Tuesday, April 18, 2017

More on Easter Food

I wrote in my last post about some horrific Easter food, here’s some of the good stuff.

My son-in-law is a great cook and several years ago he decided he was going to branch out into bread. Here’s the challah bread he made this year for Easter. Over the years he has talked about the Blessing of the Easter food, which takes place every year on Easter Saturday. I have never attended this ritual, at times because noon on the day before Easter Sunday didn’t work for me, but mainly because I saw it as an ethnic custom.

This year I decided I wanted to ex-perience it for myself, so I attached myself to Ron and the kids. Yes, it is ethnic, but not just Polish as I had thought. I saw many parishioners of Italian and other European origins, all of them with large baskets containing the food that was to be eaten the next day. It was fun to peek into the baskets—lots of kielbasa and ham, decorated eggs, wine and various cakes. Some people had flowers in their baskets, some had embroidered cloths covering their food and while some attendees had candles in the basket, we even saw one illuminated by LED lights!

All the baskets lined the aisle and the priest said a prayer over each and gave it a hearty sprinkle of holy water.

Here’s another colorful offering. Ron says that next year he is going to make his bread with the eggs in it as in these little rolls.

I think I will accompany his family again. Food has always been an integral part of Easter and the blessing can only make the meal more meaningful (though I don’t think it will work with for chocolate bunnies with red frosting and plastic faces.)

Saturday, April 15, 2017

This is a No-No

I have posted this avocado-hued photo of an Easter gone-by before (I really loved that wallpaper, but glad it went shortly after this.) The kids look—well, like kids— but the star of the show was the lamb cake. Back then, however busy I was, I always made a lamb cake, pouring the batter into the bottom half of the cake tin, wiring the top half on it and trusting that I had the right amount of batter to give the lamb all its legs and its cute face without bursting through the joints in the tin. The illustration that came with the tin showed a lambkin with white curly frosting all over and a wreath of flowers piped on its head. I never quite reached those heights, but my fleeces were always suitably white, even if the jelly bean eyes gave the animal an appearance of being cross-eyed. If I felt really creative I dyed shredded coconut green to give him his piece of verdant pasture.

It has been a while since I tried to duplicate my earlier efforts. I thought lamb cakes had gone out of fashion, but as I was leaving the grocery store today, look what I saw.

This nasty attempt at a lamb cake had a whitish fleece, but a scary plastic face. There were chocolate lambs with pink fleeces. There were scarlet lambs and yellow lambs. Nary a wreath of flowers or anything that could be found in nature.

This is so wrong. Next year I think I will pull out my trusty mould and return to simpler days.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017


Do you have an author you found at some point in your life, read avidly and then forgot about or did not for some reason keep track of?

Such a writer for me is Margaret Drabble. I recently read her name somewhere or other and remembered how much I had enjoyed her early books. There always seemed a little more of a connection than that—she was born a few months before I was, we sat for the Newnham entrance exams at the same time (she got in, I didn’t. In fact, she got “a starred First.” I don’t even know what a starred First is, though I can guess. I wouldn’t have come within a mile of one.) After graduation while I was studying the Philosophy, History and whatnot of Education, she was writing and publishing her first book. So I took a trip to the library, took out what they had and reserved some more.

The first book I read was The Pure Gold Baby. When I got to page eight, I came across this passage.

“Jess came from an industrial city in the Midlands and had graduated from a well-regarded grammar school via a foundation course in Arabic at a new university to a degree at SOAS. SOAS! How magical those initials had been to her as a seventeen-year-old when she first heard them, and how thrilling and bewitching they were to remain to her, even into her late middle age! The School of African and Oriental Studies, situated in the heart of academic Bloomsbury.” The whole page brings back memories of a part of London I too have such happy memories of. And while this is a sidebar  to my post, I found that this this book contained so many connections with my life: mention of Potters Bar and Waltham Abbey and the location of the “special” school she chose for her daughter Anna—Enfield, where I grew up and in particular Enfield Lock where my paternal grandparents lived and where my father grew up.

It was the reference to SOAS that grabbed me. Just a few days earlier I had been poring over my “University of London, B.A. Examination for Internal Students: 1962 Pass List”.
looking for the name of someone I knew. As I leafed through the document I noticed there were about two pages of English graduates and about two pages of French. About one page of students graduated in German, less than half a page in Spanish and six students in Italian. Each student had his college printed after his name—Bedford, Westfield, University  College, King’s College and so on. History and Geography followed the same pattern. Lots of History.

What really stood out was the one student who received a degree in Hausa, with SOAS boldly printed after his name. And the six students from the same college with degrees in Swahili. Where did these students come from? Was the one Hausa student the son of missionaries? I doubt any of the grads would have been accepted into their degree programs without first showing some proficiency in the language. SOAS also gave us one Classical Arabic degree, seven Classical and Modern Literary Arabic degrees, one Persian, four Chinese and three Japanese degrees.

