Saturday, December 30, 2006


I’ve been hanging around on-line journaling for a number of years. I’m a lurker: only in the last few months have I dared to publish to the Internet and even though I recently registered at a forum, I still haven’t had the courage to proffer a post. One of the pleasures of lurking is that from time to time I come across an arresting on-line personality, someone I wished I known earlier. It happened today, but in the saddest of possible ways, as the on-line community mourned the death of Leslie Harpold. Never once in ten or so years had I heard of her and here I was delighting in some of her creations, her magnificent advent calendars. I traced the path of Advent 2005, thinking what fun my grandchildren could have had. Apparently she died with seven days of Advent 2006 completed.

I was following the links at the bottom of this page, astonished at the outpourings of praise, affection and sorrow, not in the least surprised to find she had lived in New York and San Francisco. My eye caught the phrase, “She now lives in Grosse Pointe, MI.”

This wonderful person was living in the Woods. I feel like I felt when I learned that I was living so very close to Sylvia Plath when she committed suicide. I wished I had bumped into her, somewhere, somehow.

Oxymoron of the Day

Cocktail okra.

Friday, December 29, 2006


We returned last night from a six-day trip to Washington, where we celebrated Christmas at Andrew and Marcie’s house and also got to meet our lovely new grandson.

Not surprisingly, given the mix of the extended family that gathered, our conversation turned at times to the subject of traditions. “Because of our traditions”, as Tevye assured the good folks of Anatevka, “every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do.” Tevye had a hard time explaining how some traditions got started: I would be hard pressed to explain why we now get together on New Year’s Eve with Kate’s family for games and Chinese food. A former neighbor sent a Christmas card from Wisconsin, noting that with the death of her husband and the marriage of her son, Christmas traditions in her family were changing. “New traditions”, she wrote, “what fun”. No oxymoron there, I think. Pragmatism is a driving force and we yield gracefully.

It appears, however, that a new American tradition has crept up on me. The Detroit Free Press ran an Associated Press article before Christmas detailing how families are renting self-storage units to hide Christmas gifts from prying eyes. A listing on asked “Wanna keep the Christmas gifts away from those sneaky little ones?" It offers to “hide the toys from the kids. Hide the boat from your husband.” The story starts out:

NASHVILLE, Tenn— Missy Philips knew she had a big problem when her boyfriend’s 18-year-old son ransacked their house looking for the stash of unwrapped Christmas presents.

To keep the nosy teenager from finding the stereo, video games and hunting bow she and her boyfriend bought him, Philips had to go out of the house —and into a self-storage unit—to hide the gifts until Christmas Eve.

It seems to me that Missy Philips of Nashville, Tenn. has a bigger problem than where to stash Junior’s iPod. Or hunting bow. They are giving this kid a hunting bow?

Friday, December 22, 2006

Be Still, my Beating Heart

The Macomb Center for the Performing Arts at Macomb Community College has done a wonderful job providing cultural experiences for the denizens of Hall Road. This Christmas they presented the Moscow Festival Ballet performing The Sleeping Beauty and I am sure countless little girls went home with stars in their eyes.

Also on the December roster they have Herman’s Hermits (starring Peter Noone) reviving (resuscitating?) some of their hits of the 60’s. Now I lived in England when these songs were going around the first time. I loved the music. I loved Herman’s Hermits. I suspect that if the Beatles were still around, I would buy a ticket to see them perform. There is one group from that era still going strong, but I never liked them anyway. So would I pay good money to hear Peter Noone singing, “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter’?

Sorry. No.

Let it Rain, Let it Rain, Let it Rain . . .?

I should have paid attention when I received an e-mail from my sister-in-law yesterday announcing "It's raining like crazy here." One day's Chicago rain is next day's Detroit precipitation.

That's when those twinkling lights come into their own, chasing away the gray. My glass is more than half full: I could be in Denver.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Addenda to Yesterday's Post

This photo appeared in today's Grosse Pointe News so I am posting it in case any British readers didn't grasp the concept of Santa on a motorbike.

And thanks to Nancy Nall who managed to find a plausible explanation for deflation.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Sacred and the Profane

Actually, I don’t think there is anything inherently profane about an inflatable Santa Claus riding a motorbike tethered outside a house as a Christmas decoration. (Anyone who has a problem with the word “Christmas” would do well to read John Bailey’s commentary.) No, the problem with these popular Christmas artifacts is that they appear to deflate rather easily. Every morning they lie limply on the grass: it must take a large bicycle pump to get Santa back in the saddle. And who would find fault with Frosty on the left here? Except of course for the homeowner wielding the bicycle pump. As you can see, I drove around for a while last night on my way home from babysitting, trying to capture the essence of Grosse Pointe exterior decor. And my question is: what in the name of Sam Hill is Homer Simpson doing making spirits bright on Lakepointe? When did he become an icon for the holiday season?

I have photographs of inflatable Santas on sleighs, inflatable bears and a moose leaping out of a box, but I wanted to move on to Lakeshore Drive, where (with one notable exception) they have extremely tasteful and expensive displays. Around the end of November armies of workers festoon the estates by the lake with thousands of lights. It is a joy to drive by and see how the other half live. TV cartoon characters are not lurking near this crèche, although I will admit there are some displays of French milkmaid figures and reindeer on other lawns of this estate. The red lights are a beacon for cars driving along Lake St. Clair.

I wanted a photo of my nomination for the minimalist display of the year. The house is in darkness except for one enormous illuminated tree which stands in solitary splendor on the vast expanse of yard. However, this being Grosse Pointe and all (and thanks, Nancy, for posting this on Grosse Pointe Today) there was nowhere to park and the surrounding streets had dead end signs. Parking seemed out of the question, so I aimed my camera out of the window and hoped nobody had alerted the police as I circled round looking for a vantage spot.

There will be some pretty enormous electricity bills come January, but thanks to everyone for the festive displays. I may even get to like Santa on the motorbike.

Monday, December 11, 2006

I Checked the Zeros

Just one more phone related item. According to an article in The Free Pressover the weekend:

David Beckham has one. So do Catherine Deneuve and Beyonce Knowles. The precious object is a cell phone from Nokia Oyj’s Vertu luxury division, whose offerings start at $4,350 for the stainless-steel versions and soar to $310,000 for bejeweled ones.
My blog promises to celebrate the absurd. I just did.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Welcome, Nathaniel

Today is my birthday and I received a wonderful present—a new grandson. Nathaniel was born this morning in Virginia to Gody and Al, much to the delight of his three older brothers. Ernie commented that I have a sixty-seven year head start on him. That's a true and rather disturbing concept.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Dear Terri Lynn Land

Yesterday I visited one of the offices for which you, as Secretary of State for Michigan, are responsible. Pretty nice. I was annoyed that you required me to go in person to renew my driver’s license, but I figured that after eight or so years of renewing by mail, I needed to prove that I was conversant with the rules of the road. But you didn’t require a written test. In fact, all the time I was there I saw no one take a written test. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized I should have read the pamphlet that came with the renewal form and detailed recent traffic law changes on bodily alcohol content (from 0.10 to 0.08) and stopping for blind pedestrians (whatever was the law before that change?)

You did require me to take a vision test and up-date the information to appear on the license. I seem to be an inch shorter and innumerable pounds heavier than the person who last had a license with my name on it. And the hair is considerably more grey. But I am now all set to operate a vehicle and write checks for another eight years.

My only complaint? Your signage. A person walking into the office is confronted by one of those “take a number” machines, like they have in the deli. Then you are confronted by two alternatives. Do you sit in the chairs with a bunch of bored looking folks, or go stand in the short line before the counter. In the absence of a sign telling us otherwise, we all joined the line. Wrong choice. That meant that every five minutes the security guard had to come and make an announcement that those in the line had to sit down until called up in groups of five according to their number. Wouldn’t a sign saying “Take a number and wait until your number is called” have solved the problem once and for all?

Then there was the sign attached to the counter every six or so feet and festooned around the entire office. It read:

To help us serve you better.
Please end your cell phone conversation when you are called to the counter.
Thank you.
That seems to me one “please” and one “thank you” too many.

“Turn off your cell phone” That should do it.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Legacy of Alexander Graham Bell: the End

Why am I babbling on about phones? One thing that my former phones had in common was the technician: the man who came out to install jacks, drill through the walls, attach cords and generally make life easier.

Not any more. We must be our own technicians and do it all ourselves.

