It started badly…

Don’t put your socks on before your nail varnish is dry

This is what happens when you paint your nails, are too impatient to wait for them to dry and then put on black socks. I guess it could be a new trend. For the past few weeks I have been hibernating so that I wouldn’t catch Covid for our first vacation overseas in almost 4 years. I was certain that I would cancel it but just kept trying to manage my anxiety by cleaning the house obsessively. In the past I was an intrepid traveler but those days have gone.

The first shock was that my passport will be out of date this February – eek! Many countries insist that you have at least 6 months left on your passport before it’s renewal date. I feverishly Googled in the middle of the night after I woke up panicked, suddenly realizing how long it was since I used my passport. Fortunately, Costa Rica will accept American visitors as long as the passport is in date. I had packed a week before the departure date choosing clothing for variable tropical weather – cold in the mountains and wet at times. Then I decided to paint my nails and you see what happened… My nails remained bare.

Our Uber arrived early and we sped to the airport, negotiating it easily despite the current construction. The fully packed flight left on time despite the airline pleas for people to take another flight as it was initially overbooked. The passengers were an eclectic bunch – many had connected at Houston from Europe and further afield. Most were meeting guided tours but we were staying in San Jose with one planned trip to an animal sanctuary, not a zoo, with SLOTHS!!!

Brown Lump otherwise known as a Tayra,

a fast moving member of the stoat family

The plane arrived on time and we breezed through Inmigracion. I struggled with my bad Spanish but noticed that everyone else just spoke English. It’s polite to at least try to speak the nation’s language or apologize for not doing so. At the luggage belt one of our bags turned up quickly but the other was MIA. I spoke to the United agent and she said the luggage had arrived. She suggested one of the customers might have taken it but I doubted that because it had multi-colored ribbons on it and a luggage tag. After a panicky wait, she got a call from the ground staff – it probably fell of the luggage cart and was retrieved from the runway.

My anxiety was rising but it was okay – we got the bag! Thrifty is my middle name so happily discovered that Ubers were available in Costa Rica but not legal. We walked past the taxis and followed the directions of the staff to the Ubers. It was complicated and incorrect. Our Uber app worked however and Jesus was on his way in a white Chevy. He arrived but we couldn’t see him. I passed my phone to a security officer who described me and where I was. Ropa azul (blue clothes) Blanca (ethnicity) and something else that made her chuckle. I suspect it was something referring to Gringas. We waited and waited to no avail. Then the app stopped working.

Fuzzy sloth in a hammock

Equally fuzzy hair of the person in front of me

We had to go all the way back to the taxis and pay more than I wanted to. Our driver spoke no English but chatted happily in Spanish. The driving was a tad erratic – traffic lanes were more of a suggestion. It reminded me of Egypt where they made five lanes out of three. Then the skies opened and a deluge of rain started that made the driving more interesting. I understood that our driver was blaming the California weather event for this unusual rain. January is the dry month, in theory. He asked if we were going on any trips and I told him about the animal sanctuary. For the rest of the time we were going to explore San Jose. He asked why??? My mood was dipping.

Finally we got to our beautiful hotel with a fantastic view from our luxurious 10th floor room to the mountains and city. There was a faint smell of food that may have been from the vents but it was the last straw. I told Teddy that I wanted to go straight back home and he sat dejectedly on the bed. I started unpacking and slowly calmed down. Eventually we went out for a wee walk and got some local currency at a bank. We had been worried about food because of Teddy’s restricted diet so ate at the hotel that first night.

There was a Hollywood ending! The food was delicious, no more rain just glorious sunshine and the friendliest people. San Jose was a delightful city with amazing museums. We loved the animal sanctuary and even went to see one of the volcanos. More blogs to come with some decent photographs…but don’t you love my outtakes?

Sloth in a bucket who refused to come out

No Resolutions until February!

