Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"Let me Take You Down..."

Worth it for the flowers if you never got a strawberry.

We planted strawberries this spring encouraged by our plant man, The Bean. Of course they'll grow, he countered when we waffled. "As long as you water them!" It was a very wet Spring but now the rain is spotty at best. The strawberries lived, though they were slow to grow. Home for a few hours recently, The Bean cooked us dinner, ate, hugged and left. But then he called to lecture me. I realized he’d had his eyes open, on wide angle lens mode.

“Mom,” he said, “do you like those strawberries we planted?”

“Of course I do,” I answered, “we don’t get many because the pigeons are mad for them, but, when we do, they’re so sweet and delicious!”

 He’d gone out to check things in the garden when he was home and came upon the strawberry plants, gasping with thirst, begging for water. He inspected the soil. Dry as dust.

“Well, could you give the poor things a drink once in a while? Never mind the watering cans, that’s drudgery and they’re too heavy for you. Just attach the sprinkler to the hose and let it run, ten or fifteen minutes at a time.”

Nothing like being lectured by your youngest child, especially when it’s deserved. I didn’t have a leg to stand on. Meekly I agreed to water the babies.

Where I grew up, the last thing you had to worry about was watering your garden. The “blessed rain from heaven” had that job covered. People love to moan about the weather in Ireland but nobody ever has to water their flowers or vegetables. I came in for a lot of “Mary, Mary, quite contrary,” as a child, but her watering can was just a pretty prop as far as I knew, like her bonnet. We had a long garden but I don’t remember that we ever even owned a watering can. Mother had a flower bed that ran the entire length of one side, filled with beautiful perennials that bloomed year after year, no special watering required. She pulled the weeds and pruned, or more often, had us pull the weeds while she did the pruning.

Across the path from the flowers was a strawberry patch which drew us like a magnet, not because we were botanically inclined, but because of our sweet teeth. But trying to sneak strawberries on the sly was next to impossible. Seemed like, no matter where you went in the garden, you could be seen from the kitchen window. Those juicy treats were gathered up and served as dessert with dollops of whipped cream.  And I don’t believe we ever had to water those plants.

“Train a child up in the way he should go
And when he is grown he will not depart from it.”

How true. I was trained up to leave the watering to the elements.  And now that I’m grown I have not departed from it. Which would be fine if I still lived in Ireland.

My brother, a bachelor, lives alone in the house we grew up in. Housekeeping is not high on his list of priorities. In fact it’s probably at the very bottom. There’s no wife to keep him in order, no children to be ashamed to bring their friends over, and the brother is as happy as a pig in poop.

Once, when I was home and staying with the Blister, she and I went over to the brother’s. We were on a mission. We were going to clean and organize the house come hell or high water. The dust and the cobwebs and the general clutter were further complicated by the dark and stifling presence of every piece of antique furniture in the county. Or so it seemed. Shoulder to shoulder they crowded my mother’s once elegant, comfortable sitting room, waiting their turn for the brother’s tender and skillful attentions in his workshop in the garage. The green marble-like tiles of the hallway, polished to a high gloss by mother every week of my childhood, were invisible under a ratty old rug and more lumbering antiques. Candidates for repair and restoration crammed every available space in every room, except the bathroom and that was only because they wouldn't fit.

After barely an hour we threw our hands in the air, defeated.

But, walk out the back door and it’s a different story.  The garden is beautiful. At least he inherited the maternal green thumb and keeps the garden in beautiful shape. The beds are tended, the hedges clipped, the fish in his pond swim happily to and fro. Why can he not apply these skills indoors? Mother’s heart would stop, all over again, if she could see the state of her kitchen, but if she only haunted the garden she could rest in eternal serenity among her flowers in the moonlight.

We packed up, went back to the Blister’s and had a restorative cup of tea.

Let him wallow.

My point being, The Bean came by his green thumb honestly, didn’t lick it up off the floor, as the Little Blister so colorfully phrases it. And, not having grown up in Ireland, he doesn’t wait for Mother Nature to water his plants. It’s not that I intend to do them harm, it just doesn’t occur to me until “Oh dear, looks like this poor plant is dead!”
The Bean rolls his eyes. “Water mom, just a little bit of water. Think of it as magic!”

