Flowers and my Mother

oma crop
My mother in her late forties

Mother’s Day has come and gone but not a single day goes by when I don’t remember my Oma. Oma loved flowers. She grew them, she studied them, she painted them. She was curious and imaginative. She delighted in nature. Today when I see the colors of a fallen leaf, study the bark patterns on a tree and thumb through Ansel Adam’s photographs…. I remember my mother.Om in garden

cleaning silverJPG
I am cleaning mom’s silver medals using this baking soda and aluminum foil method I found on Readers Digest
oma's medals
Medals my mother won at the Cacher Club Flower Show in 1958

Oma was an avid gardner. Back when we lived in the tea gardens she won many medals at the Annual Flower Show at the Cacher Club: once 10 in a single year (1958). That year she took Best of Antirrhinum, Dianthus, (I never  heard of these flowers I had to Google them: Antirrhinum BTW is another name for Snap Dragon – who knew! ) Pansy, Gladiola, Carnation, Dahlia, Gerbera, Lettuce, Brussel Sprout and Celery! Quite a remarkable feat considering she was the only Indian memsahib competing against British ladies who are passionate, skilled gardeners and fiercely competitive! My mother gave them a run for their money by walking off with all the medals that year. Dad said everybody got tired of clapping. These medals are old and tarnished. Today I will give them a good scrub. I googled “how to clean silver,” and came up with this method using baking soda and aluminum foil. Let’s see if this works.

After mom passed away. I brought back her favorite book with me to America: Flowers of the World by Frances Perry. It’s a hefty authoritative volume and mom’s copy is much thumbed and covered with gift wrap for added protection over the dust jacket. Mom would put homemade dust jackets on all her favorite books to protect them from wear. Sometime she used pictures from old calendars. flower book inside pageflower book coverI was reminded of this many years ago when I loaned a book to a Thai friend of mine, here in Arizona. She returned my book covered with a homemade dust jacket with a picture of an Arctic wolf. I will never forget that. It touched my heart. That kind of care and reverence for books belongs to older cultures. We don’t see that in America.

ceramic plateHere is a small ceramic dish my mom made by molding clay over a glass form. I fired it in my kiln (I used to be a ceramic artist back then) and my mom painted a sprig of chrysanthemum in deft free-hand brush strokes completely from memory! IMG_4700Today I use this dish for my guitar picks and I remember my mother as I drink my cup of tea every morning.

Have a wonderful weekend, dear friends.  Please remember to make time for the ones you love. I have to constantly remind myself of this. It’s so easy to forget. Cheers!

“Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven’t time, and to see takes time – like to have a friend takes time.”
Georgia O’Keeffe

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There’s a stingray in my pool!

stingray shorts

We live in the desert and things fall into our swimming pool –all the time.

A desert turtle fell in once and we found it lying at the bottom. At first I thought it was a brown hat. We fished it out and sat it on a rock and I was about to declare it DOA, when lo and behold the creature opened it’s bleary eyes, coughed up a tablespoon of water and shuffled off into the rocks.

Another accidental fall-in was a wee baby bat with a cheeky face amazingly like a Chihuahua. Batty was revived with milk fed with a Q-tip, kept in a dark shoebox in the laundry room (the closest thing I could find to a cave) and released at dusk. Bats probably send out a sonar signal like they say, because only seconds after I set him out on the patio, a whole bunch of aunties and uncles, cousins and friends showed up en masse, and Batty joined them after a rather drunken take off that almost landed him in the pool the second time.

Baby Chuckwalla lizard rescued from the pool
Baby Chuckwalla lizard rescued from the pool

Rescue#3 was a baby Chuckwalla lizard – which had ingested so much water, its stomach was bloated and tight like a Ping-Pong ball. After reviving in the run, Chucky waddled off to live another day. Hurrah!

This wild bobcat (the size of a large dog) lives up by the rocks in my backyard and sometimes pays us a visit. It recently had 3 pups.
This wild bobcat is the size of a large dog and lives up in the rocks behind my backyard. Recently it had 3 pups.

Other pool visitors include a beautiful bobcat that pays us the occasional visit. It has striking markings and elegantly tufted ears.

A young Sonoran king snake once jumped into the pool to grab a juicy chlorine-marinated mouse and probably nursed a stomach ache for the rest of the day. King Snakes (they can grow up to three feet) are harmless to humans and it’s a good thing to have them around  because they kill rattlesnakes.

