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Friday, December 30, 2011

The Martini Effect

My son-in-law makes a mean martini. It’s not the first attribute one looks for in a son-in-law; let's just call it added value. He tended bar during his college years, and the results of assiduous practice are clear. He makes me a perfect martini every time: dry, no olive (bleh!) with a lemon twist. He taught me how to do it, but I still come up with only an adequate drink. .

I wish I had his touch because every other Monday night, my husband goes to his men’s group meeting. I make myself a martini and enjoy it while I watch TV. The men’s group has been together for almost 20 years. They are a remarkable group and meet in an equally remarkable space, the bell tower of the National Cathedral. They share philosophies, tragedies, child rearing stories, marital difficulties in the strictest confidence.

I never call Steve during these meetings. To be fair, when the group first met, cell phones were non-existent, but even since everyone in the country has a minimum of one cell phone, I have always respected their physical and metaphysical space. I have no idea if other partners also refrain from calling or if, like me, once a fortnight they sort of enjoy the quietude. In any case, a couple of weeks ago I infringed on their seclusion.

Did someone die? Well, no. Was there an accident? No. An illness? A birth? A disaster. Um, no. Here’s what happened.

I made my martini and turned on the TV. I can’t remember exactly what I was watching for reasons which will soon be made clear. I sipped on my cocktail and enjoyed a little buzz. I decided that I would like the buzz to continue. I made another martini.

Be forewarned: gin creeps. Oh, yes, you are half way done with your drink, and you feel fine. You finish it up, and you think, I’ll have another, thank you. Then you have another, and oh, my! Yes, after the second martini, I was very happy. I wanted -- and this part I remember quite clearly -- to share just how happy I was. What’s the point of being married if you can’t share important information with your spouse?

I dialed; Steve answered.

“I called to tell you I’m drunk,” I announced and proceeded to explain the martini effect. Steve chuckled, and we ended our call.

The men’s group does nothing if not offer support and advice. When Steve relayed what I'd said to him, they rallied round. What was he doing still standing there? Get out of there fast, they told him; stop on the way, buy flowers and get home immediately.

And that’s exactly what he did.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Night Before

We have a holiday tradition that takes place only on certain, magical years the grand confluence of Hanukkah and Christmas Eve. Early in the evening, as darkness falls, we light the Menorah. No one wants to be the one not to give the blessing, so we sing it all together. We seem to have varying natural pitches, but that’s part of the charm, right? We proceed to a light supper, then, YAY, it’s Christmas Eve!


The stack of books has grown pretty big over the years. At one time, I limited my voice to reading two per child, but once they became readers, the sky was the limit. Next to the stack is the tray overflowing with cookies: chocolate chip cookies, iced gingerbread men and women, and sugar cookies shaped like dreidles, Santas, stockings and, you know, dinosaurs.There won’t be many left by the end of the night, but we’ve gotta keep our strength up while we read.

“Dibbs on Mr. Willloughby’s Christmas Tree!” the older one shouts, diving for her favorite.

“I get Tosca’s Christmas,” exclaims the younger.

“Oh, I want Frosty.”

“I’ve got Morris’ Disappearing Bag and Max’s Chocolate Chicken!” The last is an Easter story that has become inextricably entangled with our Christmas fare, Max and Morris being virtually the same little boy -- our little boy. From this standpoint, he nabs Max’s Dragon Shirt, too

My children are grown and flown, but one time we all gathered on Christmas Eve, I remonstrated, “You’re in your 20s. We don’t really have to spend all night reading all the stories.” I was met with stony looks.

The Berinstein Bears Meet Santa Bear, Merry Christmas, Mom and Dad, the tall stack becomes two shorter yet not inconsiderable stacks.

By now, we’ve grown to more than immediate family. Spouses, having turned down the high treat of selecting a book to read aloud (or not risking the flying elbows), look on mesmerized by amazement or disbelief as their adult partners regress a good 15 years.

Then the reading begins, the glorious Christmas stories of sweet surprises and love and happiness. This year, while everyone leans to hear, two Perfect Grandchildren will snuggle close when I close the evening with our 1942, Everett Shinn illustrated copy of Clement Clarke Moore and begin, “’Twas the night before Christmas . . . .”

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Close to Paradise

Need one small cake? Need a cone form for charcoal on your grill? Christmas plates? Hanukah candles, truffles (I mean real ones), Wine Away, weird cheese? If you live in the northeast, you know where I’m going with this, or more accurately, where to go.

My husband comes from Buffalo, and his mother lived there for somewhere around fifty years (oh, lord, is that right? I think it is.) As long as Steve’s Dad was alive, he took her to Wegmans every single day. Every day.

Mary lived in their family home for several years after it was wise for her to do so, and we finally got her moved down here in a senior’s apartment near us. She thrived with the move but always bemoaned having left Wegmans behind. Then one glorious day the news arrived: Wegmans was coming! She couldn’t have been more excited.The flurry! The bustle! She and her friends had elaborate plans for getting there early on opening morning. You’d have thought it was the second coming.

I didn’t understand until I walked into our local Wegmans. The cheese “room” alone was staggering. Now I’m a true believer. Do you need something, something rare and esoteric? It’s okay if you don’t believe in Santa. You can go to Wegmans.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Which Ghost of Christmas?

When did Christmas become so mean? I look at what is passing for holiday humor this year, and I do not understand it.


Let me begin here with a disclaimer. I am not Christian; I have never been Christian, and I cannot foresee a time in the future when I will become Christian. When people look puzzled and say, “but you celebrate Christmas,” I answer, “But only in its most commercial sense.” I am not extolling the power of the dollar but explaining that Christmas, even -- or perhaps especially--without God or Santa Clause, is a time of pure celebration, untainted by faith or reason. It’s a time when you can bake and decorate and give for the pure joy of it. So if I’m dismayed by what’s going on, why aren’t believers rioting?

Here’s what’s got me shaking my head. I was meandering around a store, and noticed two packages of Christmas napkins. One said, “All I want for Christmas is a drink,” the other, “Saw it, Wanted it, Got it.” There have always been humorous takes on Christmas.   Have they always been this cynical? Not that I recall.

Then there’s the new crop of TV ads. Have you seen the one where a young man comes home for the holidays? As he enters the house, his older parents sneak away through the back door and zoom off in their car saying happily, “He’ll be okay.” This is funny? Really?

There’s the anti-Santa one that displays people buying fancy electronics for their loved ones. They lay in wait for Santa’s arrival Christmas night for the sole purpose of proving their gifts are better. As he fills their stockings with darling gifts, the people sneer at him, “Bring it on, Santa!” What is this, the Ghost of Christmas Scorn? Is it now de rigueur to be snotty to Santa?!

So I hope you’ll forgive me if we sit home on Christmas Eve with a cup of eggnog, a cheery fire and a couple of brightly wrapped presents under our agnostic tree knowing they are exchanged with love if not with the latest of what passes for wit.

I’m a little puzzled, though. I can’t figure out if I’m too much of a curmudgeon to celebrate with the rest of the country or not enough of one.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Under the Mushroom

When we knew we were moving to Moscow, a Russian friend promised to show me how to gather wild mushrooms. The Russians are great mushroom lovers, and many, perhaps even most of them will venture into the forests during mushroom season and pick them fresh. They make them into the most wonderful sauces and soups. Unfortunately, our friend’s and Steve’s companies parted ways, and I never got my lesson.

I, too, love mushrooms. I always thought it would be cool to be able to pick the edible ones. As it is, I have no desire to poison myself or my loved ones -- at least, usually I have no desire to poison them -- so I must continue to buy my mushrooms at the grocery store.

This is too bad because during a rainy fall, like this past one, our yard becomes a veritable mushroom farm. Zillions (okay, several) types of mushrooms spring up. I have no idea what they are, so I give them my own names.





