. She and I were walking along the road from the house we were staying at to the beach. I looked up at her innocently and asked her how old my dad was. But she out-foxed me.

“He’s as old as his tongue and a little bit older than his teeth,” she said airily, in a voice that didn’t encourage further impudent enquiry. Though her name was Elizabeth, she was known to everyone as Lily. She died when I was barely seven. In the photograph above she was about nineteen, and I have another of her with my grandfather, who had already died when I was born. Blogger dug it's heels in and would only let me upload one before the computer started straining and threatening to blow up. I also have a silver christening cup that she had engraved in beautiful copperplate letters with my initials, MEBW, a tarnished silver milk jug, and a beautiful, but very tarnished silver tray that she left to me when she died. And that’s about all I know of her. I hope my grandchildren will know more about me when I’m gone. Oh, and I also have her name! As does Liz, so she won't be forgotten. You surely didn’t think I could launch straight into a meme without any preamble…..Did you?

E Emotional. Very. Enough said.

L Law abiding. Especially since recent run-ins with law enforcement personnel. People still speed through our neighbourhood. But if they’re behind me I can almost hear them snorting with impatience. Because, if the speed limit is thirty, I’m probably doing twenty nine, at most thirty one. Let them crawl up my bumper. I have no desire to make further contributions to the sheriff's donut fund.

I Illogical. At least that’s what my menfolk would have you believe. Personally, I think I just have my own unique brand of logic. A little more convoluted perhaps, than male logic, but it gets me there. Eventually.

Z……zzzzzzzzzzz! No matter what life throws my way, as soon as I crawl under the covers at night I’m off to La-La land. You could say I’m the filling in a zzzzzzz sandwich. The bottom slice is my mother, who made regular nocturnal trips to the kitchen throughout my childhood, for cups of tea and a cigarette. If you heard the stairs creaking and crept down to join her, you’d know where she was sitting only by the glow of the cigarette in the darkness. She was a highly intelligent, high strung woman, to whom life threw too many curve balls. And so she couldn’t sleep. The top slice is Liz, who has inherited insomnia, not only from her maternal grandmother, but from her paternal grandmother too. If a monkey sneezes in Brazil, in the wee hours of an Ohio morning, Liz’s eyes will fly open in alarm. And I’m in the middle, all warm and cozy and oblivious, sleeping like a baby while the world burns.

A Allergic. Not to anything physical, but to insincerity, rudeness, sarcasm, yelling, politics and its practicioners, policemen with laser guns who lie in wait for the unwary in sleepy suburbia, while fifteen minutes away pimps and drug dealers and crack whores ply their trades with impunity. [Remind me to tell you sometime about Sherry, death on wheels to all of the above, whom Rise and I had the dubious pleasure of running into on our travels last summer.]

B Brazen as brass. As a child I wouldn’t say boo to a goose, but somewhere between there and here I figured out that if all these interesting people weren’t going to talk to me, I’d better make the first move. So I’m no longer shy and timid, and will strike up a conversation with anyone, which has sometimes caused untold embarrassment to my children, and not a little to the OC. But I’ve had some very interesting conversations…..

E Energetic, empathetic, enabling, encouraging. Guilty as charged on all counts. On alternate Thursdays, at least.

T Talkative. God gave us the power of speech for a reason. I wouldn’t want my tongue to shrivel up and fall off for lack of use. Besides, communication is one of the most important aspects of being human. So many people regret the things they never said when someone they loved was alive. After that someone is dead it’s too late. I think that refusal to talk with someone is cruel and hardhearted, if it’s obvious that that someone would like you to talk to them. And yes. Of course I have some very specific instances in mind….

H Humourous. Nothing much happens in life that doesn’t have a small twitch to it, somewhere. Even if I can’t see it right away, given time, I can usually find it. Maybe it’s a survival technique. Why keep weeping and gnashing your teeth if you can find a lighter way of looking at a situation? It’s probably not going to make the problem or situation go away, but it might make it more tolerable. And laughter is good for the soul.

There. I had no idea I would ramble on at such length. Sometimes it’s difficult to get started, but once on a roll, I forget where the “Off” button is.

Postscript to last post: "Excellent!" he said smacking his lips. No comparisons, so quibblings, just a resounding "Excellent!" Made me feel so special I'm hatching plans to open my own Hungarian Pastry Shop. If not in this life, then in the next!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Barefoot In The Kitchen

I'm at the library. I'm as uninspired to comment as I have been to write lately. But I have an hour. So what to do? Crazy idea strikes---blog! Huh? What's that? I think I've forgotten how....

Florida has been grey of late. The orchid above is the only spot of cheer I see when I look outside. I've been in a funk. Which only proves that if I ever tell you that, after a while, even sunshine gets old, I'm lying through my teeth.

