I think the time has come to fold up my tents and steal away. There is still a lot to write about and I may return, either to this blog or in a different incarnation. I suspect that if I do come back, some of the bloggers I currently enjoy reading will still be writing stellar posts, while others will have abandoned their work. It always saddened me when people whose life and opinions I had come to enjoy went away. Now I understand: life has a way of intruding on avocations.
Thanks for reading.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
I think the time has come to fold up my tents and steal away. There is still a lot to write about and I may return, either to this blog or in a different incarnation. I suspect that if I do come back, some of the bloggers I currently enjoy reading will still be writing stellar posts, while others will have abandoned their work. It always saddened me when people whose life and opinions I had come to enjoy went away. Now I understand: life has a way of intruding on avocations.
Saturday, August 30, 2008
I am embarrassed to admit that there is one whole category of blogs I steer clear of: blogs by and for people with disabilities and illnesses. I am ashamed of this, because there are countless blogs by people who are suffering mightily with little hope of respite or who are without the means to pay for the drugs which might help them. I justify my callousness by thinking I can do nothing to help. I pray for them daily.
I have spent most of this summer wrestling with my own condition. My kids said I should write about it—not to garner sympathy, because it is just about under control, but as a help to anyone who may meet the same symptoms and not know where to start. The condition is called trigeminal neuralgia and it is easy enough to look up. Early in the summer I noticed short blast of pain while I was eating or cleaning my teeth. By the time my brain realized there was pain involved, it usually stopped. I mentioned it to my doctor who told me to see my dentist. But I wasn’t due for a check up and it mostly went away until a Friday night in early July when I was awakened shortly after I fell asleep by the most astounding pain I had ever felt. It crept up the right side of my face like an un-remitting labor pain. I couldn’t speak: tears were rolling down my face. I didn’t want to go to the ER and I spent four pain-racked nights before I could get to see a dentist. (Note it only attacked me at night: during the days I was perfectly normal.) My dentist banged on all my teeth, but couldn’t trigger an attack. He took x-rays and after muttering “tic douloureux” he personally picked up the phone and made me an appointment with a diagnostic dental surgeon for the next day. A fancier office, words like maxillary surgeon, more pounding on the teeth. “It is not TMJ” was his verdict and he too personally got on the phone to make me an appointment next day with a neurologist, an adorable man called Boris who is the first doctor I have ever met with a sense of humor.
I’m going to make this short: it upsets me to write about it. Boris prescribed a drug called tegretol. It took away the pain, but had horrendous side effects. I threw up, walked like a drunken sailor and all my limbs twitched. Just as I was getting used to the drug, the pain came back, though by no means as harsh. Last week Boris upped the dosage and gave me a slow release form of the drug.
The situation is much better now and I promise not to write about it again. But if anyone reading this ever suffers the same problems, or knows someone who does, here’s a place to start. It tends to afflict women over 50 and almost always on the right side of the face, so I fell right into the demographic. Apparently it sometimes takes years to be diagnosed, but thanks to three wonderful doctors, it only took me four days.
Boris claims that my body will adjust to the medication. I can’t stop sleeping, I suspect my short-term memory is even worse than usual and my hands are quivering badly: typing and writing are an adventure, but I am grateful to be one of one of the fortunate ones. Otherwise I would be writing an agonizing blog that callous people like me wouldn’t read.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
I think I need to contact Dr. Phil. Let me explain. The other night I went with Kate and Lucy to see Mamma Mia. Much to my surprise, I loved it. I have certainly never been an Abba fan, but I found myself tapping my toes. And what’s not to love about that fantastic Greek scenery which brought back memories of a trip to Greece in (I think) 1962. But for the first part of the movie I found myself getting anxious. Here’s Donna who is giving a wedding the next day and she is turning somersaults, climbing up a goat house, singing and dancing and generally having a good time, when even I can see that a trip to the hairdresser might make us all feel more comfortable. Well, I admit, she does at one point wield a caulking gun, ineffectively but ultimately with a felicitous result. Now, I have had two daughters marry, and the day before I was checking with the florist, ironing tablecloths and various dresses, feeding guests and generally micro-managing the whole affair. I remember my friend Sally collapsing with laughter once when she read a tip in a woman’s magazine advising the hostess to spend the last minutes before the arrival of guests sitting down and resting. “I’m always cleaning toilets”, she said. Aren’t we all? Well, apparently not Donna, though I do admit she seemed to have a staff of Greeks, but most of them joined in the dancing with abandon.
All this took me back to an earlier Meryl Streep chick flick The Bridges of Madison County, which caused me a similar sense of unease. Francesca has invited Robert to dinner and spent part of the day preparing stuffed peppers. When Robert arrives, it soon becomes apparent that eating is the last thing on their minds and dinner gets cold. Perhaps Dr. Phil could explain why I can remember the menu and why I was upset over the waste of a perfectly good dinner.
On the other hand, if the three lovely men from Mamma Mia or even Clint Eastwood were to show up on my doorstep, maybe my psychological hang-ups would do an about -face. I never liked stuffed peppers much anyway.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
Sometime after my mother’s death, my dad came to stay with us. It was summer and we frequently ate outside. He noticed what a job it was for me to lug all the plates, silverware and glasses outside and since he was the kind of man who didn’t like to sit around and who liked to make himself useful, he made us a tray. I don’t know whether he used wood that we had lying around, or whether we bought it, but it wasn’t real good wood. However, by the time he’d varnished it, it looked pretty handsome and it was sturdy. We have, in fact, used it for 30 years. It does, however, have one drawback. I’m sure Daddy measured our doorways, but he failed to allow quite enough room for fingers to pass between the jambs. Ernie claims my dad had it in for him, but I think he was trying to make the tray as big as he could. So maneuvering the tray through doorways has become quite an art in this house.
Elizabeth didn’t fail to notice how useful our tray is, and she asked Ernie if he could make one for her. He rose to the challenge, making this magnificent tray with cherry sides and a black bottom, finished with 5 (five) coats of varnish. My job was to crouch down in the workroom and personally guarantee that the drill was being driven in at exactly the right angle to allow the screws attaching the bottom to the sides to go in perfectly aligned. They did. I hope that Jeff and Elizabeth will still be using this tray in 30 years time.
