Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Small Story

I have probably explained this habit of mine before, but I will tell about my relationship (addiction) with Amaryllis plants.

Over the years I would receive one as a gift and being the frugal person and lover of plants that I am, I would see if I could keep the bulb alive for the next year. I knew that the bulb would only bloom once and then spend its months restoring itself with just the lovely large leaves. I would cut the dead blossom (sometimes removing the pollen while it bloomed so that the blossom would last longer) and then keep the plant watered and in sun inside my house until the weather permitted me to move the pot outside. I would continue to nurture the plant outside until September when I would stop watering and move it into a dry area where it would not get the rain. Once the leaves started to yellow and wilt -- usually before the really cold nights -- I would cut the leaves, make sure the soil was dry and then pack the plant away into a dark place in my basement until the next season.

I got into the habit of forcing the amaryllis to bloom in February when nothing else was going to provide me such beauty except leggy pontsettias after the winter holidays and before the spring blooms began. Over time I had collected and forced each year about 25 of these bulbs. They lined the space along the windows in my family room. And I probably looked a little silly hauling all the pots outside each year and back inside in the fall. I gave most of them away when we sold the house and had to move into the rental house.

With each additional move I got rid of a few more.

Three weeks ago when I was cleaning this tiny apartment I moved a small bench to vacuum near the kitchen wall. There was a black garbage bag with something heavy inside. I assumed it was some boat or fishing gear that my hubby had tucked away. Well, I am sure you are way ahead of me and realize it was one of the amaryllis plants. It happened to be my largest that has multiple bulbs in one pot that I have not had time to separate.

I brought it out and saw that it had not even begun to send up any shoots even though it was months behind schedule. I was sure that it was dead and not just dormant, but I watered it anyway and placed it next to our kitchen window. Well, as you can see, in three short weeks, it has rewarded me tremendously!

There is some lesson in this about patience or unrequited love or something and if I was more energetic some haiku or poem that I should create...but I am just happy to be so lucky!

Monday, May 29, 2006

Weekend Walk in the Woods

I am sure that I will end up naming a number of posts like this with the same name, since this is what I do in the spring---walk in the woods. We drove to the mountains in West Virginia to see how long we could make spring last. Weather here in the city is already in the 80's and climbing.

My husband found a trail called Devil's Stairsteps and the forestry map had described it as 'strenuous' which immediately made me NOT want to take it. But just like a dog on a leash I went along, and, of course, we ended up hiking about 5 miles total before we got back to the car. It was mid-day before we reached the trail and so we unfortunately started our hike just as the weather was getting warm and spent a good part walking in the warmest part of day. The drifting clouds that covered the sun intermittently were most welcome. It was just an afternoon hike due to the late start---otherwise hubby would have dragged me several more miles. His motto is: "Never leave a side trail unexplored."

OK, get your coffee or tea or cold lemonade, and put your feet up, because I will take you along with no sweat on your part. You can click on the images to better see what I saw.

All the trees were golden or emerald green except for a lovely rose colored ash in one of the valleys below. Birds were unusually loud and territorial for mid-day. We saw several cuckoos, a few grosbeaks and a lovely rust-colored thrasher all flitting and singing. Well, the thrasher was sort of clucking in the ground at our feet trying to avoid the hikers walking from both directions on the trail--- it was a little like rush hour at times. Mountain laurel were just starting to open and a good part of the trail was bordered with them which I tried to show in the photos above.

We took a small side trail hoping for a rock out-cropping so that we could look out across the ravine. There appeared to be a break in the canopy of heavy trees and that is where we came upon two lady-slipper plants---related to the orchid. They were large and had white moths at the base of the flowers--maybe pollinating them. I was glad they were well away from the trail so that people wouldn't step on them or pick them. These are a rare find for me.

The blue-eyed grass was in bloom and reminded me that I want to get some plants of this to place near the house in one of the landscape beds. I had these at my last house. I caught a visiting bee when I snapped this photo!

Two lovely mating butterflies danced back and forth across the path and here is one of them caught in mid-air over the trail.

And, of course, much wild geranium was sprinkling its pink petals along the paths.

And finally, a screen saver for your PC. I didn't resize this, so if you can get it open, it is all yours as a spring gift from me. It was not 'photoshopped' but just a natural dark background from the forest.

Wild pink azalea

Now wasn't that a pleasant sojourn?