Today is my F-I L's birthday. Eighty Five. And holding. What do you get for a man who's eighty five and has every thing he needs? I usually bake him a cake. Because he has a sweet tooth. But everything is measured against the Hungarian pastries and delicacies he remembers from his youth in the old country. Sometimes I want to scream "But you don't live in Hungary any more!" His particular part of the Ukraine was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, so as a child he learned Hungarian. Then it was taken over by Czechoslovakia, so he learned to speak Czech. And even though he loves America and has had a good life here, more and more ,as he older and older gets, he pines to be with his "own people." To die among them. And I understand. You can feel very isolated in this country. Children scatter. Curmudgeons get restless in too early retirement.....and go off and rectify the situation.

So even though he makes me crazy, is the grand daddy of all male chauvinists, and eyes me with suspicion because I dare to argue with him, when his birthday rolls around, I bake him a cake.

This year's effort is at home, cooling on the kitchen counter. It looks inelegant in its nakedness. The recipe said it would take thirty minutes to make. Hah! Only if your name is Emeril and you have a fleet of lackeys standing by to grind the nuts, measure the flour, whip the egg whites into a froth, beat the daylights out of the egg yokes in another bowl, then delicately fold it all together and pour it into the waiting pans, greased and parchment papered by yet another lackey. In a word, it took me all bloody morning. And the entire baking time was eaten up with the cleanup.

So when they kick me out of here, I'm off home to melt the chocolate. Which has to be combined with an obscene amount of confectioner's sugar, some strong coffee saved from this morning, some coffee liqueur,and a few teaspoons of vanilla extract. This will be the dress the finished cake will wear to cover its present nakedness. But before the dress goes on some heavy cream has to be whipped into submission and laced with some instant coffee granules and plastered between the four layers I will have when I cut each layer into two thinner layers.......Oh lordy! I don't know how I get myself into these pickles.

When I go for the nightly visit I will not want to be hearing "But it's not like the cakes we had at home when I was growing up....." Of course I wouldn't hear that until he'd at least tried it. Neither do I want to hear in a few days that it upset his delicate stomach and he had to go to the doctor.....

Since he can be charming, and was well brought up by his mama in the old country, he'll probably say "Thank you" very graciously and I'll say "You're welcome." Then we'll all have a slice and with a little luck no one will keel over clutching their throat and I'll be off the hook for another year.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Fractured Thoughts.....

Having just recently finished volume one of her autobiography, I was interested to read today that Doris Lessing won the 2007 Nobel prize for literature. I was disappointed that nobody had anything to say when I mentioned her. I thoroughly enjoyed "Under My Skin" and now have volume two, "Walking In The Shade" on my night table. Have any of you read her stuff? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Having enjoyed the autobiography so much, I hastened off to the library [I know my way there blindfolded], to find some of her fiction. On that particular day, all I could find was her recent novel "Love Again." Clutching it happily, I was looking forward to a great read. BUT. I just couldn't get interested. Finally I tossed it aside in favour of "On Chesil Beach" by Ian McEwan, in which I was not disappointed. Maybe I'm just not intellectual enough.....? It is pretty amazing, though, that a woman of almost eighty eight [she is the oldest person ever to get the Nobel for literature] is still a mover and shaker.

I have some wonderful movies for Birdy and anyone else interested. "An American Rhapsody," with Natassja Kinsky and Scarlet Johannson, filmed in 2001. I totally missed it back then. "Fracture" [and I'm feeling pretty fractured these days] was mesmerising with Anthony Hopkins, and "The Brave One," with Jodie Foster, had me on the edge of my seat throughout. Wow! Three good movies in one month. I'm getting better...

Chani, this is for you....I haven't been able to get onto your blog lately. Even at the library. The computer makes all kinds of straining noises, as though it's in the throes of childbirth. Nothing happens. Then a message pops up to say "this site is not responding..." So,I'll keep trying....I have a track worn to the library these days as our home computer seems to cower in dread at my approach. At least when I go on Blogger. The menfolk say it's because Blogger is a streaming feed...which means diddly squat to me....The OC is not here to lend his expertise, which would probably take the form of "Go to the library!" anyway. I don't want to screw things up so badly that the Bean cannot do his classwork on there, hence the track to the library. I'm still reading folks. The library ladies just won't designate one computer as MINE and let me stay on there all day. They're funny like that. Besides, we must eat occasionally, the elders must be visited and the house prevented from falling down.....Who knew I would become such a computer fan? And fall into such a decline when I'm deprived?

