Spring Growth

Japanese Yew Buds

It has been a hard year for our poor, wee garden but to be honest I think the big Texas Freeze has given most of the original plants a boost. There is bright green growth everywhere and some delightful buds. This white buds on the Yew have just a tinge of blue in them.

I have no idea what this bush is – can anyone help? This is the first time I have seen blossoms in such abundance.

Even my tropical Ti plants have started new growth – they are for zone 10-12 and we are 9. They were both about 5′ tall before the freeze and don’t usually die back in a typical winter season.

You can always depend on old faithful Lantana to bounce back. This eventually turns into a mixed orange and pink blossom – each one has a slightly different variation of colors. Below is the yellow version.

This is one of three brand new Coleus plants. I love the lime and burgundy version. Our garden centers are now like supermarkets were at the start of the Pandemic/Toilet Tissue crisis. There is little stock and it all costs twice as much. I just buy the inexpensive plants at our local grocery store and they look great. Sometimes I see the nursery man deliver them and he suggests the best ones.

I have a soft spot for this Texas Mountain Laurel – it is indigenous and my neighbor gave me it because it didn’t like her garden. She has thrived in ours and is covered with spikes which should turn purple with the most beautiful grape scent. It is also known as Mescal Bean. The red seeds are highly poisonous and contain a narcotic/hallucinogen compound. I see a “Breaking Bad” retirement in our future…☣️

Ne’er cast a cloot ’til May is oot

The title is the Scottish version of an English phrase “Ne’re cast a clout till May is out” or in plain English – “Never take off a layer of clothing until the end of May”.  It is an archaic phrase, probably from medieval times, and there are similar phrases in France and Spain.  I was tickled by the Spanish phrase “Hasta el cuarenta de Mayo no te quites el sayo!” “Until the 40th of May, do not take off your coat”.  Every May, even here in the sub tropics in south east Texas, we always get a wee cold snap.  In April our temperatures were heading up to the high 80s and I started thinking of getting the summer clothes out.  On May 4th (Star Wars Day) the high in Houston was 90F/32C and on May 5th it was down to 63F/17C – no wonder I had to wear my favorite fleecy cat socks.  If you live in Canada or Scotland, you might be cursing me, “63 degrees sounds like summer to me…”

It occurred to me that I have very few summer clothes despite where I live.  In Scotland I had a tiny box of summer vacation clothes that lasted for 20 years.  Everything else was clothes that could be layered along with a few polar jackets/sweaters.  Our neighboring village had snow one June – WTH?  It was a cold snap and we lived on a high plateau with nothing between us and the Arctic.  At least our clothes dried quickly – sometimes hard frozen.  My body temperature runs cool like a really good car – the temperature in the house is 76 degrees and I am wearing a light sweater but my feet are cold.

I love warmth but not really strong sunlight.  Living in a forest helps because in tree shade the temperature can drop by 20 degrees.  We have a pair of beautiful water oaks who live in the reserve but their canopy covers our deck giving us delicious shade.  I thank them by spraying them up and down with the garden hose.  I swear that the Live Oak in the front trembles with pleasure when I hose her down on a hot day.  Teddy and I enjoy sitting in our rockers under the Water Oaks although I am always afraid of a Cicada falling on my head.  Their song is wonderful but they give me the jitters.  So, so glad that we don’t live in any of the States who are about to greet Brood X 2021.  For non-Americans, there is a type of Cicada that emerges every 17 years in Ohio and neighboring states.  If you don’t like Cicadas it is like Hitchcock’s famous horror movie The Birds.  In the next few days 1.5 million per acre will be emerging – that is BILLIONS of them. Apparently they taste like shrimp when cooked – I will never know…

Graph courtesy of USDA Forest Service and VOX

Postscript

The Brood X has been delayed a few days by this cold snap making the anticipation even greater.