Pink Posies














                                          Corn Muffin Caps    












Warted Fungi











                                                  

                                             Ruffly Wuffley











  Sex Pistol  













                                Mushroom Anemones


Unfortunately, I was just a little too late in the season to get a photo of the most important mushrooms. Steve saw them just a few days before; you know the red ones with white polka dots. They are the ones with Smurfs dancing underneath.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Perfect Gift for the Holiday

I received an early holiday present today.  I use the generic term “holiday” because at our house, we celebrate every holiday that floats along.  We light the Hanukkah candles, we decorate the Christmas tree, and we kindle a Solstice log.  We’re big on snow storms, too, knowing that in celebration of getting snowed in, our neighbors they'll make us incredible Irish coffee.
Anyway, the Washington Post just gave me an early present, and I’m so happy about it, I could write them a thank you note.  If you look at the Metro section of today’s Post (page 2, bottom of the fold), you will see a human interest article by ME (Nana finds everyone wins at Kangaroo Bean Bag Hop).  It has to do with my Perfect Grandchildren, of course, and it sports a by-line by ME.  Sure, they had to cut a paragraph to make it fit, but do I care? I do not. 

I wrote and trimmed the text and submitted it, so how is its printing a present?  It’s the gift of readers, the gift of approval, the gift of an ego boost.  For a writer, a present doesn’t get a lot better than that?   
                                 *If I had a picture of me grinning, I’d post it here!*

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Child's Play

When I was a little kid -- many years before I started kindergarten (well, it couldn’t be too many years, I guess) -- I had doll I named Johnsie.  (The s is pronounced like a z. I was too young to spell, but still . . . .) I remember Johnsie’s weight, the substantial solidity of a rubber doll in the pre-plastic days.  I recall dragging him around the house.  Most vividly, I remember my rule that only my father and I could hold Johnsie. (I don’t recall anyone else every trying to touch him, but that only shows how powerful I was, right?) Putting Freud and my great affection for my father aside, Johnsie was the only doll I remember being deeply attached to. Sure there was a Besty-Wetsy that I got when I was sick in bed for a week with the flu. I don’t think I ever played with her after. There was the lone Barbie that denoted submission to peer pressure. I must have played with her, but I have no memory of it.


No, Johnsie was the important one, for a few years at least. He was replaced when I was seven by a blue and white elephant my dad got me when I had my tonsils out. I named the elephant Pillow because I buried my nose in him like a pillow to erase the lingering smell of ether. I loved Pillow, and I slept with him every night until I traded him in for my husband.

Now despite the classic book, William’s Doll, it seems to me that it’s little girls that like dollies. (Little boys like stuffed animals and action figures which are NOT dolls, not really.) Girls -- despite my own example -- generally like girl dollies. They like to mother them and feed them, teach them and put them to bed.
So here’s what I don’t understand. Given a choice, a little girl picks a doll in a frilly dress, the pinker, the better. She gets her home, and what’s the first thing she does? The first thing she does is take the clothes off the doll. And does she want you to help her put them back on? No, she does not. What she wants to do is take that naked dolly by one leg and drag it around the house. Why is that? Why? The child may ask you to wrap the dolly up in a blanket, but does she want help dressing her? No. I’ve never seen it, not once. It’s so odd; girls like their dolls naked.

Although, now that I think about it, big girls like naked playmates, too. (Hmm, sometimes these posts don’t end up quite the way I plan.)

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Boy Who Got It Right

The neighbors were over visiting when their boy was three or so.  Being just a little guy, he REALLY wanted to make friends with our cat, the dearly departed Elaine.  Now as you probably know, Elaine was neither the friendliest nor the most tranquil of cats.  She hissed and hid under the bed.  Rich reached for her just as my husband yelled, “Don’t touch her!”  There were two yelps, and Rich came away with a bloody hand.  However, he also came away with a determination to be friends with that cat.  Thus began the friendly siege.

For the next several years, every time he came over, he would sit near her.  Eventually he was able to scritch her on the head.  [NB: a scritch is a tiny, light scratch.  This is not a typo.] Next came the gentle pets on the head and learning that she didn’t like her haunches touched (even then arthritis was setting in).

During elementary school, Rich came over once a week for help with his Language Arts.  Before our lesson, he’d search through the house, find Elaine, say hello and have a little chat.  After our lesson, he’d say good-bye to her.  When we were out of town, he would come over and feed her. 

Rich, now 12, came over the day before I had her put down.  We sat near her and talked about her for a while, and then I went into the kitchen and left him to say good-bye.  I heard him whisper, “Say hello to God for me, Elaine.”

The next day after school, after I’d buried her furry, little body, Rich came over.  It was Halloween afternoon, and he wore the cowboy hat to his costume.  We walked out to the garden.  He removed the hat and said a few words over her grave.

“Well, Elaine and I were friends.  She only liked Mrs. Simon and me.  I think she was afraid a lot.  She was a good cat.  I wish she could have been braver.”  We put a couple of (really old and quite dead) roses on her grave.  Rich really wanted me to put a tombstone on it, and to forestall his making a wooden one (can you see it now, rotting in the snow and rain?), I moved a plaster cat lawn ornament to the site.  He asked for a picture of her, put it in a plastic bag and anchored it under the plaster kitty.

That night, when he came trick-or-treating, he asked me if he could go again to pay his respects to Elaine.

“Any time, Rich.  Any time you want.”
He was out there a good five minutes. 

All I know is, from the time he was oh so little, this boy got it right.  He was patient and tender and loving.  Some girl’s gonna get a good deal.  

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Dad Who Mooed

I have a clear memory from when I was a kid. The family would be on a drive from somewhere to somewhere else. We kids were always antsy, three of us lined up in the back seat (unless my parents forgot and left me somewhere which happened more than once yet never seemed to particularly scar my psyche) (or maybe it did; you tell me).  My Dad would point out roadside features of interest to distract us. If we passed a field of cows, he would recite,

     I never saw a purple cow,
     I never hope to see one,
     But I can tell you anyhow,
     I’d rather see than be one!
And
     How now, brrrrown cow.

He would recite in large, round tones with rolling r’s, and then he would Moo. It was a loud Moooo with the decibels increasing slowly and then dropping off rapidly just like a real cow. I was awestruck with admiration and wonder. In fact, I can’t recite How Now, Brown Cow in my head without hearing him and feeling a rush of love. And then, like icing on a cake, like a cherry on a Sunday, like a chocolate coin at Hanukkah, came that wonderful moo.

I would demand, “Do it again! Do it again!” He was a sweet and an indulgent father, and he would do it again. I am telling you, that man could Moo.

Then he’d wiggle his ears for us!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Hush, Sweet Pussycat

Many  (many, many) moons ago, I had two cats, Merlyn and Smedley, the dynamic duo. Merlin was a gray tabby and the smartest cat I’ve ever known. He opened cabinets. He climbed ladders. He attempted to turn doorknobs. Smedley was half Siamese and, well, vocal. He meowed about everything and nothing. He was so vocal that I would sing a lullaby to help him settle down. It was Hush, Hush, Sweet Pussycat, and I filked it to the tune of Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte. I have sung it since to every cat I’ve owned when they’re restive or frightened or in pain. It goes like this:
Hush, hush, Sweet Pussycat,
Smedley(or Baby or Kirkie or Laney) go to sleep.
Hush, hush, Sweet Pussycat,
Smedley, don’t you weep.
You must be a quiet pussycat,
     a sleepy, beepy pussycat.
Hush, hush, sweet pussycat,
Smed-ley sleeeep.

I sang it to Elaine (16 1/2 years old) for the last time yesterday on the way to the vet. Hush, hush, Elaine. No more arthritis hurting you as you come up the stairs. No more crying for food that’s already in the bowl. No more litter box accidents. Hush, hush, Elaine. It’s all chasing birds now and stretching in the sun.

I miss my stupid cat.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Squirrel Splat

"When the frost is on the pumpkin and the fodder’s in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock . . . ."

I had to learn this poem by James Whitcomb Riley when I was in elementary school, although even way back then, we weren’t hearing any gobbling turkeys in our neighborhood. (Well, truthfully, every Thanksgiving, a turkey yard opened a few miles away from our home, so when we drove by, we heard lots of kyoucking and gobbling.) ANYWAY, what I’m trying to say is, the poem evokes autumn.

Autumn: the vibrant yellow, orange and red leaves (or, if you live in Virginia, the mostly dull, brown ones). Fall: the crisp air, the Halloween costumes, the suicidal squirrels.
Squirrel suicide seems to be a local phenomenon, one of those things that, no matter how many box stores you put in, will remain unique to an area. In Princeton, it was dogs sleeping on the sun-warmed residential streets (this was waaay before leash laws). I remember my Mom swerving to avoid them because they wouldn’t move for nothin’. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since.

