Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Winter's Tale

I changed my banner several weeks ago, before we actually had any snow. I took the photo a couple of years ago: I had my camera with me while I was driving around and saw this woman in a red coat taking her dog for a walk. I couldn't have composed it better.

This photo I took today—a neighbor's house , taken through our car window. Somewhere in the midst of all that snow, armed with a shovel, is the young man who lives next door. Jared had started by clearing our driveway, front path and porch and had moved on to this house. I wrote about Jared in an earlier post. He was much younger then, and he has grown into a charming high school senior, still delighting his parents who attend the hockey tournaments in which he is playing and impressing his father with his golf score.

Shortly before I left the house this morning I was reading an article on Putin's proposed ban on Russian children being adopted by Americans. How sad that under this policy not only would Jared's parents and sister, all his family, friends and neighbors have been deprived of this outstanding young man, but he himself would have been deprived of a comfortable, meaningful life—and maybe even life itself. My daughter's fiancé has a brother who together with his wife brought not one, but four, children home from a Russian orphanage.

Mr. Putin, please change your mind.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Holiday Time: Cherish Time with Family

That's the title of an editorial written by my daughter on November 17, 1993 while she was in High School. It is framed and holds a pride of place in our dining room and I think it worth preserving here.

My house is full of ghosts.

Occasionally, when walking past the cubbyholes which line the backdoor stairs, I will hear the sound of small hands scrambling for footballs and baseball mitts, followed by the pitter-patter of tiny feet running out into the yard. When I wake early on Sunday mornings, I can hear the laughter of familiar voices in the kitchen, though a quick glance reveals the room is empty.

The greatest center of this "supernatural activity" is the dining room. There is a lot of wood trim in my house—beautiful, dark walnut—but it is most prominent there, where the rich floor boards are covered only by a rose colored rug beneath the walnut table, and the fine walnut china cabinet and buffet line the walls. I think this is why my earliest childhood memories of the house are of that room.

The walls are broken by leaded windows, and the light which flows through them make the room just a bit brighter than others in the summer, and just a bit cozier in the winter.

I cannot recall all the gatherings which have taken place between those four walls. The room has witnessed a continuous cycle of dinners celebrating New Year's, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas, not to mention the birthday parties, baptismal gatherings and graduations. When I think of happy times, shared with good friends and family, I think of that room.

Recently, I was looking through college literature with my parents, and we concluded that if I went to school out east I would  probably come home only for Christmas. It was strange to think that I would not spend such times at the table with my family, and I realized that the history of my family was rapidly approaching its third era.

The first of these eras was our childhood. Those were the days when we were all together under one roof, my two brothers and two sisters and me. When Christmas morning found us scattered throughout the house with our various toys (probably to ensure that no one else would play with them), the sound of the dinner bell would round us all up again. When given to bouts of temperament, as children sometimes are, we would come to the table surly, grouchy or pouting, but the room soon worked its magic and we were happy again.

Even when my brothers and sisters gradually began to fly off to their respective universities, they always found their way back to the table for the holidays. The conversation became more interesting, more diverse, as my siblings shared their experiences with different people in different places, and put their "higher education" to use. Even I, many years away from college, would occasionally find a little glass of wine by my plate, a promise of the maturity that awaited me, too. I don't believe we ever realized how special it was for all of us to be there with each other. We never said, "Enjoy this time together, it won't last forever." People never do.

Last year we entered our second era. My sister married and moved to Ohio, and my other sister moved into a nearby flat. Our meetings at the table now are more important. We sit together, boyfriends and husbands included, in great spirits: our company is precious.

But nowadays not everyone is always present—I celebrated my 17th birthday this year without my sisters, who can no longer always be around for such occasions, and a place will be empty this Thanksgiving when my sister spends the "alternating year" with her in-laws.

Two years ago when my brother returned from his first two-year stint with the Peace Corps, we welcomed him home with posters and balloons and, of course, dinner in the dining room. But this August we we had dinner there again to send him off to Madagascar, and I realized that we would be incomplete for two years until he joined us there again.

Our dining room then, is a barometer of sorts, indicating the climate of our family; a full table reflects that we are united, blessed. When I say my prayers at night, I ask God to protect my family, but then, as if such a factual request lends no light to its importance, I invariably add, "Please let the coming years grant us many more meals around the dining room table."

But those meals, at least consistently, cannot last forever. When did my father stop going home to his parents' house for Christmas? When did he begin stuffing the stockings of his own young ones, instead of leaving his on a little nail above the fireplace to be filled? My mother was 24 when she left England for America and within two years she was married and had a little boy. She saw her parents and her brother every three years on average.

And so the third era is upon us; a time when, though we will always love each other, my siblings, my best friends will have our own families to feed in our own dining rooms, and we, the limbs of our family tree, will branch out in different directions.

In my room there are two photographs. One is of a blond-haired boy in a sailor suit—my mother's father, and in the other are the ancestors of my father, fresh off the boat from Germany. They have watched the many gatherings of their decedents through the years, and, God willing, I will watch those of mine.

And when I watch my children, or the children of my children's children, whether in the flesh or peering through the glass of a musty picture frame, I will know that they are the product of a room with magnificent walnut trim and a rose-colored rug, and hope that the wealth of happiness which found me there will find them as well.

I thought I was posting this for my children who had asked for a memento of their sister's writing as she embarks on another era of her life.

I found I posted it for me.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Past

If the Ghost of Christmas Past had been doing his job properly, I would have an enormous archive of memories of over seventy years of Christmases. But there are significant gaps and perhaps that is just as well.

As a child I remember walking around Woolworths with my saved up pocket money and finally selecting for my grandmother a brooch shaped like a bird and studded with "diamonds" and "sapphires." I remember waking up on Christmas morning in my cold bed-room and opening up the pillowcase on the end of the bed. It invariably contained classical books and Oh how disappointed I was. I later came to appreciate these books which formed the basis of my library, though I never managed to read Pilgrim's Progress. And I never will.

What do I remember of my childhood and teenage years? Not much. Sometimes we had Christmas dinner with Nana-round-the-corner and then we had her over for Boxing Day. (That's December 26 for my American readers.) But mostly I think my mother cooked. Surprise, surprise, I just found another post I wrote on this subject when my memory was a little sharper.

 By the time I was approaching my graduation from high school and for most of my years at university I had a Christmas job delivering mail. None of this union business: the Royal Mail handed over the Christmas cards to us untrained workers and off we went.