Back to my roots

New hair, Topshop Dress, Ralph Lauren Denim jacket

As a treat to myself, I went to a salon to have my hair dyed. I read all the reviews, chose Aveda color and booked the appointment. I mentioned that my hair was very difficult to color but she said she ‘loved a challenge’… When I was in the chair, I asked what shade # she was using and she assured me it was an 8 Ash – which is medium to dark blonde.

She went off to start someone else’s hair and I thought “my hair is going dark” – sometimes the porous gray soaks up all the color. I could have interrupted her but I thought I would just go with the flow – part of my new evolution (kinder, patient). When it was washed out, I could see the perplexity in her face. She asked me what I thought of it. “It’s darker than I imagined but I quite like it”. She offered to dye it lighter but I said no with a genuine smile on my face.

When I got home, I went into the shower and washed it with dish wash liquid, twice, to no avail. Finally, I decided I really liked it but I will probably try to do it myself the next time.

This is my newly retired husband and I, enjoying a meal out for the first time in a year? Teddy had been planning a staggered retirement for a few years – he may work part-time or contract but is having a much deserved break for a couple of months. We are treading warily around each other and I am trying out the new sweeter Kerry. Somedays it works!

PS I am in soft focus in the shot above but it isn’t a Kardashian Kaper – just a crappy old cell phone.

PPS In the first photo it looks like my right foot is on the wrong way (like an adjustable Barbie doll) – that is the leg/foot I had surgery on and it is wonky (clinical term).

Infinity Pool

This might look like a Pyrex dish to you but for our garden fur/feather babies, it’s an infinity pool. They even have a wee towel on the diving rock….

This is my man at work – he is Scottish so that’s why his feet have a blue hue. The original ceramic pool/watering hole froze over during our big freeze and cracked apart.

Katniss’ old house was falling apart, mostly because the squirrels ate the underside of the roof. Que? Teddy suggested that it might have been stuck together with animal glue. Gah! With his retirement imminent, he has decided to take on handyman tasks. His perfect roof repair is below. I did the exterior decoration and very bravely took out all the leaves inside the house. It was a perfect space for a snake to hibernate…

Everything about life is perception. This gave us so much pleasure and made us laugh. We put out the camera trap to see who uses the AirB&B. Isn’t this Eastern Gray Squirrel cute, concentrating on her delicious blackberry while the young ‘uns were scampering around?

I make handmade soaps…

I bet you thought my hobby would be way more exciting – Hot Air Ballooning or writing smutty novels under a pseudonym (that’s for the future 💋). Ever since Lush was launched in the UK, decades ago, I have been in love with the idea of making soaps. When we moved to the USA, there were amazing shops like Hobby Lobby where I could indulge my passion.

I didn’t make the wine…it was a gift for Teddy

Teddy absolutely adores my soaps which are now made of high quality melt and pour soap with gorgeous scents. Some of my friends still enjoy getting the occasional one but even I got fed up with it. At the beginning, about 15 years ago, I was going to set up a business and sell at craft stores. There were a couple of orders for mini soaps for baby showers. After the whole house smelled of lilac for a themed shower, I realized I couldn’t stand it.

The little Lone Star soaps were created for expats who were leaving Texas. Aren’t they cute? Do you have any surprising hobbies?

Evolving

No filter, no makeup, just Kerry

Until I moved to the USA, I had no idea that some people did not believe in the concept of evolution.  Charles Darwin and some brave predecessors deciphered the basic tenets of evolution despite wide dissent.  His book ‘On the Origin of Species’ was a masterpiece although undoubtedly flawed.  As more fossils of every species are uncovered our knowledge changes and develops. The virus Covid-19 is a master of change, evolution and mutation.  The sadness of a pandemic is that we are all affected – two members of my family have died from Covid-19.  One was 22 years old.

With intolerable mass shootings in the States and rising violence throughout the world, one can see that the effects of the Pandemic ripple out.  A tsunami is barely noticeable at sea until it hits the shore with devastating results.  Not everything about ‘now’ is negative.  Most of us have stopped and smelled the flowers.  Our gardens or plant pots are better cared for than they ever were.  Our pets and garden animals are subject to our endless gazes or affection.