Here in Northern Virginia, it is squirrel suicide. This is the time of year when the squirrels are industrious, finding and hiding nuts for the winter. Even though I took down our bird feeder several years ago (and, yes, I do remember that I promised you the bird feeder/raccoon story. It will come.), we live in a wooded area, and the squirrels proliferate. Their coats grow thick and shiny with the abundance of the oak acorns.

When we first moved here, I’d be driving to and from work in the Fall, taking the kids to their activities and whatnot, and I’d see little dead blobs of squirrel bodies on the roads. I wondered if people were aiming their cars at the squirrels, or if there were perhaps hundreds of careless drivers. I discovered it was neither. No, something seems to happen around here, something in the weird little squirrel brains. You’ll be driving along, careful as pie, and out from a pile of leaves at the side of the road, a squirrel will throw himself under the wheels of your car. Splat.

It’s disheartening, really. I mean, you can’t avoid ‘em; they’re on a little kamikaze run. Splat, there it is again. Splat. You’d think it would decimate the local squirrel population, but it doesn’t. Every year, there are just as many squirrels as the year before.

Last week, I was sitting on my screened-in porch enjoying the last of the year's warm afternoons, and that blasted squirrel, the one I've written about,l was half-way up the side of the the pine tree scolding and screaming at me. Why doesn’t that one throw himself under a bus, huh? Splat.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Zombie Turning

Dear Followers,
     I know, I know I promised Squirrel Splat next, and I have it all written, but then I got notification of a scary story contest from Fantasy Island Book Publishing (https://www.facebook.com/questions/282275231793975/?qa_ref=qd), and I couldn't resist.  I've never written a scary story before, at least not that I remember (which means not before last month), so this is my maiden voyage.  I hope you enjoy it!  Oh, and please go to the address above and vote for the one you think is the best story (mine, mine, mine! for Pete's sake).  Voting runs Oct 23 - 30.
     Oh, and don't worry:   porch season is over.

Zombie Turning

I was reading the newspaper on the quiet of the screened-in porch. The day was calm, the sky that silky blue before the first cold snap of fall. A blur flashed in the corner of my vision, and a something, no, a person darted in through the screen door. I startled up, barely able to take in much of his -- her? -- appearance. Filthy jeans and a blood-stained shirt made me instinctively pull back. Pasty flesh, bruised eyes, a look of incomprehension on a slack mouth. It spring at me, teeth barred, of all things.

Buster, my black lab, ran from the house through the open, sliding glass door, growling and barking. When I came to consciousness, Buster had chased it off, I assume as both were gone. The attack itself was a blank in my mind.

Obviously the creature had knocked me to the ground. I couldn’t collect my thoughts. I put a hand to my head, and it came away bloody. It had either whacked me on the head with a rock or something, or thrown me to the ground because I had a nasty bump. My arm ached, too, and I saw the marks of a good-sized jaw incised on my upper arm. I’d been out long enough for the rivulets of blood down to my hand to have caked. The damned thing bit me! But why? Why, why, why?

I live in a quiet neighborhood. We have manicured yards. We have old trees. What we don’t have is a weird crime problem.

I blanked out again. When my mind cleared, or semi-cleared really, I was still on the floor. I must be concussed. There’d been a lot about concussions in the news lately; all I had to do was stay awake but quiet. Jay would come home from work in a bit, not more than a few hours, whatever time it was now. He would take me to the emergency room if I needed to go.

I pushed myself up cautiously to sit in the Adirondack chair and rested a moment. Buster came back, up to the screen door. My stomach growled. For a bleary second, I thought about taking a bite out of Buster. Okay, my head was worse than I thought; that was just sick. I leaned over to push open the door. Instead of rushing eagerly through, he dropped his to his forepaws, his tail low and still. He growled.
“Good dog,” I croaked, but he yowled and fled. I must really be a mess.

My scratchy throat emphasized that I was thirsty. I thought I could make it inside to the kitchen for some water. I should stave off dehydration no matter how difficult getting to the sink might be. I edged through the sliding glass door and along the wall. I was feeling pretty dizzy, and if I had to, I could simply slide down the wall without risking hitting my head again. I made it all right, though, and turned on the tap, the water streaming. I looked at it puddled in my cupped hand. Then I didn’t feel like drinking after all.

My stomach growled again. I turned slowly, trying to keep the slight equilibrium I had, and opened the refrigerator door to survey the contents. I thought maybe some yogurt, something that would slide down easily. No, that wasn’t appealing. I had some hamburger in there. I pulled the package and stuck a fingernail into the plastic wrapping, poking at it, but it didn’t look very appetizing, either, its snake-like curls red and dead.

My head was worse now, and I felt my concentration zooming in and out of focus. I thought I’d go wash my face and rest until Jay got home.

The head injury must have done something to my coordination. I was having trouble with my balance as I lurched down the hall and into the bathroom. I held myself up by pushing on the counter, and glanced into the mirror.

For the flicker of an eye, I thought it was the creature staring back, the creature that bit me. My eyes were bruised and blank, my skin ashen. My stomach growled again. My head seemed buzzier but my needs clearer. Why was I standing here? I was confused. I was so hungry. Jay would be home soon. I smiled; the image in the mirror grimaced back.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Golden Apple

Paris gave the golden apple lovliest-goddess-prize to Aphrodite. Why? So he could marry the most beautiful woman in the world. Thus began the heartache of the Trojan war. *sighs deeply* I never understood it. I never understood the big deal of the golden apple until I experienced Pomme d'Or in Grand Pre, Nova Scotia.

We visited the gorgeous Grand Pre National Park which features a museum with mini-videos of various aspects of Acadian life: one of costumed people reaping hay with scythes and building a hay rack; one of women spinning; one of men weaving green branching through saplings to form a fishing weir. In that video, the Bay of Fundy tide floods and recedes (off camera), and you see the people return to the weir to pluck the fish, waist-high, from the woven pockets. We saw the commemorative church that has a series of murals (picture below) telling the story of the Acadian diaspora and where a cat named Evangeline comes in every morning to rest on a blue pillow.

                                                    Men are being forced on a boat while the
                                                    women and girls (and cat) are left behind.
Outside the church, a path leads you to a reconstruction of an Acadian house, its back windows opening down slope across the salt marshes to the bay. Out front door is a thriving kitchen garden and an apple orchard. It was a drizzly morning, no one was near-by. I know because I glanced around before plucking the low-hanging fruit, a small red apple. I have never tasted such an apple, sweet and tart at once, its sugar calling me back for one more bite.

The Acadians were French settlers, so naturally they brought grape vines with them. The vineyard of Grand Pre takes advantage of all the conditions that allow grapes, apples, all crops to flourish.

Close your eyes.  Picture the color gold, real gold. Now infuse it with sunshine, and, at the edges watch the gold fade to pure light. Pour it in a pretty wine glass. (If you really closed your eyes, you can open them now.  Hey! OPEN THEM!)

Put your nose in the glass and inhale just the faintest smell of crisp apples, sweet and tart at the same time.

Sip. You’re tasting sweet apples and tart, with an alcohol conveyance, sliding over your tongue to the back of your mouth and down with just a hint of sugar calling you back. That is Grand Pre’s golden dessert wine, Pomme d’Or, the Golden Apple.

Turns out there’s an old law. Don’t you hate those old laws? Canada passed this law in an agreement with the US to protect Americans from the sins of liquor during Prohibition. Now you can’t get a couple of bottles of Pomme d’Or (calling you back, calling you back) shipped to the States. What’s that, you say? Prohibition was done away with almost 100 years ago? And you think a government might have changed the law? *sigh*

On our last night in Nova Scotia, we ate a delectable dinner at Chives in Halifax. I concluded my meal not with chocolate cake, not with pie, but with a glass of Pomme d”Or. It was a perfect dessert all by itself (although it paired deliciously with a bite of Steve’s coffee ice cream with caramel sauce), and I’LL NEVER GET TO TASTE IT AGAIN! Is this the definition of pleasure and pain?

