Lighting the Menorah in Texas

This is the first year that I have attended our township’s lighting of the Menorah to celebrate Chanukah. My heart was touched by the humanity of the celebration. Every ethnicity was represented, Jewish and not. We have a large population of Latin Americans so many of the Jewish people were from that continent. The Rabbi spoke beautifully with warmth and enthusiasm. As he started to light the Menorah, he asked us to think of someone close to us who needed healing. So many of us do this year. Below, the Rabbi is singing the blessings between lighting each candle, culminating in the 8th one to represent the 8 days of Chanukah.

As you can hear, it was a vibrant crowd with children running around with dreidels and shields. Some attendees were Orthodox Jews but others were Reform. There was even a lapsed Catholic with tears in her eyes remembering the community feel of her old church. The band was Hasidic and amazingly good. I will post videos in future posts but in this last video below they are singing about Chanukah.

HAPPY CHANUKAH!!

The Hawk Conundrum

I walked into the living room and wondered why I was there.  As I tried to retrace my steps in my befuddled head, I could sense someone watching me intently.  Turning around to look out the window, I spotted a beautiful red-tailed hawk sitting on the fence.  This one was fully grown with a white and brown knitted vest – very fashionable this year.  She was communing with me, as follows.

HAWK – Hello Squirrel Lady.

KERRY – Hello Magnificent Hunter of squirrels.

HAWK – May I have one of your squirrels?

KERRY – They are not available on demand but you can hunt them when I am not looking.

HAWK – Thank you.

Then it flew off, leaving me laughing.  I have started feeding the squirrels again as winter beckons and it is bloody freezing.  They are getting nice and fat at Kerry’s organic squirrel farm.  The hawk has been screeching and I wonder if there is a late born baby.  The weather has been very mild until now.  Now I listen for screeching and feed the squirrels under the chairs or bushes.  It’s a win-win.

It has been a strange week.  Today I have my first in person appointment with my psychiatrist in two years.  I was offered a job through Linked In last week but it was in Austin.  On Friday I have my first contract job since the Pandemic started – unless they cancel the flight because of the Omicron variant.  On Sunday Teddy drove off with a friend’s fully packed car and trailer to Washington State – he is currently in New Mexico or Utah.  You should have seen us physically move the trailer down our sloped drive to the awaiting car – fitter than we thought!

This is a throw back photo to a fabulous trip to Abu Dhabi where I held my first falcon. Pala was boarding at the most luxurious falcon resort until her owner went hunting with her again. Pala was worth considerably more than me… As a child and young woman I had a phobia about birds and would run screaming from a pigeon in a square. Exposure therapy really works.

Thanksgiving 2021

Was there ever a better year to thank health and care workers? On our recent trip to Natchitoches in Louisiana, we noticed little Halloween or Harvest displays by local companies along the banks of the Cane River. As we tentatively enjoyed our first vacation together since the pandemic, it struck me how much we need to thank all the people who worked relentlessly through the last two years. How grateful I am to farm workers, supermarket employees, scientists, health care workers and all the other essential workers who kept us alive and fed. Thank you!

When traveling, I love to find out something unique or whimsical about the area. Did you know there was a Creole fairy – Fee Folay? According to the sign, it is not dissimilar to our stories of Will O the Wisp. The display had a touch of Druidic charm that enchanted me.

El Camino Real, Texas

In English, El Camino Real means the King’s Highway but refers to the Spanish King, Charles II.  It stretches from Mexico City to the little town of Natchitoches in north east Louisiana – 2,500 miles in length.  I find it difficult to imagine my Spanish ancestors traversing this route with just horses that had been shipped from Europe.  Even more astonishingly it followed an existing trade and travel route used by indigenous Americans.  In 1690 Alonso de León followed the trail and consequently it became El Camino Real.  (There is another El Camino Real route in California.) The Texas route wavered at various points in time depending on relations with the local Nations and flooded rivers.  Missions were established all along the route, mostly notably the Alamo in San Antonio.  Austin and Houston were non existent at this time – strange to imagine, eh? El Camino Real was used extensively as a trade route from Mexico to Texas and Louisiana until the 19th century.  Louisiana had been settled by France in the late 1600s.