Steeling myself against the blistering sunshine, I donned hat and gardening gloves and sallied forth to the strawberry bed. To my shame he was right. Not only were they thirsty, their leaves were all fetally curled  and they were being jostled by a bullying army of weeds and still, generously, offering up the occasional juicy, scarlet jewel that had escaped the attention of the pigeons.

 There they are, under the skeleton of last year's okra. 

I sat down in the dirt, keeping a weather eye for ants. “Wax on, wax off.” Soon I was in the zone, unhurried, yanking out one weed at a time. “Wax on, wax off." I made a little trough around each plant being careful not to damage the runners that, in spite of neglect and dire thirst, were reaching out in all directions.

Finally, I filled the rag-tag crew of battered watering cans that live in our garden, and gave those strawberries a nice long drink. After it had soaked into the parched and sandy soil, I trudged back to the faucet nearby, filled the cans up again, wobbled back to the strawberry bed, groaning under the weight but thoroughly delighted with my accomplishment. I could almost hear the plants sighing with contentment.

“The Bean will be so impressed,” I thought smugly.

I talked to him today.

“You should see the strawberry patch,” I boasted.
“Did you hook up the sprinkler?”

Drat, I thought. It hadn’t even occurred to me. My comfort zone is far from the realm of things mechanical. I’d rather struggle under the weight of watering cans than figure out threads on hoses. And so I listened to the lecture again. But I was happy and those plants were happy. Trouble is, by now they’re probably gasping again.

I guess I’d better go and hook up that sprinkler.

Friday, May 08, 2015

The Devil's in the Fine Print

***Warning: Quilt content ahead. Non quilters beware!

My friend Marilyn found a quilt block she loved and thought it would be beautiful on a bible cover. “I’ll make it for you.” I said, “just send me the dimensions and the pattern.”

The pattern arrived a few days later along with the necessary dimensions. Please note the word “necessary.” Meantime, with input by email from M, I'd gone excavating in my stash and selected some fabrics. And started to cut out out the pieces. If you’re a quilter, you know that adrenaline rush you get from a new project. I was in its grip and barreling right along. I'd cut a couple of pieces, sew them together, admire them, cut a few more and stitch them to the others. It would have been smarter to cut all the pieces before even threading the needle because then, surely, I’d have copped on sooner to how enormous it was going to be. But hind sight, as they say, is always 20/20.   

On top of everything, since Marilyn has been ill, fighting the Big C, I had decided to hand stitch it, reasoning that there'd be more love in it that way. Well, the love was there but the brain was out to lunch.

After I had stitched several pieces together, finger pressed the seams as I was taught to do way back in my first piecing class and held it up to the light to admire it, my brain came back from lunch.

“Hmm,” it said. “What were those dimensions again?”

 Consulted M’s note and confirmed that her book was 5 ½” wide x 8 ½”long x 1 ¼”thick. Consulted the pattern. There it was, in tiny print --- finished dimensions: 12" square.  For some inexplicable reason it had not, until now, occurred to me to check this. Twelve inches square was more suitable for an old record album cover. Considering the possibility of brains being out to lunch, don’t you think it would be wise of  pattern companies to make the dimensions the largest, most noticeable part of their patterns? Or for me to make an appointment with the eye doctor....

“So,” said, my brain, “I can’t trust you to keep your thinking cap on if I leave for five minutes?”

In my defense, while not a genius at math, I can do it. I can figure it out. But first I have to be aware of it. So what was I thinking, or not thinking, to start on a project without a care in the world for measurements?

What to do? I’ll be consulting Mr. Google about a bible cover. And, with my adrenaline rush deflated on the floor, I decided I might as well finish the block, but not by hand. Maybe I could make her a pillow from it? But it was a bible cover she wanted, not a pillow.

And then, both because of my short attention span and the three bananas, dying a slow death on the kitchen counter, I went and made banana bread and threw in some grated almond paste and chocolate chips because almond paste and chocolate always help with deflated adrenaline rushes.

