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.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Gardening Wisdom of Ella Mae O'Neill

We moved into this house in 1969. Our next door neighbors were the Kuhns, with four children about the age of ours, and Jim and Ella Mae O’Neill.  Several years ago I wrote a post describing them and how we cherished them as our neighbors.

I came across this photo the other day in my relentless effort to clean out and cull. Here are the O’Neills at Elizabeth’s birthday party. I think it was her fourth: note the cast on her arm. She learned the hard way that if a baby sitter says “Stop climbing on the footstool”, she has a good reason for the request.

I have been thinking of the O’Neills lately, now that I can acknowledge that the days of spending hours outside in the blazing sun working in the garden are over. While I, with my British reticence, and my neighbors, with the good manners born of experience and maturity, often didn’t make eye contact when we were working in our adjacent yards, out of our sense of a kind of insularity and mutual regard for privacy, there was one time of day when I was aware of what they were doing and even watched them as they went about their lives. After lunch, with small children taking their naps, I would stand at the kitchen sink cleaning up the debris of the morning, and through the kitchen window I watched Mr. And Mrs. O’ Neill walk out of their back door for their afternoon round of errands. He would turn left, walk to their garage, then back the car down as far as their door to pick her up. It only took a minute or so, but she put that minute to good use. She would bend over and start weeding. I wondered why she would bother when her time was so limited.

Now I know. It’s the old elephant joke:

Q.   How do you eat a whole elephant?
A.   One mouthful at a time.

I will emulate the monks who spend a finite amount of work on each daily endeavor, I will follow Mrs. O’Neill who knew that a small task, repeated often enough, achieves a worthwhile result.

And those weeds between concrete slabs in my driveway? They were no match for me yesterday as I walked from the car to the back door after brunch with friends.

Monday, May 15, 2017

A Nice Cuppa

Why were cups of tea always nice? I grew up thinking that the word for the water in which tea leaves were steeped was “nice cuppa.” Now if I am correctly parsing the British Show I am ashamed to say I watch with some degree of regularity it is a mostly called a brew. A nice brew?

When I first arrived in the States in 1963 I abandoned tea and became a coffee drinker, but as the years have gone by I have partially reverted to tea. Still can’t bring myself to add milk and certainly not sugar. But tea, at least during the day, is my beverage of choice.


 All I need to make a perfect cup of tea is my teapot (though my mother would turn over in her grave if she knew that a mug and a teabag are quite sufficient) and my favorite brand of black tea. And of course, hot water. Boiling water. My family has got used to my harassing wait staff in restaurants as I repeat my mantra, “HOT water.” It is usually heated in a microwave and comes back hot but not hot enough. Panera does a pretty good job with hot water. The other problem is that even if the water is sufficiently hot enough for me to want more, if I ask for my little pot of hot water to be refilled, they never bring another tea bag. I solved that problem by taking a little baggie of tea  bags in my purse.

No one will be won over to drinking tea if they read the article in the Sunday paper a couple of weeks ago which makes it look like a good cup of tea cannot be had without these complicated (and expensive) accoutrements.


I can’t quite see the need for a programmable tea steeper for $129.99 or a $199.99 Tea Cere to make matcha tea, authentic or otherwise.

I think I will sit down now with a book and a nice cuppa.