Saturday, May 27, 2006

On the Street Where I Lived

This is a photo of my son taken years ago in Indonesia. The woman on the right was my cook. The location is Jogjakarta just off of Kaliruang road and in front of the house that I wrote about in Life Story #4 although you cannot see the house from this angle. I wonder what it looks like today. 2,500 and still counting. I am sad.

Friday, May 26, 2006


Omen is a short but powerful word, filled with shadow and potent possibility. When I ‘Googled’ the word to see the scope of definitions, it at first appeared to portend only disasters or disturbances. Then, as I read more definitions, omen could also represent a coming miracle or profitable event. In some explanations it was a visible sign, usually in nature, but the ancient Romans believed that a word spoken by chance and perhaps overheard by the gods was an also omen.

Omen only means something if one is observational and superstitious. I am not generally superstitious because that means giving away power to something else, which I am not willing to do. Yet, I do try to be more observant of life’s energies around me. I try to take some time to focus on being in the moment as I rush from task to task during my work days and days off. I try to consciously tune into my instinctual ear and eye to prevent the smothering by artificial noise and visual demands of life. My husband is a much better observer of his surroundings than I am. I actually think that being in the woods and hunting and fishing have honed this skill in him. He is quicker to react to an emergency or pre-emergency sign and thinks more clearly than I. Like a chess player he will see the three moves ahead while I am still trying to assimilate the here and now. Therefore, while it may or may not be an omen, he is the first to see, evaluate and take action if needed.

Two events that I have seen recently have been bouncing around in my head, and that is what brought me to thinking about omens. When we started building on our property on the river for our retirement home, within a year, a large and lovely oak tree that sheltered our dock near the water’s edge, died. It was lovely and healthy and except for a very large burl at its base, there was no sign of stress. It died in September even before it could put on the lovely colored cloak of semi-death that appears in the fall. When I studied the tree after its death, I saw signs of termites all around the base of the trunk. So the process had been ongoing. I have been told that an oak burl, if harvested, is very valuable for furniture and woodworking. Thus, there is beauty somewhere in this death. This oak was much older than I, yet too young to die. It had seen many mornings, days, and nights on this land. It had fed and sheltered the wildlife and provided a place for children to climb and view the water. Did it die because of grief when we bulldozed its brothers and sisters? Was it our noise and chatter which we added to a formerly quieter place? Is it an omen? What does it mean? Maybe it was just its time, but why can’t I get it out of my head?

A second series of events has also been tickling my brain. When we traveled to Hawaii this past winter, the first to greet us on our hotel deck was a lovely red cardinal. He studied us carefully each day. I assumed that tourists had fed the birds and he was just checking out a possible pantry raid. When we arrived at Hilton Head last month, the very first thing I saw as I looked out across the balcony patio was a scarlet cardinal in the top of the tree looking back at me. There is nothing really unusual here, because cardinals are pretty common birds. Finally, last week when we were talking in our empty garage at the new house, a cardinal landed on the ground and peeked under the half open garage door. He saw us, but didn’t fly away. He did a little dance back and forth and then would look up at us and cock his head. It really seemed as though he was welcoming us to the woods. My husband and I knew he was trying to communicate in some way. His behavior wasn’t really that of a wild bird. But, then again, maybe he was checking out a possible new pantry and he wasn’t all that wild.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Here's To Your Health!!

One of the characteristics of aging is that you tend to read more health news because you want to live forever. I have been doing so and my synthesis (without links to the original sources---you will just have to trust me) follows below:

A new study hints that eating milk chocolate may boost brain function. (Heck, I knew that! I’ll bet they got hundreds of thousands of dollars of my tax money to run this silly study.)

If you needed another excuse to savor a glass of good red wine, scientists say it may supply antioxidants that protect the delicate hairs of the inner ear that are essential for hearing. (What?... I need all the excuses I can get.)

Heavy pot smoking does not increase lung cancer risk. (I don’t smoke pot, but now I can with a clear conscience.)

Not enough sleep increases obesity. (This is a relief and I am going to quit setting the alarm clock.)

And to add to the sleep/health dynamic:
Women who drink between one and three cups of coffee a day substantially lowered their risk of dying from inflammatory and cardiovascular diseases. Researchers said that coffee is an anti-oxidant. ( More coffee, so I can wake-up, please.)

