Ahead of the Corona Curve

While most of the Corona panic- buying here in the Shenandoah Valley has seemingly subsided for the moment, one item continues to be a semi-precious commodity: yep, toilet paper.

This continued depletion of supply has inspired some folks to come up with some, shall we say, novel solutions and some ideas not so odd. One of these is the slow introduction to the general American public of an appliance that has seemingly been in use in Europe for a long time: The bidet (that’s pronounced, Bee-day for folks raised in Duval County!). The other night a fellow blogger wrote a piece on just this topic and it brought back memories of my first encounter with this European marvel.

In March of 1973 I decided to take a trip to the place of my father’s birth, Ireland. This would be my first time on an airplane and my first time traveling to a foreign land – except for an accidental trip to New Jersey, which is another story!

I was well prepared for this adventure. Just before leaving I consulted with a cousin who had traveled frequently to The Old Country. He gave me a wealth of information: The Irish currency was called a Punt and was worth about $2.50 at the time. Cars drive on the left side of the road and the steering wheels are on the right and all cars have manual transmissions. I was told that upon leaving the Shannon Airport I was to drive kind of northward and sort of along the coast, but not too close! He also said when I arrived in the hometown to just ask for “Batty”, that was my uncle’s nickname, and for good reason, said my cousin. Loaded with this information (who would need more?), I set off.

I arrived in Limerick, rented a car and started out the parking lot. It must have been my unique driving style that caused the Garda (Irish police) to run to the exit gate, raise it and jump behind a row of concrete pillars. As I bucked passed them, one made the Sign of the Cross and the other uttered a phrase I would hear often during my “Journey Home”: Jaysus, Mary and Joseph! Off I went.

Like a homing pigeon, I did make my way to Charlestown, County Mayo and quickly found Uncle Batty, a gentleman through and through, but with an odd sense of humor, I was told. After visiting for a couple of days, seeing my family living in the same single room cottage as did their great- grandparents, I set off for Dublin, just in time for St. Patrick’s Day. I felt like a regular world-class traveler by now. Little did I know that I was about to have an experience not ever to be forgotten!

No reservations, no problem. God surely protects fools, I’ve learned. So, down Dublin’s main thoroughfare I drove (getting better by the minute, I was) and decided to turn onto a quaint side street. Now, Dublin at this time was not much different than during the time of Joyce and Yeats. Cobbled streets, the scent of peat from stoves and fireplaces, painted doors and stately stone buildings everywhere. It was a movie set, I thought. Pulling up to a stone-fronted hotel, a crisply uniformed young man greeted me and helped carry my duffle bag to the check-in desk and then up to the room. Now, I had also been advised to bring with me an ample supply of Kennedy silver half-dollars to use as tips. Apparently this was good advice because the bell boy was actually excited to get one: American money and an Irish-American president. Nothing better in Ireland during that Spring of 1973! Now, my long-remembered experience was about to begin.

 The room was huge, with a sitting area that overlooked the cobbled, narrow street below. The bathroom was expansive. Everything was marble – floors, walls, double sinks – the whole thing. After looking around and seeing everything to be in order, I decided to refresh a bit after the long drive. Wait, what is that? A toilet for a midget? These Irish think of everything, they do. So, I decide to give the “midget seat” a try. Before “doing” anything, I decided to give a side lever a tug – just to see what’s what, so to speak. A gush of cold water blasted my back and head. What the heck!! This can’t be right. So, I stood up and gave another yank to the handle. Old Faithful then gushes out all over the floor, turning the bath into nearly a pool. Something’s wrong here, for sure. Hmmm, I’d better get some help.

So, I go out to the hall and there stands a young girl in a heavily starched black and white uniform, wearing a lace cap, carrying an armful of clean towels. The Sherlock Holmes in me figures she must work here. So, “Can I ask you something” I say. “Yes, sir”, she replies. “Come in, please”. She follows and I walk into the bathroom with her, somewhat reluctantly, following behind. Pointing to the midget seat I ask, “Do you know what that is”? She stiffens and says, “I do”. We’re onto something now. “Do you know how it works”? A bit more stiffening and a hint of wariness is now in her voice when she again replies, “I do”. “Well, could you show me how it works?”  “I WILL NOT!”, and like a bolt she runs from the room. By the time I can get to the door she has run to the end of the hallway and met with another uniformed girl. I can hear that other one saying, “He didn’t!!”  “He did”, says the first girl. They both turn to give me the Short Eye and then hustle down the stairs. Odd girls, I say to myself.