Then I found myself in California. I was house-sitting (and I think some animal was involved) for a faculty member in the hills above Los Angeles while he went home to South Carolina with his housemate. Marvin had a blue and green tinsel tree and lots of Johnny Mathis records, but the significance escaped me at the time. I remember so clearly sitting on Christmas Day, waiting for the phone call which I had booked to England—that's how it was done in those days—to come through, and then I was picked up to enjoy Christmas dinner with my beloved Trapp Family (no, not that Trapp family.) The next year I was on a train for two days and a night (or was it two nights?), on my way to Iowa to meet Ernie's family. We stopped at Las Vegas, Salt Lake City and then made our way across the great plains to Cedar Rapids. My California wardrobe was quite unsuitable for the snowy mid-west, but it seems the family approved of me.

So next year we were married and living in Detroit and I think we drove to Iowa for Christmas. I am sure we did the next two or three years, taking along small children who combined with Ernie's sister's children who were about the same age. Then came the Christmas of the flu and Ernie drove us all the 500 odd miles home in his dressing gown/robe—I couldn't yet drive. After that we stayed home, forging our own Christmas traditions. I remember wandering desperately around Toys 'R Us late at night, but most of all I remember shutting myself in my bedroom wrapping . . . and wrapping. There was the Christmas we bought Lucy a desk and put it in the garage: we forgot to give it to her until much later in the day. When I was working I usually sent the staff home early on Christmas Eve and stayed at my desk to answer the phone—which rarely rang. I never attempted Christmas pudding, but trifle went down well, and after eating turkey for Thanksgiving, we usually resorted to roast beef.

Before we knew it, the children were going to college and Christmas was heralded by Midnight Mass with all their friends greeting each other loudly in church. There were years when they were not all home: Al spent five Christmases in Africa and Lucy spent one in France and one in England.

Then they began to marry and share their holidays with other families. Babies accompanied them to our house and I still feel ashamed for getting a little upset with Emmanuel who got up on Christmas Morning and opened all the packages in the hope he would find gifts to his liking. Soon the girls took over the task of entertaining and cooking and there was the year we flew out to Washington, where the custom of everyone getting sick was resumed. However much things change, I just pray that the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come has plans for us for a while.

Happy Christmas, everyone.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Take Back your Mink . . .

 . . . take back your pearls—though I think that Miss Adelaide was referring to largely solicited gifts. It is three kinds of unsolicited offerings I want to mention  today.

See Ronald Reagan on a first class stamp on the left of the window.
The first kind arrived in the mail regularly during the  weeks running up to the primaries and the election. The philosophy behind this mail is "make the recipient feel indebted to you" and there will be another example at the end of this post. They were not sent altogether randomly, but were always from the candidates in the party they had good reason to think my husband would support (and always addressed to him, not me.) The candidates sent us a gift! Usually a stamp, sometimes a nickel and on one occasion a dollar bill. The text book for Marketing 101 obviously said the gift should be visible so the designated recipient (and presumably any potential pilferer who could get his hands on it) could identify the Judas role he was being tempted by, open the envelope and act accordingly. I have often wondered if Ernie appeared in the database as an especially generous and ardent supporter, or mailings would have been an enormous drain on the campaign budget.

Next we come to catalogues. I have just filled in an e-survey from Paper Direct (yes, I am going to mention you by name) and told them to pay attention to their data base. If they did that, they could see that I order 125 sheets of paper with matching envelopes once a year for Christmas letters and an odd package of 25 seasonal papers for letters. I think most of the Paper Direct clients are commercial and order in large numbers. So why does this firm send me a catalogue virtually every week—and then says there are more designs on-line. If I want paper, I go straight to the website anyway. I won't list the other companies that send me catalogues way out of proportion to the amount I spend with them. I must look up the rationale in the afore-to-mentioned textbook. Anyone of you who has nothing better to do at this time of the year can enter "marketing" in the search feature of this blog and you will see I have written several posts on this subject before. My, my, I had quite forgotten Keith.

Last, but not least, we come to address labels, the other "make them feel indebted to you" product. Several years ago I received a big package of return address labels and stickers from a worthy charity and I sent them a check. I immediately received another package and this ping-pong relationship has been going on ever since. I don't always send them money, but they don't give up. Their product is quite tasteful, which is more than I can say for many other charities. (This Christmas we received a package of Christmas cards from an order of brothers which had a picture which looked exactly like Mary about to change a dirty diaper—and looking a little like she was feeling "What, me?" I would have love to include a photo in this post, but I think the good brothers deserve a little respect.) Even if I wrote 10 letters a day for the conceivable future, there is no way I could use up the return address stickers I have just from this one charity. My son once subscribed his father to a magazine and, as a joke, told National Geographic that the recipient would be one "Aristotle Ament." Now return address labels come into the house by the hundreds bearing that august name.

I will have to complain more. I have always wanted to emulate Miss Adelaide and say in her immortal phrase, "Take back your fill-in-the-blanks to from whence they came."

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Vindication of Gillian Belchier

When I was a teenager I hated my hair. It was thick, but straight. Straighter than straight. I once confided to a classmate that I was envious of her pretty, reddish curls. Gillian replied that she disliked them, because it made it impossible for her to "do anything" with her hair. The years went by and Mr. Teasy Weasy gave way to Vidal Sassoon. Good hairdressers insisted that a good cut more than made up for curls.

The years passed and I really didn't pay much attention to my hair:  I was way too busy. I do recall a rather dubious perm, but for the most part my hair was short—until it got long, then it was cut and we started all over again.  As it turned more and more grey, I decided that the days of shoulder length hair were over. But for some reason last spring I made one last effort to grow my hair. Not a very intelligent thing to do in one of the hottest summers on record. It wasn't long enough to tie back or short enough to allow my neck to breathe. So I had it cut and voilà—curls, springing all over the place. And I can't "do anything" with them.

Problem is, the curls are just on one side of my head.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Sign of the Times, Part II

Daughter number one, she of the neatest handwriting, and I spent a couple of evenings sending out wedding invitations for daughter number three, who was busy with a project on content analysis or some such. I had done this twice before, so I was familiar with the intricacies of outer and lined inner envelopes—our lining was a lovely midnight blue.

As far as the invitations, we followed american etiquette which lapses into Brit-spell. The invitation requests the "honour " of the guest's presence along with the "favour" of a reply. The invitations had all been printed nicely. Blue on white.