As a world-weary sexagenarian, (why does that sound better than it is?) I feel fully qualified to give the advice in the title.  I no longer make resolutions of any kind – it just puts too much pressure on poor old January and me.  It’s a dark and miserable month unless you live in the equator or upside-down world beneath.  Many of us have struggled through dysfunctional family get-togethers or excruciating company parties.  We need to give ourselves a break in January.

I had an otherworldly experience when I was working a corporate holiday event in December.  It felt like Christmas Present looking at Christmas Past.  The executives had the lackluster expressions of people who had been to one corporate function too many, aspirational middle managers were wearing expensive togs and eager to please faces, the bottom rung looked nervously excited but ready to party.  There were spray tans, tight fitting outfits revealing too much flesh on a perishingly cold evening and the inevitable Holiday Sweaters.  Some were not ugly at all…and at least they were warm.

When Teddy and I first moved to Houston, he was on the aspirational ladder.  Our first company ball was downtown and it was formal dress.  We floated in a sea of unfamiliar faces until someone we knew appeared.  They seemed eager to interact with us until a more important executive appeared.  Then they rudely ditched us like hot potatoes.  We sat at a table of strangers, drank too much and had fun.  That was the last Holiday Formal that we ever attended.  When Teddy retired, we donated his tuxedo and my long dresses to the thrift store.  I hope they made good Halloween costumes.

This Christmas I watched the folks at this fancy corporate event blithely drink until they reeked of liquor.  The wee devil on my shoulder thought, ‘enjoy that hangover’ but the angel said, “Merry Christmas!”  I write with the smugness of a newly converted Catholic (substitute Mormon, Buddhist or Wiccan) who has signed the pledge.  Too bad it took me until now to figure out that alcohol is not my friend.  Ever since Teddy’s various cardiac events we have been on the straight and narrow.  Our regime has been so successful that our black work outfits were hanging off us like elderly crow feathers.

I still cringe with memories of drinking or eating too much, then feeling terrible.  Sometimes I said something deeply inappropriate or blacked out (don’t take alcohol with psychiatric medication).  Every January I would sign up at Weight Watchers or at least think about it.  Lists would be written with instructions to myself on how to make my life better.  If only I could be slimmer, prettier or smarter then life would be perfect. Next year I would find the right career (substitute house, partner or friend) for me.

Who says that January is the start of the New Year?  Pope Gregor has much to answer for… We  could celebrate Persian New Year, Nowruz, in March.  January is a good month to just – BE.  Relax, eat a few more chocolates and have that glass of wine.  Allow yourself to wallow a little.  In Scotland we embrace maudlin thoughts of Auld Lang Syne on New Years’ Day.  Use January to slowly form embryonic goals that are realistic.  Read a book and listen to old records.

By the time it comes to February you might feel ready to embrace a new routine.  A planned vacation might inspire some language skills. My least favorite phrase is ‘hit the ground running’.  It brings back terrible memories of the colleague from hell who also plastered our office walls with those ridiculous aspirational posters.  There is no rush in life; it all ends the same way so why hurry? 

The last thing I wanted to do in retirement was cook meals from scratch.  I envisioned long boozy lunches with other retired friends, sometimes in exotic places.  Then the Pandemic happened.  Life seemed to stop and after a while I stopped drinking too much, ate properly – and felt much better.  Who knew?  Some years ago, I wrote and published a book.  It was my lifelong dream but I still felt dissatisfied.  But life’s good enough.  For the first time in ages, I feel content.  I went to a tiny holiday party in our street and probably talked too much but who cares?  ‘I yam what I yam’ – quoting Popeye, the great philosopher. 

I am thinking about learning to knit properly, use my sewing machine and painting Christmas cards for next year.  If I do any of those tasks, it will because the psychiatrist suggests a fancy new drug that makes me as high as a kite…  I will settle for trying new recipes, a couple of short trips away, a contract or two and life will be good.  Look after yourselves in the deep midwinter and may 2023 be gentle on us.

