Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Of Richard Nixon, Hurricanes, and Old Time Fans

I dropped my bag and purse on the kitchen counter and dragged myself into the family room. The morning’s bootcamp had delivered the rigorous workout it promised, but left me looking a mess. Coated in a thin layer of dirt, shirt heavy with sweat, and blood still seeping from a few scrapes on palms and a knee, I didn’t want to mar the furniture with myself, but still wanted to gather myself before falling into the shower.

I spread my towel on the carpet, dropped to the floor, rolled onto my back, and pushed the button on the remote control switching on the oscillating high velocity fan that, coupled with the energetic ceiling fan and central air conditioning, delivered cooling comfort on this 95 degree day. I closed my eyes and let the waves of refreshing wash over me.

The only sound was the whir of the fan as it swept back and forth. My mind drifted. Fans, hurricanes, Richard Nixon…they all fit together in one particular July and August of my youth. That summer we had been driven out of our home by extensive damage and flooding from a hurricane. My grandparents welcomed us to their home, which stood on higher ground.

Back in the days of only three television channels, the Watergate hearings consumed all of day time TV. Although I wasn’t particularly interested in politics, Richard Nixon became as reluctantly familiar to me as Mike and Carol Brady. The floodwaters still lapped up to the front porch, so our activities were confined indoors.  

The only oasis of refuge from the steamy South Texas heat was the air conditioned front room, and that was tempered by my frugal grandfather’s desire to keep the electric bill down. Even through the warmth, I systematically devoured the books from my grandma’s large library, and when only a few of those remained, I set into my grandfather’s Southwest Cattle Breeder and Dallas Cowboy Today magazines.

While the days were filled with Nixon, reading, and trying to stay cool, the nights became a treat to me.

My sister and I shared a large back bedroom there. The house had been built many decades before with the heat in mind, and so the large banks of windows that could be cranked open stretched forth wide into the night air. Screens kept the mosquitoes out but lured in the intoxicating late evening aromas of the gardenias my grandma cultivated under them. And if I turned my head just right, I could see vast reaches of stars through the treetops.

In our own modern house tightly sealed for central air conditioning, I never heard any of the night sounds, but here they were a symphony beginning at sundown each evening. The cattle lowed nearby as they settled in for the evening and then the coyotes picked up the call with their drawling howls. The frogs croaked their contentment while the crickets chirred in harmony.

The two old fashioned oscillating fans we turned on each night before jumping into bed whirred with gentlest tranquility. My grandma told me she’d bought them new, back in the late 1930’s, even before they had electricity in the house, because she so looked forward to feeling the soft breeze from them. And now, laying there in the dark, lulled by the finest of outdoor concerts, the sweet anticipation of the coming drafts of cool air from those fans was enough to make my sister fall asleep almost immediately.

I, though, loved to stay awake longer, just to enjoy the swaths of exquisite, unflappable breeze from them. And sometimes, sometimes, when those fans were on just the right course, set at just the correct angles, the air streams converged at exactly the same time on me. Magic, pure and unrivaled.

I don’t remember much about political scandals and weather disasters. But ask me about two little oscillating fans and I can tell you much.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Queen of the Small Things

If I were Queen of the Small Things, I would:

1. Equip cars to deliver a small electrical shock to drivers’ bums when they fail to use the turn signal.

2. Incorporate self service kiosks in all clothing stores that scan a customer’s lower half and instantly print the perfect fitting pair of pants/ jeans with a 3- D printer in the customer’s choice of fabric, color, and style.

      3. Have unknown folks who do uncommon good as headliners on the news and in entertainment magazines. The Kardashians, Miley Ray, and the Beibs would be sent to live and work on Amish farms for a year.

      4, Gift every dwelling with a fruit, vegetable, or flower producing plant.

      5.Install a steadily moving conveyor in airport security lines. Each passenger sits in a chair on the conveyor. A foot masseuse removes the shoes and gives a swift but effective foot massage whilst the passenger moves steadily towards the scanners. On the plane, passengers who kick the seat back in front of them more than once will also receive a small electrical shock to the bum.

      6. Give every child a week in the summertime with my grandparents.

 Now you. If you were King/ Queen of the Small Things, what is something you would do?

And I am commenting on your blogs, but I find the email notifications are coming back to me and not to your inbox, for some strange reason. I do see them on your blogs, so please don't think I'm neglecting you. Blogger has a case of the hiccups again.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

A Dead Sea Chronicle and the Winner of the Giveaway

The chatter that overflowed from the changing room faded as gravity drew us down the sloping wooden ramps to the water. The beach, not quite sand and not quite dirt, yielded beneath our water shoes with small crunches.

I inhaled the salty Dead Sea air deeply, pushing it down into my toes while my daughter arranged her towel near mine under the tent shelter. The sun, exquisitely restrained, still pressed ancient light under every ledge of the soul, warming from the inside out on this crisp day.

