26 December 2012

We decided to have a 'No batteries-No mains-No Internet connection needed' Christmas, and the usual 'non-powered by artificial means' gifts were frowned on as too lacking in imagination. LOL, we just sent off close to 300 books with the OxFam books guy so clearly books were off the gift-giving menu. But also off were the 'easy' things like manicure and grooming sets or perpetual motion desk toys. Oh boy...

Paul wasn't anywhere close to 'Mr Christmas' when we got together. His family is gone, he'd been a lifelong bachelor until me, and he is something of a curmudgeon. I'd had to leave EVERYTHING except the barest of the barest essentials in the States owing to the truly horrific shipping costs. So the first Christmas we spent together in person is most generously described as low-key. We did have a tree (one ornament, and a string of lights from 1987) and put lights in the front windows. Dinner was so un-special I don't even recall what we had.

The next Christmas I'd planned ahead. We had several ornaments on a live dwarf spruce (now living happily in a pot at the back garden gate) and a less low-key meal. Whilst in the States with my son I found (in the clearance bin of course) five wood mini-gingerbread boys and six mini-stars. I brought them home and painted them, and I 'glitterfied' some tiny larch pine cones. Houston, we have Tree. Oh, it was kinda cute! We had a special meal wherein I proved to Paul I could roast a turkey rather nicely.

Christmas 2012...This year I had a few more ornaments (found some really lovely wooden laser cut sleighs and reindeer in the craft store) and a bigger plan-I'm still not sure how I managed it but somehow I talked Paul into considering a high quality 3' artificial Christmas tree. I think it was the 'You'll never have to buy another tree again in your life, and then I can put up the tree on the 1st of December every single year' so on the 18th of December when we still hadn't found the 'live' tree Paul was holding out for and the fab-oo-lux fake we wanted was sold out EVERYWHERE online, we grabbed a £3 artificial, pre-lit tree out of a bin at ASDA. Giggled all the way home at how incredibly awful a £3 artificial ASDA Christmas tree was going to be.

Got it home, out of the box and fluffed it out-OH HEY, that's not bad at all. (Thus potentially saving Paul close to £80 on the stunningly realistic Nordman Fir that was sold out all over the 'Net when he finally agreed to buy one). I had that thing decorated in half a heartbeat while listening to a Christmas movie on TV.

Despite the battery operated lights it is a very old fashioned looking tree:

Here's a close up of the laser cut sleighs and reindeer, I love these. They are so fragile several of the reindeer broke and I'm not sure I can save them but I plan to try. I threw that star topper together in about an hour, it has a peculiar charm with it's crooked patchwork and Paul says we'll keep it, lol:

As you can see from the picture, we even have very old fashioned looking gifts under the tree. And the gifts inside the brown paper wrapping are very nearly as old fashioned-we went VERY low tech! Watercolour pencils and colouring books for grown-ups (Paul's is so intricate each page has to be removed from the book and set up on an easel for painting). A Yahtzee game, a pack of Uno cards. The stockings were filled with sugared almonds, colouring books and crayons, ball and cup toys and balsa wood gliders. Christmas Eve we set an oil lamp in the study window (which fronts the street) to light the way for the Christ Child; all the dishes were washed, the bathroom cleaned (lol), the house dusted, and the floors vacuumed, and the tree lights were left on so Father Christmas would see, when he looked in to check, that Paul and Fox'sMom are keeping Christmas well.

We played Yahtzee all day with Christmas movies on TV until the Queen came on at 3pm for her annual address. We had already pulled our crackers so we were truly British-paper crowns still on-when the first notes of God Save The Queen sounded (first time either of us had heard it played as a flute solo, it was lovely really), and to be honest HRM's message did have us both tearing up a bit.

Dr Who, Call The Midwife, Downtown Abby. Yahtzee. One of the best beef joint roasts I've made or tasted with brussel sprouts, mashed potatoes-we were so full we couldn't force down the Christmas pudding so we're saving it for after lunch today. HAPPY CHRISTMAS! (no, sadly, no phone call from or to Fox. He's gone completely low tech himself this year, no mobile, no land line, and he never makes time to check his email at the library. But he's ok, and we're hoping to actually speak before New Years)

Roo contentedly played with his Christmas gift of a fluff ball on a string, guarding it from us by sleeping on it. I'd insert that picture but Paul hasn't emailed it to me yet, lol! He also enjoyed a small bit of roast beef and mashed potatoes, and a 'wee tot' of Christmas beer. Sigh. Paul puts a drop in a bottle cap because really, Roo is one very good little beggar for a drop of beer. One drop, he's happy and curls up at the foot of the bed but he can be very pushy about getting that drop!

Paul is a little closer to being more of a Mr Christmas. He actually bought me a set of clip-on Christmas Candle lights. Sadly those lights are too heavy to be placed on the tree so I'll be spending part of 2013 upcycling a strand of fairy lights into a set of miniature clip on candles because we really like the look of candles on a tree. The gliders, the ball and cup, and especially the Yahtzee, were the perfect gifts. He had the best Christmas he's had in years. Decades. We've decided this is the way the rest of our Christmas' will be-old fashioned and low-tech.

And now it's Boxing Day. We are hoping to get out for a walk around the loch, just waiting for the morning update on conditions out there to be posted online as there is no sense walking the mile to the loch only to find the paths are closed owing to excessive mud.

2012 will be over in six days. We've made our resolutions both as a couple and as individuals. We're moving house in the spring-smaller house in a smaller town-so we've been going through Paul's lifelong accumulation (hence the 300+ books donated to OxFam, fondue sets, furniture and clothing to the charity shops). We're beginning to rattle around this house like two dried peas in an emptied lozenge tin, downsizing is clearly a right decision for us. It's time to let this house go to a family with children who need a back garden, and wonderful neighbours, which ours are on all sides.

Life isn't perfect-the son and grandson are in America and we miss them both so much we have to not think about it. Easier said than done at the best of times but the horror in Connecticut makes it sooo much harder to be apart from them. What could anyone have done, yet I kept saying to Paul that I just want the grandson here so he's safe...but he's no safer here than anywhere else. Dunblane is south of us but people in our town have kin there and the unhealed scars of that horrific March morning were ripped open for most Scots 11 days ago. What can anyone say, there are no words.

Likewise no words for any of the other tragedies in the US and the UK. We were again horrified when those firefighters were murdered Christmas Eve morning, and when several people here were killed in traffic crashes as they braved the flooded and mudded motorways in an effort to get home for Christmas. The rains continue to pour down on the South of England, where there are now landslip warnings and people are not even safe if their houses escaped the flooding-one landslip in Wales crushed a row of homes and people barely made it out alive.

What will 2013 bring?

03 November 2012

When I blogged on 1 June that people in hurricane prone areas should prepare, should evacuate if requested to by the authorities, and begged readers to pray that the young surfer in St Augustine would be the only American to die in the 2012 hurricane season, I really hoped the US would get through the season without any devastation. Of course I was praying the same for ALL hurricane prone areas like Cuba, Dominican Republic, Hati, the Bahamas and Bermuda. But really what was in my mind was the Gulf Coast. Certainly not the Atlantic Seaboard, and most assuredly not NJ and NY.

As many of my readers know, I'm a climate refugee myself (Ivan and Katrina), and an outspoken 'Doomer' who believes, among other things, in Peak Oil with all of its implications for 'modern society, and climate change-although I deeply doubt it's AGW driven, frankly. Climate on this planet is cyclical and all of this has happened before. It's supreme hubris to think we are responsible for it happening. What we are responsible for is our recognition that it happens, and how well or not we prepare for the impact on our lives.

My primary higher education training is in 'aberrant human behaviour'. As a sort of side-bar to criminal behaviour, I was interested in the psychological implications of extreme stress on the average human. PTSD, once known as shell shock and later as combat fatigue, and how it might be a causative factor in aberrant human behaviour, how it might contribute to what used to be known as 'mob mentality' behaviours. From my studies I learned to be extremely wary of just what the folks not only next door but in the whole neighbourhood were capable of in periods of extreme stress. Social unrest. Civil disorder. What caused it-what gave it permission to infest a crowd and turn so-called normal people into savages, and how could it be prevented, that was what I wanted to know.

Of course, no-one else seemed to want to know. Not the law enforcement agencies I did consults for although there usually was one or more rarely two individuals who had similar interests, it wasn't encouraged to try to find out why aberrant human behaviour like mob mentality was on the uptick. In fact, statistics beginning in the early to mid-eighties were obviously being manipulated and in some cases outright denied. After a certain point I gave up trying to show my ever growing files of clippings and historic parallels to current events-no one wanted to know.

