Friday, November 30, 2012

Black Friday's Best Deal

 Of all the holidays, I like Thanksgiving best. I love the idea of it, of families converging on one spot to feast together and give thanks for all the ways in which they are blessed; To enjoy their connection with each other and, admittedly sometimes, tear each other's hair out. Don't get me wrong. I prefer when there's no bloodshed. But it was quiet this year,  no opportunity to test my theories, or to enjoy a crowded table. We did talk by phone and e-mail with those we were missing, and gave thanks for the blessings we do have.

The media have not managed to destroy they have Christmas. The focus of the day is still on family, roots, gratitude and home cooking, and whether I'm expecting two or twenty [in my dreams!] I always  prepare everything,  turkey,  stuffing,  gravy,  mashed potatoes,  sweet potatoes,  cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie....oh, and coleslaw. Except this year I forgot,and  duly heard the plaintive cry of "Where's the coleslaw?" The OC roasts the turkey outside on the grill, having soaked it overnight in an apple cider brine......scrumptious! 

But, the very next day it all starts to go downhill. And this year they didn't wait 'til the next day. The madness started on Thanksgiving evening. Black Friday, they call it. Black Friday is not over this year until December 3rd! My response to the shouting and hollering on TV is to turn it off. My other response is not to go within an ass's roar of a store for the few days after Turkey Day, my own small protest against the greed and commercialism with which the media defines Christmas, and the weeks leading up to it.

So, while crazy people were heading to the stores on Friday, we headed to a state park on the other side of town. We hadn't been there for a long time and were pleasantly surprised at how high the water level was compared to our last visit  Pleasantly surprised also to have the place to ourselves. Everyone must have been at the store!

But, we weren't completely alone. It was a beautiful sunny day and the birds were busy foraging and enjoying the sunshine.

I was in my element, squishing about in the mud, trying to reason with this pair of sand hill cranes, to pull their heads out and co-operate so I could get a decent picture.....

.........when, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the OC, waving excitedly, and gesticulating for me to come see

Looks like --- a log?

Someone's lost umbrella?

Oh, Mr. Gator, what big eyes you have!

Just a little guy, six feet the OC estimated.

The cranes, at least one of them, finally co-operated.

But, the gator stole the day!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

You've Got Mail

Letter Writing by denisetakespics
Letter Writing, a photo by denisetakespics on Flickr.

I got two letters in the mail yesterday.

I did a happy dance, right there at the mailbox.

"So?" you say, "What's so special about two letters?"

Don't you get it?

Letters. You know, where someone takes up a pen, finds some decent writing paper and starts with "Dear Molly." Someone you actually know --- mom, dad, aunt, niece, cousin, sister, friend?

Well, let me put it another way....

When was the last time you got a letter in the mail?

Yes, I know all about e-mails and texts and two hundred and seventy five friends on Facebook and
tweeting and twittering, which I leave to the birds....But when was the last time someone wrote you a letter? Addressed to you in someone's unique handwriting? To only you, not everyone in their "contacts" list. And after they wrote it, they looked up your address, then found an envelope, stuck a stamp on one corner and a return address label [of which we all have millions] on the other, then carried it to the mailbox and dropped it in.  All this in addition to what was written between "Dear So-and-So" and "Love from Such-and-Such."

Yeah, that kind of letter!

It doesn't happen much anymore. Which is why I did my happy dance. You would too, I'm sure. And two in one day? That called for a Tango and a Cha-Cha!

I made a cup of tea, got through the junk mail and curled up on the couch to read, purring like a cat.

The first was from Kimmie's mom. After I wrote the post about Kimmie, I decided to drop Sarah a line. Our lives have drifted in different directions now and are pretty much reduced to a card at Christmas. But I wanted to let her know I still think of Kimmie and remember her sweet smile. She said it meant a lot to have someone talk about Kimmie and remember her. Even though her life is full now with two grown sons and seven grandchildren, there are not too many who remember, or even knew her precious daughter.

