Wednesday, September 28, 2005

From Rhoda to Golda

I am not a great devotee of television series. I am faithful to a few, like The West Wing, which I have watched from its inception, and even though I think it is getting a bit lame, I will probably watch it until the whole bunch of them get voted out of office. But if I miss the first episode or two of a series, I never become a convert. I have never seen Friends or Desperate Housewives or (sorry Elizabeth) Seinfeld.

There was one exception. In the early seventies I read such good things about The Mary Tyler Moore Show that somewhere around the third season I jumped onto the bandwagon. Not an easy thing to do, since it aired (I think) at 8:00 pm on Saturday and I had a number of small children to feed, bathe and get into bed. What a truly delightful escape from reality that show was, with its vibrant protagonist and an outstanding supporting cast. It was impossible not to love Mary: she was pretty, talented and endearingly klutzy. But you had to empathize with Mary’s friend, Rhoda Morgenstern, who played Ado Annie to Mary’s Laurey. Rhoda’s dates were disasters, her diets never worked—in short, she was one of us.

I’ve heard odds and ends about Valerie Harper, who played Rhoda, in the years since the show ended: she dabbled in show business politics for a while. It was a shock to open the entertainment section of the paper on Sunday, and see her in her new role, as Golda Meir. Looks like Valerie has traded the role of a feisty young woman for that of an feisty older woman.

I think if you gave me a bouffant wig and a good tweed suit, I could pass for Margaret Thatcher.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Benjamin is four

Happy Birthday to Benjamin, Elizabeth and Jeff's oldest. Four years ago today I was in the waiting room at St. Mary Mercy in Livonia. Kate arrived shortly after me: she and Elizabeth were due on the same day, though Daniel didn't come for another six days. But since he was a twelve pound baby, Kate looked like she was in the maternity wing for reasons other than supporting her sister. We sure got a lot of attention!

We will celebrate birthdays for the two cousins on Saturday. I think that will mark the third celebration of this birthday, Benjamin. Enjoy it while you can.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Down yonder green valley . . .

How I hated music lessons at school in the fifties. I was totally tone deaf and I remember having to stand and sing this “Traditional Welsh Air.” It continues—

. . . where streamlets meander
When twilight is fading, I pensively roam
Or at the bright noontide in solitude wander
Amid the dark shades of the lonely Ash grove.

The song has its fair share of streamlets and o’ers, a twas or two and even a bosom. The British have a whole cadre of songs like that. My theory is that they are the byproduct of the Industrial Revolution. Tell-it-like-it-is poets like Blake dared to write of “dark satanic mills”, but the rest of them hid their heads in the sand and ignored the impact of iron and steel by clinging to a bucolic vocabulary of banks and braes, and including a lot of sheep and plenty of trees, often enveloped in doubtful syntax:

To where for me, the apple tree
Do lean down low in Linden Lea. (Do? Whatever happened to doth?)

The ash tree in the photograph has never seen a grove of other ashes: it stands in front of our house, planted on the strip of city property by the local council to replace one of the magnificent elms that succumbed to Dutch Elm disease in the seventies. Now we are threatened by the emerald ash borer, which has destroyed large numbers of trees in Michigan’s lower peninsular, and was reported last week to have crossed over into the upper peninsular.

I don’t think our tree looks too good. I remember still the sadness of waking one morning to find a big red cross sprayed on the elms, indicating they had to come down. So I will watch the ash carefully, humming an appropriate air as I do so.

But sorry, Miss Benjamin, I still sing flat.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Don't tell the kids

There was a segment on the news the other night highlighting research from some fancy university which indicated that children who eat dinner with their families are statistically less likely to use drugs or take part in other self destructive behaviors. I don't want a medal for this, but I can honestly say that for us family dinners were the norm. Even if someone had basketball practice, or a choir concert or some other pursuit which meant he or she missed dinner, the rest of the kids were expected to sit down together, eat dinner and make some attempt at conversation. There was the same expectation for Ernie and me. So many times there was the end of a football game, or Wimbledon or something which drew us to the TV (what are those TV trays for anyway?), but we never caved in. I think I was the weakest link, but Ernie, in spite of his love for golf, the Olympics or the national conventions, made everyone toe the line. Did this contribute to the behaviors, or lack thereof, validated by the research? Who knows?

But of late we have been letting our guard down. Dinner has been consumed in front of the television. The Senate Confirmation hearings have taken precedent over our inhibitions. We seem unscathed, but don't tell the children.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Dear Hand Surgeons' Office

Never in my life have I seen so many forms in a medical office. Family medical history, insurance details, personal habits and the beginning of a litany of blame. Clearly they expect workman's compensation to be on the mind of every patient and they are assembling fodder for the ambulance chasers.

