Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Christmas Day in the Morning

A friend who lurks here complained recently that Jack was still the Greeter, so I thought I'd better mollify her by getting a bit more (currently) seasonal. As I've mentioned before, I'm never happier than when I'm making something, sewing a quilt, writing a letter, baking some bread or, as this past week, cookies....or, a Christmas wreath. Every year the OC prunes back a row of grape vines planted by Youngest Son when he was still living with us. 

A few years ago, I gathered up the clippings and wound them into some wreaths, hung them on a hook in my sewing room - these things need time to age, mellow, at least that's my story. I had also, many moons ago, collected pine cones from among the trees out back, put them in a bag, on a hook in my sewing room and forgot about them.

 They hung, and hung, and soon I didn't even see them anymore. But last week, in a flurry of inspiration, I saw them all again and actually made a wreath. It doesn't have the bling and the sparkle of those from the store but neither does it have a sticker on the back saying 'Made in China.' As wreaths go, I guess you could call this one a grey, country mouse, but I'm pretty happy with it.
And it's here to wish you all a merry Christmas!

It's Christmas morning here in God's waiting room. The sun is shining. The birds are singing. We have no snow to shovel, no horse stalls to muck out, no low IQ chickens to tend to, no high maintenance cats demanding laps to snuggle in and ear scratches, though we wish those who do could be here with us. You know who you are. We love you and we hope to talk/skype with you later!

We're glad that a year that brought us some scary challenges is ending on a healthy and positive note. Glad too for friendships that have lasted through the years though there are many miles between us. 

I wish all who read here love, peace, and a little bit of the magic those shepherds must have felt on that first Christmas long ago.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Life's a Beach

 They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I'm always intending to blog more often. I start something then let it sit because there's nothing like a good night's sleep to help edit out stupidity when you revisit what you've written. Which is not to say that I catch all of it....Unfortunately it sometimes sits for a week, or two or three, or this time for four months!

And now it's the first of November.

Sat outside carving our Jack - O - Lantern yesterday, happy that summer's heat is gone, and our favorite part of the year is here. Jack sat by the front door glowing orangely, grinning his welcome to all the trick or treaters....

who never came. Not one solitary Ghost, Red Riding Hood, Mummy, Ogre, Harry Potter, Princess or Scarecrow. Sigh. I guess our long driveway is too daunting a trek for little legs. 

And now you're puzzled and wondering "What is she blathering on about and how has it anything to do with a beach?"
 The above was indeed just blathering. Here's the post I started back in September, that languished, unloved, in drafts while the OC, the purple suitcase and I gallivanted from sea to shining sea. But that's a tale for another post, which, I solemnly promise, will not take four months to materialize.  Fall weather notwithstanding, here's a post about my love of beaches.


 The class was over. I was ready for savasana.
Given a choice, I prefer silent savasana. Just let me lie there, melting into the mat, assuring myself that no, I'm not going to die today. With luck all these stretches, twists, balances and contortions will  help me live longer than sitting in my rocking chair, bemoaning the passage of time, listening to my chair and my joints creaking. I love yoga. But sometimes it's literally a stretch.
 Just breathe, I tell myself, and it works.

But today there's a guided meditation.

When everyone is settled - bolster anyone? blanket? eye pillow? Linda, our instructor, begins....

"Take a deep breath in.....sigh it out. When your mind wanders simply bring your attention back to the steady stream of your breath." 

Okay. Got it. Can we get back to quiet savasana now? But there was more.....

"Imagine yourself walking along your favorite seashore. The sand glistens in the sunshine, the waves lick at your toes...."

And that was all it took.
 My impatience evaporated and I was there, on the beach, any beach, breathing the salty air, feet sinking into the sand as the waves licked my toes.


When we went to the seaside as children, it was to the Atlantic. All agog, we'd strain our necks from the back seat of the Morris Minor, each of us eager to see the sea first.

We couldn't just gallop off down to the beach though. Mum and Dad had only two hands each, Mum reminded us. There were blankets to carry, towels, buckets and spades and the all-important picnic basket. Our patience was sorely tested while she rejected the first eight depressions in the dunes before, finally, declaring the ninth one perfect. We wriggled out of our clothes and into our swim togs  holding a towel around us lest we scandalize the seagulls.  

Then flew to the water,

like birds uncaged.

Me, a friend and the Little Blister at Ballybunion, circa 1958

The enormous waves, the rocky tide pools, the huge dome of the sky, the sweeping arcs of golden sand stretching off to infinity - freedom!

Pity the child never taken to the seaside.

