Monday, August 31, 2009

Hiccups and burps and wind! Oh, my!

I soaked this hanky laughing so hard. I was in church with Mama Lala, my godmother, and during intercessions, every time the congregation said "Lord, hear our prayer" the baby in front of us hiccupped. When the prayers concluded and the priest said "Amen" the baby let out a huge belch. He then scrunched up his face, as though he were going to start wailing. But no, he was just concentrating very hard . . . to brake wind!

Mama Lala grabbed my hand and we flew out of the church as fast as we could. My goodness, we laughed. We couldn't look at each other, or we'd start laughing again. That's when Mama Lala took out this hanky and thrust it at me so I could wipe my eyes. The "intercessions" part of Mass, has never been the same again.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


He who binds himself to a joy
Does the wingèd life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity's sun rise.
—William Blake

A reminder to myself.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The photographer

The husky is the school mascot at NIU, where my son, John, is attending college. Nothing is going to escape this clever fellow. He won't miss that special shot!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Off to University!

Today we drove my son, John, to his new school, where he will, for the first time, live on campus. I'm very proud of John. He is an excellent student and has turned out to be a thoughtful, responsible, caring young man. He is very ready to take on whatever new challenges the coming years will bring and he's happy and excited to finally begin to take the classes that he loves and that will put him on the road to his chosen career.

Tomorrow, I know I will remember all the excellent reasons why I'm thrilled for him. But today, I'm sad. The little bird has left the nest and I'm feeling rather lost.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

"I have a neighbor"

I have a neighbor
who is always deep
in a book or two.

High tides of clutter
rise in her kitchen.

Which last longer, words,
words in her bent head,
or the clean spaces

between one perfect
dusting and the next?

—Rosellen Brown

A neighbor I can relate to . . .

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The local farm stand

Here are some of the treats I picked up at a local farm nearby. The corn from this farm is fabulous, but the little new potatoes stole my heart (to appreciate their size, I placed them inside a chili bowl).

I was going to make potato salad à la Niçoise. Instead, I cut the potatoes in half, boiled them until tender, then sprinkled them with a little salt, olive oil and white balsamic vinegar - and greedily ate the whole thing for lunch!

Note to self: Next time eat lunch before starting to cook dinner!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Another hankie tale

This old friend has been through a lot with me. It mopped up a bloody nose once. It was soaked in alcohol another time to disinfect a cut. It was also the handkerchief that dried my tears when we said our farewells as we left Cuba.

As a young girl, this was my favorite handkerchief. I remember reaching into my drawer and pulling it out, over and over again. My mother would always put it at the bottom of the stack so I would use some of the others, but I would look for this one, and, if it was clean, that's the one that would go in my school bag, pocket or purse.

The hankie has been retired for quite a while. The embroidery on the scalloped edge is unraveling in some spots, so now it's my turn to take care of this old retainer who served me well and deserves respect and a safe place to live out its old age.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Vivaldi's "Spring" Concerto brought to mind.

Everything I learned about gardening this year . . . fits inside this pot:

And this other one:

I learned that the secret to great looking planters is to crowd the plants. Pick a tall one, another one that will trail, one with color, another with a bit of whimsy, and that last one that begged to be taken home. The plants will become a Darwinian experiment, battling it out amongst themselves for space and survival. Inevitably, one won't make it, and the end product might not look anything like the original plan, but the planter will look full and lush, and after a while, the plants will harmonize beautifully with each other, rather like one of Maestro Vivaldi's concerti.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Mums Are Here!

What an incongruous image, in the hottest day of summer, when my mind is full of the bi-color corn I'm about to pick up at the Farmer's Market, to find that stores are stocked and already selling pots of mums, a wayyyy too early reminder of the coming fall! But how could anyone resist this bounty?

I couldn't make up my mind, so Lee picked the color, this brilliant yellow, and quickly moved me along so I wouldn't be tempted to buy every other color they had. It was a good choice, still summery and cheerful enough to remind me more of corn than of gourds.

I have a love-hate relationship with mums. I love them like this, planted alone, their color and profusion making a grand statement. I don't care for them interspersed in floral arrangements, where they are frequently used as a cheap and unimaginative filler.
But today, it's all about love. The pot is sitting by the front door where I get to see it when I leave in the morning and come home at night. I'm smiling just thinking about it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A handkerchief, polyester, my mother, Tom Jones and Photoshop. Writing challenge: How to incorporate these random phrases into a blog posting.

This handkerchief was sent to me in Cuba, as a First Communion gift inside a greeting card from a cousin living in the U.S. (lower your voice an octave, slow down your tempo and say "Norte America" in very respectful tones, if you please). And, not only did it come from "Norte America" but it was made from . . . polyester (please inject the same tone here).