So, after foregoing trying to give the geyser another try, I go out and have a wonderful evening exploring Old Dublin. When I return, I decide to have a drink in the hotel’s small, wood-paneled pub. Three or four older men sitting at the bar and the bartender, dressed in the customary white shirt, black tie and pants were the only other people in the pub. I sat at a small table. The bartender looked at me and said, “What will it be”? “A Guinness, please”. He pours it and puts it on the bar; I get up, take it and say, “Thanks”. “Ah, you must be the Yank staying on the second floor”, says the barman. “I am”, I say. The barman smiles and bends to whisper something to the men sitting at the rail. A burst of laughter. “He didn’t!” says one, “was it Mary?” “No, the new girl, Bridie”, says the barman. “Ah, Jaysus”, says another of the men. “Mary would be bad enough, but Bridie! Is she still runnin’”? Now, another burst of laughter. Odd bunch, these Dubliners, I’m thinking. On the way out, the barman says, “Yank, did ye’ figure out that thing in your room”? “No”, and I continued out and up to my room, but not before I heard more laughter and, “Jaysus, ye’d think they would have them in America, as well”. They’re a very odd bunch in this place, I thought. But, still nice.

A week or so later, up in Sligo, I told my uncle Frank all about the midget seat/ foot washer (cleverly, I figured this out on my own!), the cleaning girl running out of the room and the people in the bar laughing. Uncle Frank, not a drinker, nearly choked on his tea. “Well, Billy”, he said, “I’d say you should not plan on going back there again”. He then started to laugh just as hard as the folks in Dublin as he explained just what that little seat was for.

So, if these Bidet things ever catch on here in the U.S., I’m way ahead of the curve! And it’s a good thing that we’ve installed waterproof flooring in the bathrooms!

As always, pray, don’t worry, be careful.

Bill

Wake up and Smell the Coffee

At 7:00 a.m. this morning there was a worldwide sharing of prayer for the end of the Corona Virus. Rather than being a sign of panic, this uniting in prayer is one more – and probably the best – weapon in our arsenal to defeat this sickness. If you missed this event, rest assured that millions upon millions of people are praying all the time for this scourge to end and we can join them at any time.

But, in addition to prayer, we can do something else with this quiet time we have been forced into.

How are we spending this time? For me, I have, for now, just about reached my limit with both Netflix and Amazon. The other day I attempted to find movies dealing with how people endured times of war. Not much luck – at least with finding decent movies that did not require additional fees. So much for watching the classic, Mrs. Miniver. Reading has always been a passion for me, but nearly all of our books have been packed in anticipation of our move. Thanks to our friend, MaryEllen, I do have a few that are still unread and were tucked under my nightstand. Whew!

Social distancing has certainly kept our personal contacts at a minimum.

Are Ya’ Home?

But, many folks continue to check on family and neighbors however possible, even if it’s a text or phone call just to say, Hello, how are you, can I do anything for ya’? Small things go a long way.

Speaking of small things, one small but significant highlight for us is our cup of coffee. Usually, we’ll have one (maybe two) in the morning and later in the afternoon. We enjoy it and recently my doctor told me that coffee, in moderation, can be beneficial. Since Costco is off limits for us now, we no longer have access to their store brand of “100% Colombian” coffee. For what is termed, commodity coffee (basic), it’s pretty darn good and cheap. With all this new found time and the need to seek other sources, I’ve “discovered” two new favorites.

First, is a whole bean, Mocha Java coffee from Mayorga Roasters. It’s smooth and flavorful. It’s available in 2 pound bags from Amazon or directly from Mayorga. Our Second new favorite is an organic whole bean Honduran coffee available from Aldi. Pretty good and we’re glad we found it.

Two of my favorite coffees

So, what’s your favorite coffee that you make at home? Let me know!

Pray, stay healthy, keep in touch and… Wake up and Smell the Coffee!

