Thursday, April 28, 2011


No, of course it isn't. Sure looks like roadkill, though, doesn't he?

Our weather forecast was for more filthy, hateful wind, but sunrise came calmly. Bernie and I took the dogs and trudged me around a couple blocks to break up the rust in my joints, and then we sat in the sun on the brick patio out back.

In the shade, we needed sweatshirts over our shirts and undershirts, but in the sun ... we shucked down to our undershirts and basked. I went to the garage to get something, and outside the garage door, in the dirtiest dirt around, found Fourmyle sacked out on his back in the sun himself.

When I got back with the camera, he hadn't moved a fraction of an inch, though I had watched to make sure he was breathing before I left him the first time.

The weather forecast was correct; the wind is so nasty out there that the gusts make the garage door bend inwards (I'm in the studio today) with loud creaks and pops and "Wooooooooo!" sounds in the tiny gaps. Nevertheless, I remember the sweetness of drinking in the sunlight this morning ... and so does Fourmyle.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

An Unusual Treat

I happened to wander into the kitchen while Alex was practicing music for the choir this evening.

She invited me to sing with her, which is a treat -- I don't sing nearly enough these days. Ignoring the croaky nature of my allergy-laden vocal cords, she encouraged me to sing a song that I've known for a long time, and then to learn a new one that she's fallen in love with.

It was fun, it was beautiful!

I'm task-driven, she's goal-oriented (which is not to say that she doesn't do tasks well, or that I don't achieve goals); she exults in new projects and skills, I prefer to do what I have proven I can do and get-offa-my-back-about-new-stuff.

But in a song, we have the same path, the same notes, the same goal. Our melody is the same, and the sweetness of the sound of our voices together reminds me of how I felt about her when I carried her with me before she was born, that sense of accord and harmony. Our notes are the same, and our voices strengthen each other's and make something bigger and more encompassing -- like the structure of this household, two families united to make a fortress against the insanity of the world.

I think that if we can sing more, singularly or together, all of us will begin to sprout new spring shoots and grow in the time to come.

Sing on!

The Day in the Kitchen

Before it was barely light, the sound of the wind thrashing the trees in the neighborhood infiltrated my dreams, making me image wild surf and seascapes.

The wind, along with the high pollen count from the citrus, the walnuts, the locust, and the weeds, is hurtful. Without the wind, it would be aggravating, but with the wind -- oh, noes, time to stay indoors.

And so it was an indoor day, a day for the kitchen, which we needed, after all.

Orange season is at its end, so we had bought cheap navel oranges in big bags to grind into juice. That's how the morning began. Bernie got more than two big jars of sweet, rich juice from his market harvest.

Then it was my turn, when I brought home my 40 Super-Jumbo eggs from the egg plant down the road. Super-Jumbo eggs are incredibly large, and can't be automatically processed at the egg-plant. They don't get candled there, and they're too big to go through the auto-wash. So we washed them carefully, all 40 of them, and I candled each with a flashlight to make sure they didn't have any dark streaks in them. (One was revealed to be a big double-yolker, which absolutely astonished Lillian, who had never even heard of such a thing!)

When my eggs were done, Bernie came back on shift to juice lemons from our tree, making lemon juice cubes to give us lemonade all summer long. (Lemons are a winter fruit.)

When the lemons' juice was all put away in ice cube trays, we cut up a large banana squash and cooked it in the pressure cookers. This is for pumpkin pies, a bright and rich-tasting confection. Then it was time for lunch, while the squash/pumpkin cooled.

In the afternoon, I piled the cooked squash into the Cuisinart (I love this technological marvel) and whirred it until it was creamily crushed. In my mother's time, we would put squash/pumpkin into a ricer and hand-grind it into palatability, leaving behind the fibrous bits. With the Cuisinart, the fibrous stuff gets chopped into oblivion, yet still remains as fiber in the mix, thus adding healthy stuff. The harvest was five pies' worth of pumpkin, a real treasure.

It was Real Life. We harvested, we processed, we preserved, all for our own survival, and pleasure.

As I gently washed the eggs, I had a strong sense of the blessing of food. They came directly from the chicken; no machinery was involved. This was REAL food, and we cared for it and prepared it for consumption ourselves.  It was not an automated event, far removed from our refrigerator. It was not a detached event; what I was carefully cleaning was also what would nourish my family, bringing to the task a tenderness, a love.