Now NYC and part of New Jersey are on the downhill slide to a very real reality check.

Transportation is insane there right now-it will be weeks if not months before the subways are all pumped out and restored to service, power is only just beginning to come back on, and of course, there are growing numbers of storm hit victims on telly begging for help. The US government is now easing restrictions on tankers to NY Port in an effort to get enough petrol to the area, and is mobilising US military deliveries of petrol to the areas hardest hit.

Growing death tolls. Residents in public housing huddling in complete terror. Looting. Muggings. Fights in petrol queues. Shortages of food and water.

Recipe for further disaster. It's everything I studied back when. Everything I and others like me tried mightily to bring to the attention of the authorities in hopes of effecting changes before things deteriorated too badly for any prevention to have an affect.

The mayor of NYC actually thought having the annual Marathon would somehow be a good thing, and is so angry that wiser heads managed to prevail that he refused to be the announcer of the cancellation, leaving it to his deputy. Apparently the mayor failed to listen to himself when he grimly advised before the storm hit that it was not a 2-3 day event.

Near a coast or river in the USA? YOU ARE A TARGET IN THE EYES OF MOTHER NATURE.

Live in a tornado prone area? YOU ARE A TARGET IN THE EYES OF MOTHER NATURE.

Live in an area with possible weather extremes of any kind-snow/ice, flooding, killing heat?

Get away now while it is still possible to relocate without the added onus of being a climate refugee. Being easily recognised as a climate refugee is not a positive factor in a relocation situation, trust me as one who has been there. If you insist on staying in a weather prone area, FFS prepare for the worst-it's coming.

Live in an area 'on the edge' (public housing, or lower income neighbourhood) YOU ARE A TARGET IN THE EYES OF YOUR NEIGHBOURS IN THE EVENT OF AN EMERGENCY OR NATURAL DISASTER.

Stay out of crowds for the foreseeable future (mobs turn on a dime, the CRAZY can get rolling in less than 60 seconds). Look less prosperous than you are-under no circumstances tell ANYONE outside of the immediate family that you have ANYTHING stored. Know your neighbours including an estimation of which ones might be your weakest ones most likely to go nuts in an emergency and turn on YOU.

It's the economy-those hopeful stats are LYING. It's not getting better, people are not better off than they were four years ago, and if you think there is a copper looking out for you then you are not paying attention to the fact that police budget cuts are being made DAILY across the world, not just in the US.

All the things I learned about and feared would happen if we didn't make changes? They're happening. NOLA wasn't a one-off and some of us knew that but no-one wanted to know. Now NJ and NY are seeing it in their front yards, and people are starting to wake up to the fact that infrastructure hasn't been maintained-when it goes down it will take longer and longer to bring back online, and we're all on our own in an emergency.

Sandy death toll in the US is at 90+ at this writing and authorities are now admitting it very likely may as much as double. Do what you can to avoid being a statistic. Please.

11 September 2012

9/11. Again. Eleven years later I really can still 'see' and 'feel' that morning. Waking up, going downstairs to start the day, turning on the TV just in time to see the first tower fall.

I was seven years old and in classes at St Joseph's Catholic Elementary School, Pomona, California, USA. We were getting ready to start the maths portion of our school day when one of the novices came in sobbing, whispered into Sister Mary Alligator's ear something so terrible that Sister Mary Alligator burst into tears too. It was the one and only time I saw Sister Mary Alligator as a person who felt things, who had dreams too, just like mine. In that moment, and only for that moment because the aftermath of it all only made Sister meaner, I realised something had happened that crushed her dreams. She had us on our knees praying for the life of President Kennedy in a half a heartbeat. 

The days that followed are acid etched into my memory, and the terrible moment when John Jr saluted his father's casket especially so. When John Jr was killed in that July plane crash my first thought was of that little boy I'd seen, that now he and his father were together but surely President Kennedy was grief stricken that his son had joined him far too early. 

We all have days or times that are acid etched into our hearts and minds, national griefs. Days like 22 November and 9 September. Days like 6 and 9 August. Days like 7 July, and 11 March.

Days like the Cuban Missile Crisis, when we were all sure we were going to die horrifically and even though we didn't, the terror never really went away because the horror was tinged with the most profound of griefs-that we'd unleashed something so awful as instant world destruction that although we'd averted it, we'd only averted it 'for now'. Out there somewhere someone could push a button and nuclear winter would descend on a planet devoid of nearly all life. Except cockroaches. Which somehow made it all that much worse.  

We have the personal days Grief arrives and changes our life; griefs so deep, so profound we are sure we will never 'get past' or 'get over' It. Griefs that we endure day after soul numbing day. Over the years that pass after a personal grief, we are sure the pain will never go away and the truth is that the pain indeed NEVER goes away.

I'm reading a David Baldacci novel, One Summer, and this Scottish morning, five hours ahead of New York City, I stood in the back door watching the sunrise as I read another chapter of the book. In the chapter I read, one of the characters is trying to comfort and strengthen her grandson-in-law in his grief at the loss of his beloved wife, and she writes to him these words:

"It's not so much that time heals all wounds, Honey, as it is that the passage of the years lets us make peace with our grief in our way."

I can relate to that, actually, even though my heart really does continue to ache at all my personal griefs, and certainly at the national ones. Over the years, on personal and national anniversaries of the arrival of Grief, I've managed to 'get through' the anniversary without revealing to others how very much I am still profoundly grief stricken. I consider it an achievement. In that I am no different than any other bereaved person.

The sun will rise over America this morning in five hours, and people will get up to start their day. Family members and loved ones of all the people who were murdered that morning eleven years ago will begin what ever ritual they have developed over the years to get through the anniversary. I remember when I was in training to be a grief counselor and the admonition came from our instructor that anniversaries do not become easier for the grief stricken but instead become increasing difficult because the grief stricken cannot understand how the world has gone on so normally when something so completely awful has happened-'How,' they wonder, 'how can so many years have gone by without (insert name of loved one here) in the world?!'

(Insert a tinge of 'survivor's guilt' here, the bereaved ALWAYS feel some. Even if they have found a way to 'make peace' with their loss. Always. It's normal. It should be acknowledged and dealt with or else the survivor ends up suicidal.)

After the first few years the bereaved takes especial care to conceal the difficulty from others. It's one of the ways the bereaved 'make peace' with the grief, that determination not to spread their misery.

Grief, personal and/or national, changes us. We truly are not ever the same person again after Grief arrives. Too many griefs unhinge, there is a limit as to how much grief a soul can endure without going mad in one way or another; the worst evil Grief does to the soul is to force it to endure to the breaking point by having to conceal the depth.

In the eleven years since 9/11 there are those who say we should 'get over it', and in so doing they reopen the wound. These people force those of us who grieve to conceal our grief to avoid hearing the impatience, the lack of respect is a profoundly painful 'secondary wounding' and those who inflict it on the bereaved are either inappropriately 'coping' with their inability to cope with their own grief, or they are unfeeling savages who at least privately acknowledge that they are incapable of feeling grief and are taking their embarrassment at the unfeeling lack out on those who do feel.

Take your pick, and I'm at a point where my patience is unfortunately exhausted for those who refuse to face their grief and find a way to make peace with it. Belittling someone else' depth of grieving no matter how long it has been is NOT an appropriate way to cope with one's own grief (or recognition of the lack of grief), it just isn't.

01 September 2012

Busy days as winter fast approaches.

We took Roo back to his family last week. The trip down to Essex was sad for Paul and me as we had really come to love that cat but his folks were ready for him to be there as they move to their new home in Devon.

Long, long drive made longer by pouring rain all the way. We arrived on schedule though, and carried Roo into the house to reunite him with the people who'd rescued him from a shortened life as a semi-feral cat in the Devon countryside.

Oh dear. Setting the cat carrier down on the lounge carpet brought the elder statesman of the three cats Christine and Graham have reared from kittenhood, Smudge, a 19 year old Tuxie who looks and acts far younger than his years. He took one look at Roo and let out a warning hiss then went on his way.

Hope floats. Chris let Roo out of the carrier and enjoyed a lovely reunion with her lad. Things seemed to be going well and Roo was let to explore his new home.

