In the Heat

Word has spread and Monarchs are coming to enjoy my butterfly bush. It’s a joy to see these orange nymphs flitting about in the garden. They tend to appear in the afternoon, when the day is the hottest. They’re joined by the hummers, the chattering squirrels and the bees. It’s really quite noisy in the stillness of the warmth.

I’m contemplating installing a gurgling fountain where the birds can bathe, the cats lap up water and the squirrels can have a splash party. I’d put out my favorite rocking chair and be entertained for hours. A friend of mine loves to sit out in her garden, among the flowers, reading her books, with one eye to the wildlife around her. She’s done that in every place she lived, including Beijing. Now she’s in a retirement community and only has a balcony, but that hasn’t stopped her. Her little spot is overflowing with potted flowers and greens, and she’s out there every day with her coffee and books. I’m learning to follow in her footsteps.

“Your footsteps keep you indoors,” Alf said.

“I’m working, that’s why,” I said.

“You’ve heard the word laptop?”

“Of course, silly.”

“That’s what it’s for, your lap, anywhere,” he said.

“My lap gets too hot, then I run out of battery, and I lose focus because the entertainment around me pulls me away,” I said.

“Excuses. Make it work, find the right spot, under the lemon tree, by the garden angel, next to the maple,” he said.

“What if a lemon lands on my keyboard?”

“Make a lemon tart,” Alf said.

Calvin says, “You forgot to include my panting in the heat as part of the entertainment.”

 

 

 

Night Crooner

Around midnight there’s a bird in the tree by my bedroom window that starts singing. His timing is intriguing. I thought birds went to bed with sundown and stayed quiet until sunrise. Not this one. He has a repertoire that is impressive. He must be an opera singer preparing for his role. He keeps me awake. I listen to his notes, and not one is the same as the other. He varies his tone and his melody. You’d think others were answering him, but it’s all coming from him.

I did an Internet search for night crooners and found him. He’s the Northern Mockingbird. He can mimic other birds as well as invent his own songs. His is a playlist that lasts well into the night.

Lately he’s taken the night off. I miss him.

“Thank heavens he’s stopped,” Alf said.

“Why? I quite liked him,” I said.

“You’ve always needed a lullaby,” Alf says.

“I know you can’t sleep with noise, but this is music, not noise.”

“I bury my head under the pillows,” Alf said.

“But it’s soothing. You’re missing out.”

“He sounds like a hand bell choir, wind chimes, and a tin drum all rolled into one,” Alf said.

“That isn’t noise,” I said.

“That’s because you’re tone deaf.”

Calvin says, “There needs to be a bay in there somewhere, then it would be complete.”

 

Real vs Fake

Alf came home this morning with a bagful of bagels.

“Were those bagels boiled and then baked, like the real thing?” I asked.

“I don’t know. They just looked good.”

“Now that you’ve eaten one, what do you think?” I said.

“It was light and crispy.”

“A dead giveaway. I fake bagel, it wasn’t boiled.”

“What’s the difference?”

“A real bagel is crunchy and shiny on the outside, chewy on the inside. There’s weight to it.”

“Since when have you become a connoisseur of bagels?” Alf said.

“Since my first trip to New York, years ago when I sunk my teeth into a pumpernickel bagel piled high with green olive cream cheese that oozed out with every bite. I’ve been spoiled ever since.”

“You’ve been spoiled by more than bagels my dear.”

Calvin says, “I’m soft on the outside and weighty on the inside. I wouldn’t pass for a real bagel, but you could make me one with lots of smoked salmon, thank you, please.”

 

A Stranger on the Call

I couldn’t understand the man on the phone.

“What did you say? There’s too much noise in the background,” I said.

“Is this better?” he asked.

“No, now I hear a screaming child. Are you on the street?”

“In the market, on aisle 7.”

“What’s aisle 7?”

“Bed pans, medicine, and cotton balls,” he said.

“In a market?”

“They cater to all needs,” he said.

“Well, in that case I need something for my lower back, my toes, and my right arm. It all hurts,” I said. Then I realized I wasn’t sure who I was talking to.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“Alf, your husband. Remember me? You sent me to the store.”

“You’re in the wrong store, I need you in a pharmacy,” I said.

“This is the pharmacy. Do you think I would find spinach and papaya here?”

“Yes, in aisle 8,” I said.

Cavin says, “And in aisle 1 you’ll find the doggie treats. Right as you step into the store. They know how to position the important stuff.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Chameleon Life

I grew up in three cultures – British, Mexican and Lebanese. Some days I don’t know who I am, which I’m told is normal for someone whose roots go all over the map. The customs and foods and quirks unique to each one requires a passport. Later in life I discovered I was also Jewish, so I added that to my identity profile. Being Jewish explained a lot. It informed my searching for home. My nomad existence. Never feeling I’ve settled down with any one particular place or group of people. It explained my love of Jewish music, especially the minor key.

Over the years, I’ve learned to live with the tension of identity. I’m able to live in a Latin culture as well as a British one. I put them on like a coat. I equally relish a plate of tacos as lamb kebab with hummus. There are days I need a steaming cup of yerba mate tea for comfort, but there are other times when only a mug of cinnamon coffee will do.

I’ve spent more time in the United States than anywhere else now. I understand the language, the people, and the traditions, but there are days when my heart longs to hear Spanish, my native tongue, to feel the slower pace of life, and enjoy the connections to family that go back centuries to when they too came from other parts of the world.

Calvin says, “I’m glad my roots only go back to Napa, the beagle-wine producing region of the world.”