                                                   Evangeline on her pillow in the church.
                                              This is how I feel after a glass of Pomme d'Or.
                                            (My sister took this picture.  :)  )
(This will be my last post about Nova Scotia, cheer or sigh, depending on your reaction to that. Next post will be about Squirrel Splat - and that’s not a pot pie.)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Eating in Paradise

I never knew much about Acadia, Nova Scotia, no more than that Longfellow's mawkishly sentimental poem Evangeline was set there because it says so right in the poem.  And, to be honest, I never really read much of the poem.  While we were driving the Cabot Trail, I downloaded it (oh, I LOVE my Kindle) and figured I'd have it read by the time we got to Grand Pre where the Canadian National Park commemorates the forced evacuation of the Acadians.  (Lousiana - Acadians - cajins:  oh, I learned so much on this trip! But I'm not spoon-feeding you; go look it up yourself.) Who  isn't familiar with Evangeline’s opening lines:

     This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks, Bearded with moss, and in
     garments green, indistinct in the twilight. . . .
Sounds familiar now, doesn't it?

     Then Evangeline lighted the brazen lamp on the table, Filled, till it overflowed, the pewter tandark with
     home-brewed Nut-brown ale, that was famed for its strength in the village of Grand-Pre. . . .
There are orchards and corn fields, flax grows and fish are plucked, chest high, from the fishing weir.
It all gains flavor (heh, heh) when you're reading it while breakfasting on Strawberry Croissant French toast at the English Garden B&B in Indian Brook.

When he sees her, Evangeline's true love Gabriel, "knew not which beat the louder, his heart or the knocker of iron." My heart beat pretty loudly at a little restaurant outside Halifax where I ate seafood chowder in a broth so clear that you can't imagine how it holds all the flavor.

In Acadia (originally a translation of Arcadia, meaning paradise),
     Billowy bays of grass ever rolling in shadow and sunshine, Bright with luxuriant clusters of roses and
     purple amorphas. Over them wandered the buffalo herds, and the elk and the roebuck; Over them
    wandered the wolves, and herds of riderless horses. . . .

It must have been a magnificent countryside indeed that can still produce the dinner I had at the Blomidon Inn In Wolfeville:
     Lobster chowder with the meat of two lobster claws floating in cream.
     Halibut caught five minutes before being poached in lobster broth with more lumps of lobster dotting its
     skin.
     A waffle with a large (FINALLY, someone realizes the inportance of a serving of ice cream sizeable
     enough to have some with every bite of its accompanyment), drizzled with raspberry sauce and smeared
     with chocolate ganache.

I can shed a tear when I read,
     Still stands the forest primeval; but far away from its shadow, Side by side, in their nameless graves, the
     lovers are sleeping.

     List to the mournful tradition still sung by the pines of the forest; List to a Tale of Love in Acadie, home of
     the happy.
Mournful and happy.  *sigh*  I'll no longer be eating
sweet beet risoto (Restaurant Le Caveau at the Grand Pre wintery)
or
seafood fritters, crisp on the outside and meltingly delicious on the inside (same place)
or
lobster salad that must have contained an entire lobster on a fresh roll (Grand Banker in Lunenburg).

No more scallops sauted to a caramelized crunch (Anapolis Royal, little German restaurant, not the one by the amazing Historic Gardens, but the one waaay down the street).  Won't be able to sneak a sweet (oh, so sweet) apple off the tree at the National Park in Grand Pre. 
Who loves Acadia now, eh?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

I Was Invited

My neighbor Cynthia is a fantastic cook, fantastic, eager and knowledgeable. Those of you who actually know me, know that that makes it all the more amazing that this week, while she was so busy and exhausted, she asked me to guest blog for her. Her blog is all about cooking (and life) and is called the Minivan Cook. If you'd like to read about Nova Scotian breakfast (with recipe) of Strawberry Croissant French Toast, click here: http://bit.ly/n4zurO

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What Is the Nature of Your Emergency?

The flight from Philie to Halifax was calm and beautiful with the blue ocean outlining curves of green land.  We claimed our rental car at the airport and loaded our luggage, removed it and loaded it again. 
My brother-in-law slid behind the wheel with my sister took shotgun, and Steve and I sat in the back.  When you rent a car, there are always those first frantic moments while you locate all the buttons and amenities.  At this point, we (well, my brother-in-law) were having some trouble locating the controls to adjust the side mirrors.  My sister said, "What about these?" as she pointed to a row of icons on the rear-view mirror.  Just as my brother-in-law said, "Wait!  Don't touch th . . . " she poked at them.
"You have activated your On-Star, on-line emergency system," a computerized voice intoned.  "I am connecting you with help." 
"No!  No!" was accompanied by frantic jabbings. 

"Push that power icon!" I recommended, never allowing being in the back seat to prevent me from offering assistance.  She pushed at it. 

Just as we thought we had it powered down, a disembodied, female voice spoke through the air.  She sounded just like the commercials, too.  "What is the nature of your emergency?"
"There is no emergency!" my sister yelled in a panic. "We turned this on, and we're too stupid to figure out how to turn it off."
"I can help you with that," and the system shut off, just like that.
We found the mirror adjustment buttons.  Eventually my brother-in-law discovered how to turn off the tushie-warmer, and a few minutes later their GPS Lady (theirs is English, with a very cultured voice) found herself and began directing us to our hotel. 
The next morning we came out of the hotel and, dragging our suitcases, repeatedly clicked "unlock" in front of a silver Malibu to no avail.  Hmm, wronbg car.  We meandered all over the parking lot looking for where we'd parked the night before, and I thought, that On-Star lady didn't take care of our emergency.  We're still stupid. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Four and Twenty Blackbirds

A couple of weeks ago I was walking up the driveway with our newspaper.  I looked up from the headlines (political venom reaches its height) to see four robins and 11 brown thrashers pecking away at our yard.  It felt like it might rain later, so I though it was possible the worms were rising, an easy birdie breakfast.  Still, that was a lot of birds.

Another fifteen minutes saw me ensconced on the screened-in porch with the paper and *sigh with satisfaction* a cup of coffee.  I looked up from nuclear developments in Iran to see a caucus of crows gathering in the copse between our house and the neighbors.  The ruckus began.  Crows have loud and determined discussions in our hickory and pine trees at indeterminate intervals.  I can never determine when or why as the itinerary is never made public.  (Well, there was that one time, that crow funeral, which I wrote about a long time ago, but usually there’s no comprehensible  reason for their gathering.)  This day’s debate was loud and earnest.

Eventually the commotion died down, and I sat reading depressing bombings in Iraq.  A few minutes later, I heard another sound, vaguely like the chirping of a cardinal although the cardinals were conspicuously absent. The trees are usually rife with them, singing and flitting in and out of the pine trees that overhang our porch. Where were they? Exiled by an avian vote?

I looked around for the weird sound.  Nothing. 

I settled into a depressing article about famine, and the peculiar call started up again.  This time the chirping morphed into a clucking.  I looked around again.  Nothing.

Now I was into a local shooting, the chirping-clucking going full force.  Had my neighbors acquired some odd kind of chickens?  I folded my paper and went out the screen door onto the deck for an in-depth look.  

Elaine was sunning herself, stretched out in the corner of the deck, whiskers and tail at rest.  She showed no – I mean absolutely no – interest in the sounds.  She’s 16 and going deaf, but still she’s a cat; you'd think bird noise would have gotten at least an ear twitch.    

The noise momentarily abated, then resumed full force.  I looked toward it, and, rounding the trunk of the old oak-chestnut was a big squirrel, and she was pissed!  I have not seen squirrels on the deck since we took down the bird feeder (and that’s a story that I will have to relay in another blog), but this one was highly indignant.  The chirping and clucking and spitting were being flung at Elaine, despite her complete disregard for the performance.   

That’s when I decided to leave murder and mayhem and the “peaceful” sounds of nature.  I took the crossword puzzle and went inside, closing the door behind me.   

PS  This morning it was blue jays.  Four big, beautiful blue jays were conversing in the pine trees.  Blue jays are always so loud, I wonder if they're a bit hard of hearing.  Anyway, I love the myth that says they guard the house, and I always like it when they're around.  Still not cardinals.