I thought I needed to refresh my memory about titles, so I did refer to a few sources. My, how things have changed. If a married same-sex couple is invited, apply the alphabetical rule for listing different last names, along with titles (i.e. Ms. Joan Fox and Ms. Mary Keenan or Mr. James Ace and Mr. Mac Black). If the couple shares the same last name, then refer to them in the plural as "Messrs" or "Madames," followed by the double first name and common last. (i.e. Messrs. Bob and Gary Gilbert or Madames Jane and Kathy Ames). Er, OK. Since we hang around academics, I was prepared for Drs. Smith, or in one case, Drs. Smith and Jones. But one source said you can only do that with medical doctors and common or garden PhDs remain Mr., Mrs., etc. That doesn't seem right. In the case of an un-married couple living together "Both names should be included on the envelopes, but each name gets its own line."  The groom's brother is married to a medical doctor, and although he is a hot-shot lawyer, he has to give way to her and their invitation should read, "Dr. Ann and Mr. John Groom'slastname." Thank heavens we didn't have to deal with Captain, Lieutenant, Rabbi or Imam.

Actually, we decided to follow the advice we saw somewhere, loosen up and just use names and no fancy titles at all. But it got me thinking about the problems of the poor Lord Chamberlain last year.

He probably didn't have too many PhDs, but he must have had a Serene Highness or two. And what about all those annoying Pretenders? Pretender and Mrs. Pretender? Actually, I think this fill in the blank invitation looks a bit tacky for the Royal Family. Surely they had enough printing presses or at least Macs to insert printed names instead of lines.

But they probably had a palace calligrapher. I hope they didn't put labels on the envelopes. That's definitely a no-no and I thank daughter number one for her work (in blue ink.)

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Very Special Day

Today is the birthday of number fifteen in my lineup of grandchildren. Nathaniel is six today. This photograph was taken at Thanksgiving when Nate and his three brothers were here to eat turkey. His dad has promised to get a digital camera so I can keep up to date with these lovely little boys. Nate seems to have grown up the most since I last saw him and he was so much fun to have around.

All my grandchildren's birthdays are special. So why is today "very special?" It's my birthday too!

Friday, December 07, 2012

Sign of the Times, Part I.

I was making coffee yesterday morning when phone rang. It was Lucy's fiancé calling from work. He had left his Blackberry at home and was without information for his contacts. He didn't know Lucy's phone number! I understand, of course. I couldn't tell you the phone number of most of my children, or their addresses. Strangely though, I can tell you that when we first had a phone installed when I was a child, my number was Waltham Cross 24645. That is over sixty years ago. I told Peter and he agreed there were a few numbers that came to his mind, but not that of the girl he has been calling habitually for over three years.

I remember cleaning out a drawer many, many, years ago and throwing out an old address book because I would never again need to contact the people whose names appeared between those red covers. Of course I didn't, but I think a few memories would have been awakened by those bygone names, addresses and phone numbers.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

That's my Boy!

How I enjoyed last weekend's production of "Seussical the Musical" performed by the Grosse Pointe Children's Theatre.

Many years ago I directed a performance of "Free to Be", based on Marlo Thomas' record, which my kids loved. Or maybe I loved it and they just had to listen to it, but who can forget songs like, "It's all right to cry" and "Parents are People," PC expressions way before their time? My cast were mostly the children of friends and it was all rather like herding cats, but it gave me such an appreciation of this performance based on the books of Dr. Seuss.

This is an extra-wide photograph and difficult to see (try clicking on it), but the actor in front, on the left, in a red shirt is my fifth grandchild, Daniel, who is following in his father's footsteps as a thespian. Daniel played the role of Jo with a wonderfully expressive face. The scenery, lighting and costumes were way beyond what young actors usually get to work with.

Can't wait to see you on stage again soon, Danny.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

It Crept up on Me

And by "it" I mean the annual celebration of Holidailies. There's a description of the purpose of Holidailies here, but basically it is the project which encourages blog writers to up-date their blogs every day from December 1 to January 1. It seems to me a great idea and a way to instill in bloggers the  discipline of regular writing, giving us all the chance to improve quantity if not quality. For many years I have played with the idea of signing up—but it won't be this year. Maybe the thinking is that if they chose the busiest time of the year we will all work to squeeze in one more chore. But wouldn't January 1 to February 1 work out better?

I had long realized that if I do sign up, I need to do some preliminary drafts before the beginning date, but, as I said, it crept up on me. I will take as much time as I can spare to read other people's entries, so if you'll excuse me, I'll go to see what some other better prepared writers have to say.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

We Sprightlyfied It

I wrote about the mandate to make the back entrance sprightly and this gives an idea of what it looks like now. Cubbyholes a nice shade of Ariel to match the wallpaper and Caliban on the back door. My husband built the cubbyholes when the children were small. He had to hollow out the walls of the bathroom, that's the room on the left with the red door, in order to give depth to the shelves where the kids left their hats and scarves and gloves and baseball mitts and—you name it. In the past years it has been ours to fill, and I am making this announcement now. Nobody, that's nobody, is to use, take over, annex or otherwise purloin the two cubbyholes on the left. They are mine.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

In Thanksgiving for Thanksgiving

I've written about Thanksgiving before. Remember the post about John Theobalds and Sister Marie Charlotte? As I re-read it today, I realize I had forgotten to add that Sister and I made the waiting time pass more quickly with a bottle of sweet sherry.

Today I spent way too much time looking for photographs of other Thanksgivings past, so let me just say a word or two to remind me of this year's festivities. One of these days I will conquer the photos, but until then . . .

We were expecting one of the families from Washington and they arrived around lunch time (having spent the night in Breezewood), just in time for them all to go to the dentist. Why they should have a dentist who lives over 500 miles away eludes me. As we were preparing for dinner, I committed two more of the culinary stupidities which have made me persona non grata at holiday meals—see my last post on the turkey fiasco.  For Wednesday dinner I was making chili, while at the same time I was making pumpkin and pecan pies for Thanksgiving. I put one of the pumpkin pies on top of the stove where the air could circulate to cool it and then turned up the burner to get the chili to the right temperature. You guessed it. Fortunately my daughter in law asked if I really meant to have a flame under the pie and it was saved. No charred smell, cracked pie dish etc. Then I realized that the corn bread muffins I was making to eat with the chili should have been mixed with milk—not vegetable oil. Thank heaven for packages of crackers. More family members dropped by in the evening, but we got everybody to bed—and they stayed there until they smelled sausages next morning. We packed up and were all over at Liz's  in time for pre-dinner activities. It was a lovely day, so the traditional game of football took place. By the way, Jason Gay did a marvelous number on Thanksgiving football this year.

Food, wine, more food, more wine and pretty soon we were all home in bed, only to start all over again the next day with the same cast of characters at the Grosse Pointe Parade. This is where it got interesting. We had various cars and I was walking with Kate to her car when all of a sudden—I felt the ground coming up to meet me. I suspect it was a good thing that I did not put out my arms to break my fall. I have done that before and the resulting Colles' fracture would have been marginally worse that the jolted ribs and painful and spectacular bruising of my one of my lady parts. It still hurts and I cannot cough or sneeze (I now have a cold) without bracing myself.