The second was from Marilyn, a friend I've know since before Lily was born. When my dad was dying and I had to rush home to Ireland from California, it was Marilyn who stepped up and helped the OC take care of four month old Lily. You don't forget that kind of gesture. Now that our children are grown, we regularly e-mail, and swap books and interesting articles, but once in a while, because we're unashamedly old-fashioned, we sit down and write a real letter.

End of story?


Do you believe, as I am more and more inclined to, that there is no such thing as co-incidence?

My e-mail last night had a new set of TED talks. One of them was by a young woman, Hannah Brencher. Her talk was on Love Letters To Strangers. You should watch it. It moved me to tears.
I watched it several times and each time noticed an idea or phrase I hadn't picked up on the first time. It made me remember how good I used to be about staying in touch through letters, and how lazy I've become. It made me realize there are people in my life who are very are important to me.

Important enough to write them a letter?

"You betcha!" as they say in Minnesota.

And now, would you like to join Sarah, Marilyn, Hannah and me in a happy dance?


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Four Decades Later.....


What NaBloPoMo?

Who said that?

A little glitch in computer operations and my NaBloPoMo plans were scuttled.

No matter. I was starting to feel the strain. And I do need to clean around here once in a while. And cook. And do laundry.  And show up for work two days a week. And sew. And knit. And read.  And try not to commit catricide.....

So you see, NaBloPoMo was not meant for me. Phew! I feel better having had a few days away, though at the time I was fuming. And embarrassed when the Bean showed up on Saturday, and revealed how simple the solution was........You don't need to know. I feel humiliated enough! In my defense though, I have not made much of an effort to educate myself on the inner workings and mysterious random behaviours of my computer......Because......... the menfolk, who are occasionally around here, know it all, so why clutter up my head when I can call on them? I need that space for other stuff. And after all, they call on me to sew on buttons and fix ripped seams.

I have no ambition to be a renaissance woman who changes her own oil and tires, trundles around the garden on the John Deere [I did try once. It was not a success] or understands how computers work. I admire women who do it all, but since there is limited space in my head, I'm holding out as long as I can before I'm forced to join them.. I believe in a division of labor. If they'll set the darn thing up, I'll do the blog work. I think that's fair, don't you?

So now I'm back in the saddle, so to speak, and not a moment too soon. Today is the day my oldest child turns, I can't say it -----four decades, cough, splutter, choke!

She has a much better approach to it all than her mother....

"Mom, age is all in your head!" And of course she's right. Anyone who can run a marathon as frequently as she does is certainly not over the hill.

Except, I'd really like to look now as I did, back then, when she was born.

I remember the pale pink, onion skin paper I took with me to the hospital, and the letter I wrote on it to my mother, pouring out my soul and my feelings for this tiny new person who had been entrusted to me.  Were they mad, the Gods, or whoever was in charge of such things? Did they know how little I knew about babies? How could they be so irresponsible? And yet I loved that little scrapeen [all 9lbs. 3 ozs.] of humanity with a fierceness I'd never felt before.  When I took her home to Ireland for the first time I eagerly asked my mother if she still had that letter I'd sent her in the very first flush of motherhood. She didn't have it. Could hardly even remember it. I was crushed that what was so important to me wasn't to her. But it wasn't that she didn't care. It was just that she wasn't sentimental, as I, for better or worse, am. My poor father was forever lamenting the papers, or whatever, that he had "left right there!" and she'd come along and "tidied them up," and more than likely burned them at the end of the garden!

Put it down to the raging hormones, but one memory I have of holding her and cradling her in my arms while still in the hospital, is of looking at her tiny ring finger and breaking out in sobs at the thought that some day, some young fellow [turns out he was just learning to walk at the time] would come along and whisk her away from me. Yes M! I'm talking about you....Congratulations on finding her!

So, to the beautiful girl who started me down this path called motherhood ---

Happy Birthday Lily!