So when our phone recently showed signs of dying, I was not in a great hurry to replace it, but I finally bit the bullet and purchased a lot of—stuff. Black plastic stuff. What is more, I got it to work. I am now as cutting edge as Andrew and can get my phone to play “Old MacDonald had a Farm” when there is an incoming call. Actually, I have Beethoven’s Fifth. What I really want is the ring tone from “24”, but that would involve downloading it from somewhere and that is more technology than I want to face for a while.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The legacy of Alexander Graham Bell, part II

The year: 1963. The date: Christmas Day. The place: a small house up in the hills above Los Angeles. It was my first Christmas in America and I was house-sitting for Marvin B****, a very popular teacher at USC. He was going home to North Carolina for Christmas, and I was so naive that the significance of the white piano with the blue and green tinsel tree, the large collection of Johnny Mathis records and Marvin’s choice of traveling companion quite escaped me. I was homesick and I remember the phone call I made to England. In those days you booked it weeks in advance and then the operator called and put you through. It was cold and dreary in England and I was looking out at a warm and sunny LA. I still can remember that call.

When we first moved to Michigan, our phones were located no more intelligently than the one I described in England. Obviously that didn’t worry Kate, but I have memories of juggling phone books and pieces of paper and trying to write information. I already wrote about the call I made which gave us the wonderful news of impending parenthood and I will never forget the call I made for an ambulance when Kate fell through a glass door, or the frantic calls to try to get a message to Ernie to tell him to get to the hospital. But most of my calls in those days revolved around schools and doctors and baseball schedules and the never-ending pursuit of baby sitters. I hated making those calls.

When I started working the phone became my archenemy. I wanted to hide under the desk. Not only could I not answer questions, I usually didn’t even understand the questions. I’m glad to say that things got much better.

Now the computer handles much of what we used the phones for before. Thanks to the “Do not call registry” we are spared lots of sales calls. Once again we seem to be making a lot of calls to schedule appointments with a doctor. As I was going through photos I took when some grandchildren visited a couple of weeks ago, I found this one of Evelyn. Whatever the toy is, it isn’t a phone, but she’s got the right idea, She’ll never be intimidated by a phone and long to hide under a desk.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

I Warned You

I prophesied in an earlier post that things were going to go pear-shaped with this blog. They have. I took the big step of upgrading my template and, just as Blogger warned, I have lost my links and all the other elements I labored to include. In some cases I sort of see what I have to do, but there is a lot of work involved. I'll have a go one of these days and see if I can get where I want to be. I am sure in the long run things will be easier. If I used to link to you, don't get upset. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Legacy of Alexander Graham Bell

I am not really comfortable with a phone. I will write, I will e-mail and if you live close enough, I may even come over and knock on your door. Anything rather than pick up the phone. Sure, I have been known to talk at length to a caller: I guess it is initiating a call that is my problem.

It started with my childhood. Give me a few seconds to get comfortable on this couch and I will tell you all about it. Very few people had phones in England in the 50’s. Even if you wanted one, there was a wait of several months. We certainly would never have made the move, but my father’s job as an electrician at the Enfield Rolling Mills required him to be “on call”. So the Rolling Mills expedited the delivery and installation of our instrument. They extracted their pound of flesh and summoned my dad several times in the middle of the night. I remember him jumping on his bike and pedaling off through the dark and fog to solve the problem.

Waltham Cross 24645. That was our number. Can’t forget that one. It was, and still is, etiquette in England to answer the phone by stating your number. Mind you, we didn’t get a lot of calls because so few people had a phone, but over the years it came in useful. The instrument (functional black plastic) was installed in our front hall on top of the cupboard that covered the electricity meter and wedged up against the coat-rack. The hall was very cold in winter and there was no place to put a chair, so it was hard to get comfortable and have a heart to heart with anyone. Besides, my dad tended to hover in the background, silently urging me not to stay too long on the line.

That was my somewhat uncertain introduction to the phone and the unseen people it conjured up.Things got worse when I got to America, but time’s up for this session. I’ll tell you more next time.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

A First

Homilies can be shorter. That's a function of focus on the message, tighter writing, and thoughtful delivery. I never imagined it would be the result of a bomb threat, but that is what happened at today's 11:15 mass.

The police department and our priest handled it well. I hope it was for the first and the last time.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


I mentioned in an earlier entry that there are people brave enough to commit to a daily post during the Christmas season. The registration site is now up. I certainly won't attempt it, but I plan to visit the site daily in the hope of getting to know some new journalers/bloggers.

Friday, November 24, 2006


Yesterday was Thanksgiving Day, and for the first time since 1966 Ernie and I woke up to an empty house. Lucy had come home, but had gone straight to Elizabeth’s house for the night, Andrew, Marcie and family were in New Jersey and Al and Gody didn’t want to risk bringing the boys to Detroit so close to the new baby’s due date. For the first time in forty years I could watch a televised parade or enjoy a football game—and I did neither. I leisurely finished up some pies to take over to Elizabeth’s, where we celebrated a wonderful Thanksgiving day.

Last year I documented some memorable past Thanksgivings and I spent way too long today poring over old photos, mostly too murky to scan but clear enough to bring back memories and elicit a sigh or two.

Things change. This Thanksgiving will prove no more or no less memorable than those of the last forty years: just different.

Monday, November 20, 2006


I love this photograph of the Cam and King’s College taken on the Backs in Cambridge. Lucy took it on an afternoon we spent exploring both the shops and the colleges of my favorite English city. We had encountered a friendly porter at Trinity College who had given us a history of undergraduates from Sir Isaac Newton to Prince Charles, and who filled us in on the details of the famous Chariots of Fire footrace. It’s amazing to think of all the Nobel Prize winners, all the great scientists, writers and politicians who have sauntered casually on the grassy quadrangles of Cambridge and to wonder which of the current crop of students will achieve distinction.

One of the delights of discovering the ageless project is the reflective quality of the writers. Younger writers lead busy, interesting but frenetic lives and the journalers with birthdates in the twenties and thirties have lived through these periods and can sort out the wheat from the chaff. I have greatly enjoyed reading Goldendaze-Ginnie, because she seems to have a similar blogging philosophy to me. Here’s her encounter with an ill-starred Cambridge student, a poet who, had she lived, would now be 74.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

u mst b joking or r u smoking sumthg?

I interrupt my travelogue to bring you a little nugget from New Zealand, courtesy of The Usual Suspects. It seems that

New Zealand's high school students will be able to use "text-speak" -- the mobile phone text message language beloved of teenagers -- in national exams this year, officials said.
You can read the rest of the article here.

Now I love parody and would like nothing more than to write an essay on Beowulf or the symbolism of Gerard Manley Hopkins just to show you how it would read in text-speak, but I haven’t a clue how to go about it. I must have missed the class in intro to Western Civilization that covered text-speak. It raises lots of questions, doesn’t it? What’s next? Ph.D. dissertations? Speeches by presidents, rulers and popes?

One thing I do know: with this beta thing, I have the ability to tag posts and I often have problems deciding in what category I should place my entry. This one is easy. It is going under absurd.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Wilkin and Sons of Tiptree

Asked what they would like to see in England, most people mention a castle or an abbey or an otherwise historic site. Not Ernie: he wanted to make a pilgrimage to Tiptree in Essex and the factory of Wilkin and Sons, manufacturers of his favorite Tawny Marmalade. You can’t actually see the jam and marmalade being manufactured: fear of industrial espionage, I suppose. But look how excited Ernie, Brian, Brenda and Lucy were—there was also a jam museum! The museum was, in fact, light and well designed and rather interesting, preserving, so to speak, the history of the Wilkin family and of fruit growing in Essex. There was also a delightful gift shop. We can get a few of the standard varieties of jam and marmalade in Michigan, but we were tempted by some of the more esoteric kinds, such as Apricot & Armagnac, Orange and Malt Whisky. We purchased way too many jars, thinking we could carry them in our carry-on luggage, but the assistant pointed out that they fall under the gel category. Whoever would have thought of marmalade as an offensive weapon?

The tearoom was also worth a visit, and what better way to end the day than with a traditional English cream tea. Scone, clotted cream —and Wilkin’s jam.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Hi Cozumel, Hi Whistler

I discovered this little nugget in yesterday's Detroit Free Press :

"Among the latest in travel trends is the “procreation vacation.” Resorts provide couples who are trying to have babies on-site sex doctors, advice and foods and drinks intended to help the process. If it works, this will be the couple’s last romantic vacation in a long time."
I once met a kid called Geneva. Her parents informed that it was because she was conceived in Geneva, regrettably not the pretty town in Switzerland, but the one in upstate New York.

