Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Three Words.......


Friday, February 22, 2008

Tell Me A Story

“Tell me a story,
Tell me a story,
Tell me a story before I go to bed”.

It’s not just little people who love stories. Or maybe the fact that I love a good story, deftly told, means that I never grew up? If so, I have lots of company!

For a while there, when computers were taking hold, and the internet was in its infancy, we worried about books. Would they go the way of the dinosaur? Would they become a quaint relic of the Olden Days? Because, no matter how good the story, reading it off a computer screen just can’t compare to snuggling down in your warm sofa with a good book on your lap. So I’m very happy that, when the dust settled, books were alive and thriving. If I don’t have a great read under way, to read every night before I turn out the light, I feel something is missing from life. And when I find a really good book, I almost hate for it to end.

That said, there’s a book meme doing the rounds. I found it at Lily's. She found it at Daysgoby, who found it at….well, go look for yourself if you really want to know!

The rules are:
1. Pick up the nearest book/your current read [at least 123 pages.]
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.

If you make the rounds of people who’ve done it, you can have a small sip of a lot of books, kind of like a wine tasting, except you’ll be tasting with your eyes and your imagination, not your tongue. Unless your name is Suzy, and you are the reincarnation of our first black lab…….

My current read is “Mothers And Sons” by Colm Toibin, a fellow countryman of mine, and, incidentally, another winner of the International IMPAC Literary Prize for his novel “The Master.” “Mothers And Sons” is a collection of his short stories.

Sooo, to page 123, fifth sentence. And then…..

“The tune, Lisa thought, was banal and derivative. When Julie had finished singing, Shane stood up. “The words are cat,” he said.

Well. That doesn’t give you much of a taste, does it?. Please Teacher, can I read from a different page?? I’ve read two of the stories so far. I started with the last one in the book, which immediately made a Colm Toibin fan of me. Then I read the first one. Nobody said I had to read them in order! I think I’ll read “The Master” when I finish with this book, in spite of sighs from The TBR Pile. The local library has several of his books, so, my reading life should be full and satisfying for quite a while.

So now, go thou and post likewise. Tell us what you're reading.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Stealing Horses In Norway

At the library last week a man, who seems in every other way a polite and civilized person, elbowed his way to the top of my To Be Read Pile. His name is Per Petterson. I was heading out the door when the New Book section whispered to me…….

“Molly Bawn, come see my lovely wares,” beckoning.

“It’ll only take a minute!” wink, wink.

“But, but….” hesitating, then lost. Because I spotted this:

And put it under my arm, and THEN headed out the door.

Which is not fair to Khaled Hosseini, or J.M.Coetzee, or Barbara Kingsolver, or Louise Erdich or Kurt Vonnegut, or Nancy Mitford, all of whom have been patiently waiting, enduring the accumulation of dust on their covers, only to have upstarts like Mr Petterson elbow their way in and refuse to take a number and wait their turn. It’s a cruel world on my night table…..

Trond Sander, a man of sixty seven, retires from life in Oslo to live alone in the woods by a river in eastern Norway…..Maybe I’m just partial to hermits. After all, the OC has definite tendencies in that direction… ….Mr. Petterson lured me in.

His sentences are long. I usually don’t like it when sentences run on. I get confused and lose the thread. But his, though long, move with the ceaseless murmur of quiet stretches of river, sometimes rising to a roar at the rapids, but propelling you ever onwards, until suddenly, you’re turning the last page and you don’t want to leave that cabin, or those piney, Norwegian woods, or those memories he’s caught you up in….

It’s a simple story of a man trying to live simply. He brings no television with him to the woods. No washing machine. He’s left no forwarding address. He’s looking for peace. He chops wood for his fire. He goes for long walks with Lyra, his dog. He helps his strangely familiar neighbour. Plots how he will fix up his dilapidated cabin……

But another, not so simple, story is unfolding. His new situation brings back memories of a summer with his father when he was fifteen, in a similar cabin by the river, and how the events and revelations of that summer changed him, broke his heart, and set him on the road to becoming the man he became.