Here's to the next forty....aarrgh!.

And the hell with NaBloPoMo.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

A Walk by Lake Arrow

Starting out from the hotel gate

One of the reasons I went home to Ireland this summer was because I was invited to a cousin's son's wedding.  I had met the groom only once, when he was about twelve. His parents were living in Paris at that time and we were living in Stuttgart, a few hours away, and one of the Meddling Aunts in Ireland decided we should use the opportunity to get to know each other better. We did, and  became good friends.  Thank you, Meddling Aunt, now deceased.  

A bend in the road. Possible retirement bolt hole?

 I have grown weary of missing family events --- weddings, births and funerals --- so off I went, crossing my fingers that the world here would not cave in in my absence. To my surprise and delight, life went on just fine            without me. Being indispensable can be a heavy burden!  

Flowers by a cottage door.

The wedding was in Co. Sligo, in the west of Ireland. We went a few days before, and stayed a day after the wedding. It was in a rural area where there were many beautiful trails and boreens for hiking and walking. I took full advantage, not being much of a party animal and not knowing too many of the other guests. I can make small talk and hang about in hotel lounges only for so long before I start looking, in desperation, for an escape route. 

Flowers in a ditch along the way...

One afternoon I escaped for a walk by Lough Arrow. After I'd  walked a mile or two, my cousin and her daughter caught up with me in their car. 

They parked it at the top of a very steep boreen that wound its way down, at a murderously steep angle, to the shores of the lake. Not being, either one of them, athletically inclined, they would have driven down, but the car just wouldn't fit. We stopped in to a little chapel nearby, strategically placed so one could bolster one's courage with prayers before attacking the slope!

Thus fortified, we paused to admire the view before heading downwards.

                 It's steeper than our smiles would lead you to believe! I still have the scars on my toe...

                                                    But it was a beautiful day, a beautiful place....

And I've got nine other toes....

We passed some farmers in a field busily gathering in silage, feed for their animals for the winter. All over the country farmers were scrambling to get it done.

Eventually we were down to shore level and came to this peaceful scene.

By now M and C had had their fill of exercise and fresh air. I wanted to continue on by the lakeside, especially since I knew there was a ruin of an old monastery further on.With my penchant for exploring what my mother used to call "old piles of rocks," giving up now was not an option.

Irish sheepie (for you, Anna!)

Since I stayed up late with the rest of the country watching the election results, I have to catch up on my sleep, but I'll be back tomorrow to take you to see some piles of rocks....

Jousting with Knitting Needles

It looked for a while as though the circular needle was going to win.  I need absolute silence in order to count out stitches for the pattern. And absolute silence has been in short supply around here [see last post.]  So, if you must breathe, please do so as quietly as possible......After a few rounds, before the pattern was well enough established, I made several mistakes which meant I had to un-knit in a backwards direction, always a barrel of laughs [growl]. Because I am not my mother, who, when she made a mistake, would unceremoniously pull the work off the needles and rip it back to the source ...Ouch!

 I had to  dispense with the circular needle, at least temporarily, and toil onwards [but first backwards] with a set of double pointeds. I have decided I'm not going into the business of making baby hats.

Someone at work recently became a grandpa for the first time. I wanted to make a little gift for the baby, something that I could whip up in a couple of hours; something that wouldn't take a bundle of nervous energy. So much for that idea! But I'm on a roll now. The Bean left early to decide who should be our next president, and thence to classes, so silence reigns. The cat is around here somewhere, snoozing and breathing very quietly. It is drizzling outside, but quietly. Ideal weather to curl up inside with a good book, or in my case, with some needles and yarn.  Fingers crossed......

Much later: I did it! But I'm not sure it was worth the bother. I think I'll stick to quilting.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Heavy Sh*t at the Heartbreak Hotel

Have you noticed? The, so far, not-so-feeble attempt at NaBloPoMo? I can last for a week, that I know. But a full month? Only time will tell. No pressure, I tell myself. I'll just let it evolve, and if it happens, it happens. If not, why I'll gather my pathetic ambitions about myself and exit stage left.