It’s going to be impossible for everyone to get together this weekend, so we are celebrating in bits and pieces. The kids got together and bought him the wrought iron table and chairs he coveted for the garden. Now he wants to build another patio to set them on …
Have you noticed how stereotypical birthday cards for men are? Most of them have pictures of golf courses, fish or moose. The occasional one will show a book. I had to make do with three sailing boats.
So, happy birthday, Ernie. Next year will be a big one.
Tuesday, August 05, 2008
The barometer —or rather wireless weather station—on the left hangs in my brother’s hall in his house in Burwell. It is hooked up to a gizmo on his garage (my brother is the technical one in the family) and among other things, it records the number of inches of rain that have fallen and predicts when a tsunami is likely to attack Cambridge, in which case I suppose the little man at the bottom right puts on suitable clothes. He certainly grabs an umbrella, and maybe his wellies too, when it is going to rain. It is very complicated and Brian explained it all to us. I got most of it, but I am a Fahrenheit gal and this thing works in Celsius. I don’t like having to attack the conversion as a math problem, multiplying by 5/9 and adding 32, but the first couple of columns of this help.
The barometer on the right hung in the hall of our house for as long as I can remember. Every time my dad passed it, he gave it a strong tap. I was never entirely sure what that accomplished, but it seemed to tell him if it was going to rain. This, of course, was England and it was always going to rain. But I always associated the barometer with my dad, and when he died it was the only thing I wanted. All was well until I got to the airport, where I was told that I couldn’t take a barometer on board. Even in those pre-9/11 days, mercury was a no-no. When the agent at Heathrow told me that, I did what any mature, middle-aged mother of five would do. I cried. But he was adamant and the best he could do was keep it in storage for my brother to pick up, pack up and send by sea. That was a lot to ask my brother, but I let the agent take it and boarded the plane.
When I got back to Detroit I told the whole story to my dear friend Bill Murphy, who was Pan Am’s marketing manager and who had got me a ticket when I told him that I needed to get to England right away. Bill expressed his sorrow about the barometer, but made no promises.
A few days later there was a knock on my door and a very special delivery. My dad’s barometer. It has hung on our wall ever since. I don’t tap it often, but whenever I look at it I am taken back to a long ago place and time.
Blogger was messed up last night and it wasn’t possible to load photos, so I am one day late posting a photo of Alex and wishing him a happy birthday. Six years old on August 4! It’s been fun to see him several times this year—with the possible exception of the time we saw him play soccer in 97° weather. He’s a husky little chap—but he loves hugs. He’ll be in First grade this year, so I expect you to write me some letters soon, Alex.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
. . . and two days before. Today falls between two anniversaries, both of which I want to commemorate.
Yesterday marked the third anniversary of this blog. Last year I waxed philosophic: this year I don’t feel much different about my blogging efforts, and though I would like to add a few paragraphs, I can’t manage it tonight. Let’s deal with it later and turn to a delightful anniversary, Kate’s fortieth birthday. We celebrated it for the first time last Saturday. Ron organized a terrific party at their park and lots of family members were there, together with Kate’s book club and fellow workers. All this after they had been so helpful last week with the four little boys I had staying here. Even at my most energetic, I don’t think I would have thrown a big party the day after spending the night in a tent with that bunch!
I remember well the day that Kate was born. There was some question as to whether Ernie could get his summer school grades in before getting me to the hospital. It was close.
Happy Birthday, Kate and thanks for everything.
Monday, July 28, 2008
Another paucity of posts, this time caused by an influx of guests. Most of them were expected, but there was one set of surprise visitors. Every woman’s magazine has tips on how to tidy your house in fifteen minutes, and I was prepared. I had tucked away a packet of “Furniture Polish Wipes”, which I unzipped and flourished with gay abandon. At one point my curiosity got the better of me and I read the “instructions”.
- When wipe is soiled, throw in trash. OK.
- Do not use on untreated unfinished wood. Makes sense.
- Do not use on floors as they may become slippery. I found that out the hard way.
- Not for personal hygiene.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
In the past week I have visited the offices of a dentist, a dental surgeon, a neurologist, a family practice doctor and a facility for Bio-Magnetic Resonance. Without exception the nurse who ushered me into the inner sanctum asked me “How are you today?” I understand the importance of getting a visit off to a good start, but just once I would love to hear someone yell, “Lady, if I was feeling OK, I wouldn’t have come here in the first place.” My suggestion would be a friendly, “Let’s see what we can do to help you today.” What would you suggest?
Saturday, July 19, 2008
I bought a T-shirt at *macy*s recently. It was a brown T–shirt. I had bought one in a different color a few weeks previously, so I didn’t need to try it on. I simply removed it from the display, looked around for the nearest customer service station (guest assistance administration area?) and presented my T-shirt to the woman standing there. Then I ran my credit card through the machine, punched the buttons as prompted and signed my name. She put the T-shirt in a bag, removed the receipt from the machine and wrote her name and badge number on it. “Please go online,” she said, “and comment on the quality of my assistance.”
I’d send you to the URL if I still had the receipt, but I didn’t keep it. I bet you can guess why.
Friday, July 18, 2008
It is difficult for a woman of a certain age—and a certain girth—to dress comfortably and appropriately in the heat of a Michigan summer. Long sleeves thwart the mosquitoes, but you just can’t wear long sleeves when the temperature is 95°. And if you go sleeveless, you risk the whispered, “Who does she think she is? Michelle Obama?” Shorts? Just possibly. In the back garden. When the neighbors are away. Why are summer weight pants often in dark colors? They look hot, even if they are not. And who was the genius who decided to market “cropped” pants? I’ve seen a few shapely women who look cute in these garments, but the rest of us look stumpy. For many years I made myself cool, swingy sundress-type garments, but my ever expanding hips now require enough fabric to house a tribe of nomadic Bedouin. Besides, those summer fabrics with enchanting names like lawn, batiste, and muslin (Jane Austen and sprigged muslin are forever linked in my mind) tend to require the services of a bunch of downstairs maids armed with starch and goffering irons.
In the last couple of years salvation has arrived in the guise of cotton skirts, often without a waistband, often comparatively wash and wear. I have now bought three such skirts and I love them. They were inexpensive, but quite well made. All of them are lined with matching cotton fabric. “Why”, my daughters ask, “do you wear a slip if the skirt is already lined?”