Quarantine started at a pivotal time in my life.  Last year I turned 60 years old; officially becoming a senior. My husband is retiring this month and our lives will turn a new corner.  I doubt I would have paid much attention to sexagenarian status without the Pandemic.  In my denial, there would have been endless fashion posts, new makeup and exciting hair colors.  Instead, we all slumped into loungewear and natural skin.  At first that felt great but now it is boring yet comfortable.

I have a mild form of body dysmorphia and rarely see the truth in the mirror.  Curiously, when I was obese, I thought I looked fine and now I always want to be slimmer/younger/prettier.  I am not alone, supermodel Pauline Porizkova recently stated that she was somewhere between Jennifer Lopez and Betty White; referencing the invisibility that older women feel.  What is wrong with ageing?  It should be something we aspire to but modern society is consumed by the idea of eternal youth.

It doesn’t help that this last year has made most of us look a little older; the stress shows in our furrowed brows.  A smile would change our visage but it is masked.  Now we look out for crinkling around the eyes to see that someone is smiling at us.  In this new thoughtful phase of my personal evolution, I am beginning to accept that I am an attractive older woman.  Young men won’t whistle anymore but I get appreciative glances from older men who also feel sad about ageing.  My mother was a beautiful woman who aged gracefully.  A neighbor once made the cruelest comment to me referencing my mother, “Isn’t it sad when beautiful women age?”

My personal evolution is deeper than that.  I mentioned in the previous post, Change is Inevitable, that I didn’t like what I saw behind my eyes.  If you asked a friend to describe me, the words kind and funny might be said.  During self reflection during sequestration the following words seemed more apt.  Impatient, testy, judgmental, insular, anti-social, fussy, undeviating and unkind.  Was I a good manager or am I inflexible?  Am I a good friend or wife?  Not always.  I could blame my mental illness for some negative elements of my personality but that is disingenuous.  In my life, I have met so many mentally ill people who were adorable, the opposite or somewhere betwixt.

Prior to the pandemic, I worked, volunteered and was social.  When we first moved overseas, I made a huge effort to be social and get involved with my community.  This continued with the move to Texas but it is not my natural self.  I struggle with small talk, coffee mornings or girl’s nights out.  WordPress has been a source of comfort for me to meet like-minded people.  Quarantine gave me the perfect excuse to retreat to my nest with my bonded mate and I know how lucky we are.  So, what is the outcome of this reflection?  I am going to try to be a better person to everyone I know.  My base personality will remain the same but I can be thoughtful, gentler, compassionate and sweeter.  My evolution has not finished and wouldn’t life be dull if it did?

This is a Pizzly Bear (courtesy of BBC)

Climate change is affecting all species, in particular the Polar Bear. As the world warms, Grizzly Bears are moving further north and interacting with Polar Bears. In a wonderful turn of events, they are interbreeding and their hybrid cubs are fertile. They are the same species but one is brown and the other white. All of homo sapiens were brown before the diaspora from Africa. Those who went furthest north developed fair skin, over generations, to allow their skin to access essential Vitamin D from the weaker sun’s rays. You could describe this as a mutation or evolution. I identify with the Pizzly Bear, we are both of mixed race, have wrinkles and we are BEAUTIFUL!

Change is inevitable

Change is inevitable… but it can fill us with trepidation. When I researched this post, I was astonished at how many ‘change is inevitable’ quotations there are from Benjamin Disraeli’s ‘Change is inevitable. Change is constant.’ to more prosaic.  Sometimes people long for change, as we did before we moved to Egypt. That move was less fearful, although more challenging, than the next to Texas. We could not have predicted that the second Gulf war would have started 4 months after our arrival in Cairo nor could we have anticipated so many extreme weather events in Texas. The recent deep freeze was just the ‘icing’ on the cake. Do you see what I did there? Teddy is tired of my silly, pun filled humor after a year sequestered together…

