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.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

“I Wasted Time . . .

. . .  and now doth time waste me.”

It is sixty one years since I sat for O-levels. Questions on the essay papers usually included an injunction to back up our points with suitable quotations, so I had large chunks of Shakespeare, Conrad, Lamartine and other set authors committed to memory. Many of those quotes are still in my head, even though I can’t remember what I did yesterday. This quote from Richard II sticks with me, because even though I knew it would validate some argument or other, I never really understood it.

But I think I do now. It has been a while since I posted an entry. There has been “busyness” but no real accomplishments. Never mistake motion for action (again a quote, variations of which are purported to have been uttered by various authorities.) The time has gone by and I have little to show, although since I now often sleep later in the morning  and usually take a nap in the afternoon, why am I surprised? Did I mention I don’t do much after dinner either? I was always the amanuensis of the family, but I am even behind with e-mails and I owe real letters to a number of people. The garden is half weeded and tamed, maybe I will finish it later.

But you didn’t want to hear my problems, did you? I chose to write today because it is the first anniversary of my MVD surgery. The surgeon had told me that the surgery is 92% successful, and I am such a miserable excuse for a  human being that I fully expected to be in the 8% failure rate. I wasn’t, and though I still take just a little medication to be on the safe side, I no longer take the amounts which caused me to act like a zombie. I lost some of my sense of balance, but I have a brightly colored cane which helps me keep upright. Apparently it can take up to two years to fully recover.


My family has been running around with the usual sports events and end of year parties, etc.  I wanted to include this photo which makes me so very happy. My grand-daughter Veronica, who was born weighing 1 lb 4 oz six years ago and who spent the first months of her life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, is now a strong, healthy little girl, competing in swimming events and here being coached by her big brother Theodore.

My youngest daughter was having more work done on her house, so she moved in with her family. She and her husband are so competent and they did a lot to help me, as well as caring for Joe and Gigi. It worked out well that the two little guys took naps at the same time in the afternoon—and I joined them.

This was the view that greeted me when I came downstairs in the morning and along with the pot of delicious coffee which was awaiting me, it was a great start to the day. During their stay we celebrated Fathers’ Day and at one point I noticed my son-in-law  walking into the garage with a brimming bag of garden waste. He had commandeered nine or so grandchildren to weed my front yard. It looked so good.

Even little Joe helped out by removing weeds from the patio.

So here we are at June 28th. This date also marks the day that the Dymo printer stopped printing and the scanner stopped scanning. I have a feeling those events will be the catalyst for several days of grief and no action.

Two of the bloggers I link to in my sidebar are now undergoing treatment for cancer. I can learn a lot about staying positive from their posts Ronni and John, I’m remembering you daily.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

In Which She Mentions the Unmentionables

Panty hose. Not really unmentionable, but I haven’t heard the topic in conversation lately.

My grandchildren would probably think it odd it I were to tell them I was around when panty hose were invented. Or even more odd if I tell them that in my teenage years it was de rigeur to wear a corset and stockings. Not even a frilly garter belt—tho’ not a pink satin boned creation either. As best as I can remember it was a kind of elastic pull up thing. I have no problems with panty hose in winter: I wear thickish, dark colored tights which wear well, are super stretchy and keep me warm in the Michigan winter. But summer—well, that is a different story. It took me a while (and the example of an 80 year old friend) to realize that the bare legged look was in.

On Saturday I attended a funeral. This is a hard time of year. I haven’t got out all my summer clothes, but the winter ones are beginning to look a little hot. I realized I hadn’t got out the right summer tops to go with the bottoms I have moved back into my closet, but I did find a reasonable outfit which involved a blue and cream silk skirt. Clearly panty hose were called for (I couldn’t imagine going to a funeral bare legged and certainly not with my winter white legs.) In a drawer I found a brand new package of Berkshire Ultra Sheers. I actually think I had intended to wear them three years ago for my daughter’s wedding, but forgot I had them. Just as well I didn’t try to wear them on that flustered day. I sat on the edge of the bed and put my right leg into the intended receptacle. First realization—they were gorgeous. Very thin and the color was perfect, not that nasty yellowy color which passes for nude in those cheaper hose which come in egg-shaped plastic containers. So “nude” in fact that you could see all my varicose veins, just as if I were indeed bare legged. Second realization—having got my first leg in successfully, I couldn’t get the second leg in. I rolled over on the bed and tried all kinds of contortions.  I was tentatively declaring victory when I heard that snagging noise I recognized only too well. As I pulled then completely on, I realized I had a fairly hefty run (or ladder as I used to call them) in the left leg.  No plan B. Another virtue of the perfect nude color is that it made the run just about imperceptible, especially to my friends with aging eyes. Nevertheless, I did find myself emulating Meg in Little Women. Remember the scene when she attends a party in a dress she burned a hole in the back of while attempting to iron it? She stood with her back against the wall for the entire evening.

I think there were about 2 seconds when I was just about wearing them. At $7.95 a pair that works out at . . . forget it. I need to come up with a new game plan.
That was the post as I intended to publish it. But just before I did, look what I came across.

Somehow this pattern looks like a Maori totem pole. Wonder how many tries it took for him to get them on? But they do have possibilities!

Friday, May 26, 2017

Another Discovery and a Bit of History

When I wrote to my parents in 1967 that we were going to have a baby, my mother did what all self respecting English women did at the time. And many still do. She pulled out her knitting needles and bought skeins of fine while wool. And knitted. It wasn’t long before a package arrived with a number of lovely “matinee coats” inside. Matinee coats, booties and bonnets were the traditional gifts for a new baby. A baby arriving in Detroit at the beginning of July doesn’t really need a bonnet or booties and I am pretty sure she didn’t make any.

The coats were lovely. Such small gauge and perky white ribbons to keep them tied round the neck. I did’t know much about babies back then, but I did realize that they were messy creatures and that any garment they wore would need constant washing. So I kept most of the coats for “best” and used the same rationale with subsequents babies.


Over the years I have passed on to my daughters some of the coats I was saving for posterity because the were just too nice for daily use. I was clearing out my sewing room last week when I came across this beauty. It is the very last of the coats. No ribbons, but a pretty smocking detail. I certainly didn’t know baby number one was going to be a boy: maybe she just added this detail after he was born and sent it on. It is a little grubby round the neck, but I am not going to try to wash it. Its putative wearer will be 50 years old this summer. I love to think of my mother sitting down to knit for a grandchild she would only see twice. (The first time he bit her.) I am also sad that we were unable for many reasons to have us all spend more time together. Those pre-Skype days presented so many obstacles to families like ours.

I remember once reading an article that claimed that with the advent of knitting as a pastime countless babies' lives were saved. The warmth provided by a tiny sweater was enough to combat sickness brought about by damp and cold. I tried to find the article again but couldn’t. I did however find numerous accounts of the role of knitted hats in preventing pneumonia in newborn babies, two million of whom die every year according to the Save the Children Fund.

A well researched and illustrated post on war time knitting I found on a Canadian blog appealed to my sense of nostalgia and my interest in war time history. And the blog certainly gave me a source for many more hours of reading pleasure. It also reminded me of my schooldays in the late 1940’s at St. Georges C of E primary school. Mrs. Wilson and Miss Freshwater presided over our class as we spent hours with big needles and thick wool as we attempted to learn the secrets of knitting. By then the war was over and no service man or woman had to wear the mangled articles we made. Actually, I don’t remember making garments. Just misshapen squares.

And I have not improved much since then.