Baby King snake slithering off after eating a mouse
Baby King snake slithering off after eating a mouse (note bulge).
This mallard duck flew in to romance with our plastic chlorine tablet holder (seen pouting in the far corner.)
The mallard duck that flew in to romance with our plastic chlorine tablet holder (seen in the far corner.)

Then, there are surprise drop-ins. An amorous mallard, veered off its migration course to crash-land in our pool looking no doubt, for a last summer fling. But sadly, the coy female lounging in the corner, turned out to be only a plastic chlorine tablet holder. Mally flew off with a disgusted ‘quack’.

Another time, a not-so-lucky raccoon was found floating belly up, eyes rolled back with  its ghastly teeth showing. My sister who was visiting from India the next day, heard all about it. Sis, if you must know, has little knowledge of raccoons.

Talking to her friend in California, Sis says. “I missed all the excitement, yesterday. A moose fell into Shona’s pool.”

“A MOOSE!” shrieked the friend, “My goodness, what did they do?”

“Oh it was already dead so they just threw it out into the desert,” Sis replies, casually.

“But HOW?”

“With a shovel.”

(More shrieks from the other end)

Sis covers the mouthpiece and tells me. “She can’t believe the moose fell into your pool.”

“Not a moose – a raccoon,” I correct her.

“Sorry, it was a raccoon,” Sis tells her friend, “Not moose. I got the animals mixed up because of the two ‘o’s in the spelling.”

“Then it could be a baboon, too, for that matter, ” says the friend, dryly.

Giving all creatures falling into our pool, it was hardly surprising when hubby looking out the patio door, one morning, declares. “Something large has fallen in the pool.”

I grab my glasses, “What is it? A raccoon? A moose? A baboon?” Anything is possible after all but I’m stunned at what he says.

“Very strange,” says hubby, slowly. “but it looks a little bit like a stingray.”

I can hardly believe my eyes. The creature is HUGE, with dull mottled markings and it’s flapping away at the bottom of the pool, obviously alive, because its large wings, fins or whatever they are, move up and down. In the refracted light of the pool it looks sinister and threatening.

“A stingray!” I scream. “Oh my God!”

Hubby is less prone to theatrics. “That’s ridiculous. We live in the middle of the desert! I’m going out to take a look.”

“No!” I pull him back. “You will scare the thing. It might jump.” The thought is too terrifying.

Suddenly, I have an idea. “Wait here, I’m getting the binocs.”

I peer through the binoculars, hands shaking, unable to focus. I almost drop them when the automatic timer on the pool pump suddenly comes on and the creature jolts forward and flaps around furiously, looking agitated.

“What?” Hubby grabs the binocs from me and adjusts the focus. He stares through them, opens the patio door and goes outside. He is laughing. “Come here, you’ll never believe what it is.”

Can you guess what it was? Hint: look at the first picture. Now wouldn’t you think it was a stingray if you saw it flapping  away at the bottom of your pool – that too, first thing in the morning, before drinking your first cup of tea?

Life is never dull, I tell you.  Cheers, my friends!

Update“What were the shorts doing at the bottom of the pool?” is the sneaky question I am getting. I hasten to explain – they were drying on a deck chair and got blown in by the wind. 🙂

 

It’s all in the crunch

celery Oma, my mom, watched me chop celery.

“So nice,’ she sighed.

“What is?” I asked.

“The celery,” she said, “ makes a nice koch-koch noise when you cut it. So fresh.”

I shrugged. “It’s just celery.”

“You should see the celery we get in India,”  Oma said,  “thin and stringy, like lizard tails. Everything is so healthy in America. The people with big, white teeth saying “have a nice day.” Even the garbage man who drives the truck with the crab claw to lift your bin, smiles and waves. And do you know what that carpet cleaner man said to me yesterday?”

“No, what?”

“He said ‘take care’. Take care.”

I looked at her, puzzled. “He finished his work and he was leaving. So?”

Oma shook her head. “You are not understanding me. He did not say bye-bye. He did not say ta-ta. He said take care. Now isn’t that nice?”

I snorted. “That doesn’t mean a thing, Oma. It’s like saying bye-bye or ta-ta. That’s just how they speak here.”

