Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Summer is Good!

June and July have been busy and in addition the sun has been shining most of the time! Wonder of wonders...

Early in June, much to my surprise, a local printer contacted me to ask if I would be interested in doing some work for him! It's been a while since anyone actually wanted to pay me for my labours! He knew I had done work for the church that involved desk-top publishing and he had a job that required someone who know how to use Microsoft Publisher.

Then he asked me what I charged! I've been out of the job market for quite a long time and had absolutely no idea! Fortunately, my son and his girlfriend are living here for a while and she is self-employed and has an idea of what ongoing rates for this kind of work are! I came up with a 'negotiable' fee and we worked from there. The work is now finished and in a little while my employer will be coming by to check out final touches for the finished product!

In the meantime, The Man has gone to France and I have been having a lovely relaxed time with the rest of the family. The best thing is we share the cooking! We are also indulging in having food that The Man doesn't like, but the rest of us do! Never let it be said that some apartness is a good thing! Even if I do have to fly RyanAir in order to join him in France! In the meantime all the spider webs have been cleared away and the place opened up and the garden cleared. He also got the television slightly re-tuned so we once again able to indulge in what British television may or may not have to offer.

One of my projects while on my own has been to watch once again the English version of House of Cards. My sister-in-law recommended the American version so highly and so insistently that I immediately ordered the first series and sent it down to France with The Man. Last night I finished the last two instalments of the third series, The Final Cut. Even though it is somewhat dated, nevertheless, it was well worth watching and very much enjoyed. Ian Richardson was fabulous as Francis Urquhart --- referred to throughout as F U!! Now I am ready to see the translation to Washington, D.C.

As for reading material -- my absolute favourite birthday present this year was the 4th volume of Robert Caro's autobiography of Lyndon Johnson. It was all I could do not to pick it up again after my quick perusal of its contents left me hungry for more! All this and vin de Provence, Brie, and French bread, coming up soon!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Time Flies When You're Having Fun -- I Guess...

My goodness but it's been ages since my last post -- at least it seems so to me. Every day I say to myself -- I really do want to blog today for sure and then I don't get down to it. Sometimes I don't even open the laptop -- even just checking e-mail on my phone.

On June 2nd my son Rob and his girlfriend, Catrin (Cat) arrived back in England after a two year sojourn in Vancouver, BC. No blogging for me that day! And then the following weekend it was the annual Art Exhibit, which is a job I love doing, but no time for blogging that's for sure. The following week was busy getting used to a full house again -- Rob and Cat will be with us for the foreseeable future while they decide where they want to live and work.

Saturday night we had guests for dinner and after much hemming and hawing about whether or not it would be warm enough, we elected to barbecue. The Man did an excellent job with chicken and sausages. I was up early to prepare the 'fixins' all the time wondering why it was that some people can start their preparations at the last minute and have everything ready and piping hot on time and also look like a million dollars. We decided to serve the first course outside and then go in for the remainder of the dinner. However, to our amazement, the temperature stayed mild right through dessert and we didn't go inside until after 10 o'clock!

And then on Sunday, Father's Day it was my birthday and a great day it was, too! Robert is a very good cook and together the two of them presented us with very fine food -- and my favourite wine! At church earlier in the day, the Vicar even dedicated his sermon to me, for reasons that are difficult to explain, but which made me laugh. But it was a very good sermon about what is 'bad religion' and what is 'good religion'.

What I particularly liked was a story he told about present day 'good religion'. When he was a very young man he had a job with a packing company and for a time was sending packages to Sierra Leone. As a result he became very familiar with the towns and cities of that country, with the result that the place became of interest to him. He explained that the President of that country, that is 70% Muslim, is Christian and that the Vice President is Muslim. The intriguing thing is that while 70% attend the Mosque for traditional Islamic worship, these same people attend the Christian churches on Sunday as well...

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Here and Abroad

Whenever I travel to and from the USA there is a kind of 'disconnect' that happens to me as I acclimatize myself to the foreign/familiar surroundings!. I have now lived almost as long in Europe as I lived in the States. I no longer can differentiate what 'back home' means. I am just as likely to say it meaning 'there' as well as 'here'! No matter which country claims you as an 'expat' you rarely ever return to your native land as a 'tourist'. On the other hand life is not going on as normal either. Usually I try to coincide my visit with an event such as Thanksgiving or Christmas or in this case, my mother's birthday. So there were friends and relatives to greet and often they make a point of visiting because I'm in town -- therefore, becoming a special event. My visits are always centered around 'people'.

