My simple holiday decor

Many years ago I had a 7ft Christmas tree decorated with endless ornaments, some antique, with snow, a village and a train underneath! Now I can’t maneuver a giant tree out of the attic and some of the excitement of the holiday season has disappeared with less relatives and animals on this earthly plane.  The boxes of baubles make me feel sad, however, so I try to spread them all over the house.  Our bedroom above is decorated in blues, beige and a touch of pink – so are the baubles.

Even my perfume tray in the bathroom has a cat angel – why not??

Teddy has a maritime penchant so the other bathroom is decorated in blue.

Chandeliers are decorated – even the sparkly rocks are festooned in tinsel (Teddy is a geologist)

Teddy’s study (below) has to be decorated…

…and then mine (this sketch was drawn by my employer when I was 21)

Just add a Swedish Horse to add some color to the brass candles with Norwegian candles.  The clock, a wedding gift to Teddy’s parents in 1948, is always at 1.50 pm because the humidity killed the mechanism.

Even the spare bedroom is not ‘spared’…  Teddy painted the landscape many moons ago.

This is my Nana’s beloved walnut glass cabinet brightly lit by a glass container filled with red baubles and lights.


This year was going to be treeless because it doesn’t seem like Christmas without cats ripping off ornaments or peeing in the ‘snow’.  Then I felt compelled to decorate a tiny little tree and I love it.  I hope you have enjoyed my homespun little tour – it doesn’t have to look like an interior designer was involved for it to feel like the HOLIDAYS!

 

Black Friday

Kerry wearing Vera Wang faux leather leggings with a bedazzled jerkin from the airport in Vegas and ancient faux leather biker boots.

For all you crazy Black Friday people – this is how you shop.  You get an overwhelming need for black pleather leggings, you look around the shops and then find a pair on sale a few days before Thanksgiving.  You can call them Vegan Leather but that’s just pretentious – it’s faux leather or cheap plastic as my Nana would say…

Teddy had mentioned that he liked the idea of pleather pants (he is a sensual Taurus and loves stroking materials/me).  I swithered about a 59 year old woman wearing them but What The Hell.  I worked hard for this figure so I am going to flaunt it.  On my first foray to the shops, the very kind assistant had to keep bringing me smaller sizes because I can’t mentally see how slim I am.  Curiously, the fluffy lady in the cubicle next to me had to ask for sizes 2 up.  Mirrors truly are magical.  The assistant had to finally tell me that pleather had to be tight with no wrinkles.

To start off Thanksgiving Day, Teddy and I settled down to binge on the Man in the High Castle – instantly hooked.  By episode 2 we were shouting commands to each other in fake German.  Somehow my outfit fitted into a Dystopian, militaristic future.  At 3.30 pm we went off to our local restaurant which was packed with couples and families who couldn’t bear cooking.  It is a posh steakhouse and I would guess that 5% of the guests had dressed up.  Isn’t that part of the joy of going somewhere nice?  The Latinos were dressy and some young beauties but there was far too many casual jeans with sloppy tops.  Bring back dress codes!

I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving and be kind on Black Friday.  We were a little sad about no kitty cats or family but it is just one day and tomorrow is full of promise.

 

 

 

Almost Tropical Autumn

Technically, we live in the sub-tropics in the Piney Wood ecosystem, Texas.  I think I prefer Almost Tropical and to illustrate – we go from Hot as Hades to Freeze your Ass off.  Yesterday a cold front came in and unusually we have some autumnal foliage.  Most years a hurricane or storm system blows off the leaves before they can change color.

This is my walking path just at the end of my ‘hood’.  It is so lovely at this time of year with less sunscreen/warm sweaters needed.  You can always tell the recent snowbirds.  They wear shorts all year round and look at my layered sweaters with disbelief.  Having to communicate or at least wave to everyone on the walking path also causes them some consternation.  Bless their hearts…

Usually this display of copper and gold would warm my heart but the Grinch has stolen it.  My depression has been getting better but the time change has messed with my brain.  For the last few months the driving in our town had improved after an obvious police/trooper/constable presence.  Even my ice cold heart was warmed by seeing jackasses in trucks/Mercedes getting tickets or at least a scolding.  On Wednesday I had to return to my trusty physiotherapist because my right arm is sore and numb.  In route back home, I encountered a weaver in a truck.  Three lanes of traffic, going about 50 mph, and yet he felt he could get three cars ahead by weaving in and out of traffic dangerously. He swerved right in front of me and something broke in my brain.  To preface this, honking your horn is almost unheard of down here.  I put my hand on the horn and left it there.  All the lanes seemed to back away from me and I was left in a solitary bubble of road rage.  The next day the police were back and schadenfreude overtook me as I watched car after car getting booked.