Mother arranged blankets and towels in our dune nest while Dad set up our little stove to make tea. But we were off already, leaping over rocks like mountain goats, racing along the sand, splashing into the waves. We'd dare each other to go out further, then turn and race the waves back to shore, often toppled half way, then thrown up on the sand like so much seaweed, spluttering and shivering, eyes stinging, teeth chattering, squealing with terrified delight. 

Bracing, our mother called it. No matter how warm the sheltered dunes, the water was always icy.
But Dad's tea took care of that. We'd sit huddled in our blankets and the shelter of the dunes, nursing our goosebumps, eating our sandwiches and slurping that comforting, hot, sweet tea. And in no time at all we'd go racing to the water again.

When the sun started to sink we'd pile once more into the Morris Minor.
And start singing, every popular song we could think of. We belted out Itsy, Bitsy, Teeny, Weeny, Yellow Polka Dot Bikini, along with anything by Elvis Presley or Cliff Richard, and old favorites like My Grandfather's Clock, The Hole in the Bucket, Que Sera Sera, Row, Row, Row your Boat, How Much is that Doggie in the Window?

We never lasted all the way home. I'm sure our parents sighed with relief when the singing died down and the only sound from the back seat was gentle snoring from happy, salty, sand-encrusted children.


 This September we spent a few days at the beach with friends, by the Atlantic.
 We didn't leap over rocks or race to the water. No, we've become more sedate with the years, but we did swim every day, and walked on the beach and sat reading in the shade.

Every evening, marvelous food.  We usually go to the beaches on the Gulf which is warm as bathwater, shallow and calm. The best part of this trip was the Atlantic, not so shallow, not so calm.

Real waves.

Out beyond where the waves break, swimming, floating, rolling with dips and swells, touching bottom only at the fullest stretch of my toes, the rhythm of the universe pounding in my ears. So peaceful, so humbling. The things that keep me awake at night, which loom large in my little life, shrink before the vastness of the sea. Things will work out, I tell myself, gazing east to where a little piece of me will always be. A mere ocean away.


A muffled sound, as from the far side of a cloud, a voice, Linda's, floats into my daydream -

"See the shining color of the water, how the light sparkles on it,"

and the Little Blister's smiling face comes into focus in my dream.

The Little Blister and me a few years ago at Bishop's Quarter

Is she walking along the beach at Bishop's Quarter I wonder, even as I'm lying here on my mat thinking of her? And suddenly my eyes are leaking down into my ears and I give silent thanks for the eye pillow. Why am I weeping when I have so much to be grateful for? Trouble is, the world, for all its recent shrinkage, is still too big and people I love too far away. Birthdays with zeros get you thinking that way. Recent events in Tallhassee too. What I said back there about dying from exertion? A joke.
No one goes to yoga class expecting to die there.
No one lies down in savasana (corpse pose) expecting it to be permanent.
 If those who died in Tallahassee love beaches, I hope heaven is the most beautiful beach ever.


Linda often ends her classes with this quote -
May you be well,
May you be happy and peaceful,
May you be free from all suffering, 
May you be filled with loving kindness. 

And while you live, may you be lucky enough to spend part of each year on the beach.


Friday, June 29, 2018

The Color Purple

 What comes to mind? 
A hillside covered in heather?
A famous book?
A poem by Jenny Joseph?
Purple cloths enshrouding statues at church during Lent? The good lord, his holy mother and all the saints hidden from view 'til Easter morning?
Royal robes?
African violets?
A certain notorious cartoon dinosaur?

When we lived in Belgium I had a good friend, from Bulgaria. Julia and I communicated in a mixture of her excellent, and my very bad, French, my good and her very bad English, lots of sign language and helpless laughter. We got together about once a month and went exploring in Brussels. One day we happened into a district where many of the store fronts had scantily clad ladies in the windows, not mannequins but the real thing, bathed in lurid blue light. Prostitutes, in a word. Prostitution is legal in Belgium. The conversation wandered down this path and Julia told me that, in her country, purple was the color of prostitution. On subsequent trips to town with Julia I was careful not to wear purple.

It's almost twenty years since we returned from Belgium. I have, unfortunately, lost touch with Julia, but I've never forgotten that little tidbit. Whenever I'm thinking of wearing anything purple I align it with this information in my head and wonder if wearing it means I'll be giving off wanton hussy vibes. My tastes in no other way run to wanton hussy. In my limited experience and understanding, wanton hussies would be the ladies teetering around in the six inch stilettoes and purple sequined gowns with high rise slits up the side and plunging necklines, revealing generous (or artificially enhanced) endowments and heavy cleavage; brassy blonde, bouffant hairdos, heavily mascared eyes, rouged cheeks, fire-engine red (or even purple) lipstick on their botoxed lips. 
I think I'm safe.
Besides,  I'm not living in Bulgaria, and why should I not wear purple since it is one of the colors that goes best with white hair?