“Not at all,” Oma retorted. “Take care is what you’d say to your old auntie or grandmother. It shows love and concern for an elderly person. I thought it was very nice of him to say “take care,” but then the poor fellow was in such a hurry, he forgot to drink his tea.”

“That’s the other thing I want to tell you,” I said, “don’t go serving tea and Marie biscuits to workers. They don’t have time to drink tea and chat about their family. Also I overheard you ask him all kinds of personal questions. You don’t ask “are you married?”, “how many children do you have” etc. He must have thought you were being terribly nosy.”

“What’s so wrong? In India, the garbage man, the driver, the newspaper man– whoever comes to my house are given tea. I know all about their families and everything. The driver’s mother-in-law has a goiter on her neck–-”

“People don’t talk about their mother-in-law’s goiter in America. Everybody’ s in a big hurry. Time is money.”

Oma threw up her hands. “Too much hurry, hurry here. You have everything. Big house. Machine for this, machine for that. Small, small gadgets that go peep-peep, ting-ting. You have blacktooth and blueberry, i-ping and you-pong, but what’s the use? Nobody has any time! Why? You don’t even have to get out of your car to open your garage door. If Rekha, my maid saw that garage door open by itself, she would think it was a ghost and run screaming for her life.”

I laughed. It was true. Automatic garage doors are still uncommon in India.

“The other day, your dear husband forgot where he parked his car in the mall,” continued Oma. ” Now, what will you do, I asked.  Don’t worry, Oma, he said, I will call the car and it will answer me. “Hey car?”, he called, just like that, and the car honked back and even winked its lights. Imagine a car answering a human? In India even humans don’t answer humans. Too much noise.”

“He’s pulling your leg, Oma. He must have pressed the car key in his pocket.”

Too pretty to eat
Too pretty to eat

Oma ignored me and waved at the fruit bowl sitting on the countertop. “Look at all this nice fruit and nobody to eat it. No time, No time. Hurry, hurry, hurry.”

“Why don’t you eat some?”

“How much can I eat by myself? Too many different things to eat in this house, I get confused. I sit down to cut an apple and you say eat the grapes. Then your husband says, eat the melon, eat this, eat that. Before you know it everything gets moldy and you have to throw it all away. Then back we go again to Costco and load up another shopping cart the size of a rickshaw with more fruit.”

“That reminds me there are strawberries in the fridge. Don’t forget to eat those.”

“I know. I took them out of the box and looked at them.”

“What? Have they spoiled already?”

“No, no, the opposite. They are too beautiful to eat just now. I just like to look at them. I will eat them when they get a little soft.”

“What is the point in getting you fresh strawberries, then?

Oma admiring her rose garden.  This photo was taken when she was much younger.
Oma admiring her flowers. This photo was taken when she was much younger.

“Feasting is for the eyes as well as the stomach. I have never seen such big, perfect strawberries in my life. I just want to admire them for a while. They are God’s miracle.”

Man’s miracle is more like it. I hate to disillusion you but those strawberries must be full of the steroids, hormones or whatever junk they put in them.”

“What is steroids?”

“Something that makes you look healthy when you are not.”

“How can you look healthy if you are not healthy? Sickly people you can always tell. They are thin and malnourished. They have no energy. They look like the lizard-tail celery.”

“Here the sick people look like the strawberries, the healthy ones are thin and stringy like your lizard-tail celery.”

“That makes no sense,” Oma frowned. “I hate to say this, but America has made you into a very cranky person. All the time, this is not right, that is not good, grumble, grumble, never happy with anything. You should hear yourself sometime. Crease marks are appearing on your forehead. It is not very becoming.”

“I am just telling you the facts,” I said, glancing at the clock. I pulled off my apron and grabbed the car keys. “I must run to the post office. I’ll be back. Why don’t you eat some strawberries?”

“Alright”

“And ….” I turned and waved, “take care!”

NOTE (updated 19th June, 2013) Sadly, the following year, Oma departed for her orchard in the sky. These are my fond recollections from her last visit to the US and our lively conversations in my kitchen. Oma was eighty when she died. 

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Shona Patel’s debut novel “Teatime for the Firefly” (Harlequin/Mira) slated for release  October 1, 2013 is currently available on pre-order (with guaranteed delivery by 24th September) from major retailers in several countries. You can read the Synopsis and First Chapter here.