In the case my mother, there is a lot of television. She likes to watch news programs and in particular every night like clockwork, Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune! Then it's on to MSNBC's political programs which are rather to the left of Center! Being a political junkie this is agreeable for me!

The big story while I was back was all about Cliven Bundy and the showdown with the Bureau of Land Management. He owes the Federal Government around a million dollars for grazing his cattle on Federal land. But he refuses to pay because he doesn't recognize the Federal government! It became a cause celebre for the right wing media star Sean Hannity who promoted Bundy's ideas and helped to encourage men with guns to come and rally around the ranch threatening to shoot the government agents who came to take away his cattle. Wisdom prevailed and the law enforcement agents sent by the Bureau of Land Management withdrew from armed confrontation, much to the joy of a certain segment of the population. Republican politicians rallied around in their support and when Senate Leader Harry Reid called Bundy and his supporters 'domestic terrorists' it became evident there would soon be hell to pay!

Unfortunately, for Cliven Bundy, he couldn't keep  his mouth shut and drunk with the publicity he was receiving went on to talk about some of his other ideas. When he said talking black people on welfare:

"Because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?" he added in comments first reported by The New York Times and later seen on video. "They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. "And I've often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn't get no more freedom. They got less freedom."
Suddenly, much to the joy of the left wing media, the right wing media and the Republican Party in great part fell over themselves trying to backtrack and wipe the muck of their faces!  It didn't shut up Cliven Bundy -- he kept trying to explain himself and kept making it worse. But the situation at the Bundy Ranch and the State of Nevada continues ...

Not that Britain has not had it's fair share of idiocy -- though mild in comparison. After all, no one here is hoping to take up arms against the government! In the meantime, here in Britain, Jeremy Clarkson of 'Top Gear' fame, was thrown on the coals over an old video clip -- never aired -- using the rhyme 'eeny meeny, miney moe, catch a 'n-word' by the toe... Profuse apologies by Clarkson followed. A 32 year veteran DJ on a 10.30 pm program got fired by the BBC because he played the original recording of a 1930's song, The Sun Has Got His Hat On -- the second verse of which contained the 'n' word. The fact that he did not know this mattered not -- one  person complained! Quite a rumpus ensued and the BBC relented and tried to give the man his job back -- but  to no avail...

In Britain there is a lot of discontent over the issue of immigration and I get the sense there may be trouble brewing for the future. The issue of racism and how we feel has become a 'no-go' area in the media, but it's all over the place in our lives and communities. Mr. Bundy's views are appalling but there are many many people who agree with him and to pretend otherwise is a big lie. After all we must not use the 'race card' even when it's obvious that racism is alive and very well, indeed.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ups and Down

Old age is so tricky! My mother has been living here for almost 10 years now and in that time I have seen how the passage of time has affect many of the residents. Both my parents came here -- mostly because of my father's failing health -- he died the following year in 2005.

Until two years ago Mom was still doing her monthly accounts and organizing her medication. It seemed rather sudden that she was no longer able to accomplish these tasks and my two sisters shared the responsibility. And as I look around the dining room I see similar changes in other residents. It is not very uplifting.

Since I have been here Mom has become more and more dependent on my presence and becomes seriously distressed if I leave her for just a few hours -- no matter how many times I explain where I am going and when I will be back. I even told the front desk so that if she called they could reassure her. Unfortunately, there was a personnel change and the information did not get passed on... I returned to a very confused mother and my own feelings of frustration and irritation!

Needless to say,  I am a bit worried about leaving on Saturday.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Winter's April Gasp

I am back again in the USA. After hours of April showers the pounding wind and rain on the windows subsided and it snowed like hell for several hours. Quite a change from the 70 degree Springlike weather we had a day earlier. The sun now shines and the blue skies seem to promise better things than the prevailing ice and snow. The almanac promises another wintry gasp just in time for my departure home...

I opted not to rent a car for the full two weeks of my stay in Connecticut.  The cost would have been twice what I paid in November. So I will rent from tomorrow. The downside has been being rather stuck herein the Geer Village. This past weekend we celebrated my mother's 95th birthday. The pictures shows her with her grandson, Jon, one of  three grandchildren able to make it for the celebrations.

There were 14 of us in the Private Dining Room on Sunday. My mom looked fabulous and the dining room was just elegant enough!
Even the weather cooperated and for the entire weekend temperatures treated us to a welcome 70 plus degrees. 

