Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Welsh St Valentine

Oh yes - it is not only those 'Latins' who can be passionate. We Welsh, though maybe not first-choice candidates for 'personnae dramatis' in 'Fifty Shades of Grey', are given to affairs of the heart. Setting aside all the snide innuendos regarding affinities to ruminant mammals of the genus Ovis, we have been known to woo one another. Not always successfully, as anyone familiar with that beautiful song, 'Myfanwy', will attest.

Enough! I am here today, January 25th, to alert you to just what this date means. It is known in the Welsh community as St Dwywen's Day. Here then, is a piece I compiled (in another forum) to inform you of that event:

St Dwynwen's Day is celebrated in Wales on 25 January and commemorates the patron saint of friendship and love. She is also the patron saint of sick animals.

St Dwynwen, also known as Dwyn, Donwen, and Donwenna, lived in Anglesey during the 5th century and was, by all accounts, one of the prettiest of Brychan Brycheiniog's 24 daughters.

The following text is extracted from the National Museum of Wales article of St Dwynwen. The photos are mine, taken during my Bucket List Trip (see elsewhere in these blogpostings) early in 2013. 
The story goes that Dwynwen fell in love with Maelon Dafodrill, but unfortunately her father had already arranged that she should marry someone else. Maelon was so outraged that he raped Dwynwen and left her.
In her grief Dwynwen fled to the woods, where she begged God to make her forget Maelon. After falling asleep, Dwynwen was visited by an angel, who appeared carrying a sweet potion designed to erase all memory of Maelon and turn him into a block of ice.
God then gave three wishes to Dwynwen. First she wished that Maelon be thawed, second that God meet the hopes and dreams of true lovers and third that she should never marry. All three were fulfilled, and as a mark of her thanks, Dwynwen devoted herself to God's service for the rest of her life.
Remains of Dwynwen's church can be seen today on the island of Llanddwyn, off the coast of Anglesey. 

During the 14th century, on visiting the island, the poet Dafydd ap Gwilym witnessed a golden image of Dwynwen inside the church, and was bold enough to request her help as a messenger between himself and Morfudd, the girl he hoped to win — despite the fact that Morfudd was already married!
Also situated on the island is Dwynwen's well, where, allegedly, a sacred fish swims, whose movements predict the future fortunes and relationships of various couples. Visitors to the well believe that if the water boils while they are present, then love and good luck will surely follow.
The popularity and celebration of St Dwynwen's day has increased considerably in recent years, with special events, such as concerts and parties, often held and greetings cards printed. Although still not as popular as St Valentine's Day in February, St Dwynwen is certainly becoming better-known among today's population of Wales.
Read more here: St Dwynwen  - and see my photos:

Monday, January 13, 2014

To be (a busy bee) - or not to be (one)

A TRUE 'multi-tasker' conducts several ('multiple' -hence 'multi' - doh!) tasks simultaneously (concurrently, if you wish). I'm not sure what (or if there is a) term is applied to describe one who performs multiple tasks consecutively. Maybe 'wife'?  

I guess I have 'worn both hats' - at different times, of course!  

The opposite is often said of a person who does NOT possess that 'multi-tasking' attribute:  '(S)he couldn't walk and chew gum at the same time!'  For me, that is a non-starter; I do not chew gum, no matter what other activity I may choose to be involved in. 

My most recent 'multi-tasking' was as I penned this - I typed and and I ate lunch, concurrently!  Not exactly a major accomplishment, but at least it is illustrative. Perhaps another, equally mundane, is when I walk on the treadmill (performing the task of 'exercising') whilst watching a recorded football match on TV (performing the task of 'entertaining' myself). Again, not a Herculean task, but they are two of MY tasks in my retirement. As I progressed through my career, there must have been more worthwhile and important occurrences of 'multi-tasking' - but I care not to even attempt recalling them. I'd be happy to hear (or not) of others' endeavors in that vain.

I am glad to report that I have absolutely NOTHING that needs to be done today! However, there are a few things that I intend to do.

I will pull out the applicable Federal and State forms, my check book, pen and postage stamps to mail my quarterly estimated taxes. These do not need to be postmarked until the 15th, but I’ll fill them out today and gleefully wait until Wednesday to mail them.

Next, I’ll go to the hardware store to buy a piece of PVC piping to use as an electric cord conduit to install a spotlight for my house. The conduit will be buried so that my wife won’t trip over the cord as she pushes the lawn mower around the lawn once or twice every week this summer. It will be deep enough, tree roots permitting, so that the tines on the lawn-aeration machine won’t puncture it. 

There is no rain in the forecast for today so I’ll be unable to ‘legally’ delve in to one of the many ‘rainy day’ projects I have been putting off for a long, long time! The one that promises to take as a long as a biblical flood would last, is to dig through several boxes of decades-old photos, dump the ‘useless’ ones and scan those ‘worthy of being digitized for posterity’. The more I ponder THAT Herculean task, the more I’m praying for a dry Spring and Summer.   

