Saturday, March 13, 2010

Serendipity Once More

This photo shows my bedside table. I am about to read yet another book about K2 from the warmth of my bed. Anyone who has read this blog in the past may know of my couch-potato fascination with adventure. In that post was a reference to a book I had just read, The True Stories of the First Five Women Who Climbed K2 by Jennifer Jordan.

One of the five women was the English climber, Alison Hargreaves, so last night, when I checked in with Daphne, who is fast becoming one of my favorite English bloggers, I was astounded to read this post. Read her post—there’s really not much else to say—and follow the link to the Timesonline and look at the photo of Alison and her two small children shortly before she died.

If you click on my photograph, you will be able to read the subtitle: Life and Death on the World's Most Dangerous Mountain. I don’t know, I really don’t know.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Horticultural Error

It’s THAT time of the year again. This year I want to point out a horticultural error. All winter long I have been able to dig under the snow in the little herb patch outside my back door and find a reasonable amount of sage and thyme. Enough to dress up a pork loin or make a pathetic attempt at what those guys on Top Chef refer to as “presentation.” But what I really want is parsley. Not that curly stuff that people leave on their plates beside a barely nibbled orange slice, but the flat kind that I put into soups and stews and even meat loaf and sprinkle recklessly on just about anything to give a lovely touch of color.

So here’s my complaint. When the big gardener in the sky moved on from fauna to flora, he divided plants into perennials and annuals and that totally incomprehensible variation, biennials. Parsley was a mistake. It should have been a perennial and allowed to flourish all winter, even in cold climates.

I can’t wait to open the back door and snatch up handfuls of parsley (and not have to surreptitiously chew on a leaf in the grocery store to make sure it isn’t cilantro.)

And that is all I have to say about parsley.

Monday, March 08, 2010

I Just Wish . . .

. . . I had listened more closely to my brother-in-law’s conversations with us. It wasn’t that we didn’t talk to him often. We did. There were long phone calls, either on special occasions or just to check up on each other. I greatly admired the fact that in his late seventies he faced —and overcame—the challenge of conquering a computer and our whole family exchanged frequent e-mails. In spite of his delight in his new skills, he never lost the practice of sending hand-written letters, often accompanied by clippings from papers and magazines. He usually painstakingly underlined the passages that were of most importance to him.

It wasn’t that we didn’t see him often in person. We did. Family was important to him and he spent a great deal of time with Ernie and his two sisters. He loved and showed much interest in his nephews and nieces, marrying many of them, traveling as far as Montana and New Jersey. But because he was always stationed in small towns in northern rural Iowa and eventually retired to one of them, it seemed easier for him to travel to visit with family members. He spent many holidays with Mary Ann in Chicago, because he often couldn’t travel until services were over. He loved to drive, so vacations in Montana, Michigan and New Mexico were frequent. We did on occasion visit him in his various parishes, but for the most part he came to us. So when he talked of his friends and his activities at home, there was no “hook” to hang his narratives on. We knew of the Pilgrims, a group of farmers for the most part who shared his love of Harleys. Together they traveled around parts of the mid-west and even took trips across America. Bob rode in all forty 48 contiguous states. The Pilgrims married and had children and they adopted Bob as a second family. We heard their names and anecdotes about them, but we were often too busy with family obligations to etch their stories in our brains. I heard about much, listened carefully to little.

It was hard last week to stand by Bob’s casket and shake so many hands and realize that I should have known more about the myriads of people from miles around who came to pay their respects. My knowledge of the surrounding towns was sketchy; my understanding of the lives of Iowa farmers was abysmal. It was Bob’s readiness to listen to the words and the stories of these people that made him so beloved. I wish I had been more like him.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sad Hiatus

Last week we were in Chicago, now we are back home before a trip to Iowa for the funeral service and burial of a beloved brother, brother-in-law, uncle and great uncle—a priest for over fifty years. More later.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

If You Build it, I Will Come

You know by now I am a great fan of trashy mysteries. I’m not a fan of futuristic books, trashy or otherwise. There is one author, however, who combines murder and police investigation with just enough of a futuristic edge that I look forward to her next book. And I am soon satisfied; she’s wonderfully prolific. I refer to J.D. Robb and her series with titles that end, “in Death.”

The heroine—Lt. Eve Dallas. The time—somewhere around 2060. The setting—New York, where Lt. Dallas lives in the palatial mansion of her husband Roarke. He’s gorgeous, by the way, and fortunately doesn’t expect much from Eve, who is totally domestically challenged. What he does expect is not fodder for a family blog.

J.D. Robb does not push the “life in the future” aspect. Police work certainly seems a lot easier with an identification system that the American Civil Liberties Union would have great trouble accepting. Roarke has no need of Martha Stewart when he can go to a wall unit and program a meal. Most of the other household appliances seem pretty normal—except for one. After a shower, Eve just walks into a drying tube/cabinet. No towels, no rubbing, just a flow of warm air. Doesn’t that sound like a great idea? And the thing is, there is no reason why such a convenience shouldn’t be a standard appliance even today. Perhaps they are in some snooty bathrooms. I checked and I find cabinets for drying surgical instruments and herbs, evidence or damp clothes. None as a bathroom fixture.