So you can see why I stayed home while the kids went to see Lincoln that afternoon. They were most impressed. How wonderful it was that although the 14 grandchildren were home with me, they needed no supervision thanks to Emmanuel (15) and Patrick (14.)

Saturday was more of the same, this time with a trip to the Henry Ford Museum to see the Lego exhibit and some of the memorabilia of American history. Dinner at Kate and Ron's, then on Sunday the D.C. crew departed. We'd had all kinds of sleepovers and fun, but it was time for everybody to get back to school and work. It is almost a tradition that the first snow of the year falls after Thanksgiving, and this year was no exception, but the snow was light and did not extend across the route to Washington. The travelers reached home after ten hours. We were both tired, the laundry filled the chute from the basement to the second floor and not a scrap of food was left.

Can't wait for next year.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Stuffing and Nonsense

Sunday is the only day we have a Detroit paper delivered. It is a good way to find out about the jail sentences of our former mayor, read articles like"Why Detroit's top lawyer can't stop fighting" and explore the Lions' habit of overcoming slow starts (they didn't overcome anything today.) Then there's Mitch Albom. But today the features were a re-hash of last year's columns—and the year before.  It is Thanksgiving, we we have our annual guide to surviving the holiday and hosting "this monumental meal." There are recipes for fool-proof mashed potatoes and make ahead turkey gravy and —well, you get the idea.

The stylist for the food section made the meal look tempting, but hardly in line with the USDA food pyramid. Actually, I think it is now the USDA food plate, but either way it does not advocate ginormous servings of meat with four carrots, however tastefully they are arranged at the side of the plate.

Things get worse when we move on to the magazine section of the paper. We find a recipe for Moistest-ever Pumpkin Pie Muffins. Forget it. Pumpkin is eaten once a year, in a pie, and when you think about it, pumpkin is only palatable when gussied up with large amounts of ginger, cloves, cinnamon etc. Don't even give me one of the much touted pumpkin lattes that Starbucks makes us think we need to feel festive.

Rachael Ray tells us she loves Brussel Sprouts with Pancetta and Apple-Celery-Onion Stuffing, but doesn't give us any recipes.

Finally we have Dr. Phil with his "tough, touching plan for holiday harmony." Ten rules to make our Thanksgiving perfect. I need to pay attention to #2: Grandparents, know your limited role. I must know my boundaries and not contradict mom and dad (and yes, I have been known to do that.) He goes on to say, "You don't negotiate when little Johnny is setting the cat on fire." Faygo, you're on your own.

#5 Delegate. "It doesn't kill you to order a pie instead of make one". I'm on pie duty this year. (My daughter is hosting and there are 27 of us.) I'm a lousy desert maker, but whipped cream covers up a multitude of sins. Back to the cooking section of the paper. Shall I make "Sugar and Spice Pumpkin Pie with Brandied Ginger Cream?" No. And I'll avoid the "dough without disasters" problem with what I have heard described as "store boughten crust." I certainly will not emulate the 22 ingredients in their pie, though maybe the vodka and brandy would give the pies a certain je ne sais quoi.

Finally, Dr. Phil attempts to endear himself to us with rule #9, Don't set the bird on fire—like I did. Come on, Dr. Phil, not that old business of leaving the sack of gizzards in the turkey. I don't think you have ever been it a kitchen.

How do you think I got out of hosting this monumental meal? I dropped the turkey on the floor (and the five second rule worked quite nicely.) And guess what? In a few weeks we can read the whole business all over again. Just substitute "Christmas" for "Thanksgiving."

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

September 3, 1925-June 9, 2012

Mary Flo Whalen, September 3, 1925-June 9, 2012

Quite a life. We went to Billings, Montana this past weekend for a memorial mass and a celebration of Flo's life. Those of her children who could be there picked out her head stone, adorned with a cross to memorialize her faith, which meant so much to her and with the pine boughs of her beloved state. The inscription read, "Wonderful Mother of Ten." And was she ever. That meant so much to her. Ernie tells the story of one of her last stays in the hospital. The nurses asked her what they could write about her on the white board by her bed, and that was what she wanted everyone to know.

America is a big country and her children were spread from coast to coast. When she was in a position to visit them, she packed up her bags and off she went. Becky was in Iceland. Flo went to Iceland. Robert was in Israel. Flo went to Israel. Her knitting needles were never still and her grandchildren were the recipients of sweaters and hats and anything that could be knitted.

We drove to Montana with our children several times. Nebraska was long and flat, but what memories we have of South Dakota and the Black Hills. Wall Drug and Mount Rushmore became woven into our family lore. And when we were actually in Billings there were the obligatory trips to Little Bighorn, Red Lodge  and Yellowstone. In later years we flew out to weddings and now to her memorial.

There was such an outpouring of love. Flo always loved her sewing group (in her case knitting, and we met one woman who brought her ironing along.) Flo spent the last years of her life in another state she held dear, New Mexico and she reluctantly sold her big house. But miracles do happen and the family which moved in to 2312 loves the house. They embarked on an enormous re-modelling job—much of the original structure has changed, but the additions were in the style of the original. Michael and Aimee graciously invited us all to a reception in their house and looked on as we explored the changes which elicited stories from Shannon about the windows she had climbed out of in the night in her childhood. So while the physical structure of the house has changed, the hospitality which was a hallmark of the Whalen house is still there, carried on by Michael and Aimee and their four children.

I'll miss her for so many reasons—not least writing letters to her. She loved receiving and writing letters and it is such a loss not to find mail from her in the mail box. As we prepare for another family celebration, we will lift our glasses high. What's a party without Flo and her lovely smile and a martini?

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Third Time's a Charm

This will be the third time that we launch a daughter down the aisle. I should be an expert by now, except that is seventeen years since the last wedding and this one is being organized on short notice. I'll give it my full-time attention after we take care of another family situation this weekend.

It is not so much the flowers or the cake or the hotels or the "mother of the bride" stuff that scares me, it is the fact that before every wedding he who shares the house decides that the wedding cannot take place without some domestic upheaval. He was convinced that the last wedding would not be valid unless he unearthed some of the countless photographs of his ancestors we have in boxes, got them perfectly and appropriately framed and hung them in just the right spot. Woe to any bit of household repair I needed done. The wedding before—well, I forget his plan, but I do remember I was up on a ladder painting our bedroom cream with terra cotta moldings. I was working then, so I am sure I had better things to do and I didn't plan on doing any entertaining in my bedroom anyway.