This book set me thinking how much I’d like to revisit my childhood. The setting for “Horses” is Norway, but it’s really about another foreign country, the past, a place to which, once we have left, we can never return, but which provides background music for the rest of our lives. A child has a child’s understanding. But there are layers of meaning in what is said, and in what happens, that only begin to dawn on you when childhood is far behind, and you wish you could go back to investigate further, but the fog is too thick and you can’t struggle through, no matter how hard you try.

I loved this book. Since it was written in Norwegian it would have been out of my reach without the talents of Anne Born, who translated it to English. Even though The Pile is high, I’ll continue to check the new book shelf. Washing windows and scrubbing floors, and all the necessary daily chores have to be done, but they can wait if I have a chance to be “Out Stealing Horses.”

Note: In case you need further persuasion, "Out Stealing Horses" is the winner of the 2007 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Prize. I had never heard of it, but upon investigation I have found a whole trove of former winners to add to my TBR pile. I can hear sighing on my night table already!

Another unrelated note: The dead have risen over at Lily's place!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Long Ago and Far Away....

....sixty years ago today, a little boy was born.....

Happy Birthday to You,
Happy Birthday to You,
Happy Birthday Dear JB,
Happy Birthday to You!

We're keeping the rocking chair and the slippers warm for you!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Let Them Eat Cake

When a magazine arrived in the mail last week with this recipe*, I knew I’d have to try it. Lent is not a time to be making luscious desserts, but I thought I’d waive all that, just for Valentine’s day. I have neither a houseful of ravenous children as I once did, nor even a husband at the moment, but my father-in-law, as previously documented in these pages, has a highly developed appreciation for such delicacies. And there’s always neighbours and friends. Righto! No further excuses needed!

Soften the cream cheese and the butter, bring the eggs to room temperature. Melt the preserves. Puree the raspberries. Measure the sugar, sour cream and flour. Pound the cookies for the crust. I was all business. I love to bake!

Baked the crust, and cooled it while I mixed the batter. Wrapped the springform pan in foil, poured the batter in, set it all in a water bath, popped it in the oven, and triumphantly set the timer.

Turned to the task of cleaning up my mess, only to find a stick of butter cowering behind a bowl, instead of being in the oven, in the batter, where it belonged, for crying out loud!

Drat! Blast! And worse! What to do??

I lifted the pan out of the oven and stared glumly at the pink lusciousness, so nicely nestled therein. G-r-o-a-n. Nothing for it but to dig it all out, beat the butter into submission, then slowly add spoonfuls of the batter and hope they’d blend together.

As I ever so carefully spooned the batter out of the pan, I noticed that water was leaking in at the bottom! More incantations. Careful mopping of the offending liquid. What to do now? Set the pan on a plain cookie sheet and put the pan of water on the bottom shelf. Problem solved. Spooned the somewhat lumpier mixture back into the pan, put it all back in the oven and asked the Holy Ghost to please let it come out right. It was out of my hands now.

This kind of scatterbrainedness is not without precedent. When I was growing up the McD family lived across the road from us. Every neighbourhood has their version of the McDs. While Mr. McD was at work, Mrs McD was off God-knows-where, doing God-knows-what, leaving the children to run wild. Two teenage daughters were probably supposed to be minding the younger ones, but they were more interested in boys, and busy running wild themselves.

Eve McD was my age [about nine or ten], and though I knew my mother preferred me not to play at their house, when Eve suggested, one aimless afternoon, that we could make a cake, the temptation was too great. We foraged around the McD kitchen until we had assembled all the likely ingredients----flour, sugar, eggs, vanilla and anything else we could remember having seen our mothers put in cakes. We were pretty proud of ourselves! Soon we had a very respectable looking batter. We found a cake pan, greased it as we’d seen our mothers do, turned on the oven and popped our cake in.

