Saturday, February 16, 2019

Dementia and Alzheimer's and Nuns

I remember that Time article about nuns and Alzheimer's published in 2001. Clearly. Unfortunately, it is behind a paywall now so I can't access but if you're interested and a subscriber you can go ahead and do so. Nuns had not only generously co-operated with studies on these brain diseases but also donated their bodies, postmortem, to science in selfless efforts to assist further research. I remember the autopsies showed that even though advanced degradation of brain cells due to Alzheimer's had occurred in these nuns, other segments of their brains had taken over complex functions like needlework and crossword puzzles thus keeping the Alzheimer's unnoticed by those around them. The personalities of the nuns had much to do with their abilities in later years (90+). Many of them had kept journals from their teenage years exhibiting a positivism about life and a thirst for learning.

I did find a similar article in the New York Times but it's not as detailed as the Time essay - and I am relying on - ahem! - my memory about the original article.

Excerpt:
At 93, Sister Nicolette Welter still reads avidly, recently finishing a biography of Bishop James Patrick Shannon. She knits, crochets, plays rousing card games and, until a recent fall, was walking several miles a day with no cane or walker.

I was driven to write this by a visit to an old friend yesterday who is in a third level care home. She is 93 and until the last year or so was taking care of herself in her own home. Reading and playing complex card games and knitting sweaters for her pensioner sons. Then one of her sons died. And the family hadn't told her he was dying. And this shoved her over the edge into mental disarray which has remained.

My grandmother, then in her seventies, was similarly afflicted when my mother died. Within a short period she retreated to an alternative world where Mum was still with us and Granny, our darling granny, never surfaced again.

My aunt, a bridge playing, golfing entrepreneur in her nineties, vanished into her own bottomless dark hole when her youngest child died at 49.

As to my friend, she is like a skeleton in a wheelchair, her caustic P&V with which we were all familiar has vanished, replaced by this gaunt shell with haunted eyes and no memory of us, her former familiars, but a clear memory of her dead son visiting her yesterday.

An unknown percentage of these "long goodbye" diseases is down to circumstances surely? None of those nuns lost a child and I wonder if this has a huge bearing on our emotional and mental abilities in our later years. As I have witnessed, heartbreakingly, first hand.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Words for Wednesday - February 13, 2019



River is hosting February's Words for Wednesday. Please go visit her and see what others are doing with the prompts and maybe, just maybe, participating yourself.

This week's words are:

1. shutdown*
2. wreck*
3. hairclip*
4. marked*
5. old school*
6. brewery*

and/or:

1. release*
2. hell-no!*
3. cherrie*
4. insignificant*
5. coffee*
6. almost*

The lighthouse stood sullen and glowering for it had seen far too many shipwrecks over the centuries to look upon life with any joy.
From its perch on the promontory its painted colours of white and cherry red stripes flared in bands around it.
As dusk fell, it seemed to rouse itself, as if being released from a shutdown, a hell-no! rousing from its depths. The light at its summit blasted forth, blazing to insignificance the granite on which it stood, beaming fiercely across the savage rocks and waters far below.
"As I'm on nightshift," said Tom, one of the two lightkeepers in the house beside it,"I'll have another coffee to get me through the night."
"Well, I'm going to have one of those artisan beers, or two, from that new brewery before I go to bed," said Amy. Sweeping her hair up in a hairclip, she strode to the fridge, took the beer, and snapping the top off the bottle, almost downed the whole thing in one long swallow. Tom watched her as he sipped his coffee, his wife, his lightkeeper partner out on the edge of nowhere. He was old school enough to long for the days of his father's time when women knew their place and would never drink alone.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Dreams

I find dreams can be so revealing of the subconscious. I am really good at analyzing them, I took a short course a few years ago and found that I could analyze other dreams while being baffled at my own at times.

I had this dream last night. Briefly:

A friend of mine in Toronto has this nightmare of a house, she is a hoarder and it's packed to the rafters with stuff. You don't need details - it's all just stuff. Pathways are laid out in the rooms to navigate through the garbage. Her bed's accessed by crawling across boxes. The stairs to the basement is jammed with newspapers and magazines. The window on her door is covered with a garbage bag. And this was when we were allowed in. For the last twenty+ years I'd say no one has entered Hilda's (pseudonym) house. So I imagine it is far worse now. It's a huge concern. We had cleaned her out a few times in the past but it was all in vain, she refused to get psychological help, she accumulated more rubbish and excess was poured into her car so that she could never take passengers. A typical out of control hoarder. I wrote about her here.

Anyway, last night I dreamed of her. Sitting in a tidy house. Surrounded by mannequins in various costumes, elderly clothes, lounging around on the chairs and sofas in her much expanded living room - she had bricked in the front door.

I questioned her as to what she was doing, there were at least 5 of these faux humans, heads down reading, as was she.

"Oh," she said, "Finally, everything is taken care of, see? My friends and I are really happy together. We read to each other."

I had absolutely no trouble analyzing this dream. Dreams are nearly always about ourselves. Very personal.

I realized:

(1) I am isolating far too much.

(2) I have been indoors since last Thursday and the weather has been beautiful

(3) My door to new experiences has been blocked.

(4) My imaginative life is now greater than my reality.

(5) I need to bring some flexibility in to my life. I am getting rigid.

So, I'm heading out today. To interact with some children I know.

It's far too easy to get locked in place.

Friday, February 08, 2019

Fear

"You learn that as you grow older, we live in a perpetual state of fear. All the horrible things we do to each other, all our misunderstandings, are because of fear."

The Old Jest. Jennifer Johnston, Page 98. Read in 2016.

Some new fears as I age. They would be unrecognizable to a younger me, then I would have classified them as "silly".