Unfortunately he caught sight of the sleeping Dinks, a female Tortie of some years and went over to give her a sniff...erm, never sniff sleeping dragons. She had Roo pinned under the coffee table so quickly the four humans had no chance to intervene. A tiny cat, she puffed in outrage to three times her size, Roo was in shock and looking for rescue.

It all went downhill from there. At one point our hopes were reignited when Smudge was sitting on the patio talking politely to Roo through the screen door but Roo quickly doused those hopes when he tried to smack Smudge through the screen. Then the next night Roo, who had learned to open the guest room door, slipped out of the guest room and met up with the third cat, Shadow, a gorgeous Angora who wasted no time letting him know she did not appreciate his terrible manners towards the senior members of the house.

Christine and Graham are extraordinary gardeners who have turned their front and back gardens into gorgeous beauty spots. The back garden is completely private and features a pond with koi, harmonious plantings, and a sweet arbor bench overhung with wisteria. We spent what time we were not keeping Roo from putting his would be fur-sibs into vet hospital sitting on the terrace watching the plants grow, it was the most restful holiday I've had in years despite the grief Roo was causing by refusing to become part of a happy family.

The animosity between the three and Roo was not the usual jostling of the introduction of a new cat, it was horribly clear that should opportunity knock there would be a lot more than a bit of fur flying. The decision was made to bring Roo back to Scotland to be the only cat-he clearly does not play well with others and never will. I think he thought he could run the other three off and be Chris and Graham's only cat and that was not going to happen. I know Chris and Graham are heartbroken, they have huge hearts and now there is a gigantic Roo sized hole there. Paul and I love the beast but had hoped things would have a 'happy ending' there with them, it was heart rending to have to load him up and leave for the return to our home.

So we are back in Scotland with a Siamese-Abyssinian cross. We are keeping the hire car for another week so that we can do the annual stock-up, and yesterday the first thing we brought home was 100kg of cat litter, lol! Lugging a bag of cat litter up our hill on foot is never pleasant so we took advantage of having a car to bring in a huge lot of the stuff. We also stocked up on cat food (also heavy to carry home on foot), and people food as well-beans, potatoes, other tinned veg, freezer goods, and oh yea, I have a bushel of apples and one of onions to process for freezing-can't wait. Heh.

Winter is coming very quickly this year. Essex was beautiful, better than a trip to Spain for warmth and sunshine-I'm going to remember the warmth as we go deeper into winter. We left their house in the mid-seventies, as soon as we hit Cumbria on the England-Scotland border the temp had dropped over 30 degrees and it was a good thing I'd put the hoodies and coats close to hand in anticipation of a temp drop. It's been down in the low 40s since we got home, and we are going to have to call in the winter firewood a lot earlier than usual! We have a lot of other winterisation prep to do and I'm not sure how long we'll have to do that as the temps simply don't give any hint of going back up anytime soon. Brr, I need to get the winter clothes checked and the winter duvets aired-LOL and of course it's...pouring rain!

And as for my hopes of getting in a fall garden, well, those are dashed as well. With all this rain (which btw has really been streaming down for over a year here in Scotland) there is no way we'll have any sort of veg garden at all, hence the purchase yesterday of plenty of veg to get us through winter.

Better close now, and get cracking on those apples and onions. One apple pie and the rest into the freezer; all the onions sliced, diced, and into the freezer. I did that last summer and it was great to be able to reach into the freezer for apple pie fixins' and ready to carmelise onions:) But it is a lengthy process getting those things ready for the freezer so I'd better get Paul's breakfast and then get slicing-dicing-arranging on cookie sheets for the initial freeze...

01 August 2012

The expat life is a never ceasing adventure. Yesterday I finally found iodised salt, a quest I have been on for nearly two years.

I arrived in August 2010 and after jet-lag wore off (took two weeks, wowsa!) I inventoried Paul's home for the basics, condiments included. Ah, after I got over the shock of being expected to cook with seasonings that had expired in the last century (no, really, he had spices labelled as having expired in 1998 and 1999-one bottle in '97), one afternoon after a walk through town I then got the extremely unpleasant shock of finding out the milk here isn't Vitamin D fortified (neither is the bread). But the capper is that table salt (hell, any salt) here is not routinely iodised. I was really-really-really shocked.

How does a modern country with the best healthcare system in the world not fortify it's milk and bread with Vitamin D, and not routinely iodise it's bloody salt?!

Please do not misunderstand, dear readers, I really do love the UK, but WTH??!! Life expectancies here in the UK are lower than in the US and now I understand. I understand why it seems as though 1 in 3 people seen on the streets have some sort of physical or mental handicap. No duh, they're all deficient in two essential nutrients, inexpensive and easily added to common food stuffs. Vitamin D and iodine.

But they don't add those two inexpensive and easily added nutrients, and the healthcare burden is incredible.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is very common in Scotland, the northernmost areas have exceptionally high rates of the killer. It has been suspected that Vitamin D deficiency contributes or even causes MS and some medical authorities have been urging bread and milk producers to fortify with it. Other medical authorities have shrugged, so to get adequate Vitamin D into us I have to serve out a pill to each of us. Daily. For the rest of our lives.

Incidence rates of goiter, cretinism, mental retardation and several other conditions known to be caused or exacerbated by iodine deficiency are abnormally high here, so high that it is common to see iodine deficiency handicapped people every time one goes out and about. 70% of tested Brits in 2011 showed iodine deficiency.

Yet to get iodised salt here I have to:

A-drive nearly 200 miles round trip to buy an 80p canister of Cerebos at the nearest Waitrose grocery.

B-order a £20 case of Morton salt PLUS pay £30 shipping-yes, that's right, I can buy a case of good old American Morton's Iodized Salt for £20 on Amazon.co.uk who will then have it shipped from the USA to my home in NorthEast Scotland at the cost of £30. S'rlsy. Sigh.

C-Search the Internet, find a post on an expat forum I ordinarily wouldn't touch with a barge pole stating that SOMETIMES (but not always) Lidl and Aldi carry iodised salt. Why? Because a few years back the Germans caught on to the financial burden of iodine deficiency in their population and started iodising their salt and fortifying their bread. (Side note-they now also toss in Vitamin D to milk and bread)

And yesterday Lidl had a case of iodised salt. And the manager promised me they would continue to carry it as their German owners had taken the decision to carry permanently. I bought a box, no sense buying more than I can store. I do have to watch my salt intake so a box of salt will last us quite a while.

Which might explain my fever to find a reliable, reasonably priced source for the stuff. I can't take in much more than 2g of salt a day (the recommended daily allowance in the UK is an astonishing 6g per day, that is flippin' mind-boggling, I think maybe they are trying to kill off the population?). Now, if I use iodised salt I can meet my recommended daily allowance of salt, and get the daily allowance of iodine (150mcg) at the same time.

It took me nearly a year to figure out how to read the labels on food here to figure out daily sodium intake because they don't list it in milligrams here if they list it at all, and then they list it as salt so I had TWO conversions to make. It took me forever to figure out I need to keep the intake at 2g of salt a day, it really did.

Whew, being an expat is such an adventure in so many small ways.

Paul had NEVER got the proper daily recommended Vitamin D in his life because even though he was and is an outdoorsy fellow, the sun so rarely shines here in Scotland that nearly ALL Scots have some level of Vitamin D deficiency. I wasn't surprised he showed to be 'somewhat deficient'. Sorry, you either are or are not. He was.

I grew up in Southern California, and even after leaving there at age 18 I have spent most of my life out of doors in strong sunlight, really it's a wonder I haven't developed skin cancer. And I grew up drinking fortified milk and eating fortified bread. Vitamin D wasn't one of my big worries. I didn't register as deficient but we tested early on and it's possible I was coasting on a lifetime of sunshine and fortification.

So I hit the 'Net to do some research. Right about the same time I was saying to Paul 'I don't get this, you guys have the highest MS rates in the world, highest goiter, cretinism and other iodine deficiencies related health problems and yet you don't...' the BBC News announced that the results were in-not fortifying milk and bread was causing severe deficiencies...

They still haven't caught on to the iodised salt thing and it's frankly scaring the hell out of me. I walk down the streets here seeing physically and mentally handicapped people I know damn well are that way because they are suffering Vitamin D and iodine deficiencies. For feck sake, so many people in this town have rickets it's a common sight to see them walking around, yet Paul didn't even know what it was.