It’s hard to explain, but I learned growing up that nice girls always wear petticoats.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
I’ve been away for a while and now July is more than half gone. I always try to mark family birthdays, and I missed Al and Gody, both of whom have birthdays in early July. I took this photo in Virginia a few weeks ago. We hope to see them and those four delightful boys here soon.
So, what happened in the last few weeks? There were several sets of visitors, a number of storms, including one which dumped over two inches of rain in forty minutes, flooding our basement. Fortunately it was clean water and not too much was damaged. Lucy lost some stuff in her drawing portfolio and our large twelve by eighteen rug was soaked. It would have been churlish to complain after talking to some of Ernie’s family who live in Cedar Falls and Cedar Rapids. British readers may not have seen these pictures which appeared in The Boston Globe.
I’ve renewed the acquaintance of a number of people who had slipped out of our lives, fed and watered a cat, a hermit crab and several fish for vacationing family and received a tentative diagnosis of trigeminal neuralgia.
Back to blogging tomorrow.
Monday, June 30, 2008
Contrary to popular belief, these words do not, in fact, appear in the Hippocratic Oath, but they make a good title for this post. I am pleased to pass on the news that in spite of the salmonella caused by our tomatoes and the E coli in the ground beef purchased from the local grocery stores, there is one place in Michigan where we will soon be in less danger from bugs and nasty organisms. Our hospitals. According to an article in today’s paper, “Metro Detroit hospitals are stepping up efforts to reduce costly and often traumatic medical errors, in preparation for new rules that will make them bear the cost of the mistakes they make when treating patients.” Traumatic medical errors and hospitals are two concepts that should not appear in the same sentence.
We’re not just talking about amputating the wrong leg, or “surgery on the wrong patient, surgery on the wrong body part and carrying out the wrong surgery,” as the article succinctly puts it. Read this paragraph:
One low-tech practice recommended by the hospital association to improve hand hygiene among staff -- a simple but crucial way to prevent the spread of infections -- is for hospitals to deploy workers, secret-shopper style, to watch over their colleagues on whether they've washed their hands before entering a patient room. "It is not a high-tech intervention, but it does have an enormous impact on the hospital setting," said Peters of the hospital association.I have noticed in some public bathrooms a sign indicating that we should wash our hands for as long as it takes to sing a couple of verses of “Old MacDonald had a farm”. That’s the sign that appears next to the one that says “Employees should wash their hands before returning to work.” Obviously this sign should be amended in hospital bathrooms to add “Please add a couple of extra barnyard animals if you intend to perform open heart surgery.”
Too bad that it is concern about Medicare changes and not concern about patients that is bringing about these initiatives.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Thursday today and the mail brought the local paper. The usual stuff: water rates, expanding the library, notes from the school board. I turned to the Public Safety Reports. You may remember I quoted from this section some time ago because I found the reporter’s vocabulary so funny. You should know that the Pointes are made up of five different communities and Grosse Pointe “crime” is itemized by community. We live in the Park, which is a pretty nice place to live, though it isn’t as fancy as some of the other cities, and our crime is pretty basic—a bike-jacking, a “home invasion” resulting in theft, a gas grill removed from a yard in the wee small hours, and the attempted theft of a 2005 Dodge Caravan from the 800 block of . . . hold it, that’s our block. Don’t worry, the thieves were thwarted: the car didn’t start.
We move on to the more esoteric crimes reported in the rarified air of the Shores. Three of them:
- . . . officers were unable to confirm an unknown caller’s report of five coyote puppies playing on a front lawn. . .
- . . . officers investigating reports of a smoking street light discovered the fixture’s cover had come off. Fish flies were being zapped by the light, which caused a little bit of smoke. . .
- . . . two officers investigated a complaint of four turkeys running around the yard of a residence. Officers herded the birds back to a neighbor’s pen. Police said the complainant “does not mind the birds as long as they stay in their pen”.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Remember I commented on the proliferation of tomato products in the grocery store? Last week I grabbed my grocery list from the counter and saw that Ernie had added, “Head and Shoulders, old kind.” I wasn’t sure what he meant, but when I got to the store (and this is the grocery store, mind you, not the drug store) I was faced with a mind-boggling choice. Did I want “Smooth and Silky” or “Extra Volume”, “Dry Scalp Care” or “Ocean Lift” (that’s the one with sea mineral essence)? Then there’s “Refresh”—with a cooling sensation—and 2-in-1 plus conditioner. There’s a version for sensitive skin, too.
But nowhere do they sell plain “Head and Shoulders.” The old kind.
Posted by Beryl Ament at 1:47 PM
Shortly before we left for Washington I received an e-mail from a friend listing a bunch of unfortunately crafted URLs. In every case the company or entity involved had accurately embedded their name or function into the title of their website, but had not taken the necessary step backwards to see how the final product looked. I’d give you the references, but this is a family blog.
As we rolled along the Ohio turnpike on the trip east, I idly studied the cars and trucks around me. Da-da, there was a truck belonging to a company which picks up unwanted computers and electronic waste material and disposes of them. “When you’re done with IT, we’re just beginning.” Sounds good, but it translated to this.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
We were off in DC at the beginning of June when the country marked the fortieth anniversary of the assassination of Robert Kennedy. I remember how surreal the event seemed at the time. We were living in the upper unit of the duplex on Marlborough. It had two bedrooms, one of which was Ernie's study, the other was Al's nursery. We didn't own much furniture, so at the time we had our bed in the living room, along with a couch and a television. It was six weeks before Kate was born and I didn't see much point in getting up until Al woke up. Ernie was teaching summer school and was already up and getting ready. Did he turn on the television? I don't remember, but I do know that eventually I was sitting up in bed watching the tragic events unfold.
I don't know the date of this copy of the Billings Gazette capturing the visit of the democratic candidate to Montana, but we have it in our possession because the smiling woman in the center shaking Bobby Kennedy's hand is Ernie's sister Flo, and it seems important to preserve even a vicarious brush with history.