Is over exercise is bad for you? That question was raised last week by a 61-year-old reader who worried about the safety of her running regimen - an hour a day, five days a week. A trainer told her such a cardio schedule was likely degrading, not improving, her health and fitness. (This is for all those skinny-can’t-pinch-an inch types…slow down and smell the roses!!)

A California county is expected to receive a $6 million windfall from Proposition 63, a measure passed in 2004 that taxes Californians who earn more than $1 million a year in order to pay for mental-health services. (As we know, based on examples like Tom Cruise, this state needs better mental-health services, even if TC won’t take advantage!)

And good news for my husband who used his retirement money to by a shiny red kayak:
"To move the kayak at about 5 mph is going to require about 0.1 hp of effort," said Finlay. That is equal to about 400 calories per hour. "Four hours of paddling is going to burn up about 1600 calories! A weight watcher's dream!"

Monday, May 22, 2006


It appears even water birds can be two-sided depending on how you approach them...just like people.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Life Story # 4: One Fateful Night in 1983

It seemed that we had actually become settled in our new place on the side of the mountain just off of Kaliurang Road in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. After several hectic weeks of looking for hired help to do laundry by hand since we had no washing machine, and hiring a cook since food had to be purchased at the market on a daily basis, water had to be purified, vegetables had to be sanitized, etc., I finally was able to start tutoring my daughter in her second grade lessons. There was a small mission school but it only had classes up to the first grade. I hired a jaga malam (night watchman) who actually babysat my youngest son during the mornings when I was tutoring.

We had gotten used to the crowded dirt roads, the unusual smells, and astonished reactions to our white skin. We were even beginning to sleep through the blare of the Imam’s call to prayer through an electronic loudspeaker just outside our upstairs louvered bedroom window at sunrise each morning. During the daytime, Kaliurang Road was busy with dusty traffic heading up and down the mountain, but at sunset the area suddenly became quieter and all you could hear was the infrequent bicycle bell and the rhythmic call of the street vendors with their wheeled carts.

Our two-story house, while built of concrete, was oddly shaped with stairs of inconsistent height, the occasional rejections of small pieces of cement from the high ceilings above and a small patio in the back with an orchid covered wall which was also another house’s patio wall. It probably would not pass code in the United States, but for Indonesia it was considered a small palace with its extensive terrazzo front porch, terrazzo floors throughout and electrical pump for our well water.

I remember one peaceful morning while my daughter was working on a school project, I headed upstairs above the servants’ side of the house to talk to our babu cuci (laundress) about something. She was in a small sheltered alcove on the roof hanging clothes. I had never been up to this area which also housed our drinking water in a large cement catchment. The view looking over the chest- high wall above the red-tiled rooftops was so freeing in its vastness. In the distance I could see the perfect cone shape of Mt. Merapi with its little cloud of volcanic smoke blowing away in a feathery wisp. (I think I have a photo of this somewhere that maybe I can add here.)

A few nights after this I was shaken roughly awake from a deep sleep by my husband. “Get C. (our son)”, he cried. “I will get Y (our daughter). Hurry! Hurry!”  He threw back the covers and jumped out of bed.

My brain was foggy and I moved slower than I should have while trying to absorb the anxious tone of my husband’s voice.

“Wha…What is it?” I sat up in bed.

“Just hurry! We have to get outside. There is an earthquake.”

I got up from the low platform bed and ran to my son’s room and scooped him into my arms. I didn’t feel anything unusual as I moved across the floor, but as we descended the stairs I saw out of the corner of my eye the aquarium water slopping in dramatic waves out of the sides of the aquarium onto the floor.

We rushed to the street. Only a few others were outside standing in the dirt road. We waited in quiet shock anticipating the worst. There was a small tremor that swayed the bamboo fence in the front of the yard and then nothing for a very long time. There was no noise in the neighborhood to indicate anyone else had noticed that the earth had shaken her shoulders.

Our crazy concrete palace was still standing and nothing had fallen from the ceiling as we carefully made our way back inside. We eventually fell asleep and awoke the next day with the memories seeming like a dream.

If you are following the news recently you will understand that we could have been going through much worse with Mt. Merapi eruptions.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Mother’s Day Thoughts

Exhausted from spending the Saturday before Mother’s Day cooking several meals for incoming relatives so that your daughter, who is a new mother herself, doesn’t have to when they come to stay at her house this week.