No, really. We were out to the shops, and I noticed a number of people with the peculiar rickets gait. I said to Paul 'Wow, lot of rickets around here, are people so poor they can't afford milk and bread?!' He didn't know what I was talking about, had never heard of rickets even though in a Twilight Zone feeling half hour walk around town we'd seen several people walking around with that rolling-hitching gait so profoundly recognisable as rickets that once you know what it is, you never forget what it looks like. So I explained it to him, that rickets were a disease of malnutrition, that anyone with access to milk and bread wouldn't have rickets...

This was early on and was nearly a deal-breaker, no guy wants to think his girlfriend is dissin' the town.

It took an hour on the 'Net to convince Paul that rickets are directly relatable to Vitamin D deficiency; MS, Type1 diabetes, and several other chronic, debilitating, and life threatening conditions are as well, and that those several goiter sufferers we'd seen were suffering from iodine deficiency.

Seriously, 1 in five according to my count that day. Excuse me, I went my whole fifty plus years in the US having seen goiter maybe twice total, and here I saw so many people with goiter in ONE DAY that I gave up counting.

Right, so from the laptop to the kitchen...I reached into the fridge to show him the milk label-WTH??!

I looked at the bread label, and that's when I realised I might be in trouble. But I looked at the salt canister and that's when I knew I was in trouble.

Milk and bread-no fortification. Salt-no idodising.

People like to call the UK the nanny state but until they routinely fortify milk and bread, and iodise table salt, I am going to think this is more of a 'kill off your general population' state. It is absolutely mid-boggling to me that the government bangs on about austerity and rationing NHS healthcare when they have the simplest solution to a huge lot of the chronic illness and disability yet refuse to implement it!

Really shocking to me that I had to search for nearly two years for a reliable source of iodised salt, and that I have to remember to serve a daily supplement of Vitamin D for the rest of my life.

I don't have any trouble finding Vitamin D supplements, it's now sold in Boots and all of the grocery stores. But I had one hell of a time finding a reliable source of iodised salt. In a civilised Union so cock-sure of it's superiority to the US, I found that troubling.

The expat adventure.

19 July 2012

We're at that age now. We pick up the telephone, or as in my case last night, we check our email. Someone has contacted us to let us know someone we knew in high school or college has died. Someone we lost connection with, someone we didn't see because Life moved us states and continents away and somehow we heard of how the other was doing but had no direct contact with for years.

Such a harsh word, 'died', really when applied to a friend or family member it is a word that CANNOT be brought from heart to brain to tongue to ears-we say 'passed' or 'slipped away' because saying 'died' is just too blunt.

But yesterday morning, Southern California time, my friend from high school, that oasis of sanity and common sense and hope all mingled joyously into one soul, died. I had to force myself to write that word. Even though I know from my hospice work that there is NO way Nancy 'slipped away', I want to use that phrase instead of that word died. She had such a great sense of humour that I think she would say 'I croaked. And?' 

Because to her it was probably terribly unfair, and horribly painful in so many ways that making simple statements of fact would somehow make it easier to bear for everyone. Nancy was not a whiner.

I'm trying. In her honour, I'm trying. But it ain't easy. 

Because of the time difference it was late-ish here when the email hit the inbox. 

Thought you would want to know ... Nancy passed away today

Just that, as though he'd just heard and those were the only words he could bring himself to say at that awful moment. The friend who emailed me the news is Number Two on the list of people I do not want to ever have to hear has passed. There were three people on that list. Nancy, Bruce, and Bonnie. And now Nancy is gone. Now there are two people on that list.

We're at that age now. People are going to start passing, slipping away. Life has a way of reaching out and saying 'Time', and even though Nancy was stricken with cancer, we are at that age now when people start passing out of our reach forever in significant numbers. When I got the reply-to-the-reply email last night around 11pm Scotland time from Bruce that she'd been diagnosed with brain cancer late last year I was shocked, I really had hoped that great heart of hers had simply stopped, peacefully, in her sleep. I know that hoping for that at our age is silly, that peaceful, 'taken in her sleep' passing is for much older folk than we are just now. 

No, at our age people begin to die of things like cancer. That's how my generation begins to die off, we die from cancer if we've made it to our fifties. It's not until our sixties that we start to die from cumulative heart disease and diabetes, our seventies that strokes begin to steal our lives, and then in our late seventies and eighties, if we are really-really lucky, we start to slip away in the night whilst sleeping.

In our twenties it's war, drugs overdoses, and car crashes we have direct responsibility for mostly, if we die; in our thirties and forties it's from plane wrecks caused by lunatics with bombs or pilot error or freak weather, or drinks-drugs driving crashes caused by other people, or 'life-style related' AIDS (injected drugs and/or unprotected promiscuous sex). 

Few of the people I went to high school and college with have died, but those who have, have died at those ages from those causes. Rarities, shocking, but part of Life and too easily 'got over' because the reasons they died were part of Life. Gasp, sniffle, shrug, depending on what happened, and then we're 'over it'. Life, it's what happens.

But no-one likes to think about the way we die when we are in our fifties because for some reason the inevitability and the finality and the expectedness of dying in one's fifties is just not something we want to think about. We don't want to pre-plan our funerals, make out our wills, spend more quality time with our loved ones because dammit, it's just so freakin' unfair that we are SO much closer to dying than we are to living once that fiftieth birthday has come and gone! So we revert to childhood magical thinking and decide not to think about it. 

Nancy leaves behind parents, siblings, an ex-husband, and two young adult children. And friends. Many, many grieving friends. All of whom are trying to process the utter unfairness of such a shining light in the morass of Life being so completely unfairly made to suffer that way in the last months of her life. 

I am so glad I am not the hospice chaplain on this, there is not a snowballs chance in hell that I could find any words to explain to a 19 year old kid why his brilliant, beautifully souled mother had to die in such a spectacularly unfair and agonising way. There just isn't. I'm having a lot of trouble explaining it to myself. Even though I know. Because Nancy was a real Christian. It was not a 'Jesus Freak' fad with her. It was not a 'Holier than thou could possibly hope to be' Christianity that my friend Nancy had going on from Day1 back at Bolsa Grande High School. 

It was 'Yeah, I believe. And?' 

Nancy was Real. And I'm going to miss her. We lost contact after a few years, and like everyone, I always thought there was going to be time to reconnect in a more meaningful way than 'Oh hey, I saw Nancy at the reunion and she said to say Hi!' But there wasn't. 

Dear Nancy, 

I know you are dancing with Jesus right now. One of these days I hope I get to cut in:) 

Thank-you for being my friend, thank-you more than words can EVER express! 

But oh Nancy, how I wish I'd tried to say thank-you before you slipped away. I am pretty sure you knew, and I'm pretty sure you would think I'm being silly, but you taught me so much about being quietly courageous and loudly fun, and living with common sense as the carpeting on the Christian foundation. Thank-you. Thank-you, thank-you.

Love always,


11 July 2012

More rain. The United Kingdom is one endless swamp. While Scottish summers are normally somewhat misty, cool and at times downright cold, we slog through our days for the past year in a seemingly permanent state of early to late autumn.

I returned to the UK from VisaQuest on 18 June 2011 and bloody hell, it's rained just about every single day since. The temp rarely gets above 10C (roughly 50F) and has been that way for over a year now. We had a very mild winter, with temps ranging from 3-9C (36-48F). One meager snowfall that melted away an hour later on the 30th of December.

Oh yes, it snowed again sometime in January and lasted a few hours, but the real snow hit in mid-April (wth??!!) and lasted a couple of days. Refreshing, that.

I know in my heart of hearts that the coming '12-'13 winter is going to be harsh, extreme, a real whopper as winters go. I know this because the winter before last was preceded by a wash-out summer, and because the rowans are putting out an incredible lot of berries-a sure sign of impending harsh winter.

Right. We'll live, or we won't. We'll be prepared with a properly stocked store cupboard, or we won't. So I'll stop whining about the weather, and whine about...well, perhaps not.

28 June 2012

Sometimes someone else says it so much better.

all my troubles seemed so far away
Now it look as though they're here to stay

Oh, I believe in yesterday

Suddenly, I'm not half the man I used to be
There's a shadow hanging over me

oh, yesterday came suddenly

Why she had to go I don't know, 

she wouldn't say

I said something wrong, now I long for yesterday


love was such an easy game to play
Now I need a place to hide away

oh, I believe in yesterday

Why she had to go I don't know, 

she wouldn't say
I said something wrong, now I long for 



love was such an easy game to play
Now I need a place to hide away

oh, I believe in yesterday

31 Years.


01 June 2012

I've read The Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke twice and am now on the third reading. The book covers the time immediately preceding and then following the nightmare known as Hurricane Katrina.