Christmas Memories

Every Christmas, I create a little pink shrine in memory of my mum.  In another life she could have been an interior designer with a great eye for style.  Years ago we could only afford an artificial silver tree and simple baubles from Woolworths.  Somehow Kathleen, my mum, managed  to turn the tree into a work of art with a magical ‘snow’ village at the base.  I think she brought some unique ideas from her years living in the USA.  Over the years the tree became barer but she cleverly disguised this with silver tinsel.

After I was married, she gifted me all the original decorations except the pink and silver baubles.  My aunt in San Francisco had died and left her siblings a small legacy.  It was enough for my mum to buy new sofas, curtains and carpet for the living room.  It was a tasteful mix of pink and white – so the Christmas tree had to match.  My mum barely survived on a disability pension for her chronic mental illness.  Although I said nothing, I was irritated that she had spent all the legacy on luxury and didn’t save any of it.  It took me back to my teenage years when I used my scholarship money to buy the extended family gifts just to ‘save face’.  I felt that she should have at least offered me a part of the legacy (which I would have refused) to make up for the worst years of neglect.

I inherited the pink and white baubles after she died in 2002.  They included a hilarious yet sad collection of cigarette packets which she had covered in luminous white craft paper and wrapped in pink ribbon (to resemble tiny wrapped gifts).  At least there were no little miniature whisky bottles.  I am quite sentimental and our little tree is decorated with the old family decorations and others that we have collected on our travels.  There are red Peruvian engraved seed balls and little camels from Abu Dhabi.

I have some wonderful memories of Christmas, before and after my mum’s mental breakdown.  We lived with her mother, Nana, and she stabilized life.  Our whole extended family would gather on Christmas Day and it was really enjoyable, although there may have been the regular undercurrents at family reunions.  It couldn’t have been easy for a defeated married woman to live under her mother’s house again but they got on quite well given the circumstances.

One Christmas I caught them both laughingly knitting tiny clothes together.  I was chased up to bed but on the 25th, I unwrapped a beautiful French baby doll with an adorable knitted layette.  The gift was ostensibly from Santa Claus but I had spotted the busy elves who made her clothes.  I wonder how many hours they spent knitting the layette with love and affection.

Another year, my mum, Nana and uncle (who still lived at home) collaborated on decorating a dolls house.  My mum flirted with carpet salesman to get sample books for tiny rooms.  My uncle put in electricity, then they fully decorated it with furniture and wallpaper.  It was occasionally a little fraught in our house with two adult siblings living together with their mother and ‘the child’, but they shared a delight in giving me the best Christmas they could.  Sometimes they could have been a bit more practical as I often had holes in the soles of my shoes, filled with cardboard.  In retrospect, my inner child would always have preferred the magical Christmas gifts.  My uncle was very good at paying for my expensive ‘special’ shoes since I was born with a club foot.

Then there were the bad years.  Nana had died and it was just me and Mum who was considerably more unwell.  Too much of our household income went on cigarettes and booze.  I was ashamed of our deteriorating situation and went to great lengths to save money for Christmas.  The gifts I received then were essentials – night wear, bath products, gloves and hats.  I have no memory of the gifts my mum and I exchanged at that time.  Eventually she stopped drinking but kept smoking and got her finances in order.  I was proud of her for achieving that but still resentful of the unhappy times.

I left home as soon as I could; met and married Teddy in under a year.  Miraculously, Christmas became delightful again.  Teddy and I are both only children, so we decided that we would always celebrate Christmas together – his mum and dad, my mum and us.  His parents were aware of the previous circumstances and were so generous.  For years there was a mountain of presents under the tree, many for my mum.  We reciprocated as best we could.  After a few years, I took over hosting Christmas and everyone traveled to our house.  My mum had started getting obsessive about having a perfect Christmas; it had to be the perfect Xmas pudding or side dish.  She relaxed when she was in my house and the vibe was calmer.  Then Teddy’s mum started behaving strangely with paranoia and obsessiveness.  It was the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.  Around this time, I finally was diagnosed with a mental illness – a mixture of OCD, anxiety and depression.  Talk about a dysfunctional family!