Not that I'd ever wear real purple. I'd prefer one of its more muted relatives, lavender, for instance. Remember the movie "Ladies in Lavender?" Maggie Smith and Judi Dench, two of my favorite actresses, hardly harlots.

So this week I went shopping for a new suitcase, having donated my old, shabby black one with the wonky wheels to a charity shop after our last trip anywhere, just to force myself to buy a new one for the next trip which is next week. There were too many choices. Many I eliminated on sight as being too big, too small, too garish, too dull. I got it down to two but could not decide.  I asked the OC to come into the store and help me choose. He has a low to zero level of tolerance for wandering around stores. His preferred method of shopping involves sitting at his computer and clicking on 'submit.' Mission accomplished.
 As for me - I have to feel and touch. So it was at great personal sacrifice that he came in to assist me.

 I introduced him to the finalists. On the one hand a Samsonite, greyish, the right size, sturdy; on the other a Sharper Image, black, light-weight (a plus - who wants to lug a dead weight around an airport?) expandable (very attractive given my packing skills, or lack thereof) and black with unfortunate orange trim (I dislike orange.) The OC circled them, checked the wheels and pointed to the black-with-awful-orange-trim as it had 360 degree turning wheels. His work was done. His eyes had already started to glaze over as he wandered off, leaving me still dithering. With a distinct lack of enthusiasm, I choose the Sharper Image, black with awful orange trim, but easy maneuverability.
Glumly proceeding to check-out, I suddenly saw it! The one I instantly knew had my name on it, and - are you ready? It was purple! Well, maybe not exactly, more of an eggplant-y color, perfect size, similar wheels.
"What do you think of this one?" I asked the OC as he re-joined me.

"Why would you want that one?"

"It's a much nicer color, " I said wistfully, knowing full well my argument was weak.

" But you always put something colorful on the handle anyway". He was not as enchanted as I. 

Maybe it's a male thing. Dithering is frowned upon. Make a decision and stick with it.
 I should have dug in my heels. Instead,
I brought the wrong suitcase home. I put it on the floor by the bed where I could begin to gradually pack. It's only a suitcase, I thought. The world won't end. But still I didn't like it. I glared at it. I put nothing in it.

 You should've got the purple one, I told myself. How many more suitcases are you going to buy in this lifetime (especially after a recent birthday with multiple zeroes - one for each decade). It glared brazenly back, the ugly trim glowing orangely  - you're stuck with me now!

On the other hand 'it's a woman's prerogative to change her mind!' I don't know who said it but I like them already. This morning I exchanged black and orange for purple. Well, eggplant. It's sitting by the bed, smiling. Fill me up, it seems to be saying. Nothing harlotty about it.
 I think we're going to travel well together -
into the sunset.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Into the Brambles

*Dear patient reader, I have no idea how to fix the inconsistencies in the print in this post. Can only suggest you read it in bright light.

"Maybe you could pick the blackberries while I mow the grass?" the OC suggested.

 "You should wear the wellies though so's not to tear up your legs."

"The wellies" are an ancient leftover from a former life (Montana, I think). They have been languishing for years, undisturbed, in a quiet corner of the garage. Having assured myself that no spiders had set up housekeeping therein, I donned the wellies which are a faded shade of olive green, not to mention three sizes too large, and one of the OC's most battered garden hats, in a matching, equally faded green. One can't be too careful - those style police can jump out from the most unexpected places. Best to give them nothing to write me up about. Grabbing gloves and a bowl I was ready to go where no husband is foolish enough to go.....

Into the brambles.

Our blackberry patch is a small operation, planted and tended mostly by Mother Nature, harvested by us, the birds and a variety of bramble-immune critters. Including, but not limited to, those that live in here - above left.

Winter lingered long this year. Pineapple plants withered; the moringa tree brownly expired; banana plants died (we thought). The blueberries loved having a cold spell. They flowered and set abundant fruit, but life goes on. Birds have to eat, and they did - every last berry. Then came the rain, lots of it and, as the temperatures rose, everything went into hyper-growth and re-birth. Brand new pineapple babies rose from their parents' ashes. New leaves, tightly furled, pushed skyward like pencils from the presumed-dead banana plants. Sunshine came on the heels of the rain and the moringa's roots sent up shoots that are now taller than me. And I'm no midget.