Tomorrow I pick up a car and will be happy to get away from my addiction to MSNBC! 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

In Support of Gay Marriage

On November 9, 2013 for his Bar Mitzvah Torah Portion presentation, this young man spoke of his support for gay marriage. His reasoning and sincerity were so moving and in light of the long awaited legalization of gay marriage in this country, I think it is appropriate to share his thoughts with you.

I would also like to share with you the words of American journalist Keith Olbermann that he wrote in 2008 when the State of California voted to outlaw same sex marriage:
I keep hearing this term "re-defining" marriage. If this country hadn't re-defined marriage, black people still couldn't marry white people. Sixteen states had laws on the books which made that illegal in 1967. 1967.
The parents of the President-Elect of the United States couldn't have married in nearly one third of the states of the country their son grew up to lead. But it's worse than that. If this country had not "re-defined" marriage, some black people still couldn't marry black people. It is one of the most overlooked and cruelest parts of our sad story of slavery. Marriages were not legally recognized, if the people were slaves. Since slaves were property, they could not legally be husband and wife, or mother and child. Their marriage vows were different: not "Until Death, Do You Part," but "Until Death or Distance, Do You Part." Marriages among slaves were not legally recognized.
More from Countdown
Get the Countdown podcastYou know, just like marriages today in California are not legally recognized, if the people are gay.
And uncountable in our history are the number of men and women, forced by society into marrying the opposite sex, in sham marriages, or marriages of convenience, or just marriages of not knowing, centuries of men and women who have lived their lives in shame and unhappiness, and who have, through a lie to themselves or others, broken countless other lives, of spouses and children, all because we said a man couldn't marry another man, or a woman couldn't marry another woman. The sanctity of marriage.
How many marriages like that have there been and how on earth do they increase the "sanctity" of marriage rather than render the term, meaningless?
What is this, to you? Nobody is asking you to embrace their expression of love. But don't you, as human beings, have to embrace... that love? The world is barren enough.
It is stacked against love, and against hope, and against those very few and precious emotions that enable us to go forward. Your marriage only stands a 50-50 chance of lasting, no matter how much you feel and how hard you work.
And here are people overjoyed at the prospect of just that chance, and that work, just for the hope of having that feeling.  With so much hate in the world, with so much meaningless division, and people pitted against people for no good reason, this is what your religion tells you to do? With your experience of life and this world and all its sadnesses, this is what your conscience tells you to do?
With your knowledge that life, with endless vigor, seems to tilt the playing field on which we all live, in favor of unhappiness and hate... this is what your heart tells you to do? You want to sanctify marriage? You want to honor your God and the universal love you believe he represents? Then Spread happiness—this tiny, symbolic, semantical grain of happiness—share it with all those who seek it. Quote me anything from your religious leader or book of choice telling you to stand against this. And then tell me how you can believe both that statement and another statement, another one which reads only "do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
You are asked now, by your country, and perhaps by your creator, to stand on one side or another. You are asked now to stand, not on a question of politics, not on a question of religion, not on a question of gay or straight. You are asked now to stand, on a question of love. All you need do is stand, and let the tiny ember of love meet its own fate.
You don't have to help it, you don't have it applaud it, you don't have to fight for it. Just don't put it out. Just don't extinguish it. Because while it may at first look like that love is between two people you don't know and you don't understand and maybe you don't even want to know. It is, in fact, the ember of your love, for your fellow person just because this is the only world we have. And the other guy counts, too.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Pastor of Innocence

I took the phone into my study. A lady's voice on the other end sounded relieved when I interrupted her explanation, to tell her that Sam had explained to me what happened. She was, she told me, in charge of pastoral care at the school and had been asked by the Deputy Head to inform us of the Lad's transgression.

I told her that Sam had been afraid to come home and come in quite late -- after walking around the block several times and hiding in the car in the cellar. I described his distress and shame and that I was quite sure he had learned valuable lessons. In addition, I told her that I had raised three sons and that at one time or another all of them had ventured into obtaining indiscreet erotic material.

Much to my amusement, she said, "That's why I never want to have boys. I only want girls!"

It was at this point I realized that this woman was very  young and inexperienced in what boys, if not girls, get up to. Which made me wonder if giving her the assignment to call us was a bit of a joke and 'baptism of fire' with the Deputy Head! "Poor woman," I thought to myself. And then I had to laugh at the awkwardness of her initial conversation with The Man. 

She wanted to know if I wanted her to return the picture that she had, which I had no desire to have, and which I expect has now been destroyed! She assured me that Sam was a lovely boy and that they had never had any problems with him and that she was sure there would be no more. (I wish I could be as sure!!)