I managed to keep up the tradition of family Christmas for about 20 years until my mum suddenly died.  To this day, I still feel relief that I don’t have to stress about Christmas.  All the planning would take a toll of my health.  Even arranging our simple Christmas decorations can wipe me out.  I do miss my mum but not at Christmas.  It is a struggle not to become morose, dwelling on some deeply unhappy occasions with too much liquor and harsh words.  Before she died, we spoke to each other every day.  I miss talking about simple stuff; shopping plans, what color suits me best, sharing gossip and her excellent advice (that she rarely followed).

I create the little pink shrine to honor her love for me and mine in return.  Both wavered at times but that’s life.  There is no need for forgiveness but sometimes I wish I could forget more.  Teddy and I still laugh at my mum’s craziness at Christmas time – we named her the Christmas Nazi.  To be honest, I have inherited her irritating ‘everything has to be perfect’ traits.  Learned or inherited; who knows?

If you take anything from this post, please to be kind to yourself.  No great expectations, lots of laughter to distract from uncomfortable family conversations and most of all LOVE.  It doesn’t matter if you are on your own, volunteering , going out to a swanky restaurant or surrounded by a gaggle of relatives.  Teddy will be volunteering with wolves on the 25th and I will stay in my dressing gown all day.  We will watch a movie or two and eat too much sugar.

Rest in peace, my dear complicated and special mum.  May you be surrounded by beautiful pink baubles in the hereafter.

Mum on the right with her sister Gretta in Miami

The Critters were sad…

It was one dead animal too many and the time had come to deconstruct our deck. We loved that all the critters had a place to shelter but inevitably some crawled under and then passed over the rainbow bridge. I never thought I would have a use for all the terms I learned on the TV show CSI – Crime Scene Investigation, regarding decomposition. Three skunks, one squirrel and a raccoon leg – that’s almost a Christmas song…

When we moved into the shiny new house, 18 years ago, we were lucky enough to get one of the model homes. Granite countertops and fully landscaped back yard. It had grass that was utterly alien to me. In Scotland I had a yard the size of a field that I seeded and mowed. This Saint Augustine’s grass was as tough as old boots, killed the first lawnmower and had to go. We replaced the grass with little pebbles and bull rock and everything was wonderful. That is until, Toffee, our baby cat, decided that the little pebbles was ‘outside’ cat litter. She buried her poos, very carefully, but her toxic digestive system turned the rock green. We shared a parasite or two with the cats from Egypt.

What to do? We had a cat fence installed (think penitentiary boho chic) and then a deck within that area. The first deck was fantastic! The fence and cats prevented most visitors venturing under the deck. One special day, Mrs. Stripe touched noses with a Mama Raccoon – both were fascinated with each other. The deck lasted past the death of all three cats and the removal of the cat fence that was donated to an animal sanctuary. We lovingly maintained and painted it to match the house. Then the harsh Texas elements started to destroy the wood and the first critter died under it.

Our handyman deconstructed the much larger, original, deck and built a newer, smaller deck. It was nice but never quite as perfect as the first one. Every time the planks had to be removed (for locating dead bodies) and then replaced, it took a toll on the deck wood. When we were younger, it didn’t seem such a big deal; hilarious even. I managed to retrieve the squirrel corpse with yoga poses and a stick. Now there is not enough Celebrex in the world to make me bend like that.

We thought that the original concrete deck might be damaged but it was almost perfect. Manuel power-washed it and it looked amazing. Then our gardener came in and reset all the original boulders, graded the ground, replaced the little pebbles, added some rock and new cedar mulch. Teddy took me out for lunch and took a shot of me, below, in the perfect new yard. Teddy refers to my spotted Calvin Klein coat as my ‘Bet Lynch’ coat…only the Brits will get that but substitute any reality housewife. I have since painted the deck with stain called ‘Adobe’ and it looks exactly as it sounds.