I am leading up to the elephant in the room – the biggest change in modern history and most of us didn’t see it coming. Dare I even mention the pandemic or are we all sick of it? Not only have we dealt with unexpected change personally but also in society. Some cultures and nations have dealt with it more graciously and effectively than others. I am not a fan of Sweden’s current laissez faire approach to Covid-19 but perhaps not unexpected given their history of forced sterilization of mentally disabled/unwell, Roma (and other people deemed anti-social) from 1906 to 1975. Something similar happened in Canada to the indigenous. We all know how despicable the USA can be – need I list our many egregious acts? I dare not cast any stones. None of us truly know what was or is the best course of action for this pandemic, nor will we for years. Life will not go back to what it was but will evolve into something different, perhaps better or worse. This year has given us plenty of time to think and reflect – a scary prospect for many of us. I rarely look in a mirror for long because I don’t like what I see both superficially and behind my eyes.

Since my second vaccination there has been a calming within me. I am fully aware that there could be a Covid mutation lurking but I am less panicked about getting seriously ill. The truth is that I am always unwell and that’s why I take daily medication. I have looked at my behavior and actions this year – my mental illness is real, quantifiable and more debilitating than I thought. Strangely, it is a relief to finally accept the truth. No magic pill or treatment awaits me. It is not normal to go to bed at 6 pm, fall asleep about 9.30 pm and then not rise until 11 am. I am not always fully asleep but I am hiding under the covers or reading. Yesterday I did something I had been putting off for weeks. We called an air conditioning firm, got quotations and we are having a completely new HVAC system installed.

I wanted it done quickly but was totally overwhelmed by the speed and cost although I had thoroughly researched it (for years). I went to bed even earlier, chewed my mouth until it hurt and didn’t get up until midday. After they finish the installation, I will be even more anxious, in physical pain from tensing my body and will probably drink some unnecessary wine. I still haven’t learned to pace myself either because as soon as the charming chatty estimator left, I went to two garden centers to replace the dead plants in our yard. In the last year there has been significant building on the farmland and forest around our township.  Roads that were once quiet are frenetic.  You are either stuck behind a very sporty Audi driven by some old dude at 30 mph or some eejit in a truck who is weaving at high speed. The tension was rising in my addled brain and when I could barely find a parking space at either garden center, I just retreated to the safety of our home. That wiped me out.

I felt so frustrated – where is the person who trekked across Belize, Mexico and Malaysia solo? Perhaps this is how a caged animal feels when you open the door?  Objectively, I know that time is a great healer and practice will make driving feel less frightening.  Much of my working life was spent soothing clients in distress, from mentally ill people and passengers at the airport.  Sometimes they were both!  The inability to interact with people in a meaningful way inevitably leads to self-absorbed thinking.  We are unable to use perspective without seeing normal societal encounters as a gauge.  Therapy is an ideal option for some but not for me.  I hope this is not seen as a negative post as I would prefer it to be revelatory.  Positivity is a wonderful trait if it is genuine but you can’t force it.  Over the last year I have felt ridiculously happy at times, sometimes anguished and now thoughtful.  Then there is all the guilt about the people who are struggling much more but that’s another post.

This is part one of an essay about Change and Evolution.

Brown Pox?

On Sunday we had a very sharp morning, 40 F, and for the first time in many months Teddy and I went to the Mall! This was an excuse to wear one of my favorite outfits that must be at least a decade old otherwise called sustainable fashion. The knitted dress is from Max Studio and the jacket is from INC. A couple of years ago, I noticed that the pleather collar was wearing away so I got some fur fabric from Amazon and our local tailor stitched on top. I was so happy at my inventiveness.

As we wandered around the Mall, I noticed that everyone else was wearing high summer clothes but my lizard DNA keeps me cold under 80 F. The very nice lady in the perfume shop thought I looked like a princess – I guess she hadn’t seen many but I will take the compliment. In the next department store I decided to try on a ‘prairie’ dress and I took off my jacket for Teddy to hold. He said, “your jacket is disintegrating all over your chest”. It looked like a Brown Pox!! The ‘prairie’ dress was a bust – I looked like a tired old woman in the Dustbowl Depression which was not the look I was going for… Just needed a goat and a chicken.

