Moment by Moment…

Apple Crostata for my birthday treat

Birthday number sixty-two came and went a few days ago.  Today, As my feet hit the floor my knees were annoyingly effective in reminding me of my thirty or so years of running.  The snap and crackle sound of my joints continued as I moved downstairs to the kitchen. Geez. I thought. I’d never be able to stealth my way into anywhere with these knees; I would be heard from a mile away!   Before the ritual of morning coffee, I give my achy knees a gentle rub to warm them up and as I did so vowed to move with as much grace as possible through year sixty-three, arthritic knees and such be damned!

What a blessing it was to celebrate another year around the sun with sis and company.  The day was lovely, albeit unseasonably warm, and it was capped off by a divinely delicious dinner prepared by sis. On the menu that night was a first for me: 40-clove garlic chicken. How is it possible that in all these years I’d never enjoyed such a delight to the taste buds? 

Time is flying.  Be open to new things, came the whisper…

Each year that passes now reels me into a “deepening” of sorts….ever longer moments in a quieter space filled with moments of brutal self-reflection, sadness for what was and what wasn’t, but also joy for heart-warming memories and moments of complete fulfillment. There are many more moments in a day that I realize that there is far less time ahead of me. The sound of the clock ticking as each minute passes grows louder, almost thunderous. Some days I handle this preoccupation exceedingly well, at least I’d like to think I do. Others, well…not so much. For example, my husband will say or do some thing–silly, in the scheme of it all–that makes my head pop in purple minion fashion. It’s been twenty-plus years of this same song I’ll mutter under my breath enough times that in a flash of Italian anger I’ll tell him that I don’t want to spend one more minute of my precious golden years with that tired old slide guitar-of-a-song clamoring in the background…

..if you get my drift.

Thankfully, I catch myself quickly now. Perhaps its simply due to age–the mellowing of every fiber of my being, or my new milestone…369 consecutive days of a meditation practice. In the midst of an angst-filled moment, with a long, slow inhale and exhale– a wave of crystal clear awareness will smack me between the eyes and with it comes the wisdom from a thousand sages before me: this moment is all that there is…so stop projecting Missy that you’ll be dealing with silly husband sh**t in the years ahead.

Let.It.Go.

I’m working harder still on childhood baggage and forgiving those who knew not what they were doing, as well as those who did. The journey is not for the faint of heart. But, while the clock ticks on, moment by moment, I am cheerfully optimistic that this whole “grace in aging” thing keeps its firm hold on me until my last breath. Slowly but surely, “Awakening” more as the years tick by…

and yes, there is bliss in that.

An excerpt from “Blessing in the Chaos” by Jan Richardson seems appropriate in the moment….

Let what distracts you cease.

Let what divides you cease.

Let there come an end to what diminishes and demeans.

And let depart all that keeps you in its cage.

A burst of color on my morning walk with The Poodle

Between Bliss and Doom

Photo by Bryan Goff on Unsplash

“I’ve got an interesting article to share with you,” I told my nephew some days ago while on the way to Five Guys for burgers. We were lucky to have him for a spell while his parents attended Back to School Night.

“Okay, what’s it about?” was his cheery reply.

“It’s about the day the dinosaurs died,” I replied. “Let’s read it together after burgers.”

I’ll admit I was a bit reticent about sharing the article with him.  He is not quite twelve and though he has experienced two grandparents passing within three years he’s sweet and sensitive as can be. I certainly didn’t want to cause nightmares.   And, when I thought about it for a moment longer I realized too it was because of my fear…specifically the whole gloom and doom thing.   I had read the article just hours before over morning coffee.  Geez-louise! We could get hit by a similar catastrophe, very much like the one that catapulted the earth into the ice-age. 

Note to self: Stop reading stuff like that before the roosters are up and crowing!  