Any elementary school teacher will tell you that there are more than enough Madisons and Savannahs in school. Just imagine what names will turn up as the results of these procreation vacations arrive in kindergarten. My grandchildren will be playing with Cancun and Saugatuck, Mariott, Cordillera and Negril.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Another Face of War

This memorial stands just off Trafalgar Square. We first came here several years ago after we visited Edith Cavell's grave in Norwich. We returned last month with Lucy.

Friday, November 10, 2006

27 Bedford Crescent

I lived in the house on the left full-time from 1939 to 1959 and intermittently for the following four years. My parents spent their last years there. It doesn’t look too very different, apart from the satellite dish(es) and the strangely discolored wall on the side. Any balancing skills I have were honed on the crenellated top of that wall. Of course there were not so many cars back then, and you would have seen roses peeping up above the wall. I remember the gate as being wooden, not metal. That round window? Brian’s bedroom, otherwise known as “the boxroom”.

On the whole the street has held up well. Enfield was our first stop after my brother picked us up at Heathrow. I wanted to show Lucy where I grew up, and Brian took us on a nostalgic trip around town. Here we are standing outside number 27. We pooled our memories and noted the changes together.

The house doesn't look much older. And nor do we.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


Once in a while, someone comes up with an idea which is so right that you can't imagine why no-one ever thought of it before.

I give you—the glass jar of anchovies.
Making pizza with anchovies has always meant tugging on that ring on the anchovy can that peels back half of the top. It peels back with a jerk, and even if you are lucky enough to retain all your fingers, they are always covered in smelly olive oil. Once you have achieved an opening, you realise it is not big enough to actually pry out a whole anchovy, so you have to dig around with some implement. And if you manage to get that far and find you have some anchovies left to save for the next pizza, you are faced with the problem of how to wrap up the remainder. In the tin? In a baggie? Whatever you decide to use, it is so small that it gets pushed to the back of the shelf, only to emerge in a petrified state six months later.

Is there a Nobel prize for small inventions?

Stonehenge Then and Now

This photo of Stonehenge was taken two weeks ago on a damp October afternoon. I had been saddened—though not surprised—when I learned several years ago that the site had been fenced in so the public could no longer wander around the stones. Somehow I imagined a barbed wire fence or some other intrusive barrier, but there is in fact no more than a low lying rope and the monoliths rise from a healthy looking expanse of grass. The visitor is directed around the site in a wide arc which affords several impressive views of the stones. There are plans afoot to reroute the road that runs close to Stonehenge and locate the new visitors’ center two miles away, bringing visitors to the site on shuttle buses. Solitude and isolation seem the perfect backdrop for this phenomenon.

How different from our last visit to Stonehenge in 1971. Here I am standing nonchalantly among the stones. That’s Al, who had just turned four, clinging to my legs and that bundle in my arms is the four-month-old Andrew. Somewhere (climbing on ten thousand years of history?) are the one-year-old Elizabeth and the two-year-old Kate.

By one of those strange coincidences I was taking care of Kate’s children today and caught sight of Patrick’s library book, a children’s biography of C.S.Lewis. In it there is a photo of the author sitting on atop one of the smaller stones at Stonehenge. I guess that was the thing to do!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

You Can Be Too Rich and Too Thin

While I was gone, Keith was at it again, supplying my name to a totally unsuitable catalog. This one is based in Colorado, and features many outfits with a Tyrolean twist. There’s the “Fritz” jacket, pictured with a blonde in a dirndl (loden top, print cotton skirt, silk (!) apron and cotton dirndl blouse, all for $1,450.) I am rather taken with the “Lukas” jacket, made out of goat suede, a fusion of Rocky Mountain High and "Captain von Trapp shows his metro sexual side".

There are also less ethnic clothes for your après ski enjoyment. I can’t imagine why Keith thinks I may be interested in this outfit. If you click on the photo, you may be able to read the prices: $1,298 for the shirt, $1,615 for the jeans.

And I’ll eat my hat (cowboy hat in mocha or camel, $188) if this model weighs more than 100 pounds. Or maybe the photo was taken by the amazing camera I wrote about earlier.

I could write so much more about the images in this catalog, but I will cease without even mentioning its name. I am sure the perpetrators of this extravaganza employ powerful lawyers. Wearing lederhosen.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Barista's Tale

On the left, ladies and gentlemen, you have the entrance to the close of Canterbury Cathedral, site of the martyrdom of St. Thomas à Becket and destination of all those pilgrims chronicled by Chaucer. On the right, you have Starbucks.

I rest my case.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Baby Steps

I never wanted to have a “blog”. I wanted a proper on-line journal, designed to my specifications, just like a regular grown-up. But I didn’t know how to go about it and when I realized that Blogger could do some of what I needed without much effort on my part, I jumped on board.

For a while now Blogger has been announcing their new and improved Beta Blogger and inviting members to switch over so they can utilize some new features. I am a proponent of letting sleeping dogs lie, but last night I took the first step and converted my blog. Now I am summoning up the courage to go the rest of the way. I do want a better way of inserting photos. I am not sure if I should disturb the status quo of colors and fonts: design is not my forte. I worked hard to make some changes. So here is the biggest turn-off:

Give your blog a whole new look!

We've introduced a new tool for customizing the appearance of your blog. Before you can use this tool, you'll need to upgrade your template. By upgrading, you will lose many of the changes you previously made to your template. However, we will save a copy of your current template so that you can access it later.
So if Amen with a T suddenly turns purple or disappears altogether, you will know why.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

This Devil Doesn't Wear Prada

England is definitely more “European” than it used to be. That’s clearly a by-product of being a member of the European Union. It is much less obvious in the rural areas than the big cities, although my brother’s small Cambridgeshire village now boasts a Mexican restaurant in addition to the Chinese and the Indian.

Nowhere is this diversity more apparent than in London, which is a vibrant microcosm of Europe. You see it in the restaurants and in the shops and especially in the clothes. Lucy was delighted to find a branch of Mango, one of her favorite clothes stores when she lived in France. I didn’t buy any clothes in England. I hate shopping for clothes anywhere, at any time.

I did, however, buy some pants before I left from a Lands End store located within Sears. I also bought this jacket in magenta with an orange lining and trim. I took it out of the bag and threw it on the sofa and didn’t touch it again until John arrived to drive us to the airport. It was then I noticed that the security tag was still attached to the sleeve.The kind that says, “Don’t take this off yourself or you will get ink all over the place.” I took the jacket anyway, hoping that the device wouldn’t set off alarms at security. It didn’t and I wore the jacket for two weeks, still wondering if Michael Chertikoff was monitoring my every move. A few people commented on it and I tried to look suitably nonchalant. It’s a great coat, even if it won’t grace the pages of Vogue anytime soon. It stood up to rain and to the wind whipping across the fields of Northumberland and I expect it to last through several Michigan winters.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

More Birthdays

Evelyn was four yesterday. When we left for Canton to have lunch with her and her family, I grabbed the camera to get a photo for this entry. Alas, we found a very under-the-weather little girl who had just returned from the doctor and who certainly didn’t want to have her photo taken.

Our oldest and our youngest grandchildren had their birthdays while we were gone. Linus was one and Emmanuel was nine. Happy Birthday, guys.

Words, Words, Words

Today marks the beginning of NaBloPoMo, formally known as National Blog Posting Month. Participants in this event commit to update their blog every day for a month. I will not participate. I have not got round to the obligatory post about “why I write a blog”. Maybe one day when I am at a loss for a subject I will address this issue, but I can assure you right now that I am not looking for more stress in my life, and feeling the pressure to put pen to paper, so to speak, every day in November doesn’t seem like a great idea. November is for Thanksgiving and the preparations therefor, not grinding away at a blog. Even worse, November is also National Novel Writing Month, when aspiring writers are urged to create a full-length book. Not content with this November logorrhea, those crazy characters at The Usual Suspects are likely to come up with their annual Holidailies challenge, when they ask participants to blog daily from December 7 to January 6. That includes Christmas Day, folks! They haven’t yet announced it, but if you check out last year’s site, you’ll get the picture.

So, bloggers, if you want to take part in NaBloPoMo, you have, by my reckoning, just 90 minutes to come up with a post. Or maybe they work on Pacific Standard Time.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Back From Blighty

Anyone miss me? Ernie, Lucy and I spent the past two weeks in England. There is no way I am going to give a complete account of the trip, but there will be some comments as soon as I get the photos organized. I am still rather fuzzy headed: the trip back on Saturday night was complicated by headwinds across the Atlantic and a delayed connection at Dulles. Once my brain and my body get back on the same time zone, I will be fine.