This time around we needed a "sprightly back entrance". This entailed stripping off some wallpaper and re-painting walls and woodwork and cubby holes. But this was the problem. You can't see it very well, but it is the door leading down to the basement. Many years ago I had painted it a nasty browny/beige and over the years we had  used it to record the heights of our grandchildren and a few nephews and nieces and what have you. But it needed painting in a slightly off-white color to match the background of the wall paper which is going up top. Not just any off white—the man who mixed the colors called the sprightly green Ariel and the white Caliban. The darker green on the outside of the door is Prospero. Personally I don't think Caliban should be white, but . . .

Anyway, my job was to record the names, dates and heights so they can be transferred to our newly painted door where the tradition will continue.

We actually got a painter to do this and I must say, it looks pretty sprightly.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Feathers, fur and bling

Individually they are good for my daughter Lucy. Two together are better. Three in combination are best. Put them together with the role of a glamorous actress in a 1930s play noire and she is over the moon.

So any one who will be in the vicinity of southeastern Michigan in the next couple of weeks knows where to go for a delightful theatrical experience.

And did I tell you she just announced her engagement and will be getting married? In January.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

And Another Birthday in November

Here's Evelyn, cousin to the afore-mentioned birthday celebrants. She just missed joining them in October and celebrates her tenth birthday today. She's the oldest of three girls, an incessant reader and she adores the family cat, a large, fluffy, bright orange feline. Liz announced today that Evelyn wants her bedroom painted to match the cat. Such a change from the days when she shared a room with her younger sister, Caroline and everything was pink and purple and frilly.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

October is Rich in Birthdays

Today is Halloween and the last day of October. We have celebrated four birthdays this month. First it was Danny. Danny was eleven on October 1. Perhaps the bow tie will give you a clue: Danny is the Renaissance man, a writer, musician and film maker. Note of caution—comb your hair before approaching Danny because you may land up in his movie. His next appearance on stage will be with the Grosse Pointe Theatre in "Seussical the Musical."

Daniel's cousins Theodore and Linus have birthdays four days apart later in the month. Here they are on the first day of school with their younger brother Sebastian thrown in for good measure. I think they all look a little apprehensive and a little stiffer than their usual rambunctious selves. Theodore was nine and Linus seven. They are all great swimmers and Theodore is a backstroker.

Last but not least is our oldest grandchild, Emmanuel, who reached the
un-believable age of fifteen. Here he is earlier in the year with his grandpa. Manny is a freshman in high school with a great talent for soccer. Such a change from the chubby little guy we first met in Pisa so long ago.

It is such a joy to see them grow and develop their talents. Love you all!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Whoever names storms seemed to want to celebrate my family this year. First there was Alberto, then Beryl and later Ernesto. My son-in-law's mother is called Sandy.

There is nothing I can write about this last storm. I have a son in Maryland and one in Virginia and the last thing I did before I went to bed last night was send them an e-mail and tell them to be careful and to keep in touch. This morning I heard from Andrew in Rockville, Maryland, that they had been without power all night, but it had been restored by morning. They have had such dismal experiences with their power company—rather inaptly called Pepco—that they bought a generator which helps during their frequent outages. Al posted data about the rainfall in his rain gauge (5 inches when he woke up) and put up photos of a road disguised as a river, but they both escaped the worst of Sandy's violence.

We had watched the news reports last night as the east coast prepared for the worst. On occasions like this the news agencies make use of the local reporters affiliated with their network. We enjoyed the anxious and rather garrulous young woman, hoping perhaps for a future shot at the big time, who told us that there was a great deal of damage when a car fell on a tree, but watching the reports tonight, it was hard to find any humor.

We are several hundred miles away from the areas where the storm came aground, but last night the sound of blowing rain and blustery winds kept me awake. It has calmed down now. How easily life returns to normal for us who did not suffer the effects of the storm.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

I'll Never Be Hungry Again

If Scarlett O'Hara had lived in Michigan rather than Georgia, I suspect she would have edited her vow to "I'll never be cold again."
It is certainly a vow I have made countless times over the years. No, please don't picture me as a little match girl shivering on a street corner. But there have been times . . .
Growing up in England, I knew cold. But it was a damp, clammy cold and a winter coat was usually wool, made a little more cold friendly with layers of woolly cardigans. Home made, thanks to my mum. Then there was three years in Los Angeles, where the Santa Ana winds was the closest I came to something that even sounded like winter. On to Michigan, where I first came across those piles of snow I had unbelievingly seen on TV in California. Funny thing, I can remember the blue snow suit I bought for baby number 1, but I can't remember what I had for outerwear. I do know, however, it wasn't always the right thing..
My dilemma is illustrated by the catalogs that have been arriving at the house. Eddie Bauer, Landsend and L.L. Bean. Do I want mid thigh or hip length? There's even a high hip. There's a long coat and a maxi coat,  a three quarter coat and an "above ankle" coat. If you want wool, there's also an insulated wool, and I could protect myself with an Adirondack cotton canvas Barn coat, either insulated or flannel lined. Of course the real work horses of winter coats are modern down, essential down and now ciré down. Did I mention goose down? Thinsulate is always a winner, be it waterproof or water-resistant. Windproof helps too. And so it goes.

I have two winter jackets—one a gift and one I bought by chance. It is a Landsend jacket and I love it. It caught my eye in one of the Landsend stores at Sears which I visited because Landsend is primarily a catalog business and I am not crazy about buying clothes I haven't tried on. This jacket is amazingly light weight and amazingly warm and I can throw it in the washing machine and have it come out as good as new. But it is also rather . . . bright. You can't see it in this photo, but it also has an orange facing. So everyone knows it's me coming, and it may be time for a new jacket. Here I am wearing it in England. In fact I bought it right before we went to England and I didn't wear it until it was time to leave for the airport. When I put it on, I realized that the anti-theft tag had not been removed. I had visions of Homeland Security bearing down on me as I tried to leave the country, but this chunk of plastic turned out to be the kind that squirts ink all over you if you try to remove it. We changed planes at Dulles and I got on the phone trying to find a Landsend outlet in Virginia which could remove the tag. In the end I gave up and spent a couple of weeks in England trying to drape myself casually over the rather  obvious device.
So if I were ever to sort out all those jacket models—I'd need to move on to legs, hands and feet. I watched a documentary about Everest the other night and saw footage of Mallory in 1924. I bet he would have loved to make some of these choices.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

In Which We Go Up North

Michigan is an interesting state. The Lower Peninsula is shaped rather like a mitten, so if you ever see inhabitants of the state holding up their hand and pointing to a spot, they may be indicating where they were born or lived. Mitt Romney has been know to do this. On the other side of the magnificent Mackinac Bridge (pronounced Mackinaw) is the Upper Penninsula, the land of Youpers. Escanaba in Da Moonlight, anyone? Maybe I will give you more of a history/geography lesson one day. I'm sure you would like to hear the story of how I, a neophyte driver at the time, drove across the Upper Peninsula and, as we neared the bridge,started looking for a place to exchange drivers, suddenly finding myself driving across the bridge, the third longest suspension bridge in the world.