Later after stuffing ourselves silly on those fabulous Five Guys fries, we convened on the back deck.  As promised, I read parts of a Wall Street Journal article aloud to my nephew sharing the new evidence uncovered about the massive asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago. You can (hopefully) view it here:  https://www.wsj.com/articles/scientists-discover-new-evidence-of-the-asteroid-that-killed-off-the-dinosaurs-11568055601?shareToken=staf6b086021d7498d8b13372021f0e7b1

He was enthralled of course and even shared some tidbits on geology and sedimentary rock which impressed the snot out of us. After our nephew left, I stayed out on the screened-in porch for quite some time. As I cradled my glass of wine in the quiet of the evening I realized I was becoming lost in a thought pattern of gloom. I should not have read the article…things like that really get to me. Which is why I do not watch horror and shoot-em-up movies. Doris Day and Rock Hudson…now that is my happy place!

When hubby joined me I again I brought up the topic of asteroid doom…but not before asking for more wine.

“You want another glass?’ he asked with a look of feigned concern.

Full disclosure, I wanted the entire bottle of wine.

(fear not dear reader. I was a good girl.)

“Well, why not? No time like the present. After all, we could get hit by a massive asteroid before the next sunrise.”

“Ah,” he said. “I see where this is going.”

So, in a professorial manner he tried his best to convince me that asteroid doom was quite unlikely to happen imminently and furthermore we would know of an asteroid hurling in our direction years in advance of causing a cataclysmic event. .

Well, that’s reassuring…..

For those of you who watched the hilarious show Bing Bang Theory, perhaps you’ve guessed by now kind reader that I am the “Penny” to this “Sheldon/Leonard” husband of mine. So I ask: But what would we do? Would we like…um… shoot the thing down?

Sheldon/Leonard: Actually what we would do is deflect it while it is still in space. The object would be to knock it off course….get it into another orbit…so that it misses Earth.”

My Sheldon/Leonard guy said a lot of other stuff but honestly my eyes began glazing over pretty darned quickly. Sadly, I cannot blame it on the wine.

Still, I couldn’t shake the asteroid doom. It made me think once again about the impermanence of everything…the fragile nature of our lives and every little thing we know, love or care a wit about. So many of my problems are First World. Why bother getting attached to anything…good or bad? Why agonize, for example, about what to get my daughter for Christmas or that my son is still a mess? Why be in such a hurry to bag autumn leaves that are already piling high on my front porch just to make everything neat and pretty… or even continue another debate with hubby on whether we spring for yet another year of expensive pet insurance for our aging poodle.

My ruminating went on and on with the voices getting louder and louder. In meditation circles–or more precisely, Buddhism– it’s called the “monkey mind.” It’s our minds filled with endless chatter: negative, positive it matters not. It can be a hundred monkeys all vying for your attention and before you know it you’re a whirling dervish of thoughts and emotions. It’s my mind, caught between bliss and doom and everything in between. It can be exhausting….at the very least.

Before I knew it tears are streaming down my face. Oh I must stop this pity party I think as I move to get up. Pain seared through both knees as I shifted my legs off the chair in front of me. As I rub my little “gargoyles” (bone spurs) that have somewhat disfigured my arthritic knees I am keenly aware that my knee issues and host of other things are nothing compared to the challenges others face. Like my dearest friend who is battling a rare cancer and another who struggles with depression or a friend’s husband undergoing heart surgery. There is a whole world out there that seems upside-down; it often seems dark, chaotic and in a turmoil that borders on insanity to me.

Wowza. Is there a full moon or something? Just yesterday I was basking in the glow of a perfect workout, happy as a clam with a new read…. and ready for all the blessings of autumn…

Clearly I need to guzzle a boatload of chamomile and get out of this negative bubble…not to mention glue myself onto the meditation pillow .

I managed a decent sleep in spite of too much Cabernet. By morning I was back to feeling a bit more chipper. Still, as I walked down into the woods with The Poodle I could feel a slight edge. He wanted to stop and mark EVERY. SINGLE. TREE that lined the heavily wooded path.