What a richness of places, people and experiences. There are always “characters” to remember in Britain. There was Michael who drove the coach in which we visited Canterbury. He sounded just like Stanley Holloway and flirted shamelessly with Lucy (he also looked like Stanley Holloway in his role as Alfred Doolittle, so that flirtation didn’t go anywhere!) There was the wonderfully polite man in the ticket office at the train station in Cambridge who dealt with our bumbling so graciously. He, like every other service employee we met, addressed me unfailingly as “madam”. Who can forget the sailor on the boat from Greenwich to Westminster who commandeered the public address system and gave us a spirited guide to the sights along the river—“and for those of you who have nevva seen the Tate Modern . . . don’t bovva.”

We spent time with family and old friends, we saw productions of “Summer and Smoke” and “Guys and Dolls” in the West End. We saw Bath Abbey and Canterbury Cathedral, Hadrian’s Wall and the fabulous British Library. At Ernie’s request, we even visited the mecca of marmalade lovers, the Wilkins and Sons factory in Tiptree. My biggest disappointment? Somehow the beer didn’t seem as great as I remembered it. What surprised me the most? The courtesy of the people we came across and the fact that I never once got on a crowded tube without someone offering me a seat.

I loved today’s Mother Goose and Grimm cartoon. It’s my visual aid for this post and an irreverent reminder that four days ago we were standing on Salisbury Plain, contemplating a phenomenon that scholars still can not explain.

Friday, October 13, 2006


I am going dark for a little while. Don't go away: I will be back.

I Don't Know Anything About Art . . .

. . . but I know what I like when I see it. Art aficionados tend to laugh at people who make such comments, but I know what they mean. I can’t begin to tell you why I love this picture. It hangs in the front hall and I pass it first thing every morning as I go to bring in the newspaper. It always brings a smile to my face. It is a painting of the city hall in Louvain, Belgium, and I love the juxtaposition of the old architecture with the kind of funky modern perspective. And the hay wain.

I first saw it in the room in which Ernie’s uncle, Monsignor Ernest, spent the last of his ninety plus years. Monsignor had spent some of his seminary years in Rome and later studied at Louvain. Imagine, he came from a farm in Iowa to the sophistication of Europe in the twenties and thirties. He wrote long journals, which Ernie edited, describing life in the seminary and the political turmoil in Europe.

He was a special favorite of Ernie’s. In fact, Ernie was born on the day of Monsignor’s First Mass, which is how he got his name. He was going to be Loras. Hm. Ernest, Loras: Loras, Ernest.

After Monsignor’s death we had the picture re-framed and hung it in its present spot. About ten years ago, we visited Louvain, or Leuven as it is now, and saw this edifice and many other impressive buildings. I am delighted to have this picture to remind me of a lovely city and young man who studied there.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Big Words

Look in the sidebar and you will see my “Guilty Pleasures” link to Blogging Project Runway. I confess I am addicted to the show that gave birth to this blog.

Last week there was a reunion episode. You know, the kind where they manipulate you into loving or hating the final four, so that when the results come in next week, you feel some kind of partisan loyalty. There were a number of compilations of film clips designed to throw light on the characteristics of various participants. They certainly helped fill up the hour—well, you can’t spend all of the sixty-minute show zooming in on Heidi Klum’s newly found cleavage. We saw Laura describing just about everything as “serious ugly” and Brad clucking away most endearingly. The vignette on Tim Gunn was illustrative of the fact that he uses “big words”.

There was something about this segment that made me feel uneasy. A Gary H. put it into words in a comment he made (sic):

I find it peculiar and very telling that tim’s rich vocabulary warrants a segment on TV—is it that unusual to see and hear an educated and articulate person these days? are we all dumbed down? the only phrase tim used that i haven’t in normal conversation was the arcane something or other about wood. wheeh. not heard that one before in all my 58 years on earth, can’t wait to use it now, however once i look it up.
. . .

Tim may use such words as caucus in an unusual way, but to see them have to relate the dictionary term for the masses just goes to show how sad it is that most people have such a limited vocabulary.

He has a point (along with a somewhat tenuous grasp of grammar.) Why should we smile benignly at an atrocious Beckhamism , yet poke fun at Tim Gunn.

I for one do not intend to use the phrase “faux bois” anytime soon.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

In Which Keith Gets Warmer

You remember Keith. He’s the Marketing executive, aka huckster, who keeps sending me catalogs in the hope I will purchase something. He tried to tempt me with sausage casings, then it was yuppie athletic wear, which, I must be honest, sorta looks like sausage casings on me.

Now, as Christmas approaches, he is trying again. He just sent me the Tiffany catalog. This time, the problem is not the nature of the merchandise, it’s the cost. In fact, I like a lot of the stuff (hope you are reading this, Ernie.) I am, however, not too sure about the dishes for children with the soulful Dalmatian and the fire hydrant (I’m a Peter Rabbit kind of gal.) $125 seems like a lot of money for a couple of plates which any self-respecting toddler is going to throw on the floor when first introduced to pureed squash. I have a new grandchild coming in December, Keith, so I will think about it. I wonder what Holly Golightly would say.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Theodore Thomas is Three

How’s that for alliteration? I have already written here about Theodore’s uncanny resemblance to a drawing by my favorite illustrator of children’s books. Here’s a photo taken last week in a pumpkin patch. I had such a good time with him a couple of weeks ago and we played some great games of “pretend.” So, Happy Birthday, Boots.

Friday, October 06, 2006

They Liked Me. They Really Liked Me.

I am now a member of "the ageless project."

I am also an idiot, because I didn't follow the links properly. Go to the date links at the top. There are 53 people older than me.

Choose Your Examples Carefully

My friend Caroll wrote to The Detroit Free Press once, complaining that the paper was lumping the Pointes and Macomb (the next county north) in together, while the five Grosse Pointes are, in fact, in Wayne County. They paid no attention. Today, however, I was delighted to receive the Pointes/Macomb supplement and to read the article about the need for a four year college in Macomb County.

Currently Macomb Community College has a consortium arrangement with some four year institutions in the Detroit Metropolitan area, allowing students to complete a four-year degree by taking their last two years of coursework at the center in Macomb County, taught by faculty from the partner schools. In my previous life I worked with students who were transferring their credits to Wayne State, and I know there are some success stories in the arrangement.

Now I invite you to look at the photo which accompanies this article. It shows a class in “performance”. The young lady on the right is demonstrating how to “break up with a guy”. Sitting next to the grinning dumpee is an egg. An egg? Is this perhaps “Performance 101: training for embryonic NFL mascots?” And what are we to make of the blond in the Paris Hilton wig (or at least, I hope it’s a wig) sitting next to the egg?

Many of the taxpayers in Macomb County will cheerfully support measures to increase higher education opportunities in the area. Some need persuading. But surely a photo of a class in Multivariable Calculus or World Literature would be more likely to convince them of the value of a four-year degree than this glimpse into the world of dress-up and dating.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

October 4th, 1969

I won't forget that day. We had moved into the house in August and had finally got around to removing the disgusting carpets (the former owner was a vet and prodigious animal owner) and having the wood floors in every single room sanded and varnished. What little furniture we had was crammed into bathrooms and the kitchen and we had been living, with two very small children, in the basement. Although the floor people had promised that the finish would be dry a couple of days earlier, a bout of Indian Summer and the accompanying humidity slowed down the process.

It seemed that things couldn't get much worse. But they did. When I realized that #3 would be here before the end of the day, we lugged the dressers from the bathroom so I could take a shower and we made it to St. John's in time for Elizabeth's birth. As was the custom in those days, fathers were banished to a waiting room. Ernie was enjoying an Audrey Hepburn movie when he was summoned. He complained about missing the end.

But today, when we had lunch in Canton with Elizabeth and the four lovely children she and Jeff have produced, he didn't mention Audrey Hepburn once.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Will They Like Me?

I have never tried to join a webring. But not too long ago I came across The Ageless Project, where blogs are listed according to the age of the blogger. I thought there would be lots of old codgers there, but I see that there are only twelve bloggers older than me. Perhaps it is like one of those Internet chain letters, where people drop off the top and you gradually rise through the ranks. Except the only way you could drop off is if you become too gaga . . . or worse.

I may never know, because you have to apply to become part of the webring. Unless it is like joining an insurance company or a hairdressing establishment where you have to bring along a bunch of established clients, I may be OK. Surely they can only check for subversive posts or excessive split infinitives.

And even if I don’t make it, I will have discovered a couple of new blogs worth reading. The oldest blogger in the ring is Donald Crowdis, born in 1913! And I have already become enamored of a retired Anglican Clergyman from Durham .