Bill

Living with Crazy

Hemingway at work on, For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Ernest Hemingway, in a 1929 interview with columnist Dorothy Parker in which they were speaking of courage, stated that “guts” was having “grace under pressure”.  Lately, I have seen more than a few examples of grace under pressure.

We hear stories of cops and firemen and medics (personally, I dislike the term, First Responders) who risk their safety to come to the aid of others. Whether by training, habit or vocation, most of them do this day in and day out throughout their careers. And much of the time without recognition or fanfare.

But, it is of the everyday acts of generosity, thoughtfulness, courtesy and, even, humor that I have recently witnessed that I am now referring to.

The all-pervasive virus news has featured stories of people loading up multiple shopping carts at the Costcos and Walmarts with toilet paper and paper towels. Maybe they have a hygiene issue or maybe they’re just plain “panic hoarders”.  But, the image that comes to mind more frequently is that of a lady at our local Food Lion walking ahead of us in the “paper goods” aisle. Only two packages were left in the entire otherwise empty aisle.  She looked at them and said, “Take one and leave one”. Thoughtful.  A similar situation at another nearby grocery store took another twist. The paper goods aisle had only a few packages left and people were looking anxious (kind of like seeing a highway sign saying, “next rest stop 25 miles”. Suddenly, you gotta’ go!). A nicely dressed woman eyed the situation and blurted out, “I don’t give a darn about the toilet paper, but they better not be out of coffee”! Grim faces suddenly turned into grins. Laughter is truly the best medicine.

Our little Shenandoah Valley town of Staunton is coming together, one neighbor to another. Small food businesses are helping area residents and one another by setting up an on-line ordering system for food staples from nearby organic farmers and food suppliers. These suppliers and farmers will bring the orders to a central location and the residents can pick them up without even getting out of their cars. Restaurants are offering curbside take-out service. It’s a win-win in difficult times.

Churches, including our beloved St. Francis of Assisi parish, are increasing their aid to the needy and to those that may be more vulnerable to catching something. Our pastor, with the aid of parish staff, managed to livestream this Sunday’s Mass. To partake spiritually in the Mass along with our fellow parishioners, even from a physical distance, was a great comfort to us .http://stfrancisparish.org/homily-lent4.html

Just the beginning of new floors

In the meantime, despite setbacks and these very trying times, the construction on our new home is continuing. The siding seems to be nearing completion. Installation of the hardwood floors started this past Saturday. Our newest target date is from the end of April to mid-May. Let’s keep our fingers crossed!

Chris fitting section of Hickory floor board.

So, let us all remember to be calm and kind and patient with others and ourselves.  And, to have Faith. We will be alright. God is watching over you and us, especially in these crazy times!

And, for goodness sake…Don’t Run Out Of Coffee!!

As always, Comments, Likes and Follows always welcome.

Bill

Don’t Squeeze the Charmin!

Are you crazy, yet?

If you are, you have lots of company. Not since Y2K or was it the Bird Flue epidemic or maybe it was the AIDS epidemic has there been such widespread panic and fear among us.

Today, The Redhead and I went to the grocery store to stock up a bit since we had heard there was a run on basic staples such as food, medicines and “personal items”. There were plenty of groceries and produce at our local Martin’s Grocery. Some milk items were a bit sparse as was the bread aisle. But, no, nada, zilch of “le papier toilettes”, as the French would say. It was the same story at Walgreens, Food Lion and, believe it or not, Costco. Forget about investing in gold in case of the stock market going haywire. Put your money into Charmin!

No doubt there will be lessons learned from this viral epidemic. But, until we learn the cause and the non-hyper facts, let’s try to keep a level head, protect ourselves and our families and have Faith. Everything will be alright.

In the meantime, a little dose of reality and pleasantness for you all.

Pastoral scene from our backyard. Note cow grazing, one of several of a neighbor’s small herd.
Siding and front stonework

Our house here in Staunton is coming along nicely. Since my last writing, the siding is being installed, the interior has been sheet rocked, the electricity has been turned on, the lines for the propane gas have been run and the ducts for heating and cooling have been installed. Preliminary grading of the landscaping has also begun this week.