(1)Fear of becoming a crashing bore because of my health issues. So I avoid talking about them. Then, when questioned on my health status, I'm aware of looking shifty from such avoidance and quickly switch conversation to something else.

(2)Fear of the specialist I saw on Wednesday, my nephrologist, who has no time for my avoidance of 3 times daily blood pressure readings, no time for my water shortage ingestion in spite of his instructions. No time for my whiny "I can't live in the bathroom all the time" ("Oh, "sez he, in a bored monotone, "Then dialysis would be preferable?" He is excellent at what he does, but boy, bedside manner is not part of his genetic makeup. He handed me a list of what I need to do before seeing him in a month. Yes, I will comply. Feel the fear and do it anyway.

(3)Fear of getting lost. Due to my mobility issues, this is much more serious than for a healthier younger me, the running me, the adventurous me. Now when I am pounding down a sidewalk with my cane searching for something, store, medical office, etc., if it's not where I thought it was supposed to be I panic as my energy has evaporated, I need to sit down and there's nothing to sit on. So I lean, and breathe and want to cry in frustration. I was rescued by a kind stranger on Wednesday who gently guided me outside the building and led me to the correct clinic, taking time to allow for breaks. People are so very kind and caring.

(4)Fear of brain-fail. It takes me longer to learn new skills, like a knitting pattern. I have to repeat and repeat to lodge it in whatever remaining brain cell is still up for rental. Short term memory, unless I really, really concentrate, vanishes like a puff of smoke. I am mindful of working the brain via knitting, daily Scrabble, reading books outside my comfort zone. Challenging it.



(5)Political scene: femicides. A woman is murdered in Canada every 3 days by a man who purportedly loves her. The stats in many countries are similar. I've been present when men "jokingly" threaten wives that they would kill them if they caught them being unfaithful. Since I first became aware of how second class women are, way, way back in the fifties, I see regression in women's rights everywhere. Men who haven't a clue - as an example see that Gillette ad up there? - the outrage amongst some of my male friends was breathtaking. They take the line of "not all men" - neglecting, of course, to take a stand against the proliferation of porn, sex trafficking, prostitution, etc. which is so embedded in our culture as to be taken for granted. Women's (and many girl children's) bodies are commodities, products to be sold, trafficked at a whim. Trillion dollar rape industries. Imagine, I say to men I know, being anally raped twenty to a hundred times a day or giving blow jobs to hundreds of strangers. And they shudder.

A Teacher's Association Convention in Alberta booked a convicted murderer/rapist as their keynote speaker. You read that right. Only when the public outcry became a deluge did they cancel him. Read about it here.. The fact that they would even arrange all of this shows how deeply embedded rape culture is in our society: how female victims can be so thoroughly erased. And to make the story even more sordid - the reason he killed her was because he couldn't get an erection.

I fear for my own anger in these political situations. My rage is frightening to me at times and it doesn't abate as I age. It worsens. How on earth do I keep a lid on myself? How do I numb out and shrug and pretend all of this doesn't matter?

(6)Oddly enough, in such an anti-aging climate, I haven't a fear of wrinkles or age-spots, or "Looking my age" or greying. I tell people openly I am an old woman, or an elder or a crone and most react with:"You don't look it" with a little frisson. What's that about? What does "looking it" mean? Why the fear of growing old? Isn't the alternative so much worse? I have lost far too many dear ones not to celebrate my bonus years.

Anyway getting my thoughts of the day out there on paper.

As I struggle with a short memoir I am writing.




Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Words for Wednesday - February 2019

This month's Words for Wednesday is being hosted by River.. Please go visit her and if you feel like participating, please do so. And enjoy the other entries which will be linked in the comments on her blog.

This week's words are:

1. consternation*
2. tourist*
3. attached*
4. fresh*
5. specific*
6. memory*

and/or:

1. advantages*
2. amount*
3. spray*
4. reef*
5. ouch*
6. living*

There was consternation after she made the announcement. Her adult children, her adult grandchild even, discouraging and resistant to her plans.

"I am no longer attached," she said in her best teacher voice (brooking no arguments) as they all sat around the kitchen table, "To this family home. Your father has been dead for five years now. It is time for me to make fresh memories, my own specific memories."

They started yelling at her all at once, she could only make out words like "living" and "ouch" and "dementia assessment".

"Stop it!" she said sharply, banging her old wooden spoon off the table. "I am selling the house. I need the amount of cash it will raise. I am of sound mind and body even though I'm 78 years old. And yes, I want to see the Great Barrier Reef before I die. I wish to see the water spraying over Niagara Falls, and Patagonia has the advantage of being at the southern tip of South America and needs to be seen too. And Paris of course. And another thing, I am doing this alone. A solitary tourist. I've always wanted to travel alone. I don't need anyone's permission. It's my time now. So there!"

Monday, February 04, 2019

Spoons and Drawers

In other news.

Have you heard about the spoon theory? I read about this over the holiday season and tried to explain it to others who fell around laughing. But listen. As we age, become disabled, are disabled, depressed, challenged, tired, no energy, diseased, we can apply the spoon theory to ourselves.

This is how it started:
"The term spoons in this sense was coined by Christine Miserandino in 2003 in her essay "The Spoon Theory".[8][9] The essay describes a conversation between Miserandino and a friend.The discussion was initiated by a question from the friend in which she asked about what having lupus feels like. The essay then describes the actions of Miserandino, who took spoons from nearby tables to use as a visual aid. She handed her friend twelve spoons and asked her to describe the events of a typical day, taking a spoon away for each activity. In this way, she demonstrated that her spoons, or units of energy, must be rationed to avoid running out before the end of the day. Miserandino also asserted that it is possible to exceed one's daily limit, but that doing so means borrowing from the future and may result in not having enough spoons the next day. Miserandino suggested that spoon theory can describe the effects of mental illnesses as well."