With November and NaBloPoMo looming I'm beginning to wonder if I should give it a miss and just cheer [comment!] from the sidelines. I'm feeling distinctly uninspired........And if you've slogged through this gibberish to here,I admire your stamina and thank you for your loyalty!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Jugs I have Known

There was great excitement among the jugs gathered on my kitchen counter at the prospect of a photo shoot. A little gentle jostling, as the smaller jugs tried not to be overshadowed by the bigger ones. Of course, since they don't all hang out on one shelf, they had to be gathered up from the four corners. And since this isn't my mother-in -law's house, it goes without saying, they had to be dusted. And then a suitable location had to be found, where each would be shown off to best advantage. Oy!

So here they are. Molly bawn's jugs! No unseemly snickering from the peanut gallery please.

In the back row on the left we have a Wedgewood jug from a coffee set my favourite aunt gave us for our wedding. I have never used it. Okay, once or twice to pour water into the steam iron...I prefer the traditional blue and white wedgewood. But back in those ancient times nobody asked you. They got you what they thought you should like! Considering the source, I've held onto it and carted it around the planet and gamely found a place to store it for thirty seven years.

Next to it is a Polish pottery jug. Now that my hair is white,I'm what I would once have considered as old as Methuselah, I don't have to entertain unless I want to, I finally know what dishes I want. These . I love them. I pick pieces up whenever I find them on sale. I found them first at an international wives' charity bazaar in Brussels, and have been besotted ever since.

In the middle is a Delft jug my S-I-L brought me from one of her many trips to Europe when she worked for an airline. Years later on a trip to Holland, we watched, fascinated, as artists painted similar ware with similar designs, all by hand.

Next comes a jug from the Montana years. Montana has many wonderful potters producing this kind of stoneware. This one serves well as a toothbrush holder!
On the end is another Polish milk jug...

The large white one on the left, in front, is trotted out whenever we make sangria.....It's been too long! I think this is its first airing this year....and not for sangria. I like the raised pattern of grapes. I think it was made in Italy. In front of it sits a smaller Polish jug, and to its left a tiny one that holds a single serving of syrup or milk.....

At the back is a big agricultural number. He used to hold wooden spoons on the kitchen counter. Until I grew tired of his boringness and replaced him with---you guessed it---a much more cheerful piece of Polish pottery. He's been sulking in a cupboard in the laundry ever since.

The other large jug in front is from Portugal. Purchased by Youngest Son as a gift for me at the same bazaar in Brussels. Except it was carelessly tossed into a plastic bag instead of being wrapped in paper to protect it. And it got chipped before he got it home and he was very sad. Wouldn't you take care to wrap something with extra care if the purchaser was a small boy excited to buy his mom a present he'd picked out all by himself? Chip and all,it goes where I go.

All the way on the right is a beautiful jug we bought at the Grand Canyon eons ago. Handmade and hand painted....The beige and brown one is also from Montana and sits on a shelf in another bathroom.

The pretty Prince Albert with the gold trim and roses is from a china set my parents got as a wedding present in 1947. It was used only on state occasions as we were growing up. Christmas and Easter. There was another china set also but I loved this one best. Rise has the other one, which she claims to like better. But maybe she said that because she knew I wanted this set....

The tiny one in front, with Mr. McGregor brandishing his garden rake, is from a doll's teaset I bought one year for our California girl. She was more into Breyer horses, so that may just have been a convenient excuse for me to buy it. Peter Cottontail ran around to the other side to escape the wrath of Mr. McGregor.

The silver [tarnished] jug to Mr. McGregor's left is from my maternal grandmother's house. I have a faint memory of sitting in her garden when I was very young, having tea. All the silver was in use...."relics of ould dacency" is what the wags in Ireland would say. But I was mightily impressed and thought my grandmother a very elegant, if remote, lady.

I didn't think I'd blather on so long about jugs, but there you are, if you haven't fallen asleep.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Woof! My Name Is Limerick...

You've seen my picture on Woofless Wednesday. I'm a three month old Irish wolfhound puppy. Molly Bawn and I met at an Irish festival in Western NY some time ago. She was there with her Old Curmudgeon and her Old Curmudgeon's equally curmudgeonly colleague. They were strolling around, listening to Irish music, watching Irish dance performances. Molly was entertaining herself taking pictures of mad Irishmens' shirts---to her husband's mortification.

I was with my Mom and Dad---the two legged variety, who were more than happy to talk to Molly and tell her all about me. We sat near them at one of the shows. I sat in Mom and Dad's combined laps. I could tell from the way Molly looked at me that she thought I was a big baby, that I should act more grown up and not be disgracing the nation. I'd bet if she was my Mom she'd make me sit on the cold, hard ground----heartless woman.

