Monday, July 30, 2007

Early Morning Magic

I was drinking my coffee, Sunday morning, when I spotted the quail from the window. Putting the mug down, I picked up my camera, opened the door as quietly as I could, and went towards him with all the stealth I could muster. And pleaded silently for him to stay put, and not get all skittery and shy.

I was surprised he didn’t move, though he kept a wary eye on me. The shot might be sharper if I'd been more fully awake. Emboldened, I tried to creep closer, for a better shot. But he decided it was time to cut and run. Only then did I realize he must have been perched there as a lookout, because half a dozen of his family were disappearing into the bushes with him!

I was glad he’d lured me outside. It was a beautiful morning. The rain had made the fairy lilies pop.

Water, like drops of liquid crystal, trembled on leaves in the shade.

A dinner plate sized mushroom had materialized from nowhere. And over it all the morning sun sparkled through the trees.

God, I thought, is surely in His heaven. And telling me to embrace the moment. This moment. Because fretting about yesterday, or worrying about tomorrow, just distracts us from fully appreciating today.

End of sermon. You can stop yawning now. Amen.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Happy Birthday Britboy!

July is hot. Was hot. Possibly always will be hot. Except perhaps in Alaska. Where I don't live and never expect to. In Montana in July of 1977 it was most assuredly hot. Especially for someone very large with child. Even though I'm not scientifically, or analytically inclined, I knew when I woke up on July 25 th. that it was going to be a different kind of day. Not a Braxton Hicks kind of day, but a Real Thing kind of day.

He wondered if he should stay home, but I shooed the OC,then the MYC [Much Younger Curmudgeon] out the door to work. The base was across town. I'd be fine, I assured him. Yes, I'd call, now go already. I knew if I'd asked him to stay home,the contrariness of the universe would kick in, and nothing would happen. And I wanted something to happen. I was thoroughly fed up with being pregnant.

Besides, if he'd stayed home he would not have let me do what I had an overwhelming urge to do. Clean.

If about to have baby, must first clean. I didn't just vacuum. I moved furniture that hadn't been moved since we'd moved in. Dust bunnies that had settled into quiet corners and started families of their own were routed that day, because the gospel, according to mother-in-law, decreed that the skirting board behind the couch had to be spotless; no crumbs could be left to lurk in anonymity beneath the cushions on the couch; unreachable corners must be cleared of even the suspicion of cobwebs. Between the grunting and the heaving, a contraction would come and I'd down tools and get through it on the couch, and when it receded I'd get up and press on.

And so it went throughout the morning. By early afternoon I thought I'd better go to my friend's house. My two little people were going to play with her two little people when the time came. The time,I began to think, was at hand.

So we piled into the jeep and set off. And pulled over at the end of our road, for a contraction to pass. And drove like the hammers to get as far as possible before the next one hit. Which was soon. So we pulled over onto the shoulder again, until it passed. In this manner, drive, stop, breathe, repeat, we finally arrived at friend's house. Who promptly called MYC. Leaving little people in friend's capable hands we headed for the base hospital, where at five that afternoon our third child/second son was born.

I had been convinced this one was a girl. Poor guy. None of the names we had picked seemed appropriate. Not Aislinn, not Margaret, not Olivia. You'd have thought we had only discovered the week before that we were going to have another baby. Nothing pleased us. If I liked it, the MYC didn't, and vice versa. And of course the in-laws were consulted by telephone and had veto power. What can I say? I'd be smarter now?

Finally, in desperation, we named him for his father. Which made for years of confusion. But in his teens he solved the dilemma by telling his friends to call him by the last three letters of his [long] name, which makes him sound like a Russian space station. Took me years to get used to it, but finally it seems to fit, and it certainly is unique.

When he was a mere day old, nurses came to my room with papers for me to sign so they could circumcise him. What?? Again with this crap?? Didn't I tell them with my first son that we were having none of it?? But they kept coming, and kept bugging me. And tried to send me on a guilt trip, telling me I'd have it on my conscience if women he might be involved with got cervical cancer. I had just given birth to a beautiful baby boy. I didn't give a rat's ass about women, as yet unborn, who might fool around with him in the distant future. For these faceless creatures I should put my precious baby under the knife?? For a procedure that had no precedant in my family or my husband's? The nurses were disgusted with me. But I stood my ground. I was outraged that they would be so agressive when I was in such a vulnerable state. If I hadn't been Irish, and stubborn as a mule, they might have persuaded me that it was the right thing to do.

