Friday, November 30, 2007


Reinventing the wheel is a required qualification for running a university. Every five years or so a new administrator comes up with an idea which has been proposed—and roundly defeated—before.

And once in a while the proposal becomes policy.

More times than I care to remember there were rumors that the Greek and Latin Department, or Classics Department, depending on the era, was to be merged with some or all of the other language departments of the institution where Ernie toiled for so many years. Quel horreur! It was always in the interest of cost cutting, never based on a philosophical concept of teaching language, literature and culture. Petitions were signed, local dignitaries supported the cause and the danger was averted. There were various pairings—Near Eastern and Asian, German and Slavic—but it wasn’t until this year that the unthinkable happened. The budget crunch in the State of Michigan claimed more victims. The languages merged.

And so tonight we go to a party. Knowing the generous hostess as well as I do, I am confident it will not be a “last” blast, just a significant one.

And if you wonder if the demise of the Greek and Latin Department is a big loss, allow me to point out an article which appeared recently in our local rag.

Athens, Italy! Jack and Ernie, Ken and Katy and everyone who worked for you— we still need you.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Times They Are A-changin': Hardware Stores

I promise that I will stop this indulgent wallowing in the Remembrance of Things Past, at least for a little while, but we do need to address the topic of Hardware Stores. Or, at least, one hardware store.

When we moved to Grosse Pointe, over 40 years ago, Damman Hardware was situated somewhere around the spot which is now CVS. When Kresge’s moved from the corner of St. Clair and Kercheval, Dammans moved into the vacant building. I always had a soft spot for Dammans, because it appears that Archie Damman built our house back in 1929, but he lost it in the Depression. Over the years we frequented Dammans: it wasn’t quite the neighborhood hardware store with barrels of nails and screws, dusty tools and spare parts for long-extinct equipment, but it was staffed by elderly men in red vests who could be counted on to give us a tip about downspouts and washers or paint and wallpaper strippers. Eventually Jacobsons closed down their store for the home next door and Dammans annexed the site. The additional space meant they could add a few fancy odds and ends, but it was still the placed to go for the basics of home repair and remodeling.

A couple of years ago, everything changed. Dammans became Ace and the store was no longer staffed by knowledgeable elderly men, but by teenagers and corporate-looking employees muttering into their headphones. I was in the store a few weeks ago and saw a flurry of activity. There were display racks where the cookie sheets and casserole dishes had been, vignettes were being created, attractive plates were on display and silver twinkled. The hardware store took on a distinct museum quality. It is even fancier now with the Christmas wares on display, but I have yet to get my new camera, so you’ll have to do with the photos from a few weeks ago. I’m not altogether sorry about the makeover— we are so far from Somerset with its Crate and Barrel and Williams-Sonoma that I welcome this tempting merchandise. But if you look carefully at the mobile island with the butcher-block top in the last photo, you will see a price tag of $1,879. At a hardware store!

We’ve come a long way from barrels of nails.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Phoning It In

“He just phoned it in” is a disparaging way of describing a perfunctory, careless way of performing a task.

I have been reading blogs for many years. I am amazed at the great writers who have set the bar high and kept their standards. I regularly follow links in search of new bloggers and there are many out there who don’t have what it takes. But I would encourage them all, based on the theory that writing can only improve with practice and that putting pen to paper—so to speak—is an exercise that fosters language and meaningful communication.

But now, thanks to Utterz everybody and his brother can literally “phone it in” and instantly create an audio file which can either be heard on the Utterz site or added to an existing blog. And boy, do people ever ramble. I suppose if someone can come up with an NPR-like commentary, I might listen, but I don’t want to hear someone describing a car-ride though Minnesota or some drunken ramblings from a bar. Listen, and see what you think.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Times They Are A-changin': Halloween

We have already talked about changes in habits, customs and perceptions which are not necessarily bad, but which take some getting used to. There was the Jesuit reliance on Wikipedia as a source and the vetting of baby sitters, worthy of Homeland Security. I can’t let Halloween pass without a comment. Well, I did, but I was unhooked, so to speak, so I am making up for it now.

When my children were little, I made most of their clothes. The girls hardly ever wore anything I didn’t make, and the boys had plenty of handmade shorts and pj’s. I had boxes of patterns, which I threw away, thinking there would be modern versions of the old favorites by the time I had grandchildren. But Simplicity, Butterick and McCalls no longer offer a wide range of designs, unless you want your kids to look like Hannah Montana.

There is, however, one section in the pattern books that is crammed with patterns—costumes. Naturally I always use the past as a yardstick, in a good-natured way, I hope. I am not a crabby old lady! In the good old days we used old sheets, lumps of cardboard (you should have seen Kate as an M&M) and adapted patterns we already had to produce a bunch of pirates, clowns and hobos. These days everybody turns into a Project Runway wannabe in October. There are costume patterns for babies, toddlers, kids and adults. Every suburban housewife can fulfill her long-held desire to become a French maid, while her husband can emulate Johnny Depp. I can’t tell you how many times I have giggled in the fabric store a few days before Halloween as moms drive up in their SUVs, clearly thinking “How had can it be to sew a costume?” and ask the kind of questions that drive the Joann’s employees crazy. For a start, the patterns are extremely complex and making wings and antennae and sewing on dinosaur tails isn’t always as easy as it looks. Then there’s the fabric. If you bought fabric for costumes 20 years ago, you just bought it from the regular stock. Now bolts of special fabric arrive in August—shiny, flimsy fabric with sequins, shaggy furs for animal outfits, lame and pleather. I made a purple butterfly outfit one year out of the paillette-encrusted fabric which was just perfect, but which frayed my thread every second stitch. I found out later I should have used a ballpoint needle. Even Kate, who knows better, got fooled and bought black pleather for her Ninja this year, only to discover she couldn’t sew in on her machine.