I ignored her. Her vibes told me that she wouldn't be having any of that kind of nonsense. No donkey sized puppy would sit on her lap! I just avoided her eyes and snuggled deeper into my doting parents' combolap. I love my Mom and Dad and they love me. Sigh.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Monday, October 01, 2007

Wandering In Western New York

Our intrepid explorer sets out, steering wheel in one hand, map in the other and wends her way southwest along the Seaway Trail. She is just beginning to mutter about Mapquest, when, around the next bend flashes a sign. No. Our heroine is not speeding. It came up suddenly, that’s all. She comes to an opening in the hedgerow and deftly executes a u-turn. Long time readers will recall she is a dab hand at the u-turns. The sign declares in elegant letters that this is Graycliff, proving once again, for those of little faith, that she can indeed read a map. Even if she does sometimes find it necessary to turn it upside down in order to get her bearings.

Graycliff is the summer home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for his friends Isabelle R. & Darwin D. Martin. They don't live there any more. Nobody does. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and our intrepid explorer has applied steely eyed determination to the task of finding it. She is very happy to have succeeded.

Dawdling a little, so as not to be caught in the middle of the chattering tour group, she gazes up at the window above the entrance.

"Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your golden hair," she silently cries, but Rapunzel doesn't reply. Must be working furiously on her knitting......

Our heroine pauses in the doorway, glancing back before stepping inside. Such a lovely view. She imagines for a moment that she is Isabelle, long deceased mistress of Graycliff, and Jeeves has just dropped her off at the front door......A tour guide comes and breaks the spell, urging her to keep up with the group.

"Oh, Oh!" Here we are, on the inside, at the top of the stairs. Turns out Rapunzel was never even there.....

....which really is a pity. These rooms are so full of light. She wouldn't even have needed her glasses.

That Frank , he had the right idea, bringing the outdoors in.

Washing dishes must have been painless with flowers like these crowding the window by the kitchen sink......

When the dishes were done you could take a stroll in the back garden. Nice how the windows reflect the lake. And turning away from the house you have this view before you.

You'd think Isabelle would have been happy as a clam. But, by all reports, she was not. Our heroine was. Happy as a clam that is, to have found her way out here. Loath to drive back to the city too soon, she went trespassing on private beaches, studiously ignoring signs that proclaimed them as such. The rich can have their mansions, but she'll growl at them if they tell her she can't walk along the shore. Nobody did. She had a lovely time, our intrepid explorer.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Not No, But Hell No!

Guess who called today when I was in the throes of mopping and scrubbing and gnashing my teeth? Go on, guess……

The Police Benevolent Society.

Can you believe it? The absolute balls of it…..

Unconcerned that they might not be my favourite people right now……

Even less concerned that I might be in the middle of yet another domestic crisis……The voice on the other end began to wax poetical about the boys in the squad cars. Their dedication, their self-sacrifice, their…..

I used to be polite.

I used to patiently listen to the spiel…..

But these are trying times.

First, I hung up.

THEN I said it.

A very bad word. Loudly and vehemently.

Then I resumed mopping and scrubbing and gnashing my teeth.

The fridge decided to go on strike…and it’s 86 degrees F in the shade….

The gods, apparently, are not finished toying with me yet….

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Monday, September 17, 2007

To Read or to LIsten.....That is The Question.

I can’t seem to get immersed in any one book lately. Too restless --- mind drifting hither and yon, searching, for what? Purpose? The meaning of life? New and exotic spiders? Chocolate?? Rather than really reading one book, I’ve been dipping and browsing.

One I’ve been carting around is “Under My Skin,” Volume One of Doris Lessing’s autobiography. Why Doris Lessing? I am not a fan, or even an un-fan, of her books. I haven’t read any of them, even though I have seen her referred to as “one of the great writers of the twentieth century.” Reviews of her latest book, “The Cleft” leave me uninterested.

But she has an arresting face. A face with character. The face of a person who didn’t back down from life’s challenges.

That face captivated me, and so I carried her home in my book bag. I haven’t been sorry. “One reason for writing this autobiography” she says, “is that more and more I realize I was part of an extraordinary time, the end of the British Empire in Africa……………..People no longer know what that time was like, even those who live in Southern Africa.” She has had a fascinating life and tells the story well.

I think I like autobiographies better than those written about someone by someone else. Because your life, and the paths you take, or don’t, and the decisions you make, or won’t, are all determined by how you think. And who, but you, can really understand that?

All of which makes my mind wander, in it’s aimless fashion, to a newspaper article I read recently, wherein “Book club purists look down on their brethren who---gasp---get the audio version.” [“Listen, you cheater” by Andrew Adam Newman of the NY Times]

For me the choice is easy. I prefer books. I like the weight of them, the feel of them, sometimes even the smell of them. I love the promise of another world waiting for me between the covers. Some of my favourite places are bookstores, especially musty -smelling second hand ones where each book’s physical history is shrouded in mystery. I like the situations of reading too, whether curled up inside, listening to the rain, or tucked into a corner of the porch, or hidden in the leafy middle of the tree at the bottom of our garden when I was growing up, or fitting in just a few pages more before my head flops onto my chest at night.