But the critters were sad. Our beloved ‘Tail’ family of squirrels disappeared during the construction. They all had a genetic abnormality with their tails – we called them ‘Half’, ‘Three Quarters’ and the original girl, ‘Tail’. Naming animals is not our forte – we had one cat called Puss. We missed our little friends but then a new family moved in – the Floofs! They have full fluffy tails, glossy fur and bright white spots on their ears. Unlike our ‘Tails’, they run away when I open the door to give them peanuts but soon return. Then, one happy day last week, ‘Three Quarters’ returned! She sat and waited as I found a snack for her. We keep hoping that all the Tails return.

All three of our Egyptian cats are buried in our garden. I hope they approve of the new garden. RIP baby cats.

Toffee on our mantelpiece
Mrs. Stripe, the matriarch
Zhenny at 2 years old in Cairo

A Gentle Autumn

Teddy and I went out to lunch in our township’s downtown. This is the view from the bridge above the canal. Fall comes gently in the south, if we are lucky. When there is a hurricane, all the leaves are blown away.

Yesterday I visited our pond across the road and it was bitterly cold. This beautiful heron was hunting in the marsh.

Every so often there is an odd tree or bush that is vividly colored and gives a real autumnal pop!

The sun was shining on the water but they avoided the cold water. They always wag their tails like dogs when they see me. I am just as happy to see them. If only I had a tail…

HAPPY THANKSGIVING

Thankful…

As Thanksgiving approaches, there doesn’t seem like much to be thankful for this year with ‘Winter is Coming’ fuel shortages, war, pestilence, inflation, climate change and all the other stuff we are worried about.  Take self-centered me, for example – my newish bikini razor broke and I couldn’t find the receipt.  I took out all my receipts and had a mini meltdown.  All the numbers on the receipts blurred and I became panicked – about something that cost less than $20.  I really struggled to find my sensible head but wonky head was in control.  As always, I calmed down eventually, but I was shaken.  The unimportant broken razor was just the catalyst for how I am feeling.

I am not alone but my worries are ridiculous and magnified by my mental illness.  The city of Kherson in Ukraine has just been liberated from the Russians who destroyed all their infrastructure as they left.  Yet, the residents were smiling and thankful.  Perspective always helps to settle my mind so I make sure I read the world news every day.  My aunt in Ireland told me that the government has asked local authorities, businesses and households to ration energy use and Christmas lighting displays.

Inflation makes us anxious in the US but it is running at around 85% in Turkey.  It’s a post pandemic global issue and the US is about average compared to other first world countries.   I just received a check from the UK for £1000 – once converted, it was only $1000.  That’s never happened!  The fact that I was fortunate enough to receive a check for $1000 should have made me thankful…  As a child I was so happy to receive a $20 note in a birthday card from aunts in the USA.  The concept of money was beyond me but I remember the excitement of going to the Rutherglen Post Office to change it into UK pounds.

Last week I wrote a draft post about having chronic fatigue but then the clocks changed back and I am not tired all the time.   Two weeks ago, I could not walk around our circular street without being exhausted.  We had Covid in the summer so perhaps that’s part of it.  The ugly truth is that it is nearly always my aggravating mental ill health that causes or exacerbates my other physical complaints.  It has been a stressful health year for us but nothing out of the ordinary for older people.  Maybe ageing is stressful?

Twitter might be bankrupt soon and Meta, aka Facebook, is failing.  Have we finally realized that social media is a potentially toxic entity, especially when managed by ethically dubious people? I have usually lived in small communities and when I heard a tantalizing piece of gossip, there was that initial thrill.  Then I assessed it and hopefully made a sensible decision about repeating it.  In a perfect world, I would not have repeated it but I am human!  Is there anything more fun than sharing a juicy titbit with a friend over coffee?  These days, there is less ‘wife swapping’, and more ‘he is in a wheelchair now’ tales.  There is a difference between salacious gossip and keeping a community connected.