Come on boy…get a move on,” I huffed impatiently as I pulled on his lead. I’ve no idea why I was in such a hurry; it’s not like I had places to be and important things to do.

And then, just as I was about to yank on the lead yet again I stopped dead in my tracks. The sight before me was mesmerizing. It gave me such pause that I stopped for several minutes. The Poodle stood patiently beside me as my breath became quiet. I could actually feel my heart expand in joy. I was instantly lighter, as if the weight of my sixty plus years had been lifted….

and all because of a dancing leaf, held well above the path by a whisper of a spider’s web.

The monkey mind is much quieter and that’s Bliss a hundred-fold.

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Pumpkin Time begins…

November 2018 Northern VA.

 

A post just this week on Twitter went something like this:

“…But, I’ve never understood the pumpkin spice flavored stuff. There is zero excitement for me.”

It was first thing in the morning, over coffee to be exact, when I started scrolling through comments intrigued to see thoughts on the subject.  Pumpkin time begins I marveled. 

Where has summer gone?

There were many comments of course: All nice, mind you, and thank goodness for that! Nothing snarky or inappropriate save for one or two idiots who felt it necessary to bring –of all people–Trump into the topic. What a way to ruin things: Like what on earth does he have to do with Pumpkin Spice in anything!?   Fortunately, the person who posted the Tweet is as sunny and lovely as the sun itself and she is  quick to cut off trolls at the knees.  To be certain, one doesn’t want to read hate and vitriol before the roosters are up (or ever). Of course, one could argue that reading social media these days, particularly first thing in the morning can be an invitation for starting the day on the wrong foot.

In any event the whole point of my thoughts on this lazy afternoon is that September is upon us this weekend.  Halloween stuff has been in stores for weeks already…crazy, right?  So it’s fitting, I suppose, to start thinking of all things pumpkin and spice (meaning cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves) –all of which I love–except…in coffee.

My flavor preferences (for those just dying to know) are puzzling to some (even to me). For example, it is perplexing to my nephew that I like apple pie but not apple juice or I prefer blueberries in my yogurt but I am not inclined towards blueberry pie. How is it that my taste buds are so…curiously discriminating? 

Yes, my sweet…I am weird….

And, when it comes to coffee, I’m a purist.  My cup of java (or espresso) is either black or with skim milk as in a latte or a cappuccino.  That means no sugar, syrups, liquor, whipped cream, or spices…not even the coveted pumpkin spice lattes that are the Starbucks rage from now through Christmas.  And yes, I did try one…once…and, well….blech, far too sweet for my taste buds.  And besides, a 16 oz. pumpkin spice latte is roughly 380 calories.  I’d much rather linger over a cup of black coffee and a piece of pumpkin pie, which is about 60 calories less, give or take.  Okay…honestly, it’s not about calories as my husband will attest to.  I can go face down into a bag of chips polishing off the entire thing at one sitting.  It’s just that those calories need to be ever so pleasing and a pumpkin spice latte doesn’t do it for me.

However, I am mad for pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread….and I’ll happily eat a pumpkin muffin…but–odd I knownot pumpkin cheesecake nor pumpkin ravioli (which makes me shudder) though, I didn’t mind one bit a hearty bowl of pumpkin soup with a lovely kick of ginger and red pepper that I tried when in Scotland this summer.

Lots of folks on that Twitter feed chimed in to agree that pumpkin spice flavoring wasn’t their thing, even in beer.  Some opined that the whole pumpkin thing gets overplayed during Fall as in “…pumpkin this, pumpkin that.”  But many were in the “love it” camp too which is perfectly fine!   One thing however, that nearly everyone could agree on was that pumpkin spice signaled the arrival of their favorite time of year (and mine too).  All the glories of autumn will soon have us gushing over spectacular fall colors not to mention outdoor activities that warrant bowls of delicious hot soups and stews and home-made bread smeared with European butter or Chile recipes packed with enough spices and heat to make you sweat. 