Anyone know the address of the Patent Office?

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Post War Britain and All That.

I have written elsewhere about my new-found interest in post-war British history. I even followed up that post with one on baked beans on toast .
I finished David Kynaston’s book and went right to the computer to order from the library two books I wanted to fill in some gaps. I’m not sure if Family Britain could truly be called a History book: Kynaston has pulled together the strands of everyday life and wrapped them around the historical framework of postwar Britain. I had never even heard of Mass Observation, a giant undertaking which captured and preserved the views, opinions and everyday life of ordinary people in Britain. These people were the original bloggers and I was mesmerized by their accounts. Both Austerity Britain and Family Britain brought back so many memories for me—everything from politicians, radio shows, entertainers, the 11+ and the National Health Service. Some of the discussion about the latter could well be on current news programs.

Just after I finished these two volumes, around 1500 pages covering 1945-57 (the author is still writing the next), I saw a mention of Our Times by A.N. Wilson and I had it sent to our library from Michigan State. This is a history of 400 or so pages, covering 1953-2008. Much more succinct, you might say? No. Like Kynaston, A.N. Wilson flits hither and yon and pulls out various strands to examine. His is an upper-class microscope; his world is inhabited by people with names like Anthony Chenevix-Trench and Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller, he decries a sermon delivered “in Croydon of all places”. He attributes the decline of the Church of England, at least in part, to the televising of John Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga on BBC in 1967. “So completely gripped was the nation by the unfolding drama week by week that many vicars and their congregations abandoned Evensong, never to revive it.”

Mr. Wilson has no sense of proportion. His description of the events leading up to and following the whole Profumo affair is detailed and well documented. I now know much more about it than the Suez Crisis. If he considers something interesting (Anthony Eden was the “the only male British Prime Minister known to have varnished his fingernails”), he includes it; if there is an opportunity for a purple patch, he embellishes it.

I’m not sure what I am learning from this book but, since my avowed purpose is to celebrate the absurd, let me quote a short passage. Mr. Wilson is writing of the home life of a Prime Minister who shall remain anonymous in this post:

At Birch Grove, the **********’s country house, the police patrolled the gardens by night before the visit of General de Gaulle, and were disturbed to note a light bobbing about outside the house. They were surprised to find the Prime Minister’s wife, wearing only a slip and gumboots, a miner’s lamp on her forehead and two hot-water bottles strapped to her ample midriff—“I got a bit behind with the bedding out*”.
Rule Britannia.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

You've Got to be Carefully Taught

I went in to watch the news yesterday partway through a segment on revising school text books in Texas. Apparently it involved omitting and/or changing references to the War between the States, the Liberty Bell and Christmas. Lots of people were upset, but I can't comment on the report, because I just didn't see enough.

I can, however, write on a text book which has a home in our basement. Among Ernie’s large collection of books is a relic from his early education. It is entitled Southern Lands, written by Harlan H. Barrows, Edith Putnam Parker and Margaret Terrell Parker and published originally in 1929. It might be worth keeping just for the graffiti inside the front cover. 75 cents for a textbook!*

It’s a "geography" book: you know, the subject that doesn’t exist any more—it’s Social Science these days. They might just as well have called it social science even way back then: this is a dense book, packed with facts and figures, charts and study questions, way more complex than anything you would find in today’s grade schools, or maybe even colleges.The authors write of the Belgian Congo and Rhodesia and there's not a single stan in sight.

And here's page 131, in which our triumvirate describes the problems of Mexico:

As a rule, they received little pay for their work. Sometimes the received none. Small wages mean low standards of living. Great numbers of Mexicans have become used to such standards. Since they do not know better ones, they do not wish for them. They do not know how to help themselves if they have a chance to do so.
You've got to be carefully taught

*I hate geography
In case of fire, throw this in.
Don't be hard on this book
me lad–75¢ it cost me dad
This book is nice and new
but the junk inside it is just gue (sic)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

From Sharks to Hedgefunds in 100 Pages

Murder mysteries are my favorite escapist literature. Not the Agatha Christie/village green school where there are six stock characters and we have to figure out who dun it, but international or high tech, biological weapon or political, medical or some variation thereof. Just read a financial mystery, Top Producer, by Norb Vonnegut. (No relation of THE Vonnegut.) It starts off with all the right ingredients, including a slick stockbroker protagonist, Grove O’Rourke, and a shredded body in the shark tank of the Boston Aquarium. But by page 100, this is what we get:

JJ owned $190 million of one stock. The markets can cut share prices 60, 70 or 80 percent in seconds. If Jack Oil crashed 50 percent, for example, JJ would lose $95 million. That’s why I wanted him to hedge.
A zero-cost collar would insure JJ against losses greater than the first 10 percent. Of the $95 million loss, JJ would eat the first $19 million. That’s 10 percent of $190 million. But with SKC’s hedge in place, my firm would pay him $76 million. That’s $95 million minus the $19 million. JJ limited his downside and avoided catastrophic losses.
And so on. . .