My application is in. It is like applying to college all over again. I’ll let you know.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Number Five is Five

Daniel's birthday today. He is celebrating three times: with us all last week at the apple orchard, last Friday at the Bowling Alley with some friends, and in school. I must get busy with the camera so there will be some photos later.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Keats Couldn't Have Said It Better

Time for the obligatory "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness" post, but my squashed fingers hurt. Besides, Olivia says it so much better than I ever could. Damn, that woman can write.


I haven’t had any photos here lately, so here are some sprightly double impatiens. I don’t buy lots of annuals, but for the last couple of years Krogers (that’s a grocery chain for anyone reading this in England) has been selling a limited number of plants which they get straight from the growers. There’s not always a great choice, but they cost a third of what the nursery charges and I picked up a few, including these, which are a bright splash of color in the fall garden.

I did a little garden clean-up yesterday, put away my tools and closed the garage door—right on two of my fingers. They are a deep blue color today, and typing is a little problematic. Yesterday morning, for the first time ever, I locked the keys in the car. Luckily I was only at the library and Ernie was able to bring the spare set. I think I need to take it easy for the rest of the week.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Hats Off . . .

. . . . . . to Nancy Nall Derringer and her new site Grosse Pointe Today.

And anyone who doesn’t care much about Grosse Pointe, but is a U of M graduate, should play the movie on the September 27th post.

I Lied

I wasn’t telling the truth in my last post. I have written a book. It’s about a suicidal ex-ball player and a visitation from his dead mother. I was all set to get an agent when I read in the Free Press that Mitch Albom has come up with the same story line and that his publisher, Hyperion, has already printed 2.2 million copies. That is a tad more than my readership.

Good for you, Mitch. Actually, I like your title better than mine. I was thinking along the lines of Mondays with a Drunk Baseball Guy and Someone he Met in Heaven.

I have to wonder why the book is coming out now. Isn’t it a bit early for Christmas? Maybe a tie-in with the World Series? Maybe you know something about the Tigers that we don’t.

Perhaps the biggest question is, “Will The Detroit Free Press review it?" Seems to me there was a little problem there last time you wrote a book. I hope they don’t reprint the review from Publishers Weekly:

Albom foregrounds family sanctity, maternal self-sacrifice and the destructive power of personal ambition and male self-involvement . . .
Makes him sound like Dr. Phil.

I am not upset. I have another idea for a novel. It’s about four sisters who live in Massachusetts and live selfless, if occasionally tragic, lives while waiting for their father to come back from serving in the War between the States. I think it will sell.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

I Know I Can't, I Know I Can't

We all have dreams and aspirations. When I was working, I had to come up every year with my “Goals and Objectives.” I could never remember the difference and no one ever checked to see if I had achieved them. Heck, my only goal was to get through another year without becoming totally insane.

No, I mean real fantasies. I long to climb K-2 or live in Provence for a year. Maybe even discover the cure for a minor medical condition. These are safe desires. Totally out of the question. Nobody will fault me for not achieving them.

But there is one hill I could conceivably crest. I could write a book. Not get one published: just write one.

Book writing runs in our circle of friends and family and there has been a lot of activity in the last couple of years. In 2003, we traveled to Holland, Michigan for the launch party for Jack Nyenhuis’ book Myth and the Creative Process: Michael Ayrton and the Myth of Daedalus, the Mazemaker. Jack had just retired as Provost at Hope College and was a former chairman of Ernie’s. At the party we talked with Jack’s daughter, Lorna J. Cook, who announced her forthcoming book, Departures. Hard on it’s heels came Lorna’s second novel, Home Away from Home.

The doyenne of the group is Ernie’s cousin, Joyce Rupp. We have had the pleasure of having Joyce and a fellow member of the Servite community here for dinner. Last year she sent us a copy of her book The Circle of Life and before I could acknowledge it, yet another book appeared. In Walk in a Relaxed Manner, Joyce describes her 450 mile pilgrimage on foot along the Camino de Santiago in Spain, and makes her physical exertion part of her spiritual literacy.

Then there are the in-laws. Marcie’s brother, Joe Williams, is the author of Cheating our Kids: how Politics and Greed Ruin Education, a book which has earned him the cachet to become a freelance writer and speaker and educational consultant. Finally, Jeff’s brother-in-law, Rob Rummel-Hudson, has just signed a contract to bring his experiences as the father of a child with a rare condition from his popular blog (see sidebar) to a book format.

What have they got that I don’t? I’m not sure, but when it comes to writing a book, I know I can’t.

Number Four is Five

Congratulations to Benjamin, who is five today. Again, no up-to-date photo. We all celebrated his birthday last Saturday with a trip to Canada to pick apples and today Elizabeth and Jeff took him, together with his brother and sisters, to the zoo.

Hard to believe that I have ten grandchildren younger than Benjamin!

Monday, September 25, 2006

My 15 Minutes of Fame

Sort of.

I am astounded that Paris Hilton requires the services of a publicity agent. I do not swim in such waters. But my blog came to the attention of the dynamic Barbara Fornasiero of EA Focus in Rochester Hills, and she contacted Laura Varon Brown, the editor of the Twist section in The Detroit Free Press and the next thing I know I am stumbling through an interview with free lance writer Michelle Krebs, who was looking at women bloggers in the Detroit area. In the interest of full disclosure I must admit that Barbara, a former student of Ernie’s, is a friend of long standing.

Timing of course is everything and the article appeared while I was out of town. But I heard about it from my family and a number of copies were waiting for me when I got back.

Michelle did a good job making sense of what I was saying. She reported my awareness that my blog is not exactly on anyone’s “must read” list. The irony? While I was not arrogant enough to believe that thousands of Free Press readers would click into my blog first thing every morning from now on, eager to read my latest post, I did think that a fair number would just look in on it once based on its appearance in the paper. So I installed a site meter. Nada. Zilch. Maybe a person or two looked, but I can’t quite figure out the demographics I can extract from the meter and only two people left comments on the blog. In fact I am sure a goodly percentage of the hits were me, checking up on the bait.

Compare these figures to those of the masterful John Bailey, who has just recorded his five millionth hit. Deservedly so.

The site meter does have me a little perplexed. It indicates that 5% of my readers (and that’s about 20 people, folks) are from an “unknown country.” Maybe that’s the Homeland Security people. I did mention semtex after all.

Maybe someone could leave a comment once in a while. My 15 minutes is over and it is lonely in the blogosphere

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Camera Does Lie

I saw the doctored photo of Katie Couric and figured that the rich and famous can achieve miracles through photography that are denied to the rest of us.

I was wrong: we can do it too. I had a little run in with Hewlett-Packard this summer. I keep meaning to write about it here. Of course, H-P has plenty of problems right now and won't care if I lambaste them on this site. Maybe I can blackmail them into giving me one of these cameras in return for not writing about their lame customer service. . .

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Wanderer Returns

In the last ten or so days I have slept in Maryland, New Jersey and DC. I have even crossed Delaware, which took all of about six minutes. Ernie and I met up in New Jersey and this morning we flew back to Detroit. Lucy took us to Reagan shortly after six and we watched the sun rise over Washington. Tonight I will again sleep in my own bed. It's good to be back home.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Mot Juste

I ate breakfast on Wednesday idly planning how I was going to spend my day. By late afternoon I was sitting stranded on a runway on a plane with lightning flashing all around me and by dinner time I was landing at Reagan International in DC, en route to Maryland and some emergency baby sitting.

Thank heaven for the Metro, which took me right from the airport to Rockville. While waiting on the platform at Metro Center where I changed trains, I had the opportunity to listen to some public announcements. I was somewhat confused by one suggestion:

...If you see someone leave a bag or package, kindly ask them, "Is this yours?" If they do not take it, call the transit authority police...
Does that mean "ask in a friendly, concerned tone of voice?" In that case, shouldn't it be "ask them kindly"? Surely it can't mean "please be good enough to ask them?" As in, prithee ask them. Besides, if I ask nicely, is someone going to reply equally nicely, "Yes, it is mine. I was just about to leave a large quantity of semtex on the platform, but you have asked politely, so I will remove it?" Homeland Security has much to answer for.

But the Metro has got one thing right. In all their announcements they refer to the likes of me as their "customers." Please move to the center of the car to allow customers to enter. None of this fancy "clients" or, horror of horrors, "guests." That's what we are, paying customers. Now, about the use of the word "kindly"...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Dear Jo-Ann Fabrics

A question from my sister-in-law prompted me to bring up an enquiry I had been meaning to make for a long while. Fall is here and your stores are full of flannel. Pretty flannel, flowery flannel, flannel covered in reproductions of SpongeBob SquarePants and Thomas the Tank Engine. Lots and lots of flannel.