When I measured the pumpkin into containers for freezing, I had a sense of the future, when the pies made from this effort would bring smiles and good feelings to those who ate them.

I have a strong sense that this is what life is supposed to be about, not about hurrying to make money or meet deadlines, but to attend to the basic stuff of existence, the food, the provision, the love. The society we live in has put those things on a back burner, or a side burner at best. We've lost so much beauty and peace in that.

Retirement has honestly been a bounty of blessings.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Conspiracy of Spring

The very top of the eucalyptus in the back yard thrashes back and forth.

The coconut wind chimes on the front porch sound like a bongo player on cocaine.

The pollen from the blooming walnut trees and weeds, citrus bloom and snowy white locust blossoms swirls madly, filling every ounce of air with sinus-abrading particles.

The slight crack in the window makes an eerie howling sound, and in counterpoint, the branches of the trees make crashing sounds like a demented surf.

I went to the grocery store today. It was my only trip outside.  From the house to the car, from the car to the store, from the store to the car, from the car to the house. Presto! Swollen sinuses, post-nasal drip, racking cough. How I hate the wind. Isn't that what Marvin the Robot sang in Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe?

No wonder I identify with him so much.

Why does Spring want me to stay indoors?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Rest in Peace

Last night, peacefully in her sleep, my mother-in-law passed away. 

If asked about her relationship with me, she would have assured one and all that we loved each other. ... Well, if that was how she actually felt about me, why, then, by a law of equality, that was how I actually felt about her, too.

Something about this orchid reminds me of her. Frilly, openly lovely, and yet somehow scary. A hothouse flower with a demeanor like something out of a nightmare.

Regina terrorized every one of her daughters-in-law -- and her two older sons had multiple marriages -- with equal venom. After years of persecution, when we wives of her sons compared notes, we finally realized that it wasn't personal, it was just how she felt about anyone who had the gall to marry one of her sons. A couple of us learned never to answer any question in any other way than what she wanted to hear, and learned to live with the tension and question-dodging. She would have told you that she treated us all like gold, and she believed it to the core of her heart. It was just that they were her sons first, last, and in-between. Law # 1: Don't get between Mother and Son, mentally, physically, or emotionally. Period.

Regina didn't believe in friendships, church work, hobbies, pets, or donations to worthy causes. In her view, the woman of the house belonged to the husband, and her whole waking day and her whole sleeping night was supposed to be about that, even though she complained bitterly about her marriage all the time I knew her. Some of our worst conflicts stemmed from my work with the church, my penchant for cats and dogs, my art, our charity, and especially my having the temerity to have friends with whom I walked or shopped or fished or chatted on the phone. She lived in Lewistown (having moved there from Pittsburgh) for more than 30 years, and never made even one chum to go have tea with. Family was everything to her, and she thought every other person in the world should be that way.

Regina believed in hierarchy, and so there was no question of ever calling her by her name. A few years ago, I asked how her twin Edna was doing, and she pointedly stopped the conversation to correct me to say "Cioci Edna" (pronounced Tcho-chi), even though Edna is not my aunt, and why would you expect a fifty-year-old woman to use a title instead of a name, anyway? Well, Regina, here I am, calling you Regina. Regina, Regina, Regina. So there.

Lord, don't let her haunt me for that.

And yet, this bitter, vain, and domineering woman came to my rescue when times were tough, and my mother was sinking dangerously into the mire of Alzheimer's. When my mother didn't recognize me in those horrible days when we were trying to save my sister, Regina came with us and Mom did recognize Regina, and made the terrible situation a lot less awful than it might have been. In the days of Mom's decline, until Mom could no longer have a conversation on the phone, Regina called her every day, sometimes twice a day, to help keep her tethered to a real existence.

My mom didn't believe in friends, either ... except that maybe, though neither one would have admitted it, they were friends.

Thank you, Regina, for being a friend to my mother when she had so few left.

Thank you, Regina, for running interference and offering support when my sister and I needed it so badly.

For that alone, I will be eternally grateful

Good night, Regina, and may your journey be fruitful, and lead you to everlasting joy.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Lent, and What It Tells Me

I have frequently heard it said that if you do not have some way to prepare for the Easter celebration during Lent, God will provide one for you.

(If you do not believe in God, or religious seasons, or spiritual exercise, please forgive me for speaking my mind.)