On our first little trip since the pandemic, we traveled from our home traveling north east, eventually joining El Camino Real after Lufkin.  It was my first long drive in 2 years (4.5 hours) and I was surprised how well I managed.  The road was quiet for most of the length and it went through miles and miles of Piney Wood Forest.  Most drivers were considerate – it is a simple two-lane road for most of the section near Louisiana but with a speed limit of 75 mph on long stretches.

Pendleton Bridge over the Louisiana/Texas border
Courtesy of Texas Fish and Game

I have a fear of long low bridges over water and the Pendleton Bridge tested me to my core.  I just focused on the road ahead and let Teddy enjoy the spectacular view on 2.5 miles of bridge.  You can see the bridge on the map above marked SH 6 aka El Camino Real. The center of the Sabine River is the border between Texas and Louisiana.  You have to be careful entering into Louisiana as the speed limits change and a Texas driving plate is just begging to be stopped!

Fishing Pier by Pendleton Bridge

After we crossed into Louisiana, we stopped briefly at this little village, below, named Robeline.  It was a little down at heel as are many little towns in the hinterland.  I was fascinated by the abandoned Masonic Hall which had a hand written sign.  Most halls I have seen in the States are very elaborate structures.  Robeline was the area where Louis St Denis, who established Natchitoches, led a party of missionaries and Spanish soldiers to initiate trade with the local Native Americans (Caddo Nation) in 1717.  Robeline didn’t become a village until the arrival of the rail road in the 1800s.  I wondered if it may have had a heyday but I read this quotation, on Natchitoches.net regarding Robeline, “The village also has a history of rough and rowdy crowds. Once known as “Robbers Lane” the area was full of these types of crowds.” Sounds like some places I have lived before…👀

References: Natchitoches.net, Wikipedia and Texas Fish and Game

Floral Spike with Bee

One of my most popular posts of late was Floral Spike. After reading all the comments from avid gardeners, I decided to allow my Coleus to spike even if that led to the plant’s death. My reasons were that it would likely die in the winter and that the spikes attract butterflies, hummingbirds and bees. I managed to snap this busy little bee foraging. Texas bees were ravaged by the February Freeze – about 25% died. This particular Coleus does look a little sad but she has fed so many garden visitors.

The Honey Bee, Apis mellifera Linnaeus, is upside down in the spike, trying to avoid my nosy gaze. In the last few weeks my other Lime Green and Maroon Coleus has also started to spike.

It almost looks like a Texas bluebonnet but the Coleus spikes are often blue. Like the other Coleus, I shall allow it to spike and feed our garden friends.

This Coleus grew from a tiny plant pot to this verdant bush in just 6 months and is still popping out little ones at the back. Being part lizard, I feel that winter has arrived and I am sitting with a fleece in front of the gas fire. It is 77 F outside…

Holding Hands

Don’t we look adorable?  This is my ‘cousin’ Craig and I on the wall of our boarding house (B & B) in Portrush, Northern Ireland.  It was my first vacation since we traveled from San Francisco to Europe when I was a toddler.  My mum, dad and little Kerry traveled around Europe like hobos before landing in Glasgow at Nana’s house.  Dad disappeared back to the USA and that was that.  It was hard for my mum, as a separated yet married lady, to get a decent job.  She was well qualified but unable to work for a bank (because of her marital status) despite having been a foreign exchange teller in San Francisco.

Eventually she found a strange new career as a Private Investigator for a company that would ultimately be bought out by the Pinkerton Agency.  She specialized in corporate retail fraud and was particularly gifted as she could switch accents (from UK to US).  She was also as sharp as a whip. At the agency, Mum became life long friends with a lady in a very similar position.  She too was separated from her husband, had two young boys and was living with her parents.  They bonded immediately with each other and our families.  Marie, my mum’s friend, adored my Irish Nana and my mum adored Marie’s mother who was Greek. Ironically both of them found living with their own mothers difficult, which was understandable.

