Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Rambling Preamble to the Real Women Meme

When I read the first part of Nutmeg's post on Real Women, I thought immediately of something I wrote almost twenty years ago. Further down, I found that she had tagged me to do it too, and so the hunt began.....

"Where did I put it? Where the hell is it? I know I put it here."

There's usually some logic to where I stash things----hush you in the peanut gallery, there is...its just not your garden-variety logic. Finally, after tears of frustration, and muttered imprecations about my untidy mind, I found it. In the first place I had looked---just not thoroughly enough.....sigh.

For a little background. We were living in Montana. It was the middle of winter. There was snow on the ground and frost in the air. Liz was in tenth grade, the boys were in seventh and fifth, California Girl was four or five, and always ready to divest herself of whatever warm clothing I had trussed her up in, and escape to the outdoors to run naked in the snow. The YS was still in diapers. And if you're not tired already, just thinking about that much, we also had two rambunctious springer spaniels, barely out of puppyhood. There was a shadowy figure we called Dad in the picture, but he was a squadron commander at the time and always at work.

The day in question was one of those, where, from the moment your feet hit the floor in the morning, everything goes wrong. When the children came home from school everyone was milling around the kitchen, which was none too spacious. Strange and noxious fumes were emanating from the diapered one. And THEN someone let the dogs in. Joyous dogs they were, and I loved them dearly, just not at that particular moment on that particular day. They had their dancing shoes on, courtesy of Mr. Montana Winter, and they were ecstatic to see the kids. Bedlam. Screeching children. Excited, tap-dancing,vigorously tail-wagging,enthusiastically drooling dogs, muddy ice quickly turning to muddy slush all over the kitchen floor..... Something exploded inside my head.

"Out!" I roared. I had to roar. No one would have heard me if I'd spoken in my normal, civilised voice.

"Out of my kitchen! All of you! And don't come back!"

They scattered. To bedrooms, to the basement, to Timbuktu, for all I cared. I slammed the door shut, grabbed some paper and a pen, sat down in the middle of the kitchen floor, and through tears of rage aud frustration, wrote the following advertisement, which I had every intention, no matter how ridiculous it sounded, of sending to the classified section of the newspaper.

"Wanted ASAP!

One warm and kindly woman, to care for five children, their father and their dogs.
Must be a refined person, even-tempered, understanding and infinitely patient.
Should be content to work for love, not filthy lucre.
Must agree, in writing, never to develop the flu, a headache, an upset stomach, an aversion to children, or anything that might hinder her in the proper discharge of her duties.
Said duties will include cooking, cleaning, dusting, scrubbing, and laundry ---in its multi-faceted glory. In addition, the applicant will be on call twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty two weeks a year. This cannot be over-emphasised as unforseen emergencies occur with regularity.

A very dim view would be taken of an applicant likely to come unglued at the sight of broken bones, split chins, gaping wounds or gushing blood. An iron constitution is imperative.

The successful applicant should be a person of humble, self-effacing disposition, since the pursuit of personal interests might lead to discord in the household. Of course this requirement would be waived in the desirable, but unlikely,event the applicant actually gets her jollies from scrubbing, cooking, cleaning, dusting,and laundry in its multi-faceted glory.

The person selected will find she spends most of her day caring for the children, ensuring that they are at all times clean, warm, well-fed and healthy. The littlest girl has a penchant for running naked in the snow; the boys show little interest in wearing clothing appropriate to the season, and have a particular aversion to baths and picking up their toys.

It would be expected of the successful applicant that she would overcome these minor problems in a cheerful and positive manner. She should strive to maintain a calm, harmonious atmosphere, and never resort to such extreme measures as locking the little darlings in their rooms and throwing the keys down the toilet, or forcing them to go to bed without ice cream. Gentle persuasion is preferred at all times to ranting and raving, especially in family room combat situations. She must be mindful always of their delicate psyches. Hers however, should be of steel.

The applicant will find it is easier to achieve peak performance in her duties if she can arrange to have six additional hours in her day instead of the usual twenty four.