BUT the majority of the patients walked in with casts, bandages and useless hands, so since one can logically expect 50% of them to have injured the hand with which they write, couldn't there have been some indication of how they were supposed to complete their forms? Just asking.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Put tab A into slot B

I have recently made four purchases. (Why does purchasing something seem a lot fancier than actually “buying“ something?)

So what did I buy? I bought some sippy cups to make life easier when Frederick was visiting. I bought a microwave to replace the one which died on us shortly before we realized that the transformer in the back yard was dying a slow death, which may or may not mean that the microwave was covered by insurance, but if it was, they would put up our premium anyway. I bought a new scanner (actually, Ernie bought it as a 39th wedding anniversary gift, although I later realized it was a clever way of making me responsible for the care and feeding of yet another piece of technology), and I bought a beautiful new Husquavarna sewing machine.

Can I figure out the microwave? Well, it presupposes that all I want to do is reheat “Pasta Sauce, Soup, Pizza, Dinner Plate, Beverage and Rolls/Muffins “, (I quote from the Sharp Microwave Oven Manual.) There’s a nice paper manual and it is pretty much the same as my old microwave, so I will manage.

Then we come to the scanner. Every morsel of instruction is on-line, thanks to the “Help” page I managed (somehow) to download as part of the installation procedure. Some of it defies comprehension, although I am having some success with photos and no luck with downloading documents into editable text. But give me time.

As far as the sippy cups go, I was pretty upset when I realized that the cups I had painstakingly filled with water and juice prior to our trip to the mall had suddenly got lost, but Ernie reminded me that we had raised five children by shoving liquids down their throats from regular cups and no-one had come close to dying from dehydration. Nevertheless, I made a late-night run to CVS and bought some (rather expensive) cups from Avent. And for these, I need instructions?

The sewing machine? I love my new machine, although it will take me a while to feel confident with its workings. It is the third machine that I have owned.

The first was a Singer straight stitch, a Christmas gift from Ernie when I lived in my Los Angeles apartment. Over the years, fancier machines were marketed, but that was a workhorse of machines.

My second machine was a zigzag, and could do a lot more (but I hated the button-hole system.)

My newest machine has different bobbin winding mechanisms and comes with a booklet showing Scandanavian ladies in fancy jackets. There is a video (video?) and the advertising proclaims the machine can perform “heirloom” machine sewing. Isn’t that an oxymoron? I mean, you either use a machine, or you hand sew heirloom embroidery. My grandmother would have a lot to say about this. But that is a subject for another day.

Thursday, September 08, 2005


This Elderberries cartoon came from today's Detroit Free Press.

OK Ron, you get the beer. "Don't suppose I'm eligible, being family and all, but it's from As You Like It. (All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players...)" I doubt if more than three people read this blog, so let's put the others out of their misery.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

I miss these guys

Hard to believe, a week ago we were on the outskirts of Washington, enjoying Andrew's hospitality after the road trip from hell. We had taken care of these little boys for ten days and it was time to get them back to their parents. We were going to meet up at Andrew's so Al could take them home to sleep and the next morning they would all meet Gody's plane. They had been so good during their stay, but the little two were in need of some big parental hugs.

We took our own kids on many long road trips, but back then we threw a mattress in the back of a station wagon, threw the kids in on top of it and let them roll around like puppies until they fell asleep. We passed some food back once in a while, made the occasional stop to change diapers and rolled on. So the five hundred mile trip from here to DC with three little kids held captive in car seats was quite an experience and one I don't want to repeat in the near future. How Al did it three times this summer on his own defies my imagination.

Frederick was unbelievably cheerful, greeting me every morning with a big grin. Last time he was here, he ate virtually nothing except cheese for every meal. This time he was much less choosy and showed a great affection for cherry tomatoes. Like a minor bureaucrat, he does everything in triplicate and I soon learned that "Apple, apple, apple" meant any kind of fruit, and "Bread, bread, bread" would keep him happy for while. How I miss Frederick's enthusiastic "Gamma, Gamma, Gamma."

Alex, on the other hand, seen here wearing his grandpa's gardening hat, has changed from eating anything to being a serious consumer of peanut butter. That was fine by me. He adores his big brother. He had a ready answer when offered something he didn't want, as in "Do you want some potatoes, Alex?" Answer, "I've got potatoes at home."

Emmanuel is nearly eight, and he had a great time with his cousins Patrick and Charlie. Kate and Ron had him sleep over several nights and he got to go on a number of outings with their family. Manny's secret? He and his grandfather ate Dove bars together when the little guys were out of the picture.