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Penance, playtime and preparations

Finally the weather has broken to the ‘above freezing’ realm. As such, I was able to get out yesterday and complete my penance – for having left a plastic and a wooden ‘holy family’ out in the deep snow and frigid temperatures beyond Epiphany!

The plastic ‘holy family’ were un-tethered from the plug-adapters, lifted off their wooden stakes and deprived of the ‘bag-of-rocks-in-their-socks’ which had prevented them tipping over in the wind while they adorned my front yard for about six weeks. They, including the milk-crate manger, were all hoisted into the attic-space above the garage where they’ll remain until next Advent. They may find it a bit uncomfortable up there in July and August when it is 100F (38C) outside – and probably 150F (66C) up there, but at least they’ll be dry!

From the other side of the driveway, I had lifted the wooden ‘holy family' off their re-bar posts and picked up the spotlight that had blinded them for the past six weeks. Their home until next Advent would be against the firewall in the garage – behind the ladder that I had just descended from after stowing their plastic clones. These too would now be safe from the damp – and being in, rather than above, the garage, the ‘woodies’ would not be as hot as the ‘plastics’.  It may seem a little odd to put the ‘family’ more likely to melt, in the hotter storage area, but placement was more a consideration of space, than comfort! 

I got out the step ladder, changed the flags on the porch – from Christmas-themed flags, to a small ‘Stars and Bars’ and a ‘Birds and Bushes’-themed larger one. That also made it possible to remove the Christmas lights that had been strung across the porch and around the front door some weeks ago. I merely unhitched those strings of lights, leaving their ‘boxing up’, along with the hundreds of feet of those on the bushes, to my wife’s capable hands. I am not allowed to get involved in that part of the celebratory actions. I am ‘willing, able - but not allowed’!

Nicer weather today than yesterday, so also time to get some of the grand-children out to play! So, after a phone call or two, I was on my way, with my youngest son, two of his kids and my elder daughter’s oldest son, to ‘watch the eagles’. No, not they of ‘Hotel California’ and ‘Long Road out of Eden fame, but the American Bald Eagle.

Our trip was to Winfield Locks and Dam 25 about 20 miles away on the frozen Mississippi River. There, each year at this time, these majestic creatures gather to feast on fish in the segments of the river that are ice-free. Besides the raptors, there were hundreds of gulls – sitting on the ice and in the water’s edge, upstream of the locks and dam, where barges had passed through earlier. We saw six Bald Eagles – one perched 60-feet up in a tree quite close by, and five standing on the ice just in front of three duck-blinds almost a ¼ mile away towards the far bank of the ‘Mighty Mississippi’. We drove ½ mile downstream, below the locks and dam, to where the Winfield car ferry was making its ‘every 20 minutes’ trek across to the Illinois side of the river then back to the Missouri side.

Just 100 yards upstream from the ferry-landing, on the right bank of the river, we were treated to the sight of about 30 Bald Eagles – in one large tree. Every few minutes or so, one would glide in from high above the river and gracefully land into the branches. The three grand-children, barely showed any effect of the cold (it was sunny but breezy) as they marveled at the sight before them, eagerly looking through their binoculars. ‘Playtime’ over, we headed back for a lunch at a fast-food joint and then I headed home where more tasks awaited me.

Next up on my list of tasks was to shovel as much snow as I could manage – my wife was out shopping and so deprived me of the pleasure of simply handing her the shovel while I directed operations – from the curbside. Our city’s snow-plows had thoughtfully pushed a pile of snow, 3-feet high that extended 6-feet from the curb, just where I normally park my vehicles. Sure, I had my vehicles parked in my driveway since before the 10” snow fell, but tonight, I needed those curbside space as well as the driveway spaces. Why?  

My younger daughter was having a bachelorette party; the more than two-and-a-half-dozen celebrants, clad in 80’s garb, were assembling at our house where a bus was to take them to places I thought it best my wife dare not go!  So, I had clear the garage to accommodate two cars, direct the arriving guests to park six cars and SUVs in the driveway and have snow-free curbside available for six more vehicles. My truck had no space where it could be parked, so was left in the center of the cul-de-sac until the bus had departed! No matter, I was NOT about to be disturbed by a bunch of liquor-filled young ladies arriving back at the house just in time to wake the rooster and stumbling in and out of bathrooms or trying to hold on to windows that would insist on chasing doors until they sobered up. I had arranged to spend the night at my other daughter’s house with her husband and their three kids. That I did; I arrived just as the twins (1 year-old) had been put to bed. With their older brother sound asleep on the sofa, I popped my first can of beer since New Year’s Eve and ‘dad’ and I watched a bit of an NFL match on TV until I started to doze off too. I climbed the stairs, crawled into bed and my busy day was ended.  