While the older children are in school, in addition to the younger two, she will have complete charge of the family dogs. Their intake of playdoh, which the pre-schooler generously shares with them, must be carefully monitored to ensure that it does not exceed the USRDA for dogs under one year. The applicant's chances of securing this job will be greatly enhanced by the ability to wield a poopie-scooper with skill and a pleasant smile.

The father will be the easiest part of this job, departing as he does, before dawn, and returning well after dark. His requirements are few ---sporadic feeding, a steady stream of clean underwear and shirts, and peace and quiet on his rare sojourns at home.

This highly desirable job is available only because the person currently holding the position is losing her grip on reality and will be departing soon to take up beachcombing in the Bahamas.

Qualified applicants may obtain further details from Molly Bawn. But hurry. She may have a better day tomorrow."

So there you have it. Real women, as much as they love being moms and wives, need to have breathing space, and time,once in a while, just a little time, to remember who they were before life swept them away on this marriage, children, mortgage, sleep deprivation roller-coaster ride. Guilty as charged.

Did I hear someone mutter "procrastinator"? Once again, guilty as charged........I'm thinking, I'm thinking! More next post.....

Monday, March 26, 2007

Messing About On The River

As soon as breakfast was inside the munchkins we were off on the adventure of the day. Today it was kayakking. The sky was blue, the sun was warm, the aged bones braced themselves for the workout to come, and the owner of one of the younger sets of bones fretted ..... Bear talked non-stop all the way to the river. Details had to be ironed out in his head as to how it would all go down. He tried issuing edicts about who would go in the red kayak, and who would go in the blue, assuming those were the colours we'd get, but even more importantly, who would go in mommy's kayak! Rowdy Roo won that round. Sometimes it just pays to be the youngest...

Once on the river Bear relaxed. He sat up front taking everything in, especially the design details of mechanical devices some people use to lift their boats clear of the water. Roo meanwhile, floated with his mommy, keeping a weather eye out for lonely ducks and such.

Several friendly people, seeing the style the boys were travelling in, called out to them from the banks of the river, congratulating them on getting the grown-ups to do the donkey work!

So Bear and I made a pact. Or rather, I suggested it and he sort of grudgingly agreed. And it was this: that in another ten years we'd go out on the river again, and he would bundle my bones, wrapped in a comfy blanket, into the front seat of the kayak, slather "sunscream" on whatever parts remained exposed, make sure I had a good grip on the winebottle, and that the chocolates were within easy reach, then he'd paddle us off out into the gulf for a few lazy hours, because of course, by then, he'd be a tall, strong, muscular you think I should get it in writing?

.....this fellow here was out on the river too, enjoying the sun and the fishing.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

"Our Looking For Our Mommy"

If anyone had told me, when I was in the throes of raising children, that the day would come when I could visit the bathroom alone, take a shower alone, when I wouldn't have to share sips of every cup of tea I drank with tea-loving munchkins, go shopping, just for fun, alone, actually browse at the library, I wouldn't have believed them. But, look at me now. I even have time to blog! And so it will be for my daughter, even though, right now, she receives such true and well-intentioned comments with a look that says "Right. You're just humouring me!"

A few days ago I found my DD with her Bear and her Rowdy Roo , at the airport. I'd only run like a rabbit up and down the escalator between the arrivals gate and baggage claim about four times....when there she was, smiling and serene . She was happy to see me. I am, after all, her Mommy. The Bear and the Rowdy Roo eyed me with suspicion and clung like limpets to their mother's legs. "Who," you could imagine them thinking, "is this grinning, aged fool, addressing us in such familiar terms?" Ah, the trials of long distance grandparenthood!

Day One we headed to the Wildlife Park, where Bear and Rowdy Roo set about proving that the toddler urge to climb is universal.

The little duck and his turtle friend were not the main attractions, but they were the ones that caught my eye.They made me think of 2 1/2 yr. old Rowdy's comment every time he saw an animal not in the company of at least one other of its own kind ---- "Our looking for our mommy."