Mother Nature laughs when we try to grow tomatoes in our sandy soil. When I first saw tiny tomato plants popping up on the compost I was eager to dig them up, pot them and lavish them with TLC. Not so fast, said MN in my ear, they like it there. All those kitchen scraps, potato peels and coffee grounds, all that stuff the OC amended the compost with - can't you see they're perfectly happy right where I put them?
And since it's not nice to fool with mother nature I left them there and now we have these little beauties, right there on the compost pile.

I've heard that bears like berries. Venturing further into the thicket I saw depressions there where bears might well have rested after a nice tummy-full of our (well, Mother Nature's) berries. True, I've never seen bears in or near our garden, but, less than a mile from here there's a sign warning motorists to watch for bears! So, it's not such a stretch. That said, you'll be the first to know if I ever do see a bear wandering through our brambles.

But, back to berry-picking. I found myself putting all that yoga to practical use. The easy pickings were around the edges, but back among the thorns where the fattest and juiciest berries glistened, just out of reach, all those forward folds, half moons, dancers' and warrior poses suddenly became extremely useful. "Relax into the pose," we constantly hear at yoga. All very well in the studio which is thorn-free, not such a great idea precariously balanced on top of the compost heap, reaching for a tantalizing blackberry jewel. Unless you want to land face down in the brambles and lose a hard-won bowl of berries. In which case relax away.

That was not what I wanted. What I wanted was the greatest number of berries for the least amount of blood.

 Finished at last. Soaked through and bristling with tiny thorns in spite of my best efforts to avoid them, me and the outsized wellies plodded towards the house. Out of the wellies, into the  blissful cool, out of thorn-riddled clothing, into dry. Eventually I'll have to wash my haul and add them to the growing stash in the freezer.

 And figure out how to make blackberry jam.

But first - down on the bedroom floor for savasana, my favourite yoga pose. And this time, you'd better believe, I'll have no trouble relaxing into it. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

Sock it to Me

The weathermen were just messing with us. 
It did warm up for a while and rained and rained and rained, but tonight we'll be back in the thirties(F)brrrr. 
So we're still doing winter things...like knitting.

I learned to knit with Sr. Bridget in first grade. Yellow wool, tiny needles. Every stitch a tongue biting struggle. They were so tight they might as well have been glued to the needles. And when, mysteriously, my ten tight stitches took off on their own and grew to thirteen, and fifteen and nineteen tight stitches, I was sure I'd be in trouble.
Until I hit on a cunning plan.
If I knit two tight stitches together, almost biting my tongue off in the process, at each end of the needle for a few rows, I could get back to the legal limit and hope that Sr. Bridget wouldn't notice the bulging edges in the illegal part.
It made a very nice bonnet for my doll.

New adventures in the needle arts awaited in third grade. Knitting on four needles - 
But heartscald lay ahead. Getting the hang of stitches in the round wasn't bad, the problem lay in turning the heel. The rest of third grade is a blur.
Such childhood trauma sends you to the therapist's couch in adulthood so I obliterated it from my brain.

 But there was no getting away from knitting. It was all around me - my mother, my granny, my aunts, the neighbour ladies - were all avid knitters.  Every baby ever born got a hand knitted matinee jacket with matching booties and hat. My mum knit my navy cardigan for school and every other jumper I wore.  Woe betide the hapless child (me) who happened by as she embarked on a new project. Wool came in skeins which had to be wound into balls. I'd have to stand in front of mother's chair with both arms extended.  She'd drape a skein over my wrists and tell me to hold it taut while she wound it into a ball. But never fast enough for me, convinced as I was that one more minute of such torture and my arms would fall off. I'd eye the skeins still to be wound and groan. Begging for mercy didn't work. I was young and healthy and she assured me that this would build character.

Auntie Ita, on the other hand, made knitting fun. Not really our aunt but a friend of the family, I spent many afternoons at her house. She showed me how to knit fancy tea cozies and hot water bottle covers, perfect gifts for mums and grannies and aunts at Christmas. She also let me help her to knit teddy bears and other stuffed animals for childrens' charities. 

Little by little I came to love knitting especially when I could choose my own patterns and yarn.

The big breakthrough came when I decided to knit myself an Aran sweater.  Here's a close up of the pattern.