Most of us are now personally affected by climate change.  This summer was just too hot and I struggled.  It affected my mood being unable to go out for a walk because of the heat or dangerous UV radiation.  Some of my neighbors got up at 7 am to take their dogs out but I just couldn’t manage that.  Last week winter arrived and it was 40 F today but it was 82 F yesterday.  That’s a huge change for big critters and little ones.  Teddy and I talk aimlessly about living somewhere more temperate but remember how much we disliked the cold in northern Europe.  Nowhere is perfect.

I remember bitterly cold nights in Scotland, as a child.  Window panes frozen with delicate patterns.  On the worst nights every blanket or eiderdown was used on the beds – with winter coats atop.  Back then, I didn’t have such an aversion to cold.  We had very old flannel sheets that we used in the winter.  They were darned, as mine are now.  Electric blankets weren’t commonplace so we put rubber hot water bottles in the beds, moving them from the middle to the bottom before slipping into bed.  Heaven!  My flannel sheets are so old that they feel a bit rough on your skin – maybe I could sell them as a body exfoliation product?  This summer, I bought expensive new flannel sheets on sale.  Once you go ‘Lands End’ you can’t go back…

Last week, I told the pharmacist that I was going to kill my husband and I think she believed me.  We finally switched to Affordable Health Care aka Obama Care from our work sponsored medical insurance.  Teddy spent months planning it so the transition would be smooth.  My bill for cheap, generic medication was $92.  What the heck?  The insurance wasn’t working because I had the wrong birthdate on the policy.  We assume that it was a Scottish accent problem…  The worried pharmacist did a magic trick with coupons and reduced the bill to $13.   Teddy was working at the wolf sanctuary so I didn’t want to call him in case he had another cardiac event. 

Then I called healthcare.gov (pause for a joint sigh of despair) but it was okay.  I had to swear on my first-born cat’s life that I was not committing a felony and sold my soul to somebody.  It will take a few weeks for it to be sorted and it was not the end of the world.  So, with that in mind, this is what am I thankful for –

  • I have healthcare of any type
  • There is enough money for food
  • We can heat or cool the house
  • My illness is manageable
  • I live in a democracy
  • Thrift shops are my happy place
  • Loving friends and family
  • There is a roof over my head

Let’s keep our wishes simple, our gratitude real and be generous with time or money for those who have less than us.  That can be rescued wolves or homeless people.  If you don’t feel good or need help, share it with someone you trust.  It’s not necessary or normal to be happy all the time.  Keep some perspective about real world problems.  Be kind to as many species as possible.  Mother Earth will thank you!

This one’s for the boys…

… and all the lady train geeks like me! The bright red engine looks so festive. We often put my husband’s childhood train set around the bottom of the Christmas tree. Below is the historic sign for the beautiful art deco but defunct train station in Galveston, Texas. Much like parts of Britain, many train lines were discontinued when cars where in common use. Our township is surrounded by train lines but they only carry freight these days. It’s quite normal to wait for 20 minutes for a train to pass with endless freight carriages. I still love the sound of a train whistle on a quiet night.

As you can see, it was part of the Santa Fe railroad network. As a child, I watched so many American movies with trains, especially Westerns. Just the name Santa Fe Railroad gives me goosebumps, imagining the vistas as you crossed prairie and mountains. We live between Houston and Dallas, and Amtrak still runs passenger trains between the cities. The nearest working station is 40 miles away from us so I doubt we will ever use the current train system.

The museum had ‘populated’ the station with plaster model passengers and it helped to show how glamorous the train station was back in it’s hey day. There are some beautiful art deco buildings and hotels in Galveston – it’s amazing that they have survived so many hurricanes.

The mail sorting rail car was the most exciting part of the museum. It was so perfectly restored after Hurricane Ike damaged it. I loved the idea that the train didn’t have to stop while picking up the mail – and wondered if this technique ever failed!