The salary at the agency was below par but they saved up enough money to go to Ireland in 1964.  I was 4 and Craig was 5 years old.  I think the older brother was 8 years old.  We stayed at this lovely three-story house.  My mum and I had one room; Marie and the boys had the one next to it.  I was at a perfect age; not yet old enough to be intimidated with school and full of exuberant zest.  One evening after Marie and my Mum were having a drink in the lounge downstairs, they came up to find me in the middle of the boys’ bed.  I am certain they did not invite me…they were well behaved, shy little boys.  On another occasion, at the beach, the boys were horrified or amused when I ripped off my swimsuit and rocketed into the waves stark naked.  I can remember my mum laughing and chasing me with a towel.  This was a regular habit in our house and the phrase my mum used to keep me in line was, “The Moon will catch your bottom!”

Recently I was clearing out boxes and found old birthday cards from my ‘cousins’ when I was 5, 6 and 7 years old.  Over the years we went on at least one more joint vacation in Dumfries.  My mum and Marie often went on two-week work projects, mostly to Aberdeen and Belfast.  They must have loved being alone and yet together.  After my mum died, Marie confided in me that Mum had already started drinking too much on their trips.  Marie would leave my mum alone with her whisky while she went to bed.  There was no alcohol allowed in our house except at New Year.

I don’t think I had come across the photo above until I opened an envelope of my mum’s.  It could have been sent after her death.  If you look closely at our hands, you can see that I am firmly grasping Craig’s hand in my little paws.  We were probably told to hold hands so they could get a cute photo.  I laughed out loud, looking at the image, vaguely remembering that I snuck into bed with them.  If I was young enough for Tinder, I could have tagged myself…warm, affectionate and dominant! That irrepressible Kerry did not reappear until my late teenage years.  Below is a photo of Marie and my mum (right) on an evening out in Glasgow.

Mum on right with faithful friend

The Glasgow Dress

OASIS dress, Target belt, Ralph Lauren denim jacket (all bought 10 years ago).  New Carlos Santana suede embroidered boots.

Teddy and I went on a short road trip last week when he took this photo – more posts to follow.  I have been battling my cholesterol levels successfully and have lost weight.  It was fun to wear clothes I haven’t worn in a while and the dress has a story.  Ten years ago, I went on dreary winter trip to Scotland to see the old folks.  On a free afternoon I went to a local shopping mall to check out the stores.  I walked into a dress store and the manager greeted me with an insincere smile and welcome.  Her thoughts were, “You are in the wrong store, turn around.  Why would an ancient crone/homeless person come into my fabulous shop?”  I looked in the mirror and saw a tired, jetlagged woman with so many layers of clothes to fight the cold.

In my head I thought, “Game on, Termagant…”  The real word I thought of rhymed with Witch.  The Termagant was a very pretty lady in her late 20s with long wavy blonde hair.  She had a great little figure – a pocket Venus.  Her dress was a gorgeous navy dress with taupe banding (look familiar)?  I said, “I love the dress you are wearing.”  She stared at me as though I had lost my mind.  Did I really think I could look good in HER dress? With a slight sneer, she said, “We only have one left on the mannequin and it is an EXTRA SMALL.” “I would love to try it on if you don’t mind taking it off the mannequin…”

Well, now the Termagant was annoyed.  She summoned her minion from the back to help with this hopeless task.  The minion was a lovely girl, full of smiles and clearly didn’t like the her boss.  The minion and the ancient crone went off the fitting rooms.  Underneath the many layers of clothing, I had/have a pretty cute figure and I was particularly slim on this trip.  I came from behind the curtain like Cinderella – transformed.  The minion’s eyes opened wide with surprise, delight and the inevitable Schadenfreude.  She called out to her Termagant boss, “Look how amazing the dress looks on her!!”

Termagant’s face was a picture, ‘How could that ancient crone have a rocking body?’  Her perplexment made my day and I still have the dress, as you can see.  Keep your old stuff; fashion comes in cycles.