My ideal is under 30 spoons per day. But some days, like yesterday, I run it up to 33 spoons. Why? If I do my laundry that necessitates very long trips to the laundry room. We can only use one machine at a time and if there are many loads, that's a lot of walking. We don't complain as it's free. So each laundry load to me is 4 spoons as each trek up and down the hall is .25 of a kilometre. So today I have to compensate for that, which I am and I'm subtracting those 3 spoons from today.

My spoon sheet:
I'm starting to keep a daily tally and thought it might be of some value to my readers as most of are in some stages of aging, decrepitude and/or challenged in some way.

And yeah the Kondo-ization of some of us. I take what I can apply to my own life from her and discard the rest. But her drawer theory? Love it.

for instance here is my kitchen drawer:
I love the way I can see all the dishtowels and dishcloths (yeah, all hand knitted by moi - thanks for noticing!) and it does "spark joy" to also see all my colourful knickers at once leaning against each other in orderly fashion. And yeah my t-shirts and jammies too.

A lot to be said for it. Not all of it, but a lot of it. I still have to deal with photos and unhung pictures.

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Doldrums

Well, it's not the pit of despair, the familiar old Black Dog of depression I tell myself.

And it's not like we have the polar vortex here (we don't).

The sun has shone every day for a long time now (it has).

But sleep calls me too often. I nap long and hard and go to bed and sleep and my time with eyes closed begins to exceed time with eyes open. (Shame keeps this under lock and key)

Not good, I tell myself. (And I stay away from over analysis of the situation, it makes it worse)

I add 2 Tylenols to the CBD oil to alleviate the pain which halts me in my tracks, a bony hand yanking at my collar in parking lots, shopping aisles, galleries. I review the gentle yoga class I took and think: "tomorrow" I'll start this daily follow up process. {Tomorrow is a fallacy. The only change is in the "Now")

I make notes about change, mindful of the mantra: If nothing changes, nothing changes. Which sounds as if written for a simpleton but the kernel of truth lodged within forces me to think about why I am sitting/lying in this home-made waiting room of death.

I bore myself. I text the one friend who understands this malaise, the one being on the planet I can be honest with, who never judges me as I don't judge her lapses and failings. (She crucifies herself with alcohol, I do the same with sugar). We can only share with those who have their own dark nights lapping at their days. Understanding and compassion and no lectures about boot straps and getting a grip (on what?).

What can I commit to today? Emails from the local library, full of books I have ordered on line.

"I will get dressed," I text her, "I will go to the library and then buy some baby clothes for a brand new grand-niece named Hailey. And then I will change the sheets on my bed and work on a client's tax compliance problem that I have procrastinated endlessly that has a vicious grip on my sense of well-being." (Procrastination being voracious in its destructive appetite, boring into the psyche).

We'll see how these tiny changes ripple outwards.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Words for Wednesday

For the month of January 2018, Words for Wednesday has been hosted by Lissa at the Memory of Rain blogspot Thank you Lissa! Some great words and also the novelty of a sound prompt. Please go visit her interesting blog and participate if the mood strikes you!

1. last day*
2. zealot*
3. homeward*
4. listen*
5. midnight*
6. always*

And/or:
1. start*
2. wicked*
3. holiday*
4. castle*
5. infinite*
6. goodbye*

This is the final episode of a 3 part story.

See Episode 1 here.
See Episode 2 here.

Kate's support was surprisingly infinite through the following week. She listened in sympathy while Molly moaned as she kept dialing Ashok's cell phone and continually emailing his always bouncing address, fuming over not knowing his home address or even the district where he lived in Namibia.

"Time to say goodbye," Kate said finally, "To Ashok, to your dreams of Namibia, it's a castle built on wicked lies. You need to start over, I'm going to give you till midnight, Molly, this is your very last day of wringing your hands in despair."

"But what am I supposed to do?" asked Molly, "I can't look homeward, they won't have me - you know what a Catholic zealot dad is - and being pregnant is not a holiday, I have a degree to finish, I have a decision to make."

"I can go with you," offered Kate, "If - and when - you make the decision."

"There's one more thing I need to do," said Molly, having weighed every possibility carefully, "I need to put myself out there and take one enormous chance."

And before she could give any more headroom to her second thoughts and doubts, she called James, who answered on the first ring as if he had been waiting.

"I am so sorry," Molly whispered,"for hurting you, James. I just needed to tell you that. I don't expect anything from you, I made a terrible mistake and I will pay for it for the rest of my life..."

Before she could finish James interrupted her. "I waited for your call," he said, "Something told me we weren't over."

"I'm in such a mess, James," Molly started to cry, "You're going to hate me."

"I could never hate you, I've known you just about all my life. Nothing you can tell me would make me love you less. Now tell me."








Sunday, January 27, 2019

Letters

I have some letters from my parents. Many emigrants of my vintage could say the same thing, I imagine. Many of these letters got lost along the way and I am sorting through what I have.

My mother would write me newsy letters. She wrote like she talked full of family and neighbour talk. Every week.

After she died, my father carried on. Writing me every week, getting pissed when I didn't respond immediately and reprimanding me mildly when he had to wait impatiently for responses. His writing was tiny, he would cram so much on to 2 pages, exactly 2 pages.

In this one (May 1991) he hits me on the head in the opening sentence:

"I thought you had given up the matter of letter writing".
And
"A pity you were not able to visit us this year."
- Well, Dad, I was broke. Single mum. 2 kids.