This year, my Lent was overshadowed by the visceral panic proceeding a routine colonoscopy. I knew it was on its way before Lent; I had about half a plan for a spiritual exercise, but when it came down to a day to day discipline, I could not follow it because I was so lost in horror. I tried to redirect by reading the Seven Penitential Psalms from the Bible each day, but the effort was hollow, and my Lenten resolve was pointless.

Nevertheless, it has been a good Lent. I would have preferred to have done something positive, but failing to do so, my lot has been to have trials of fear set before me, so that my only recourse was to throw myself on the mercy of God. The outburst of painful itchies as a result of my fear has shown me how frail my faith in God really is, how flabby my spirituality has become. And the cold that kept me from being the best song-leader in the parish -- well, I suspect my ego needed taken down a peg or two.

Not introspective by nature, I find that Lent provides me with a time to examine my way of interacting with the world, inspecting my nature in the light of the infinite goodness of Creation; Lent calls me to shed my self-sufficiency and immerse myself in how much I need the people around me, how much sustenance I need to seek in God's grace.

Lent's message to me? I've got a long way to go. Let's get crackin'.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Maybe It Will Make Someone Else Step Up to the Songbook

Monday I was whining about the weather; Tuesday I could not even whine, having awakened with a throat so sore I could barely whisper. Now this is annoying, the first cold in almost two years, but also horrid timing, as today, Wednesday, was our celebration of the Passover Seder, and in 20 years of Seder, only once did I not lead the group in song.

Alex could not be there to fill in for me this time either, due to a scheduling ... a scheduling ... I can't call it what I want to call it, so I'll simply say that someone was extremely oblivious to what other things were going on in the parish. That's kinder than saying "extremely insensitive," perhaps.

Bernie, through no fault of his own, gave me this cold. So crummy luck though it may be, I was somewhat assured that it would not be the most vile of colds, and indeed it was an odd one. Last week he spent a day in bed, mostly sleeping, feeling like crap with a sore throat. (That is, if crap had a throat at all.) The next day, he complained of feeling light-headed, but by evening was not all that bad.

Sure enough, although I had to sleep sitting up in a chair, and slept little, this morning I woke with no sore throat, and a head that felt like it was packed inside with cotton. By noon I was eeping around the house looking for food; by five I was showered and prepping things for packing in the car. Amazing!

Now it must be said that my voice was definitely NOT good by any means. I did a passable job reading the parts of the Haggadah I usually read; the singing part ... well, I got the group started, and they did a fine job from there. (It was pretty much the shittiest song-leading I've ever done.)

Humbled, yes.

Now, if only the pseudophedrine I took in order to squeak through the singing would allow me to fall asleep, I might feel like a real live girl by tomorrow.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Covering One's Grass

Life goes on.

Even though it's still too cold to wear shorts (except for about 15 minutes at one in the afternoon), the plants still progress in their plans, mostly.

This particular grass sprouts in the same place year after year in the spring. For some unknown reason, I never pull it out before it sends forth a beautiful head of seeds, right about the same time the poppies bloom. It's a weed, and yet it's also a promise of summer; usually by the time it looks like this we've been in swimming for a while.

I haven't pulled any of its brothers and sisters out of the interstices of the patio planter -- I think I want to see the grainy seeds ripen and know that eventually, warm weather will arrive.

I surely do want to feel that happen.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Thirty-six Years with the Bee

Bernie left a very flattering post on his blog about me, about our thirty-six years together, and I blushed to read it, amazed at his high regard.

Yet I would counter his admiration with my own: what person I have been, that he admires, could not have existed without his constant love. Without him, I think I probably would have been a Bad Guy, because it was in him that I discovered what Love is about.

Love is not only patient and kind,
Love overlooks history and forgives.
Love accepts wild animals for what they are,
    and gives them grilled chicken.
Love looks with fascination on the loved one's activities,
    welcoming creativity.
Love eats early-marriage-food-mistakes, and asks for seconds.
Love holds and protects the loved from nightmares.
Love holds hands and shouts, "What the hell!" in the face of adversity.
Love cradles and nurtures the loved when the loved is physically battered.
Love laughs at the loved's jokes.
Love drags the loved by the hand and says, "Let's adventure!'
Love looks forward to every hour together.
Love's eyes sparkle when we plan our dawning day together.

I believe that in marriage, the couple should be able to see the Face of God in each other. Merciful, Loving, Infinite. I've found that in being Bernie's wife, and I thank God that He brought us together to save me from being so much less.