From a promising murder mystery we get to a wealth management manifesto in a hundred pages. However, you’ve got to admire the finesse of these hedge fund operators.

Maybe they should get a large bonus.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Literature for a Snowy Day

I have written on a couple of occasions about Scandinavian mysteries. I wrote about Henning Mankell here and Åsa Larsson here. I intended to write about Stieg Larsson. Maybe I wanted to wait until I had read the third book in the trilogy—and there are 24 reservations ahead of me at the library for The Girl who Kicked the Hornest’s Nest—or maybe I was just lazy. I must say I was severely tempted after reading the passage in the second volume of the trilogy where Lisbeth Salander furnishes her apartment. She had stolen vast amounts of money by hacking into a bank account and then bought a 27 room apartment. She only used a few rooms and went on a shopping spree which read something like this:

She bought a Klippan loveseat, a Bjursta table, a Florö bed, a Knubbig lamp, an Ektorp armchair, a Hemnes chest . . .
I think there was an idea lurking in the back of my mind that there was something worth writing here. A high school essay . . . a senior thesis . . . a Ph.D. dissertation. At least a post about couches and chairs. But I didn’t write it.

Laura Miller did. This wonderful article on Nordic gumshoes appeared in Saturday Morning’s Wall Street Journal. Surely her article said it all about detectives on snow-shoes. Then, by one of those glorious pieces of serendipity, the Grosse Pointe Library Newsletter, Library Pointes, appeared in my mailbox, exhorting us to try Kjell Erikkson, Hakan Nesser, Helene Tursten, Jo Nesbo, Karin Fossum and Mari Jungstedt. I think I will take their advice. After I’ve gone to IKEA.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Dear Ace Hardware

Do you think this is a glass half full, or a glass half empty?

I’ve written about our local hardware store before. That time I was somewhat amazed by their merchandise.

Now I turn my attention to their marketing. I just received an e-mail from them containing the following paragraph:

Thanks for being one of our most valued customers. We appreciate your business during this past year and look forward to helping you turn your next to-do list into a "to-done" list.

From your friends at Village Ace Hardware
What a Sally Fields moment! They like me! They appreciate my business!

Then I see this:

Hi Beryl Ament, as of 01/08/2010 you have 180 points. You only need 2500 points to earn a $5 Reward.

Anyone know anything about Marketing? Does that seem a good incentive?

Monday, January 11, 2010

I am Thankful

Part of my New Year organization involves a re-vamp of my blogroll. My previous one called for blogs to be divided into English blogs and American blogs. But how to classify the expat blogs by an Englishwoman living in Tennessee or by Paola in Seattle, what to do with Michael, an American who writes from Horsham? Then there's all the Englishwomen living in France . . . and so it goes. So I have just listed a few of the many writers I read. If I had any manners, I would introduce you to them. But you are not wallflowers, you can make their acquaintances, and follow their links to meet their friends.

Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery? I don't intend to imitate any of my favorites, but I do love the structure that "The Bookworm" gives to her blog by featuring every Monday the Simple Woman's Daybook, where she completes a litany of sentences. One of them is "I am thankful" . . . and in my case it can be completed, "I am thankful that I have a wonderful neighbor who cheerfully uses his snow plough to clear our driveway and front path."

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Pay Attention, Mr. President

By today’s standards, I was a pretty awful mother. I told my children they were bad—forget that hate the sin, love the sinner stuff. I told them that they had done something wrong. I used lots of “you” sentences, as in “you hurt your brother”, rather than the “I” sentences, like “I am sad that you hurt your brother.” I do understand the advances in psychology here and I no longer wince at “that behavior is unacceptable”. It is the language of child-rearing. So imagine my consternation yesterday when President Obama addressed the American people:

Now, I will accept that intelligence, by its nature, is imperfect, but it is increasingly clear that intelligence was not fully analyzed or fully leveraged. That's not acceptable, and I will not tolerate it. Time and again, we've learned that quickly piecing together information and taking swift action is critical to staying one step ahead of a nimble adversary.
Those are my italics. I think I know what happened. In his hasty attempt to show the world that terrorism has no place in his administration, the President grabbed his copy of “Child Rearing in the 21st Century” off the bookshelf (that’s the book crammed up against that best selling book for children Captain Underpants) instead of “The Wartime Rhetoric of Winston Churchill”.

Now, as I understand it, another rule of enlightened child rearing is to say firmly what you expect and set out the consequences for not conforming. As in “Janet Napolitano will apprehend the bad man or have a time out”.

In my day he would have spanked her.