Oh the bliss of just thinking about it!

As long as Fall temps don’t chill me to the bones, I am a happy woman.  So bring on the bliss of autumn….except for this gal, sans pumpkin spice lattes and such.

 

Cycling in Napa Valley, Oct. 2010: Now that’s a pumpkin!

Some Like It Hot

Photo by Jan Gottweiss on Unsplash

I knew it would be a scorcher of a day even before my morning weather briefing from “Alexa.” Heading out the door with The Poodle just before seven a.m. was a certain clue;  a blast of moist, warm air greeted me before I had taken two steps.  A quick look at my weather app confirmed; temps were already in the eighties and would reach 98 today with a 104 heat index. I kept the walk brief, more for The Poodle than for me. 

For the most part we’ve had a manageable summer, weather-wise.  We’ve been fortunate that nothing too dramatic has occurred in our neck of the woods.  And though the dog days of summer doesn’t seem to be waning on this Hades-hot and muggy day I am not complaining.  In fact, through eyes burning with salty sweat– just from a walk around the block– I am almost energized. 

Bring on another dog day, and another one after that, I say as I head back down my driveway with a panting Poodle.  I’m sure at least one of my dear “seven” readers is scratching their head over my wishful thinking.  But here’s the thing…

I’m already thinking of bone-chilling cold winter and Uggs.  And while I love Uggs, I’d honestly prefer not to have to wear them

So yes…I’d venture to say that…..

Some like it hot. 

Which leads me to purposefully digress….altogether off-track…to last night.

Dinner at my sister’s house.

So….Sis and family returned a week ago from an excellent adventure in Bangkok Thailand.  My bro-in-law had to attend a work-related conference which naturally presented a lovely opportunity for the family.  While they all enjoyed their exciting and exotic adventure–which included, among many things, python petting and lemur love as well as a Thai cooking class, we kept the home fires burning–so to speak–providing their pooch, Nica with her own home -away-from-home doggie-vacation (playing with The Poodle aside, this also meant she enjoyed gourmet delights that aren’t the usual fare at her house.)

Sufficiently recovered from a particularly unpleasant jet-lag, Sis felt like showing off her newfound Thai cooking skills.  “Come on over when you’re done with your pool-time.  I’m cooking Thai tonight…libations at 5:30,” she texted.

My sis is a terrific cook and she is often more adventurous in her approach than me.  So, naturally we were all in.

Arriving just a tad late from the pool we were welcomed with ice-cold libations: beer for the hubby and gin and tonic for me.  Normally I don’t imbibe in anything other than wine but every once in a while –particularly on a hot day–my brother-in-law suggests I enjoy something different and I’m always happy to comply.

 

Some like it Hot…really HOT

On the chopping block in my sister’s kitchen there was colorful array of tiny dishes as well as a platter of tiny bright-red peppers that made my heart sing just looking at them.

“Wow…what a production,” I say as I survey the food prep. There was expertly chopped fresh cilantro in one bowl, and lime wedges in another. There were little bowls of sliced red onions, green onions, and fresh mint leaves. A large fresh ginger root was at the ready too.

“What’s in this bowl,” I asked, as I sipped on my gin and tonic.

“Kaffir Lime Leaves,” she replies. “And that…” pointing to what I had just picked up, “… is Lemon Grass,” she says.

“Really?! Wow… I have never used Lemon Grass in a recipe,” I say. She then tells me about making her own rice powder for the Chicken Larb dish.

“Wowza! You really went all out! This all had to have taken hours!”

“Not really,” smiles sis as she takes a moment to relax with her drink. “It just took a little time to find the right ingredients.” We’re fortunate to live in an area that makes that fairly easy. “Anyway,” she continues, “these recipes are all pretty easy. Here, take a look at this.” She hands me a book by Chef Kris Yenbamroong entitled, Night + Market.

I flip through it as sis continues with her meal prep. I’m amazed that the guy has had no formal culinary training and yet he opened a Thai restaurant in L.A. to rave reviews and has authored a cookbook.