Monday, March 19, 2007

Granny's Cottage

Lovely comments on my Paddy's Day post---thank you all for dropping by. If you make the soda bread, soak a cup of raisins for thirty minutes in half a cup of whiskey [or boring hot water!] and add with the flour. Don't throw that whiskey down the sink! Save it and toss it into your next cup of tea. Bake the bread five or ten minutes longer than instructions say. You guessed it--the overbaked loaf tasted better than the first one. Great for breakfast any day of the year....

Even though I can remember my Granny's house before they got electricity out the country, I'm really not so ancient. In fact, having just read somewhere that sixty is the new "middle age", I realise I'm just a young whippersnapper, having a couple of years still to go!

The old house was the farmhouse where my mother grew up. It burned down sometime in the mid fifties, and was replaced with a modern monstrosity. I always loved the old house better---thick whitewashed walls; thatched roof; tall, white haired grandfather still alive; oil lamps lit in the evenings; down on your knees, if you stayed late, to recite the rosary with Granny, auntie and the uncles, and no complaining that the stone floor hurt your knees; window seats, a half door that let the sunshine in but kept the chickens out, a cobblestone yard in front, a tangle of wild roses and gooseberry bushes out back-----and a sweeping view of the entire county ---- could heaven be any better?

When the new house was finished, and Granny installed in its modern comforts, she and my aunt and my mum would sit there chatting and drinking tea, when we'd drive out for a Sunday afternoon visit. As soon as I could, I'd escape, and go off up the passage to the shell of the old house, and spend blissful hours rummaging around there. There were old books and periodicals, sheet music and photographs, cold cream jars and knick knacks ........ I remember finding a little mug, very dainty, with flowers painted on it. I brought it back down to the new house and showed my treasure to the grownups, and asked if I could keep it. My own mother pounced on it and appropriated it, claiming it had belonged to her as a girl. There was no arguing. It was hers. I guess she didn't realise how completely enchanted with it I was. Or care. It was carried back to Limerick with us and set on the sitting room mantlepiece, where I could look at it but not touch, even though I always felt it rightly belonged to me!

In the fullness of time the old cottage was torn down, and modern milking parlors built in it's place. Whatever artifacts were saved were then stored in the loft above the old milking barn, so while the womenfolk chattered, I' d go and climb up to the loft, and spend hours mooning over old photographs, and wondering who they all were, and if I dared ask to be allowed to take some of them home......

The new house, even though it lacked the charm and personality of the old one, and had a modern Aga cooker instead of the open hearth, could still be relied on to have the smell of freshly baked soda bread lingering in the corners every time we went to visit.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Erin Go Bragh!