Saturday, April 09, 2011


April, Cheryl has told me for the past eight years or so, is Poetry Month. And Mel impressed the snot out of me last year by writing thirty poems during April.

I took the challenge this year and to date, have written seven poems.

They're hugely crappy, but it is a fun exercise and much different than writing fiction, giving me a break from the latest novel, which I needed, as it was scaring me on a number of different levels.

Now I have no idea if the two things are related, but for the past week, my dreams have been really extraordinary, with clarity of symbols and vivid imagery that have left me bemused when I wake, wakeful because I don't want to stop thinking about them.

Most notable was a dream in which the focus was just on Bernie, and how very, very much I love him. He's been off work for a year now, so I'll take that dream as a good sign that I won't get tired of having him near at hand all the time.

Maybe it will be a prompt for a poem.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

O Where Is Summer?

Definitely loving cherry blossom season this year.

I must point out, however, that it is still not Spring weather, let alone April weather. April, and I'm still wearing long pants and a flannel shirt?? Ridiculous. And the weather indicates that tomorrow we'll need to build a fire in the wood stove to keep warm.

Bernie and I sat out a while this afternoon, on the back patio while Howie dried out from his bath; the pollen count is very high and the wind is thrashing every bit of plant matter about so that after an hour, one feels as though one has had allergens pounded up the nose with a jack hammer.

Now this is preferable to driving rain and temps in the 40's, to be sure. Yet I find myself longing for toasty sun and slathering of sunblock oil while reading a book under a mister. Yes, my darlings, I want it ALL.

(Also the book should be cheap so it doesn't matter if it gets warped by the mister.)

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Weak Week

It's been a week to remember, to forget.

*Note * Biological, medical junk you may not want to hear.

On March 31st, I was scheduled to go to the hospital for a routine screening colonoscopy. Ugh, yes. However, it is something I have to do every three years, because I am a "high risk" person for colon cancer -- my dad died of it, and my mother damn near died of it. Colon cancer also killed one of my uncles. Statistically, I have a one in four chance of contracting colon cancer.

"However," my doctor told me, "this is the one cancer that is completely avoidable. We can actually prevent it by regular colonoscopies."

Frankly, it's a creepy procedure, having some random doctorate wander through your ass and into your innards with a spotlight, looking for stalactites and stalagmites and speed bumps and things. Thank God my doctors have thoroughly bought into the general anesthetic thing, and don't expect people to just "tough it out" as my parents experienced it.

Fact is, I had the procedure done on Thursday, and I get another three-year "all clear." I'm glad of that. I don't want to die like Dad did, in excruciating pain strapped into a hospital bed while medicos tried to eke another couple weeks of life out of him.

And I learned some things this time around. My first experience of colonoscopy was that it was scary, but not so awful as I thought it would be. The preparation was the worst, having to swallow down a laxative that makes you shit your innards inside out. The second time a new doctor had taken over the practice, and he is one who believes that double the "shit your innards inside out" is better than one "shit your innards inside out." That time was a nightmare of stomach upset and shitting the innards inside out ALL NIGHT LONG (do not play in your head the Lionel Richie song "All Night Long") because he wanted the attached garage scrubbed clean enough to perform a white glove inspection. That time, three years ago, was so hideously exhausting that I felt truly sick by the time I arrived at the hospital for the procedure, not having slept in more than 24 hours. (They were surprised that my blood pressure was high, WTF, I was feeling deathly ill from dehydration and exhaustion!)

This time, the prep was modified, as in the interim, someone had noticed that double the cleansing action was damn near killing people. That was the good news. The bad news was that my viscera didn't get the memo. As the day approached, my body went into flight-or-fight mode, and unable to flee, erupted in a painful and disgusting display of fear: atopic eczema, in the form of blistering, itching lesions. GROSS!

The actual preparation this time was a cake walk (though I believe the timing was off according to the doctor's schedule), and of course by the time they put me on an intravenous drip of versed I didn't give half a shit (so to speak) about what they were going to do to me.

Nevertheless, I am left with the remnants of the ordeal in the form of the dozens of slowly-healing lesions. I hope that in a few days, I'll be able to get back to normal activity uninhibited by big-ass blisters and put this experience behind me as a cluster of lessons well-learned.

And at least, for the next three to six years, I'm not going to contract colon cancer.

Oh, and at the top of the page, that's one of my 2011 portraits of our cherry tree blossoms. I may be a coward feeb, but Spring is strong.