So I've been thinking about this need for boys around this age to look at erotica. There is no mystery about their own gender -- it all hangs out -- so to speak. But women, it's all a mystery that they can't see and boys being boys, they want to get to the 'bottom of it' -- so to speak!

As for The Man: he was horrified when I told him and was not at all amused. I felt like such a strumpet! He would have been less appalled if Sam had been caught fighting than as the carrier of smut! Thankfully though, by the next day he was willing to accept that it really was quite normal -- even if not to him -- and was at least amused by the predicament faced by the innocent pastor explaining it all to him. He then retrieved the remaining cards from Sam and burned them in the Garden!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Sam's Recipe for 'Disaster'

Finally, the story came out.

"When you and Grandpa were out shopping, I went into Uncle Andrew's room to look for my I-pad," he began. His I-pad is off limits except during school holidays and then only for two hours a day. Unless we hide it, he goes to wherever it was and takes it and hides it behind or under his bed. At the moment I've found a very good hiding place that he has yet to find. We always know when he has found it because he mysteriously spends hours in his room and is notoriously difficult to get up in the morning.

Back to Sam. "I opened one of his cupboards and I found like, ummm, errrr, a deck of cards..."

"Do you mean to say you were gambling at school?" I asked, a bit taken aback by that possibility.

"No..." he said hesitantly.

All the while tears intermittently streaming down his face and hands continually wiping them away.

"They had pictures of naked women on them..."

And apparently very lewd pictures they were, too!

"I took them and put them in my school bag and took them to school."

"So what were you showing them around and the teacher caught you?" I asked, wondering why considering his age and gender, I hadn't suspected it was something like this...

"No, I told this 'friend' and when I wouldn't show him, he grabbed my bag and went into it and took a bunch of them and wouldn't give them back." He explained. "He started showing and giving them to all
these kids and the Deputy Head found one of them."

So of course when the picture was found and the boy was questioned it all came back to Sam and Sam got called into the Headmaster's office to explain himself! Total humiliation. He was told that his grandparents would have to be told... He was terrified and afraid to come home.

Sam got to the house and walked around the block several times. He then went into the cellar, where the garage is, and hid in the Volvo which The Man insists on keeping. The garage is small and dirty and he hid for a while behind the car -- this getting rather dirty -- and then crept into the car itself. After quite a good while he decided he'd better get it over with and 'face the music'.

When he finished, I told him that he had been wrong in several ways, but that it was not the worst thing I'd ever heard. This seemed to calm him down a little.  I told him I was also glad he was not in a fight, that that would have been worse to me.

"However, one," I admonished him,  you should not have been  looking for the I-pad, when told you couldn't have it; two, you should not have been invading his uncle's privacy and going through his things;  three you should not have 'stolen' your uncle's property; and  four you should not have been so stupid as to take them to school! You have," I continued, "created your own recipe for disaster." Then I took his blazer for the wash and sent him upstairs to change his clothes.

Seconds later he was back and quite agitated. "I can hear Grandpa talking to the school," he said quaking.

"How is that, I didn't hear the phone ring?" I told him to go change and listened to the conversation. It went something like this...

"Cards, do you mean playing cards?" "I don't understand. They have pictures..." "What kind of pictures?" Then in his most indignant English military officer's voice "I beg your pardon, I certainly do not have any pictures like that in  my house!"

The school had called him on his cell phone -- which was totally surprising considering he almost never uses it, almost never has it turned on, and it is almost never in the same room as he is! It was time for me to intercede. "I know what it is all about" I yelled. "You'd better let me take it." Which he did...

(More anon ...)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Oh, Sam! Whatever Next?

About a week ago on Wednesday, Sam was late home from school. On Wednesday the school day ends an hour early, at 2.10 p.m. Not always convenient, but he should be home by 3.00. At 4.15 The Man said to me, "Isn't Sam a bit late?" I had been so absorbed catching up with my blog reading I hadn't noticed. And to be honest, I had forgotten it was Wednesday.  Also it is now lighter so much later that I often lose complete track of the time.

As he often drops by a friend's house on the way home, I assumed that he had done this and forgotten to call. So about 15  minutes later I called the friend, but Sam was not there. I was a bit worried, but didn't want to panic. About five minutes later I got my coat on and was about to see if I could find him, when much to my relief the doorbell rang.

I opened the door to find a rather serious, slightly disheveled Sam, with a very dirty school blazer. "What happened? I was just about to go looking for you...?"

"I got into a fight," and then, "Did the school call?"