So here’s my question: what do you intend me to do with it? The obvious answer would be “make pajamas and night dresses for my grandchildren”. You probably see where this is going. Because I checked out several bolts of flannel, and printed at the end were the words:

Those labels on the bolts are long and all the words could have been written on one line. Don’t you think that grannie just might get confused and read only the bottom line? I am not an investigative reporter for Sixty Minutes, so I didn’t check thoroughly whether all the fabric came from the same or different vendors. I suspect it is from a number of manufacturers and that they are all using the same spacing for their caveat. By coincidence, of course.

Here’s the deal. You have a great deal of purchasing power. Talk to your manufacturers. If the warning is there to satisfy your corporate lawyers (and I suspect it is), give us some statistics about fatalities. Let us make the decision. Don’t allow a rather fuzzy, badly punctuated warning to distance you from legal repercussions without giving us information on flammability issues.

As for Mary Ann: she found a Lanz of Salzburg flannel gown on eBay. “Took a chance and ended up winning the bid for $9.00 plus $4.35 S&H. When it arrives, I'll let you know if it was worth it or not. It was fun, though.” I failed to ask her if the tag said “Nightdress: not intended for children’s sleepwear.”

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Plain Mr. Botany (B.)

I was trying as hard as I could to remember some facts about my childhood, and I e-mailed a friend some questions. Diana and I met when we were about 5 years old. We went in different directions in our late teens and I remember vividly a trip back to England in the 70’s when she took me on a tour of Watership Down, or at least the inspiration for it, in her brown Jaguar.

She remembered a lot and sent me some photos. Amazing, isn’t it, how a visual prompt can trigger a flood of memories? I hadn’t seen this photo for sixty years, but I was transported back to St. George’s Church of England Primary School. See our matching sandals (Clarks, I am sure). What you can’t see is that I am the only little girl without plaits (braids in American.) The photo isn’t the clearest, but maybe you can see how my classmates had braids that came down the side of their head and joined the main chunk of hair in a complicated ribbon arrangement. My mother wrapped my hair in rags every night and I came to school in ringlets, No wonder they hid me in the photo. I am third from the right, Diana is on the right.

And what were we doing? Diana indicated we were performing Bad Sir Brian Botany. Didn’t really ring a bell, but a couple of hours later I found myself in Borders and made a bee-line for the A.A. Milne poems. There it was, in Now We Are Six. Everyone knows Winnie the Pooh and is familiar with Christopher Robin, but the poems in this book and When We Were Very Young are really worth reading. James James Morrison Morrison Weatherby George Dupree was a treasured childhood friend.

What makes this all so remarkable is that four days after I read this poem in Borders probably for the first time in sixty years, my grandson casually picked up a book in his house—and read aloud the saga of Bad Sir Brian Botany.

"Sir Brian had a battleaxe with great big knobs on.
He went among the villagers and blipped them on the head.
On Wednesday and on Saturday,
Especially on the latter day,
He called on all the cottages and this is what he said:

"I am Sir Brian!" (Ting-ling!)
"I am Sir Brian!" (Rat-tat!)
"I am Sir Brian,
"As bold as a lion!
"Take that, and that, and that!"

Sir Brian had a pair of boots with great big spurs on;.
A fighting pair of which he was particularly fond.
On Tuesday and on Friday,
Just to make the street look tidy,
He'd collect the passing villagers and kick them in the pond.

"I am Sir Brian!" (Sper-lash!)
"I am Sir Brian!" (Sper-losh!)
"I am Sir Brian,
"As bold as a Lion!
"Is anyone else for a wash?"

Sir Brian woke one morning and he couldn't find his battleaxe.
He walked into the village in his second pair of boots.
He had gone a hundred paces
When the street was full of faces
And the villagers were round him with ironical salutes.

"You are Sir Brian? My, my.
"You are Sir Brian? Dear, dear.
"You are Sir Brian
"As bold as a lion?
"Delighted to meet you here!"

Sir Brian went a journey and he found a lot of duckweed.
They pulled him out and dried him and they blipped him on the head.
They took him by the breeches
And they hurled him into ditches
And they pushed him under waterfalls and this is what they said:

"You are Sir Brian -- don't laugh!
"You are Sir Brian -- don't cry!
"You are Sir Brian
"As bold as a lion --
"Sir Brian the Lion, goodbye!"

Sir Brian struggled home again and chopped up his battleaxe.
Sir Brian took his fighting boots and threw them in the fire.
He is quite a different person
Now he hasn't got his spurs on,
And he goes about the village as B. Botany, Esquire.

"I am Sir Brian? Oh, no!
"I am Sir Brian? Who's he?
"I haven't any title, I'm Botany;
"Plain Mr. Botany (B.)""
I can never leave well alone. Trying to find the words for a quick cut and paste, I chanced on writers using Sir Brian as models for both Yasser Arafat and Saddam Hussein and an entry in Wikipedia which postulated that the poem is a satire on feudalism and the inspiration for Little Bunny Foo Foo. Come on guys—don’t spoil my newfound childhood memory. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Friday, September 08, 2006


The late Republican Senate Majority Leader Everett Dirksen of Illinois is quoted as commenting in a Senate floor debate on an appropriation measure over 30 years ago, "A million here, a million there--soon we're talking real money!"

So it is with quilting. The seams are a quarter inch, but with a mis-step here and a fudge there, pretty soon we are talking about some serious real estate. So in the interest of humility, here is some of the piecing I have done on the quilt I mentioned yesterday. Yes, there are some errors. I am a humble person. I suppose we could transfer the analogy to other aspects of our lives. The soufflé falls— a humility meal. Little Johnny gets expelled from school—our humility child.

Actually, I didn’t want to leave the subject of quilting without mentioning a splendid play. When my sister-in-law, Mary Ann, ran the box office at the College of Du Page (and employed, for a while, Sean Hayes, as in Will and Grace ), we often combined our visits to her with some great theater. Quilters made a great impression on me, and I am surprised that more theater groups don’t perform it. There is music involved, and it calls for an all-female cast. Basically it is a study of the history and function of quilts and quilters in the western expansion across the prairie. There are a collection of vignettes, and we see the quilt as a literal lifesaver during the freezing nights. We see quilts as community builders, and quilting parties as an acceptable way to socialize and pass on new ideas. Even a good way to meet guys (I was trying to find the music for “Seeing Nellie Home”, but the words will give you an idea of how the it all worked in 1912.)

There is one scene of a devastating fire and the efforts of the community to make quilts for the survivors. That happened after Hurricane Katrina too. Some things never change.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Humility Blocks

I am making a quilt. I don’t pretend to know what I am doing, but I am determined to improve. I have done a few baby quilts, but this one is full sized. Kate made Eleanor curtains from some pretty Laura Ashley fairy material and since there was some left, I volunteered to see what I could do about incorporating the extra fabric into something for her bed. This required what we in the business refer to as “fussy cutting”, so I could get the maximum of fairies, and figuring out the math involved to get striped sashing. I had planned to do some hand quilting, but at the rate this is going, I think I will settle for major ditch stitching.

By co-incidence a fellow Grosse Pointe blogger posted links to some inspiring quilting sites recently. I am plenty inspired, it's the know-how I need. I intend to take a class, but meanwhile I try to teach myself from books. The subject of “humility blocks” was new to me. I found the topic in a book called “Let’s Make a Patchwork Quilt” by Jessie MacDonald and Marian Shafer:

For at least 5,000 years it has been the custom of art needleworkers to express their reverence for the gods by making one or more intentional mistakes in their handiwork. They believed that only their God could make a perfect thing. The custom has been noted in Oriental, Mid-Eastern and Native American (notably Navajo) artifacts.

The tradition was faithfully carried out by American quilters. If their quilts were perfectly made, they rectified the situation by painstakingly creating a mistake. Quilt blocks containing errors were called “humility blocks.”
I told Ernie about the concept and he was most intrigued. I suppose for a lover of philosophy there is an over-riding element of redemption. For me there is a justification as I create my humility blocks. Humility quilt? Eleanor is only two, and in her eyes, Grandma can do no wrong.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Canadian Weekend

We spent the weekend in Canada, as the guests of our friends Vic and Peggy, at their cottage on Mountain Lake on the Bruce Peninsula. We drove up with our fellow guests, Buck and Dorothy, and Buck spent the entire trip entranced by his splendid new GPS system, and its spectral voice (Recalculating. . . ) They are still looking for a name for her. Dorothy wasn’t keen on Angelina and she didn’t warm up to Moneypenney either. Crossing into Canada these days is way more complicated than it used to be and we were delayed a while in Sarnia as we tried to cross the Bluewater Bridge. “A situation”, the authorities said.