The Route of the Zephyrs sounds like a dream. I have flown over all of these places and visited some of them. It’s certainly a fascinating view of the vast differences in American landscapes. From steamy, subtropical Houston to pretty Denver surrounded by snow-tipped mountains. Amarillo is my favorite place on the list with the best canyon in Texas.

As we approach Remembrance Day or Veteran’s Day as it is known in the US, on Friday 11th November, may we remember all the servicemen and women who perished in war.

Talk Therapy

Life has been busier than normal recently.  My husband was scheduled for a cardiac procedure but after much thought he decided to cancel and/or delay it.  At the same time, a family member from Scotland was coming to visit us in Texas.  I haven’t seen my family in over 3 years and was so excited about his visit.  Every part of the house was cleaned, over and over again.  Anticipation, stress and then fatigue…  In a brief Zen moment, I lingered in the discount corner of our local supermarket.  It had been stocked with wonderful organic potions that caught my interest.  Then, I was aware that another shopper was hovering nearby.

“Gosh, I am so sorry!”, I said. “Please come in and have a browse – I can’t make up my mind which wrinkle cream to choose.”  She was a pretty younger woman in her 40’s, perhaps?  I noticed she was very slim and looked a bit harassed, although smiling.  Inevitably, we started chatting about various bargains we had gotten at our two supermarkets’ discount corners.  We both had found fabulous discontinued products that we later had to hunt for on Amazon and pay full price for the second purchase.  Then she asked me if any wrinkle creams work.  I started laughing, pointing at my face and saying, “Of course they don’t!”

Suddenly, the conversation took a turn.  The lady said, “I have aged so much over the last 2 years since my husband left me.”  My counselling skills automatically clicked on so I just adjusted my gaze and fully focused on her.  “He won’t leave me alone but it was his choice to leave.  I guess he has to see the children.”  I hope I chose the right words and soothed her somewhat but she saddened me.  The Pandemic has been bad enough without a separation or divorce.  It is often easier to talk to an anonymous lady about deeply personal problems.  While I am honored that she picked me but I hope she has someone else to talk to.  Or perhaps a blog?

Our family visitor came for a lovely but brief visit.  We went out to dinner at a local restaurant and I ate gluten, wheat and walnuts.  That gave me gas that was incredibly painful, if laughable.  Note to self; keep to your sensible diet or suffer the consequences.  My cousin is our genealogist and we had great fun looking at old photographs.  We currently have a mystery about our great grand-parents.  We both thought they had lived their whole lives in Ireland at the farm but an Ancestry DNA link is intimating that they moved to Maine (I have a photo of great grandma taken in Rhode Island) and then went back to Ireland.

My cousin had jet lag, woke up at 5 am and I found him reading out on our deck when I got up.  He said there was an odd smell wafting from the deck.  Aghast, I looked beside him and there were glittery decomposition flies – gah!  All that cleaning and my guest is sitting next to a (very small) dead body on our equivalent of a Body Farm.  I blame Baby Cooper Hawk.  Did he drop injured prey on our deck that fled under the deck?  So…I have asked our handyman to come and dismantle the deck.  We are getting too old to deal with our Body Farm so we will have it dry landscaped.

After Cousin left, I lazed around for a couple of days before going to early voting at the library.  When I arrived, there was a small queue outside but the weather was glorious – not humid or warm.  Two very elderly people with sticks were asked if they would like to jump the line but the old man said he had nothing else to do anyway.  Then he told all of us (about a dozen) that his wife had died recently and life was difficult.  We all made reassuring noises (and I felt sad again…)  Another lady about the same age told us she was glad that her husband died before her and her eyes welled up with tears!

So many people need some talk therapy these days or just a cozy chat.  The lady right in front of me then turned around to chat to me about the electoral process.  Did I look knowledgeable?  She asked me how mail-in voting works and is it secure?  I said I had no idea and hoped she didn’t hear my accent behind my mask.  I was the only person wearing a mask.  This brings me to my favorite funny story about voting in the States.