As for us, we turned around next day and drove another five hundred miles home to Michigan and a quiet and empty house.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Then the . . . school-boy, with his satchel and shining morning face . . .

Today is one of my favorite days: the day when the kids in the community go back to school. I got up and took my coffee onto the front porch to watch the steady stream of children passing by the house to go to the local elementary school. It's called Trombley and it is the school all of our children attended. Nowadays there are many parents who drive their children to school, citing fears of child molesters and obviously I can't blame them, but I have such happy memories of the days when our children all walked to school, together with Brenda and Leslie, Billy, Ian and Sheila, Joe and Chuck and Daniel. At one point we had eighteen children under twelve in four adjacent houses, and the friendships far outweighed the fights. The picture below is a little faded now, but it was taken on the first day of school in 1978 and shows the neighborhood kids congregating on our porch on the first day of school. That's Lucy peering through the door, wondering when she could be part of the action.

The photo at the top of the post was taken in 1976. Andrew was starting kindergarten, Elizabeth was going into second grade (where did I get that dress?), Kate was starting third grade and Al, already too tall for the photo, was enrolled in fourth grade. We took a photo like this every year.

Ours is a fairly good school system: not all school systems are run as well. I draw your attention to a book that will be published on October 7, although there will be copies in some stores starting September 15. The book is Cheating Our Kids: How Politics and Greed Ruin Education (St. Martin's, $24.95) and the author is Joe Williams. Joe wrote about education in Milwaukee and now covers that beat for the New York Daily News. He is also Marcie's brother. His book was reviewed in this week's Washington Post (see middle of page) and can be ordered at a pre-publication price from Amazon. Teachers and parents will find it interesting and pertinent.

No winners in the Cultural Literacy test #1. The answer was Twelfth Night, Act II, scene III.

So the prize is still unclaimed and will be given to the first person to identify the title of this post.

Monday, September 05, 2005

What we have here is a failure to communicate

Today is Labor Day. We did our family celebrating on Saturday with a dinner at Kate and Ron’s and we are spending the day quietly before taking Lucy to the airport tonight to get her plane back to DC.

Naturally all the news sources, along with the thoughts and prayers of the nation and, I am sure, the world, are focused on New Orleans and the Gulf states. The scope of the disaster is incomprehensible, but those who have made it so far are beginning to get meaningful help.

Here in Michigan we have over the years faced little of the ravages of nature. I vow to be less oppressed by the brief periods of heat and humidity and cold and ice, which are usually causes for my complaints.

In the seventies we were twice without electricity for extended periods of time as a result of ice storms, and the major blackout of 2003, which affected Ontario and the entire NE region of America, is still fresh in our minds. The biggest frustration was not knowing what was going on. We have all become so dependent on TV, radios, and computers. After the initial shock - and there were few people who did not immediately assume a terrorist attack – we were inundated by practical concerns. No way to know which gas stations had generators to pump gas, which pharmacies were open to dispense vital drugs, if there were cooling centers for the sick and the elderly, whether the water was safe to drink, or even where there were supplies of batteries or food.

But electricity was restored in a little over 24 hours. We were somewhat comforted by the hope that this emergency was a rehearsal for a future disaster here or in another part of the country. These omissions of communication could be addressed. Solutions for dispensing information didn’t seem overly complicated.

Now we read accounts of total breakdowns in the passing on of information. Was the National Guard supposed to report to regional police authority or vice versa? Individuals took control and personal websites became sources of information, specific sites were set up to pass on news of survivors. There are sites for volunteering money, services and other help, but on the whole they are maintained by individuals. I am sure there are countless on-line journalers and bloggers who have personal tales to tell. Over the years I have linked to Eliza, who is not writing a lot, but who is playing a role in helping friends. I hope she writes more, but she is busy doing her bit.

The ripples are reaching Michigan. The governor is preparing to accept refugees from the south and the president of the university for which I worked for sixteen years and where Ernie taught for thirty years has offered to accept students who were enrolled at colleges in the afflicted areas. I smiled a little as I read the announcement that students who had already paid their tuition would receive a full waiver of fees. The scenario is all too familiar: “Sir, Mr. President, um Irvin, how do they prove they have paid their tuition?” “Just make it work.”

And they will make it work, they must make it work. But how happy I am that I am retired and can sit here imagining Steve, Barry and Cheryl and the rest of the gang in the Advising office facing weary students asking, “What courses can I take at Wayne State that will satisfy my requirements in the Electrical Engineering program at Xavier?”