Meanwhile, it wasn't writing a blog post that was on my mind this evening as I wrestled with a 16" circular knitting needle and a ball of blue yarn. I used to knit Aran sweaters when I was young, for heaven's sake, and here I am, closing in on my dotage, losing the battle with a mere baby bonnet! Those Aran sweaters were made on two needles. I'm new to this circular business and not adapting well. But, since sewing the pieces together was always my least favourite part of the process, I'll struggle on for a seamless product!

The Bean was sitting on the other couch, oblivious to my struggles, his brow knit in concentration, attention fixed on his computer screen. Studying? No. Googling? No. Writing a suggestion to the staff of the university gym? Yes!

For a little back story ---We've been nursing a broken heart here for a few weeks. And what does a real man do when a little wisp of a girl rips out his heart, throws it on the ground, then stomps all over it?

Why, he goes to the gym and "lifts heavy sh*t!" How else can he deal with all these bewildering emotions, especially when he has no experience of them? Rejection? If we lift enough heavy sh*t, and sweat a lot, and then lift some more heavy sh*t, and sweat some more, maybe the pain will go away.

So a lot of time has been spent at the gym lately, lifting "heavy sh*t." Trouble is, Taylor Swift, singing in the background, is not helpful when attempting to lift really heavy sh*t. It's alright the first time, but by the tenth time, brain cells are dying. Real men need heavy bass, angry rock or even, God help us, rap, to help them lift heavy sh*t.
The Bean had had enough. Time to e-mail the gym staff with a few suggestions.

"Please get rid of 93.3FLZ! I have single CDs with more variety than this whole station! You have a contract with them, they're being paid, and still they play ads? Very few people like the music, hence all the i-pods on the gym floor. Here's a suggestion; Get rid of 93.3 and put in a juke box. Then students and staff could listen to music they actually enjoy while they work out.. Please do this! Brain cells are dying! Thank you."

Meanwhile, prior to my struggles with needle and yarn, in consideration of his emotional struggles, I had been very patient and zen about the obnoxious music he'd been playing while lifting even more heavy sh*t out on the weight bench by the pool. Even though it was killing my brain cells.

 Mine, apparently, are expendable.

I guess it's all a matter of perspective.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

A Foggy Morning.....

When I woke up this morning the world was muffled and shrouded in fog. I like fog, just as long as I don't have to drive in it. I climbed into something half a step up from pyjamas, located my camera and set off for a wander. I thought you might like to see a little of the work we made for ourselves with the aforementioned chain saw massacre.....

There'll be lots of vroom-vrooming in our future.

The OC paid a visit recently, hopped on the John Deere and mowed the meadow. That's why it doesn't look quite as much of a wild-life preserve as you may have been led to believe.

I'm not sure what this weed is called but it sure is pretty.

He even mowed a path through the trees.

Back by the Buddha's Belly I spotted this little lad...

And, perched higher up, the little lady you saw when you started reading this.

Underfoot was a carpet of pine needles.....

It's certainly no Botanical Gardens back there, but I always find something to marvel at....the symmetry of a pine cone for instance. Does Fibonnaci get a look in here?

And how about this waterlily, blooming unheeded and unheralded among the damp and decaying vegetation at the lake behind us, to which I crossed through the neighbours' gardens? 

(It was early; nobody would see me in my half a step up from pyjamas ---but I reckoned without Molly --- yes, Molly!--- the neighbour's dog, who even though I tried to tip toe softly past, heard me, or felt the vibrations through the pine neeedle carpet and set to howling.)

The surface of the water was still as glass;

more miniature marvels were hiding in the grass---

Mother Nature had even taken it upon herself to jazz up some neglected pots with a daisy chain of Virginia Creeper....

By the time I circled back home the sun had burned through the fog and the day was brightening.