PPS  My own computer is off having its screen fixed, and we are headed to Nova Scotia next week for two more weeks.  I will diligently try to blog, but if you don't hear from me for a while, don't despair.  I promise to soon write you the story of the raccoons and my bird feeder.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

They Go To School

Northern Virginia schools started last Tuesday. There is a really stupid law in Virginia that prohibits them opening before Labor Day. For some reason, the Virginia legislature believes it’s better for children to be in school for most of June where they can reap the benefits of the distraction of the hot, humid Virginia summer with, perhaps, a few more days tacked on for extra snow and (this year) flood closures. It also means that by the time school begins in September, everyone is SO ready to hear the purr of school buses down the lane. (No kid in Fairfax WALKS to school. We are too good for that.  We discourage such behavior by our lack of sidewalks -- we like to pretend to be rural -- and 100% bussing.)


The start of school is a big deal in my neighborhood. The elementary school crowd and their parents meet at the corner at ten minutes to nine. I don’t have kids in elementary school, but I go out there every year to enjoy the view.

This year we covered the corner. There must have been 25 or 30 children in their new clothes and well-scrubbed faces. The sixth graders were looking blase and sophisticated, talking quietly with a cool veneer that will break down by the first full week when they’ll be running and screaming with all the other kids. First to fifth graders were simultaneously anxious and nonchalant, looking forward to the new year, to meeting the new teacher but reluctant to have their summer freedom -- such as it is in Type A NoVa -- curtailed.

But it’s the kindergartners I turn up to see. They are dressed in adorable clothes of their parents’ choosing, looking like a page from a picture book. Voluminous (if only in contrast to the size of the five-year-olds), deflated back-packs loop their shoulders. They stand close to their parents, holding their hands, looking out at the other children's chaos with both apprehension and longing. My favorite moment, folks, is after the bus stops and the long line climbs aboard amidst parental kisses and admonitions. As it pulls away, the kindergartners are sitting in the windows waving, waving, waving to beat the band. They are so proud. They are so big. They Go To School!

The bus pulls away, and -- ours being a conventional neighborhood -- the dads get in their cars and go to work. Then the Mom celebration begins as the women gather at someone’s house for muffins, bagels coffee and mimosas. Hey, we love our kids and all, but, thank goodness, they Go To School!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

It's All In the Shoes

At Summer’s start, we noticed a baked-on layer of pollen that blocked any light that managed to filter through the pine trees. It seemed to me that a good, solid rain would wash all that away. I kept hoping.

Well, we weren’t going to get a rain harder than Hurricane Irene now, were we? Branches fell and electricity died, but the layer of scum remained. I

t occurred to me that the dirt might be on the inside. How would it get on the inside? I don’t know. I got a mop and stood on the coffee table and swiped at the glass. No go. This meant someone had to climb up on the roof to swab down the skylights.

Someone meant me. My husband doesn’t like heights or ladders which are inextricably linked to heights. I, on the other hand, was a champion tree climber. I put on my cheap tennies and up I went. The tennies gave me no purchase whatsoever. I could barely scrabble two steps from valley where the house roof meets the porch roof let alone climb up to the peak.

Steve wet and wrung out the mop and handed it up. I lay flat on the incline, my toes pressing against the valley, my head poking over the peak and poked the mop over the other side. I was able to strong-arm a couple of smears, enough to prove the pollen and dirt were on the outside, but as to actually cleaning the glass, no way.

A couple of days later I got out my hiking boots. I bought these boots many years ago when we lived out west and actually hiking. Here in Virginia, all we’ve done are what I would rate as long walks, however, one does not throw out good hiking boots. Ever.

I dug them out of the close, admired their sturdy soles and wiggled my toes in their luxuriously large toe box. I aced them up and headed to the roof. What a difference! I tromped up the shingles and straddled the roof peak. Steve handed up the hose and an extension brush we’d forgotten we owned. I sprayed and brushed the skylights, no sweat.

It was glorious up there. I sat on top of the world with only green branches and clear sky above me. It was peaceful (okay, with occasional instructions being called up: “Get the lower corner again!” “There’s a spot in the middle.”). The job was finished in 15 minutes, but I sat up there a bit longer just enjoying it.

Looking back, I could say this exercise was a metaphor in life. Use the right tools. Act safely. Take time to enjoy both your sense of accomplishment and the view.

But while roof climbing, cocktail parties or ballet class -- everywhere really -- I don't so much think it's all about life, as I think a lot of success is in the shoes.
                                                                                                                  The roof is steep.
                                                                            

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

One Big Drip


I’m sick. I’m a sick sickie. My husband had a bad cold last week. I thought I got away Scott clean, but I seem to have succumbed. (Who was this Scott, and why was he so clean, anyway?)

I was fine at the big party we attended Saturday night. I was fine all day Sunday in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene who blew out our power but thankfully allowed our trees to remain securely upright. My throat was scratchy Monday, but we had a birthday party to go to, and, you know, that means cake. I wasn’t going to miss cake. I gargled with salt water and hoped for the best. It was chocolate cake, so my hopes were fulfilled, but I woke up in the middle of Monday night freezing. I pulled up the comforter. Elaine woke me at 6:00, as usual, to feed her, and at least then I knew the fever had broken. I pulled off the comforter and slept three more hours.

Now I’m just drippy – tears from my eyes, droplets from my nose, more tears from allergies. Needless to say, everything looks blurry. My thoughts are blurry, too, from my stuffed up head.  I think bees are living up there. 

I've been called a drip before, but now I know it's true.  I'm just one big drip. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Midnight Hour

At midnight, it’s possible to pop out 500 words about anything.

Braids? They look cute on everybody. You can braid them in front of your ears like Princess Tiger Lily or behind them like Half Pint in Little House on the Prairie. If you have help, you can French braid them along the sides and down the back of your head like the girl in True Grit. (No way she sat up from the ground after days on the trail and fixed those braids herself.) That is still my favorite way to fix my hair, but I’m over 25 – waaay over – so that style is verboten to me. Why?  I don't know.

Tinnitus vs. crickets? Tinnitus is one thin stream whereas crickets have rhythm. Also, they will jump into your house. Last night a cricket came in our house. My husband, so fearless in many respects,asks me to please take care of bugs. I chased the cricket around until it jumped on my sock. Hah! Nabbed it and put it outside. I don’t kill crickets although they are eat stuff in and outside the house, but they don’t creep me out like stink bugs nor do they bite like mosquitoes, so out they go.

Raindrops on roses? Whiskers on kittens? Doorknobs and dewdrops? Warm woolen mittens? Oh, wait, several years ago I wrote a post about warm woolen mittens. (And, yes, I realize the words are not doorknobs and dewdrops.)

At midnight, the problem isn’t that you can’t think of a blog topic, it’s that you don’t WANT to be thinking about a blog topic. You want to be – and I can’t stress this enough – you want to be ASLEEP! If you’re obsessive like me, you pull your pad of paper and pen out of the night table drawer and jot stuff down, hoping that emptying it from your brain will allow you to drift off.  You're too weary and, at the same time, too hopeful of rest, to get up and boot up the computer and write. You don’t WANT to write about anything; you want to be dead to the world, to re-ravel the sleeve of care, as it were. You curse what drives you to write those notes. You curse your over-active brain. You certainly curse whatever pushes you to pull the thoughts out of your head and put them on paper.

Then you are distracted by a huge aftershock to yesterday’s earthquake. You could write about that.
For all of you who wonder what I find to write about – it comes, often, during some non-descript daily event: a road trip, a grandchild, a wiener dog. Just as often, it comes at the midnight hour.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Sibs & Spice & A Wiener Dog

I have a sister and a brother.  My husband and I, and they and their spice (mouse --> mice, ergo spouse --> spice) try to get together two or three times a year. The first time we did this, we established a tradition of a good hike and then lunch at a small, near-by restaurant. We felt good about indulging in a milkshake or piece of cake because we’d expended calories out in the fresh air.

Then my friend gave us off-season run of his beach condo. We met there, lolled on the beach, ate at the near-by Cottage Cafe, a dinner that involved artery-clogging cheesie fries. The next day we took a nice walk before departing for points home. This year, my friend sold his condo. Where to, where to?