Goodbye, Farewell to my favorite jacket. You served me well on cold trips to Scotland/Oklahoma/Colorado.

It was a grand day out, nonetheless, and I felt much less anxiety about being out in public, now that we have both been vaccinated. Almost everyone was wearing a mask and keeping their distance. Teddy bought his summer cologne, Dior’s Fahrenheit, which always smells good. Our lattes from Nordstrom tasted like the best coffee we have ever had. Everything is new and interesting again. Purdah has made the simplest things tremendously exciting.

Now we need to get the whole world inoculated and keep our fingers crossed for herd immunity.

60 years of Vaccinations

LITTLE KERRY’S FIRST VACCINATION PASSPORT

The first prototype vaccinations for smallpox are believed to have occurred in the 16th century but the first vaccine is attributed to Edward Jenner, an English physician in 1796.  The 60 years in the title refers to my own history of vaccination.  They eradicated smallpox in 1972 but I still have the mark from my inoculation.  Can you imagine how brave the first people to accept the smallpox vaccination were or was the sight of death enough for acceptance?  I was provoked to write the post on finding out that people have not been showing up to their vaccination appointments in Texas.  It’s the only free healthcare I have ever received in the USA!  I was so relieved to receive the 2nd vaccination last week – just two weeks until full inoculation.

As a baby boomer, vaccinations have readily accepted by me because most of us saw what happened when you didn’t get inoculated.  Childhood deaths from illnesses that most of us have forgotten were common.  The ravages of Polio were there for all to see in the survivors – limps and calipers or an iron lung.  Teddy had Scarlet Fever twice; his adoptive mum feared for his much longed for life.  She and my mum had their own battle with Tuberculosis or consumption.  My mum was sent to relatives in the country and my mum in law spent months in hospital.  Newly adopted Teddy’s Granny had to look after him while she was in the sanitarium.  It was a strange blessing as they bonded in a special way.  I think he was always her favorite. My mum and I were unable to return back to the USA in 1967 because my mum was diagnosed with TB for the third time.  This time they had an antibiotic treatment – streptomycin – and she fully recovered but mentally collapsed with the end of her American dream.

Vaccination has become a taboo subject in recent times with the much-refuted claim that a particular vaccine can cause autism in children.  Perhaps seeing death and illness in your every day life made it easier for our parents to allow vaccination in previous decades.  I can’t claim to know much about autism but I am certain that it was underdiagnosed in previous years.  Every area in Scotland had a special school where children with mental and physical disabilities were lumped together for what was often a sub-standard education.  It was a necessity when I was a child because at our little Catholic Primary School, we had two full classes of Primary 1 and there were 40 kids in each class.  No teacher would be able to cope with special needs children in addition.  I can still remember a little boy, called Andrew, who undoubtedly had ADD or something similar – that diagnosis was not used then.  We could tell that he couldn’t help himself but it was so upsetting when he disturbed our learning cycle.  The teacher had the patience of a saint.

WHOO-HOO – SECOND COVID INOCULATION!

Vaccinations were staggered as they are today and the last, I recall at school, was for TB when we were about 13 years old.  Both Teddy and I tested positive that indicated that we had TB or the antibodies – both of us had been vaccinated earlier than usual because our mum’s had TB.  Years passed, Teddy and Bunny married and had our honeymoon in Peterhead to meet my new relatives…  A couple of years later we booked a caravan holiday to south of France.  Unbelievably, there was a typhoid outbreak in La Sud and we had to get new vaccinations just before our trip.  We were vaccinated on our bums but then had a 24-hour bus trip to our destination – oh how we ached!