We waded in and the kinship with the countless others throughout past millennia who had done the same thing we were doing beckoned me farther. My daughter laughed with her friends as they settled onto their backs, buoyed confidently by the unfailing water.

I knelt in knee deep shallows, pulling up handfuls of the black Dead Sea mud and coating every inch of exposed skin with it. It worked gently with the sun, hardening while softening.

Still clutching the solid salt crystals I had dredged from the bottom with the mud, I sat back and let my feet be pulled upwards until I, too, floated effortlessly on my back, rocked and soothed by the gentle lapping of the water.

Perfection is anywhere you choose to find it.

And the winner of the giveaway from my last post is Amy from Funny is Family. Amy, if you’ll get me the address where you’d like me to send your book, I’ll get it on its way to you. Congratulations!

And here's the dirty aftermath, while trying to get the mud off~

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Cucumber Baby was Both Practical and Delicious, and a Giveaway

Mother's Day is coming up. Yep,and pretty soon. My blogging friend, Pearl Vork-Zambory, has a doozy of a piece published in a new anthology on moms. Not you as a mom, but on our moms, those who birthed us and raised us. Called Moms Are Nuts, this is one of the funniest books I've read in a while. And in about a week, I will be giving away a copy of this book to one person who comments on this post. In the meantime, ordering information for the book as well as information on the hilarious Pearl is below. She's graciously agreed to give us a taste of her delicious writing in this piece, which has me craving cucumbers at an incredibly early hour. (And a little side note- I'll be out of town a few days, but I'll get back to commenting and responding when I return.) Enjoy!

“Mumma, why don’t you take Pearl here out to the garden, see if you can’t load her up?” 

I have gone to my parents’ place for the afternoon. My father, having discovered that the inside of my windshield has the transparency of an executive board’s decision-making policy, potters off in search of Windex

My mother grabs a knife. 

The garden, a gated affair that succeeds in keeping the deer out and the veggies in, teems with ripe and ripening flora. It is mid-September in Minnesota; and while Minneapolis itself remains green, two hours’ north the change of the seasons is in the air, the maple tree on their property beginning to turn. 

Snow is not far in front of us. 

We wander amid the rows, pulling up beets and onions. The green beans hang in chandeliers, slim and tolerably fuzzy. The tomatoes wink, in varied shades of green and red, from within their cages.

 My mother is bent in half, her hands at work. “How many cukes?” she calls.

 “As many as you can spare,” I say.

 “Oh, for cryin’ out loud,” she says, her voice muffled by the vegetation. “I was just out here yesterday, and would you take a look at this one?”

She hoists a particularly ambitious cuke aloft, a green dirigible against the bright blue sky. 

There is a hollyhock off to the side of the garden. “You know,” I say, “it seems to me that I remember Grandma making me a little doll out of hollyhocks. Does that seem right to you?” 

My mother straightens up, smiles. “Yes,” she says. Her dark brown eyes shine. “A little blossom skirt, a bit of green, and a little blossom bonnet.”

 “I think that’s why I love hollyhocks.”

She looks down at the extra large cucumber in her hand. “We used to make dolls of these, you know.”

I cock my head toward her, a quizzical gesture I know to be one of hers.

 “We drew little faces on them,” she says, wistfully. “And wrapped them in little receiving blankets.”

I laugh. “You played with cucumber babies?” 

She nods. “Me and Sis and Patti and Janice, we all had our little cucumber babies.”

She grins. “And then for supper, we peeled them and ate them with a little salt and pepper.” 

She tosses me the cuke. “Let’s go see what your father is up to, shall we?”

Now about the book:

Emmy winners, magazine editors, comedians, TV personalities, bestselling authors and social media superstars team up to bring you a laugh-out-loud book not about being a mom, but about having a mom, grandmom or mom-figure. And while it's not OK for someone else to make yo-momma jokes about your momma, it is perfectly healthy — even downright hilarious — to find the humor in your own upbringing. In fact, these writers highly recommend it. So if you think your mom is nuts, pull up a chair. You're in good company.

You can order the book here:

Moms Are Nuts

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Back from a Middle Eastern Adventure

Since I was last here, I've traveled thousands of miles and seen things I never thought I'd get to see. Israel was all I'd imagined it to be, and more.

I've missed you all. I'm so happy to be back and to get caught up with your great blogs. I will mail the postcards I promised you the next time I am in town, and the winner of my Middle Eastern giveaway is......Christine from Endless Ways. Christine, if you'll let me know where you want me to mail your olive wood carving from Bethlehem, I'll get it sent to you.

The folks over at Retirement and Good Living asked me to submit another piece, and today they've published a story I wrote of an encounter in Jerusalem that profoundly moved me. If you don't mind, it would make me so happy if you could go over and read it and then comment on it: The Soldiers.

I will be writing another post later about this trip, but in the meantime I will leave you with two pictures I took in Israel.

  This is from atop Masada, looking down onto the Dead Sea. And Pearl, yes, there is something different about the light in Israel. It was exquisite.