“Hmm…there are some really interesting recipes in here. “And you’re right, they look fairly easy.” I also note, as I looked at the chef/author’s photo, that he is heavily tattooed. “He’s heavily inked in black and white,” I add.

“Yes…and it’s quite prevalent to see in Thailand too. So many people with beautiful and interesting tattoos.”

About an hour later with libations finished and a last minute scurry to complete the final touches, we all sat down for our Thai meal experience. For our first course, sis had prepared a soup with red chilies and shrimp that had us sweating bullets at the first slurp.

“Holy Hades…. this is spicy hot!” I said in surprise. In hindsight, I should have known since there was a plate of fresh hot red peppers in the kitchen.

“Oh no, is it too spicy?! I’m sorry!” sis said with anxious concern.

“Are you kidding? I love it! The hotter the better,” I said with unbridled zeal. “This is terrific!” And I really meant it.

For the main course she had prepared Chicken Larb, also delightfully spicy, and a thrill to the taste buds. For inquiring minds about Larb, which is essentially a meat salad, check out this link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larb. We also enjoyed spring rolls (the only non-Thai item on the table) as well as citrus, spice-infused jasmine rice and a delightful papaya and mango salad.

Chicken Larb

So peeps, we ate ourselves silly that night and enjoyed every hot and spicy morsel of it. For a nano-second I think of purchasing the book. After all, I should spice it up a notch in my own kitchen and expand on my usual repertoire of Italian delights…

Hmm. On second thought, no…for the moment at least. There is fun to be had watching –and being a part of–my sis occasionally stepping outside of our Italian heritage. There’s always something to learn and merriment too, in my sister’s kitchen. Quite simply, it makes life all the more colorful and that’s a bliss I don’t want to miss.

What A Difference A Day Makes

….or, twelve days, to be more precise.

So kind readers, I have not been overly vociferous on this here cyberspace spot about my disdain for the bathrooms in my 90’s built house. Mostly this is because I am keenly aware that there are plenty of folks in the world who, I’m certain, would give their first born for a proper roof over their heads, let alone a functioning indoor toilet. Yet I cannot tell you how many times in the last two years I have bitched and groaned about my crookedly-seated master bath toilet or the “poop” brown color everywhere–from cabinets to flooring–in three bathrooms.

Yes. I know. I’m lucky to have not one but three bathrooms.

Oh wait: full disclosure, we actually have five counting a guest powder room and a basement bathroom.

Sigh.

Okay, I feel embarrassed…silly even… complaining about twenty-five year old bathrooms.  I am one lucky woman.

But still:  The cabinets were well worn, and in some cases broken. All the wall mirrors were plenty oxidized with unsightly black edges. And don’t get me started on the floor tile.  Add to that, we discovered a broken pipe under the Jacuzzi tub.  This adds credence to a universal truth: TRUST YOUR INSTINCT.  In this case, it was my refusal to use the Jacuzzi tub because my gut said so.  Our contractor said just one soak in the tub would have caused a great deal of damage.  An image of me–in the tub–crashing through the floor into the kitchen below flashed before my eyes.

So we decided to update the bathrooms. And, instead of pulling off the band-aid a little at a time (i.e. one bathroom remodel a year) we went for ripping off the band-aid all at once: let’s remodel all three.

I’ve never had to remodel bathrooms; completely new territory for me. Naturally I spent many sleepless nights worrying about money and making the best selections within our means. As I didn’t want to shell out an additional $5k on top of the project estimate for a design consultant I relied on my gut–which was, in a word: terrifying— as well as endless hours perusing Houzz.com, Build.com, Pinterest and a host of other cyberspace articles on bathroom projects. I also relied on my sis’s creative skills, picking her brain every now and then on everything from accent tile to drawer pulls. Add to that weeks and weeks of countless trips to Home Depot and as many more to the tile store agonizing over color, grout, accent tiles, etc. My exercise routine plummeted and my chip-snacking sky-rocketed. Still, my only mantra through the process of selecting tile and all the necessary fixtures was: Anything will be better than the poop brown that we have now.