Take a Little, Add a Little

I live in my garden these days with the squirrels, the ravens, the bees, and the occasional butterfly. The butterfly bush is exploding with flowers, ready for a butterfly invasion, but none have arrived. Maybe they’re staying away and quarantining on eucalyptus trees in Pacific Grove. Or maybe they got smart and flew to Mexico instead. So I turned my attention to the house.

I’m cleaning out clutter and distributing it to friends who want more. There are people who always want another book or music CD. I’m happy to oblige. The vision for the house is to give it a minimalist look, with only the essentials in their place. Of course I’ll have to do something about the dog’s seasonal food dishes, multi-colored leashes, and hypo-allergenic beds. He has as many possessions as we do. With all these, he still prefers to eat at our table and sleep in our bed.

Then there’s the garage. It’s filled with camping gear we no longer use, old shoes for when it rains and gets muddy, hiking jackets and hats, and a bowlful of golf balls Alf brings home from his hikes. What golf balls are doing scattered on the mountain defies the imagination. And why Alf picks them up and brings them home is a mystery. He’s not a golfer.

“I’ll give them to someone who plays the game,” he says.

“We don’t know any golfers,” I remind him.

“There’s always the future.”

And so it goes. I clear, Alf fills it up. The story of our lives.

Calvin says, “Hey, what about the ice skates you never use? Maybe there’s an Olympian in the neighborhood.”

 

 

 

 

Survival Plans

I dug it up. It had been struggling to survive for years. I re-planted it in a pot that was hanging from the apricot tree, except there is no apricot tree, just the trunk, which now holds several potted plants. Alf and I killed the apricot tree by pruning it too much. What did we know? We’re not farmers. The transplanted plant should be worried. We don’t know what we’re doing.

Our garden plants grit their teeth behind our backs. They hold whispered meetings at midnight, while we sleep, planning how to survive in spite of what we do to them.

The oleanders are the senior members, well established after many battles, and are now too big to die. They’ve gone through the worst of it, from neglect to over-watering. They now give advice to the youngest inhabitants. “Keep your water reserves if you want to live,” they say.

The roses are faring a bit better because they’re pretty. Beauty wins out every time. It’s what saves them from death. Nobody likes to see a withered bush, it speaks ill of the owners.

The lavender and rosemary have the best chance of survival. They’ve been bred to withstand heat and drought.

The jade, the newcomers, beat their chests. “We’ll outlive you all,” they say with a laugh.

The citrus trees roll their eyes. “We’ve been here 80 years, and we’ve seen it all. If it wasn’t for the rainy season we’d be gone, and so will you, so don’t be cocky because that will be your demise,” they say.

Calvin says, “You’ve murdered a nursery-full since I’ve been here. I’d have a warrant for your arrest.”

 

Nature Speaks

What is the answer to all the evening stars in their places, shining bright. Who keeps them there?

And the flowers, does anyone tell them there’s a quarantine on, and they’re not supposed to burst forth from their places?

The cats don’t care, neither do the dogs.

The ivy continues to crawl up the fence. The rosemary and lavender give out their fragrance. The climbing roses and the fruit trees grow and shine their glory.

Here’s a recipe for contentment. To do what you’re made for, in good times and bad times.  Both give equal opportunities to stand out and be beautiful.

Calvin says, “Now I know you’ve lost it. You need some people time.”

 

 

 

A Pitiful Reality

Coming back from my two-mile walk in my backyard, not that my backyard is two miles long, it’s not, but I walk back and forth for two miles, I realized what a pitiful sight I am. If anyone were to see me in my sweatpants, T-shirt, no make-up – what for the birds? – they’d say I needed a respite in the local psyche ward. I have forgotten to dress normally, bathe daily, and wear something colorful. Is this what retirement looks like? No, this is what being cooped up at home without the possibility of parole looks like during the pandemic. When restrictions get lifted I will need training in how to be a human being again and a functioning member of society. I will have to wear a bra again! That thought revolts me. I will need to be pleasing, kind and thoughtful to others. I’ve had a vacation from that. And eight hours in an office again when I’ve enjoyed squirrels, birds and flowers as my office, I can’t bear the thought.

Not everything about the lockdown has been nasty as the media wants you to believe. It’s been peaceful. The air has never been fresher. The quiet of the streets allows me to hear the honking of overhead geese, the barking of dogs on a walk, the clamoring of the garbage truck on its pickup runs. We’re making more garbage than ever before. We’re buying and cooking and eating and throwing away. Just today I saw my neighbor throw out his prized flamingo.

Calvin says, “You’re nuts alright. Flamingo? That was a pink elephant.”

 

 

Pounding the Pavement for Flour

I wanted to make scones and went shopping for flour, but couldn’t find any. I traveled around the city only to discover the shelves were empty. Even at the Dollar Store. That’s what happens to women who are quarantined, they bake. Every day. There has been a rash of videos showcasing their pan dulce, nan, and challah.

While the shelves are well stocked at the stores with bread, buns and cookies, milled wheat is gone. Who knew that flour mills would be in such demand for their product. I will need to travel to the nearest one, a few hours away, park and plead for a trunkful of their best.

This got me thinking. Maybe I should grow my own wheat and mill it myself in the high-speed blender I’m making smoothies in. But the process would be so laborious that I would welcome a a fistful of animal crackers instead.

It’s fascinating to see the products that disappeared from stores in our lockdown situation. First it was toilet paper. Then disinfectant wipes. After that, hand sanitizer. Now we’ve gone from hygiene to food. Comfort food as in bagels, donuts and croissants. What is that telling us?

Calvin says, “It’s telling us we’ll have new bakeries in the neighborhood when we open up with doggie treats.”