I think I was 18 when I knit it and I still have it all these years later. It is without a doubt the oldest piece of clothing I own.
All those honeycombs, cables and diamonds make Aran knitting much more interesting than just simple plain and purl. Because you can see the pattern forming, it also seems to go faster, and of course everyone thinks you are so clever for being able to do it! What they don't realise is that anyone who can knit plain and purl can make any of those complicated looking designs.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So, winter weather. 
A friend comes over one day and wants me to teach her how to knit. It's one thing to do it, quite another to teach it, but, with a little refresher course from Google, we're off to the races.
Scones and cups of tea are consumed, the problems of the world are, if not exactly solved, thoroughly discussed, and before we know it she has the basics down and is knitting up a storm. Would that I'd caught on that fast in first grade!

She comes another day to knit and, so that I'm not sitting idle while her needles fly, I go digging among the artifacts, knowing that if I dig deep enough, there's a sock project I abandoned several years ago that could be excavated and finished. And wouldn't I feel like the clever girl then!

And so it came to pass. I finished the sock. It's a little on the ginormous side since I'm a lazy knitter, and a loose one, never bothering to check my guage. It would be a better fit on Finn McCool but nothing daunted, I'm calling it a slouchy sock - you know, the ones that puddle around your ankles when you're wearing leggings? Yeah, those ones. The yarn is a heathery blend of greens and purples and it knit up quickly and I did feel like a very clever girl. I'll feel even more like one if I finish its partner, hopefully in a lot less time than the first. Because what use is one sock to anyone, with the possible exception of Long John Silver?

I'd better hurry though. The window for doing wintery things, like knitting, is closing fast.
Meanwhile Finn McCool is waiting for his second sock.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Cold Bare Boughs of Winter

It's Winter in Florida, something that hasn't happened in quite a few years. So many in fact that there are those among us who, in that string of mild winters where we never put our shorts and sandals away, foolishly donated much of our lingering winter clothing. 

Bare boughs of winter
This year such coats and jackets as escaped the purge are all out of mothballs. Sandals have been replaced by real shoes, sweaters are back in use, our necks are wrapped in scarves, out heads in woollen caps,our hands in gloves, and thank God for woollen leggings!

By the time I don enough layers to brave the outdoors I look like Johnny Forty Coats - tights and top, trousers, sweater, zip up fleece, mittens and scarf, all bundled up inside a lined winter jacket (dug out from the furthest reaches of the closet) and can hardly squeeze myself through the door.  Okay, I'm exaggerating, but only a little.

There's no sympathy from our north dwelling children. They laugh, they snort, they harden their hearts. 

We used to be tougher than this but years in the sun have diluted our blood and turned us into wimps. The house is warm but still at night I pile on the blankets, the wooly socks and my precious - the hot water bottle. In spite of all this, as long as I can keep my toes from freezing, we're happy to be getting a winter. It does break the monotony of endless sunshine (this is where the children stop snorting and start growling). It also probably bodes well for our blueberry patch which has not produced more than a handful of berries these last few years for want of at least a month of cold weather. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Before winter set in
December flew by with its pants on fire. It always does that, just to spite me 'cause it knows I'm never ready for the holidays but this year it was something different. Unscheduled adventures of the driving/automotive variety. Early in the month the OC was driving, not far from our house, when someone, who we can only surmise was blind in one eye and couldn't see out of the other, turned left into a side road right in front of him, completely failing to yield the right of way, crashing into the side of his car and sending him and themselves to the hospital. He was hurt but managed to climb out on the passenger side. His car was wrecked but he, by some miracle, when I reached the scene, was walking around, spitting nails and refusing to climb on a stretcher until I was there to transfer everything from the remains of his car into mine. An automated system built into his car had called the fire and rescue service and he had called me. That was a nerve wracking five minute trip.

  No bones were broken and he got out alive but, instead of the usual holiday preparations, we embarked on a dizzying round of two nights in the hospital with hourly pokings for blood, tests, scans, MRIs,  visits to doctors, chiropractor appointments, phone tag with insurance companies and sadness at losing his all-time favourite car. 

 But we're so glad he's alive to suffer through all that. How close he came to not being was scary.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

How was your Christmas? Ours was quiet. No crowds of returning swallows and chicks, just a quiet day, dinner with our friendly neighbours and phone calls with those far flung chicks. Are we really half way through the first month of the year already?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Breaking news: Winter, when she comes at all to Florida, does not linger long. Usually just until we re-accustom ourselves to real shoes, layers of warm clothes and piles of blankets. Now that we've got it down
the weathermen say it's about to warm up! Go figure. There'll be no complaints from here about the heat for a long while, no matter how hot it gets!