As our vacations got more exotic, so did the vaccinations.  Teddy had to get the Yellow Fever vaccine for a work trip to Africa.  In between all that you kept up with your tetanus vaccinations, especially if you lived in an agricultural area like we did.  Then we moved to Egypt in 2002 and I felt like a pin cushion.  Most of the childhood vaccines had to be repeated as illness such as polio are still endemic in third world countries.  We also had rabies vaccines which I am not sure were entirely necessary but it gave me free rein to work with street animals so another blessing, perhaps.  A tiny kitten nearly killed me with septicemia from a bite, so I guess death is always lurking around the corner in one form or another.  The only thing we didn’t have to worry about in Egypt was terrorist attacks!  You had to be careful on boats in the Nile in case you got Nile water splashed in your mouth.  Bilharzia is a very common disease; my Egyptian friend’s Dad was dying of liver failure caused by Bilharzia, a parasite you can ingest when drink untreated Nile water.

I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT SOME OF THESE VACCINES FOR EGYPT WERE???

So, we reach 2021 and by some miracle scientists were able to create a vaccine at Warp Speed.  There hasn’t been much time for trial but it is a global pandemic of unimaginable scale.  Almost 3 million people worldwide have died of Covid-19 but the true number is probably much higher.  Herd immunity is a long way off, so turn up for your vaccine appointment!  My eyes have gone square from looking at the TV and Internet too much during this weird time but I loved this funny video that I found some months ago.  Yes, cat fur and hot dog water sounds just fine to me…

Forgotten Family Faces

To my complete astonishment, a long-lost cousin found me through this website.  She had Googled one of our ancestors and found ‘Postcards from Kerry’.  I am a few years older than her but we share the same great grandparents – the Pinkmans – my maternal grandmother’s family.  My cousin was brought up in England, north of Liverpool, as was my Nana.  It was such a lovely surprise to be able to reconnect.  Over the years my aunt and I had been musing on why we had lost touch with that branch of the family and now we are all in contact again.

One of the first photos that my cousin sent was the sepia print above.  I think I had seen this photograph before my Nana died in 1974 but had forgotten what my great grandparents looked like.  My Nana, Kathleen, is 4th from the right between her brothers and this is the earliest photo I have of her.  Her face reflects her soft and gentle nature, although she had a fun feisty side too (I inherited that…)  I was looking in vain for a resemblance between us but then I saw a glimpse of her only great grand-daughter, her namesake.  Nana died long before she was born as most of our family married a little later than conventionally acceptable in those days.

Nana was the oldest girl in the Pinkman family and lived a life very different to mine as a child.  They lived a comfortable middle-class life in a three-story house steps from a beautiful beach.  There was a governess and music lessons.  Then both of their parents died within a short time of each other.  My working theory is that it could have been the last flu Pandemic in 1918 but who knows?  Nana looked after the younger children until she was past marriageable age.  She joined a convent as a novice nun but left to marry my grandfather Daniel McHugh, who was also older, then they moved to the farm in Ireland.

My cousin and I emailed about some of the family mysteries.  The whole family (in the photograph) were ethnically Irish and their original name was McGuire.  We are unsure if they anglicized their name to Pinkman or the authorities.  Irish settlers were not warmly welcomed in most countries, including England where there were signs on pubs saying “No dogs or Irish”.  Ironically my Celtic accent makes me very popular now…dogs like me too.

For some reason Nana was most unwilling to share details of her parents to me or her children despite my interrogation.  “What was your Mummy like, Nana?” “Little girls should be seen and not heard” was the frequent response.  There was a family disgrace which I blogged about in this post Our Irish Family Secret.  Despite that, I remember my Nana’s fondness for her younger brother.  Another family member revealed that the family spoke Irish Gaelic at home, which was a surprise.  My DNA and records confirm that we are from the Midland region of Ireland – Sligo, Mayo, Leitrim and Cavan.  Our McHugh family farm had land in both Sligo and Leitrim.

Our family has been enhanced by this family reconnection; it brought back lovely memories of meeting all my great aunts and uncles in England when I was younger.  Looking at the photograph, I think of the sadness that was to follow.  My great grandma was a little stouter than I expected but had a sweet face.  Great grandpa looked uncannily like one of my Iberian ancestors on the other side – Dark Irish, perhaps?