Some years ago, British friend of mine, in Texas, went to vote in our township.  The election worker noted her English accent and asked to see her ‘papers’, despite her voting card and driving license.  This provoked my friend to say, rather sharply, “I have been an American citizen for 30 years and this is the first time anyone has asked to see my papers”.  Quite rightly, she was outraged at the query, especially since the greater Houston area has a wide array of legal immigrants – many first generation with accents.  Unfortunately, for the election worker, there was a lady with a strong Russian accent behind my friend.  Her comment was, “This place like Stalingrad!”  (You have to read it with the accent.) My friend and the Russian/American lady bonded, they voted and we all lived happily ever after in our suburban bubble. 

Keeping smiling at people and chatting.  You never know who might need a shoulder right now.

Update – Manuel deconstructed the deck. It was a decomposing raccoon leg – a perfect Halloween scene and mystery. Who ate the rest?? Not Baby Cooper but perhaps a hungry possum. The circle of life…🦝

Holy Shrimp Boats!

Do you see the name of the boat? It is named after our current Roman Catholic Pope, Francis II – the first Pope to hail from the Americas. Argentina, to be precise. This is the harbor at a magical little fishing port, Palacios about halfway between Houston and Corpus Christi, Texas. The majority of the population is Hispanic, some white and minority of Vietnamese who migrated to Palacios for the shrimping. The names of the boats reflected their heritage.

If you zoom in on this boat coming into harbor, you will see that the owner is Vietnamese. He was waving at us very enthusiastically as we snapped images of him. It was the end of a very long shift for him and hopefully a good catch. Palacios is not a tourist trap so perhaps he was intrigued by the Paparazzi. Our respective grandparents were farmers and fishermen, so we are drawn to working harbors and the countryside.

Why does he always walk into my shots???

We stopped at the pretty main drag to get a lovely cup of coffee. I have a theory about why coffee tastes so much better in remote places. The water is better and the milk fresher, perhaps? Some of the cafes we stopped at have a Mission connection to a small coffee farm in Latin America. Coffee that’s good for your soul. In the school vacations I used to see groups of Texan youth going to Missions in remote places of central America – better than playing video games all summer.

The boat’s names were an intriguing mix of Texican, Spanish and Vietnamese. Palacios has been home to the indigenous Karanwaka natives, then the Spanish conquistadors, French and finally the other Europeans. It is satisfying to see that Vietnamese refugees found a new community in the most unlikely of places.

Then I spotted this random dude that I fancied… I am so proud of my Teddy for losing all his excess weight and getting healthy. He is easy on the eyes too. 💗

Knitted Pantaloons

I was all set, getting ready to leave the house to go to the Dentist. Then I saw a flicker of gray in the garden and crept to the window. It was a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk, resplendent in knitted pantaloons. If I was little, I would ask my Nana to knit me a stuffed Hawk just like this one.

The Juvenile was very skittish and as I went to get my camera out of the drawer, I noticed a squirrel staring intently at the hawk from the fence. Part of me wanted to warn the squirrel but I really wanted a photograph… We have plenty of squirrels and this one was curious, not scared! Baby Cooper posed so nicely for me, showing off her fabulous plumage. I need to get an outfit of taupe and steel gray now.

Eventually, I made a noise as I was trying to poke the camera through the Venetian blinds and the hawk flew off straight into the squirrel. My heart was in my mouth wondering what would happen next but the feisty squirrel fluffed up her fur like a cat and terrified Baby Cooper. They eat much smaller prey than squirrels. Our squirrel stood her ground, saying, “That is MY Nut Mom and MY garden.”

Please come visit us again, little hawk! I want to see those yellow feet…and those fluffy pantaloons.

EXCITING UPDATE

When I went out on the walking path yesterday, I met Baby Cooper! She sat in her tree while I have a one side conversation with her. There is an open invitation for her to visit my yard.