This trip was to spend a few days with a friend in Cheboygan at his cottage on Lake Huron, at the northernmost tip of the Lower Peninsula. (I'll also have to give you a lesson on why vacation homes are always described as cottages, even though in many cases they are grander than our main residence.) I also have to write on the rather vague "up north", as in "I went camping up north" or "We went hunting up north". If you Google "up north", most of the early references are to Michigan. I was looking forward to all kinds of photo ops. Here's one I took right after we got there looking down his winding "driveway"—

and not long afterwards it started to rain and the beautiful leaves and ferns and mosses were flattened. We did get a walk down to the beach before it rained and we could see the bridge in the distance and a few tankers making their way down towards the Detroit river. 

The weather was not a problem. There was a lovely stove and couches to stretch out on and we all had plenty to read. Each day there was an expedition: down to the Cheboygan Opera House, buying white fish at the Big Stone Bay Fishery, searching for esoteric information at the Public Library (they had it) and the enormous lunch at Mulligans. Then it was nap time.

For me, most of the joy of taking a trip is seeing my own surroundings through different eyes when I return. Our friend has just retired after forty four years working at the university. We certainly hope he invites us again.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

October 9, 1992

Can it possibly be twenty years today since my daughter Elizabeth marched down the aisle with a big smile on her face? Could I have guessed that Jeff would prove himself such a wonderful husband, father and a son-in-law who never saw a dirty dish in my kitchen without washing it?

Twenty years and five children later there are a few wrinkles and (dare I say it?) a few grey hairs, but the smiles are still there.

Happy Anniversary, guys.

Friday, October 05, 2012

I'm Self-Medicating . . .

. . .  and there's probably not a single doctor who would object. My medication of choice? Water.

I've had some days of feeling lousy this year—tired, wobbly and generally miserable. Vitamin B-12 shots elevated my blood levels from poor to acceptable, but I still didn't feel right. Then I started noticing that I was waking up with a very dry mouth and dry feeling lips and I began to put two and two together.

In my entire life, I have only been thirsty a handful of times, and I have rarely drunk water. This is very noticeable because I am married to someone who can't leave the house without a bottle of water, who drinks his water at dinner and urges me to drink mine (though I never have) and who, when we go out  to dinner drinks his water down, then mine and then asks for more. I also recalled one of the posts written earlier this year by my favorite blogger, Ronni Bennett. Hers is the first blog I read every day. Her research is extensive and lately she has had much to write about such things as the effect of changes in Medicare on elders. But she has general health information too, and in February she wrote this article on dehydration. I think she is spot on. I have been trying, and for me at least, it is not easy. Drinking water is something I have to make a conscious effort to do. But I do think it makes me feel better, so I'll keep on trying.

Any opinions?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

My New Year's Resolution

I admit it is a bit late—but better late than never.

This has been a difficult year for our family. Nothing life-threatening, nothing that has affected any of us in a crushing manner. Of course, you can't live in this country and not be troubled in some way by the economy and the trickle down problems, but we have had some great times. The stressful situations have been ones which required waiting and wondering. I find it hard to settle down. I couldn't take a trip to England because a phone call might come . . . even though I now see I could have spent six months there and it would have made no difference. As the year progresses, it is clear that some situations will be resolved soon. All those tasks I put off because there would be plenty of time the next day will soon be adding up to an unconquerable mountain. So it is time to make a list and get going on some of the projects that have been floating in my head since January 1.

Not as easy as it sounds. The mornings are always my most productive time. By afternoon it is nap time. Then I have to get dinner and after dinner I find myself nodding off. I have a couple of appointments with doctors this week. Did all those B12 shots make a difference? Doesn't feel like it. Why those Vitamin D capsules? We'll see.

One thing is clear. Fall has arrived and with it all those tedious tasks—storm windows, de-moth-balling the winter clothes, cutting down all the dead and dying plants. I want to deliver on my promise of flannel night gowns and p.j.s for my grandchildren. Any pots left outside will crack and break over the winter. My neighbors were treated to the sight of me in my nightdress dragging in the two large ficus plants which spend their summer outside when my pre-bed-time check of the computer announced the probability of frost.

But those are all routine tasks. What about the list from January 1? Well, there are two ways to deal with that. One is to actually do the tasks. I have made some headway with that, though one of my resolutions was, in fact, to accept the fact that to accomplish everything was impossible. Photographs are just not meant to be organized. The other way is simply to cross them off unattempted with no guilt. That takes care of goals like polish the boiler room and lose 50 lbs. So if I can move more resolutions from the first category to the second, I am all set to score A for effort.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Long Goodbye

Our former neighbor Don posted this photo on Facebook a couple of weeks ago with a comment about Kate (that's her, second from the left) and how he expected her to be embarrassed by her hairdo. I wondered why we were all lined up like this and spent a few nostalgic moments checking out everyone's hair and clothes. It wasn't until the next day that Liz (that's her second from the right, although she could have been Eliza or Lillie or Ellie or Elizabeth or one of the other variations of her name that she used in her younger years) commented that this photo was taken the day Al (that's him towering above us all, third from the right) left for the Peace Corps. Coincidentally I found a photo a few days later that confirmed this.

Remember those pre-  9/11 days?  We could see a departing traveler until he went right around that corner at the end and into the plane. Al was leaving for Niger and on to his final destination, Chad. We would not see him for two years. My niece was recently serving in Swaziland and what with Skype and e-mail there were frequent opportunities to communicate with her family. This was, I think, 1989, and we would have no contact except for sporadic mail and the very occasional phone call—always at 3 a.m. 

So we had all been waiting miserably at the departure gate. There were wet eyes, there was snivelling. Soon most of us were crying. The flight was called and the crying became bawling. Al disappeared round the corner and a sympathetic woman was commiserating with the others. There was curiosity in her voice as she looked up at the flight details mounted over the desk. I should have told you that before leaving for Africa, Al would have a few days training stateside, so when the woman asked where he was going that could cause such abject misery to his family, they all chorused, "Baltimore."

Another family legend. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Unlikely Daughters of the Dark Continent

My son gave me a couple of books lately, linked by their geographical background.

