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. 🦉

 

Cute Closeups

Miss Franklin, Texas 2019

What a beauty this little girl is – those brown eyes and eyelashes!

Burro Whiskers!

PLEASE give me a snack, Teddy???

Ilford – only the oldies will get that moniker.  I will give you a clue – what color is she??

This is my best side…

I only have one curly horn but still I am handsome…

A glorious little redhead – Cersei, perhaps?

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…

Python Pants and Slithery Stories

I thought I would try and combine a fashion post with a funny tale.  For those of you who care, animal prints are back in fashion, and that makes me HAPPY!  Out comes my leopard print Calvin Klein coat, my ancient leopard booties and now…my new python pants!  These are the softest cotton bell bottoms (fancy leggings really) and made by a company called Originality.  I browse the juniors section of the various department stores because I don’t want to look frumpy even though I am approaching my sexagenarian decade.  Shall I be a sexy sexagenarian???  The black top is by Tribal with lovely sheer sleeves and the pendant a turtle gift from Trinidad and Tobago.  The Kanna espadrilles are so comfortable…

I have been obsessed with snakes and snake print (not skin) for a very long time.  At college in Chester I jumped at the chance to intern at Chester Zoo where I helped edit the magazine in 1983.  It is a famous conservation zoo and ‘my’ magazine focused on a Dominican fruit bat facing extinction.  This was partly because of loss of habitat and environmental issues.  Fruit bats were critical to the banana crop of the Dominican Republic.  Nobody could breed them in captivity until they figured out that the juvenile bats were being bullied and failed to thrive.  Separating them until maturity solved the problem.  Then they were re-introduced to the islands and we can eat bananas.  Hurrah!

How many cute wee faces can you see? Mexican fruit bats.

While I was interning, I expressed a desire to see a snake.  In Scotland, we only have one venomous snake, the adder, and it is shy.  As a hill climber I had to be aware of the danger but had never seen one.  At Chester Zoo I was offered a trip behind the scenes at the Snake House and my eyes went straight to some baby snakes.  The keeper laughed and said they were too venomous for me to go near (the babies often have more venom to protect them).  Instead, he went straight to what looked like a blanket box, opened it and asked me to put my arms out.  Then he placed a 20 ft Royal Python in my arms – I fell immediately in love.  She snuggled in; contrary to my expectation her skin was warm and dry.  She was very relaxed because she had just eaten a rat and it was warm in the snake house.

Since that moment, I have been trying to see snakes in the wild or in captivity.  Our garden is full of them but they hide under the deck or in the reserve.  Most are nonvenomous and very useful for keeping rodent populations in control.  One of our venomous snakes is the copperhead and what a beauty she is!  You can easily identify her because her markings look like Hershey kisses.  A baby did rise to strike me because I frightened her.  After backing away, I spoke to her softly and she slithered into the forest.  Every new nature or landscape is an opportunity for me to find new varieties.  One of my neighbors had a blue ribbon snake come up her bathroom sink during the drought but she just gently put it outside.

Back to fashion for those of you who can’t stand snakes.   Around the age of 40 I was quite overweight but started to lose it steadily.  Finally I felt I could wear normal size pants/trousers and saw a lovely pair of snake print trousers in Marks and Spencer’s.  To my delight, a size 12 (US 8) seemed to slide on.  Then I looked in the mirror and burst out laughing.  I looked like a Burmese python that had just eaten a fat Capybara.  That wasn’t really the glamorous look I was going for…  At that time, I worked in a mixed sex office of engineers and administrators.  At break time, I made everyone choke on their coffee when I related this hilarious snake tale but I always remember one of my female colleagues was horrified that I would share something so unflattering about myself.  Her reaction revealed so much more about her personality than mine.  I have always been comfortable about my sexuality whether plump or skinny and that leads me onto my last tale.

When I work and wear a skirt, I have to wear hose/tights.  I guess this rule is to protect our eyes from varicose veins or funky toes?  Anyway, I usually wear patterned or lacy hose to match my uniform.  Two weeks ago, at 9 am, a silver fox came up to my desk and asked me if my hose were thigh high or went all the way up.  WTH!!!  # Me too passed him by, I suppose.  I looked at him leering at me and decided I would try and kill him, although I am pretty sure that’s not in my job description.  At this stage he hadn’t heard my Outlander sexy Celtic accent and I thought it was likely that he had a dodgy ticker.  Perhaps he had also taken a Viagra the night before given his predation.  So, I said –

“Actually these go all the way up but I do have some thigh highs in ecru lace that my husband loves.  The only problem is that my legs are so slim that they tend to slip down to my ankles…”

He went bright red, made a comment about me not wearing a wedding ring, and reversed back to a seating area.  Later on I had to shout to the general public about something that had changed.  I walked over to him and said, “I’m not so sexy now that I sound like a fishwife, am I?”  He was still alive when I finished my shift.

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!