Now, save for shower glass (expected to arrive next week) and hanging mirrors, we are through the worst of the upheaval and the difference is astounding, though my photos don’t convey well enough the before and after! Suffice it to say that we were thrilled to be able to increase our master bath space by a good fifteen square feet without a lot of trouble, and, by getting rid of the “built-in” Jacuzzi tub we gained usable space. In addition, oh what joy to discover we gained nearly a whopping three square feet to the shower!

I’m over the moon with the results!

Now here’s a burning question: What do I do with all my free time now that I no longer need to spend endless hours on Houzz, Build.Com or Pinterest?

Ah, Yes….I suppose I can get my tush to the gym now and afterwards enjoy a soak in my tub under the serene eyes of Buddha…

Not complaining…and there is bliss in that.

It Doesn’t Take Much…

It’s in the 90’s today with 65% humidity.  Just a wee bit sweltering for another day into our first week of bathroom updates.   The twenty-five year old cabinets, fixtures, tiles, etc. are  history.   Out with shabby brown stuff and in with whites and neutrals.   I’ll confess to many sleepless nights thinking about it all: Did I make the right decision on the floor tile…the shower/bath accent tile?  Is this neutral direction too blah?  And more importantly, will my selections negatively affect resale?  In fact, just the night before I’d had a mini panic attack. 

“I should have researched designs more thoroughly.” I say to hubby as I paced the bedroom floor.  He brushes aside my anxiety saying everything will look great.  He also adds an emphatic: “No more fixing-up this year! Period>”

Tension rises as I know Hubby could have happily lived with poop-brown floors and cabinets for at least another decade.

So, In an effort to save money I did not seek professional design help; that would have been another 5K to the project!  And, alas no…I don’t spend any time watching fixer-upper shows on T.V.  It was time-sapping enough browsing bathroom ideas on Houzz or Pinterest.   This is not our “forever” home.  My objective is to keep things simple and neutral.  I also remind myself that anything I do to update the bathrooms is sure to look amazingly better than it does now.

I cannot wait to get rid of this tile. Only the half of it…

So, The Poodle and I are hanging out on the screened-in porch trying to escape the thunderous noise from the work being done on the upstairs bathrooms.  The Poodle is curiously calm despite the drilling and hammering as cabinets and tiles get ripped out from the walls and floors.  Just a few days before rain fell in buckets, nearly drowning out the construction noise. In fact, there was a flash flood alert just a few miles away.

On this morning, as I sip coffee, beads of sweat form at my temples. I close my eyes, inhaling deep and exhaling slow as I contemplate the day. A Spotify playlist of lively Latino tunes has the contractors singing along as they work. It makes me smile, which is helping to temper a building anxiety.

There has been some turmoil as of late, which actually began whilst we were dining in a Scottish pub on the last day of our vacation. Hubby’s mother had an “episode” in her memory care unit causing enough of a to-do that now she needs to “advance” to another level of care. Understandably, Hubby is majorly stressed (we both are) as we consider what to do next.

My mind drifts to where I was just two weeks ago; cycling in the Scottish countryside. One of the morning rides had us cycling in quite a downpour. Not only were we cycling in torrential rain but it was cold enough to briefly sleet as well. I think too of how awfully nice the Scots are. In fact, everyone I met was as nice as can be and good-natured too. I’m not sure why I’m thinking about the subject of “nice people.” Perhaps it’s because of all the stupid stuff people say or do. I was happily disconnected from news and world events while on my excellent bicycle adventure. Since my return I have encountered a person or two who have been mildly rude or unhelpful. Nothing terribly egregious mind you…but still.

So what a lovely memory I carry from meeting one couple, whose names unfortunately escape me because I’ll recall the noise level was fairly deafening…

So I’ll call him James and her Lillian.