The first two times I blanked the entire thing out of my mind. The book was published in 2007 and I read it the first time 'hot off the press'. You'd think a year and a half would be a far enough distance.

It wasn't. I read the book and a week later could not have discussed the story for anything.

I read it again in 2010 just about this time of year. I blanked it out again.

I am reading it again and it hit me this morning as I stood at the back door smoking a cigarette and reading the first few pages, that oh holy hell, it's 1st June! I didn't plan it this way, the book was on the shelf in the library and I added it to the growing stack of books to check out. I didn't time it so that I would start reading THAT book on THIS day, it just happened that way.

I looked at the book in my hands and it all came flooding back. That helpless fear that the 1st of June brings to anyone who has ever lived in Hurricane Country. I wonder if I will be able to keep from blanking out this reading of James Lee Burke's amazing The Tin Roof Blowdown.

As most Dear Readers know, in August of 2010 I relocated to the UK. As some Dear Readers may not know, I'd moved up from the Gulf Coast area shortly after Hurricane Katrina.

I'd been through so many 'canes since first finding my way to the Gulf Coast Region! The first was Hurricane Frederick, bad enough to bring it home to me why people pale at the phrase 'cane comin'. I went through Andrew, saw my then in-laws express deep gratitude to Tropical Storm Jerry that enabled them to have their entire roof replaced via homeowner's insurance instead of out-of-pocket as they'd thought they were going to have to do; we suffered minor damage to our SouthEast AL home during Opal-watched that one helplessly from Guatemala, unsure if the wee Tin Shack with quadruple tie-downs would make it at all.

Ivan was the whopper-Gator and I huddled in the apartment bathtub when we were trapped after delaying our evac just a half hour too long. Tornado after tornado whipped the landscape around us and when we finally crawled out of the tub and out of the apartment, we were stunned to see we somehow were an oasis of undamaged building surrounded by a sea of debris. The breeze driven creaking of a piece of tin roof hanging drunkenly from a tilted building across the street made me think of the soundtracks of countless disaster movies, and I did feel as though I'd just emerged from a bomb shelter to find a war devastated landscape. It went beyond eerie and I still haven't recovered to be honest.

I hung on in Dothan, AL for another year after Ivan, but Katrina? Oh Katrina.

I gave notice and a month after the storm I was in Alpharetta, GA. I tried with everything I had in me to get my son, his then-fiancee, and the grandson to go with me. I think the grandson would have gladly come but at barely a year old, he had no say in the matter especially after his parents and I became estranged.

Just after arrival, in Oct, 2005, I started this blog and made no bones about being a climate refugee.

I left Dothan and the Gulf Coast behind because I could not take it anymore. Since Ivan every time it rained or the wind blew, I shook and suffered quiet little panic attacks I think I hid well from everyone else but could not ignore in myself.

I left because as I watched Katrina aiming at the Gulf Coast, and watched the then governor and mayor pleading with people to LEAVE and pleading with people to HELP, and watched the growing disaster at the SuperDome, as the news filtered out that a woman had been shot in face by her brother over a bag of ice, I knew absolutely it could and would happen in Dothan one day. So I left.

Over the years since Katrina I have met people who were on the front line as emergency relief providers. Every single one of them carries unhealed wounds that will never scab over enough to become scars. Please say a prayer for those people today as we go into another hurricane season. Since there have already been two named storms BEFORE the season begins today, make those prayers extra strong, extra long, and extra fervent.

Pray that the Atlantic Hurricane Season 2012 takes no more lives than it has already (18yo surfer dead off St Augustine in heavy surf from TS Beryl), and that the emergency relief providers, First Responders, medical personnel, and LE officers remain compassionate, calm, and knowledgeable in the face of whatever they are asked to confront.

Today is the official start to the Atlantic Hurricane Season 2012. If you are there, please prepare.

Google emergency preparedness, and follow the instructions and advice on the American Red Cross, FEMA, and other preparedness sites. Best tip ever? EVACUATE if the local authorities ask you to be prepared to do so-waiting until ordered is too late. Better to evac needlessly 100 times than die once.

20 May 2012

Wow, that's a bit on the early side!

Tropical Storm Alberto is 'churning in the Atlantic' off the South Carolina coast. Early for a named tropical storm, early for the cliches to be hauled out and thrown around the news feeds.

I can say these things having lived through several of the worst hurricanes to hit the US starting with Hurricane Frederick in '79. My first hurricane, my first hurricane party, and I never wanted to see another of either again. Although the party made sense in a gallows humour sort of way.

Meanwhile here in Scotland we are hoping that Spring and Summer are arriving together this week. It's Sunday afternoon (just) and Paul is hoping the back lawn will have dried enough in the next hour or so that we will be able to get out and putter for a few hours.

It's been cold, wet, and windy for months. I joke to friends back in the States that it's been 50F and raining since I got home from the States last June. It's not much of a joke when it's true. We didn't really have much of a winter until after the New Year, and the first real snowfall of 2012 happened the first week of of April. Really:

As you can see from the photo, this was a rather significant snowfall.

Wednesday I went up to Kirriemuir to see the dentist. On the way home it began to snow. In the middle of May.

I keep hearing 'global weirding' being used instead of global warming. Makes sense to me. I'm not sold on AGW (aggravated global warming, as in those nasty humans did it!)  but I have absolutely no trouble with Climate Change. For whatever reason (and more scientists are beginning to agree that it's not so much the CO2 as it is solar activity) climate IS changing.

Plus, come on, you don't think Hurricane Season 2012 beginning at the middle of May instead of the first week of June isn't just a little weird? Really?

We're 'Doomers', as we used to say jokingly (but not really joking, and our concerns that led us to laughingly call ourselves Doomers have been proved to have been spot-on in the 'Oh hey, there's a not good pattern of disasters developing here...') so we're prepared for most contingencies. OK, we don't have a room sized faraday cage, ROFLOL-but we would if we owned the servers that support our forum. (Google using the search term 'peak oil hubbert's arms forum' if you're interested. I quit the forum because I was completely burned out on the airheads and the uber-doomers calling for mass die off. Puhleeze, I just got married...)

So I've researched climate change, and Climate Change (trust me, two distinctly different topics apparently).

I have called myself a climate-refugee and I was one for a while. After Hurricane Katrina I couldn't take it anymore, and I left the Gulf Coast. I begged my son to get his family off too. But ah well, they're still there, and seven years later I'm in Scotland thinking 'Oh hey I hope The Day After Tomorrow doesn't come true for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that the people in Scotland died first in the movie. Remember?

On a completely different note, last night as I stood at the back door smoking a cigarette around 9:30pm, a field mouse scurried past, and then darted into a wee hidey hole about a foot from me. He/she poked the cute little 'awwwww' head around the corner of the hidey hole and took a good long look at me. I got the distinct impressions that 1-Wee Mousie wasn't terribly afraid of me, and 2-that Wee Mousie was terribly curious about me.

When I made it clear by not:

Trying to otherwise alert my husband to the presence of Wee Mousie or cause it harm

Wee Mousie took a few cautious steps out from the hidey hole to get a better look at me. He/she sat there for several seconds and then finally darted across the garden path to the back of the log store.

Oh boy.

We still have Roo (oh wow, getting harder and harder to think about the day we have to send him home!) and this morning Paul and I found Roo hanging in the bathroom at the crawl space access point.  I suspect Wee Mousie is in the crawl space and thinking our home might do for his/her family as well as we all try to get through this 'global weirding'.

And I haven't even begun to talk about the EuroZone crisis we are all watching here with held breath! Paul has our money and investments in British only banks and companies, but we know so many who have retired to Greece and Spain, and/or have their monies in Santander Bank.

It is mind boggling to me that there is a bank run in Greece, and one beginning in Spain, and the mainstream media are not really mentioning it at all. Talk about your 'maintain the status quo' silliness, do they really think if they don't talk about it that it isn't happening.

When I was still posting on the forum I had the tag-line "We are so screwed". I sure have been thinking it lately. I try not to let this stuff bother me over much beyond maybe buying another bag of sugar or another bolt of warm fabric, but you know, really, things are very bad 'out there'!

I wish I could gather up my son and grandson and keep them with me as all this 'interesting' stuff grinds on. I love Paul, but I love them too, and right now all I can think of is I sure wish we were all together within walking distance of each other!

Grandson would love Wee Mousie!

25 April 2012

Sometimes the despair is overwhelming.