Sometimes I do check out audio versions, especially for trips in the car. But when I do, I often find the reader’s voice or interpretation annoying, as I did when I listened to “Rise and Shine.” I’m a big fan of Anna Quindlen’s, but she was not the reader, and the reader didn’t read it as I would have expected the author would have wanted it read. Call me persnickety.

This doesn’t happen when the author is the reader.
Two outstanding examples come to mind. Sometime after reading, and loving, Frank McCourt’s book “Angela’s Ashes,” I found the audio version, read by McCourt himself. And loved it, all over again. It was like sitting by the fire, listening to him tell his story. He got the accent just right. Imagine that! Much better than some poor amadawn of an American trying to fake it with a stage-Irish brogue! Each inflection was perfect, and his pronunciation of the frequent Irish words flawless. As Homer would say---“Doh!” He wrote the bloody thing. It came from inside his head and his memory and out through his vocal chords. Of course no one else could have done it justice.

Likewise with lives. Only the person who has lived a life can write about it convincingly. At least about the parts that most interest me---what they were thinking and feeling.

Then recently I happened upon an audio version of “The Not So Big Life” by Sarah Susanka. She is an architect whose book “The Not So Big House” I had really enjoyed. When we lived in Minnesota, we went on a tour of an award-winning house designed by her. Her ideas about our living spaces make so much sense to me. And here she was, unexpectedly applying her architectural principles to the way people conduct their lives. I was intrigued. I listened to the entire thing and became as much a fan of her ideas about our lives as I already was of her ideas about the houses we live them in. She herself was the reader. Only she could have read it with such passion and conviction. I will probably check out the book version soon, which will have the advantage of letting me reread parts I find particularly interesting, and gaze off into space while contemplating others. Yes, I know. I could rewind the tape or CD, but I’d rather reread, given the choice, than mess with buttons and risk blowing something up. Which has been known to happen.

But, back to Doris. She says “….scientists…….say something like, `If the story of the earth is twenty four hours long, then humanity’s part in it occupies the last minute of that day.` Similarly, in the story of a life, if it is being told true to time as actually experienced, then I’d say seventy percent of the book would take you to age ten. At eighty percent you would have reached fifteen. At ninety-five percent, you get to about thirty. The rest is a rush - towards eternity.”

Will you excuse me now? I have to go immerse myself in my book, which has finally got me hooked.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Specially for Aunty

Aunty Evil! This one’s for you! For this shot my little spiny crablike orb weaver friend coyly showed me a little leg, proving that there is indeed “a spider in there somewhere!”
But, so’s not to traumatize you too much, I’m also putting the recipe you asked for on here……

Shepherd’s Pie with Mushroom Gravy

8 medium potatoes
3-4 Tblsp butter or margarine
1/4 to 1/2 cup warm milk
S &P to taste

Cook and mash potatoes. Add butter, milk, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Saute 1 large chopped onion and
1 clove garlic, minced, in additional butter until soft.
Add I ½ lbs ground beef [or whatever meat you wish to use] and brown well.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Add 1 bay leaf
½ tsp. thyme
¼ cup tomato paste

Cover and cook over low-med heat for about 20 mins.

Discard bay leaf.

Stir in a handful of chopped fresh parsley.

Spoon mixture into a greased casserole.

Spread mashed potatoes evenly over the top.

Sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Dot with small pieces of butter.

Broil for 5 mins.

Mushroom Gravy [optional, but yummy]

2 Tblsp butter
3/4 cup onions, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1/4 lb mushrooms, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 ½ cups canned tomatoes, chopped
Cook the onions and garlic in butter.
Add mushrooms and continue cooking until liquid evaporates.
Add s&p and wine.
Cook a few mins. More.
Add tomatoes and simmer 15 mins.
Add two Tblsp butter and thje heavy cream.
Warm thoroughly, but do not allow to boil.
Serve over shepherd’s pie.

When we were in school we rode our bikes home for lunch every day. To come in the back door and smell Shepherd’s Pie in the oven -----hmmmm! My mother was a great cook, but this is not her recipe. I think I clipped it from a newspaper eons ago. I certainly am not claiming to have invented it. Of course I take liberties now. Time was when, if I didn’t have all the ingredients, I just wouldn’t make it. Having children took the starch out of me and I started improvising. Now a recipe is just a rough guide! Substitute, eliminate what you don’t like or don't have, add whatever is lurking in the back of the fridge, and most of all, relax. Cooking isn't rocket science. Since I realised that I've had much more fun. And don’t forget to call me when you make it so I can come eat with you. Because it always tastes better when you haven’t had to do all the work yourself!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Front Porch Massacre

Saturday dawned. Recklessly,I swung my legs over the side of the bed and got up. Something had to give. I wasn't taking this lying down anymore. Under stress I usually do one of three things.