Living room
Almeria tan for common areas
Oyster Bay for bedrooms

Interior painting will start this coming Monday. The Redhead and I had fun picking our paint colors. We’re keeping it simple – one color for the common areas of living, dining laundry and sun rooms and another color for the bedrooms and baths. The extra-tall front door will benefit from Red’s long-standing wish of having a front door painted red.

stacks of solid hickory flooring

Our flooring was delivered today and is “acclimating” in the garage. It is hickory wood of four and five inch widths and various lengths. The floor will be stained and finished “on site” by one of the last skilled craftsmen, working here in the Shenandoah Valley, who can provide a custom finish. Pre-finished flooring is now the “go to” product for most home builders.

We have also picked out our gas fireplace and logs. The logs will be a new hybrid mixture of special concrete and ceramic. The surround of the fireplace will be made by our builder, Eric Argenbright, who will also build our kitchen cabinets. The Redhead will truly be in her glory “starting” a fire with the push of a button.

All for now. As always, Comments, Likes and Follows always welcome!

Be safe, pray and don’t worry.

Bill

Ying Yanged

(20171016Litchfield CT

For the first time in almost four years I went North. Back to friends and places once familiar. Back to changing leaves and temperatures and shifting feelings. Funny that I chose October, the birthday month, the time for reflection and deflection.

I was not myself. A mood that had crept into me for several months came along for the trip. And ghosts long thought banished popped up for a pre-Halloween surprise.

It is difficult to explain except, perhaps, through metaphor. When a ship sets sail into rough water it had best make sure its ballast and cargo are balanced. Mine was not. My Ying was Yanged. And, like an unbalanced ship, I rocked this way and that. I complained that the New York traffic bothered me, when in actuality I normally couldn’t care less. The heat in Florida is terrible, I complained (what a news flash that was!), ditto the traffic here and the crime 10 miles away. Had I become a kvetch? Oy Vey! 

kvetch

But, what was the problem? It has taken me these past two weeks or so to settle and reflect. The problem is me (Isn’t it always?). I don’t like being retired. I’m not even sure what I’m retired from! From two professions it could be said that I’m retired. A third was more a passion and an unfinished work, one that I thought I could continue here in Florida – restoring antique / vintage furniture. It hasn’t happened for a number of reasons. And, not making excuses, they are legitimate reasons. Truth be told, however, I like working. I need to work, again. Volunteering hasn’t been successful (still trying, though) and my one job experience here was a mixed bag (see my post, Charlie, September 2016).

It was while visiting Tiverton, one of my favorite areas up North that I again visited the weaving studio and shop of Amy Lund. I had met Amy a few years past when I had my shop, Redeux Vintage Furniture, in CT.

redeux store front

While visiting RI we made a “field trip” to see some craftspeople and Amy’s shop in Tiverton’s Four Corners is a favorite. Her enthusiasm and love for what she does is inspiring. It was a treat to visit her again, to see her work and to make a small purchase. If you’re ever in that area of RI stop into Amy Lund’s weaving studio  . 

After leaving Amy’s shop I knew I had to again work. It’s a matter of having a balance in  life. And no one wants to be unbalanced!

20171014 Amy Lund (2) (704x1024)

So, what’s next? Another trip North! Well, kind of North – North Carolina and Tennessee to be exact (not sure if they’d like to be considered Northern States!). We’ll visit friends and view areas not visited before.

Thanks to all my friends up North for their welcome and patience with my “Yanged Ying”. Thanks, too, to HM for her special prayers. And to Geraldine Wahlgren, “that German Lady”, who took a chance 51 years ago this month and opened her heart and home to two young boys. I will never forget.

After the Storm

irma2

You know it’s coming. Will it be the end of everything as we know it?  What happened to all the assurances that we were in a safe place? 

Like an unwelcome relative that insists on coming for the holidays, Irma, with potent unpredictability, smashes and wrecks and ruins everything she comes near.

We pray. At home, at church, together, by ourselves. Please, Lord, let Irma turn toward the ocean and let every sailor at sea escape her wrath.

