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 soufflĂ© 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.