I'm not saying it's the wrong thing to do. But for me it would have been. Since then there's been a lot of controversy on the subject. I'm not sure if it still rages, but I never regretted taking a stand. A few days later we took our little bundle home, all of him, to his eager older sister and brother.

And a few days ago he turned thirty! On exactly the same day that his little nephew turned three. Unfortunately, "my bonny lies over the ocean," so getting together to celebrate wasn't an option. But you can bet all your parts, I was thinking of him in the sweltering heat of another hot July.

Friday, July 27, 2007

D turns Three!

I am an equal opportunity birthday wisher. More than Christmas, when I'm overwhelmed, I love to let friends and family know that I'm thinking of them on their special day.

And it is a special day. The first step in a new life journey; the first words in a brand new book; the day your mother finally looked down and saw her toes again. So, I was very disgruntled, a few days ago, when, upon trying to upload a picture of my little grandson, D, I kept falling on my face. And could not do it. I called him on the phone. I sent him a birthday card, but I could-not-put-his-picture-on-my-blog as I had done for his little cousin's birthday just a week ago.

Very disheartening. Begs the question "Do I really suffer from CRS syndrome?" This is a medical condition discovered by the OC after years of living with me, and conducting regular field experiments. The main symptom is an inability to retain information, or "stuff". He doesn't call it "stuff" but, in the interests of keeping my G rating, I will....

This morning I thought "Let me try one more time before I toss in the towel...." I did the same things. I pushed the same buttons. I swear. Then I crossed my fingers, and squeezed my eyes shut..........and it worked! I'm beginning to think there's more at work here though than mere technology....the satanic arts, perhaps? Or the trolls that live inside my computer trying to undermine what remains of my sanity?

Enough! To the Birthday Boy......

This picture of D was taken last month, when Rise and I met him and his family at the Assateague National Seashore. He was trying to befriend one of the wild ponies who wander the beach there. His dad [my oldest son] and mom are skittish about having his picture on the internet, so you will have to content yourselves with this view from behind. But take it from me, he's cute as a button, with his dad's dark brown eyes, his mom's nose, blond hair, and an attitude of open-faced innocence that makes you want to squeeze him.

So several days late, with lots of love .................

Hope you had a very Happy Birthday D.....and wishing you many, many more!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Quiet Desperation

"The mass of men" Thoreau said, "lead lives of quiet desperation."

Have you ever had the kind of day, or week, where you would get immense satisfaction from taking a pile of dishes, obviously not your prized Lennox, or my beloved Polish pottery, and hurling them with all your might against a brick wall? I don't lead a life of "quiet desperation", but I sure have a day of it every now and again.

And then there's only one thing for it, smashing crockery not being an option. I have to get out of here. Even stomping around in the trees out back won't help. I have to go where there is vastness and beauty; enough to humble me, enough to make me realise I'm being an ass, that most of it is in my head, and help me regain some perspective. It helps if there is water there. When I was young, I'd flounce out of the house, slamming doors behind me, and head for the banks of the Shannon, and walk, and walk, and vehemently walk, until the anger, or the fear, or the frustration was all stomped out of me.

I'd return like a lamb, and deal calmly with whatever it was had set me off, thereby avoiding the necessity of buying new dishes,and the possibility of an ass kicking from an authority figure.

So down to the water I went, a few nights ago, to watch the sunset, and clear my head. I brought my camera, in hopes of finding interesting clouds, but all the clouds were behind me as I stood at the water's edge, looking out at the gulf. Nothing but a swiftly sinking orange ball.

There's always a good turnout to watch the sun go down. Old folks come, shuffling along on the arms of younger friends. Retirees bring their guests and their folding chairs. Young parents bring their offspring, in hopes, perhaps, of tiring them out before bedtime. Teenagers come to hang out, and clown around at the water's edge. Old couples, young couples, families, dogs, teenagers.....and me.