The other outlier, SSEES, or the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, graduated eleven students with degrees in Russian.

So, what is my point? My strength has always been languages and no-one ever told me that it would be possible to get a degree in a language more esoteric than the four I knew. (Not to mention the fact that the mainstream college, University College, seems to have taught Scandinavian languages, Dutch and Hebrew.) Would I have been a good student of Hausa?  Swahili? I will never know, but I can’t help thinking that I would have been as excited as Jessica, for whom “SOAS  was a sea of adventure, of learning, of cross-cultural currents that swept and eddied through Gordon Square and Bedford Square and Russell Square.”

Footnote: just as I was about to publish this post, I received an e-mail from my daughter, linking to the book review she had written for her professional association. I guess Robert Frost made my point  better than I could! So did she.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

I Miss Them!

‘I specialise,’ said Raoul, as we entered the uninspired repetitive landscape of the South Circular, ‘in phantom pain.’

Anyone recognize the book (obviously British) from which this sentence was taken? The book will appear in a later post. I quote the words now because there is a phenomenon —I believe—which could be known as phantom sound.

These guys, and their parents and big sister, stayed with us for a week. It was great. They are extremely well behaved, go to bed with no complaint and are utterly delightful. Same goes for the other family members. The children were not even noisy, though there was a time when I told my daughter I would send them all out to the curb if I had to listen to “The wheels on the bus go round and round” one more time. As a result of phantom sound, I still hear a little voice calling out “Dada" or "cheese.” He is a great devotee of them both. I wake and think I hear one singing and one making that little baby noise meaning “I am warm and cosy and happy for right now, but I’m going to want companionship/food/a dry diaper before too long”.

There also has to be a name for the grandparent reaction which causes us to climb the stairs on tip toe making no sound because the kids are in bed or taking a nap—but they have long departed. I’ve done it for years.

Yes, I miss them. And you are fortunate because I wanted to link to that silly bus song and couldn’t figure out how to do it without including another hour’s worth of chirpy music.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Two Days in March

It works out well for me to make a note here of dates I may want to mark—it certainly beats scribbling information on odd pieces of paper.

There are two dates to remember this March. The first was March 8, Michigan’s “wind event”, when record setting numbers of people lost power, some for as long as a week. Actually, the incident that had most people here on edge was the plane carrying the University of Michigan basketball team being blown off the edge of the runway at Willow Run. Amazingly, we were among the few who didn’t lose light and heat. We usually do when there is a storm which knocks down trees on our tree-lined streets. I hadn’t been feeling too great and had no need to go out, so I am ashamed to say I didn’t realize that a number of friends could have used a bed or a hot meal. I have sort of happy memories of past storms: there was a March ice storm when the children were small and the house was getting colder and colder. Thank goodness for a neighbor who showed us how to rig the furnace with a large voltage battery. I am sure it was dangerous, but it saved us hotel bills for five days and we got by with an occasional meal in a restaurant, usually surrounded by neighbors who were in the same predicament. I also remember a time after I switched from an electric stove to a gas one when my burners were kept busy as I made soup for the neighbors camped out around the kitchen table. There may have been a bottle or two of wine involved.

As I mentioned in the last paragraph, I had not been feeling too great, so when March 13 dawned, I was looking forward to a day with nowhere to go and the prospect of curling up with a book. So I was wearing a pair of grubby slippers (no socks), some tired yoga style pants, a grubby, baggy white turtleneck and some undies which had started out blue, but had found their way into a load of whites laced with bleach. They were a streaky looking disgrace. Sorry, Mum, I know what you always said! I wasn’t, however, knocked down by a bus, but I found myself in an ambulance on the way to the hospital with what was probably a reaction to the on-again, off-again prescribing of strong medication. I only stayed one night with orders to follow up with all the doctors involved, but I was poked and prodded, gave up a lot of blood and examined by a number of machines. They dragged me out of bed at 1:00 a.m. for an MRI and found myself being wheeled down a long corridor to an elevator. The floor was definitely on a slope and when we entered and exited the elevator there was a pronounced bump. The poor young woman pushing me was most concerned about the bump and apologized profusely. “It’s OK, it doesn’t bother me”, I said reassuringly,”but it could be hard on your older patients.”

A marked silence. I forgot I am seventy seven. And no-one showed any interest in my undies.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

It is Cold

Therefore I have been escaping into books which describe even worse conditions. I have written before about my attraction to K2 (and if you follow this link, please look up Jennifer Jordan’s book and Daphne’s post) and was happy to find two more books which were worth reading for different reasons.