But we made it and had our usual enjoyable time with good food, conversation and companionship. And golf for the guys. It was great to be surrounded by quiet and the occasional bird song. There had been a bear sighting earlier in the summer, but we saw nothing more ferocious than birds making a beeline for the feeders.

On Sunday we made the trip to Stratford in time for lunch and the matinee of South Pacific. It was a powerful production, blending comedy and pathos, all showcased by great music and wonderful voices. A dinner in the country and a night in an elegant bed and breakfast topped it off.

And Moneypenney got us home in time for a Labor Day celebration with Kate and Elizabeth and their families.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Holy Humor

I wonder if the Presbyterian Church ever holds an awards show (and the Simon Peter for the best homily based on a quote from a pop song, George W. Bush or South Park goes to ...). If they do and they need an emcee, they need look no further. The pastor of this church in Grosse Pointe Woods has been deservedly featured in many articles. The signage outside his church is the epitome of wit. I had to go home and get my camera to capture this message.

Monday, August 28, 2006

I Was Certified

As a teacher, that is. I still have the letter, dated September 13, 1963. It begins:

“The Minister is pleased to inform you that, having completed to his satisfaction a scheduled course of training, you are eligible for the status of qualified teacher.”

Back then there were two ways to become a teacher in England. You either got a bachelor’s degree and went out and taught whatever your degree was in, or you took a one-year teachers’ training course first. The difference in pay was negligible and no-one cared if you took the course.

It was, however, common knowledge that the year could be most enjoyable as long as you didn’t attend classes and the government was footing the bill anyway. So I applied to the University of London Institute of Education.

The methods courses, under the direction of Professor Sharwood Smith and Barbara Hodgeson, were wonderful. The practice teaching was invaluable and we were monitored carefully. I did pretty well and still have the letter of recommendation I received from them.

As for the other classes—the history of Education, the Psychology of Education, Comparative Education—I don’t recall a thing. The only person is our cohort of classicists who did any work for these papers was the only one who failed. He went on to become a respected wood-carver. As I was “organizing” the other day, I came across the question papers for the examination which made me certifiable. Apparently I also took a course in Health Education. You had to write three essays on topics all from Section A or all from Section B. I am assuming that Section B was for students returning to or intending to teach in her Majesty’s colonies, since they addressed such issues as, “What are the various points to be observed in the construction of a village well in order to prevent contamination of its water”. You certainly didn’t need to be able to answer question 10, “What might lead you to suspect that children in your school were infected with hookworm” to teach in Welwyn Garden City.

No, I tackled three from Section A. I avoided the question which asked: “To what extent do you consider that you can make a contribution to health education through the medium of your own subject?” I was going to teach Classics! What did they expect? The outline of a class which studied the history, customs and culture of the three parts into which, in the immortal words of Julius Caesar, Gaul was divided, with particular attention to their attitude to brushing their teeth? No, I answered this question:

What is your attitude as a teacher to two of the following:

  1. cigarette smoking
  2. sex education
  3. accident prevention
Was I for them? Did it matter as long as I argued my point logically? I’ll never know, but the Minister was quite satisfied.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Sides to Middle

I have spent the last year getting to know my new sewing machine. It is both a miracle of Swedish engineering and a tribute to über-grammatical translation:

The flat side of the spool holder shall be pressed firmly against the spool. There shall be no space between the spool holder and the spool.
I salute, sew my seam and reminisce.

I learned to sew on my grandmother’s treadle machine. That’s Nana round the corner. There’ll be more about her later. (You already met Garby down the Lock on Christmas Eve, 2005.) The machine sat by the window in Nana’s dining room/living room/all purpose room. My mother did not inherit Nana’s sewing skills, but she did have her knitting skills. It was my mother’s older sister, my Auntie Doris, who was the sewer. She was, in fact, a professional seamstress. She never used patterns and I still remember some of the dresses she made for me. How I loved my summer school uniform: a green and white striped dress and a green and white checked dress. In fact she made all our dresses, my mother’s and mine, until her untimely death in her early forties.
Here she is on her wedding day to Uncle Bill. I thought he was the handsomest man alive and he was as gentle and loving as Auntie Doris. It was one of life’s cruel blows that he too died shortly after she did.

I do remember gong round to Nana’s as a teenager and sewing some dresses on her machine. It had one stitch and one direction, but it worked fine. What I remember most, however, is the procedure Nana supervised for my mother every once in a while. It was called “sides to middle.”

Remember, these were postwar years and everything had to be purchased with coupons. Nothing could be wasted. Our sheets were cotton and—in the spirit of Henry Ford—they were any color we wanted, as long as it was white. When our sheets wore thin in the middle, my mother cut them in half and sewed the two side selvedges together. Voilà, new sheets.

I don’t know what happened to that old sewing machine. Mine came with a video, fancy attachments and a couple of instruction books. I wish Nana and Auntie Doris could have had something half as nice.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Fort Wayne, IN

I always thought of Fort Wayne as a place we had to bypass on our trips to take Lucy back and forth to Saint Louis University. Turns out it is a city working to become the epicenter of the fashion industry in the mid-west. I got my first inkling of this when Nancy Nall linked to an article in Fort Wayne Observed on an esoteric fashion accessory. That article linked to another piece on the same subject from that bastion of fashion information, Arkansas.

I wouldn’t have paid much attention to the whole phenomenon (even though the subject of these articles, Vera Bradley bags, was one I had written about a couple of weeks earlier ) if it had not been for the piece mentioned in Laura Kluvo’s Blogging Project Runway . There is so much written on this show, but Laura has singled out a long article which appeared in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.

So remember, when the Parsons School of Design opens a satellite campus in Fort Wayne, you read about it here.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

One Thing Leads to Another

I’ve always wanted to try patty pan squash, so when I saw some in the grocery store today, I decided to take the plunge. When I got home, I found the cooking instructions neatly typed on the back.

Bring water to boil. Add squash, return to boil. Boil until tender, drain. Add butter or olive oil.
I despise recipes like that. I need a ballpark time: 3 minutes or half an hour? I am sure that my friend at Not a Walking Encyclopedia, she of the peppered bacon and key lime pie, has the answer on the tip of her tongue. Or I could look it up.

I actually started to do so when I discovered the photograph which accompanies my post. It is a beautiful photo (my squash are all yellow and these are prettier) and I was rummaging around the site to figure out an attribution when I came across this.

If that doesn’t make you want to become a vegetarian, nothing will.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The End of (Another) Era

It came in the mail last week: unbidden, but not entirely unexpected. It is a tasteful grey credit card, adorned with a small red star, and it allows me to buy merchandise on tick, as we used to say in England, at Macy’s. It is the result of a corporate buy-out. Macy’s has purchased Marshall Field’s which a decade or so ago purchased Hudson’s. (There was a Dayton-Hudson’s in there somewhere, but I don’t think the credit card was renamed.)

There are many divides in Detroit, mostly geographic. The most famous is of course 8 Mile Road. Slim Shady made sure that this chasm achieved worldwide fame. For the inhabitants of the Detroit metropolitan area, a more important barrier is Woodward Avenue. It separates the “East side” from the “West side.” Drivers who can navigate fearlessly and maplessly east of Woodward have been known to refuse to cross this invisible barrier for fear of getting lost. And vice versa.

There is one temporal divide in Detroit. Those on the far side are the ones who remember the J.L. Hudson Company in its glory days. When we moved to Detroit in 1966, Hudson’s was still a major force downtown. Its structure took up a whole city block. I think there were 13 floors, and one of my first memories is walking into the customer lounge on the top floor where there was a huge bank of phones. I pulled a scrap of paper out of my pocket and phoned the practice of Drs. Clifford, Rogers and Jevons. We were going to be parents!

But I never knew the store at its apogee. If you ask a longtime inhabitant of Detroit about the old days, her face will light up and she will talk of getting dressed up in white socks and patent leather shoes and going on the trolley to Hudson’s for shopping and tea with her mother or grandmother. It was the stuff of legend. That building is no more and we trot out to the mall in our jeans. Now there is a new player on the Detroit retail scene. Welcome!

I just noticed. They call themselves Macy*s, not Macy’s. Has this stellar punctuation always been their logo, or is it fear of getting entangled with the greengrocer’s apostrophe?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Doors

No, this isn’t a tardy encomium to Jim Morrison, but an acknowledgement that we now have two splendid entrances to our house. Just like regular people.