He proceeds on page 2 to tell me - without consultation, as always - when he would arrive in Canada for his annual visit - August 17th. Which was 1 day after my birthday. And then guilts me again with:
"you know the old saying if the mountain won't come to....etc..."

Thusly I would give up my measly vacation time to spend it with him.

We didn't have the best of relationships my dad and I. I felt obligated as he was a widower. He loved one of my kids and despised the other which made things awkward in my home. So I would take him away on trips to the states or the maritimes or touring Ontario.

We made half-hearted attempts to cross the distance between us. But I could never quite surmount the fear I had of him as when I was growing up he was a cruel, abusive and emotionally unavailable martinet.

But the last time we went away together, to Nova Scotia, he abused me verbally for the very last time. Post therapy, I stood up to him, declared my boundaries, and from then on he was no longer welcome in my home.

Subsequently, to my surprise, in all our interactions, he treated me with respect and yes, a little fear too.


Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Words for Wednesday

Please visit Lissa at Memory of Rain
who is hosting Words for Wednesday for the month of January. You may even want to try this creative exercise for yourself!

The words for this week are listed below:

This week's prompts are:
1. birthday*
2. dream*
3. cake*
4. sugar*
5. wishes*
6. grant*

And/or
1. joyride*
2. promise*
3. wishing well*
4. ghost*
5. flowers*
6. love*

I (and many of you!) didn't want to leave last week's story as we felt it was just beginning, so here goes. Part 2.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The train finally clanged its way into Huston Station and she gathered up her belongings. The rain had reached across the length and breadth of Ireland as it was pounding off the platform here too. She was surprised to see Kate, her roommate, standing on the platform holding a small wishing well, holding her favourite flowers. Oh, Ashok sent me, Kate said brightly as she took Molly's wheelie and handed her the flowers, he sends you the flowers with love and oh yes, happy birthday wishes for tomorrow and he gave me money to get you a sugary cake at Bewley's, so thoughtful, isn't he?

But where is he? asked Molly, feeling suspended in some kind of dream state.

There was some kind of grant available to him to continue his medical studies back home in Namibia, he had to leave in a hurry so he left yesterday. He said he tried to get hold of you but your mobile was off or something, Kate chattered on. That was Kate, always so airy-fairy.

Disbelief flooded her. This couldn't be happening. She took a deep shaking breath as they hailed a taxi.

Did he tell you I was pregnant? asked Molly, did he mention the promises he made about taking me to Namibia? Has this just been a joyride for him? I'm now left with his ghost?

Kate gaped at her, mouth open. What? What are you saying?

Monday, January 21, 2019

Brings Tears

If you wish to buy the book the link is here.

I've been so moved by readers over the years. Especially those who get so involved in my works of fiction that they can't bear not knowing if the character was based on real life and on whom, or what happens next, or what was their childhood like or did their conflict resolve or....I had this experience when writing for a magazine years ago and also when I toured my play. It touches my heart at such a deep level.

As a result of the anthology I have many readers "find" me on the web. My name is unusual enough in that a Facebook search always givas an ah-ha! moment and then a private message.

I've received a few of these since the book was published. One brought a heartfelt message from a young man saying in all his years he never heard of another whose name (mine) was the exact same as his dear grandmother's.

Another said the story of "Norah" hit him so badly that he had to find out if I knew this person in real life as everything about her was so real and authentic and I could only write it if I actually knew her. (No I didn't, except in my head).

Another told me that she had lived the experience in "Lament" and I must have been there too and watched the whole thing take place. (No, I didn't - but any betrayed woman knows the frozen feeling).

I am so grateful when people take the time to write to me and express their feelings about my work. Yeah, tears spring.

And I usually take the time to write to authors I admire also.

Karma can be a good thing.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Blog Jam

Living in a seniors' building, death knocks on doors periodically and is a reminder of our own mortality. One of The Ladies died on Friday night. She was having trouble sleeping as her sister was sick and she was worried. The doctor refused to give her sleeping pills as he was afraid she would get up in the middle of the night and fall. Her sister died on Wednesday night and then Gillian (a pseudonym) died on Friday night. They were both in their nineties. I know, a great age. But the judgement of the doctor I do question in not prescribing her something, anything, to help her sleep as she was most distressed.

Needless to mention a pall descends on the building when this happens, we are all quite subdued and reflective.

I realized in meditation this morning that I just don't have enough hours in the day to Get Things Done. The things I want to do, the things that bring me joy.

I have a great idea for the CBC memoir contest and have been scribbling notes everywhere I go and on bits of napkins, etc. More on that at some later date. But for now, I am laughing at some of my memories which start out as being sad but turn a corner. A lot more work is needed.

Then my niece showed me this one needle method of knitting socks, yes! including turning the heel!, and I thought this old dog can learn a new trick if she works really hard at it. And yes, dropping stitches as I went, nevertheless I persisted, as I am wont to do with most new skills. And this started to climb up the needle.

I am reading this rather wonderful book: A Gentleman in Moscow and I can't get enough of it. I have to pace myself because of all the other stuff going on. I think it was Anne Brew, a frequent commenter here, who recommended it. Thank you!

Next week there is something on every day which necessitates putting on my nice face and leaving my nest. I shouldn't complain as the alternative is where Gillian is. I am glad she kept going, with her erect, proud, tall, military carriage, right to the very end.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Words for Wednesday

Lissa at The Memory of Rain blogspot is hosting January's Word for Wednesday. Please go visit her to read what others have done with the cues. Her sound cue is here: And I confess to nearly falling asleep listening to it, it's so soothing.