Monday, June 16, 2008
I’ve been fretting away about writing a post describing our trip to Washington. We returned exactly a week ago, and if I haven’t got around to writing by now, I never will. Let’s just say it was a wonderful time and we spent four eventful days with our sons. There was a power outage in Rockville, which meant that Andrew and Liesl had a day off school and an extra day to spend with us, and the temperature rose to a record tying 98º on Saturday. We spent the morning watching Emmanuel play three soccer games in a row while Al stood in for the coach, and returned to the same field on Sunday for Alex’ game. There’s a lot going on this week, so enjoy the photos of the trip while I clean house.
Friday, June 13, 2008
. . . I was in Andrew and Marcie’s house in Rockville, MD, ministering to Liesl, Theodore and Linus. We had done the baby pancake bit (who wants syrup, who won’t eat butter?) and now we were building houses out of Lego for the gazillion dinosaurs marching across the basement floor. The phone rang—it was Andrew, announcing the birth of Sebastian Robert. I put the kids in the car and we took off for George Washington Hospital to see the tiny new member of their family.
And here he is one year later. I took this photo a week ago. Sebastian was a tad tired at the time after incremental attempts at walking. He’d got it all figured out and when we call tonight, I expect to hear he’s chasing his siblings around the yard.
Happy First Birthday, Sebastian.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
I am attracted to autobiographies by people born in England about the same time as I was. That’s how I came across Lorna Sage and Rosemary Kingsland. Remember Rosemary? I have analyzed the reasons to my own satisfaction, and a psychologist could probably make much of this tendency. And when I found these books on the “New Books” shelf at the library, I made a beeline for them.
Eric Clapton’s background was art and design and music and Pattie Boyd’s was colonialism and modeling—not areas which played a large role in my growing up in Enfield. But, as is usually the case, I found a couple of nuggets of interest.
Pattie Boyd (who was Mrs. George Harrison before she was Mrs. Eric Clapton) wrote at length of the places she lived. When the Beatles and other pop groups were at the height of their careers in the 60’s, their managers suggested they buy houses outside London, in remote parts of the home counties, all the better to avoid screaming fans and paparazzi (who at the time were the lesser of two evils.) So young musicians purchased a number of estates which were by now beyond the diminished wealth of the minor aristocracy, but chump change for the rockers. I was amused that she mentioned at least two of these houses with gardens designed by Gertrude Jekyll. I had visions of stoned musicians sitting around muttering stuff like, “Look, Ringo, notice how Gert used beds of siberian iris to draw your eye down to the horizon?”
I was uncharitable. In The Telegraph I found this article about the 2008 Chelsea Flower Show, where there is a garden celebrating George Harrison’s love of his garden at Friar Park. I am not sure that the “scrubby thistles and allotment vegetables, brightly clashing perennials, white-stemmed birches and scented roses” are my idea of a well laid out garden and they are certainly nothing that Ms. Jekyll* would have designed, but, George, I do owe you an apology.
* If you followed the link to the Wikipedia article on Gertrude Jekyll, you will have noticed that her name is not pronounced “Jeckle” , as I had always supposed, but “Jeakle” (rhymes with treacle.) That word may not mean much to people born on this side of the Atlantic, but for those of us raised in post-war England it brings back memories of school dinners and treacle stodge.
And why, you may ask, is this pronunciation noteworthy? Well, Gertrude’s brother, the Rev. Walter Jekyll, was a friend of Robert Louis Stevenson and the author appropriated his friend’s name for the protagonist of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Bet you, like me, have been pronouncing it wrongly all these years.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
. . . I told the doctor that I was sure number five was imminent. It was late on a Friday afternoon and I didn’t want the doctors to take off for their weekend pursuits leaving me in labor. “Go on home”, said the doctor who examined me. But the nurse on duty told the doctor that she thought my contractions were coming on strong and the doctor reluctantly sent me over to the hospital. I pretty much walked in the door and gave birth to Lucy, who has been doing things her way ever since.
Yesterday there was a big family celebration and today Ernie and I and Lucy and her boyfriend enjoyed a quiet birthday dinner. Here is Lucy with her niece Lydia at Lydia’s first baseball game. Happy birthday, Lucy.
Saturday, May 24, 2008
I'm waiting for the Pistons-Celtics game to start and hoping that it will be every bit as exciting as the game on Thursday night. Lo and behold, look who is a guest commentator tonight. Chuck Daley, the former Pistons coach. I tried to take a photo from the screen: he's dyed his hair blond and pouffed it up a bit. The blond hair and the fancy pin-striped suit are a far cry from my one and only face to face encounter with a professional basketball coach.
The place: Detroit Metropolitan Airport
The time: probably around 1991
The occasion: our entire family went out to the airport to welcome Al back from his Peace Corps service in Chad. Those were the days when you could meet a person at the gate and our whole noisy entourage went down to await Al's luggage on the carousel. I turned around — and there was Chuck Daley. Without thinking I accosted him and said that I had a son who had played varsity basketball, who had just returned after two years in Africa and who would consider it an honor to shake the hand of the Pistons' coach. And coach Daley obliged.
Now back to the TV.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
I have already told you about my letter from the Queen. I didn’t tell you about my letter from the President. In fact, I had forgotten all about it until I found an envelope while searching for a photo of Pat for yesterday’s post. The envelope was empty and it took a bit of head scratching before I came up with its provenance.
Sidebar: I have always loved “correspondence.” If I had my druthers, I’d like to be an Edwardian lady of means, the sort that appears in Masterpiece Theatre productions. After breakfast, wearing a rather flattering wrapper, she retires to the drawing room to attend to her correspondence, answering invitations, catching up on her social calendar, and writing notes and letters to friends and family. Moreover, I have always loved the accoutrements of correspondence: I collect regular stationery, air-mail stationery, note cards, sealing wax, stamps, stickers and labels. When we first moved into this house, my mother in law gave us impressive stationery with our new address embossed on the paper and envelopes and she accompanied the gift with the engraved metal die so we could continue to have paper and envelopes personalized as long as we lived here. I regret I never re-used the die: in this era of computers I can whip up my own letterhead, change the color and font of the type as I please, and I don’t think I even know where I would take the die to get paper embossed.
All this leads me to Christmas 1966. It was our first married Christmas and we looked forward to sending out cards to friends and family throughout the country and abroad. We spent hours selecting the perfect card and I really loved the one we selected. The cardstock was thick and cream and the bottom edge was an elegant deckle. The design in my favorite terra cotta colors was attractive and edged in gold. Somehow it looks a little “60’s “ now, but I was so proud of it. I kept back one in an album and vowed to select a perfect card each year and add one to the album as a memento of our Christmases. But . . . that was our only Christmas without children, and in subsequent years our attention turned to bikes and toys and chunks of plastic. In 1966, after we had addressed our cards, we decided it would be downright neighborly to send one to Lyndon Johnson.