Soon the McD house was full of the wonderful aroma of baking. After ten or fifteen minutes we peeked impatiently in to see how things were progressing, since that aroma was making us drool. Our eyes bulged in disbelief! The pan was full of what looked like melted butter. Appalled that we might NOT be eating cake soon, we looked at each other in bewilderment and tried to remember what we had done……We’d beaten the butter with the egg beaters until it was creamy….We’d poured in some sugar [it was all guesswork]… We’d nervously broken in some eggs, and picked out the bits of shell that fell in……..but…….had we ever put in the flour? Aha! No Holmes, we hadn't! There it was, untouched, on the table. Not to worry. We could add it now. Out came the pan. In went the flour. A little judicious stirring, and before you could blink, our concoction was back in the oven.

We both agreed it was the most delicious cake we’d ever eaten!

And my cheesecake? SCRUMPTIOUS! Proving that even the DAFT can bake….

*From the February/March issue of Cooking Pleasures.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Her Funny Valentine

This post was prompted by reading Rise's post yesterday, which you might want to read first. I wrote this for a life story writing class last year, dug it out last night, tidied it up a bit, and here it is......

In 1951 my mother was leading a charmed life. Glamorous and talented, one of the youngest nurses ever to become Matron at her hospital, she had a handsome husband and a lively toddler, complete with nanny, so she could continue to work at the hospital. She was expecting her second child. Life was good.

Half way through February she went into labor. She wasn’t due until mid April. She had the best of care. But things did not go well. When it was over they had a son. But something else was also over. Her charmed life. The premature birth of her beautiful, baby boy changed her life forever. Her other life was just beginning. The one of sleep deprivation, constant worry and chain smoking; the one that would lead this bright, beautiful woman into the dark depths of alcoholism.

I was not yet three, and only vaguely remember those early months with my Little Brother. It seemed to me he was always sleeping, and a hush hung over our house. The smell of fresh squeezed orange juice always makes me think of him. My mother squeezed it, strained it, warmed it, poured it into a sterilized baby bottle, then took it upstairs to try and coax it into him. I wondered what I’d have to do to be given such a delicious treat.

Delicate as he was, my LB survived. He was slow to achieve all the usual milestones, but eventually did. I remember my mother feeding him “goody”. LB loved his goody. Mum built up her biceps shoveling it into him, and when he finally learned to feed himself, he included the sideways scrape with the spoon that she always did after each bite to catch the dribbly bits.

My Dad used to carry him on the back of his bicycle. There was a leather strap to keep him in. One day, as they pedaled along the North Circular Road, the leather strap wasn’t enough. LB’s legs got caught in the spokes of the back wheel. Consternation! I can only imagine how terrible my Dad must have felt. LB was little, but tenacious. He recovered.

He carried this tenacity to school at age seven. If he wanted a toy it was his. He would not give it up. He was small and wiry, with the face of an angel. But all that orange juice and goody paid off. He was strong as an ox. One day there was a ruckus on the playground. LB had been riding a trike. He was loving it, and when the bell rang, he would not get off. The harder the nuns tried to loosen his grip, the tighter he clung. There was one nun, Sr. Brigid, who could manage him. He was crazy about her, but she was missing that morning. Exasperated, Sr. Margaret, the tall-drink-of-water principal of the primary school, came looking for me. My class was lined up in another part of the playground. We could hear the roaring. Please God, don't let it be LB....What did she think I could do about it? I was ten, for God’s sake. I wondered why the playground couldn’t just open up and quietly swallow me.

Eventually, LB needed a different school. So off he went to Miss Lennihan’s. Miss Lennihan ran a small private school for children who, for whatever reason, did not fit in at regular school. That seemed to work for a few years. My mother also took him to elocution lessons, because, even though he knew what he was saying, and we did, most of the time, it was often difficult for others to understand him.

LB couldn’t get his tongue around my name so he called me “Ya-ya”. Every night, after Mum tucked him in, he’d ask for a story from Ya-ya. I was alternately flattered and exasperated by this. I have no memory of what kinds of yarns I spun for him, but eventually he would start to move his head rhythmically from side to side on the pillow, and gradually fall asleep. Then I’d creep out, and back to my book or my homework.