And/or: it's going to rain today; chasing storms; umbrellas; charmed; a long journey; trains.
She'd always loved trains. She loved the isolated world they represented. She particularly enjoyed riding them alone. Being free to look around at the other passengers, the tiny dramas, the tears sometimes, the drunkenness, even the loutish behavior of football lads going home from a game. She loved the sound of the wheels on the tracks, the occasional darkness of a tunnel, the announcements, the dining car, the bar, the screeching into small stations along the route. But today was different. the carriage was steaming up from all the wet umbrellas and coats and hats. The rain outside was unrelenting, coming down in vertical streams, bouncing off station platforms.

Everybody's mood on board was affected it seemed, including her own. She supposed it was finally her turn now, her life had been charmed until a short time ago. Her high school sweetheart still in her life, wearing his promise ring, class valedictorian, university scholarships graduating with honours. And now? This long journey ahead of her, leaving a storm behind her, facing a possible storm ahead. Was she chasing the storm or the storm chasing her?

She'd done it. She'd broken up with James after 7 years. His face would haunt her for all time. Then she'd told her parents. They had been horrified and disgusted with her. A guy she'd met at Trinity a couple of months ago? She was moving to Africa with him? She might be pregnant? She was throwing her life away. She'd tuned it all out. But now their words were riding in her brain to the rhythm of the rain and the rails.

Ashok would meet her off the train. He would of course. Though he hadn't answered his phone in 24 hours. But he was like that sometimes, he'd get involved and forget. She wished she wasn't so much head over heels in love with him. It sure was another storm. This intense storm of emotion and passion and god knows what else.

She looked out the darkening window and saw her reflection in the window.

The rain made her face look full of tears.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Remembrance on a Landscape of Snow and Fog


I took this picture yesterday at 4.14 p.m. Yes, the days are lengthening. This was just about outside my front door. I was struck by the light snow on the field and as I gazed upon it, the shape shifted and I was back to my childhood self, 10 or 11 years old.

Snow was rare in my Cork, Ireland childhood. Sunday afternoons we'd walk the hills around the city. My father's "job" on those afternoons was to form a small platoon of his more mobile children and frog march us off to faraway hills, thus giving my mother her only respite from household management and abandoning her to the current infant.

He barked instructions at us to keep our backs and shoulders straight and would become enraged if our feet weren't aligned perfectly on the road.

These walks seemed inordinately endless to me. And I had the burden of being the eldest - if I didn't adhere closely to the Rules of Walking with Father I was considered a Bad Example. Sniggering and giggling were considered a hanging offence. These promenades of a Father and his Perfectly Behaved Children were a grim business indeed. If we met anyone he knew, it was agony keeping still while he talked of politics or church.

So, to bring me to the above picture and the memory it evoked, which is still as clear as a bell to me.

There was a rare sighting of snow on a field behind a farmer's gate up on a sheltered hill. I remember being overwhelmed by the desire to slip through that gate and just play in it. It was a very light sprinkling but in my mind I could already see the enormous snowman if we gathered every scrap of it onto one spot on the field.

"Out of the question! Don't be ridiculous!" barked my father and marched off, trailed by my brothers. I didn't think twice. I squeezed through the bars of the gate and managed to make one tiny snowball before his enraged roar reached me.

No supper that night. I had to walk in front of him from now on where he could see me. No allowance for a month.

Worth it?

Hell, yeah.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Words for Wednesday

The month of January 2019 is hosted by Lissa and you can visit her and see what others have done with the prompts.

This week the prompts are two photographs rather than words.



The pain sliced through her like a knife still. She'd left her small flat after the cowardly text and her responses, what time was that exactly? She hauled her phone out of her pocket and checked, 8.45pm, the night before. She'd been waiting since 6.30 for him to show up. It was a year since they'd first met on Tinder. Their anniversary. She'd cooked Italian knowing how much he loved it. And bought him a little gift too. The candles were sputtering and dying in their holders by the time she knew he wasn't coming.

At first she'd been incredulous.He breaks up with her by text? She'd called him and called him, no answer. She'd texted and texted, each one using more expletives, more than she realized she knew, moving way beyond potty mouth. She'd finally thrown on her coat and walked and walked until she reached his door and she banged and banged until one of the neighbours shouted down he was calling the police. Then she walked and walked some more. Her head was swimming, she wasn't thinking straight. Those tracks could be an answer to all her shattered dreams. They'd even talked children, a house, a wedding. He'd met her parents, though admittedly her dad hadn't taken to him. Not that he suspected but she knew her dad. She heard a loud sob and realized it was coming from herself. She stopped and pulled out the phone again and stared at the screen, absorbing the words one at a time. "Hiya, not working out 4 me. Met new. Moving on. Ciao."

She walked to the edge of the platform and considered the rails just as the sun started to come up. It must be dawn. What? Where had the night gone? That punch in the gut was still there but easing, was it easing? She looked up as the birds began to sing. Funny that, once the traffic started up and the trains began to run you'd never hear them at all. But now? In the silence? They were singing as if their hearts and souls could reach the sky and beyond. Look, three of the them on that street lamp over there.

She yanked the phone from her pocket once more.

"Sorry to call so early Dad but I'd like to take the first train down, is that okay?"





Sunday, January 06, 2019

Nollaig na mBan - Women's Christmas - a re-post.



Of all the posts or articles I have ever written, this is the one that has gotten the most attention and the most links from other blogs and publications. I reprint it here in its entirety and I am so, so happy this beautiful custom is now being held all over the world and not just in Ireland. Emails from New York, Australia, New Zealand, Scotland and even Germany tell me it is being revitalized. Long may it continue!
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


The following is a copy of a column I wrote several years ago. I realize that not many of you may have heard of this beautiful old Irish tradition and thought it deserved another audience.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Nollaig Na Mban - "Little Christmas" - or "Women's Christmas" as my mother used to call it - always fell on January 6 and was a tradition unto itself. Maybe it was just a peculiarity of the time and place in which I grew up - Cork, Ireland in the fifties and sixties in the last century. (And I don't think I ever thought I would write "last century" with such cheerful abandon!)