We’d just arrived in Glasgow hours earlier and after a shower and a brief nap we hailed an Uber and off we went to city central. It would be the best opportunity for shopping as the remainder of our adventure would find us in small country towns–and sure enough–too exhausted for much else after cycling all day. We managed to pick up a Crawford tartan scarf for hubby and odds and ends for my sis and her family. After a few purchases we decided to find a pub to begin, in earnest, our Scotland vacation. We stumbled on Denholms, a place up the street from Glasgow Central (train) Station. Hubby was intent on a brew while I just wanted a glass of wine. It was barely 5 p.m. and the place was already packed and the noise level was loud. Hubby asked if I wanted to find a quieter spot.

Downtown Glasgow side street

“Are you kidding? This is perfect! We’re in Scotland!” was my reply.

Hubby ordered his brew and I got a glass of house wine. Hubby was happy with his selection. My wine…eh, not so much. But I drank it anyway just happy to be on a new adventure. As we sat and sipped our libations the lovely couple (that would be ‘James and Lillian’) the next table over, noting that we were Americans, struck up a conversation. Strong accents aside, it was difficult to hear with the background music and all the pub chatter but we gleaned that James was from Liverpool and Lillian a Glasgow native. James served in the military, during the Falklands War, and now retired from the military drives the equivalent of an 18-wheeler throughout southern Scotland. James and Lillian are still newlyweds…barely married a year! They chatted with us as if we were Denholms regulars. These folks were nice as can be!

Another round for the Americans!

At one point I excused myself for the restroom. When I returned just a few minutes later there was another glass of wine waiting for me as well as another large brew for hubby.

“Oh dear…” I began, a look of dismay directed at hubby. But before I could finish my sentence he chimed in informing me that James had surprised him by ordering round for us.

“Oh my…well, thank you James!” I said. “But…well, I haven’t eaten for quite some time…not since getting off the plane early this morning. I fear I just might just slide under the table if I drink this.”

“Ah, but it’s better wine than that first glass you ordered. Come on…give it a go,” said James with a wide smile.

“Darling…perhaps we should have asked first before ordering,” says Lillian. She adds a jovial apology.

“No..no. This is fantastic,” I nearly yell over the increasing din of pub chatter and lively music.

Indeed, the wine was far better than my first glass and yes, I could feel a slight buzz coming on due to drinking on an empty stomach. When James and Lillian finally prepared to leave I asked if I could take a photo of them–which they were absolutely tickled to pose for. By then, the small pub was tightly packed. We exchanged a round of hugs and thanks.

“Oh you shouldn’t be thanking us” I said, hugging Lillian. You bought us drinks! You both have given us a lovely start to our excellent Scottish adventure.”

“Aye…but we had a lovely time too,” replied James.

Hubby and I lingered for a few minutes more which is when I caught sight of my first Kilt-clad gentleman. It was obvious he was a regular. As I watched him make his way to the far side of the counter he greeted folks right and left. His mood was so genial as he ordered his brew and then raised it in thanks to the bartender that inexplicably, it made me smile from ear to ear. Of course, I had to take a picture of the man in the Kilt and had I not felt that I’d pass out from hunger I would have stayed and gotten his name.

Kilt clad gent enjoying his evening brew

The Poodle rises from his place by my side and starts barking, snapping me back to reality. One of the workers had come into the kitchen for water. Through the patio window I could see he was eyeing the enormous Costco box of chocolate chip cookies that I had placed on the kitchen table. I had purchased several boxes–as well as bottled water– as snacks for the crew. “Go ahead,” I said as I entered into the kitchen. “The cookies are for all of you guys.” Still, I could sense his hesitation–most likely due to a language barrier– so I motioned him to take cookies.

“Thank you Miss,” he said radiating happiness with a broad toothy smile.

Oh how lucky I am. And, it doesn’t take much….

Though uncertainty, sadness, and a host of other emotions punctuate the day one thing is for certain, the feelings experienced from gratitude and kindness…that is true bliss.