After the glowing sun sinks below the horizon, the little knots disperse. There's a sigh in the air, of contentment, and peace. Mother Nature has come through for us again. Proving that no matter how good or bad a day we had, she can be depended on to finish it off the same way she always does, unmoved by our nonsense.

The sky turns dull, and as I watch, a dapper little dog dances at the dark edge of the water; a boy and girl have a few last "go's" on a boogie board; silhouettes drift towards the parking lot, and I think how insignificant we all are, for all our angst and agonizing.

The light is fading fast, from purple to navy. A few stars are out, and a pale "fingernail"* moon. The drone of cars rises, then falls away as the parking lot empties.

It's so still now. A lone, lazy gull flaps low over the water; a little wave slaps on the pebbles; the murmuring voices and quiet laughter of a young couple carry across the stillness. Was I ever that young, I wonder? If I was, it was too long ago.

The beach is quiet. Like my life. Everyone is leaving.

I sprint for my car across the parking lot. The gates close at sundown.....I drive home slowly through the darkness, serenity restored. Desperation, quiet or otherwise, has been pushed away for another while.....

Note: No dishes were smashed in the writing of this post. Just so you know.

*A phrase, coined in great excitement one evening in California, by my oldest son, who came inside to call us to come out and see "the beautiful fingernail moon." We've never called it a crescent moon since.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Happy Birthday Boo!

Here is one of the sweetest compensations for growing old. He's three today. Happy Birthday Boo!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Drooling in Dunedin

I went south last week to the town of Dunedin. It's an arty little place, right by the water, with lots of interesting shops and cute, if pricey, boutiques. When I'm in the area I like to nose around there for an hour or so. But this particular day I was on a mission. To the Dunedin Fine Arts Center, which was hosting the travelling quilt exhibit of the winners of the 2007 American Quilter's Society contest, New Quilts From an Old Favourite.

My first response to the roomful of colourful and awe inspiring quilts was "Wow!" Followed closely by "Drat!" Because, in my usual, last-minute dash out the door, I'd forgotten my camera. But, all is not lost*. By going to the MAQS website you can see the top five quilts for yourself. When you get there scroll down to "contests" and click on "New Quilts From an Old Favourite."

Rose of Sharon is not one of my favourite blocks. But since the aim of the contest is to put a modern spin on old designs,the results are always interesting. I liked the second place winner, Rio Rosie, better than the first, maybe because it was less recognisable as being based on Rose of Sharon! But also because it zinged with oranges, pinks and yellows, and rhythm from those swirling, dancing, shapes.

The fifth placed quilt made me think of Meggie's Leo!

Too bad the site doesn't have pictures of all seventeen of the quilts. There was one called "Leave Room In Your Garden For Fairies To Dance." I loved the title, but thought the background fabric detracted from the beautiful appliqued fairies.

I'm no fairy but I flitted off next to another Dunedin landmark,a huge quilt shop, aptly named "Rainbow's End." When I go there,I feel like a kid in a candy store --- drool, drool, drool.

In a moment of insanity [or guilt, perhaps], I volunteered at our last quilt guild meeting to take over our monthly fat quarter sale. Which simply means I keep my nose to the ground and sniff out fat quarters, on sale, at quilt shops, which we then mark up a little and sell at our meetings. Which was my excuse for going to the quilt shop. Turns out it wasn't an act of insanity after all! I have way too much fabric myself, so have to rein myself in regularly when I'm tempted to buy more. This new "job" allows me to buy fabric AND feel virtuous about it, since I'm actually doing a service for my fellow guild members! Can you see my halo? And would you like a preview of the loot?

Any ambitious quilters out there? You still have time to enter MAQS's 2008 contest! The old block this time will be Sawtooth. You have until November '07. Go for it! Maybe ,I'll see a quilt from one of my blogger friends at next year's exhibit. Don't look for one from me though. I have at least five years of work to finish current quilting projects.

*Saw a sign while driving there that said "If all is not lost, then where is it?" Anybody know?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Casper's Advice

Casper, is a sociable fellow. If I'm in the kitchen, he hangs out nearby, in the family room. If I'm sewing, he strolls in, tail aloft, and curls into a ball on a stool by the window, killing two birds with one stone---sunshine and company. Or, if I'm working on a quilt,he'll position himself, with a languid stretch, in the middle of it.[He thinks I make them solely for that purpose.] So,it's a no-brainer. If I'm on the computer he's right there at my feet, snoozing away companionably, or frequently, in my lap, having a blog read right along with me.