I was remembering Women's Christmas and wondering whatever happened to it and if anyone in Ireland is carrying on its charm and wonder anymore, or are we all swept up permanently in the Big Day, December 25 itself. I've talked to some Ukrainian friends here and they celebrate their traditional Christmas on that day - Twelfth Night as it is known in England - but I believe that Women's Christmas was unique to a time and place in Ireland now gone forever. But I hope not.


The day of the Women's Christmas women were supposed to take it completely easy after all the hustle, bustle and hard work of the prior months, with the men now taking care of them and cooking and cleaning all day. I can assure you that this never happened in my house as, like many men of his era, my father didn't know one end of a broom from the other and boiling a kettle was the peak of his culinary skill.


However, my mother was the eldest female of her family so consequently her sisters, sisters-in-law, aunts and mother came around on that day and a smaller, daintier version of the Christmas meal was served. On the menu were: a bird (usually a fine roast chicken), a smaller lighter plum pudding and a lovely cake, usually dressed up in the fanciest of pink wrappers with silver sprinkles everywhere on the pink and white icing. The most delicate of my mother's tea sets was brought out, my own favourite, the lavender and pale green set. I would love to hold one of these little saucers up to the light and put my hand behind it, as it was so fragile you would see all your fingers through it.


Gifts were exchanged, usually the most feminine of presents, perfume or talc, bottles of Harvey's Bristol Cream were lined up on the sideboard and the fun would begin. I was encouraged by the grandmothers and great-aunts to always give my mother a little gift on that day for the woman that she was and I did, from a very early age. I would buy something small in Woolworth's on Patrick Street, a little comb or my personal favourite, those fiercely aromatic bath cubes, which were a whole three pence each. I would wrap it up in layers and layers of newspaper and it was always exclaimed over with the phrase, "Well now, I can hardly wait to use this"!


The coal fire would be stacked up high and already lit in the front room before anyone arrived, with Bord na Mona briquettes piled on the fender around it, and any male showing his face would be banished to some other spot in the house.


I remember the women gabbing all day and in the heel of the evening getting into the stories and songs of which I never, ever tired. My female cousins and I would sense the privilege of being included in all of this, there was a respect in us and never did we exemplify more the ideal of children being seen and not heard than on that day. Unasked, we poured the drinks and ran outside to boil another kettle to make a fresh pot or brought in the sandwiches and the fairy cakes and the chocolates and exotic biscuits in the later part of the day.


I remember the hoots of laughter as my aunts dipped their ladyfinger biscuits into their sherries, letting us have a small sample of the incredible taste. This was the one day in the year that I could get a sense of how the older women in my family were when they were young girls themselves. Full of fun and music and stories. I learned about their old boyfriends and who courted them, how one of my uncles had dated all four sisters before settling on my aunt. How wild he was and how she tamed him.


I'd learn of the sad miscarriages and the stillbirths, the neighbours who went peculiar from the change or the drink, the priests who got spoiled in Africa and became pagan; or who had the failing, the old great grandaunt who took on fierce odd after her son married. I didn't know what a lot of it meant then but I stored it all away to ponder on in later years.


They would dredge up old musical numbers from their single days and sing a few bars while one or two got up and showed off their dancing legs. Sweet Afton cigarettes were lit and my grandmother would puff on her dudeen and we all could hardly see each other for the clouds of smoke.


Stories were told and they would get caught up on all the doings they might have missed in their conversations all year, obscure marriages and births, sometimes in Australia or other far flung and exotic outposts of the Irish Diaspora. But most of all I remember the peals of laughter which resounded throughout the house all day and evening.


A moment would come in the midst of all the hilarity when the time for a spot of prayer came. Out of the big black handbags that never left their sides would come the rosaries. These would be threaded through their fingers and all the heads would bow in unison. I never knew the prayer and haven't heard it since but it was to St Brigid, the women's saint of Ireland, and it involved her taking all the troubles of the year before and parking them somewhere in heaven and thus they were never to be seen again. This was followed by a minute of silence (while St Brigid did what she was asked, I have no doubt), then a fervent "Thanks be to God and all His saints" and a reverent kiss on the cross of the various rosaries which were all tucked away carefully into the handbags again. Then the glasses of sherry or the cups of tea were refilled and the whooping and carrying on would begin afresh, the bothers and griefs of the past year now permanently banished and forever.


And I wish this for all of you out there - both at home and abroad.

Friday, January 04, 2019

The Books of 2018


I must say I had a stellar year for reading. I do believe the best since I started this annual list of all books read in the previous year. I attribute that to less responsibilities and more retirement. Moving to a 1 bedroom apartment has been a boon for this reader, assisted by a fabulous library close by and the ease of on line library book reservations. A tossing of books policy has strengthened due to (a) my advancing years and (b) impatience with poor writing, editing, construction and characterization. This rule is broken for book club selections as I feel honourbound to complete those reads, no matter how agonizing. I do try and file a wee book report on Good Reads where I can be found at: GOODREADS WWW REVIEWS
And my ten years of books read and rated can be found at Ten Years of Books Read and Rated


Here be the list:

(1)The Years Flew By - Sidney Gifford ("John Brennan")
(2)Books Art Life - Kyo MacLear***** review on Goodreads
(3)Suite Francaise - Irine Nemirovsky** {BC}
(4)Miss Emily - Nuala O'Connor***** review on Goodreads
(5)The End of Music - Jamie Fitzpatrick****1/2 review on Goodreads
(6)Mercury - Margot Livesy**** GR
(7)The Woman in Cabin 10 - Ruth Ware 0 GR
(8)The Unseen World - Liz Moore ***** - best of the year so far. Review on GR
(10)Too Close to the Falls - Catherine Gildiner ****
(11)A Labrador Woman - Elizabeth Goudie ***** {BC}
(12)The Woman Upstairs - Claire Messud*****
(13)The Widow - Fiona Barton****
(14)The Child - Fiona Barton*****
(15)Remarkable Creatures - Tracy Chevalier***** {BC}
(16)The Lying Game - Ruth Ware*
(17)A Splendid Boy - Melanie Martin**
(18)The Ninth Hour - Alice McDermott****
(19)In the Land of Birdfishes - Rebecca Silver Slayer* Tossed
(20)The Burning Girl - Claire Messud*****
(21)Most Anything You Please - Trudy Morgan Cole *****
(22)The Alice Network - Kate Quinn **** (far, far too long)
(23)When Breath Becomes Air - Paul Kalanithi *****
(24)Priestdaddy - Patricia Lockwood
(25)Bellevue Square - Michael Redhill - *Review on GR Winner of the Giller? Don't understand.
(26)The Nightingale - Kristin Hannah {BC} - savouring every page.***** Mind.Blown. GR
(27)The Ice Princess - Camilla Lackberg 0 worst of the year so far GR
(28)The Emperor's Children - Claire Messud *****
(29) I let you go - Claire Mackintosh **** Oops, read before years ago caught 1/2 way thru :(
(30)Ledger of the Open Hand - Leslie Vryenhoek {BC}** A slog, would have dropped only {BC}
(31)Mind's Eye - Hakan Nesser - 0 dropped at Page 65 when main character brags about slapping his wife around.
(32)The Body and Other Parties - Carmen Maria Machado ** Different, pornish, Dropped 1/2 way through when it became a riff on Law and Order.
(33)Little Deaths - Emma Flint ***
(34)The Good House - Ann Leary *****
(35)The Woman in the Window - A.J. Finn 0 truly awful
(36)Felicity - Mary Oliver ***
(37)After Her - Joyce Maynard*****
(38)Sleep No More - P.D. James****
(39)The Housekeeper and the Professor - Yoko Agawa****
(40)Too Unspeakable for Words - Rosalind Gill****
(41)Orphan Train - Christine Baker Kline*****
(42)From a Good House - Trudi Johnson {BC}***
(43)the Life we Bury - Allen Askens*****
(44)Labor Day - Joyce Maynard *****
(45)Under the Influence - Joyce Maynard*****
(46)Baby Love - Joyce Maynard*****
(47)Faithful - Alice Hoffman **
(48)The Great Alone - Kristin Hannah ***
(49)The Glass Character - Margaret Gunning**
(50)The Perfection of the Morning - Sharon Butala****
(51)The Children - Ann Leary***
(52)Delta Wedding - Eudora Welty****
(53)The Museum of Extraordinary Things - Alice Hoffman****
(54)Before We Were Yours - Lisa Wingate*****
(55)Anger - May Sarton*****
(56)The Education of Harriet Hatfield - May Sarton*****
(57)Station Eleven - Emily St. John Mandel****
(58)The Chilbury Ladies' Choir - Jennifer Ryan****
(59)The Montreal Massacre - Louise Malette, Marie Chalouh
(60)The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion****
(61)The Wife - Meg Wolitzer***
(62)Christmas in Paris - Hazel Gaymore, Heather Webb*****
(63)The Marrow Thieves - Cherie Dimoline 0 not in mood, dropped.
(64)Encore - May Sarton****
(65)Sing, Unburied Sing - Jesmyn Ward 0 Tired of theme, dropped
(66)Being Mary Roe - Ida Linehan Young, won't rate but finished.
(67)Educated - Tara Westover*****
(68)Women Talking - Miriam Toews***
(69)When the Lights Go Out - Mary Kubica 0
(70)The Home for Unwanted Girls - Joanna Goodman*****
(71)Burning Bright - Tracy Chevalier{BC}*
(72)Wildlife - Richard Ford*****
(73)The Girl from the Savoy - Hazel Gaynor 0
(74)The Rosie Effect - Graeme Simson****
(75)A History of Loneliness - John Boyne*****
(76)Asking for It - Louise O'Neill*****
(77)All My Puny Sorrows - Miriam Toews {BC} a re-read from 2014
(78)Women with Men - Richard Ford****
(79)The Finishing School - Joanna Goodman*
(80)Reading in Bed - Sue Gee****
(81)From a Low and Quiet Sea - Donal Ryan*****
(82)The Perfect Nanny - Leila Slimani****
(83)The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - John Boyne*****
(84)Shadow of a Man - May Sarton****
(85)The House of All Sorts - Emily Carr****
(86)Days Without End - Sebastian Barry*****

And here be the best of the best. And on the whole it was a very rich reading year.

Books Art Life - Kyo MacLear*****
The Unseen World - Liz Moore *****
Miss Emily - Nuala O'Connor*****
The Nightingale - Kristin Hannah***** {BC}
Under the Influence - Joyce Maynard*****
Before We Were Yours - Lisa Wingate*****
Anger - May Sarton*****
Christmas in Paris - Hazel Gaymore, Heather Webb*****
The Home for Unwanted Girls - Joanna Goodman*****
Wildlife - Richard Ford*****
A History of Loneliness - John Boyne*****
From a Low and Quiet Sea - Donal Ryan*****
Days Without End - Sebastian Barry*****

The absolute very gripping best were The Nightingale, Days without End and The Unseen World.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Words for Wednesday

This month's Words for Wednesday is hosted by Lissa

Please visit her blog and participate if you get the urge.