Friday Steve rented a van, and all six of us headed out to Washington, VA where we were met by Debbie the Driver. I’m pretty sure Debbie was incredulous at our level of our immaturity and silliness, but she soon grew accustomed and, fortunately, took charge. Debbie drove us to the Rappahanak Winery and and Gray Ghost WInery where we duly tasted. (Sherman and Teddi like sweet wines and ports;  who knew?) As we entered the third winery, Desert Rose, we were greeted by a little wiener dog.

In my experience, dachshunds are nervous, yippy little things. This one, however – I don’t know his name – was as calm and cute as can be. He was white with black spots, and his tale waved as I leaned over and petted him. He exited as we entered, but when we left, a few glasses of wine happier, he was awaiting us, absorbing pats and admiring words. He paraded before us with a white stuffed hen (redcomb and waddle) carefully cradled in his mouth. He was so proud and happy.

On we went on to one final winery (sorry, I forget its name -- hey, it was the fourth one!) and then back to the Gay Street Inn (a wonderful, WONDERFUL place) to rest and recuperate before being driven to a nice dinner.  You will notice that: no exercise of any kind was involved. My, how the sybaritic have fallen. 

We had a lovely weekend, and the symbol for it will ever remain in my mind, not the wineries (decent enough) nor the wines we bought nor a wine glass, but a happy, spotted wiener dog with his squshy, white hen.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Cat in the Box

We arrived home from Muncie a little over a week ago. Elaine, our 16-year-old calico cat, was waiting for us in her box. Eww, not her litter box. What would be the fun of writing about a cat in a litter box? No, she was waiting for us in the cardboard box at the top of the stairs. This box has become her super-de-dooper cat bed, and while it adds nothing to the general d├ęcor of the house, it shall not be removed. It has a history.
Previously Elaine’s furniture consisted of a scratching post. It stood by the sliding glass door and got sprinkled regularly with catnip. She was always very good about using it until the past couple of years when the arthritis in her rear hips and legs made it uncomfortable. We have a sort of split level house, and Elaine always slept at the side of the top of the stairs, too, behind the railing where she could look out over the entry hall and through the tall windows on either side of the door.
One day we emptied out our box from Costco. It was pretty useless as a groceries box, having all four sides cut down to the bottom one and a half inches. I put the groceries away and set the box at the top of the stairs to go down to recycling. The next thing I knew, Elaine was in the box, eyes closed with a blissful expression on her furry snout. Not only did she rest in that box every day, but she scratched the bottom too. Cheapest cat bed/scratching post combo ever. Until . . .
Until that dark day that the cleaners came. They took that box and threw it in the garbage. That evening, Steve took the garbage down to the curb. Oh, no! Too late! I have subsequently fired the cleaners (although not for tossing out the box), but I had to set about finding a new bed for Elaine. I put box after box in the same location, but she was not interested. Then it struck me: she wasn’t interested in a box with high sides, which, let’s face it, most boxes have. Aren’t cats supposed to prefer feeling safely enclosed?  I guess she wanted to be able to survey her territory. I took a pair of sturdy scissors to the box and voila! Elaine was happy again.

A couple of months and another trip to Costco, and Steve set down a flat box with 2-inch-high sides next to the kitty bed so that next trip down, we’d take it. Next thing we knew, Elaine was sitting in that box looking very pleased with herself. She never set foot in her customized box again. It’s the new box all the way.

                                                     We’ve got one happy cat in a box.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Lend Me Your Names!

I know that as a teacher, when I say, “Give me name. Now!” you cringe. You think of being asked, no, ordered to snitch on your friends. But, no, no, I would never do that to you!

I am beginning a new novel. It is not a sequel to Jaguar Sees: The Lacquer Box (have you bought your e-copy yet?) It was going to be the sequel, but I got bored of that. This novel is quite different, and I need names for the characters. You see when I write a story, I have the characters in mind; I feel like I know their temperaments pretty well. The setting is quite clear  as are the beginning and end of the story. Everything else is mud. Mud needs to be shaped.

I know that, if I just let it, the plot will pretty much tell itself in my head. Yes, it means weeks (months?) of carrying around pen and paper so I can jot down random ideas at random times, but it will come.

It’s the characters’ names that make me crazy. I don’t want to name them after relatives who might, after all, wreak retribution. I don’t want to name them after people I know because those people have their own distinct personalities which are not the characters’ personalities, and it becomes confusing when you’re not sure which world your mind happens to be in. I do use a Baby Names just end up with long lists. So, please, dear reader: comment here or on the announcement of this posting on Face Book or reply on Twitter, but please, please, please, give me your favorite names.

Now, I can’t promise that the name you submit will be used. After all, it might be the name of someone I know.  I can’t promise that the character you've named will be nice or awful or a crook or an angel. I do promise that if I use your suggested name, I’ll mention you in a “thanks” section at the end of the book. Here it is! Your opportunity to fame or, well, at least to be mentioned in the back of a book.  Give me names!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

How She Does It (Tracy Falbe finds time to write)

Some time ago (how long? I don't remember.  Time is a human construct anyway.) I wrote about the obsession of writing.  I believe the words "I have to write or my head will explode" were used.  I'm not alone.  Tracy Falbe has the same obsession.  She is the mother of two and yet still finds -- needs to find -- the time to write.  She is author of the Rys Rising series and shares with how she does it.



Rys Rising: Book I is the first novel I wrote after becoming a mother in 2004. I finally published it on August 1, 2011. It's been a bumpy road, but I'm still a novelist even after having kids.

I wrote four novels before I started a family. I had lots of time to myself then. I would go to my job all day and then every evening devote one to two hours to writing. Oh, those were the days!

When I had my first child, I was deeply worried about how I would continue to write novels. For the first few months I did not write at all, which was very hurtful to me. Not being able to make time for what I loved to do most left me empty and resentful.

This situation could not continue. I had a whole new fantasy series in my head and I needed to start writing it. I can't just live my life without writing novels!

So I began small by spending 20 to 30 minutes in the morning before work with some writing. Then despite my exhaustion, I wrote two or three evenings a week after putting the baby to bed. Rys Rising: Book I was starting to emerge, and I was so relieved to see that I could write despite motherhood and all its attendant burdens.

But then progress starting slipping with the birth of my second child in 2006. Having two children seems to quadruple a mother's workload instead of just doubling it. Also at this point in order to make some money I took on freelance writing work. For about the next year I had to give up fiction writing to focus on clients. Adjusting those priorities was difficult, but at least I was writing.

Then I reached a point in late 2007 when I was able to focus solely on my fiction writing and my publishing business. My writing really took off then, and Rys Rising: Book I came together nicely and I was quite happy with it. I immediately dove into writing the second book and then the third. Right now I am halfway through writing the fourth novel of the series. I plan to have them all published over the course of the next twelve months.

Being a novelist always requires carving out time from your schedule no matter what the demands of your life are. Despite having the normal responsibilities that any mother has to deal with, I have remained devoted to my writing. When those kids go to bed at night, I start writing. During the day, especially when they are at school, I write. Life still always tries to get in the way of my writing, but because I insist that writing be part of my life I get the life I want and need.

About Rys Rising: Book I
An outlaw rises to become a dreaded warlord, the terror of kings. He takes the name Amar and seeks to join the Kez, the fiercest mercenary society in the tribal kingdoms of Gyhwen. His fearless ambition is inspired by Onja, a mysterious rys female whose magic has shaped Amar into a loyal friend. He zealously pursues her every command and hopes to join her in her mythic homeland of Jingten. But he knows little about the challenges confronting Onja. She and all rys are the reviled creations of the tabre of Nufal, and Onja longs to expel her hated masters. To liberate the rys, she knows that she will need more than Amar's help. Onja sees her best hope for an ally in Dacian, a prodigy among rys, but he is loyal to the ruling tabre order and dreams of winning equality for the rys nonviolently. He holds tenaciously to his ideals even as the tabre brutally subjugate him. Will he endure more dark abuses for the sake of peace or reach out to Onja? And what fate is Amar blindly embracing as he kills for her? Like a tree crashing in a storm, all civilizations will crack when hit by the force of the rys rising.