Ducks watching Ducks

It’s been a while since I strolled around the containment pond with my pesky eye irritation. As I rounded the curve, I could hear the panicked high pitched peeps of the whistling ducks. The parents ran away from the grass where they were nesting with babies in tow and splashed into the water. The bombproof Muscovy ducks just sat and watched with perplexment. They live here year around and are domesticated – nothing to fear from humans who feed them (and keep them warm when it snows). The whistling ducks are migratory so are pretty feral and very skittish.

This year we have a bumper crop of whistling ducks to go back to Latin America. Dozens and dozens of lovely wee non-ducks, as we call them as they are neither ducks nor geese. The ducklings are just precious little ‘stripes’. I didn’t see any Muscovy ducklings this year but I think this lot are all the same family. It’s doubtful that would stop them getting frisky, though… Red faces not red necks?

On my trek back, I got a better photo of the six Muscovy Ducks. Don’t they look dapper in their evening wear? I like the touch of taupe in the middle duck and the silver one is my favorite. They look ready for the Oscars or whatever the Duck equivalent is.

The Changeling

“Hush, Mam!” gulped Tessa. “Finn is not a changeling.”  Long held in tears welled over and Tessa sank into the fireside chair.  With concern, Tessa’s mother, turned her attention to her beloved daughter.  Her skin had a ghostly pallor and she was exhausted from the long journey from Inverselkie to her home village of Auchnagatt. “Let’s get you to bed,” said Mam “and I will look after the wee cratur.” Silently, Mam thought that she wasn’t ready to call the baby Finn or even accept him.

Tessa’s mother took her out of the damp clothes and gently helped her into the spare bed with a warming pan in it.  Tessa sighed with pleasure at the warm bed with the well-remembered eiderdown quilts.  The sheets were soft from many years washing and smelled of fresh northern air.  Within minutes she had fallen into a deep sleep.  Finn had begun fussing on the table and Mam could tell he was about to let out a wail of distress.  She rushed to comfort him so as not to wake Tessa.

“Let me give you a bosie,” and snuggled Finn into her ample bosom.  As she inhaled the precious smell of the beautiful baby, her heart began to grow tender.  Finn raised his big brown eyes to look at this new person and grasped onto her breast with fat little fingers. “Look at those eyes, ma wee bairnie!” she softly gasped, falling under his spell.  Finn gently smiled, at peace after such a stressful time.  Just then, the latch on the door turned and Tessa’s father walked in, covered in freshly fallen snow.

He cast an eye to his daughter asleep in the bed and then looked quizzically at his wife holding a strange baby. “Sit down Dad, and I will tell you everything,” entreated Mam.  Meanwhile she emptied her sewing box and filled it with her softest blankets.  Mam gently placed Finn in the box who settled down like a cat.  Over supper, Mam filled in the gaps with Dad.  His eyes widened when she told him that Finn was left in a basket outside Tessa and Thom’s door. “I think he might be a changeling,” whispered Mam.

“Ach, Mam!” exclaimed Dad with exasperation, “That’s nonsense.”  Dad persuaded Mam that it was much more likely that some unmarried woman left him at the door.  Perhaps flaxen haired Finn did have ancestor from the Viking lands? “Thom and Tessa came up with a plausible tale and we should support them,” said Dad with a note of finality.  Mam knew better to argue with Dad who was a village elder. “How is Tessa?” he asked.  Mam confided that she looked terrible and that as soon as she recovered from the arduous carriage journey, they should take her to cousin Elspeth who was a healer in the next valley.  As soon as they had received the note from Thom about Tessa contracting the White Plague again, they had sent a messenger to Elspeth to make ready.

The next morning, Tessa woke up with a start.  It took her a moment to figure out where she was.  She looked through the door and saw her father polishing up her old crib for Finn.  It had been sitting in the barn for so many years – Tessa’s eyes filled with happy tears.  Rather unsteadily, she walked into the living room and fell into her father’s welcoming open arms.  Tessa heard a gurgling and turned around to see her mother feeding a bottle of warm goats’ milk to Finn.  He was holding onto Mam’s curly hair and gazing up at her as though she was an Earth Mother.  A fleeting jab of jealousy touched Tessa but she smiled openly at the love between them.