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Things I have done - and things I have left undone

The combined effects of the calendar and the weather have given an opportunity and reason to blog again.

When I started to write this, it was January 6th,  the Feast of the Epiphany; sometimes, in Ireland, called ‘Little Christmas’ – also the date on which the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas Day. It also so happened to be the day after ‘Twelfth Night’.  “So what?” you say – and like Joe Biden may even add a hearty “BFD!”

I’ll tell you. That is the day on which we (that must be the ‘Royal we’, because I have little do with it) take down all the Christmas decorations. Since my wife put them all up, it’s only fair that she takes them down, I say!  My contribution was to help lift the artificial (with attached white lights) tree from its base and help haul it back to its place in the basement for another 11 months or so. A wooden Santa, an equally wooden reindeer (but with a 4 amp nose), Christmas cards, orange colored candles-from-every-window, mantle ornaments, tree ornaments and three nativity sets were all boxed up and also put away in the basement. Of course, all the ‘year-round’ stuff that previously occupied the mantelpiece and other places now vacated, had to be brought back upstairs! During most of that process, I managed to watch a few football (soccer) matches on the DVR, got in my daily 30-minutes of exercise and spent hours fiddling around on the computer – all in the security of the basement, far from the activity overhead. Except for humping stuff up or down the stairs, I’m pretty much expected (sometime told) to not interfere with the process. Suits me!  It was all efficiently taken care of - while outside was another story!

Sunday night was Twelfth Night and also the night when the previous nights snowfall began get drift deep enough to bury 12 drummers drumming – had they been the size of my garden gnome, who had either been buried – or ran off with the brass monkeys – it  was getting cold. I mean C-O-L-D! Monday’s high was minus 2F (minus 19C) and the low was minus 24C). Obviously, there would be no way I could watch my wife take down the outside Christmas lights; I would freeze being that close to the window panes!

The snowplow kindly came into the subdivision late Monday night and pushed a pile 4 feet high in the spot where I usually park my vehicles. I had dutifully put them in the driveway on Saturday night – as required by City Ordnance when more than 2” of snow is expected. Oh, I forgot to mention, the plow also pushed an 18” high pile across the entrance to my driveway. Thanks, Bub! No matter, the snow was too deep in the driveway to move the cars anyway – and one wouldn’t start! Hot soup and movies on TV were in order. A friend, at my daughter’s behest, came by yesterday (Tuesday, 7th) with a snow blower and his pick-up truck with snowplow on front. Billy and his helper cleared the obstructing piles of snow and I returned the favor by putting him touch with ‘my garage-door guy’ (used him 3 times in 2 years) to fix Billy’s parents’ door. See, one good deed . . .

I’m relying on that simple, but kindly act, to compensate for the sacrilege I have perpetrated in my yard. I had made the conscious decision that there was no choice but to leave plastic illuminated-on-the-inside Joseph, Mary and infant Jesus-atop-a-milk-crate, along with their wooden illuminated-by-a-spotlight clones on the other side of the driveway, out in the snow. Not a matter of procrastination, you understand, but one of pragmatism. However, I did venture out to unplug them at the outlet, lest the neighbors saw them shivering out there and called the Archbishop. As cold as it is forecasted to be, they may be out there until the Easter Bunny shows up with snow shoes and a shovel. 

‘Oh, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!’      

Friday, January 3, 2014

What kind of New Year did you say?

The question is - "Who wished Swansea Jack a 'Crappy New Year', instead of a 'Happy New Year'?"

Act 1, Scene 1:  Swansea Jack's family room - New Year's Eve, 2013:

Number 1 son (with wife and four kids) went out to number 4 son's house to watch the latter's three kids while he (number 4 son and wife) went out to celebrate. That left 'Mr and Mrs Jack' alone at home - though they had no Mcauley Culkin misgivings about the isolation. OK with the 'dramatis peronnae' listing so far? Good. Number 3 son had already suffered from the travelling 'stomach bug' several days earlier, and number 1 daughter, her husband and twin baby boys had just got the 'bug'. No word on the status of number 2 son's or number 2 daughter's health.

He, Swansea Jack, phoned number 1 son at 10:15 pm to announce that the 'Senior Jacks' would not be waiting up for the return of their guests after the midnight revelries had concluded. The old folk witnessed young folk in South Beach, Florida making complete asses of themselves on national TV - and looked on at idiots in Times Square, New York who had been waiting for as many as 14 hours to witness a tick on a clock. Those folk had been there, without the ability to bring in, or acquire once there, any food supplies and had no access to bathroom facilities. Mrs Jack suggested that they must have been wearing diapers - ugh! Swansea Jack readily admitted that the elaborately illuminated and decorated glass orb perched on top of the pole was quite a technological marvel as it cycled though hundreds of changing colors and patterns awaiting the final minute of the year - when it would begin its slow descent down the pole. People cheered and danced and looked skyward as fireworks rained down on the city. "Right", said Swansea Jack, "off to bed, eh?"  Too tired to stay up and watch TV coverage of what was likely to be a very impressive fireworks display over the St Louis Arch downtown, the old codgers climbed the wooden hill.