Feeling blissful, one moment at a time.

Rough and Tumble Beauty

My photo: Sunlight beneath a large fern ~ Isle of Arran
The National Flower: Scottish Thistle: Photo by Brian Breeden on Unsplash

Seven days of cycling through the Scottish countryside made my heart sing in so many ways which, to be truthful, I was not expecting. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting but I didn’t think–for example–that I’d find picture-perfect neatness among the rough and tumble landscape nearly at every turn. Honestly, my words here cannot possibly convey the beauty of Scotland! Countless times I remarked to hubby– as we cycled through tiny towns, over hills and dales, around castle grounds, on an island off the mainland, and also in Galloway Forest Park in Dumfries and Galloway–about how neat and tidy everything was. My Libra affection for all things beautiful was smitten indeed with the tiny white-washed cottages that dotted lush green and rocky landscapes. Framed by perfectly trimmed hedges and old stone walls, yards are neat and orderly with pots of flowers, thoughtfully placed here and there—their blooms vibrant against the backdrop of white walls. I was so enthralled with this neatness I felt compelled to ask one of our Scottish cycle guides, Craig, if there was some sort of monetary penalty for keeping a junky yard.

His look was quizzical to I explained my question. “In Alabama country, it is not at all uncommon to see discarded old toilets and bathtubs in the front yard, along with piles of garbage, bed mattresses, broken sofas, and other debris. Honestly you’ll see everything from thoroughly dilapidated houses to abandoned rusted-out cars to heaps of old farm machinery.”

“Aye, no…we don’t have that issue,” he said. We Scots simply take a lot of pride in our surroundings. We like to keep things neat and orderly and often we compete for the prettiest gardens.” He further added that his yard wasn’t quite as soothing to the eye. “I’m never home long enough to take care of things (But of course! He’s busy catering to cyclists like us!). I’d wager you’d be a wee bit disappointed with my yard.”

My photo: That’s some back yard!

“I think we need to overhaul our yard,” I said to hubby days after returning home. I could see a slight clenching of his jaw which made me quickly add:

“Oh…I know! That is not going to happen of course! We’ve got three bathrooms up next to remodel on the list of things to do to update our “fixer-upper.”

“It’s just that I can’t get those quaint tidy yards and all those flowers out of my head,” I explained. “Everything seemed so exquisitely manicured.”

My photo: Tidiness round every corner

Not only are yards and Cottages charming and prettily maintained the flora of Scotland didn’t disappoint the eyes one bit either. I wasn’t able to put names to everything that made my heart sing put I do know that there were lovely poppies at one lunch stop, as well as Heather, Thistle (the national flower of Scotland) and a profusion of purple rhododendrons practically in every nook and cranny. I found out later that those beautiful pops of purple rhododendrons everywhere are considered “invasive” and threaten the native biodiversity of the countryside. Ferns, large and small, from fragile to hardy, were everywhere too, even growing out of stone walls and atop barns and cottages. Vividly green moss was everywhere–on rocks and walls, on massive gnarled tree roots and lichen too, adding interest and color to the landscape as well. And who knew that there are some 1,500 varieties of Lichen in Scotland?! Interested in learning more, check out: https://www.nature.scot/plants-animals-and-fungi/lichens. Additionally, because the Isle of Arran enjoys the warming influence of the Gulf Stream and with it a mild climate, it is abundantly rich in diversity of flora and ferns. Incredibly, the small island of Arran boasts some 900 flowering plants and a host of interesting greenery to include the rather bizarre looking Monkey Puzzle tree.

Lichen: Photo by Kai Gradert on Unsplash

As I consider an afternoon walk with The Poodle you can understand, dear reader, why my head is still across-the- pond, in Scotland where temps are at least thirty degrees less sweltering and sheep (even the baa-bad ones) bleat in conversation roaming endless pastures of rough and tumble beauty.

There is bliss in that.