#1 Bake something yeasty. Never underestimate the power of therapeutic thumping.

#2 Clean something. I mean, really clean. To within an inch of it's life.

Or, most recently

#3 Blog something---the more banal the better.

Saturday's stress relief of choice was #2. Armed with a broom, I headed for the front porch.

Our front porch is probably my favourite part of this house. We have comfy chairs out there, and a variety of bushes screen it from the road. If you can't find me in the house, or out the back, I'm sure to be on the porch, reading, sewing, or writing. If you come over for tea, we can sip it out there.

But not in July and August. Way too hot. That's when the spiders move in and set up housekeeping, twelve feet up on the ceiling. Wasps like to build nests there, and Daddy-Long-Legs abound. The Bean has been sneakily taking over more and more of the porch space with his seedlings, and saplings, and cuttings, and graftings, and watering cans, and rooting hormone......

Enough! Saturday morning I am a woman on a mission. Out to reclaim control of at least this small corner of my life. From spiders, and wasps and budding botanists and mis-aligned planets.

Hmmm. The best place to start, I reasoned, was the ceiling. So.... Step out of the shoes, onto the chair, steady now. Another step up to the table. Reach, sweep, move the table, repeat. Of course it took longer than I expected. Doesn't everything? No problem though. I had no train to catch.

I did feel a little twinge to be causing such consternation among the ceiling residents. All those sentient beings. On the other hand, who wants a sentient, or any other type of being, rappelling down to settle on one's muffin?

Another implement had to be employed. One with a sharp edge. To dislodge the strongholds, which appeared to be made of petrified mud, of some other determined insect. I had to admire their skill and the strength of their creations. No need for them to have hurricane insurance.

I approached one wasp nest with trepidation, unsure whether or not it was still occupied, telling myself I'd better be nimble in case I had to escape in a hurry. It was empty. But what a fascinating piece of work! What makes us think that we are the cleverest inhabitants of the planet? I'd give a lot to have the unerring instincts of a bird, an insect or an armadillo. Sigh.

The truth is I'm not so shallow and self absorbed as to think that the events of last week mean the world is coming to an end. But they do parallel other events, or non-events, in my life, and the lives of people I love, which I am powerless to do anything about. I want my superpowers back. Now!

BUT! I am a fearsome force with broom in hand. The daddy-and mommy-long-legs didn't seem too concerned by my clean-sweep efforts. They just moved a few feet away and resumed their nonchalant stances. But their teeny tiny boy- and girl-longlegs progeny were scattering in every direction, probably squeaking, a la Chicken Little, "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!"

Now it is Tuesday. And the sky has not fallen. The porch looks nice and inviting again. Spiderless and swept.

The birds are singing out there. The sun is shining. The sky is blue. The leaves are rustling. And best of all, Fall is coming. So I'll quit my bitching and count my blessings.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Family That Speeds Together.....

Yes indeed, there was more.

But first I was allowed to sleep. I was very happy to crawl into the comfort of my bed that night, and oblivion.

The sun came up AGAIN the next morning. The planets were STILL out of kilter, but the sun was shining. The coffee tasted good. God was in his heaven, and, for all I knew, the Evil Cloud had passed.

But it was only Wednesday. The Bean was at an early class. The house was quiet. I did my morning puttering, put on a load of laundry, fed the cat..... And decided to go to the library, where the computers are well behaved. But first, an errand.

Near the scene of yesterday’s crime, I noticed a strange car on the grassy verge. A grey Dodge, parked, nose out, at right angles to the road. I thought it odd, but drove cautiously on and accomplished my errand. On my way back, the Dodge was still there, and this time I noticed the cop in the driver’s seat! The Sheriff’s fund raiser was still in progress. In an unmarked car.....The sneaks.

I thought about pulling over and telling him he was in the wrong neck of the woods. To come with me to where the real problem was. Instead I raced home [at a sedate thirty mph] to call the Bean, who was probably, even now, on his way home. No answer, so I left a message. Be careful, unmarked cop car, waiting to pounce.

I’m headed out the door again, thinking “library,” to find the Bean. In the driveway. Sputtering. Because there’s a grey dodge behind him, flashing its headlights. And a cop giving him a ticket. Another one for God and Country!

At first, when he saw the grey car follow him into the driveway, he thought it might be someone turning around, or maybe looking for directions...!