"If you're Irish, come into the parlour
There's a welcome there for you.
If your name is Timothy or Pat
[or Liz , Rise, Aunty, Lukey, Meggie,
Isabelle, Tanya, Jess, Karen,
Tracey, Kelli, Joyce, Stomper, MJD,
Float, Nutmeg, Diana, Ali, Squirrel,
or anyone who regularly lurks around these parts!]
So long as you come from Ireland
[or NZ, Australia, Scotland, the US or England!]
There's a welcome on the mat.
If you come from the Mountains of Mourne,
Or Killarney's lakes so blue,
We'll sing you a song, and we'll make a fuss,
Whoever you are, you're one of us.
If you're Irish, [or any of the above]
This is the place for you!"
With apologies to the unknown author.
I have one cake of soda bread in the oven and another one ready to go. It smells divine! Wish you all could come over to help eat it....
Sometimes, particularly in March[!] the stage-Irishry gets out of hand. The worst offenders are the OC and the YS, each of whom thinks he has the Irish accent nailed! But shure, "Gosh and Begorrah!" I do love it when I get cards from my far flung friends, just because St. Paddy's Day is coming!
I remember the first time my Dad, who worked for Aer Lingus, went to NY for the St. Patrick's Day parade. We never got that excited about it at home. Sure, we might have the day off from school, and we might wander into town to watch the local parade and, guaranteed, mother would buy pins with foil harps and real shamrocks on them, and expect us to wear them, which, in my teenage sophistication, I thought was an embarrassingly uncool display [ who can understand the workings of the teenage mind?] And inevitably St. Patrick's day would fall smack in the middle of Lent. So you couldn't even eat sweets without pangs of guilt.......
But, back to my Dad and the parade on Fifth Avenue. He was flabbergasted to meet people who couldn't find Ireland on the map if their lives depended on it, decked out, nevertheless, from head to toe in garish green outfits that would make any self-respecting Irishman, such as himself, squirm with embarrassment. He was mortified, I think, at the idea, that seemed rampant in the States, that we were a nation of yokels, running around looking for pots of gold at the ends of rainbows.
"They even painted the line down the middle of the avenue green!" he told us in wonderment.
If I do say so myself, that bread smells wonderful---the first is out, the second is in......two different recipes. Of course half the reason they smell so delicious is that they carry me back to my mother's kitchen. It was always great to be done with school for the day, but to come in the door and breathe in the warm inviting smell of freshly baked soda bread was bliss indeed. Not that mother would let us lay into it the way my lot would. You weren't allowed to have any until it was completely cooled, because, she said, it would "sit like a stone in your stomach." Even as a grownup I've never had the willpower to wait. It always tastes best while still warm , so what was that all about??
My grandmother's kitchen, out the road in Ardpatrick, was another haven of great baking aromas. I'm old enough [age has some compensations!] that I can remember the "old house" there, which burned down when I was about six or seven. In the "old house" there was no electricity. Only oil lamps. And water had to be carried in buckets from the spring. And the baking was done over the big open fire in the kitchen. The soda bread would be placed in a big black pot with a lid, and hung over the fire to bake. It was an exacting science, and Granny was the expert. She knew just how high or low to hang it, how vigorous the fire had to be, and whether or not it might be necessary to place some pieces of red hot peat on the lid to provide even heat. All I know is that it smelled like heaven.
So, just in case you'd like to celebrate St. Patrick's Day with a few slices of delicious , good-for-you, Irish bread , here's a recipe.
O'Brien's Irish Bread
[from The Star Tribune in Minneapolis]
1 1/2 cups stone-ground whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour [I use 3/4 cup, plus 1/4 cup wheat germ]
1/4 cup dry oat-bran hot cereal
1/4 cup regular rolled oats
2 tblsps sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tblsps soft butter
1 1/2 cups buttermilk, divided
3 tblsps melted butter
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Dust baking sheet with flour.
In large mixing bowl, combine flours, dry cereal, oats, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
Cut in soft butter.
Stir in 1 1/4 cups buttermilk.
Gradually add remaining 1/4 cup buttermilk, kneading in the bowl as little as possible until dough is moist.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a seven inch round loaf.
Place on a baking sheet.
With a sharp knife cut an "x" on top.
Bake 40-45 mins. until bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped with a knife.
Remove to a wire rack and brush with melted butter. Keep your mitts off it for one hour, until completely cool. Wouldn't want you getting stones in your stomach!
This recipe is tried and true, the first one I made today. The second one into the oven was a recipe that I found in the food section of the paper this week. Very similar to the above, with the addition of raisins soaked beforehand in whiskey. Yum. Except....I was so wrapped up in writing this that, having learnt nothing from the Burnt Boiled Eggs Debacle, I missed the timer going best it will be super crispy, at worst I'll have a new doorstop.
Erin go Bragh means Ireland Forever. One creative interpretation, on a card that arrived this week, showed two Irish colleens. Colleen # 1 has perky boobs and a T-shirt that says "Erin go Bragh". Colleen # 2 has saggy boobs. Her T-shirt says "Erin go Braghless". Groan.
So, whether you identify with Colleen # 1 or Colleen # 2,
"Wishing you walls for the wind
And a roof for the rain
And tea beside the fire.
Laughter to cheer you
And those you love near you
And all that your heart might desire."

Monday, March 12, 2007

And now, for your viewing pleasure....or maybe not....

Twenty past eight on Monday night and I'm blogging. I love to blog. But not between eight and nine on a Monday evening. Because that's when I watch Prison Break. Or should I say that's when I would like to watch Prison Break . On Tuesday night its Gilmore Girls. Then I'm done for the week. Two shows. With some weather and news thrown in along the way.