There are lots more opportunities to wear costumes these days, at school. community parties, even church, so I am sure there will be many more emerging from my sewing machine over the years. Here are a few that my grandchildren have worn.
The first photo is Emmanuel in the first costume I ever made for him—a dinosaur. The photo below is the king costume I made for him a couple of years ago. Then we have Theodore and Liesl, who were Peter Pan and Wendy this year. Below that is Evelyn in her Raggedy Ann costume. Cleaning supplies have certainly changed over the years, so I was glad I was able to find a mop to dye for wig. I was afraid I would have to cram a Swiffer on her head. Last but not least is Eleanor, starring as Holly Hobbe. I made the dress, but Kate made the lovely apron, bloomers and bonnet. There are lots more in the costume file, but no space. Watch this spot again next year.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Things Medical

I have spent a considerable amount of time since my return from DC visiting doctors’ offices. I had a tiny bit of cryosurgery and needed to have several bits, from my lady-parts to my lungs, checked out. Then it was time for the annual mammogram. That’s a procedure that isn’t normally associated with a barrel of laughs, but this year it turned out to be rather amusing. As I was filling out one of the forms, I noticed a sheet of paper taped to the clipboard. I was reading it with one eye while using the other to write when I had one of those “Whoa!” moments. It took a few seconds for me to realize that the information was, in fact, a joke. The technician told me that these instructions had made the rounds of the Internet, but I had never seen them and I reproduce them for anyone who may have missed them.

Many women are afraid of their first mammogram, but there is no need to worry. By taking a few moments each day for a week preceding the exam and doing the following exercises, you will be totally prepared for the test and best of all, you can do these simple exercises right in and around your home.
  • Exercise One
  • Open your refrigerator door and insert one breast in the door. Shut the door as hard as possible and lean on the door for good measure. Hold that position for five seconds. Repeat again in case the first time wasn’t effective enough.
  • Exercise Two
  • Visit your garage at 3 a.m. when the temperature of the cement floor is just perfect. Take off all your clothes and lie comfortably on the floor with one breast wedged under the rear tire of the car. Ask a friend to slowly back the car up until your breast is sufficiently flattened and chilled. Turn over and repeat with the other breast.
  • Exercise Three
  • Freeze two metal bookends overnight. Strip to the waist. Invite a stranger into the room. Press the bookends against one of your breasts. Smash the bookends together as hard as you can. Set up an appointment with the stranger to meet next year and do it again.
    You are totally prepared.
Oh, and the mammogram? It didn’t hurt one bit.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Dear Kroger

I’m afraid that the new marketing intern you tasked with organizing your store promotions this week doesn’t quite grasp the concept of “loss leader.” Or maybe I don’t, but then I have never fancied myself as MBA material. I thought that a loss leader was a product—usually one that is a basic commodity and much in demand—which you offer at a low price, even below cost, in the hope that the consumer who comes in to take advantage of the savings will then buy lots of other items in your store at your usual inflated price.

Milk is a good candidate (especially now that milk and gas are running neck and neck) and the good citizens of Grosse Pointe were surely delighted to see your sale fliers this week in which you touted milk at “3 half-gallons for $5”. I ran out of milk on Friday, so I made an early morning run to the store. But just as I was about to grab my “bargain”, I noticed the price on the gallon jug. $3.29. Three half gallon at $5 works out to $1.66 per half gallon, or $3.32 per gallon. Do the math. It’s a great MEAP question—real-life solutions for real-life problems.

I keep re-checking the figures and I am getting a headache. I need to relax with a glass of milk and some cookies. Got any cookies on sale this week?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Jury Rigged

Or is it jerry-built? Jerry-rigged? Whatever. The important point is—I am back on line. The computer room isn’t finished, though the new ceiling is up and all the plaster has been repaired. The ceiling and three of the walls were primed today. Ernie had the brilliant idea of buying a 50ft cable, which extends from the Comcast feed in the computer room, is festooned across the landing, and finishes up in the bedroom which is the temporary home of the computer, printers etc. Why did it take us so long to arrive at this solution? In part because we went to Washington, where we joined in Halloween festivities at Theodore’s pre-school and Liesl’s school and celebrated Emmanuel’s tenth birthday. He’s the first of our grandchildren to reach double digits. Back in Detroit, Evelyn had a birthday too. I hope to expand on and illustrate these milestones later, but the gods of technology who were powerless to stop our flawless reconnection of the computer cables and our final victory over incompetent refrigerator repairmen finally zapped my camera.

It rained solidly from the mountains of Pennsylvania to Rockville and for the entire time we spent with Andrew and Marcie, but nothing could dampen our enthusiasm for being with them and enjoying the great meals coming from their new kitchen. I hadn’t seen Sebastian since he was born and it was delightful to have a baby to hold again. Our time with Al and Gody included trips to two delightful towns we had never visited, Fredericksburg and Occaquan. Once again we had the chance to get up close and personal with a “lesser-known” grandchild. Nathaniel is adorable and soon got friendly.

Now we are back and gearing up for Thanksgiving. I spent a little time catching up with some of my favorite on-line writers. Many are participating in NaBloPoMo and undertaking to write an entry every day for the month of November. I find the site a lot less user friendly than last year’s Holidailies, but I am hoping to find a new writer to add to my blogroll.

I am off to wrestle with the camera and leave you with a list of activities you may wish to avoid if you are visiting England and do not want to run afoul of the law. Now the bit about mince pies . . .

I was asked if I could notify readers when there is a new entry. Blogger doesn’t have a mechanism, but I can set up an e-mail list. I think I tried this before, but since there was only one name on the list, I soon gave up. If anyone is interested in being notified, please send me your e-mail address. Anyone?