The first was, The Bolter, a biography of Idina Sackville—oh, those crazy Sackvilles! The author is her great-grandaughter, who, quite understandably, wants to throw a veil over some of Idina's exploits, though she has her mind set firmly enough on sales to make sure the front cover bears the sub-title, The story of Idina Sackville who ran away to become the chief seductress of Kenya's scandalous "Happy Valley set," while the back cover proclaims. "Her relentless affairs, wild sex parties and brazen flouting of convention shocked high society . . ." Well, that's true enough—five marriages with licenses, children left behind in England and the suggestion of a lesbian affair with a woman called Alice will appeal to the prurient, but the book did paint a vivid picture of a time and place I was not familiar with. The characters were English enough, with names like Dickie, Oggie, Buffles and Gee, but the landscape was unfamiliar and the history of the period enthralling. I read it during the summer heat as I sweated and swished away flies and the odd mosquito, but the cover of the book shows Idina in her silk dress and stockings after battling the tsetse fly and the mud to get to the farm she and her husband du jour had bought and taking her place in colonial Africa with its extended safaris and endless quinine water. And gin.

Al let on that his second gift was chosen in part because of the author's name and "I don't know of any other Beryl except the Admiral's widow in Brideshead Revisited." I didn't remind him that  in that snobby book the first name revealed her lowly station. In this case it gets worse—Beryl Markham was born Beryl Clutterbuck and takes her nom de plume from one or other of her husbands. Her book is a series of auto-biographical non-linear essays mainly devoted to Africa, so once again the number and nature of her husbands and whatnots is obscured. But the book is magnificent, so much so that some people doubted she wrote it herself. What praise from Hemingway—"she can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves writers."

Beryl Markham loved Africa. She loved the soil and the vegetation, the animals and the light and held the natives in great regard in a time and place that was not known for such respect. After a career as a horse trainer, she became an aviator, flying the Atlantic east to west.  As the book ends she is using her plane to "elephant-spot" for safaris for Baron von Blixen. Obviously the next book to read (or is it re-read?) is Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa.

Al had his own experiences in Africa which I hope to get to later. In the meantime. let me recommend these two books. Interesting and most enjoyable.

Help: I posted two photos here and then deleted them, but Blogger seems to think I still have them and will not allow me to delete this big space. Any ideas?

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Family Joke

Poor Kingsley Amis. How could he know he was going to be such a joke in our family? Ernie and I both love "Lucky Jim", but we haven't had any followers in our family. He bought copies for each of his sisters, who politely informed him they were not amused. Then, human memory being what it is, he went out after a few months and bought them a second copy. Same reaction.
Guess I understand their feelings. Different milieu, different country, different era. Not everyone is fortunate enough to come across a bumbling professor.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012


Two of my grandchildren are obsessed with ducks—especially for pajamas and robes. Ducks seem to be a traditional design for these garments, but for baby/toddler apparel, and the grandchildren in question are seven and eight. That's where Grandma and her trusty sewing machine come in handy. I was looking in my snuggly flannel scrap box, when I found (together with remnants of flannel decorated with soccer balls and dogs and cats and racing cars) these three scraps. I could swear I took photos of the completed garments, but I can't find them, so for now this is all I have to remind me.

Here's a sort of bathtub duckie which I made into a nightdress for Caroline
Don't you love this strutting Superman duckie—pjs for Linus?

Lastly there was a robe for Linus, with somewhat inebriated ducks, some of which appear to have measles.

 So what's my problem? I have made several trips to JoAnns and can find no flannel with ducks for this year's nightdresses/pjs. Not a single bolt. I hope something new will come in, otherwise the era of duckies may be over.

Sorry for chopped off text in last paragraph. I know what caused it—don't dare fix it.

Thursday, August 30, 2012


Yes, I'll admit it, I was scared to resume this blog. When I first started it, I plunged in headfirst, but after the break, I was nervous about returning and exposing myself. Not that I was using these posts to bare my soul, not that blogger was becoming my confessional, but because I am aware of some pretty shaky grammar.  I have a daughter and a son-in-law who can truthfully seed their resumes with the word "editor"—and we belong to a family with no hesitations about pointing out each other's shortcomings. I  plead guilty, I do it too!

I don't think I remember being aware of grammar until I started Latin, though I have a nightmarish memory of diagramming a sentence in an English class with Mrs. Doig. Because of all the writing I have had to do throughout my life, I think I can put together a decent sentence, but it is the colons and  semi-colons and quotation marks within quotation marks which throw me for a loop and I had decided not to get too concerned. (Note, I have no trouble with too. Or two, or to.) If I were younger and looking for a job, I would have no problem.

Or so I thought until I read these comments by a CEO which appeared in the Harvard Business Review:

 If you think an apostrophe was one of the 12 disciples of Jesus, you will never work for me. If you think a semicolon is a regular colon with an identity crisis, I will never hire you. If you scatter commas in to a sentence with all the discrimination of a shotgun, you might make it to the foyer before we politely escort you from the building . . .
If you want to read more, go to:

Although personally I think someone with such a self-proclaimed attention to detail should watch his URLs.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Last Celebrations of August

There's Jeff with Liz on their last anniversary.

Two more family celebrations before we move on to September. Our son-in-law Jeff marked his birthday on August 24. Since his birthday is in the baseball season and he is such a baseball fan (and a pretty good player too!), there's usually a game at Comerica Park involved. The whole family went—and four year old Lydia was ready to leave after the first innings. One of these days I am going to sit Jeff down for a series of portraits—when we are all together he usually slips away to the kitchen to do dishes or to the basement for a quick game of "clean up" and is missing from the photos. I appreciate it Jeff. Thanks for being a great son-in-law.

Today marked the second anniversary of what was, in effect, Al and Gody's third wedding. This ceremony was performed in our parish and Patrizia and Gody's sister Apauline were over from Pisa for the joyful occasion. I wrote at length about Gody on her birthday, July 6th. Love to you both today from us all.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Anyone remember?

The official season for guests is over. I mentioned a few posts back that it was "all scrunched up." Twenty three days, eighteen guests, thirteen of them ten and under. Just enough time to wash sheets and towels between visits. It was a most enjoyable time and for the most part the weather cooperated and the children (and their parents) made the most of our two parks, the splash pad and the swimming pool. Comcast did not. First there was the dog that ate the cable, then the modem gave out—fortunately that only affected the computers and we were not cut off from Dora the Explorer. Not that I sat everyone down in front of the T.V., but it comes in handy while finishing up meals or performing last minute tasks.

It got me thinking, though. I was a child of the forties. By the fifties I was reading and, as my mother said, "Always had my nose in a book." I can't remember doing anything other than reading—and that paid off.