Rys Rising: Book I is available for free worldwide at my website. I invite readers to download it. http://www.falbepublishing.com/braveluck/free-fantasy-ebook-rys-rising.html
It is also available for 99 cents at:
Kindle US http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005FYSSSC Kindle UK https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B005FYSSSC
Kindle Germany https://www.amazon.de/dp/B005FYSSSC
Smashwords http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/79722
It will soon be appearing at other major ebook retailers.


Monday, August 8, 2011

On the Road to Muncie - Part II

It was time for a break, and the rest areas in Ohio are nice. The mold is a building with bathrooms divided from one with junk food and drink machines by a concrete path off of which are picnic tables and an animal run.

We parked near the machines and took a little walk to the restrooms. On the path were a couple of truckers stretching their legs. They were wearing tee shirts and cargo shorts, and I tried not to stare, but one of the guys had the whitest-pinky legs I’ve ever seen. They looked like scraped pig skin. I haven’t seen a lot of scraped pig skin in my time, but this guy’s legs looked Wilbur’s scalp.
Anyway, we did all the things we needed to do and climbed back in the car. I was reading my Kindle, and Steve was checking our route and chortling over the coupons he’d gotten for motels at the exit where we planned to stop overnight.
A thin, sort of grungy man approached the car. He asked us if we could give him two dollars for gas which would get him and his wife to Columbus.
Steve asked, “Well, how are you going to get to a gas station?”
The man explained that he had a little gas in his car but not enough to get all the way to the city. I didn’t care. I mean, if a man is willing to humiliate himself enough to approach strangers for a couple of bucks at a rest stop, I’m willing to give it to him. My problem was, I only had a single one dollar bill and twenties in my wallet. I’m pretty nice, but I wasn’t giving him a twenty. I asked Steve if he had another single.
Meanwhile, the man said, “I’m legit. Really,” and opened his wallet to show it empty. Could he have pocketed his money before coming up to us? Sure. Again, I don’t care. If he wanted to go spend to dollars on a beer, that was okay by me. Candy bars? Okay. Cigarettes, well, oh, okay,I guess.  I’d prefer he didn’t buy drugs with it. He didn’t look like a druggie, though; he looked like a man down on his luck.

While I talked about the bad economy and dearth of jobs, Steve pulled out his wallet and gave the man a five and, oh, so much more. This poor guy didn’t know what hit him.

Steve: “Just rememberr, the next time you go to vote, don’t vote for these RRepublicans.” (Yeah, like this guy looked like he voted.)  "That's why we're in this mess, with their unwillingness to compromise . . ."  I won’t reproduce the entire diatribe here, but it ended with, “When you pull that lever, remember this right now!”
By then the poor man was edging away from our car as discreetly as he could. Steve’s tirade against the Tea Party continued.
The fellow finally told us (from a safe distance), “I believe in Jesus, and I don’t pay too much attention to anyone else.”
Oh, poor fellow. Steve called out the window, “Yeah, well, sometimes you’ve gotta be careful of him, too!”

The two truckers from the walkway ambled over to their semis.  One fellow drove off in his blue van, and pink-legs followed in his red one.

Friday, August 5, 2011

On the Road to Muncie - Part I

Before I begin today's blog, I want to say hi to my new Followers.  Welcome to the vagaries of my mind, and I hope you get a smile out of what you read. 

On Tuesday, we headed out to visit the Perfect Grandchildren. As we approached Cumberland, MD, there were signs warning that the right lane would merge ahead. I have this romantic idea of Cumberland in my head. Maybe it comes from a song where I think Cumberland Gap is mentioned although neither my husband nor I can think of the song. In my mind, it evokes images of mountains rising from beautiful meadows with the gap slicing between. It evokes pioneers and nights with the Milky Way spilling down the sky. It evokes simpler – albeit I doubt pioneer days were happier – times. I have always loved our drive through Cumberland because of that slicing gorge (if you go one way) or the beautiful drive (if you go through the town.)  
Now, though, I’ve experienced “Right Lane merges, and I am SO over it.

"Right lane merges in 1500 feet."  Everyone slows down and, politely, I must say, gets in line. Sure, a few people zip as far as they can in the right lane and then force their way in, but an astonishing majority wait patiently. Access to only one lane slows the drive through Cumberland considerably.

On the far side of Cumberland, a third lane appears on the right. Both the right lanes are blocked by red cones. We’re still driving. Slowly. Five slow miles further, we drive by a state trooper who is sitting in his squad car in the rightmost lane – bored out of him mind, I imagine – to ensure that no one dodges the cones and tries to speed ahead. You could, though. It would be perfectly safe. Nothing is going on there.
Steve asks, “Where are the workers? Why are the lanes closed off?”
I respond, “This project is shovel-ready.” We both bust a gut laughing. Then I realize, “You know, they didn’t say they were working on the highway. They just said the lanes were closed. And they are.”

A couple of  miles later, we do see a couple of guys talking, one sitting on some machine. Another mile and we see a man driving a machine with a wide brush roller in front cleaning the road’s shoulder. Another mile and a street cleaning machine is dumping a load of dirt into a truck. (I know, I know, I’ve never seen those street-cleaners do that either, but that’s what it was doing.)
It added 30 minutes to an 11-hour drive to our PERFECT GRANDCHILDREN, but I can attest that Rt. 68 through Cumberland is clean.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Wren and Me

Every summer I buy the first red hanging geranium I see.  I hang it from the front porch of my house. The red flowers match the door.  They're the only flowers I've found that will survive there other than impatiens which get awfully leggy. Besides that, the impatiens want daily watering whereas the geraniums are much hardier even in the full blast of Virginia's afternoon sun.  That's important.

It’s not that I forget to water: I don’t. It’s not that we travel so much, although we do, but I could get a neighbor kid to pour some water in there when he comes over to feed the cat. It’s the wren.

The geranium attracts a house wren. I have no idea how long-lived they are, but it can’t have been the same wren for 19 years. I could, of course, do some wren research. I would probably discover that the planter is simply in a location wrens like, but I prefer to think it was the first wren's daughter and then her granddaughter and her granddaughter coming home to roost. She’s always a dainty, brown thing with a delicate beak and a fierce stubbornness. This is the spot she chooses for her nest, and this is where it will be.

One year Elaine, a much younger, feistier Elaine, spent summer afternoons hopefully under the nest.  The fledglings grew and flew on schedule  One year I watered when the birds were almost ready to fly and scared them all into the sky.  I searched the yard but waas happy never find one had fallen.  One year I mistakenly brushed away what looked like a clump of debris, realizing only too late that I’d destroyed an almost-completed nest, but within the week, my little lady was back, weaving and building. The nest was ready when the time came.  It's been a learning process, and I'm glad Lady Wren has been patient with me.
I water the geranium ever other day until one day I tip the watering can and my wren flutters out. She’s no larger than a large moth, but I know now from experience that she's begun nesting.  I stop watering:  I don’t want her to be frightened or anxious. All expecting mothers should be tranquil.
I still water the other two geraniums, the ones in the large terra cotta pots on the wide front step. They seem to turn brown and cease flowering if they’re not watered.  The hanging geranium flowers on. Of course, it gets some rain water, especially if the wind is in the right direction, and it gets shade from the eaves; still, know how it manages to survive.

If I’m patient while looking out the tall window beside the door, I can watch the wren bring twigs and grasses and built her nest. At first it looks like a bunch of crumpled, dead leaves. Slowly it takes structure and becomes a tubular oval, almost a welcoming door. I check it almost every day.  Sometimes, if I stand on tip toe, I can sight the eggs, but often their too deep in the nest for me to see. They’re not here yet, but the nest is finished, and I expect them soon.

The eggs will, naturally, hatch into hungry baby wrens which grow quickly to nearly the size of their mother. Often I can't see them, but if I brush a geranium leaf, they open their beaks -- maws, really -- hoping their Mom has come with a treat. She tries to satisfy their insatiable hunger. She's so small and works so hard. One day I’ll look, and the fledgelings will be gone
.  

[This baby's mouth looks like a flower peeping out of the nest.]