Tea and chats with writers at Carriage Manor

Teatime with writers at the Carriage Manor Writers group.
Tea and chats with the writers group at Carriage Manor.
Peggy Hassinger, my dear friend who has shared with me many journeys.
Peggy Hassinger, my tea-drinking buddy  from many, many teatimes ago.

On March 22nd, I was invited by Peg Hassinger, a dear friend, to speak at the Carriage Manor Writers Group in Mesa, Arizona. The group pitched in with a surprise tea party to honor my visit and a surprise indeed it was! I was deeply touched (I cry easily these days if you must know!) with all the thought and planning that had gone into creating such a delightful event. There’s more about that in Marlys Jensens’s writeup below.

The Carriage Manor Writers Group meets every Friday. Many members are snowbirds so the group is more active in the cooler months. Members pick a special topic to write about every week and on the day of my visit the topic was (you guessed it) TEA of course! I was fascinated by the variety of genres and different viewpoints shared on the same subject. The format is open so we had a nice smattering of short stories, essays and poems and some very educative, funny and soul-stirring writing. When it came to my turn, I shared about my writing journey and Assam Tea. Here is  lovely recap of the event by Marlys Jenson, one of the writers in the  group. I am reprinting it with her permission. Thanks Marlys!

A SPECIAL MEETING

By Marlys Jensen – March 28, 2013

There are always surprises as we travel along life’s pathway, some more pleasant than others.  One such pleasing experience happened last Friday at the Writers Class.   Coming to class, all members were looking forward to the usual good time sharing their personally penned stories about “Tea”.  Also, the anticipation of being in the company of a soon to be published author was high on our bucket list.

At 10:00 a.m. class would be in session. When walking through the door the atmosphere was intoxicating. Looking around the room was like being in another time and place.  The tables were decorated eloquently.   Flowers and a silver tea service flanked the head table.  At each place, a setting ready for a party.   On a doily, a fine bone china plate, saucer, and tea-cup were placed ever so perfectly. Antique cloth napkins added a nice touch. The side tables displaying colorful tea pots looked beautiful.  Writer’s member and party giver, Gretchen, and party lover, Lucy, were responsible for the festive decorations.

Gretchen was in charge of the tea.   We got to choose a tea flavor and hot water was added to our cups, thus the brewing began. A wonderful aroma filled the air. Dainty treats were provided by our leader and tea lover, Peg. It was joyful time, with another one of our leaders, Mary Lynn, recovering from a broken pelvis, joining the group.

Yet another pleasant surprise was the entrance of a beautiful Indian Lady, who now resides in Arizona.  Peg introduced her as Shona Patel, a dear friend of hers.  They have enjoyed many tea parties together during their friendship. We were all captivated to hear the story of her life.  She had grown up on a Tea plantation in India.  Her father was appointed the first Indian manager of a tea farm, a fortunate event for the family.   She had a good life and learned much about the harvesting and processing of tea during her growing up years.

She loved writing and eventually was able to enroll in a writer’s class by a coveted professor at Scottsdale Community College. She learned much in his class about getting a manuscript ready for publishing.  She started the process. She hired an agent and was fortunate to be accepted by a publishing company.  Her book “Teatime for the Firefly” will be out in October, 2013.  It is a novel in which she was able to weave into the story many facts about tea and the plantations where it was processed. We are anticipating the book’s sale.

Shona is a lovely young lady, with many talents, and an outgoing personality.  It was a fantastic class.   I am sure all of the Writers feel the same as I….. A BIG thank-you is due to all who had a part in this most delightful time.    It exceeded all expectations!  Thanks again.

More about Marlys Jenson and the Carriage Manor Writers Group: My husband and I are retired and spend our winters in Carriage Manor Resort in Mesa, Arizona. It was there I was encouraged to join the Writers’ Group. I nervously started attending four years ago. The class has challenging topics and activities. It brought me to another level in writing. We have outstanding leaders. Here we learn to express ourselves through writing, reading, sharing, etc. When reading our stories during class time, we laugh and cry together; by this interaction we develop true friendships. I am looking forward to reading Shona Patel’s Book Tea Time for the Firefly”. Her excellent writing ability and vibrant personality will be reflected in the book, I am sure.