But what was I doing in the earlier years? I have been racking my brains. All I can remember is a rectangular cart on wheels containing bricks/blocks with letters of the alphabet. It was kept along with the vacuum cleaner in the infamous "cupboard under the stairs." I remember spending time in my parents' bedroom playing "dress-up." There was not much more to dress up in than a pink printed chiffon number. Why did it never occur to me to ask my mother why she had a dress so inappropriate for her current life of cleaning widows and eking out meals from our ration books? I must have had a doll or two, but I can't recall names or faces. I do remember vividly my brother's train set which spread all over the front room floor. But of course girls wouldn't play with trains.

I suppose that even as a young child I was sent "out to play." Our street was a cul-de-sac and no-one had a car. I had a bike and spent my time playing with Janet Agombar, Alan Salter, Sylvia Bell and other children with names I can occasionally remember.

But did I have toys? Anyone my age remember what kept us amused and our minds busy?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Final Frontier

My life post-university can be divided into three parts. From 1966 to 1982 I was a "stay at home mother". My working life lasted from 1982 to 2000 and the last twelve years can be described as my life in retirement.

Much can be written about each individual segment—and I am sure that one way or another bits and pieces will pop up in this blog. Recently I found myself thinking about the transition from one life to the next. In 1982 I certainly had enough on my plate: number five was about to enter school, the other four were working their way through elementary, middle and high school. Our lives were full of homework, sports teams, choirs—all the things which were part of family life. It had become increasingly clear that sending all the children to university was going to be a an expensive proposition. Since this was back in the days before the University had areas like "Human Resources" and my husband had a buddy who could fill positions willy nilly, I found myself bringing home a paycheck in my new role as Graduate secretary in the Psychology department. No-one seemed to notice I couldn't type. That was, however, an exciting transition. Women were roaring, and the idea of using my mind and getting out into the world was appealing. I had the requisite blouse with a bow tie—and of course I walked right into the difficult role of a working mother, which women are still struggling with.

I was very fortunate, because my husband was often able to be home to cover emergencies, though for much of that period he was departmental chair, which means he had emergencies of his own. I will never forget the time I was due to leave for a conference on Friday and realized in the middle of the week I needed a decent pair of black shoes and did not have a single minute free when the shops were open. He bravely walked into Hudsons and brought home two pairs of black pumps. I moved into a more suitable position and things chugged along until we decided it was time for me to join him in retirement.

With a few weeks to go until my last day of work, I was all set to finish a handbook for my successor, but I found myself falling over in the snow outside the doctor's office, carted to the hospital and attached to an IV and diagnosed with pneumonia. I returned to work for an odd day or two, but the world never got the handbook, the system changed and everyone got along just fine. I transitioned into retirement and never looked back.

A short while ago I returned for the farewell party of a dear friend who had put in over 40 years. It was just wonderful to see so many old familiar faces and that's when I started looking back to those transitions—and realized I have just one left. I hope I greet the final frontier with the eagerness of those earlier changes. But without the blouse with its floppy bow.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Apple Armageddon

My daughter is one of those efficient, multi-tasking working mothers with a scrunched up calendar I wrote about in my last post, so it was no surprise to discover that she was arranging a date in late September or early October for apple picking. For close to forty years we have gone to pick bushel baskets of apples in the Fall, originally in Canada with our old friends Andy and Sally and in more recent years with our own family. Problems with Homeland Security and passports have meant that of late our visits have been confined to apple orchards on this side of the border. Food has always been involved—picnic lunches in the orchard and once upon a time dinner at Mother's Pizza in Windsor. If I had done what I should have done with my photos, I could have done a photo progression, but these, taken two or three years ago, give you an idea.

Sitting on the tractor that circles the orchard, stopping at the various kinds of apples.

Plastic bags these days, not bushel baskets.

Additional fun—jumping over bales of hay.

September 25th, that day seemed to meet our needs, be convenient for every one and work perfectly to allow us to celebrate two eleventh birthdays for grandsons, but when my daughter checked the orchard's website, look what she found:

This is unlike any other season we have had in our U-Pick history. Due to early warm weather this spring and subsequent freezing temperatures, there are no apples growing on our trees for you to pick. This is a multi-state problem, so apples are quite scarce this season.
Despite this, we should be able to obtain enough apples so that we can have apple cider available for your enjoyment.
The Cider Mill will still be open with what we are predicting to be a “Bumper Crop” of our delicious donuts, along with our other usual items.

That's a long way to go for cider and donuts. Look at all the apple laden trees in the photos from earlier years. I know it is a minor inconvenience when you look at all the other results of Global Warming—if indeed that's what this is—but the inconvenience is for us, not for the farmers who make their living growing fruit. Let's hope I can send you better photos next year.

Monday, August 13, 2012

All Scrunched Up

I'm used to it. Anyone who has had children in three different schools, or some in college or some in church or community activities knows that in May and December a calendar is a girl's best friend. Now I am attempting to use this blog to chronicle my life for my out-of-town family (and for me), August is a month with scrunched-up dates I have to keep track of and I just realized that although I did send a card with a nice crisp bill to my granddaughter, we forgot to phone her yesterday as we always do. Sorry, Jo-Jo.

My last entry mentioned our television tragedy just as the Olympics started and my first set of guests arrived. The good part was that the cable got fixed, but I failed to take any photos of our activities. It was hot, so mostly the children swam. Naturally we ate and I also took them over to Canada, nervously recalling the time we did that when they only had one child. Jack was six months and the Border Patrol seemed to think we were engaged in baby smuggling. They pulled us over, took us into their building, but eventually let us go.  This photo was taken during my son Andrew's visit. The activities were pretty much the same and I did take a couple of photos. Here we are watching a movie in the yard.  The kids love it and Ernie makes popcorn and doles out candy. It got dark pretty soon after this photo was taken.

On the 4th we celebrated the tenth birthday of Alex in Virginia. He will be among our next set of visitors. Yes. I got the sheets washed! He will have to get back home to start practice for his travel soccer team (See what I mean, there's stuff going on even during vacations.) 

Andrew and Marcie left on the 6th, Ernie's birthday. We had celebrated with a picnic the day before. Here he is holding his youngest grandchild. If you have been following her incredible life in Veronica's Journey, you will be impressed to learn that she is taking her first steps and we were able to watch her.

What was next? That was our wedding anniversary on the 10th. I have written before about the conflict the photographer had between us and the Hereford cows—well, this was Iowa and the county fair. Sad that the celebrant, Ernie's brother, died a couple of years ago and the best man, the philosopher Dr. Charles Visgak, on the right, died a long, long time ago.

That brings us to the third birthday of Josephine Mary, seen here happily eating her cereal. She looks like butter wouldn't melt in her mouth, but I think she has learned more from her three older brothers than from the sedate oldest sister in the family. She is beautiful and a delight to have around.

So now a brief hiatus. Next group arrives on Thursday. The temperature is much cooler and let's hope it stays that way.