Water had a soothing effect on LB. In the summer at the seaside, he’d stand on the rocks at Spanish Point for hours, mesmerized, watching the waves crash and recede….…..Off in a world of his own. Or wade out into the waves at milder Lahinch, until someone would have to go get him before he disappeared over the horizon to America.

There was water closer to hand.......the River Shannon. Many days, after school, LB would take his fishing rod, climb on his bike and head for the river. He had an amazing memory. He didn’t keep written notes but he could tell you how many fish, and what kind they were, that he had caught on any given day…..if you were interested.

Inevitably he outgrew Miss Lennihan’s. What now? I can only guess at the sleepless nights this caused my mother. The Jesuits agreed to let him try their school. It didn’t last too long.

The future was looming. He needed to be steered towards gainful employment. But what? And how? And where? In desperation they decided to send him to the Vocational School.

What a fortuitous decision that was! He took a class in woodwork. Pistons fired in his head. He brought home his first crude project, bursting with excitement. We all oohed and aahed! He brought home another project. And another. And each project was better than the last! And I’m sure my mother was overjoyed to discover that there WAS a God. And He WAS in His heaven and He WAS taking care of business, in His own sweet time. And all the daily Masses and novenas and pilgrimages to Lourdes were paying off.

I don’t know how many years LB spent at “the Tech” but they were happy years. He had found something he loved, for which he had an amazing talent. When he finished the course there, he became an apprentice at a small factory in Limerick, famous for handcrafted furniture, the kind people hand down from one generation to the next……

My brother's birthday is next week. He lives in the house we grew up in, and my houseproud mother would not just turn, but spin, in her grave if she could see it now. Every room is stuffed with other peoples’ furniture. People come from miles around to have him fix their antiques. He can only do so much, and the projects pile up.

He has a number of cats, who come and go as they please. My mother would have a canary! She always maintained cats belonged in barns for purposes of killing rodents. Period. He doesn’t trust banks, so he stuffs his money in drawers and under the mattress. When he accumulates enough, he goes off for a holiday to the Bahamas or the Azores. I think he thinks he is like the birds of the air, for whom God will provide, and so does not worry about saving for the future.

He came to visit us in California, Montana, and Brussels. He made a huge wooden swing and trapeze set for our children in Montana. We dismantled it, loaded it on the Mayflower van, and set it up again in California. We have carted the solid oak stools and bookshelves he made for us back and forth across the globe. And a huge dollhouse he made for our daughters that I’m. Going. To. Finish. One. Of. These. Days.

LB is maniacal about fitness and health. He has been an athlete all his grownup life. When running didn’t go well for him, he took up race walking and became one of the top race walkers in Ireland, competing all over Europe. He has visited us here in Florida, and gone out and walked for miles in the scorching heat. He figures if it doesn’t kill him it’ll make him stronger.

His current fixation is swimming. He shows up just as my sister’s swimming classes are ending, and wants her to analyze his stroke. Even though she is tired, and dreaming of cups of tea and the comforts of home by then, she stays and helps him, with advice and encouragement. There’s more than one angel in my family.

My brother is a good guy, even if he does have bats in his belfry. He’s overcome a lot. My mother was the center of his life, and he of hers. And thanks to her persistence and unselfishness, he didn’t fall apart when she died.

I know my mother worried herself to death. Only when you become a mother yourself can you begin to appreciate your own mother. And I was a particularly slow learner. I know her amazing talents were sidetracked by having a child who needed her so desperately and so constantly. I know her absorption with my brother profoundly affected her relationships with me and my sister. But maybe I know a lot less than I think. Maybe he was the work God had planned for her all along.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Challenge....

I've wanted, for a while now, to challenge you all to do a Where I'm From post. I found it first at Daysgoby. I was blown away by Jess' version. An amazing marriage of poetry and prose. I never really thought I could do anything like it. But. It's easier than it looks! There's a template [find it at Jess'] for the fainthearted, among whom I numbered. So I set to and was surprised by how much I liked the result. Birdy, that intrepid soul, dove right in and gave us her thoughtful offering. I nagged and badgered my unwilling sister until she too, finally, produced a dark and brooding version.