“Granny’s wee bairnie is so hungry,” laughed Mam, spellbound by an unexpected grandchild.  Over the next few days, Tessa’s parents fed her and Finn so much food that they were visibly putting on much needed weight.  Mam was a plain but excellent cook.  Dad was a hunter so their house was filled with plenty.  Tessa eagerly ate the food of her childhood.  Jugged hare, fresh strawberry jam, porridge made with thick cream.  Finn, too, was eagerly eating everything he could lay his fat little hands on.  His new Granny’s knitting fingers flew and in no time, he had a winter layette.  Knitted breeches in all the colors of the countryside – moss green, yellow gorse and rowan red.  Tessa’s needlework skills were matched by her Mam’s knitting expertise.

Tessa had perked up with the comforts of home but she was still coughing up blood into her handkerchief.  Mam and Dad starting packing the horse and wagon and all too soon, they were ready to leave for Cousin Elspeth’s house.  Dad would accompany Tessa but Mam would stay at home with baby Finn.  As Tessa stood at the door, ready to leave, she hugged Finn a little too tightly.  He cried at the ferocity of the hug and the tension in his mother’s body.

“Come awa to Granny,” beseeched Mam, reaching out for Finn.  Somewhat reluctantly, Tessa gently handed him over, knowing that she wouldn’t see him for some months.  The White Plague treatment required months of convalescence.  Finn was oblivious to her as he happily grasped onto his Granny’s bosom.  Dad helped her into the wagon and Mam waved Finn’s little hand to say farewell to his mother.  Tessa blew kisses to him until she couldn’t see them anymore.  Her heart ached with love for Finn but she knew that he could not be in better hands.  Dad gently patted her shoulder in comfort and the next stage of Tessa’s journey began.

Postscript

This is the third chapter of a series The Fairy Gift and The Malady

My husband’s adoptive granny was ambivalent about his arrival because, after they took him home and he was unswaddled, they noticed he had an opening at the bottom of his spine – most commonly seen in spina bifida patients.  They immediately took him to the doctor who diagnosed a small abnormality of the coccyx and said it would heal if he was left unswaddled.  It completely healed but he had to have some padding on his tailbone during certain sports. Granny had beautiful brown eyes and felt a kinship to her only brown eyed grandson.  Their love was enhanced by Granny looking after him while his Mum was in the TB ward.

There is a real village of Auchnagatt in north east Scotland. We lived there in an old house in the late 1980s. The name of the village is derived from Gaelic meaning Field of the Cat/Witch. We had our first three cats – one was definitely a witch…

The Malady

It had been a few weeks since Tessa and Thom Goodwood found the beautiful baby boy on their doorstep.   All of their friends and neighbors eagerly accepted their fictitious tale that Finn was the unwanted child of Tessa’s cousin in the north.  The young couple were so warmly endearing that anyone would wish this happiness for them.  Every day, Tessa woke up with a smile on her face and ran to the crib to see her baby boy.  Finn didn’t sleep very much and both parents were worn out but felt it was a small price to pay for parenthood.  Thom spent many wakeful hours crafting wooden toys for Finn and in a flash of tired genius made rockers for the crib.  That helped Finn to drift off to sleep along with his new mother singing her favorite lullaby, ‘Green grow the rashes’.

Before long, many moons had passed.  Tessa had returned to making bridal gowns.  It was autumn so the dresses were embroidered in harvest colors.  Gold, amber, crimson and darkest copper.  In her few spare minutes, she fashioned delightful new clothes for Finn.  This had led to a new demand for children’s clothes for a Saining or other blessed occasions.  Tessa was tired to her core with the demands of a new, unexpected, baby and her tailoring tasks.  She glanced over at Finn, playing on the floor, in indigo dyed breeches with pale blue stitching to match the softly knitted jumper underneath and her heart melted once more.  It was all worth it.