I'm sure there must have been other times, but I only remember my mother using such reverential tones in two other instances: When referring to her favorite perfume, Mitsouko, by Guerlain, and her favorite pop singer, Tom Jones.

Yes, polyester had just entered the Cuban lexicon in 1965, and it was all the rage to own something made out of this miracle fabric. In actuality, it's a pain to iron this handkerchief, a hot iron can melt the lace lickety split, you have to lay a t-shirt over it to protect the lace.

Here is a photo of me in all my First Communion finery. I was wearing a veil, a floor-length, long-sleeved dress, gloves, voluminous petticoats, and a host of essential accessories, a big heavy cross (a family tradition, all the kids in the family wore it), a rosary, a book of prayers and a handbag that held the infamous hankie. Did I mention that I made my communion on August 15th? In Cuba? Is it a wonder that I don't look particularly happy?

You can also see the handkerchief in the photo below. I practiced my Photoshop technique on this one. Here's before . . .

And here is after . . .
I made a few "improvements" to the original. If you notice, there was a black "square" above the angel's wing. I have no idea what it was supposed to be. I eliminated it using the "Patch" tool (or, as my son, David, used to say when he was little, I "distappeared it"). Also, I repaired the angel's wing, and refinished the base of the angel's statue. Here I was practicing with the "Stamp" tool. I had to weigh maintaining the integrity of the original photograph against my visceral need to make things nice and tidy. I imagine this will be a continuing struggle in the months to come.

Monday, August 10, 2009

An Eight-Part Handkerchief Study

Thank you, dear co-workers (you know who you are) who check on my blog periodically, even if you don't get a chance to post comments. I still get your e-mails and enjoy your feedback. One of these days, you may try doing it from home (I know y'all have high-speed Internet!) and then I'll probably faint from the surprise!

The "Broken Paradise" posting of August 4th drew a lot of interest - but not for what I expected. The thing that seemed to catch everyone's interest was . . . the handkerchief! I received several requests to post a picture of the handkerchief spread out so the detail could be seen.

As I went back to my drawer to pull it out again, I realized I have a collection of them! All of them were given to me by a loved one. Every single one of them precious for the memory it holds. So, in the coming weeks, you'll be seeing my little collection now and again.

Here is the troublemaker that started it all:

My husband, Lee, gave me this hanky. We were shopping at Marshall Field's many years ago (I still miss that store!) and I spotted this little beauty behind the glass counter in the Accessories Department. I remember gushing about how lovely it was, and then promptly moving on to Kitchen Appliances. Lee and I got separated in the store shortly after that, and when he finally caught up with me, he handed me a tiny Marshall Field's green paper bag, that, lo and behold, contained the very handkerchief!
The gesture, was so very, very sweet. I know that he probably thought he had taken leave of his senses, spending good money on . . . a handkerchief? Isn't that what Kleenex are for, for goodness sake? But the decision was based entirely on his wish to make me happy. And, yes, this frothy bit of lace, did.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

I love Adobe Photoshop!

Psst! I have a secret . . I think I'm addicted to Photoshop. My darling husband gave me this computer program for our wedding anniversary and I've just begun playing with it. I had wanted it so I could learn to restore the old black and white photos that my parents managed to sneak out of Cuba. I've just begun to get into the program, with my son John as tutor-par-excellence. Even with my limited experience, the improvement is remarkable!

This photo is of my brother, Al, at age 8. I started with this one because it wasn't in too bad a shape. Still, it's easy to see the changes.

This is before . . .
And this is after . . .

Now you know where you'll find me in the foreseeable future . . .

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

“Broken Paradise” by Cecilia Samartin

This is a wonderfully told story of two Cuban cousins separated by Castro's revolution. Nora, the cousin that was able to leave, brings up the concept of the “ghost heart” - the “part of yourself that you can give away without losing who you are.” Except in her case, she felt she had given away the part that was real and only kept the “ghost heart” for herself.

Do we live with a ghost heart part of our lives? On occasion, I've painfully longed for the country of my birth, and for my parents. Is this a manifestation of the ghost heart? Always, the feelings subside and I go on living. Perhaps the ghost heart hasn't found a comfortable host in my breast. Soon, my son will go away to college. Will I be able to send him off with the ghost heart? Will I be strong enough to keep my real heart intact while this enormous part of my life moves away to start a life of his own? God, I pray so.

Anyway, I hope you get a chance to read this book, if for no other reason that the prose is beautifully evocative. This is definitely a 2-hankie read. Enjoy a good cry!