1. beginning*
2. new year*
3. wonder*
4. ritual*
5. kiss*
6. faith*

And/or
1. seven*
2. remember*
3. adventure*
4. miles*
5. 88*
6. heart*
She, an old woman now, could still remember the wonder and adventure of it all as if it were yesterday. The start of the family new year began in July. The school year was over and Papa was an atheist along with being a mathematician and believed they should measure years in how long humans had been on planet earth. Two hundred thousand years. So New Year for their family, he and mama and all seven of their children, was 200,000 years plus the 42 he and Mama were alive. All these religions, he would state, have their own calendars based on births of their gods. We need a calendar that makes sense to our family.

In the beginning of the year 200,042 they set off on their first 88 mile trip to the heart of the Algonquins. Papa had bought a small cabin on a knoll overlooking the wonder of lakes and trees. They all set to work, even Derry, the youngest who was only 2 then. Chopping trees and digging foundations, fitting windows and doors, this ritual to continue year after year until by the year 200,060, it was all complete, a sprawling structure with a wraparound screened porch and steps going down to the lake where they swam and boated all summer long and where grandchildren would also eventually come to live permanently away from the New World Order.

It was now the year of 200,142, the centennial. Her youngest granddaughter was sitting beside her and leaned in to kiss her soft cheek.

Oh Granny, she said softly, looking out over the richly planted grounds and lake, great-grand papa had such vision and faith for his family and to keep us safe for ever and ever.

Well, for remaining life on this planet, said her grandmother, sighing inwardly, for she knew it was the eve of destruction and the promised rapture broadcast everywhere was just a myth.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Of Friendships.

I'm one of those women. A single woman you could trust with your husband. Consequently I have male friendships outside of the couples scenario. I make it clear to the wives that that is who I am without being pompous or declaratory. I inject into a conversation somewhere along the way that I have never fooled around with a female friend's partner. And I never would. Even though it has been done to me a few times. I know the pain of it, you see. A formerly trusted friend in the ultimate betrayal of friendship. Not to say I haven't been hit on. For I have. Many times. But I have rejected such advances and felt the utmost compassion for the friend so betrayed, knowing too that couples sometimes have an "arrangement" where such behaviours are tolerated. I am not as pure as the driven snow, though, don't get me wrong. It is just that there are certain lines I would never cross. And I view my intimate male friends as a true gift in my life and I know it is rare, as my conversations with other women bear me out.

And I honestly believe that if I was in an intimate partnership of my own, I would not have the benefit of such friendships, both male and female. There wouldn't be the room, perhaps.

R was one such friend. I met him about 25 years ago as a colleague in a large corporate environment where I had a contract and he was the vice-president. We liked books. We liked travel. We liked unsuperficial conversations. We liked writing. We liked theatre and long lunches. We had the gift of honesty with each other. He was a tall, attractive man and had travelled giving lectures in most countries of the world. When his mother died he came to me and told me he had to deliver the eulogy and didn't know what to say about her. He loved her deeply but words wouldn't come, apart from mawkish sentimentality.

I wrote him this, which he read at her funeral:

An Unremarkable Life

From the outside her life was unremarkable,
Simple, routined, unchangeable, solid.

Inside she was like the shelter from the storm,
Holding us close when our brother died
Even when her own heart was shattered
Leaving two sons when before there were three.

She found her comfort in her garden,
Her magic fingers teasing growth out of
Bulbs and cuttings and twigs,
Drowning our home in extravagant colour.

Undemanding, nurturing, a willing ear
To troubles, challenges, tragedies
Soft words offered when requested,
With gentle hugs and unwavering support.

All who come to honour her today
Would astonish her, for she was humble
In her kindness, never seeking spotlights
For her anonymous generosities.

She was my north star,
Constant, fearless, guiding, true
And she will never know the desert
Of emptiness we face without her.

Part 1

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Words for Wednesday on a Thursday.

Being out of town 'n all for a few days, I am a wee bit behind in my life and in blog reading and blog responses too. I also had bad news on Christmas Eve which I will talk about some other time. Meantime I find Words for Wednesday a most welcome distraction, thanks to River at Drifting Through Life. Feel free to join in the imaginative fun.

1. hair*
2. dissolve*
3. concertina*
4. candlesticks*
5. ribbons*
6. causeway*

and/or:

1. wizard*
2. bonfire*
3. unload*
4. beams*
5. discarded*
6. chocolate*


The house stood starkly, grey and grim, all by itself, just before you crossed the causeway. You could catch a glimpse of her as the sun, like a bonfire some nights, dissolved into the sea. She'd light the two candlesticks in the open window and play a mournful tune on the concertina. That one distant summer, us two young lads would go out there on our bikes and sit at the edge of the property on the beach and watch and listen, our pocket picnics unloaded and shared: chips, chocolate, pop. Her long auburn hair was festooned with ribbons of many colours and moved with the music in the amber light.

She'd play for hours. We'd wonder at her story, marvel at the moonbeams that would sometimes bathe her face when darkness fell. She looked like some kind of wizard, not of this world, as if she had discarded another life, like an outgrown dress, a long time ago. As we rode back home along the causeway, with the tide lapping against it, the haunting tune hitched a ride with us for a while, finally falling off into the waves.

I ran into Robert, my one-summer friend, a couple of years ago at a convention. I hadn't seem him in thirty years. After the pleasantries, I asked him about her, about our many nights on the beach, watching, wondering, making up stories about her until we had to leave, reluctantly, as parental curfews loomed.

He looked at me astonished. "You must be mixing me up with someone else," he said, "Or you've had one too many of those Scotches."