Now I am less sore and grumpy, the Grinch has retreated and I am enjoying the autumnal leaves once more.  I even went to the mall to get my Nordstom’s coffee and enjoyed the repartee with the Israeli soap sellers.  Sometimes it drives me crazy and I feel like I have never left the souk.  Can someone tell me how to say, “Stop bothering me” in Hebrew?  Nothing too rude…their employers probably make them use persistent sale tactics.

Northerners laugh at us when we complain about almost freezing temperatures but we are acclimated to a long summer of hot and steamy.  It is usually in the high 90’s but the humidity shoots up the heat index.  When the first cold front arrived the temperature shot down by about 50 degrees.  Today it is bloody freezing and the heating isn’t working – eek!  I phoned our contractor in a panic and they are coming out in an hour even though it is Saturday.  My neurological issues and low blood pressure makes me feel really unwell when I am cold.  The gas fire is on and the space heater, too.

The other week I spotted something strange and big in the garden.  I racked my brain until I realized it was an old Great Horned Owl nest which had collapsed – it was about 3 feet across.  They usually steal someone’s else’s but it was huge and very nicely lined with a plastic grocery bag and pine needles.  Everyone is recycling these days. 🦉

 

Weird Wednesday

Yeah, it’s perfectly normal to see a tame black vulture on a beat up truck in backwoods Texas…

Teddy is really blowing kisses at a camel – we miss them so much!  It’s also hump day.  Happy Wednesday!

This lovely Ankole-Watusi who has the largest horns in the bovine world made me cry with laughter.  Teddy has normal OCD and his crazy fear is sticky hands/stuff.  This glorious critter was so excited to see his first guests at Franklin Safari park that as soon as I took the photo, he leaned in and DROOLED!  It was filling up the side pocket of the car…and Teddy was beginning to panic.  Once I stopped laughing we gently rolled the window up and I passed over the disinfectant wipes that I have to carry for Teddy.  He was torn between his delight at being so close and his horror at the drool.

Only one of us could ever live at a farm…

Modern Love on Prime Streaming – a review

Anne Hathaway
courtesy of Wikipedia

 

This is my first review of anything on TV but one particular episode on this new Prime series, Modern Love, resonated so deeply with me that I had to share it.  The particular episode # 3, ‘Take me as I am, whoever I am’ stars Anne Hathaway  as a young woman negotiating dating and life with a diagnosis of bipolar illness.  Mental illnesses straddle a spectrum and we may share many of the same symptoms if not diagnoses.

The premise of the series is this – individual short stories about love inspired by personal essays in the New York Times column, Modern Love.  This episode followed Hathaway through a funny/sad shift in moods while trying to connect with a new boyfriend.  He couldn’t understand why she was acting so differently because, quite naturally, she didn’t want to reveal something deeply private.  She finally realized that she couldn’t keep hopping from job to job and leaving friends mystified, so started to share her secret diagnosis.  In this story, it seemed to be a rewarding experience.

What impressed me most was Hathaway’s brilliant acting although it might seem contrived to someone who had not experienced bipolar symptoms.  There is a hilarious scene in a supermarket, when she is on an obvious high, and in her head she is in a stage show.  This isn’t exactly how I feel but it is pretty close.  When I am feeling good, the world is vibrant, friendly and buzzing.  Tunes and thoughts are happily dancing in my head.  Everyone is my friend and I talk the pants off every stranger I meet.  I can even tell that I make people happy.

Then there is the abrupt change – going to bed for days on end unable to even look at my blog or emails.  It is physically painful to move my joints or answer the phone.  Most of the time my cell phone is on mute, unless I am working.  What Hathaway emoted, so successfully, was her inability to control this or explain how she was feeling.  My years of dealing with my family and personal mental illness, along with working in the field have given me some terrific masking skills but I can only keep it up for so long.

Thank goodness I met Teddy, who is naturally empathetic and nonjudgmental.  I can only imagine what it is like coming home to ‘who will she be today?’  Sometimes I am curled up on the sofa with dark circles under my eyes and a haunted look.  Nightmares plague me for weeks on end.  Of late, happy Bunny has arrived and Teddy is relieved to return to a funny expression from his beloved or even jumping out from behind the door.

It was such a joy to watch an uplifting short program about mental illness that wasn’t patronizing or dramatic.  I don’t know if Hathaway has a personal experience or the writer had but it was spot on.  She wasn’t homeless or self-medicating and eventually used her common sense to relieve the worst of the symptoms.  Even better, she was educated and attractive – many of us are just that.

