Tuesday, September 12, 2017

You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

I mean, it’s like learning how to fold a fitted sheet. I can't make a fitted sheet look neat even though lately there have been all kinds of helpful videos showing how to do it. It is too late for me to learn. I tend to read a lot of recipes and kitchen hints, as opposed to actually cooking, and although I now know I am supposed to crack a hard boiled egg at the sharp end (or is it the rounded end?) in order to peel it neatly, and that cutting the stem (non-stem?) end of a cucumber gives you bitter slices, I have been peeling eggs and slicing cucumbers with a reasonable amount of success for over sixty years without needing to know such esoterica.

This leads me to my eyes. The two cataract surgeries were clinically a great success. I can now drive or sit and watch television all evening without any glasses, I can now, with the aid of reading glasses, sit all day with a book and see all the words. I replaced the cheap reading glasses with ones that enable me to see the computer screen also, so I should be OK, right? Wrong. No-one just sits and watches TV—I am always reading or checking documents or using my hands at the same time. This means taking the glasses hanging round my neck and constantly putting them on or removing them. Frequently I forget to remove them and gaze fuzzily into the distance and think the surgery has come unglued. No-one reads for any period of time without occasionally looking up at people or staring out the window. Eating is weird: my food is too far to use the readers but too near to be able to use my new eyes. (I have even been known to spill soup on my dangling glasses.) Anyone who has tried this will know what I mean.

It is not just my eyes that misbehave. My arms automatically reach out to the bedside table to grab the glasses without which my brain still tells me I won’t be able to see when I get out of bed. It is like phantom pain from an amputated limb. After sixty odd years of wearing glasses they have become a source of comfort.

I started to explain all this to my surgeon when I went back for a check-up.  He immediately whipped off his glasses and put them on me. Eureka. He wears progressive lenses with plain glass at the top. As soon as my eyes heal he will give me a prescription for new glasses with the same properties and I will joyfully revert to wearing glasses. Basically progressive reading glasses. As he smilingly said, “Very expensive reading glasses."

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Cyclops

The Cyclops by Redon
This is rather an adorable depiction of Polyphemus. (Or, as Veronica loved to say, Totes Adorbs.) The colors pop and he looks like a toy small children would enjoy. (If you want to encourage nightmares, try googling “Cyclops” and see some of the monsters who are lurking on the Internet.)

So why am I writing about about the Cyclops? I feel like one these days. I knew last year that I needed cataracts removed, but since I was already lined up for inter cranial surgery, I didn’t want too many people messing around with my head. When I finally got around to calling for an appointment, I had to wait nearly five months—which either means my eye doctor is fantastically skilled and in demand or there are a lot of people walking around with cataracts. I waited patiently and was most encouraged by the account of a fellow blogger on her surgery and the wonderful results that were achieved.

When I was asked after a thorough examination if I wanted to go ahead with the surgery and if so, when, I replied, “As soon as possible.” I had the cataract removed from my left eye on August 11 and I am scheduled to have the right eye taken care of this Thursday. Like Maggie May I had a new lens implanted which has given me back my distance sight: unlike her I can function with the left lens popped out of my glasses. After the next surgery I will be legally able to drive without glasses, though I am going to have to pick up cheap reading glasses at the drug store. How my vision will be for using the computer I don’t yet know.

I can only concur that the world is brighter and that I am so happy I finally took this step. The one-day check-up, the one-week check-up and soon the three-week check-up are pretty tedious. I will be using steroid eye drops for a while. It is just about impossible for me to get the drops in my eye and I tend to land up with the expensive liquid running down my nose.

So the lens still in my glasses would have needed a new prescription without surgery and my view though the empty side of my glasses is great for distance, lousy for close up. My brain is coping, but I can’t wait for Thursday. Being a Cyclops is not much fun.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Days Dwindle Down . . .

The co-inhabitant of this house complained yesterday that the Solar Eclipse had snuck up on him.  I have forewarned him that the next solar eclipse is April 8, 2024 and to start preparing now. It’s even coming through Detroit. But events do have a habit of sneaking up, don’t they?

The last major visit of the summer is over and I am still working on washing sheets and towels. Andrew and Marcie and their six children arrived from Maryland last Saturday, stopping off to spend Friday night with Liz and Jeff in Canton. That gave them eleven kids to find sleeping accommodations for. I didn’t ask. We were short one bed the first night, but the customary arrangements of cousin mix-and-match sleepovers took care of our problem.

Aristotle was discussed.
How much easier it is when the children are older. I didn’t have to decipher breakfast requests or figure out what everyone wanted to do. “When do we get to see our cousins?” was the most uttered question. The first day was Josephine’s eighth birthday, so we celebrated with a large cake and some of the cousins came over to share it. (Sorry, Josephine, I can’t find the photos.) Three of the “local” cousins have jobs, so there was often someone missing, but for the most part everyone was able to join us.