Since I wouldn't even know one end of a chainsaw from the other (and have no desire to learn) I decided it was high time to go back inside and make some coffee.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Hillbillies with Chainsaws

chainsaw by mil_es
chainsaw, a photo by mil_es on Flickr.
Things got out of hand while I was in Ireland. What used to be our lawn turned into a meadow. The absentee landlord [the OC] continued to be absent; the Bean was taking summer courses, and then the Prince upped and died, God rest his soul. Pulling weeds was not high on the agenda. And so, given their heads, the weeds enthusiastically sent forth their seeds and multiplied. .

Then, early one morning a few weeks ago, I was out front with my clippers, gamely attacking the hedges that threatened to obscure the house from the road, when out of the corner of my eye I saw a car pull into the driveway. It was indeed a car, though "rolling rust bucket" would also describe it.... A scrawny young man emerged and strode purposefully in my direction, across the lawn meadow. At least he strode as purposefully as it is possible to stride when your over-sized tee shirt and long, baggy shorts are flapping loosely about your bony frame.

I had one cynical eyebrow cocked, wondering who on earth this was and what possible business he might have with me, when he stopped a few feet in front of me and handed me a grimy, dog-eared business card.

"Arborist Tree Service" it said, followed by a phone number and list of available services.

" Free Estimates!" it proclaimed across the bottom and gave his name, Mike, and a mere initial where his surname should have been----witness protection program anyone??

While I read his card he launched into a fast talking spiel about an estimate for cutting down trees. We were still in the throes of hurricane season, so anything was possible. Some of the pine trees on our lot were leaning at alarming angles, and he was painting a lurid picture of the trouble we'd have if a hurricane hit. I had ample opportunity, while he babbled away, to take in his elaborately tattooed, scrawny calves and his five, six, or even, possibly, seven o'clock shadow. I was feeling neither a surge of human kindness nor a whole lot of trust at this stage. In fact I was thinking I should tell him to leave, and then go in the house and dig out the card I had taken from a perfectly respectable, licensed and insured, untattooed, adequately nourished arborist who had given me an estimate a few weeks earlier.

Mike, my visitor, optimistically quoted some ridiculous figure to take down and remove the five worst offenders. By this time the Bean, who was home at the time, and Miss Oriss, who had been about to leave to run errands but found her exit blocked by the rust bucket, had both come out to join the party.

" How much to just drop the trees?" asked the Bean, who is well able to wield a chain saw and haul the logs to the dump himself.

A much more reasonable price was quoted and Hillbilly Mike ran like a rabbit for the first tree and vroom-vroomed the chain saw before I could blink. He had cut half way through the trunk before my shouts got through to him.

"I would like to see your license before you start, " I bellowed. He had assured me that he was licensed in the county. I could call the courthouse if I wanted to check on him.

Muttering darkly, he strode, flapping all the way, back to the rust bucket, where his sidekick, a large chubby youth with angelic curls and multiple piercings, was lazily firing up another chain saw. I followed Mike to the rust bucket and found him sitting therein in a state of agitation, frantically searching for his "license."

He found something eventually. I could see why it had taken him so long.. The rust bucket appeared to be doubling as a rubbish bin. I have never seen a filthier vehicle. As he scrawled a number on a filthy old envelope, he told me that the license was in his wife's name. I couldn't help myself. I had to ask.

"How does your wife having an arborist's license qualify you to cut down trees?"

Chubby sidekick to the rescue, because our boy, Mike, was getting very irritated now.

"It's just a business license Ma'am, " he drawled.

The air was filled with vrooming, then a mighty crash and the first tree was down, mercifully without damage to pool cage or neighbour's fence.

The fourth tree was the first one they needed to rope. Since their colleague with a truck was "on another job" would the Bean mind helping them by bringing our truck around to the back? I had overheard enough of an exchange between Mike and Chubby Boy to know they didn't want to have to share the loot with Truck Boy. The Bean thought about it for half a second and decided to let them use their truck since we were paying them and he didn't want to risk having to explain any damage to our truck to his father.