I had hoped you'd all fall over each other to do likewise, but I was wrong. The moment passed, other things came along and grabbed your attention. Then today I read this post by Kapuananiokalaniakea. She would do a wonderful job of it, I thought. I should challenge her. And I started thinking of all the other versions I'd like to read --- Tanya's, Heart's, Squirrel's, Chani's, Isabelle's,Fifi's, Meggie's, Stomper's,Tracey's, Ali's, Thimbleanna's,MJD's, My Float's, Kelli's, and my own Liz's. Easier to say "If you're in my links list I'd love to read yours!" I don't usually like to put people on the spot. I just think there's some great, almost-poetry out there, waiting for you all to put your unique shapes on it.{Not a reference to cottage loafs, Isabelle!]

So, ladies and gentlemen, you're under starter's orders! Let me know. I don't want to miss any. And please, please, please don't deafen me with silence!

Read more!To read the original poem by George Ella Lyons click on the link to Suse and follow her links! Thanks Suse...
I have made a list in my sidebar so you can read these any time you want to. If any one else does it let me know and I'll add your link!
Thanks to everyone who took the challenge so far. i really enjoyed getting to know you all better.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Not So Far From The Madding Crowd

We’ve been having what passes for winter in these parts. Chilly, some rain, grey skies. Wah, wah. Don’t hurt yourself rushing to commiserate. We’re wimps. We admit it. We have embraced our wimphood.

Saturday started out wet and grey, but by noon it was warm, and sunny.
So off to the wildlife preserve for a walk. I’m easily entertained. Point me in the direction of the trees and, as long as I have my camera and a notebook, there'll be no complaining.

It was bright and brittle and breezy out there.

I saw this handsome bird keeping an eye on the world from atop the highest dead tree.

A chicken hawk,maybe? He peered down at me disdainfully as I scrambled over dry, crackling scrub, risking life and limb for a better shot. For at least half an hour I craned my neck and tried to hold the camera steady. Wings would have come in handy. This blurry offering was the best I could do.

Underfoot I found this tiny, perfect shell.

Three of them would not have covered my thumbnail. Big bang? No way!

Can you see the sun glittering on the palmettos?

And hear the breeze whispering through the dry grasses? And how about the lazy drone of that airplane overhead? It’s so peaceful here. Barely ten minutes from the hustle and bustle.

On my way home I’ll go visit the Ancient Ones. And sit on their couch and listen to the tale of what they cooked today, and what's on special at the supermarket; what aches, and when the next doctor appointment is; what percentage chance of rain the weathermen are predicting, and what outrageous things liberals are doing now; and exactly how cold it is in the frozen north and how snug and smug we are down here......

Walking in the wildness balances that.

They would like me to sit with them for two hours, but more than one makes me twitchy. They would never come here to walk, not even when walking was easy for them. There might be snakes here, and bugs. That alone would make it bad. Never mind that the snakes were here long before we were. I love the wildness of this place, but they would find it distasteful. Better to stay home, and make sure all the blades of grass are the same length; and the leaves are swept up and in the rubbish bin before they flutter quite all the way to the ground; where a lizard near the door is occasion for shrieking; where they tune in every evening for the gospel according to Lou Dobbs.

If I make it to my eighties I hope I won't still be fretting over offspring and in-laws. And God,if in my dotage I forget, please remind me to get my comfortable shoes on and go for a walk in the woods once in a while, with my camera and notebook, and maybe by then, my cane, and to thumb my nose at the doctors, and give the tv away to someone who cares what Mr. Dobbs is getting worked up about tonight......

But until then God, could you arrange for me to be a little bit more compassionate? Oh, and in case I haven't said so lately, thank you for the birds, and the grasses and the trees, the offspring and yes, even the in-laws, the OC and the Little Blister,innocent,hopeful grandchildren and scattered friends, books and quilts and bloggers, and laughter and sunshine......Don't be fooled by all the moaning and olagoning into thinking I'm not grateful.