Thinking about your daughter’s plans for a week-long Italy trip for both you and her mother-in-law in the fall.

Not knowing if your only son will remember it is Mother’s Day and give you a call.

Realizing, again this year, that you no longer have a mother to buy a Mother’s Day card for or to call.

Seeing all the hard-working moms on Saturday in the stores and wondering what their Mother’s Day will be like.

Oddly enough, having no plans other than morning exercise followed by a wonderful bubble bath.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Sand Review

So the trip down to Hilton Head WAS a little long. Mom got a little creative in trying to distract the hunger pains.

Once we had unpacked the groceries and stuff, we immediately changed into beach clothes and grabbed the beach gear and introduced Xman to the beach and he immediately fell asleep.

Once back in the condo and before we started dinner, Xman decided we needed to inventory each and every cupboard...with great noise and zest.

The second day at the beach was a little better. Xman at least stayed awake and discovered how easy it was to navigate the hard sand and to chase the gray and white things that were much smaller than he.

The afternoon bike ride required refreshment and a nap on his part.

Maybe more on the trip later.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Ok, I'll go for it!

I have filled in the "Where I am From Template" and while not completely happy, I am sending it forward like a newborn baby with the cheesy coating not completely peeled away.


I am from worn books and small farms, from Sears and Roebuck and home-canned sweet cherries.

I am from the big picture windows facing the breath-taking snowy peaks.

I am from a homemade house, a barn of swift swallows and meadows of cow grass; I am from the irrigation pond and the foothills riddled with chipmunks and cactus.

I am from picnics on the sides of swiftly flowing rivers and three people talking at once, from immigrant 14-year-olds and Mary Jane and Daniel and Kitten and Richard and Doenie and Debi.

I am from going six directions at once and stretching the dollar until it snaps; From skinny legs and talking too much.

I am from now and then religion that came as needed and disappeared just as fast. Church was summer camp crafts and evening vespers.

I'm from the Italian Alps
and the rugged gravel paths above timberline, homemade pasta sauce and Sunday fried chicken.

From directing children’s backyard theater rehearsals, the long hikes under the shushing pine trees, and the childlessness and parentlessness of others.

I am from a five-dollar camel-back trunk, a million digital photos and collected sea shells whispering priceless memories.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Now why did I come downstairs?

I have on the desk in front of my monitor a folded white paper napkin. On this napkin I have written in pencil the following words in the following format:

Best Sea captain in British Navy in 1800's
World's leaders saw interesting time + place"

I know that this had something to do with a blog I was thinking of writing a few weeks ago, but I cannot grasp even a glimmer of a clue when searching the old gray matter inside my skull. According to a recent scientific experiment that I particpated in, too much sand and sun does fry the brain.

The Winding Down Time

I woke up at my regular time this morning (5:30 AM). We had driven back yesterday (9.5 hours) and stopped by the new house on the way to see the past two weeks of work. There was just enough daylight as we arrived about 5:30. By the time we reached the apartment it was 9:30. I unpacked the necessary stuff, had a dish of ice cream for dinner and fell into bed with the necessary exhaustion for a good night's sleep.

The drive was particularly long because we were without children and grandchildren (they has left earlier in the week). Even so, the car was still busting with stuff. We had added leftover groceries and my husband had moved some of the stuff that had been tied under the overhead canoe into the back storage area of the car.

We got into the city around 8:00 PM and offloaded the bicycles and rack at the old rental house where we continue to store stuff with the good graces of our former landlady. We didn't unpack the rest and will do that today. I sit here in the apartment surrounded by suitcases and carry bags and dread picking up the two weeks of mail waiting for me at the Post Office.

Today we head down to my daughter's house and unload all of the baby stuff. They (being jetsetters that they are) are flying down to Miami for a long weekend to visit some friends they haven't seen in two years. They are bringing Xman and Grandma and Grandpa think they are crazy and being spendthrifts, but such is life.

Like the car, my head is also stuffed with bittersweet memories of the trip. Life goes by so fast and everyone has so much to do. There are so many obligations and responsibilities. I am always preparing for life's change in my mind it seems that it tends to interfer with the enjoyment of the present.

I have a number of themes and ideas that I would like to write as a blog, but will probably forget everything in rush of today's errands. It is a good thing that blogs do not have editors!