I am following the Trayvon Martin shooting, using the magnification feature on the laptop to see if I can find any traces of a broken nose on George Zimmerman in the photographs that have been published, and I can't.

I look at the dribbles of blood on the photographs of the back of his head, and I don't see the kinds of abrasions and wounds, nor the amount of blood, expected in a scalp wound.

I look at the photographs of George Zimmerman and all I can think of when I look at his pictures is that he looks like a fringe gang-banger. Truculent, angry, disappointed at the way his life is going despite everything he tries to do to fit in.

I look at the photos of Trayvon Martin and all I can think of is here is a young guy who looked as though he was trying to fit in with his peers at the same time he was trying to get through high school and into adulthood.

I told a friend a few days ago that I thought the whole thing was some kind of horrific misunderstanding on both Martin and Zimmerman's parts. I think both let tempers flare and things got out of hand and George Zimmerman destroyed two lives in less time than it takes most of us to chose a tomato at the grocery.

I posted a comment on a newsfeed that I felt George Zimmerman had set back race relations 50 years that hideous night.

I was a gun owner in the US. I used my gun for self-protection twice, once not fired, and once fired. Long stories short, in the mid-seventies whilst living in Alaska I showed my rifle to the man who was breaking down my back door-that was all it took for him to drop the crowbar and run. In the late eighties I had to put a round over the head of a junkie coming through the front door. I feel defenseless and helpless and frightened without a gun here in the UK, I really do, it is the one thing that nearly held me back from moving here.

But I am a firm believer that there are people who should never have access to firearms, and I would have pegged George Zimmerman as one of those before he shot 17 year old Trayvon Martin. The minute George Zimmerman was arrested for attacking a police officer should have been the minute he was no longer able to own a gun, or have access to one. He should never have been able to join a neighbourhood watch group, and he should never have been able to even think about being a Law Enforcement Officer.

WTH were people thinking-why did a criminal background check on him not raise flags when he applied for his permit?!

Obviously, I think Trayvon Martin was killed for the crime of walking while black in the rain with his hood up against the wet.

But do I think Zimmerman is guilty of Murder 2nd? No. At best he is guilty of manslaughter, and I think his being charged with Murder 2nd is going to get him off, and he will never really have to answer for that kid's death except when he dies and faces God. Personally I think the charge was made in order to give a jury a chance to turn him loose; if he is convicted I'll be shocked and amazed-the town where Martin was killed refuses to censor the police chief who dragged his heels at charging Zimmerman in the first place, and the state where the killing occurred is in the process of deciding a sentence for a black woman who dared fired a round over the head of her attacker-a man against whom she had a valid restraining order!

Racism, God help us all, lives and flourishes in the USA, and the despair at knowing it still does is alternately sickening, infuriating, and frightening.

Our country is incapable of a reasonable, intelligent, and productive discussion of race relations, it really is, and I think we are going to reap a bitter harvest because of that inability-sooner rather than later.

I remember watching the riots that erupted across LA after the Rodney King beating. I remember feeling sick and heartbroken as the video of the beating played and replayed, as the city burst into flames and mayhem that left over 50 people dead. In Los Angeles, in the 1990s.

Why was I shocked? Because I remember the Watts riots, too-I was in Watts when the riot started. The grandmother of the girl I'd gone to play with that afternoon hustled me into the pantry-porch, posting her grandsons around the front yard, and enlisting the use of a neighbour's car to get me back to 'the white section'.

As I ducked down in the back seat so no-one would see me, cowering in the foot well, I could see another friend's dad, a white man, standing on the roof of his petrol station with a shotgun at the ready. His face looked so different from the face I'd known as we all played in their backyard before the riots were even a hint of a worry in anyone's mind, black or white.

After the riots were finally over all the white business owners left Los Angeles, and my friend's family moved to a 'safe place'. No blacks, no Hispanics, no Asians. Everyone was white there-my friend's family moved to a mountain ridge and never came back down until college. In the summer we would all get together on the public lake beaches near their new home. If a black family showed up, my friend's family was clearly uncomfortable.

Growing up there were kids from all races and religions at my schools, in my neighbourhood; we were all friends and those who couldn't be comfortable around other races were slowly dropped from the guest lists.

I really thought those Jim Crow days were something from history, and that the changes made after the Watts Riots had stuck and made a difference.

When I was in my late twenties my husband moved us to AL with his job. We'd met in Louisiana, and had lived in NW FL, I knew prejudice still existed but AL was a hugely disappointing education in just how little things had changed.

But it was also in AL that I saw the first signs of the things I'd missed as a child back in Southern California. The anger, the sullen anger born of the constant burden of enduring institutionalised racism that festers until it erupts...

The first time I got scared was while I was sitting in the car outside a grocery store waiting for my then husband. A white woman driving a late model Volvo station wagon pulled into a parking space, got out, and started across the car park towards the grocery. She looked like someone's well preserved late 60s-ish mum. Well dressed without overdoing it, she looked like someone I would sit next to at church, someone who probably ran the Altar Guild, and did charitable work.

A car load of black woman pulled in, radio blaring a 2LiveCrew song, defining and illustrating every textbook definition of stereotypical archetypes who give racists justification. Every one of those women was morbidly obese, had orange hair, wearing halter tops and very short shorts, and every single one of those women was in the process of being just as loud and coarse as she possibly could.

I sat there with my jaw hanging open because I couldn't believe my eyes, these women were cartoons, they were caricatures, they were SCARY. They looked as though they'd come for a fight, and any one would do. It seemed to me their eyes were glowing red, that's how frightening they were in their behaviour and manner.

They piled heavily, loudly, and angrily, out of the beater they'd arrived in, and began shoving shopping trolleys left behind by other shoppers out of their way-and into the Volvo. While the white woman watched and then turned without saying a word to walk into the grocery after making eye contact with the black woman who'd sent TWO trolleys into the Volvo with a yip of glee.

It was early spring 1986. I was flabbergasted, and I was ready to leave SouthEast AL.

Because I am white, I was considered by every single black person I ever met in the American South, to be two things.

First, rich. Because all white people are rich. I swear to God Almighty, I had many blacks tell me that-you're white so you're rich.

Second, racist. I also had many blacks tell me that because I was white, I was a racist, and nothing I ever did would change that. But they appreciated that I tried.

I finally left in 2005, after Katrina. People try to gloss over what happened at the SuperDome. I wasn't there, but I know those people. I believe the worst of what happened never made the newspapers.

Not that where I went was any better. I lived in Cherokee County, right next to Forsyth County-where I could take an old country road and see a still legible sign advising blacks to be out of Forsyth County by dark or suffer the consequences.

Now I live in the UK, and you know what? It's not any better here, either. Racism is EVERYWHERE, and because we cannot talk about it, it is going to come up and burst into flames so thick, so widespread, so unquenchable, that it truly will end the world as we know it.

Because I have had too many black people tell me it is automatic, comes with the genes-white=racist and nothing will ever change that. Dialogue is impossible, and sometimes I am convinced we are doomed.

Because I know whites who think the day will come that all other races will have to be eliminated so that whites can finally live in peace. I also know people of all the other races who think the same way about whites.

There doesn't seem to be anything we can do, any of us. Nothing we can say. Shortly before I lost my job in 2009 I overheard a youngish black woman-college educated and intelligent-tell a white co-worker "Now it's our turn, you whites are gonna know what it feels like!"

The white co-worker was stunned I think, there was a moments silence but as I walked into the work area (I was their supervisor at the time) I heard his chair scrape as he stood, and he said "You don't want equality, you want revenge!"

He brushed past me and said loudly "I quit!" He never came back to work, and Human Resources never asked me what had happened. His desk was cleared out as I was sitting in my supervisor's office telling him what had happened.

And two weeks later I lost my job-and the youngish black woman was named as my replacement. Eleven months later I left the US.

Sometimes the despair is overwhelming.

03 April 2012

Well, we really did bask for a few days in record setting heat.

It was wonderful to feel the sun beating down on my head as I hung out three loads of laundry one day last week; I waved at neighbours all over the neighbourood, smiled at the emerging grape hyacinths, thrilled to see the tulips in my own front garden that I really had NO idea were there.

**Note to self: try to mark those bulb locations so that they can be transplanted to a more formal arrangement.

Sunday night the UK was placed under weather alerts-our area in particular went quickly from a 'be advised' to a 'OH NOES!' status. We shrugged. The weather services have got it wrong too many times the past couple of years. We stocked in some extra milk and bread, put the wellies by the back door, and stacked some extra logs by the wood stoves. Then we went about our business.