First, it’s the islands of the Caribbean. Devastated. Then the mainland. Northward, then west. Please, spare the Gulf, we pray. She straightens. Northward, again. We’re assured she will weaken.  Every bully does. Eventually.  Toward sparsely populated areas she sets her sights. And, then, she sees her prize to the east. She wants to visit the City of Rivers. It’s been such a long time. Hasn’t it? I’ve missed you. Let me visit. Not a good time? Oh, I insist. Irma comes through the back door. But, not before first waking the dead of St. Augustine. Then, it’s over the rivers and through the woods to Grandma’s house she goes. And, to ours. She has misplaced our address. For now. But, like a raging drunk at midnight, she shatters the peace of our neighbors. Trees crash into homes, roofs are ripped, windows are shattered. And, too, are so many lives.

irma1

We are now three for three. This yearly upheaval has stirred up something within. Of smashing. Of terror in the night. Of trees strewn in the front yard, albeit now ones without lights.

A prayer, once said for many years, comes to mind: Lord, let me know what You want me to do, and give me the courage to do it. Amen

At Last!

Train first tour driving day

Disappointment is not easy. Dealing with it takes time.

Back in March I had taken the road exam for the Commercial Drivers License (CDL) – a prerequisite for driving as a tour guide for the company. The test did not go well, as I have already described in my last, several weeks ago post. Sporadic training on bus driving – mostly backing up techniques – had done little to instill confidence that the next test would be much more successful. It was a dilemma.

So weeks were filled with driving shuttle vans throughout St. Augustine, learning back streets and alleys and always honing my narrative skills and knowledge on each and every passenger. And then it happened. I was told that train driving lessons would begin. But, what about the CDL? It seems the management had more confidence in my next driving test than did I.

So, fire up the train I did – with the best driving instructor in town. All geometry he said. Axels and radius’s, turning points, weight distribution,etc. Very nice. All I wanted to do was show people the city and talk about it. But, somehow it all came together. Until I had to learn how to talk and drive. Simple? Not nearly. See, the training consisted of first talking – giving the narrative tour – while someone else drove the train. Talk what you see was the motto. Problem was, different drivers = different speeds and when I would see what. Add to that, I’d sometimes get the sideways “short eye” look of disapproval. “What did you say”, I’d hear? “What did you just say”? My response, “Huh”? It seems some of these Southern boys think I have an accent. Well!  They’d ask,”where y’all frum”?  “Kin-et-e-kit”, I’d tell them. Their look said it all. What we had was a “failure to co-mu-nee- kate“! Another learning curve to overcome.

Next, was the drive and talk test. After figuring I could speak somewhat intelligently about the Ancient City, the bosses judged it was time to drive the train and give the tour – with only an instructor aboard, of course. Without a CDL – no passengers.

O.K. So, off we go down San Marco Avenue with me wearing a microphone headset. Since I was driving, the headset was plugged in so the mouthpiece was on my right side. Something new.

Me: “So, in 1565 Pedro Menendez landed ashore just to our left in the Indian village of Faigy“.

What the *&^%$)@#!  Was I having a stroke? Or did the Timucuan Indians really name their village after my beloved Redhead? The instructor couldn’t answer me. He was too busy choking on his morning coffee and laughing.

O.K. Gibby, I thought, keep driving. This will get better.

Me, again: “Now we’re heading toward the city gates of North Benson”.

Am I really back in Fairfield? Seriously, somebody better call an ambulance or get a straitjacket. I’ve lost my mind!

Instructor: “Why don’t we take a little time to figure this out? Pull over”.

Check list: Am I sick? I don’t think so.

Did I really pass the City Board test for Tour Guide? Yes.

Think, Gibby.

Boing! The light goes on!

The microphone is on my right side and I realize that I can’t think or speak with a telephone in my right hand. Always the left!! So, a quick change of the headset and and rearranging of cords and voila!

Instructor: “We’ll, that was interestin'”

It certainly was.

Weeks go by. I’m mostly a “talker”, giving the narration on tours while an experienced guide drives the train and observes me. And some more train driving and a bit more bus driving and backing up practice – the key to everything going forward, so to speak. That’s a thought. Sometimes to move forward you have to first go back. Hmmm.

And then the day of the bus test is announced. May 9th.

And then the next day everything changes. Good news for the company: The test has been scheduled for sooner – May 2nd. Good news for me: No backing up, parking, etc. I had, unknowingly, already passed that part of the test. Countless days and nights of worry – for naught! All I had to do now was drive forward. And remember speed limits and railroad crossings and not get rattled by the tester telling you to do something quickly and forgetting – safety first! O.K.