At this point Hillbilly Mike suggested that we might pay them for what they had done so far, and they would return later in the day to finish. My own feeling was that once we got this motley crew off our property I wasn't eager to have them come back. The Bean figured they were anxious for a little recreational drug break, having noted the scarcity of teeth in Hillbilly Mike's head, so he told them if they left, and anyone was intoxicated when they returned, there would be no more work for them here.

Their efforts with the rope made the Bean remark that part of the money we were paying them should be for the comedy.

Finally with all five trees safely down, we gave them their money and they took to their heels.

Now we have, not only a meadow, but a meadow with less shade, fewer heebie jeebies about unanticipated crash of trees in high winds, and all sorts of wildlife habitat created by the felled trees. It will be a while before the Bean gets the chain saw going and the logs hauled away. Meanwhile our "garden" is more wildlife friendly than ever.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Day Dreaming of Simpler Times

irish cottage

Sometimes I thoroughly dislike being a grown up. I puttered around the house all day today doing grown-up things. Things like cleaning the toilets; changing the sheets; doing the laundry; vacuuming; sending that e-mail I've been procrastinating about; cleaning the "deposits" out of the litter box; combing the cat, so I don't have to clean up the nasty hairballs he will deposit on my floors if I don't, and on and on and on.....All the stage management that goes on behind the scenes in any household. The things no-one [of the male gender at least] realizes need doing until they're not done.....

My mother was much better at it than I. I think I must take after my Auntie Bid, in whom the scatterbrain gene was dominant. My mother would tell us stories of how Auntie Bid never came straight home from school. She meandered up every lane and by-way, stopping in at farmhouses and roadside cottages to chat with the neighbours, and having cups of tea.

Meanwhile my mother, the responsible big sister, pedaled mutinously home on her bicycle with no detours, to milk the cows.

Even as a child I thought Auntie Bid was the one who had her priorities straight.What were my uncles, their brothers, for if not to milk the cows?

If my mother and Auntie Bid were to rise from the dead and land on my doorstep tomorrow morning I'd be more than happy to hand the reins of the household over to my mother and go gallivanting with Auntie Bid.

What are the chances do you think?

Thursday, November 01, 2012

A Prayer For Kimmie

Tuneful Angel by ladylydiebug
Tuneful Angel, a photo by ladylydiebug on Flickr.

When I woke up this morning I realized before I got out of bed that it was November 1st., All Souls Day, a day to remember, and pray for, everyone we've known who has died, and I thought to myself that I should say a prayer for each of them, lying there in the stillness and the dark before the day got bright and noisy.

The older I get the longer the list grows.....There's my beloved parents; my Granddad who died when I was only four; the little McCarthy girl who lived up the road from us and got hit by a car when I was growing up; my grandmother who died when I was seven; my other granny [whom I knew better] who didn't die until after I was married; my mother-in-law, three years ago; a cousin who died a few years ago after a farm accident; a few girls I went to school with, snuffed out by one thing or another; and, one by one, my aunts and uncles, the latest one just weeks ago, until nearly all the people who were part of my world growing up are gone.

However, the person who popped into my head first, before any of the above was the littlest and the sweetest. Her name was Kimmie. She lived next door to us in California. My oldest son and her big brother were best friends. My Lily sometimes babysat for Kimmie to give Sarah, her mom, a break. Sarah had been hurt in a car accident before she knew she was pregnant. X-rays and other procedures were done.........And it meant that Kimmie had a very short and painful life. She had to go to the doctor regularly; she had feeding tubes; her skin would crack and get painfully raw; she failed to grow at a normal rate; she didn't speak. But Kimmie had a light inside her, and the sweetest smile. Everyone who knew her loved her. She rarely made a fuss. And when she died she was barely three.

We all need an angel watching out for us. I hope Kimmie is one of mine.