On Sunday we managed to get together at our park. We had four children and their husbands/wives with us and seventeen grandchildren. Fortunately it was beautiful weather, so all the children swam and then played volleyball. When I walked over to watch them, I discovered they were actually burying each other in the sand.

Is this legal?
After abusing the volleyball equipment, they went on to abuse the park’s wheelbarrows meant to transport coolers etc. to the tables.
Charlie gives Veronica, Joe and Lydia a ride



















It never takes long when we have guests for patterns to develop. However early I got up Andrew had already taken a drive along the lake and visited Starbucks (just like his older brother did when he was here.) Marcie slipped out in the early hours to run long distances as part of her training for the Marine Corps Marathon in the Fall. The children were all eager to discuss the classes they would take in the Fall and the boys were anxious to get back to their swimming team.

Before long it was time to say goodbye.

So far I have only found four forgotten  items to be packed up and sent off.  Wonderful visitors: I miss them all.

The days of summer are gradually dwindling down. I suspect there will be another monsoon or heat wave—this is Michigan after all. But I am thinking about buying some new chrysanthemum plants and some new sweaters. Soup sounded pretty attractive today in the cool of the morning. One grandson is already back at college and out practicing on the soccer field, the other is leaving at the end of the week.

All in all, summer is coming to an end. But I suspect it is not the dwindling summer days I miss, but the days of visiting children and grandchildren, the days of heavily laden cars backing out of the driveway. Of being together.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Vita Would Not Approve

It was twelve years ago that I got the misguided notion that my garden might somehow, some day resemble Sissinghurst. Too bad, I thought I had included a photograph in that post, but apparently I did not, proving that even I realized that a few dabs of white do not constitute a white garden.

In that post I mentioned my David phlox and the faithful nicotiana. The nicotiana must have died out and I had forgotten I even had it, but sometime ago I planted a bunch of shasta daisies which have really taken off.

Too much white—too much yellow, for that matter, and the purple clematis which once covered the arbor is going to meet its maker. I just don’t have the stamina to work in the garden the way I used to. The trouble is, as long as we are here I have to do something with the flower beds. I can’t just leave them.

Today I noticed that my grocery store, my occasional source for inexpensive plants, has pots and pots of chrysanthemums and asters ready to add a touch of autumn color. Not a white one in sight. Then I start  thinking of all the work involved in moving around my current plantings and re-organising the neglected garden.

I think I will buy a large book of photos of Sissinghurst instead.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Two Down, One to Go

Another jumbled post, because I have been too busy to write and because so much has been going on. So here are a few notes, because I am sure before long I will be wondering what it was we got up to this summer.

The two and the one I refer to in the title of this blog are sets of visitors. Summer was always the prime season for guests. Not so much any more as some  family members are not as handicapped by the school calendar which made the summer months the best time to take a trip. Even so, life is complicated: I was lamenting to my son how sad I was that my sister-in-law (part of our last group of guests) had not seen Liz and her family while she was here and she had seen little of some of Kate’s children, because of their summer jobs. He replied, “Life is not full of problems. It is just full of life.”

I love guests and count myself lucky to have known so many wonderful role models in hospitality. One of my great satisfactions in life is that my children are kind, generous and welcoming souls. (Pretty means cooks, too, because entertaining always requires a lot of cooking.) And I grieve that I am finding it a little more difficult these days to roll up my sleeves and get to work in the kitchen.

It is hard for me to explain that in England there was little concept, at least when I was growing up, of inviting semi-strangers into your house for a meal. As soon as I arrived in California, I met Dick and Carol Trapp, who became my greatest role models. As I was later to find out, Classics teachers don’t bring home large paychecks, but the Trapps added a place at their table for so many, and eventually for me, as they had done for Ernie before me, and it was at their house that I first met my husband to be. This photo is a memento of Christmas 1964, the second Christmas I spent at their home.

Al and three of his sons were our first guests. Gody was working, as was my oldest grandson, Emmanuel, who earned college money this summer as a lifeguard. These visits tend to be cousin-fests and we do our best to mix and match the next generation. How times have changed: a couple of Kate’s boys also stayed one night and I woke up one morning to find Charlie, a pot of coffee already made, emptying my dishwasher!

Ernie’s sister-in-law came next, driving in from Chicago with her daughter Megan and two granddaughters. Megan and my daughter Lucy have been partners in crime from their childhood, through college and living in France. Lately Megan’s life has taken her to at least seven far off US cities, so this was a grand reunion. The idea was that their children should join the spirit of cousin-fest, but it appears that Lucy’s Joe and Megan’s Cecilia are both at the stage where “mine” is the uncontrollable mantra. Fights ensued.