In this way he became aware that there are kittens out there. At Isabelle's, to be exact. So for the past week he's been giving me no peace. He wants a shot at being a guest blogger. What can I say? This animal is my roommate, friend, confidante, cuddler, and comforter. It would be churlish to refuse. Without further ado, here's Casper,cat extraordinaire.

"Greetings Bloggers! She [who must be humoured] thinks I'm suddenly interested in blogging. Not so. Blogging makes me yawn. But, sitting on her lap recently, I caught a glimpse of some very fetching kittens, which made me sit up and pay attention. I am of the opinion that kittens get way too little advice from grown up cats,and I would like to rectify that situation for Sirius and Cassie, by giving them the benefit of my own experience.

People like to think they own us cats. They even think they can train us. Harmless myths. Ones you might want to play along with in the interests of keeping them happy. Just as long as you never forget that it is you who own them, and you who need to make sure that they are properly trained.

The most important things in a cat's life, I'm sure you will both agree, are, food, comfort, grooming, playtime, comfort, clean litter, comfort, more food, and the biggies, relaxation and sleep. Oh, and in case I forgot to mention it, comfort.

Food is essential. Without it you will never grow into the lithe, graceful, creatures you are meant to be. You should establish at the outset, that you will not settle for just any food. Make sure they provide you with a varied diet. If, every time you come to your dish, with a great hunger on you, and find there the same boring old dry food, be brave. Stalk away in disdain, even though you feel faint. This will worry them enough that they will go to the store and fetch something new,with which to tempt you. This behaviour should be reinforced, perhaps by a little reward, such as, after you have partaken of the new delicacy, climbing into a lap, and purring appreciatively. They will be charmed with you and will know how to respond the next time you turn your nose up at the offerings in your dish.

Early in your life with your people you should ascertain which are the most comfortable chairs and claim them as your own. This may take some perseverance, but the results will be worth it. The first time he comes home from work and finds you curled up in his favourite chair, the man of the house is likely to be grumpy, and perhaps even go so far as to shove you off. By acting injured and hurt by this ungentlemanly behaviour you can win other members of the family to your side. Enough "Poor kitty!"s and "How could you Dad's," and you'll be well on your way to ownership of that chair. Of course you don't want to alienate him altogether. After all, he is labouring under the illusion that it is his house. It might be best to try to work out a compromise wherein you share the chair.

People are naive. When they are new to cat co-habitation they have no idea of what fun we can have with ordinary things. Lace curtains, fluttering in the breeze, for instance, are there to be climbed. The tantalising wiggle of yarn, as the lady in your life works on her knitting, is an invitation to a romp, with the aim of getting deliciously tangled in it. We practice our hunting skills by capering after the shadows cast by sunlight on walls, and by stalking every bug who has the temerity to crawl across the carpet. Paper sacks from the grocery store make the greatest hiding places. And boxes. Insist that they keep a variety of boxes around for you to play hide and seek in. Likewise baskets. Who can resist an adorable kitten curled up in a basket? However, they should be of high quality, not those substandard objects sold as "cat beds." Settle only for the handmade variety..... They'll buy "toys" for you, but feel free to ignore them. It will finally dawn on them to put a little creative effort into your toys. A feather, for instance, can provide hours of enjoyment. And who would want a store bought "mouse" when a much better creature can be achieved with some good quality fur and a piece of string?

Sleeping arrangements are another thorny subject. My own mistress has a very comfy down comforter on her bed. My favourite place to sleep at night is on this comforter, exactly where her feet are. Which makes her cranky, so I am sometimes forced to move, temporarily, to another part of the bed. I just wait until her breathing sounds deep and even. Then reposition myself, if not on, then right next to, her feet.