And Lyndon Johnson was neighborly enough to write and thank us. I can’t remember the contents of the letter. Perhaps it will show up one day. I do remember being impressed that we received an acknowledgement. Now as I look at the envelope, I am somewhat disappointed. It’s a flimsy item and the return address is printed in rather crooked blue type: my embossed envelopes were so much nicer. Our address is written on a plain old typewriter and if you click on the image, you can see where the number was originally mistyped (remember whiteout?) And the street was spelled wrongly. Surely the pre-Lewinsky intern who got the job of sending out “thank you’s” should have been historically literate enough to get Marlborough right.
Nevertheless, I ‘m glad I came across the legacy of the only Christmas card we ever sent to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And no, your eyes do not deceive you. That’s a 5¢ stamp. First class.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
I don’t suppose anyone will ask me to nominate a person as a candidate for sainthood. I was thinking about this the other day, and I figured that of all the people I have met in nearly seventy years, there are about five possibilities.
One of them celebrates her seventieth birthday today. Happy Birthday, Pat. We were with her on Sunday when her children threw a surprise party for her. The party was held in the house where she and Larry lived for a long time after they left Grosse Pointe and where her son, Joe, now lives. What memories that house has. Maybe one of these days I will tell the story which involves a storm, a friend with hemophilia and a snowmobile. But this party was about Pat, one of the first people we met, together with her husband Larry, when we first came here forty years ago. I am sure I have better photos of those bygone days, but I could only find this one, pretty typical of our lives then, since it features two pregnant women, several children (some of these not ours) and food. (That's Pat in the middle in the back yard of our duplex on Marlborough.) We missed Pat and Larry so much when they moved and we are happy that their oldest son, Delmas (named after Grandpa Doyle), has moved back to the neighborhood with his family. The Doyles were a mythical bunch, the Kennedys of Grand Rapids, and we are still meeting new ones.
Pat certainly didn’t let the side down, but I won’t embarrass her by listing her sterling qualities. She has learned the secrets of serenity and I look forward to celebrating her eightieth birthday with her and her delightful family.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
Thanks for some nice comments about the quilt I described in the last post. Here is the first one I made, which for some inexplicable reason I didn't think suitable for a girl. My niece Becky is having a baby in a month, so she'd better make it a boy. The yellow squares are actually a much softer and prettier shade of yellow than they seem in this photo. Enjoy it: I don't think I'll make any more quilts with these fiddly boats. I do think the blue fabric with the stars on it was a good choice.
Monday, May 12, 2008
The winter was long and my sewing room was warm and cozy. I wanted to welcome Elizabeth’s baby with a quilt, so I spent many an hour piecing a rather complex (for me) quilt. It turned out pretty well. The boat hulls were yellow, the sails were white and the rest was in lovely shades of blue. Because surely the baby was going to be a boy! I also started this quilt, known in the family as the androgynous quilt, on the remote off chance ...
Well, as I announced, Lydia was born. And before I even had a chance to finish quilt number two, Elizabeth told me she was going to girlify the green nursery with pink curtains and rugs and gewgaws. So this sherbet number was out and I rushed out to buy pink and green fabric.
Three weeks ago my godson and his wife had a daughter and I was delighted to have a ready-made gift for them. The blue one still sits by my sewing machine. All I have to do is wait for someone to have a boy.
Sunday, May 04, 2008
The wit of the staircase. Finding the perfect response or retort only after you have left the room. It happens to most of us with depressing regularity, but it was surprising to find esprit d’escalier the theme of not one, but two, comic strips this past weekend. It probably happens to those of us in the geezer set more often:
(Click to enlarge)
but our younger counterparts can fall prey to slow-wittedness too.
As for me, I’ll probably think of a witty ending for this post as soon as I have published it and turned off the computer.
Friday, May 02, 2008
A good friend and former colleague always used to tell me that he would retire when the Dow Jones hit 13,000. That seemed a long way off, but one day it happened and I e-mailed him immediately to remind him of his pronouncement. Steve is pretty conservative, at least fiscally, so he didn’t immediately announce his retirement and as he continued to work, the Dow actually climbed past 14,000. Finally, he came up with a date for retirement, but he looked at the figures carefully and changed his mind. I saw him not long afterwards and he clarified his statement: “When I said I would retire when the Dow Jones hit 13, 000, I didn’t mean on the way down.”
I am on the way down. Like Miss Jean Brodie, I had a prime, but it is long passed. Perhaps I should devise a graph like the one for the DJIA and plot my descent. There would be several lines, each representing a different function, like mental acuity, physical coordination, ambition, energy, decision making skills—well, you get the idea. All of them would point to the nether regions of the graph. It would be interesting to see if they descend lock step, or if some years some functions fall apart in some kind of geometric progression while others are in free-fall or remain relatively stable. Some disintegration is obvious and can be documented: some long overdue house cleaning yesterday left my body in agony and caused havoc with the arthritis in my right ankle, I watch Lucy jump up between courses and whip up a desert which I thought of making a half hour before dinner, but which seemed “too much work.” Some of my unraveling is a disconnect between what was and what is, when I look on in total amazement as my children gracefully wrestle with their families and jobs and school and church and sports and all the responsibilities I could once perform without breaking a sweat.
The economic picture has not been bright, but yesterday the Dow passed 13,000 again and continued its climb upwards today. Perhaps the economy is on the way up.
I am not.
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
This time it is Frederick, and he is four today. Fef is a lovely little guy, who can spend hours playing by himself. It was wonderful to have him here right before Easter and we look forward to seeing him again soon.
Happy Birthday, Fef.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
That has always struck me as a stupid phrase. It’s like telling someone who asks if the bus on which you are both riding goes to a certain location and answering, “Get off at the stop before I do.” But I do understand the importance of waiting to plant annuals. I am always cautious: I can’t afford to be otherwise and I still have vivid memories of the year when a late frost decimated trays of flowers and herbs in the local nurseries.