As the clock crept towards eight, I downed tools, went and sat on the couch and picked up the black remote from the coffee table. Clicked the red button that usually turns the infernal machine on. The screen turned bright blue, but remained blank. Oh-oh. We'd had it set for a video over the weekend. And this was the first time I'd turned it on today. Not a good omen. Me and things electronic do not get along. Especially since we moved here. At which time the OC updated his equipment........electronic that is...... But I don't cave without a fight.

Before going into full battle mode I had to fortify myself. Briefly considered opening the half bottle of wine that lay in the fridge and chugging it. But settled instead for a cup of industrial strength tea.......No lily-livered Lipton's for me, but a cup of robust, steaming Barry's. When the going gets tough the Irish crave tea. [Ok, ok, some of them crave whiskey too!]

Thus fortified, I approached the coffee table again. And cast a jaundiced eye on the remotes lying there. All four of them. And two more on top of the T.V. Six altogether. One of them had to have a magic button that would solve my problem. So I started pressing. I pushed one that said "cable". Nothing. I pushed "tv", "info", "menu". Nothing, nothing, nothing. I pressed "cable" again, "guide", channel buttons, volume buttons, "setup". Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing. N.O.T.H.I.N.G!!!! The blasted T.V. just sat there, looking inscrutable, while my blood pressure rose. I would have taken pleasure in smashing something hard and metallic through it, like a frying pan. But I refrained.

For someone who should have been born in the 1800's, I think I manage remarkably well in the modern world. I can drive a car, a stick shift at that. I can operate all kinds of electrical appliances from a toaster to a sewing machine, and beyond. I recently even learned how to operate a food processor without mincing my fingers. And coffee? I can use a grinder with the best of them. But a television set? Floors me.

I've been in this situation before. One memorable night, when the YS was still in high school, he and the OC went to watch a soccer match at the school, leaving me the luxury of watching Gilmore Girls, undisturbed. IF I'd been able to turn the blasted thing on. I ended up, instead, whimpering on the couch until they returned. And with deft flicks of their male wrists brought the infernal machine roaring to noisy life. Showoffs.

To my way of thinking progress should, by definition, make life simpler. What is simple about a stable of six remotes? I have the solution. Never mind the complicated inventions of the gadget-crazed male segment of the population. What about this for a radical breakthrough----One remote. Two buttons. One turns the Blasted Thing on. The other turns the Blasted Thing off. Stunning in its simplicity, don't you agree?

At ten past nine the phone rang. The daily call from the OC. After hearing my tale of woe he told me that I could stop pouting. Prison Break wasn't even on tonight! Not until next week........Ooh. In the immortal words of Emily Latella*, delivered with her best SEG-------"Never mind."

But what about Gilmore Girls tomorrow night??

*Gilda Radner in the early days of Saturday Night Live.

Friday, March 09, 2007

O Frabjous Day!

It's always nice when a new commenter shows up on your blog. Riseoutofme at showed up on my last post, and as is my wont, I clicked over to check it out. And came up on a blank blogger wall*. Hmmm.

Went away to the garden to cogitate while pulling weeds. Back later to find some jockeying for position in the "Who gets the next quilt" line going on between Aunty Evil and the mystery commenter! Followed by a comment from Detective Liz, who, after careful examination of the scant available evidence [to wit --- ranting --- it's genetic] concluded that it must be one of her siblings. Certainly a possibility. The comments do have a hauntingly familiar ring. Aye. But which sibling?

Back outside to the sunshine to plant some tomatoes. Have I mentioned how beautiful the weather has been here for the last few days?

Thirst drives me back inside just as the telephone rings.
Detective Liz reporting, triumphantly, that she's cracked the case! It is not, as we had surmised, her brother, our Bonny Boy over the ocean, but my sister, her aunt, who also lies over the ocean.

