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.