It goes well.

On Wednesday, May 4th I took a train out, with passengers (and an experienced driver as an observer) for my first tour. St. Augustine had a gale blowing in that day, but it was o.k. Just another test.

The next day another tour. This time the instructor sat in the passenger seats.

There will be another week or so of testing, instruction and observation. But things seem to be on track again.

First day giving tours (576x1024)

And, while my Redhead is always with me in thought, Faigy is not the village of the Timucuans. I now make sure the microphone is always on my left!

Hope to hear from you,

Bill

 

Call me Killa’

I call you killer

Alice: “I’ll be right back, Killer. And, I call you, Killer, because you slaaay me.
Ralph: “And I’m calling Bellevue because you’re nuts”! Link to TV clip

Last week was my “face your fears time”. It began early one morning with our friend and neighbor, Lydia, knocking on our front door. The Redhead went to the door, as did our two friends visiting from Connecticut, Sue and Mary Ellen. There was a brief conversation, three sentences of which can be recalled: Lydia – “There’s a snake by my backdoor, a bad one. I don’t know what to do”. The Redhead – “I’ll get, Bill”.

Tell me there is a lion in your backyard. No problem. Tell me there is a leak in your faucet. No problem. Tell me there is someone walking down the street, wearing a mask, and carrying your neighbor’s TV.  Absolutely, no problemo. But, tell me something is crawling in your backyard and it’s not wearing a diaper. That’s a problem. For me. That this bit of news was delivered by Lydia to The Redhead and Sue and Mary Ellen made this a stomach-churning, knee buckling, cold sweat type of problem. At least for someone still believing in chivalry. And, as Don Quixote found out, chivalry and common sense don’t always go hand in hand. No sir. And timing. Timing is very important. Oh, yeah. Ya’ have to think some things through, very carefully. And, that takes time.

But, on this beautiful sunny morning, time and common sense were two gifts denied me. Thanks in part to dear friend, Sue, blurting out, “I’ll go over”, I needed to DO SOMETHING. Fast! Because, as well intentioned as she was, Sue, from Queens, NY, knows about as much about snakes as Donald Trump knows about hair style and humility.

Trump

So, no contemplating a plan. No assembling of an appropriate arsenal of weapons. Just time to grab a shovel, slip on a pair of moccasins (oh, the irony!) and hot foot over to Lydia’s backyard to see, The Bad One.

There he was, curled up just outside her back door. Just a Black Racer napping, I hoped. Now, if someone really hates snakes, as do I, the best hope is for a snake to be (1) a tool used by a plumber, (2) a Black Racer. Both are useful and won’t hurt you. Usually.

shovel snake

So, let me just give this little bugger a nudge and send it on its way somewhere else. What a hero I’ll be – without breaking a sweat! So, tickle, tickle, my little pal. Up goes its head, open goes his mouth, rubbery go my knees. The open white mouth tells the tale: it’s a water moccasin or “cotton mouth”. The books say it all – Avoid, venomous, dangerous, and nasty. Lydia was right, it’s a bad one.

The next five or so minutes must have been like watching the Wallenda Acrobats walking a tight-rope wearing clown shoes. It’s a dangerous act, but it brings out laughter. Lydia has out her camera phone. Sue is saying, “oooh, oooh”! Both are laughing. The snake is not laughing. He looks straight at me as I bring down the sharp edge of my Ames spade shovel. Whack, whack, miss, whack. Another look at the snowy inside of his mouth as he wiggles a little closer. Whacko. This SOB won’t die, I blurt out. More laughing. Oh, ladies, it seems I was born to amuse you. Yikes! This thing is still moving. Whacko, chop. Take that!

20151005snakey3

snake3 (2) (576x1024)

20151005 snakey1At last. Finito! What might have made a fine pair of boots for a midget is now a nearly tri-sected length of nasty. It must be three feet long. Hmm, with a little effort I could stretch this to being an 8 foot menace to humanity. No, we’ll leave well enough alone. A quick catapult into the nearby woods and it’s sayonara for this critter.

Let’s hope the next knock on the door brings with it a friend with a piece of apple pie, maybe a bit of pumpkin bread or a ”I’m just here to visit, put on the coffee”. But, if not, now I’m ready for anything!