An old boyfriend once said, with passion in his eyes, that he didn’t know which version of Kerry he was dating.  I am a chameleon with my style, personality and moods.  My varied career gives the wrong impression of my intellect. In Scotland I worked with my friend’s husband on a project.  He had shared with her that he didn’t realize how brilliant I was in certain work situations, especially facilitation or brain storming.  Clearly my friend didn’t know that either and was surprised.  This isn’t bragging but just an observation that I wonder what I might have achieved without this illness.  Hathaway demonstrated this in the episode by sadly expecting to leave any job quite quickly.  Not many employers are willing to give some leeway although in recent times my bosses have understood my inability to fully function at times.

If you get the opportunity to watch it, please do.  Hathaway’s acting says so much more than mere words can.  Prime/Amazon are not paying me for this review – or anyone else!

My love of languages


Recently one of my posts was liked by a blogger called “Operation X”. My interest was piqued; a 007 fan or something more sinister? Did you know that the word sinister is derived from the Latin word for left? To my surprise and delight, Ken Ho’s blog focuses on minority languages. One particular post on Frisian languages caught my eye and it turns out my husband knows a Frisian speaker. After commenting on his post, Ken asked me if I would collaborate on the subject.

Y’all (Southern USA dialect) know my moniker ‘Chatty Kerry’ and I really do chatter in a variety of languages but only proficiently in English. I was born in San Francisco to an Irish mother and Mexican American father. My grandmother Juanita Ortega spoke Spanish although her family had been in California for generations.

As a child we moved from the USA to Formentera, part of the Balearic Islands east of the Spanish mainland. I have no memory of this experience but my mum later taught me some basic Spanish words. Then we moved to Scotland where I lived with my Nana, Mum and extended family. Although Nana had been brought up in Liverpool, England, with a rather plummy accent, she had married my grandfather Daniel McHugh who had a farm in County Sligo, Ireland. My aunt told me that they learned Irish Gaelic at school but after the death of my grandfather they moved to Scotland to learn yet another form of English. As a child, my Nana taught me my numbers in Irish Gaelic.

We lived on a public housing estate that was full of first generation Irish immigrants many of whom were from County Donegal. Gaelic was still spoken as a first language there and immigrants brought it with them to Glasgow. I watched housewives with headscarves and pinafores chat in Irish Gaelic on street corners. My Nana told me that they talked in Gaelic so they could gossip privately but I think that it was just a comfort to speak in the language of your country. All their children spoke English as a first language and few of them retained any Irish Gaelic. When I was 12 I went to a huge Roman Catholic High School with so many languages spoken at home. This was in the early 70’s so Glasgow had an influx of immigrants after WWII. The Catholics came from Lithuania, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Italy. For the most part their parents still spoke the language of their birth country but all the children quickly segued into English like most second generation immigrants.

One of my childhood friends spoke some Scots Gaelic and I was fascinated! Scots and Irish Gaelic are similar in origin but they sound very different. Scots Gaelic was mostly spoken as a first language in the Western Islands. In an odd twist of fate after the Protestant reformation, each of the islands became predominately Protestant or Catholic. My friend’s family comes from South Uist which was Catholic, yet North Uist is Protestant. Her family members still speak Scots Gaelic fluently. Then I met my husband whose family were Protestant and from the North East of Scotland.

Shortly after I married, I met most of his family from Peterhead, the biggest fishing port in Europe. The dialect is so strong in that area that I barely understood what his uncle was saying. The language is interspersed with Scandinavian, Dutch and old Pictish words. Many of the local towns start with PIT, such as Pitmedden, which indicates it was a Pictish nameplace. We lived in two villages in the 80s and 90s. One was Auchnagatt, a derivation of an old Gaelic word Achadh nan Cat that translates to field of the cats. The other was Maud which derives from Allt Madadh translated as stream of the dog/wolf. It very often rained cats and dogs in both villages… Scots Gaelic was spoken in the area generations before but the language had evolved in a complex dialect of English. Each fishing or farming community had distinct differences in language.

Immediately after we married we moved to North Wales were locals still actively speak Welsh, another Celtic language. There was some enmity between English incomers and the local population but they accepted us because we had Scottish accents. I regularly mediated in arguments between the opposing factions. Wales has made a huge effort to increase the language usage. All public documents have to be printed in Welsh and English. Children learn both languages at school. It is astonishing that they put such effort into a language spoken by so few people but admirable. It became obvious that you couldn’t really work for the local government without having a working knowledge of Welsh.