Meanwhile, a real cop car is cruising by, sees his buddy in the stealth vehicle, and turns in. Friendly young cop from yesterday climbs out. Sees me and smiles in recognition.

“Hi Molly!” using my first name.
“Hi,” I respond glumly.
“How’re you doing?”
“I’ve had better days...”

Later I ask the Bean why he didn’t answer when I called? He’d had to turn his phone off for class, and forgot to turn it back on. I wasn't exactly well positioned to be delivering a lecture. Partners in crime. Won't the OC be charmed with the pair of us.... A comedy of errors. Except nobody’s laughing…..You’re surely not laughing.....Are you???

And so it went. With Friday, Saturday and Sunday still to come!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Luck Of The Irish, My Eye.....

But then.......

At 11:30 a.m., dignity and good humour restored, I set out for a friend’s house [leaving Me and Myself at home with the cat], for an afternoon of stitching. Less than half a mile from my house, driving through a grassy area with trees on either side of the road, and no houses, I rounded a bend and before me, on the shoulder, were at least three cop cars with a dizzying array of flashing, twirling lights. Belatedly I paid attention to my speed. And hoped they were so busy with whatever they were there for that they wouldn’t decide to subject me to more trauma. I’d had enough for one day already, remember?

You’ve probably heard of “the Luck of the Irish?” Me too. And I can tell you it’s a fairytale. My heart sank as I saw, in my rearview mirror, that they were not, in fact, too busy with whatever they were there for to come chasing after me. Thirty nine in a thirty mile an hour zone. The shame of it.

The nice young cop explained to me that they’d had a complaint from a resident about people speeding through our neighbourhood. And THAT was what they were there for. Yes, I agreed. We’d all like to see you pull over the construction trucks that come barreling by our houses on two wheels, music blaring, hitting the road in spots, tossing their empty coke cans and burger wrappers onto our lawns…….But instead it seems to be turning into a sheriff’s office fund raiser, judging by the other cars they’d had pulled over. Seeing me distraught, he tried to be comforting, telling me it didn’t mean I was a criminal, it was just an infraction. Yeah. Or maybe an infarction….. Small comfort as I cast my mind back to late May and my U-turn adventures. Repeat offender, that’s me.

By now he was droning on like Charlie Brown’s teacher and I was no longer listening. I was wondering if it was too late to crawl back into bed and burrow down where it was warm and safe, to hide out there until the planets could align themselves more pleasingly….….That, and mutinously muttering all the cuss words I could think of under my breath. So now, surely, that’s enough c.r.a.p. for one week?

But no. Turns out there was more…….

Such A Week........

Into each life there comes, once in a while, a week that brings to the forefront of your brain, and sometimes even to your lips, all the bad words you ever heard or knew. Vehement, explosive words that in certain circumstances, like such a week, are the only way to spell relief. They're not usually words that "nice girls" in my youth were encouraged to use. They often have only four letters, making them easy and satisfying to enunciate. I can still remember a day, when I was testing the waters [aged seven or eight,] and made the mistake of saying "damn" in front of my dad.....If we had some kind of cosmic warning system for such weeks, or days, the most prudent course of action would be to burrow deeper down into the covers, ignoring the sneaky light of dawn, insinuating itself through chinks it the window shades, and killing the alarm clock. Unfortunately we have not yet evolved to such a level.

And so we rise optimistically and face another day or week. This week was such a week. It began innocuously enough. I survived Monday unscathed. Sipping my coffee on Tuesday morning my eyes fell on the calender. Oh Jesu, joy of man's desiring...... I had completely forgotten. The dreaded yearly gynecological exam.

An hour later, coffeed, showered, glum and naked, we [me, my disgruntled self, and I] are sitting on the edge of the examining table, loosely covered in that most fetching of garments, the paper gown, waiting for the Physician’s Assistant. There is a small window high up on the wall of the examining room. Small, perhaps to discourage last minute escape attempts---but how far would we get in our paper gown and bare feet? A patch of blue sky and a section of palm-tree trunk are framed in the window. As we contemplate the texture of the trunk the door opens and the PA enters, wearing a cheery smile. And clothes. She is, thank you God for small mercies, female and familiar.

A little polite conversation ensues, and then, down to business.

“Put your feet here please,” instructs the nurse, as the PA dons her gloves and approaches the nether regions with her gleaming instruments. Obviously it would be inconvenient if we were to cheerfully announce at this point that we had changed our mind. Ta-ta.

“Please scoot down a bit,” says the PA. We dutifully scoot.

“A little more…” We move a fraction of an inch.

“A little bit more please.”

“Do you want us to fall over the edge?” Giggles from the nurse.

“You just need to bend your knees a little,” from the PA.

“I think her legs are too long,” Helpfully, from the nurse.