Yesterday as we sat basking in the sunshine, Lucy asked me when I was going to plant flowers. She was flabbergasted when I said not for a couple of weeks. She spent seven years in DC and by now the city is in bloom. So I was delighted when the gardening column today rapped the knuckles of the early planters and warned that the average date of the last frost in metro Detroit is May 15.
Then there’s this.
Monday, April 21, 2008
Over a dozen bags of garden debris on the kerb: a few were put out last week, and I estimate three or four bags more will do it.
What next? Why, the first hamburger of summer, the first gin tonic of summer and the first picnic of summer.
If I am interested in a topic, I read all I can. I am about to read my third book on the exploration of the Tsangpo Gorge, even though vivid descriptions of giant leeches and yak butter-laced tea have not put it on my list of top ten places to visit. I have just finished yet another book on the Enigma code, the “unbreakable” system devised by the Germans in World War II. The machine used, together with its rotors, indicator keys, ciphers and bigrams has been to subject of many books, and even a movie which attempted to make the whole subject commercial by starring Kate Winslett. This last book, by David Kahn, is the most technical (i.e. incomprehensible) I have read, but the hard-to-follow bits were interspersed by interesting stories, one of which I am passing on.
The British assembled a team at Bletchley Park to decipher the code. This was a daunting task: the Germans estimated that if 1,000 cryptanalysts, each with a captured or copied Enigma (device), each tested four keys a minute, all day, every day, the team would take 1.8 billion years to try them all. The team of linguists and mathematicians made some headway, often helped by human error on the part of the Germans. Sometimes a cryptographer would encode a message in the naval version of Enigma and then send out the identical message to ships which did not have the Enigma machine using a code which the Allies had already broken, forming a kind of cryptographic Rosetta Stone. The best help came from captured ciphers and rotors which were recovered from torpedoed u-boats and other vessels, though German standing orders called for all such material to be thrown overboard in case of attack. The British began to consider ways of capturing keys, and the first concrete proposal came from a civilian who was the assistant to the director of naval intelligence. “I suggest”, he wrote, “we obtain the loot by the following means.
- Obtain from the Air Ministry an air-worthy German bomber.
- Pick a tough crew of five, including a pilot, a radio transmitter operator and word-perfect German speaker. Dress them in German Air Force uniform, add blood and bandages to suit.
- Crash plane in the Channel after making SOS to rescue service in plain language.
- Once aboard rescue boat, shoot German crew, dump overboard, bring rescue boat back to English port."
But the civilian who conceived this act of derringdo found other outlets for his imagination.
His name? Ian Fleming.
Friday, April 18, 2008
So you still want a caffeine fix, but my last post convinced you that some coffee is a four-letter word. Allow me to introduce you to Mystic Monk Coffee. I first saw this product mentioned in print and the advertisement caught my eye, because the combination of poor copy placement and my faltering eyesight made me think it read "Roasted Carmelite Monks." That concept conjured up images of some kind of gastronomic auto-da-fé, designed to help the monks with a bit of fund raising while weeding out the brothers who sing their Gregorian chant flat. (And the good brothers will sell you a CD of their Mystical Chants of Carmel to play while you sip your brew—Visa and Master Card accepted.)
What a splendid idea and what a change from the typical monastic candy makers. Let's face it, more people have been known to invoke the name of the Almighty as they take their first gulp of coffee in the morning than ever did when they slurped on a caramel. It's a tad pricey, but someone needs to give Starbucks a run for their money. I wonder if you can write it off on your Income Tax.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
One of the stated objectives of this blog is to celebrate the absurd, and there is never a shortage of absurd to celebrate. Newspapers are usually good sources of risible tidbits. I regret to say I found some humor recently in a couple of articles from the BBC.
It appears that :
The UK Treasury is facing a £3.5m bill, because of VAT wrongly imposed on a Marks and Spencer teacake, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled.Some background: VAT = value added tax, Marks and Spencer is a venerable English (originally Dutch?) store which always had the reputation for selling the Queen her underwear, but now does a roaring trade in food, and teacakes are, well, teacakes. The problem is, are teacakes cakes (and not subject to VAT) or biscuits, on which VAT must be levied? I leave aside the whole question of “cookies” and refer you to the article on the BBC website. It isn’t so much the question of the tax that boggles the mind, it is the fact that the question could not be settled without the participation of the House of Lords and the European Court of Justice.
Should you wish to read the article while nibbling on a teacake, you may want to accompany it with a cup of coffee. That’s if you have a spare £50. I warned you about this disgusting brew last July, but it appears to be catching on. I can’t tell if it has gone up in price as I am totally unable to convert the £600 a pound in the article I quoted to the £324 a kilo in the BBC piece. I certainly believe that £50 a cup is more than I want to pay. Does anyone drink it?
Finally, we move on to another of those ideas on which I heap scorn, but secretly wish I had thought of so that I could be raking in the cash. Remember the taco holders? According to an article from the Cox News Service, the newest accoutrement for a divorce is a “wedding ring coffin.”
Lined with black velvet and covered with a smooth mahogany finish, the miniature wedding ring coffin is just big enough for a wedding band, diamond engagement ring and perhaps a few dried rose petals, tears -- or cheers depending on where you're at on your closure time line.There’s a metal tag for an appropriate engraving. To quote the president of a divorce support organization, "There's a legal closure to the marriage, and it takes a while for our hearts and souls to catch up. Rituals like these can be very powerful."
And a dumb idea like this can make someone rich.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Grandchild number two reached double digits during my blog blackout when Patrick celebrated his tenth birthday. Since the big day came the week before Easter while Al and his family were here, Patrick has some Washington cousins on hand for the celebration. I don’t seem to have the customary blowing out the candle photo, but here are Emmanuel and Patrick in the back row and Daniel and Alex in front looking pretty happy to be together.
Today is Henry’s third birthday and his dad and at least one of his grandfathers celebrated by doing their income tax. His party took place on Saturday, and he was having such a good time with his cousins that he skipped his nap. He was pretty grouchy when Jeff woke him up, but cake and ice cream soon worked their magic. Happy Birthday, Henry.