I haven't been feeling well so a lot of the happenings here in the UK (and the world in general) have erm, kinda sorta slipped past me.

Long story short I'm having some more dental work and really, I do hope this is it, and that I get back to feeling as great as I had been feeling after the last round was over. My dentist and I suspected we weren't really done, of course, but oh we tried mightily! The truth arrived as another infection, and the offending unit will be removed at the end of the week. I asked the dentist yesterday "So, do you think I'm going to lose any more teeth here?!" And he was very quick to say everything else looks great, it's just this last one that we'd always known was iffy anyway.

**Note to self: in the next lifetime, if one should be so unlucky as to take several severe blows to the face and jaws (car wreck, surf boards, horses, and bounding dogs, such is life), GET ON THAT RECONSTRUCTIVE SURGERY A TOUCH EARLIER!! Before it screws with the rest of one's health. Heart problems are a real downer, ya know?!

I mean, I knew there was a petrol 'panic' and the government was taking a lot of heavy flak for suggesting people might want to top up their tanks and maybe fill a jerry can or two, you know, just in case there really was that loudly threatened tanker driver strike (who promptly lobbed verbal grenades at Number Ten saying "Oh my word, never, we would never strike over the Easter holidays?!"... 

Walking home from the bus drop yesterday (after my dentist appointment) we stopped in at the small grocery attached to a petrol filling station forecourt; it was, to be frank, eerie to see because first thing-no queues, and second thing-a sign announcing no diesel could be had at that forecourt.

We'd somehow happened to be at the same forecourt grocery the day the so-called panic began. On that day we walked into the grocery-no cars filling up. We walked out of the grocery about thirty minutes later to see every pump in the 15 pump forecourt busy, and a growing queue. People were calm and determined looking as they steadily arrived to take a place in the queue for petrol. During the rest of last week Paul made regular walks out to see if things were better or worse, the queues lengthened, and tempers shortened, and several petrol forecourts near us closed pumps, then entire petrol filling forecourts as the increased buying seemed to be causing a shortage.

We thought it had gone back to 'normal' until yesterday when we saw the eerily empty forecourt with the prominent 'NO DIESEL, we apologise for any inconvenience' signboard placed across the driveways.

We ambled home (it was still warmish) talking about the new bus fare price rise set for the 16th, and how we might be seeing the real McCoy of a Post-Peak Oil New Normal. Higher bus and train fares, petrol and diesel shortages. Higher prices on just about everything, and more business failing here in the UK every day.

Because I am not feeling well, it's all seemingly sliding past me without me imagining all sorts of extreme scenarios.

I understand there was a rather large after shock in Mexico yesterday, a lunatic ran amuck and murdered seven people at a Christian college, an enhanced video shows a few scratches on George Zimmerman's head (but still no blood stains or swelling, taped broken nose) to prove "oh no Mr DA, he did NOT murder a kid for 'walking in the rain with his rain hood up while black"... A lot of really horrible things have been happening, and because of this dental infection I am not really registering much of it. I know it's happening, I'm just not feeling it. But I think I will be once this last bit of dental work is done, and I'm on the mend.

And it's snowing again, it had been snowing from before I got up at 0630 until about 3pm and had started to slowly melt off in places; now fat swirling flakes threaten to again cover what's left of the tulips and grape hyacinth:

26 March 2012

Happy Birthday Fox!!!

Call yer mum!

18 March 2012

It's Mothering Sunday here in the UK, and mums all over the country are being greeted by their loving children. I posted a Mothering Sunday greeting over on Mozart's blog for our foster cat's Furever Mum, and then started thinking about mine.

She wasn't a very big part of my growing-up except as something of a family legend we loaded up and visited at the holidays. Dutifully we sent cards on the American Mother's Day date, and when we were older we just as dutifully mailed off Mothering Sunday greetings. Mothering Sunday started as something different from the American one, although an older observation, it was primarily observed by the hired help as their annual day off to journey home and be with their mothers-the upper classes viewed it rather the same way they did Boxing Day, so it wasn't really a holiday to them that haz 'staff' until recently.

Of course the American day was and is all about how wonderful one's mother was/is to go the sacrificial route and give them birth. And wipe one's streaming orifices top and bottom, plus feed the screaming one better known as the mouth, lol. Growing up with a step-mother from hell, you can guess Mother's Day for my family was about escaping into fantasies about our real mum 'over there', and wishing the divorce system had worked differently...

My birth mother is gone now, and there are times I think I knew her, understood her, loved her very well. And then there are other times I think I didn't know her at all and now I never will.

I have friends who still have their mothers and are deeply grateful for that blessing; I have friends who had toxic mothers and haven't a clue if the old harridan is still sucking air, and aren't at all interesting in finding out. Luckily for me my step-mother was just that, a step, and easily dismissed from any need to wax sentimental about on Mothering Sunday OR Mother's Day.

I have friends who are enduring their first Mothering Sunday without their beloved Mum, and a few who are enduring their fifth, tenth, twentieth...

Mothering is such a fraught proposal! My son, my beautiful, beautiful boy, will be thirty at the end of the month, and although it's been an extremely trying adventure mothering that guy, even knowing how very hard it was going to be I would still do it.

I think my mum would say the same. In the end, I think that is what mothering, what Parenting is, at the heart of it.

So to my British readers, I wish you a wonderful Mothering Sunday. Peace be with you always, and may you hear from your child today:)

27 February 2012

It's raining.

I'd planned to take my library books books back and haul back another load. I'd planned to go to the library, then swing down Boyles Close to Aldi's for a bulk bag of clumping cat litter. From Aldi's I would walk up to the Farm Foods where I would load the granny trolley with several kilo bags of frozen veg. Then I would trudge home with my books, my cat litter, and my frozen veg. I would unload it all and then get started on Paul's handkerchief sewing.

But it's raining.

And there is no bus stand running close enough to the house to make it worth using the bus-I'd have to walk almost to the library to board the bus that goes past the Aldi's and Farm Foods. Sigh.

So I am grateful that Paul has a rather large personal library. I finished the last library book Friday night. I should have, could have, gone to the library Saturday morning. I could have made the grocery shop Saturday morning.

Not. I love my children. I love my grandson. But I have NEVER loved being out on the streets or in the grocery or in the library with a great lot of over excited children I am not parenting. I must be honest and tell you, dear readers, that Scottish children for the most part are rather well behaved when in public-it is rare for a Scottish child to 'pitch a fit' in public, it simply isn't done. That said, however, last Saturday morning the last thing I wanted to do was dodge groups of school children in the library, shops, and streets.

So I found myself a book in Paul's home library and started reading. Deer Hunting With Jesus, a book I read soon after it was published. It left an impression on me as at the time (2008) I'd been living in the Deep South for over 20 years, and could relate to the people, places, and situations Mr Bageant was writing about.

Re-reading it this weekend, I am finding my feelings and impressions a lot stronger. I read the author's commentary on how the working class American has been screwed, blued, and tattooed, and all I can see are the faces of my former neighbours, my son, and my grandson. The trouble is that this book (a must read if you haven't already, and if you have, well worth a revisit if it's been a while) could be about ANY First World Country with any aspirations towards Middle Class.

So. It's raining. I can't get out of the house to replenish the library book supply, the cat litter supply, or the frozen veg supply. Luckily for the cat I have an unopened bag; luckily for Paul I have an unopened bag of his beloved brussels sprouts. I just figured that since I'm going out to the library I may as well stock up. Oh well, hopefully it will clear this afternoon.

I still have a small smoking habit although I've managed to cut that down to about 5 cigarettes a day, and this morning as I was standing on the back porch (I don't smoke inside) I got thinking about the things Joe Bageant was saying about education being the key, and how we've priced people out of the educational system in the US. He doesn't mention libraries except in passing, but I've always believed a determined person can find a pretty good education in the library.

I've always had a library card, my first one being granted when I was about five. I would ride pillion with my brother to the Pomona City Library, first on his horse, then, when they took down the hitching rail, on his bike. Once the library ladies figured out I could read they gave me a library card.

I can still remember standing in the children's stacks choosing books, feeling as though I was the luckiest child on the planet. I loved biographies, and read my way A-Z through the outstanding collection available at the time. Back then the children's section of the library was the size of most main sections of your local library today. From the most very basic children's book to what was then called 'juvenile fiction' aimed at shaping the minds of teens, the children's library at Pomona Public Library was Sanctuary.