"O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
I chortled in my joy."
My Little Blister has recently acquired a new laptop, to replace the dinosaur with which she had been waging a losing battle. One of the many benefits was that she could finally read my blog and the blogs of all the lovely people who regularly comment thereon. And it was good. And the Blister was happy, for a while. But, being a person of action, just reading was soon not enough . She wanted in. And so, riseoutofme was born.
The really weird thing about this is that my very first post, I write best on a bicycle, back on August 2 nd. 2006, was also about a bicycle! What are the chances?? Skip on over and pay her a visit . You won't be sorry.
*The blank wall is gone. She was still tweaking the setup. Full blogger profile available for your perusal!

Friday, March 02, 2007

February Wrap-up

Saw a few good movies in February. Can you stand one more review? Friday night. Technically not in February, but my brain was still stalled there. Me and one very subdued cat watched Ladies in Lavender, with Maggie Smith and Judi Dench. A movie I've eyed longingly in the past, but known the menfolk would cast me out into the wilderness had I brought it home. But just for me? You betcha! And as I expected, I loved it. I've been a Maggie Smith fan since I first saw her in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, many years ago. And Judi Dench? Classy dame, literally. Heaven would be looking that good when I'm that old.

So, two awesome actresses, a handsome young fellow whom they find washed up, unconscious, on the beautiful Cornish coast, crashing waves and screeching gulls, a crackpot housekeeper, scores of quaint villagers, a mysterious visitor, and violin music. Add it all up and what do you get? Two hours of BLISS. Five mollystars. Check it out.

Totally bummed on my February read, By the Lake, by John McGahern. One hundred and twenty nine pages of yawning before I decided life is too short, so..... chucked it. On to an old Anne Tyler one, Dinner At The Homesick Restaurant.

Finally opened the cans of paint I bought last August, and painted the laundry room. Yellow. Very yellow. Not the shy and delicate yellow conjured up by the name, Pale Cowslip. Which I probably picked as much for the memories as for its pastel charm! Memories of riding bikes out one country road to a particular field ,with the ruins of an old castle in the middle, and a sea of pale, delicate cowslips, begging to be picked..... But its growing on me, and it is clean, and , most importantly, not white!

Biggest February accomplishment, second only to not losing my mind? No, sad to say, I did not finish my Opus Magnus, the Star of Bethlehem quilt for my little grandson. Thought about it a lot, and while thinking, was mindlessly making blocks from four and a half inch squares and two inch strips. Which, as often happens, acquired a life of their own, and which, I brilliantly decided, will become an interim quilt for same little grandson, while his deadbeat granny gets her head around finally finishing the other.

Dug deep into my stash and found the perfect border! Voila! There it is at the top. Couldn't turn it the right way, my skills being non-existant in this department. Beggars can't be choosers---I'm just glad I got it on here at all!Turn your head---the checkerboard should be at the bottom. What do you think? Will he like it?---he'll be three this summer.....

I realise the world has gone ahead and started March without me, but now I'm ready to start running to catch up.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

One Sorry, Soggy Cat

Sitting here about an hour ago, catching up on blogs, I suddenly became aware of an unusual sound. Frantic scrabbling. No one in the house but me. Oh-oh. And El Pussygato. Who has been wanting to be outside a lot of late, on lizard patrol around the pool. And spying on birds. And exchanging insults with a squirrel........Went to the door, which I had left open so he could come and go with minimal yowling.

Poked my head out enquiringly into the darkness. And was nearly knocked over by a streak of white, very wet cat, travelling in excess of a hundred miles per hour, through the door, to the safety of the house.

Following his soggy trail, I found him cowering under the bed, eyes like saucers, looking very bedraggled. But he wasn't coming out. Not for me. Not for anybody. Time for some reverse psychology. Who me? Curious about how you got so wet? Whatever gave you that idea?

Soon he came slinking by the couch, giving a wide berth to the sliding door to the pool, casting anxious and distrustful looks at the darkness beyond. I talked to him soothingly, and he let me pick him up and wrap him in a towel and gently pat him dry. The smell of recently -almost -drowned cat is not up there with Channel No. 5. But I snuggled on regardless, and was rewarded soon with the tentative beginnings of a purr. Which grew. And grew. And now he's busy washing himself and trying to recover from the indignity of falling in the pool. And hoping the squirrel wasn't watching.

I may never know how it happened. But he's my good buddy. I'm so glad he figured out how to swim.