In 2002 we moved to Egypt and I had to learn some Egyptian Arabic, distinctly different from Gulf Arabic, for example. Their second language was English or French both of whom colonized Egypt at some point in the past. I took Arabic classes but I honed my skills by talking to shop-keepers and taxi driver who delighted in correcting my accent. It was then that I realized that the best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in it. My Arabic was good enough to argue at the souk or get the correct groceries but it would have taken many more years to learn it fluently. It was fun learning a new language with a good friend from Ukraine. She also learned English from me and her new husband from New Zealand – how strange her accent was.

In 2004 we unexpectedly moved to Houston, Texas, USA – which is officially the most ethnically diverse city in the USA with the most languages spoken. We brought three Egyptian street cats who understood commands in both English and Arabic. When they were naughty, I would say, No! If that didn’t work I had to revert to Arabic, Laa! That always worked and until they died they understood Arabic commands. To my surprise, I found that I had deep roots in Texas from my paternal grandfather’s family. Not only had my great-grandparents been married just north of Dallas but my grandfather was an Oiler in the 20’s and 30’s.

It would be a mistake to think that Texans speak the same form of English that we did in Scotland. Not only is the dialect and phraseology unique but there are nuances lost on a European. Rarely do southern women use curse words but it is increasingly common to F bomb in the UK. The sweetest of Texan phrases, “Why bless your heart!” has a sting in the tail. In Texas it really means you are stupid or ignorant. Since moving here, I have had worked for the airport system, with clients and passengers. I started working there because I still had some rudimentary Arabic but now I speak ‘Aeroporto Espanol’. Houston is a hub for Latin America and who knew so many variations of Spanish existed? Only the Peruvians speak Castilian Spanish which is similar to modern European Spanish. In Lima, I was able to argue effectively for a decent taxi fare to the annoyance of the machismo taxi driver. I can now identify different types of Latin Spanish but Uruguay defeats me. They speak the strangest mix of Spanish and Italian evolving from the early settlers.

One of our first travel trips from Houston was to Louisiana, specifically to Cajun country, where they speak an archaic blend of French and local patois. Don’t ever tell a French Canadian from Quebec that it is an archaic form of French…apparently it is one of the most quickly evolving languages! In the late 1700’s settlers came from France to Quebec in Canada and Louisiana in the USA. They remained isolated partly because of the extreme conditions of both places. Cajuns live in a Waterworld of swamps and bayous. Their ancestors survived on hunting – everything! Heron was one of the favorite dishes (gah!) but raccoon and opossums also make their way into pies. Houston has been badly affected by many recent floods and we are so grateful to volunteers named ‘The Cajun Navy’. At the height of the devastation by Hurricane Harvey, the Cajun Navy came from East Texas and Louisiana in their big trucks with boats attached. They rescued so many people from flooded homes and areas. Their skills with living in a harsh environment have made them naturally skilled in water evacuations. I watched a TV interview with a Cajun hero during the Hurricane and I still don’t know what he said!

Much more recently I discovered from a DNA test that some of my ancestors were Native Mexican – I could not have been more excited or surprised. This started a series of trips into Mexico from Baja to the Yucatan. On a trip to Merida in the Yucatan, I was staying at a boutique hotel. The owners were French but the chef was native Mexican. The menu was in French and the local language, Yucatec Maya. It may as well have been Klingon… I studied French at school for many years so I can read a menu but some words could not be translated, in particular local vegetables. The consonant X was used frequently and soft intonations. My driver kept correcting my pronunciation of Spanish despite my laughing protest that I had to speak regular Mexican Spanish at work. The word, “Yo” meaning I, is spoken as it sounds in most of Mexico but in the Yucatan they say “Cho” or “Sho”. I noticed that some of my colleagues in Houston are shy to use their limited Spanish but that is the only way to learn it properly even if it causes someone to laugh. My bad Spanish has allowed me to trek safely around Latin America. Most countries appreciate you trying to speak their language no matter how bad it is. Usually I start a sentence with an apology, “Mi Espanol es malo…” and the response is almost always, “Mi ingles es malo tambien!” (My English is bad too).

We hope to retire in Texas, our feet firmly planted in the soil, and I look forward to many new languages crossing my path. It is pretty easy in Houston – everyone is from somewhere else. My hairdresser is Thai, our handyman is from Chile, the gardener is from Mexico and our street is like a small UN base. We have neighbors from Ukraine, Argentina, Japan, India, France and even some Yankees. Well, nowhere is perfect!