S'all good, as I wrote above, I have books, cat litter, and frozen veg enough to get by until the sun comes out again. And I have sewing to do. Which leads me to another funny story...

As I blethered on about several times, Paul and I have quite the collection of vintage and antique Singer sewing machines. It's been a chore, but we have collected the service manuals for each machine and were really looking forward to this spring, when we would set up a Singer sewing machine refurbishment hospital in the garage.

I've been sewing on a 513, a late sixties electric that is not a bad little machine, although I am really looking forward to the 6103 being refurbished because it's got an amazing straight stitch and zig-zag (rare for a machine that will zig-zag because usually the straight stitches are just a hair off being straight).

And then Paul asked me to refurbish his Barbour waxed cotton Border jacket. Oh hell. I've never sewn waxed cotton and it took me nearly a month to gather enough information to get the job done from this:

To this:

Not the easiest repair I've ever done, but both hand-warmer pockets are now repaired, the hang loop in the collar restored, and the waxed cotton reproofed.

I cleaned the wax out of the feed dog teeth and got started on a pair of fleece pyjamas. Got as far as half way down one leg seam too. And then the 513 threw the bobbin gear. Again.

You have to understand that when you sew on vintage machines it is not always possible to buy NEW parts for the machines because those parts simply aren't milled anymore. So you learn to keep your eye open for 'parts machines' you can salvage parts from. Which is what the bobbin gear on the 513 was, a salvage part. And I actually have a parts 513, and the service manual.

But Paul prefers I not use power tools. Or non-power tools for that matter. He gets a bit tetchy when I start taking apart one of my machines. We're working on it, but it does slow me down. He took my 513 and added it to the queue for spring refurbishment, and I sat down and cried because spring is about a month away...

And because two weeks ago an old commission of Paul's that had run out of funding was re-funded. This spring has become Spring 2014.


So he said "OK, order a new sewing machine. One with a warranty. One under £200."

I spent a week researching machines on the Internet, and found one that I felt would serve the purpose until Spring 2014, Singer Talent model 3321. It arrived Friday morning. The first thing I did of course was try out every feature, and then I set it up for the stretch stitching I needed to do to finish those fleece pyjamas. OH WOW! Right, I'm hooked.

Then I dug out the stashed four sack towels I brought back from VisaQuest, and after cutting one in half up the middle, sewed a really nice straight stitch hem along the sides, and got a little crazy and stitched decorative finishes on both:

Today I am making Paul several handkerchiefs from an old tattersall shirt. I've promised him I won't use the decorative stitches:)

14 February 2012

I think when the final tox reports are in, the cause of death will be complications of prescription drugs mixed with alcohol causing Whitney Houston's heart to stop. Credible reports are coming out that there was very little water in her lungs, meaning that she was dead before her head went under the bath water; final exhalations more than likely caused a very small amount of water to be sucked back into her lungs.

Other very credible reports are coming out that there were NO illicit drugs found in her suite, and few prescription pills in the bottles said to litter the floor of the bathroom and other rooms of the suite-meaning she either ingested a large number immediately prior to her death, or what I think is much more likely, she just didn't have a huge stash of prescription drugs, period.

I've been reading the media pieces that she was behaving erratically in the days prior to her death, and have to say that I think she may have been showing signs of what is in effect drugs poisoning. It is well reported that she reeked of alcohol several times in the days before her death-mixing Xanax and alcohol can poison a body especially if the mix continues for a period of days. If that turns out to be the conclusion of the tox studies, it is certain that the building toxicity of the combination put an enormous strain on her heart. But it could also have been causing serious liver damage-photographs taken two nights before her death show her belly distended and her fingers puffy, yet her arms were not. This is a clinical observation indicating liver problems, but is also among other possibilities-she could have been having menstrual bloating, for one, although in menstrual bloating the arms are also observably bloated. My thoughts are as written-she was showing several signs of drugs poisoning.

No-one in here entourage could have understood what was going on if that is the case, no-one could have saved her, not even Ms Houston herself. The only way she might have survived would have been immediate hospitalisation Weds or Thurs night. A tox screen would have been done, she would have been treated, and she would be alive.

But it wasn't something anyone without either personal experience or specialised medical training would have seen in time. Whitney Houston was doomed from the first time she mixed the prescription drug and alcohol.

I saw the nightclub photos Friday morning as I glanced through the headlines on several news-feeds, and I will be painfully honest-I looked at those photos and shrugged, "Whitney is back on drugs. What a loser."

And I should have known better-I do have personal experience with prescription drugs toxicity. I've seen it before in the cases I've worked for various law enforcement agencies. I've seen it in a couple family members, although they were experiencing toxicity due to combining two prescription drugs, not drugs and alcohol. Toxicity is a monster, it is deadly if not caught in time. Someone has to be there to keep an eye on the patient, someone strong enough to haul someone to hospital and insist "This is NOT normal!"

But for Whitney Houston, sadly, it was a sort of normal. Too many people who knew her professionally and personally are saying the same sad thing-when she was on illicit drugs she was 'ugly'. So unless someone around her was able to get past the shrug like mine, she was doomed.

Was her death her fault?

I have to say that until I read the information coming out from eyewitness accounts, leaked info, and hacked info, I did blame her. Now? No. I am filled with sorrow for that poor woman. It is clear to me now that more than likely Whitney Houston WAS getting her life back on track, and this is a terrible tragedy. Oh yes, I know, she should not have been mixing the Xanex with alcohol, and I am sure she knew better. But I think it is also going to be shown in the tox reports that when Whitney Houston died, she had very little alcohol in her system-I don't think she was drinking in excess even in the days before her death. I think she was having one or two cocktails thinking it had never been a problem before, but this time, well, this time it killed her. Xanex is a wicked, wicked drug. It's highly addictive, and it works TOO well, causing the patient to lose their sense of judgement. Makes it easier to say to themselves "Well, one drink won't hurt."

The smell of alcohol on her in the days preceding her death is clinically explicable, too-in combination with Xanex the body will rightly try to rid itself of the alcohol via body excretions-sweat and urine, primarily. One highball could have caused the wafting smell of alcohol as the body forced itself to perspire heavily in an effort to get the poison catalyst gone.

But no-one around Whitney Houston understood that. They did the same shrug I did-"Whitney's back on drugs."

I was having a bit of a Sunday morning lie-in, drowsing, enjoying the crackling from the wood stove and the snuggly cat (wow are we going to miss Roo when he goes home to his folks!). Paul came in and leaned over, whispered quietly "Whitney Houston has been found dead in a hotel room."

First thought? "Oh God, strengthen Your Presence for her mother!" Cissy Houston was my first, only thought for hours. I thought about Whitney Houston's daughter for a nano-second because frankly I'm not too impressed with an 18 year old who is photographed snorting coke and burning blunts with a big grin on her face, and those photos were hard to avoid as I stood on queue at the grocery.

But Cissy Houston? I told Paul if it were me I'd be on my knees just screaming until my voice was gone. And later, the news came out that Cissy Houston screamed for hours after getting that horrific news.

She is the mother of a troubled adult child. She was my first thought. She continued to be my only thoughts even as I scoured the news reports. But last night I finally found some compassion for Whitney Houston. Finally.

And all the while since hearing of her death, I've heard Whitney Houston's catalogue in my head. Was I a huge Whitney Houston fan? Nope. I liked her music but had never bought one of her albums. This morning as I woke hearing "I Want To Dance With Somebody" in my head it dawned on me-Whitney Houston's music formed a great deal of the soundtrack of my adult life.

I remember when that song came out, and thinking that I knew exactly what that song was saying. I too wanted to dance with someone who really loved me.

Barbra Streisand said what I've been thinking when I wasn't praying for Cissy Houston. "She had everything". And she did.

Whitney Houston was the Dream, Martin Luther King Jr's dream and The American Dream come true. Here was a woman who quite literally had absolutely everything-the sky could be the only limit for Whitney Houston.

When most of us looked at young Whitney Houston, we saw an American princess and we rooted for her for years. We didn't see a 'black woman' all that often although when we did, we saw her as the embodiment of everything wonderful that came out of the Civil Rights movement. Even recently, when it looked as though she'd lost the fight against drugs, she could still have pulled it all out of the hopper and soared.

But since she died I've read the interviews during which she puzzled over the accusations of race traitor she had to endure, and you know what? In the end, I wonder-is that what killed Whitney Houston?