If, when morning comes, your people are not rising with sufficient alacrity, you can approach the problem in one of several ways. My own first resort is to approach the sleeping head on it's pillow, find the nose, and give it a gentle nudge. If this doesn't work, repeat, a little more forcefully. But proceed with caution. They tend to be difficult to reason with before they have that first cup of coffee. If you're still not getting the desired results, remove yourself to the door of the room, and yowl piteously. Just be ready to dodge flying slippers. Persistence again, is key. You will soon have them dancing to your tune.

One last thing worth mentioning. It's okay to love your people. As long as you do it with dignity. No dog-like slobbering please. And remember to maintain an air of mystery, like me......

.....just to keep them guessing.

Well bloggers, this has been exhausting, but I felt I had a duty to kittendom.I may not have covered everything, but I've made a start. Happy romping,Cassie and Sirius, and please let my mistress know if you have any questions. I will be available again right after I take my afternoon nap. As I mentioned earlier, blogging makes me yawn."

There you have it folks. From Casper's mouth to the kittens' ears. Who knew he would be so long-winded? Cassie and Sirius probably dropped off for a nap after the first paragraph. But it'll all be here on the blog when they have questions.......

Postscript: A comment from Thimbleanna sent me scurrying to her blog to do some intensive snooping. Got caught up reading, and so was taken by surprise when I scrolled back some more---to her June 26 th. post and there looking out at me was a gorgeous relative of Casper's! Scruff, by name. Go check it out. I swear I had no idea! Great minds indeed!

Monday, July 09, 2007

An Embarrassment of Figs

I spent an hour today harvesting figs. And yesterday. And the day before. I expect I’ll do it again tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that……

Several years ago, new to Florida, we innocently planted a little fig sapling. It arrived in a small box in the mail. There were no warnings attached. Nothing to indicate that this little sapling would grow into a monster fig tree and inundate us, for at least a month each year, with the fruit of its loins.

Our knowledge of figs was limited. I’ve heard that fig leaves were the cool thing to wear in the Garden of Eden. The OC grew up on fig newtons. I grew up on their Irish equivalent, fig rolls. They wouldn’t have made it onto a list of my ten favourite cookies. We were totally unprepared for how delicious fresh figs are, picked warm from the tree and popped directly into your mouth. Edible sunshine.

I hauled the ladder to the tree this morning to pick today’s crop. They’re ripe when they turn golden and their texture is soft. I stretched and reached and teetered, climbing up and down to deposit my loot in the bucket. Where the ladder wouldn’t go, I intrepidly went, risking life and arthritic limb.

And got scolded by a cheeky bird who ignored my efforts to shoo him, hopping from branch to branch, so close to me that I could, at considerable risk of ending up in the hospital, have reached out and throttled the bugger.

“Excuse me bird---whose fig tree is this anyway? I’m a reasonable woman. I’ll share. Just quit your squawking and flapping!” When I regaled The Bean with my bird tale later he asked ---

“Brown bird? Speckled? Long beak? Bad attitude?”
“Yes!” I said, “that’s him.”
“I know him,” he said.
“He’s the one who sits on the wire while I’m picking the blackberries,that I grew, and squawks at me, as though I was stealing from him! Yeah. His days are numbered.”

Anyhow. The purpose of this post is to beg for HELP! If anyone out there has tried-and-true recipes for using up a gazillion figs I’d love to hear about them. The neighbours are starting to bar their doors and hide when they see us coming, fig-laden. And we’ve eaten them ‘til our bellies ache. We need creative suggestions for the fig inundation. H.E.L.P!!

Monday, July 02, 2007

.......And Beaches.....

Islanders are, of course, magnetically drawn to beaches. They have no choice. Must.regularly.fill.lungs.with.salty.sea.air. Or curl up and die.

Which is why, when we were growing up, the sweetest words our parents could say, on a warm Sunday after Mass, were "Let's go to the seaside!"

While Dad organised the picnic basket, Mum rolled up her sleeves and started making sandwiches.

Lahinch, on the coast of Co. Clare, was about forty miles away. Forty very long miles. As we got closer, we watched like hawks, each of us wanting to be first to see the sea. When the shout went up, we craned forward from the back seat, riveted by the distant gleam of the ocean.

We had to curb our enthusiasm, however, until we found the perfect sheltered hollow in the sand dunes. Blankets were spread and swimsuits wriggled into. Dad set about dolacawling* with the little stove and kettle to make tea, mother set about roasting herself, and we scattered.