The newly refinished front door is still red: a tad more cranberry, a tad less scarlet. So from the street, it may not look too different, but anyone walking up the front steps will see how far we have come from the hideous plywood veneer attached by the previous owner. Now both the inside and out of the door features these attractive panels. Look at the nice pewter hardware! We didn’t have a kick plate before, which was too bad because we had to kick the door to open it, but the door was re-hung and now swings quietly and firmly into place. So that’s what they mean by curb appeal.

The back door hadn’t bothered me too much. When I told Andrew it was installed, he said “So we won’t have a quarter inch crack in the door any more?” I guess I had got used to it. The storm/screen door really wasn’t much use, with holes in the Plexiglas, which allowed drafts and small insects to enter at will. No more yelling at the grandchildren to close the screen door: this one closes all by itself. I hope some of these improvements will pay off in lower heating bills this winter. There’s certainly a smile on my face now when I put the key in the lock.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


There are two hymns I want at my funeral. The first is Abide with Me, a dreary dirge to be sure, but a sine qua non for the British. It conjures up visions of dripping yews, benign vicars and the Women’s Institute preparing tea and biscuits in the Parish Hall. Ideally, I would like a full Welsh choir, but I will have to settle for a stirring rendition on an organ. The atmosphere gets gloomier and gloomier—“fast falls the eventide.” That’s a quintessential time of day for the British. Anyone who has attended evensong at Kings College, Cambridge, understands that the power of that service extends far beyond the liturgical. A crepuscular bunch, the British.

The second hymn I want is probably not suitable for a funeral, but it has great meaning for me. The melody is from Sibelius’ Finlandia, a majestic, solemn tune. Many sets of lyrics have been added to the original melody (and you can find the evolution of the piece here), but it is the words of the International version, written by Lloyd Stone, that I find so moving.

This is my song, Oh God of all the nations,
A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my sacred shrine.
But other hearts in other lands are beating,
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country's skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight too and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
Oh hear my song, oh God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and for mine.

No Jingoism here, but the acknowledgement that patriotism is not the prerogative of one people and that there may be pure and noble motives in both camps.

But for a freak medical circumstance, our friend Colleen would have been in Beirut with her two small children when the fighting broke out. Our nephew Robert, with his wife and two daughters, left a week or two ago for a two-year teaching contract in Tel Aviv. They have taught in Ecuador, Sudan and Berlin. Our thoughts and prayers are with them in this new post. I am sure that the skies in both Lebanon and Israel are bluer than the ocean.

Monday, August 14, 2006


Ernie came up with a great idea for a birthday present for Kate. He was able to procure this piece of old sheet music from his brother, and he had it attractively framed for her. You can find the lyrics here and you can click on a link on the site to hear an old audio clip.

There was a pocket on the back of the frame with a photo and a note tucked in it. The photo was of Ernie's father. Ernie put the gift in its historical context for Kate and any other grandchildren reading this.

July 31, 2006


Your grandfather, Albert Joseph Ament, enlisted at age twenty-three in the United States Army in Dubuque, Iowa, some three weeks after the United States declared war against Germany on April 6, 1917. He was the first enlistee from Dubuque County, Iowa. He enlisted in the Infantry, but later, on being sworn in, changed his branch to the Coast Artillery.

He left home on May 3rd, was sworn in at Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis, Missouri, on May 7th, and was sent to Fort Adams, Newport, Rhode Island, where he applied for and was accepted into the 7th Military Band. While stationed at Newport he took a few lessons on the cornet from Ira Holland, formerly a cornetist in the world-famous band of John Philip Sousa. Those were the first music lessons my father ever had, having been taught by his father as a child and thereafter by himself. On March 8, 1918, he applied for a transfer to the 2nd Band at Fort Williams in Portland, Maine, where there was an opening for a cornetist. While there he became a member of the 72nd Regimental Band designated for overseas duty. He was promoted to Musician First Class with sergeant’s pay of $44 per month, and on August 7th embarked for Europe from Montreal, Canada, as a member of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF). He arrived at Le Harve, France, about three weeks later.

In France he was stationed at St. Leonard in the Haute Vienne district near Limoges. In World War I the military band played at all official military functions on the base and at company dances, marched in public parades, and in France sometimes gave local concerts to the French people. When the war ended his unit embarked from near the city of Bordeaux and arrived back in the United States on March 29, 1919. He was discharged from the Army at Camp David, Illinois, on April 17, 1919, with $90.03 in pay. His discharge papers describe him as having “blue eyes, dark brown hair, ruddy complexion,” 5’10” in height, occupation “musician,” and of “excellent” character. He arrived home to Worthington, Iowa, on Easter Saturday, April 19, 1919, having been gone almost a full two years. While he was in Europe his oldest sister Josephine died of the Spanish flu. The picture enclosed here was taken at Newport, RI, while in the army.

On returning home my father debated whether to earn his living as a professional musician, a carpenter, or a farmer. He moved to nearby Anamosa, Iowa, where he worked as a carpenter, but also as a member of the Bill Donnelly Orchestra (see the picture in our study here at home). The next year (1920) he married my mother, Laura Murray, and a few years later bought and operated with her a “dry goods” store in Anamosa. But all his life he continued to pursue his love of music, playing in various town bands and as a member of the Cedar Rapids Symphony and the East Des Moines Drum and Bugle Corps, which competed nation-wide.

“K-K-K-Katy” was a World War I song written in 1918 by Geoffrey O’Hara. We children sang it all our lives: around the piano at home, at Ament family reunions, in the car on family trips, and eventually with our own children. It now reminds me mostly of my father and you.

When I phoned my mother and father to announce that we had a baby girl whom we were naming Catherine, my father’s first words were, “My grandmother’s name was Catherine.” That was your great-great-grandmother Catherine Weis Ament, wife of Henry Ament. Their names are on the American Immigrant Wall of Honor on Ellis Island in New York. I hope you’ll see them there sometime.

When I was looking for a copy of this song for you, your Uncle Bob sent me his copy to give you.

Love . . .

© Ernest J. Ament, 2006.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Kate, Alex and Ernie

They all had a birthday in the last couple of weeks. I like to acknowledge family birthdays, but the activity here, coupled with the heat, made me skip these three. I was also hoping my latest batch of photos would contain good portraits of these handsome people, but I didn’t even get a good one of the magnificently photogenic Alex.

So you are all off the hook for this year. Catch you next year.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Lucy's Red Bag

Several Christmases ago we bought Lucy a bag pretty much like this. In the intervening years, Vera Bradley has discontinued prints and designs (smart marketing ploy), and I much prefer Lucy’s bright red French Provincial print, but you get the idea. Lucy is a genius at minimalist packing and has taken the duffle everywhere as a carry-on. Picking up people at airports has become complicated these days, and we know that when Lucy gets into Detroit Metro, she will be waiting outside the terminal in short order without having to wait for checked on baggage.

Now there is a real possibility that carry-on luggage will be a thing of the past. No purses even. Personal possessions on display in baggies! It may not be for ever and I certainly understand the thinking. But I will miss seeing Lucy head off to her gate with her bright red bag over her shoulder.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Forty Years On

Today is our wedding anniversary. Forty years ago we were married in Anamosa, Iowa. Ernie’s brother was the celebrant. My friend from USC, Elizabeth, was our maid of honor/bridesmaid. She lives now in Berkeley, CA, and although we lost touch for a while, we are back corresponding and hope to see each other again soon. Our best man was Charles, who has gone down in family lore as the guy who accompanied us on our honeymoon. Charles has been dead for many years and we, our children and those of our friends who met him, still miss him.

We already had a big celebration two weeks ago, so we will mark this day by going out to dinner. All our children and grandchildren were home to mark the occasion and Ernie’s siblings and several nephews and nieces gathered here too. It was a wonderful reunion and there were more experiences to enter into the book of family lore. My own favorite was coming down one morning to find that Ernie’s sister, who was sleeping on the couch, had stuck notes on the casement window saying, “Do not open: bat inside.” Indeed there was. And then there will be the tale of how Ernie transported the bat across town in a cottage cheese container, so he could release him where he wouldn’t find our house again. So far he hasn’t.

There’s a lot of catching up to do, not least the laundry. I need get the photographs organized. The photo of our wedding which accompanies this post was taken by the only photographer in Anamosa. We had to reassemble at the church after the reception because he was unable to be at the church for the wedding. He had to photograph Hereford cows at the State Fair. That’s another piece of family lore.