 Don’t they look sweet and harmless?

We have suffered through yet another Michigan monsoon, we celebrated several birthdays, all of which I failed to commemorate, we have mourned the passing of friends and I finally went to my long awaited appointment with my ophthalmologist.  The upshot is that I am having two cataracts removed, the first this Friday when Andrew and his family arrive. Lousy timing, but as Andrew himself said, “(Life) is just full of life”.

I also turned my attention to the garden, managing to remove not only weeds and vines, but handfuls of phlox, shasta daisies and black-eyed susans, which have proliferated in alarming numbers and needed thinning with a firm hand,

Finally this guy celebrated his birthday yesterday
and Thursday will mark our fifty-first wedding anniversary.

That will do it for now. Watch this space.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Independence Day, 2017

This year the Fourth of July fell on a Tuesday. When I was working I always studied the calendar to see which day of the week the Fourth would fall on. If a Tuesday or a Thursday, should I take off the Monday or Friday to give me an extra long weekend, or was it worth going into work because the rest of the University would be gone and the work load would be light? Alas, no concerns like that when you are retired.

My relationship with the Fourth of July is checkered. No-one will let me forget the bicentennial year when there were extra fancy parades and celebrations. Lucy was just about five weeks old, and she and I were sleeping downstairs in the dining room in the hope that her night-time cries would not wake the rest of the kids (or their father.) When I woke up on the morning of the Fourth I knew I was in a bad way. I had come down with something akin to the flu and could not get myself out of bed (or out of the rollaway on which I had slept.)  I am not sure how the rest of the family got through the morning, but I relied on Ernie to bring Lucy to me so she at least could eat. After lunch I sent all the others off to the local parade and managed to get up and fetch Lucy when she cried. The rest of the day is a blur. And next day I was just fine again, though the allegations of my being a poor British loser continued.

Since then there have been variations of the swim/picnic at the park, with guests or family. I suppose on some occasions it rained, but it was always fun and in the event of a sudden storm we learned how to pack up in a hurry and return here. With the passage of years the make up of our group has changed. The boys prefer to come home from the East Coast later in the year and our middle daughter and her family now join their friends for a day long celebration in Plymouth, MI. For a couple of reasons we decided against a park celebration and accepted an invitation to our oldest daughter’s house, along with our youngest daughter and the two adorable little guys. But some traditions are hard to break and Eleanor called to say she and the rest of Kate’s family wanted to come over for the traditional flag raising ceremony.


On most holidays Ernie runs the flag up the pole and leads the Pledge of Allegiance, and if the neighbors are lucky they get to hear a rousing chorus or two of a patriotic song. This year it was “America the Beautiful.” We followed this with a hearty breakfast and then took a break before the July Fourth cook out.

July the Fourth is a day for fireworks, but there is always confusion as to when they are lit. The official civic celebrations vary as do private firework displays (I am not quite sure about the rules for buying and setting off fireworks on private property, it’s not like Guy Fawkes Day) and I have been hearing fireworks after I have gone to bed for several days. Last night they were going off with a vengeance and though I could not see them from my bedroom window, I could certainly hear them.  Nothing in the realm of fireworks can top the celebration that is held at Greenfield village, when the Detroit Symphony blasts out the 1812 Overture accompanied by a spectacular firework display. We only attended once, but it was unforgettable.

There will be an encore flag raising on Labor Day, so if you are in the vicinity . . .

Monday, July 03, 2017

Remembrance of July 3, 1967

Fifty years ago today our first child,  a little boy,  was born. There are people who claim that, good English woman that I am, I jumped up and down to avoid having him on the Fourth of July. He was ( I think) the smallest of my children, weighing just over 7 lbs.  I have no idea what he weighs now, but whatever it is looks good on his 6' 7” height. From the number of references to the big 50 on his Facebook page he is either afraid no-one will remember his birthday or he is aghast at the large number involved. We are waiting to hear when he and the family will arrive for a summer visit and a Detroit family celebration.

In his early life he was an adventurer—two years in Chad with the Peace Corps and another term of service in Madagascar. When he announced he had been awarded an internship with Catholic Relief Services, there were two places I did not want him to go, Kosovo and Rwanda. He went to Rwanda. And there he met his wonderful future wife Godelive. In the midst of all this he earned an M.A. in French at Wayne and then a M.Ed. at George Washington University, degrees which enabled him to become a French teacher in Fairfax County, VA.

Lucky for him my scanner seems to have stopped scanning, so there will be no photographic panorama of his life. I did come across a small digital photo of him honing the skills he used to become a college basketball player.

Happy Birthday, Al, and here’s to many more celebrations we can share with you.