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.