Despicable Me

Despicable Me

Dear readers, this is going to be very hard to believe but some people don’t like me.  I know, I know – Kerry is so nice.  Nice is such an overused word but accurately describes me.  Not perfect, not fabulous, not evil; just nice.  In Scotland we have a perfect word that fits me to a T – “couthie”.  It’s the opposite of uncouth and is nice with a little extra kindness and warmth.  Gosh, I sound so wonderful that perhaps I am narcissistic?

I worked a long contract recently when I discovered that my niceness made some people contemptuous.  It is my job to charm clients, exude warmth and be as nice as ninepence.  Mostly, it works to my employers’ advantage and the clients.  In this recent scenario, the company I was contracted to had a nest of vipers working for them.  The first day I was upbeat and excited.  The second day, I was upbeat but trepidatious.  By the fifth day, I was ready to jump out the 4th story window.  In all fairness, I have been battling chronic depression and a respiratory infection but I was not alone in feeling the toxic environment.  The event was guarded and every day I would chat to the various security personnel.  On the fourth day, the guard was so concerned by my worried face that he said, “Miss Kerry, if you look behind you will see a rainbow”.  There really was one and I was almost tearful at his empathy.

I am realistic enough to see that the company toxicity preceded me and was so complex.  Who disliked who?  Why was everyone backstabbing?  Was it their comparative youth?  It was made worse by staff sharing confidences with me about personal and work situations.  I am an empath!  Just like Deanna Troi in Star Trek, I really hurt when negative emotions surround me.  This is also why I am so good with clients.  Most of the conference attendees gravitated towards me, rather than the organizers, because I smiled and made them welcome.  I made an effort to learn their names, ask about their country and business and was generally pleasant.

Every evening I would go home to Teddy and vent viciously about my contracted, temporary, employers.  This is not the first time I have worked for difficult people but when the generalized wrath finally turned on me, it felt like a knife wound.  It made me second-guess myself.  I can’t stand not being busy and constantly found something to do.  This also made me realize how little some of the organizers were doing.  So many personal texts and emails added to workplace venom.  Three of the days were 11 hour shifts with no real breaks, just occasional snacks and trips to the restroom.  Most of the job was sitting so it wasn’t hard work just mentally wearing.

What part did I play inciting the wrath of one particular person?  Well, I am straightforward and noted that the name badges were not alphabetical, making life a little harder than it needed to be.  My constant tidying of the workplace may not have sit well, especially when I asked the cleaning staff for a cloth to clean the coffee tables properly.  Perhaps my age didn’t help?  The majority of the clients were male and closer to my age, so they were putty in my hands.  A pretty accent and smiling face takes you a long way in Texas or anywhere else.  A few came up to me before they left and thanked me for my help or just talking to them.  None of this went unnoticed and my benign conversation with guests was often interrupted with a rather forced sales pitch.  Use honey not vinegar, darlings.

I would love to say this is the first time this has happened but many years ago when I was a small project manager, I had two paid staff and a team of volunteers.  One of the staff respected and liked me, all the volunteers did also but the other staff member really despised me.  She did once imply that my life should have been hers.  I was fat and unattractive yet married to a successful handsome guy (the same Teddy).  She was stunningly attractive with the husband from hell and wanted my job.  I thought I did everything I could to make her life easier and make the job more attractive and interesting but there were limits with funding.  After five years, I burned out and resigned, despite the President’s pleading, then she got the envied job with a good honest reference from me.  Within a couple of years the project disappeared.

I think I know my faults.  My honesty and tactlessness can be searing but rarely with malicious intent.  I am very warm but know when to draw a boundary line.  Delegation is not my strong suit and I prefer my boss to be straightforward with clear instructions.  I will put complaints in writing if I have to but usually prefer to talk it out.  So what’s the point of this post?  The soul searching was worth it – there are always aspects of our behavior we can modify.  Lessons are learned and we move forward.  I wonder if any of them thought about me after the event.  At the very end I received a hug and thanks from one of the nicer organizers.  The one who despised me still thanked me for all my hard work.

Onwards and upwards – I guess I could work at the White House or as an indentured servant at Amazon…

Postscript

There is a rather sad story about the photograph.  The little boy was badly affected by domestic violence aimed at him and his mother.  I was mostly unaware of this and then they moved away.  He was the son of my mum’s school friend.  Many years later we visited and he was a handsome older teenager with a car.  He took me for a drive with an open can of beer in the console.  Despite longing to date, something made me decline the offer.  He died in his 50’s of alcohol abuse.  Every time I look at this photo, I think of what happened to this sweet little boy.