We never were good at plies, even when we were young and limber. Besides, they want us to do them upside down…..Don’t they know we hung up our ballet slippers a few decades ago, when our knees rusted over?

Inconvenient legs notwithstanding, they finally get us into The Position. And swab whatever they have to swab, while we clutch the sides of the table. And then the ordeal is over, we think. But no. With a “this won’t take a minute”, a digit is inserted where digits were never meant to go.

“There,” cheerfully, “you’re done for another year.”

We should be happy. We aren’t, but we manage a wan smile. The frontal assault was one thing. At least that was expected. But the other. The stealth attack---for these indignities we’re expected to pay??

Scarpered out of there and quickly home for a restorative cup of tea. Enough trauma for one day, you’d think.

But then.......

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Me Meme

Isabelle tagged me for this meme a few weeks ago. Not sure what it's called; hope this covers it.

Jobs I’ve held:

Cashier at airport staff cafeteria;

Airport Tourist Information desk person;

Airline passenger check-in;

Physical Education teacher;

Full time mother for thirty five years, with concentration in, but not limited to, the care, feeding and civilizing of infants; toddler psychology; teaching, scolding, dancing, hugging, nursing, story reading, picture drawing; chief cook, bottle washer, laundress, seamstress, nutrition consultant, menu planner and executer, chauffeur, adventure co-ordinator, advice dispenser, conflict resolver, mopper of tears, wiper of snot, supervisor of homework, white knuckled driving instructor, encourager, cheerer, lover, hoper of hopes, singer of songs, dreamer of dreams………

Quilting instructor.

Movies I can watch over and over:
Dr. Zivago, Sound of Music, Anne of Green Gables.
Does it count if I fall asleep half way through?

Guilty Pleasures:
Blogging, chocolate, crosswords, sudoku, soaking in the tub.

Places I have lived: Ireland--- Limerick, Dublin, Monaghan
The Mojave Desert, CA
Riverside, CA
North Dakota

Shows I enjoy: Law and Order, CSI, Gilmore Girls, Prison Break, Dirty Jobs.

Places I’ve been on holiday: As a child---Ballybunion and Dunlaoghaire. As an adult---we don’t go on holidays. We call the Mayflower people and MOVE. Home to Ireland a few times.

Favourite foods: Shepherd’s Pie--- like my mother used to make.
Steak and Kidney Pie, as made by my landlady in Monaghan, N.Ireland
Portobello mushrooms, red onions and steak, as cooked on the grill by the OC.
Raisin Bread, as made by me.
Tiramisu, ditto.
Apple pie, as made by Liz.
Poppy seed coffee cake as made by M-I-L.
Swedish brownies, as made by The Bean [youngest son].
The trend I'm noticing here is: if it's prepared by someone else, I like it!

Body parts I have injured: nothing serious [knock on wood] so far.

Awards I’ve won:
Came first in my end-of-sixth grade final tests, which got me a scholarship to secondary school. [I think it was about two guineas per term--less than $10.00! Renewable as long as I didn’t screw up!]

A quilt I made was voted best of the entrants in our region, when we lived in Minnesota. It then went on to be displayed at a show in Chicago, where it got second place, to my utter amazement and delight. And was featured in a magazine....

Nicknames I’ve been called:
Yaya, by my brother, who couldn’t pronounce my real name properly.
Molly Bawn, by my grandmother, because my hair was fair. It still is, in a manner of speaking...
Big Moll [Small Moll lived two doors down.]
Jeff, because I was tall. My much smaller friend was Mutt.
Goose- you don't want to know.

How'd I do Isabelle?

Note: Our house computer is having temper tantrums. Hence the spotty comments from here of late. Tomorrow I'm planning to camp out on a computer at the library, and refuse to leave until I'm all caught up. Just so you know .

"Sugar and Spice...

Early in the morning of September 4th., five years ago, we were woken by the shrill shriek of the phone. Groping in the dark for the offending instrument, I was suddenly wide awake, as my eldest son whispered reverently, from several thousand miles away, “Mom, it’s a girl.” There are no words to describe such a moment. Even for me, who didn’t just kiss the Blarney Stone, to hear my husband tell it, but bit off a chunk and swallowed it.

A “girl.” Such a little word, to change how you see the world. A “boy” would have done it too. Impossible, when you’re young, to imagine having children. And yet, when you do, it seems like you always knew them, always knew they would be exactly as they are. And then the first grandchild…… How do you wrap your head around the idea of your children as parents? Your little boy as someone’s daddy? Your little girl as someone’s mommy? Seeing them love their little ones as fiercely as you love them. On the one hand hard to grasp, and on the other the most natural thing in the world.

I called and called, but never found them home. Here’s hoping our curly-haired girl had a wonderful day.