I did gather up the dregs of my dignity and creep back into my corner to work on my older sewing project. All ye Bristolites --- do not despair! The last Little Red Hen block now has a pair of legs, her loaf of bread is finished, and I have to say she gives me a bit of a rush.

And there you have it: another day in La-La Land.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Resurrecting the Muse

So, here I am, creeping back, wearing my best SEG.  And you thought I'd died, or gone off exploring in the southern hemisphere, or organic farming in California, or backpacking around Europe, or teaching Eskimos to dance, or hiding out with The Little Blister in the west of Ireland, or holed up in an attic somewhere writing my masterpiece?

None of the above, as exciting as all, or any of them, would be. I'm just here, treading water, remembering to breathe and stretch regularly,  staying out of trouble, eating blueberries, stitching on the never-ending quilt of the moment, taking photographs of course, reading and not writing.

 "Aye, there's the rub."

Not writing.

 The whole idea of this blog was to write, and for a while it worked. Sometimes it was mindless blather, but once in a while it gave me the beginnings of a story. But then the negative thinking set in ---  what does the world care about the ravings of a half-mad Irish woman living in Florida? Isn't that where Americans go to die?What could she possibly have to say? There might have been a bit of laziness involved.  And one should never discount the paralyzing effect of family drama on the writing gene. My family, if nothing else, is dramatic. So, write about the drama you say? I could, but after you read it I'd have to kill you. Wouldn't want Jerry Springer to come calling. Of course I'm exaggerating, but still......

 I remember the best writing advice I read as a teenager, casting about for what to write to pen pals in France, Holland, Germany and America after the initial, sometimes disastrous, efforts to communicate in anything other than English. La plume de ma tante only gets you so far; and wo ist die Bahnhof might get you to the Bahnhof but not a helluva lot further. You don't have to write about solutions to weighty problems that the universe is holding its breath for, the advice went; you don't have to solve world hunger or the global population crisis, much as you'd like to; you don't have to personally go to Tallahassee and smack Governor Scott upside the head. You just sit down with your pen and write about what happened today, in your garden, at the grocery store, or at the library; what you heard or read there and what it made you think; how it made you laugh, how it produced a tiny "aha!" in your brain. And if the blank page still intimidates you, you write whatever comes into your head, one word after the other, hat, cat, bat, even if they make no sense. After a while the gears start turning and things start to sound, if not exactly brilliant, at least semi-coherent.

 That's the theory.  But there's a catch, simple sounding but not so simple. To implement it you have to actually drag your procrastinating nether regions to the chair in front of the computer and start pushing buttons. Now I'm good at pushing buttons, ask anyone, but not necessarily the ones that result in a piece of writing after the pushing is done. You'd be gob smacked at the multitude of ways I find to avoid sitting down with that pen, or in front of that computer, with my blinkers on. 

So, you want to write, goes the voice in my head.
Yes, you know I do.
Well then, pour a cup of coffee, sit down in front of the computer --- and start!
I will, but first.....
 .......I have to make the bed (heaven forbid the queen of England should stop in for a spot of tea and glimpse this mess through the living room door.)
........And I really should go to the grocery store, the cupboard is bare and the dog is hungry.
 What dog? says the voice, astounded.
Why are you annoying me with logic? I ask. Logic has no place in this argument.
........Oh, and would you look at that dust. You could grow spuds in that...my mother-in-law, rest her dear departed soul, must be spinning in her grave.....
........And I almost forgot about that button that fell out six months ago. It's imperative that I sew it back on  right now.
Sounds like a bunch of wishy-washy excuses to me, says the voice huffily, like you really don't want to write.
Oh but I do! I do! It's just that blah, blah, blah....by now that voice in my head has nodded off and the only noise in there is the sound of gentle snoring.

So, hat in hand, I'm back. I'm going to write in May.(Listen to that resolve all ye doubters!)
 In the first flush of enthusiasm I was aiming for every day. "Seriously?" I said to myself. "Might as well shoot yourself in the foot now and get it over with."  I will write every day, but a new post every day? Hardly. If I write will you read? Early days in this blog I used to tell myself I was writing for me. Ha! There's no fool like the fool who lies to himself! 

 It's always better if someone reads.