Act 1, Scene 2:  Swansea Jack's bedroom - New Year's Day, 2014:

It was 12:45. Number 1 son, wife and two of their kids entered the house and mounted the stairs to their bedrooms. Less than 10 minutes elapsed and Swansea Jack was compelled to clamber from the bed, rush to the bathroom and adopt a not unfamiliar posture before 'The porcelain god, Ralph'. The 'praying' lasted a few minutes and Swansea Jack returned to his bed. As if he was an actor in the film, 'Groundhog Day', the choreography was replicated within the hour.

There is an old saying in Wales, 'Three times for a Welshman" - nobody really knows its origin, intent or purpose - maybe it is some weird Cymric variation of 'double or quits'. So, as if to be true to his Welsh origins, about 5:30 am, Swansea Jack dutifully performed the earlier ritual for that third time! Sweating, weary and exhausted, he lay on the cold tiled floor of the bathroom and groaned for five minutes - thanking God - and 'Ralph' - that the Welsh were not addicted to Novenas!    

It comforted him none, that within the hour, Mrs Swansea Jack was mimicking his ritual - except that her performance was no act. It was one that contained an encore and concluded with (except for a fifteen minute exodus) an uninterrupted confinement to the bed for the duration of the first day of this New Year. Word came in during the day that number 1 daughter's oldest son had also had a mild inclination to 'pray to Ralph'.

Act 2, Scene 1:  Swansea Jack's garage - January 2nd, 2014:

Forewarned the previous night, Swansea Jack had assembled an assorted of implements ready to undertake the anticipated task that morning. As predicted, there had been an overnight fall of almost five inches of powdery dry snow. Late on the previous evening, Swansea Jack had dutifully (in accordance with city ordinances) moved the two vehicles normally parked on the street, into his driveway. This action was designed to facility the city's snowplows to clear the subdivision's streets.  However, the over-sexed dolt (let's hope he reads this blog) visiting the next door neighbor's daughter had parked his SUV squarely in the place that Swansea Jack (SJ) had vacated!  Sure enough, the snowplow arrived, a pile of snow up behind Mr Dolt's vehicle and was unable (or unwilling) to maneuver in front of it to clear the snow from the space once occupied by SJ's two vehicles. "Good intentions thwarted!", grumbled SJ - along with other unrepeatable adjectives and nouns mentally aimed at Mr. Dolt.

Nonetheless, the task remained; to brush the piles of snow off the windshields of the SJ's two vehicles and off that of number 1 son's van. Both he, and Mrs SJ, were to leave early that day; hence the 6:30 am driveway activity.  He to his home in Michigan, she to babysit three sick kids at number 1 daughter's house. Mrs SJ's car - and an assortment of tool benches, trash cans, spare refrigerator and storage units precluded placement of number 1 son's van in the shelter of the garage. Also, to avert the likelihood of compacted snow from later turning into ice on the driveway, the 16 x 70 foot driveway needed to be shoveled and vehicles had to be shunted around like pieces on a chess board - as it was unclear until the final minute, which of the departing parties would leave first. It was almost like a comic routine from the silent movie era, but then the comedy ended!  Swansea Jack, his task virtually accomplished, hands near frozen, gingerly entered the house holding his left lumbar region. A back-ache! Satan's evil way of exacting revenge for a good deed done!

Act 2, Scene 2:  Swansea Jack's family room - January 2nd, 2014:

The day brought a mixture of 'crappy and happy' news. Whilst number 1 daughter's babies, oldest son, and husband were 'over the bug', she was not 100%, nor was 'Mrs Jack' - and word came in that number 3 son's son now had the seemingly ubiquitous stomach bug.

The weather forecast for the upcoming weekend indicated more measurable snowfall on Sunday and temperatures on Monday ('Little Christmas' - the 6th of January) of only 1F (minus 17C) and an overnight low of 11F (minus 24C) - let's hope there is no wind (small chance!) else the windchill will be horrible.

Swansea Jack's backache persisted throughout the day, but though twisting the old man into a Quasimodo-like pose, did not prevent him from taking his 'new-teenager-today' grandson (number 4 son's oldest child) out to his favorite dinner spot - Texas Roadhouse, where he accepted the 'birthday ice-cream', but declined the 'photo-on-a-saddle' offer. Too mature for that now, but not too old to give Swansea Jack a hug as he dropped the young man off at his home. Maybe 2014 will turn out to be more 'happy' than 'crappy' - let's hope so!