"No," I replied, slightly taken aback. "Did you get in a fight with one of your friends?" I asked.

"Nooo...", he rather hesitated. "Just a boy."

When I asked him "Who", Sam claimed he did not know.

Getting more information out of him was getting more and more difficult. Finally, exasperated, I said, "OK, Sam I am going to call the school," and I turned around to get the number from my desk.

Then he said, "Grandma, I didn't get into a fight."

I sat down again and told him that he had better tell me what happened.

I can still see him sitting on the couch, his face pale with fear and with something else... Sam was extremely uncomfortable. "I don't know how to tell you," he almost whispered and it looked as if his eyes were tearing up. In fact, they were. And the more I urged him to tell me what was wrong, the more upset and tearful he became.

Fortunately, as his distress grew, I became very calm -- but I couldn't imagine what had happened that would have upset  him so very much.

"Did you cheat on a test?" I guessed...


"We you doing something you shouldn't in the boys lavatory?" Thinking of certain urinary competitions boys are rumoured to sometimes have...


"Were you caught having sex with one of the girls?"

"NO! How could you think I would do anything like that, Grandma!" Well, at least he hadn't lost his sense of indignation, went through my mind...

"Sam," I explained, "You are going to have to tell me what happened, because if you don't I am going to have to call the school."

"It's a long story," he said, tears welling up again.

"Well, begin at the beginning..." I prompted him.

And so the explanation of his predicament began...

(To be continued...)

Friday, March 14, 2014

Ongoing Reflections and Ruminations

The last month has been a solemn reminder that time waits for no one.

For many years I have been very friendly with an elderly couple. With two of my friends, we would visit them for tea several times a year. About a year ago it was no longer possible for them to come to church as their health and physical fitness began to deteriorate. Eric had severe emphysema and  needed oxygen most of the time and Joy had a severely handicapped hip which required her to wear a brace that gave her a lot of pain. This past January they left the home where they had brought up two lovely sons and went into a very nice retirement home. Within weeks Joy health and well-being had deteriorated to the extent that it was necessary to move her into an intensive care nursing home. She died less than a week later. Her funeral was scheduled for last Friday.

The Wednesday after Joy died a very close friend and I visited Eric. He was very realistic, but sad -- and spoke about how much he dreaded the funeral that was to come. On Saturday Eric had a massive heart attack and died in the same hospital as his beloved Joy. They were born 8 days apart 90 years ago and died 10 days apart. Last Friday there was a double memorial service to celebrate their lives. And a beautiful service it was, too.

While all this was happening I was trying to find an affordable flight for me to go to the States once again to help my mother celebrate her 95th birthday. I have a favourite flight that takes me from Manchester to Hartford, Connecticut in a reasonable number of hours both to-ing and fro-ing but it takes patience and nerves of steel waiting and hoping that the price will go down -- which it did when the calendar went from February to March! While there I will be making another trip to Raleigh with my sister to see my ailing brother, who has been diagnosed with Parkinson's dementia and who is now living in a nursing home near to his son. Two days ago he turned 64, which from my point of view is 'young'! He has, however, aged considerably since last August when his life turned upside down... (see here)

Until I got older I did not appreciate how death and illness would gradually become more and more part and parcel of daily life. I have become aware that the world has been taken over by the 'young' and 'young' is now defined for me as anyone under 60... Today one of my favourite public characters, Tony Benn, died. I didn't agree with his political views exactly, but I appreciated his integrity and niceness. And I so liked the fact that he 'was' and that his beliefs were so incorruptible.

This excerpt from Choruses from the Rock, 1934 by TS Eliot was read at Eric and Joy's service and it seems very appropriate:

In our rhythm of earthly life we tire of light
We are glad when the day ends, when the play ends;
     and ecstasy is too much pain.
We are children quickly tired:
     children who are up in the night
     and fall asleep as the rocket is fired;
     and the day is long for work or play.
We tire of distraction or concentration,
     we sleep and are glad to sleep,
Controlled by the rhythm of blood and the day
     and the  night and the seasons.
And we must extinguish the candle,
     put out the light and relight it;
Forever must quench, forever relight the flame.
Therefore we thank Thee for our little light,
     that is dappled with shadow.
We thank Thee who has moved us to building, to finding,
     to forming at the ends of our fingers
          and beams of our eyes.
And when we have built an altar to the Invisible Light,
     we may set thereon the little lights
          for which our bodily vision is made.
And we thank Thee that darkness reminds us of light.
O Light Invisible, we give The thanks for Thy great glory!