Brother made a beeline for the rocks to watch the relentlessly crashing waves. Little sister built sandcastles, and permitted the smaller waves to chase her. And I went leaping like a goat over the smooth rocks separating the dunes from the beach. There was giddy exhilaration in leaping from one to the other, so sure-footed that I knew, while airborne, exactly which rock I'd land on. I sometimes wonder if all that rock lepping had anything to do with the less than nimble condition of my feet now....

And shells! The toy has not yet been invented that could enthrall me as thoroughly as a seashell. On every trip to the sea I'd haul home another load, maternal protests notwithstanding. They were, and still are, endlessly fascinating.

Lahinch is a wide, sweeping arc of golden bliss. When we tired, temporarily, of rock lepping and sandcastle building, we'd go dancing into the waves, and skitter back as a huge one threatened, and advance again, shivering and giggling, and jump with each approaching swell,in a futile attempt to keep from getting completely wet. Eventually we'd surrender, and let the sea have her way with us, and come up laughing and gasping for air. Even on the hottest day in July, the Atlantic is COLD. Exhilarated, and covered in goose bumps, we'd dash for our hollow in the dunes. And lie on outspread towels, hugging the warm sand, until our teeth ceased their chattering.

And then, for sure, we'd be ready for those sandwiches. My mother was a farmer's daughter, so you'd expect that sandwiches made by her, for children rendered ravenous by the salty sea, would be great agricultural slabs of things. But you'd be wrong. Somewhere between the farm and the beach, our mum had fallen in love with things genteel. The sandwiches, and there were plenty of them, fortunately, were dainty things, with the crusts neatly cut off. Suitable for ladylike nibbling at a bridge party. We were no ladies, and this was no bridge party. It was like tossing buns to elephants.

And tea by the sea. Oh my! Even though we drank it from the woefully inadequate blue plastic cups that came with the picnic basket,it was surely what the angels drank in heaven.

Sunscreen? Never heard of it. Must be for sissies. With our fair skin we regularly got roasted. Looking like a lobster was proof you'd been to the seaside.... Several days later we could be found,like our cousins the monkeys, engrossed in the ancient grooming ritual of removing crispy wisps of scorched skin from each others' backs.


Liz was born in the Mojave Desert. But her bones know, that even though she lives in land-locked Ohio she is really a sea nymph.

This is our sea nymph in her famous film star pose....

She came to meet us in Miami for a weekend while her aunt was visiting from Ireland. It poured rain, the better to make Auntie feel right at home. But at least it was warm. This fellow was better rigged out than we were for the downpour.

There were three of us, which meant, given our combined lack of expertise, we could only have two of us in any given picture. But we wanted three. Not possible. Unless......Unless we threw ourselves on the mercy of a stranger.....Which is how we came to accost an unsuspecting fellow who had just come onto the beach from his hotel. Running up to him, camera in hand, smiling ingratiatingly, I asked if he would mind doing us a favour. Almost immediately, I knew I'd made a mistake. Of all the cool, laid back people we could have met on the beach, we'd run into the lone,humourless stuffed shirt. As he tsk,tsked,like a fussy old hen who had chicks late in life, I tried to back away, mumbling apologies.

"I came out here to exercise," he said crossly, impatiently reaching for the camera. All business. So...oo.. Its a miracle we didn't stick our tongues out,like naughty children, when he clicked. We began to thank him effusively, the more so because he'd been less than delighted to be accosted by three lovely lassies. But, lo! He was getting into the beach spirit now. "I'll take one more," he said magnanimously. Then, brushing aside our thanks, he went twittering off down the beach, intent on his exercise. We didn't accost any more strangers. Lesson learned. At least 'til next time.

But we did get a picture of all three of us, and we did fill our lungs with enough salty sea air to last us for a while.....

*dolacawling---my phonetic spelling for an untranslatable word used in Ireland that loosely means "messing about with......" Don't say I never include educational content here.

Note: I am guardedly optimistic that I might have finally nailed the picture uploading thing....not to mention ecstatic! Bear with me for a while if I get carried away with my new found abilities.