Sunrise on the Sea of Galilee

Monday, March 24, 2014

A Middle Eastern Giveaway and a Blogging Absence

I'll be leaving very soon on a trip to Israel. Teenaged Daughter is a senior in high school and has wanted to travel there for a long time, so we are going. I'm excited, too, and I look forward to seeing the ancient sights, riding a camel, and eating exotic foods. At one point we'll be so close to the Syria they say we'll be able to hear the sounds of the warfare, but I do NOT plan on crossing that particular border.

I'll be out of the blogging world for a while and will probably be back to our great blogging community around the end of April, but I am also hosting a giveaway, something from Israel (I don't know what yet, but when I get there I'll find something neat). All you have to do to enter is leave a comment and include where you've never been before that you'd like to visit. I'll draw a name when we return and announce the winner. It's not too late to enter. It will be too late only when you can't see this post anymore.

Also, if you'd like a postcard from Israel, email me your address at morfam@hotmail.com or message me on Facebook. If I can't mail it in Israel, I'll mail it when we get home. And it's fine if you don't live in the US. I'd be happy to mail you one wherever you live.

(And for those of you who asked, I'm going to try and get an English translation of the poem that was given to me in last week's post up before I leave. I will include it in last week's post.) 

Over and out, friends~

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Of Poets and Empanadas

The woman sitting next to me at the half moon table in the dining room of the nursing home clutched my hand and caressed each nail slowly. “How pretty,” she said with a smile, then turned her hand over, showing me her newly lacquered red nails. The other three ladies at the table with my mother-in-law nodded in turn as I admired each one’s manicure. One of the women only stared mutely and offered me an empty coffee cup when I turned to look at her nails. Behind us, two men commiserated with each other so loudly and animatedly in disconnected sounds that it echoed off the walls while cafeteria workers cleaned up from lunch.

Although I was there to visit my mother- in- law, I was glad to see these other ladies, each over 90 years old, who had befriended her. We talked of the empanadas (Mexican fruit filled pastries) I had brought for their merienda (afternoon snack) and one of the ladies commented while patting the bag of empanadas that it was nice to find such treasures with wonderful fillings in a nursing home. My mother in law pushed off in her wheelchair to get some napkins.

As quickly as Alice falling down the rabbit hole, though, the woman I assumed didn’t speak suddenly picked up on the word empanada, loudly turned it into a similar sounding Spanish word that has a slang, sexually vulgar meaning, and the conversation took a deep swerve into a direction I’d never anticipated, complete with loud chortling and thigh slapping by the formerly silent woman.

Since I've never talked with 90 year olds about sex, I was caught momentarily speechless by the intimate questions two of these nonagenarians now felt free to pepper me with. They interpreted my dumbfounded state as innocence and both chimed in, trying to educate me on advanced topics in the birds and the bees. My mother- in- law pulled up behind me and whispered in Spanish, “They can be so immature! Let’s move to another table.” Even as their laughter continued, I stood and we looked around the room for another table.

The elderly man who sometimes thinks he is my husband waved excitedly as we turned in his direction, gesturing us over with fervent ooh’s and ahh’s and bouncing in his wheelchair. I smiled at him but scanned the other side of the room quickly, and another man with a short crew cut and dark rimmed glasses beckoned us to his empty table. I reasoned we didn’t have much to lose, so we headed his direction.

I’d never met him before, and smiled a hello as we settled in. The two men who were loudly communicating with each other with an array of booming sounds were now closer to us and it was difficult to hear anything else, but our new table mate extended his hand and introduced himself.

“I am Oscar Hernandez Ortega (name is changed). I am her second cousin on our mothers’ side,” he said as he patted my mother in law’s arm. “I was a double major, English and Spanish, in college. That was 70 years ago when I graduated,” he added.

“Were you a teacher or professor?” I asked as I mentally calculated his age.

“Actually, I’m a poet. I worked other jobs to put food on the table for my family. My last job before I retired was as a newspaper editor, but I’m a poet. You can’t retire from a passion, you know,” he added genially.

I nodded appreciatively as I shared I had just retired as an English teacher. A nurse’s aide came to retrieve my mother- in- law for her bath. “Ahhh, if you don’t mind, could we talk of poets and poetry for a while? I really miss that in here,” Oscar Hernandez Ortega confided. So for the next half hour, we talked of Donne, Plath, Lorca, shaped verse, free verse, and meter, in what was the most satisfying literary conversation I’ve ever had.

They wheeled my mother in law back in and he held up one palm. “Please wait- don’t go until I can get back. I have something for you,” he asked.

I assured him I wasn't moving as he wheeled himself down the hall. My mother-in-law was munching on her empanada happily when he maneuvered his chair back to the table holding a creased piece of paper. “This is the last poem I wrote before I came in here. I’d like for you to have it because I think you’ll give it a good home.” The neatly typewritten poem on the paper sat atop a shaky inscription to me, and was signed Oscar Hernandez Ortega.

And indeed the treasures in a nursing home are filled with wonderful things.