One evening, Thom and Tessa were eating a simple meal of rabbit and mushrooms at the cozy kitchen table.  Tessa had a coughing fit, and Thom ran around to pat her on the back. “Are you alright, my love?” asked Thom solicitously. “I think I just need some water”, gasped Tessa. “Perhaps I swallowed a small bone?”  All was well, however, and Thom made her a warm drink of whisky and honey to go to bed with.  A few days later, Tessa was on her own with Finn when she had another coughing fit.  She covered her mouth with her handkerchief so that she didn’t cough on the baby.  Finn started crying, in distress, and she rushed to hold him to her bosom, reassuring him that his Mam was fine.

After the baby settled down, Tessa retrieved her handkerchief from her seat where she had dropped it.  She looked at it in horror, as she saw a blood stain. “The White Plague” she whispered under her breath and sat in the chair in darkness until Thom returned from the Mason’s yard.  “Why are all the lights off Tessa?” shouted Thom as he arrived home from a long day at work.  She passed him the handkerchief which he took to the fire to look at.  As soon as he saw the blood, his face became ashen.  Wordlessly, he reached out for Tessa who fell crying into his arms.

Tears fell from both of Finn’s parents’ eyes and he looked at them with worry in his big brown eyes.  Thom quietly went around the house, lighting gas lamps and putting the remains of last night’s meal on the fire.  Then he sat down with Tessa and they worked out a new plan.  Tessa had earlier been infected by the White Plague when she was 14 years old, living in their hamlet in the far north east of Alba. Her mother wisely sent her to her cousin, Elspeth, who lived in an even more remote valley who had skills as a healer.  Elspeth had helped numerous patients with the White Plague and Tessa appeared to fully recover.  There was always a chance that the malady could return.

Tessa and Thom agreed that the best plan would be for Tessa to go and stay with her mother initially, and take Finn with her.  He wrote a letter to Tessa’s mam, stamped it with his red wax seal and handed it to a messenger on the next coach headed north.  They decided not to tell Mam about Finn because it was just too complicated but did tell her about Tessa’s sickness.  Their friends and neighbors were told another white lie; that Tessa’s Mam was poorly and so she was headed home to care for her.  Before Tessa left, on the next full moon, neighbors had been delivering little pots of curd or a fresh baked soda bread so she felt assured that Thom would be looked after.  She sadly packed a bag with warm winter clothes for her and Finn.  Finn didn’t really have enough warm clothes yet but she knew her mother would quickly knit layers for the boy.

Thom and Tessa hugged each other and Finn with such love that could hardly be expressed in words.  Tessa and the baby got into the carriage.  Thom tucked a wolfskin around both of them and sadly bid them farewell.  Tessa cried silently and Finn gently pulled at her hair for comfort.  It was such a long, cold and unhappy journey to the hamlet but when she arrived, Mam was waiting with a look of such concern.  Tessa stiffly came out of the carriage with Finn fussing in her arms.  She put a finger up to her mouth to warn her mother know not to say anything.

Her mother’s eyes widened with shock but wordlessly she took Tessa’s bag and they walked into the cottage.  It was so warm inside with the delicious smell of stovies warming on the fry pan. “Let’s get you both out of those cold, damp clothes,” said Mam in a soothing, pragmatic fashion.  Tessa handed Finn to her mother who was so well wrapped up that you could only see his brown eyes. “Before you ask, Mam,” stuttered Tessa anxiously, “The bairn was left on our doorstep in a basket. Finn is a gift from the Gods.”  Meanwhile, Mam was gently unwrapping Finn from all his layers, in front of the hearty fire.  When she saw his fluff of almost silver hair and his beautiful face, she gasped. “He’s a changeling…”

Postscript

Thank you to Pixabay and Wikipedia for images and links.

The Fairy Gift is the first chapter of this series.

Shortly after my husband was adopted as a 3 month old swaddled babe, his mum caught Tuberculosis again and had to go to a TB ward. His adoptive Granny from up north had to look after him.