Monday, April 14, 2008
Another big gap between posts. Let’s just say the last few weeks have been eventful. We had two lovely weeks with three sets of visitors—and then a little recuperation period. I couldn’t tell you the details of what we did even if I wanted to: even as I organized the photos, I was having trouble remembering the patterns of those busy days. I do know that in the course of two weeks I got to see all our seventeen grandchildren. I miss the Washington bunch. All I have left to show from their visit is some happy memories and a refrigerator stocked with Dora the Explorer yoghurt!
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
I ran across a new blog recently which has given me much pleasure. It is called box elder and hails from Brittany. Lucy spent a year living and teaching in St. Brieuc. We were never able to visit her there, so our impressions of Brittany came from her descriptions of a place which she found grey and oppressive. The creator of this blog, also called Lucy, has found color and much beauty in the place and her blog is filled with rich and evocative photos. On a day when all I had to show for spring in my garden were these scrubby snowdrops, Lucy’s photo collage gave me hope that better days were coming soon.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
In my eagerness to commemorate Andrew’s birthday yesterday, I forgot that the day before was also worthy of celebration. It was National Potato Chip Day. Then I learned from Glenda’s blog that it was also National Pi Day. Clever, that one. 3.14.
I’m marking them on the calendar for next year. I am not sure how I will commemorate the Pi part, but the potato chip celebration is a no-brainer.
Saturday, March 15, 2008
“Thirty-seven years ago today Andrew was up on the moon looking for a family to come and join. He saw a family that needed another boy . . . “ There’s always a mantra like that at the end of grace when one of the kids has a birthday, so in an hour or so that’s what we will be reciting. Alas, no Andrew at the table, but we are counting the days until he comes home for a visit. Maybe I will get a better photo than this, which shows him with two of his children, Linus and Liesl.
I talked to his godmother this morning. A lot of happy memories there. And Andrew, I apologize. 6’4” it was
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
The phone call came at 5:00 a.m. last Friday, and though I had been expecting it, it did not waken me. But a few minutes later the insistent beep of the answering machine jolted me from sleep and I heard Jeff’s voice telling me that he and Elizabeth were already at the hospital. Thank heavens he had been able to rouse his parents around three o’clock and they had made it over to hold the fort. I waited for the light (and a few cups of coffee) and drove across town. Sandy had given the four kids breakfast and got them dressed, so all we had to do was sit and wait.
The girls were busy drawing. Evelyn (she’s five) drew mother and baby grinning from ear to ear in a room with a playground outside. Caroline, who is four, had relegated the baby to a corner of the room and had populated the room with a couple of ducks. She really loves ducks. (Click on photos for details.)
I answered the phone around 10:30 and heard Liz announce that Lydia Jane had been born half an hour earlier. It was such fun to give the children the news: they were delighted that the baby they had been calling “Peanut” was finally here. Elizabeth called Ernie and her siblings. Benjamin jumped on the school bus, eager to pass on the news to his teacher.
There was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing that day. When Jeff came home I made it to St. Mary Mercy to see the long-awaited sight of Elizabeth and her daughter. This little girl has so much going for her: hardworking, loving parents and delightful siblings. You’ll be hearing a lot more about her.
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
Time was when I would have been glued to the television early in the morning, waiting to learn whether school was cancelled, whether I had to drag kids out of bed and feed them breakfast or if I could relax with the paper and another cup of coffee. It was 9:00 a.m. by the time I realized that today was a “snow day”, and that was because Kate called to ask if she should send over a team to shovel. Thanks to my wonderful neighbor, Dave, who had worked his magic on the driveway with his snow blower and a cheerful energetic woman who shows up with her shovel on snowy days, everything was clear by 8:00 a.m. The sun has been shining, and although the snow is still thick, many pathways are now clear.
I can smell beef stew simmering in my kitchen and I’m going to take some over to Dave. Then I’ll check out the neighborhood snowmen. Happy Snow Day.
Tuesday, March 04, 2008
I like Charlie Gibson. I think he’s a good news anchor. I don’t think he takes himself too seriously and he doesn’t look over manicured. But I’d never really studied his physical appearance until last night when he had left his customary seat in the ABC studio and was standing outside somewhere in Texas reporting on the Texas primaries. He was talking to George Stephanopoulos and I wasn’t paying much attention until I heard Ernie ask, “Is Gibson tall or is Stephanopoulos short?” Then I couldn’t take my eyes off them. Gibson was towering above Stephanopoulos. I kept thinking “Hobbit.”
It was warmer in Texas tonight but they were still wearing their overcoats and standing side by side. Tonight, however, they were pretty much the same height. I kept waiting for George to fall off the box on which he was standing, but then Ernie reminded me of the stories of Allan Ladd and the ditch. Wonder who else had noticed the incongruousness and who came up with a solution.
Saturday, March 01, 2008
For more years than I care to remember, I cooked three meals a day for seven people. Eating out was an occurrence rarer than the appearance of Halley’s comet, especially as the kids got older and our “party of seven” included teenage boys who grew to 6’7’’ and 6’3”. Keeping the food bills under control was a full-time job. Even if there had been the huge array of today’s convenience foods available, the additional cost would have ruled them out in our household. (In the interest of full disclosure, I confess to using cake-mixes. I don’t do cakes. And there is an apocryphal story the kids like to tell involving me, driving lessons and Hamburger Helper, but you don’t need to know that.) So I chopped, pared, peeled and diced with the best of them.
Now there are just two of us and it is not unknown for me to buy a bag of salad or a container of melon pieces. But here is where I draw the line.
Click on the photograph for more detail: 14 ounces of individually wrapped apple slices. I didn’t check the ingredients carefully, but these apples are surely packed in something pretty chemical to stop them turning brown during their shelf life. And even if the company could prove to me that there is no health hazard involved, they can’t prove this product is a bargain. On the day I took this photograph, the pre-packaged apples were almost $4.00, while these tempting looking fruit were on sale for 99 cents a pound.
Do the math.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Up early today. We were looking forward to going to Elizabeth’s to look after grandchildren while she went for her (possibly) penultimate check-up with her doctor. For once, the weather forecast was correct and there was a healthy snowfall on the ground and snow coming down, soft and fluffy, but relentless. It looked pretty and it wasn’t really enough to keep us from venturing out, but Jeff’s company had told everyone to take work home, so our services were not needed. There will be plenty we can do to help in a few weeks.