I never seem to see any of the fledglings after that, but I won't take the basket down, just in case. Maybe they come at night. Maybe she rests there when I’m not around.  Maybe there's a runt down at the bottom of the nest I haven't seen.  Yes, yes, I told you I could research it, but the magic comes in letting it be.
In October, when the geranium is well and truly dead, I’ll take down the basket and harvest the nest. Wren’s nests are tricky because they are woven like lace, but if you’re careful, you can scoop it out of the pot without damage. I've only been doing this part for a few years, and a couple of the nests disintegrated , but when I can dislodge a nest, I take it to the old buffet that sits on the back porch and set it there with the rest of my bird's nest collection. I’ve got a couple of sturdy ones that came out of branches that were blown down and a couple of wren's nests.  I set this year's nest there and wait for next summer, for her to come home again.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Quilting the Cat

I am planning a quilt or, more accurately, trying to plane one. I’ve been thinking about it for a couple of weeks now, but I’m not getting very far. I saw one design I liked, but it had a zillion little 1 ¼” squares and triangles, and, while I’m a good enough piecer to do it, I’m far too lazy. (I know that lazy seems the antithesis of a quilter because a quilt is fiddly and, as an old friend once commented, “takes the patience of an idiot,” but there are quilts, and then there are quilts.)


My real problem is that my eye for quilt patterns isn’t good. I want to see a pattern made from the very fabric that I choose. When you think about quilting patterns, you have to think in geometrics, and sometimes it's easier than others.

This particular fabric is quite unusual. I bought it in a little quilting store off the central square in Healdsburg in the Sonoma Valley. ( And, no, I wasn’t drinking at the time.) It is bright yellow and has black and white polka dotted chickens with bright red combs and legs running around on it. It makes me laugh and will be a great feature fabric. Not only that, but I had and also found coordinating fabrics in record time. I’ mean, we’re talking within a couple of weeks here whereas the other fabric I just finished finding the coordinating fabrics for, I bought a good year ago.

You'll have to mentally adjust for a slightly blurred, brushed effect to the fabric which is cat hair. I’ve got it spread out on the guest bed in my office where Elaine likes her afternoon snooze. You can see that she's a calico, so no matter what intensity or color the fabric, she has fur that will show up. 

The quilt isn’t going to really be a quilt, but a table topper for the kitchen table. I’d like it to have a sense of movement to it like the chickens are running madly around (which they seem to be to me). It will probably involve black sashing. I don’t have to use all the fabrics (the red flowered and green leaved pieces are from my stash and are under ¼ yard). The thing is, there’s no getting more of the chickens, and once it’s cut, it’s cut. Should I cut it in squares? Or in diamonds? (Yes, they’re the same shape, but they differ depending on which position is “up.”) Octagons would be good, but without a commercial pattern, I think that is beyond my skill level. I mean, the first step would be to use that graphed quilting plastic and draw and cut out a symmetrical octagon. Yeah, for me that’s difficult.

Here’s the great thing about planning a quilt. It’s something to think about when you either (a) have nothing else to think about or (b) have something else you want to avoid thinking about. Right now I’m working on a sequel to my paranormal thriller (Jaguar Sees: The Lacquer Box ( http://amzn.to/hUuFdS ). ( Please buy it if you haven’t already, and make all your friends buy it, too. I used to be too proud to flatly ask people to do things like this, but this is the low to which authorship has brought me.) Anyway, I’m working on the sequel which tends to be an addicting, obsessive activity, and planning a quilt is a great mental relaxation. Or vexation, I’m not sure which.
Anyway, I’m open to all ideas about quilt patterns. Also, come to think of it, all ideas for plot twists. Feel free to Comment.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Captain America - No Spoilers

Friday night, in a twinkle of serendipity, we watched Iron Man on TV. This put us in the perfect mood to go see Captain American on Saturday afternoon. I am in love.

The costumes, make-up and staging were designed so that they did not look strange to the modern eye yet perfectly evoked the World War II milieu. That’s not easy to do, and I appreciated it. On top of that, it had a strong, really strong, realistic female character who was of the era without conceding to our modern notions that women must either be delicate and helpless or delicate and kick-ass.. Peggy was a relief.
I don’t mean to single her out, though. The acting throughout was superb. I mean every   single   role. The all-American (albeit light-haired and blue-eyed) Steve Rogers, was as compelling as the bullied underdog as he was as the national hero. Bucky, the General (was the rank General? I think so), the villain, all the characters were layered and credible.
Unlike so many movies today, Captain America moved right along. There was depth of plot without requiring unrelated sideline action to pad the main narrative. If I had one criticism, I would say that it surrendered to the current notion of thinking that longer is better. While it held my attention throughout, it could have lost ten minutes. On the other hand, those were ten minutes of battle scenes which are probably well liked by males.

Despite the war scenes, there was no unnecessary violence which is all too rare in today’s movies, and since it depicted the 1940s, there was no sex. It didn’t need either to keep your attention, and it means you don’t have to be embarrassed to take your tweens to see it.
We misread the movie times and saw it in 3-D. It is the first, the very first 3-D movie I’ve seen that made full and proper use of the medium. The images didn’t smear themselves into your face or dip and fall in order to make you sick to your stomach. It was as if an entire room opened in front of you. Three-D technology does not make movies better for me; a flat screen is almost always as good as 3-D, but at least the 3-D in this movie didn’t make me sick and, I’ll admit, made some scenes ever better..
The producer and director made the iconic comic book images believable to the modern eye and interwove the comic book spirit into a realism I haven't seen before.  The patriotism depicted was neither maudlin nor rigid -- who knew such an interpretation was possible these days?

Of course in the end they had to . . . nope, no spoilers. Despite the current nonsense going on in congress and around the country, this movie actually – dare I say it? – made me feel proud to be an American.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Q & A on My Jaguar

My friend, Sheila, who writes a great blog, invited me to Q & A on it about Jaguar Sees:  The Lacquer Box.  You know what that means?  It means I get away without having to write an actual posting today, because I can refer you to:  http://www.sheilarlamb.com/2011/07/ann-simon-author-of-jaguar-sees.html  Oh, and Sheila would love to get some comments on her blog, so feel free to write one -- or just let us know what you think your Spirit Animal might be.  Hmmmm?

Monday, July 18, 2011

What's It Mean, That Odd Dream?

I dreamed I got a baby Friday night. She was sleeping in her crib in a nursery when we moved into a new house, one with a bigger yard than our “previous” house, very nice except the old family hadn’t quite moved out.  Their stuff was all over the place as were their children and their baby. (This was a dream, so having a baby ready-made was  natural and right, but even in a dream, having the former residents living in my home was weird.)

But, for gosh sakes, I didn’t WANT a baby. Gimme a break, I have two Perfect Grandchildren, why would I want a new baby? It was a real pain in the neck: the diapers, the exhaustion, the constantly thinking about and being responsible for a baby every minute, all day long.  I did have some  sweet outfits for her, and she smiled like the sun, and I loved her.

Needless to say, though, she took time away from my other children, my older children. The number was indeterminate, but there were at least a boy and a girl. The other kids running around may have been their friends or children from the previous family. Dream-like, they were there and not-there. There was no dream-guilt that I didn’t love those random children as much as the older two and the baby.

So I finally got the stupid diapers on the baby and went out into the Great Room where the previous family was setting up for a birthday party. This seemed a bit nervy to me, but, I don’t know, maybe they’d discussed it with Steve. I didn’t want to be rude. Then my baby woke up.  I went in to change her, but I couldn't get the diaper pins in fast enough, and she piddled on the changing pad. 

Then I woke up and got up. I walked down my very long – who wants a BIGGER yard? -- driveway to get the Washington Post. I stopped to weed a few aggressive clovers and crabgrass from the front garden and came in to get my, please, oh lord, coffee.

*Bolt of lightning descends here.*  Yes, right in the middle of weeding, I realized the Baby is my second novel which I have just begun (Jaguar Sees: The Red Hummingbird.) I love the idea of writing it (I loved the baby), but it's difficult to take writing time into account during the day.  The story continuously lurks in the back of my head, much like a baby’s safety. My real-life children, aka David and Stephanie aren't any trouble ('cause they're grown up), but dance, reading, quilting, travel and friends run through my life much as my dream-children skipped higgledy-piggledy through my dream house. My dream house and family really were just a reflection of reality, energetic and lovable if slightly confusing and crazy.
The other family? The one that half lives in my “new” house? I have no idea.