This first book is rather over-dramatic (note the subtitle), but it does give a historical overview of all the attempts to climb K2  and highlights at length the first successful ascent by the Italians Compagnoni and Lacadelli in 1954. This expedition has led to a bitter “who carried the oxygen bottles, who hid the oxygen bottles?” controversy and much print dedicated to Walter Bonatti. Conefrey claims he has “new evidence” to dispute the accepted evidence, though I am not sure exactly what it is. He certainly has the most intriguing beginning to one of the chapters in his book—to any book come to that, “Aleister Crowley was a flamboyant, bisexual drug fiend with a fascination for the occult. He was not a typical twentieth century mountaineer, but for a few years at  least he was a very keen one.” While it is impossible to approve of his later life style, I couldn't help a smile when reading about the restrictions on gear.  Crowley was unwilling to give up his large collection of books, stating that while other mountaineers might be willing to forgo intellectual pleasures and behave like savages "when traveling through a savage country”, he could not live without his Milton. Needless to say he didn’t get far.

What didn’t I like about this book? Murky diagrams of the mountain and the various ridges and placement of camps and too few photographs.

The second book is Graham Bowley’s “No Way Down” which deals with just one expedition, the 2008 international ascent which resulted in the deaths of eleven climbers. While K2 has been climbed about three hundred times, something like a quarter of the successful climbers didn’t make it down. This was not a truly international expedition, it was several expeditions from a number of different countries, all climbing at the same time. Even if you are not interested in mountaineering, this book is worth reading as  a study in psychology or management or just plain logistics.

The author is not a mountain climber himself. Whether that makes a difference, I just don’t know.

What didn’t I like about this book? Strangely, too many maps, too many pictures. I say this in reference to this book because we get to know the characters so well. As yet another climber falls to his death, there is a compulsion to go back and look for his photograph. Text to photo, photo to text and a feeling of disappointment when a climber we have come to admire does not have more photographs

There is some kind of consolation in YouTube. I rarely look at this application, but I found myself enmeshed in video and photographs which brought the climbers to life, some more than others. (It is somewhat confusing trying to figure out what is “real” footage and what is re-creation.)

In the end, the one fact that remains is that none of the climbers is the central figure. The main protagonist is 28, 251 feet of vindictive rock, snow, ice and wind.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

In Which She Reams Out a Fedex Employee

Editor’s note: this post has been sitting here for a couple of weeks, but I was too lazy to finish/edit it. I am now renaming it Part 1 and adding a happy ending in Part II.

At the end of my penultimate post I commented that I hoped I could find a passport photo a little more attractive than the last one. Didn’t work out that way.

I hadn’t actually got around to doing anything about renewing my passport, so I thought I needed to do some research and after entering various applicable terms into Google I came up with the official website. It informed me I had to fill out the form online, but as it was obvious I couldn’t actually apply on line because I had to send some new photographs, I thought I would push the "get started" button to figure out what was involved. But pretty soon I realized that I was actually filling out the form and I finally got to a place where I could “exit and save” and my data would remain for 72 hours. I didn’t want to give my Visa number at that stage, because I wasn’t sure whether they would void the payment if I didn’t print the form within 72 hours, or if they would pocket the cash and use it for their own nefarious purposes.

So I turned my attention to the photo and realized I didn’t know where I could get one taken these days. A few minutes with the phone and finally someone said, “Try FedEx.”

We went off to the FedEx store and a girl with a big camera couldn’t figure out how to get rid of the shadow. (It involved closing the window shade.) She disappeared for a few minutes and a guy took her place. Eric? I nervously asked if the photo would come out to the required dimensions. "Aren’t all passport photos the same size?" asked Eric, who proceeded to point the large camera at me and click. It wasn’t a bad photograph. He wandered off to the area where the photos are processed and came back with a 2x2 inch photo. I had been smart enough to print off the five pages of instructions about the photo as provided by Her Majesty’s Government, and I told him it wouldn’t do. "It is the only size I can print it, “ replied Eric. Me: "You mean to say that this nation wide business enterprise cannot help any one who wants a photo other than than one corresponding to the American specifications?” This all went on for a while and Eric’s best contribution was the remark that there used to be a photo studio down the street, but it had now closed down, followed by the mumbled acknowledgement that the drug store across the parking lot “might” be able to help me.

Walgreens to the rescue: a very friendly man with a tiny camera, took my photograph, then put it in a machine with a list at the side of various countries, pushed UK and within five minutes I had my photograph. I was still so mad from my dealings with Eric that I looked like an ancient bad tempered crone, but I had my photograph!

Part II: to be retitled “In which her Majesty’s Government does an awesome job.”

I hadn’t even attempted to track my package of documents winging its way from Detroit to Durham. Give it time. And then two days ago we came home and took ownership of two big yellow envelopes which my neighbor had signed for. One contained my old cancelled passport and one my new passport. The birds which graced the pages of my last passport have been replaced by a series of designs which I decided to call “Merrie Olde England”, but if you have nothing else to do you can admire the art work here.

Thanks for your offer of help, Tim. I am all set. Well done, your Majesty’s Home Office.