There’s something luxurious about “found” time: the time you didn’t expect to have. I started with an extra cup of coffee as I dealt with the newspaper. It was somewhat disheartening to read this article. If Detroit doesn’t get its 2005-06 and 2006-07 audits filed in a couple of days, the city stands to lose $52,000,000 in state revenue sharing. Apparently city officials figure they will have the earlier audit(14 months late) done in a day or two, but the 2006-07 audit hasn’t been started yet. A councilwoman said "This is a matter of grave concern to me. It could have a dramatic impact on our ability to deliver services." Duh.
So I turned to something more fluffy and learned that the preliminary ratings for the 80th annual Academy Awards telecast are 14% lower than the least-watched ceremony ever. I am not surprised. TV executives will deconstruct the events. Who should host next year? Were the jokes too political? What film clips should we use? But they miss the point.
Time was people flocked to the movies and became enamored of “stars” for their acting ability or their looks. Then the Oscars were a huge bonus. It was a rare opportunity to see your favorites, what they had chosen to wear and whom they came with to the ceremony. Did they smile and look friendly? Did they applaud each other?
It is all so different now. Tabloids and E! Online and Entertainment Tonight and You-Tube and People Magazine and even the mainstream newspapers write stories and show photos of romances and addictions, babies and rehab, infidelity and Hollywood haute couture. You know what the stars are (and aren’t) wearing every day and if you wonder about their fashion sense, you need go no further than those witty, vitriolic women at go fug yourself. I watched a couple of Red Carpet shows and heard the same dresses being labeled both the best and the worst. One tatty-looking Brit-sounding man with a blue satin rag instead of a tie (or shirt) was gobsmacked that the most spectacular woman a on the Red Carpet was a model, Heidi Klum, and not an actress. Hadn’t he noticed that none of the people entering the theatre was required to perform a Shakespearean monolog? Rather they minced and posed and made a moue for the camera. What’s that got to do with film?
Once inside the theater we had, as John Stewart promised, a bunch of people giving each other awards. I think I might actually enjoy a segment explaining what a sound mixer is, what he does, what he is attempting to achieve. But I do not enjoy seeing a bunch of sound mixers bound on the stage and start thanking a lot of people I have never heard of. I doubt the “stars” do either.
The recent crippling writers’ strike was caused in part by an industry refusing to acknowledge that times have changed. New technologies and delivery methods require new compensation procedures.
And maybe someone needs to re-think the whole Oscar business.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
Today is Ron's birthday. I won't say how old he was, but the beard he grew a few weeks ago had several silver threads nestling in it. So goodbye beard. As usual, I have way too many photos of dead ash trees and not enough of family members when their birthdays roll around, but I rather like this photo of Ron with his niece, Evelyn, which I took last summer. Happy Birthday to a great son-in-law.
Saturday, February 23, 2008
I love tomatoes. A big, juicy tomato, its bursting skin still warm from the rays of the sun, is my idea of good eats. I have written before about our inability to grow decent slicing tomatoes. No matter, I have resigned myself to a lifetime of cherry and grape tomatoes and we get through plenty of them.
In any event, homegrown tomatoes are only readily available in Michigan in August and September. Then I buy tomatoes for salads at the grocery store or at farmers’ markets, and as the winter gets more oppressive and comfort food beckons, I turn to recipes calling for cans of tomatoes to supply color and, so they tell me, lycopene. What could be easier than adding a few cans of tomatoes to my shopping list?
What indeed! For years recipes for soups or stews stipulated, “Add a can of whole tomatoes and break them up with a wooden spoon.” It seemed an exercise in futility, so I was happy when the manufacturers introduced diced tomatoes. But look what Messrs. Hunt, Kroger, Dei Fratelli, Red Gold and Del Monte have come up with now. We can buy our tomatoes stewed, peeled, whole, crushed, diced (even petite diced) or chopped. We can buy organic versions of all of the above. There are subsets of the main varieties: steam peeled, chopped Mexican and chopped Italian. Our choices are not limited to cut. We have to decide whether we want our tomatoes with basil, garlic and oregano, no salt added, chili ready, fire roasted, all natural (as opposed to . . . ?), zesty chili style, with jalapeno peppers or with garlic and onion.
I have headache writing about it. I must go and get dinner, which tonight will feature pork chops and applesauce. That’s chunky applesauce, as opposed to organic, unsweetened, home-style, natural, cinnamon flavored . . .
Friday, February 22, 2008
When we reached the age of sixteen or so, we were no longer eligible to be Guides, and for most girls, that would be the end of the road. But we were fortunate: our school, Enfield County, had a troop of Cadets, a companion organization for older teenagers.
Our troop was lead by Miss. F. Sharp, my formidable Classics teacher, assisted by Miss Margaret Hodgson (funny, we actually knew her first name), who was a retired County School gym teacher. We must have held our meetings after school—we all traveled a way to get to school, so we wouldn’t have gone home to change and then returned. Did we eat a meal together? I think I need to pick the brains of some of the people who attended these meetings with me. I don’t recall a single activity in the two or more years I was a cadet. This photo of my friends Diana and Ann is labeled, “Cadet Investiture Test, Chigwell, Easter 1957”, so we must have had to prove our worth, and it looks like cooking sausages over an open fire was a requisite skill.
What I do remember is the camps that we held in the summer. I have lots of fading black and white photos commemorating a trip to Cornwall and two to Scotland. I remember the train journey north. I assume we had all our tents etc. in the luggage compartment and Miss Sharp had arranged for us to be picked up in a lorry. All the food for the week or so were to camp had been ordered and the latrines had been dug. It never occurred to me at the time what a headache all the logistics were. They were great times. We took it in turns to cook, we went on walks and trips, and in Cornwall, at least, we relaxed on the beach. I remember that Miss Hodgson, who was pretty ancient at the time (or at least, she seemed so to us) was especially fond of standing on her hands in the sea with her head under water. We probably sang Kookaburra, too.
I labeled my photos well. Holy Loch, Kyles of Bute, Glen Massen, the Trossachs, Glen Eagles Station and the final destinations in 1959, Portscatho and St. Just-in-Roseland. After that, I would be off to University, never again to be assigned latrine duty. Here we are, gathered around the flagpole. That’s Miss Sharp on the left, Miss Hodgson on the right. Both of them are now dead. I am still in touch with one of the cadets in this photo and I would dearly love to know what happened to some of the others.