Monday, April 30, 2012

Happy Birthday, Frederick

Three posts in one day! Here's the final one, wishing grandson Frederick a happy birthday. Eight years old today. This photo was taken last Thanksgiving in our basement. We just spoke to him on the phone as the family was getting ready to eat dinner. The best part of talking to him was knowing that we will be with him in a few days. See you soon, Fef.

Eleanor's First Communion

This week it was Eleanor's turn. A large collection of Aments, Bernases, Rummels and more assembled at St. Ambrose Church to celebrate with Eleanor and the day's festivities continued at Kate and Ron's house—delicious food and a chance to renew our acquaintance with Ron's great family. I had to wait until Ron posted this photo on Facebook because Eleanor had been quick to shed this beautiful dress (sweater knitted by Kate, headband created by grandma) in favor of her more typical attire—jeans and a T-shirt.

In his Facebook post Ron mentioned Ellie's other achievement last weekend—scoring three goals at soccer. Doesn't she look like a formidable opponent? Either way she is a delightful eight-year-old, and she can more than hold her own against her three older brothers.

What do I have in common with Marlon Brando?

Very little, as it happens. I was thinking of him as I started hauling out some of the summer clothes, because this astonishing cold and rain is going to go away soon. Isn't it? It has already massacred two of my hydrangeas which had come out into luxuriant leafiness in the dog days of March.

My summer wardrobe consists to a great extent of T-shirts. White ones. When I put them away in the fall, I always notice how grungy they are, but think they will do until I buy the next year's collection. But often I put off shopping and land up wearing the previous year's grunge all summer long. I try to comfort myself and think that it worked for Marlon Brando, but when I looked for an image of him, I found him looking immaculate in his T-shirts. Stanley Kowalski could have advertised Tide. I suspect it was written into his contract that while his characters could be sleazy, his clothes couldn't.

But spending a cold, rainy morning looking up photos of Mr. Brando isn't too bad an occupation.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

In Which She Writes about Towels

Towels—you know, those things you dry yourself with after a bath—are for me a source of ever-increasing annoyance, guilt and humor.

Why annoyance? Well, over the years I have collected a large selection of absorbent rags . . . old dishtowels and frayed towels, diapers, T-shirts and discarded underwear. So when I spill anything, I reach for them or (and I know I shouldn’t) lashings of paper towels. My husband, on the other hand, wipes up everything with the newest and fluffiest towels he can get his hands on. He takes them into his workroom, he mops up spilt coffee or oil, he wipes up the kitchen floor and on those occasions when the basement has flooded . . . well, you get the picture. I have asked him so nicely, and to no avail, not to do it. When we had the downstairs bathroom re-modeled last fall, I bought some real fancy hand towels, the kind you only get out when guests are coming, and so far they have eluded  him. So far.

Why guilt? Just look at these brightly colored towels, which I fished (no pun intended) out of a closet when I was re-arranging my sewing supplies. Ten years or so ago I made a number of robes for my grandchildren to wear after swimming, just as forty years ago I had made them for my children. I went to a great deal of trouble to locate these towels to make more brightly colored, absorbent, hooded robes. It didn’t happen, and I am resigned. It never will.

As for humor, how many of you have worked your way through Wedding Registries, in which the dewy-eyed future bride and groom have requested “Two sets of towels, one white and one pale lavender?”  Hullo, there are lots of guests out there looking for some moderately priced gifts that fall between the Waterford chandelier and the Teflon spatula. Ask for towels, armfuls of them, preferably brown. When you have kids, believe me, you will thank me. Especially if they leave them at the swimming pool. Which they will.

Sidebar: I had this post written yesterday, and I was amazed to find in today’s Wall Street Journal an article which included words like “rebellion,” “outraged,” “upset,” and “anxiety and distrust.” Politics? No. TARP repayments? No way. Towels at the YMCA!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Caroline's First Communion

Lovely day in Canton today for granddaughter Caroline's First Communion at St. Thomas a Beckett Church. A well-run ceremony, lots of music and nine second graders. There will be more next week, more the week after and so on. Much nicer than having them all one day. Then off to Liz and Jeff's for a great party.
Before Caroline's baptism, Liz asked the priest if there would be any problem giving her the middle name "St. Clair" after our lake. He laughed and commented that compared to the names some parents were giving their children . . .

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Veronica has a Birthday

A year ago we got the news we had been dreading. The birth of a new grandchild should be a cause for rejoicing, but the birth of this baby, our nineteenth grandchild, was a source of apprehension for us all, not least for her parents, our son Andrew and his wife Marcie, because this was April 18th—and her due date was early August. Fortunately Marcie had been in George Washington University Hospital for several days, so the very best of care was on hand for this little 1lb 4oz marvel.

Marcie kept a detailed journal chronicling Veronica’s first year, but it is only as this milestone rolled around that she could describe the trauma of the birth. The link to “Veronica’s Journey” is in the right-hand column of this blog. You can read about Veronica’s 119 days in the NICU and what life was like for Andrew and Marcie and for Veronica’s brothers Theodore, Linus and Sebastian and for her sisters Liesl and Josephine.

In turn, Marcie’s blog links to many other blogs written by parents of micro preemies. What an incredible, loving community it is. They support each other and share experiences. Alas, for some, the outcomes are less favorable.

Please note, Marcie is always on the go, mothering 6 children and holding down a full-time job for Child and Family Services in DC, but she took the time to dress the little cupcake in a cupcake!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

"It's Outrageous"

"It's shameful."  I have been hearing such complaints from he who shares the house since 7:00 last night when we lost power. The power company website assures us that normal service will be restored by 9:30 p.m. tomorrow. He's right, of course: after the brown-out which messed up the computer, the black-out will now melt the ice cream, sour the milk and make life generally miserable.

At least we can heat water on the stove and have this warm and comfortable branch of the library just half a mile away. Catch you later.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Happy Birthday, Henry

Today is Henry's 7th birthday. Easy date to remember—Income Tax is due unless there is a weekend involved (there is) or some arcane holiday in DC (there is.) Henry is grandchild #13 and he has changed a lot from that little tyke with the mop of brown curls. He's grown into an active boy who loves to join his dad watching baseball.

I also wanted to post my favorite birthday photo of him—and that is where I came across a major problem. Although I have photos from the last couple of years on my lap-top, the entire iPhoto file was loaded onto the desktop computer. A few weeks ago, on March 9 to be exact, we had a brown-out. Every photo on the computer, every event, shows the date of March 9, 2012. I'm sure there is an easy way to solve the problem, easier than transferring photos via Dropbox to my lap-top, where they magically assume their correct date, but . . .

However, by chance I found the photo I wanted, taken on Henry's third birthday. Poor guy was so tired that he couldn't stay awake to cut the cake. Now if I can only stay awake to figure out the dates of nine years worth of photos.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Chick Lit

Not a genre I make a habit of reading, but I figure that any book by the fifth-generation niece of the Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope has to have a certain gravitas.

I rather enjoyed Daughters-in-law, by Joanna Trollope. She must have got halfway through and heard someone refer to her book as chick lit, because she came to a screeching halt, switched style and put in her application for a Booker with this sentence:

She was sympathetic to Petra, Petra knew that, and anxious to help and even to ameliorate some of the exigencies imposed by sharing your life with someone who could take imperviousness to extraordinary levels.

I’ll take great, great, great, great Uncle Tony anytime.

Friday, April 06, 2012

(I) bid you God speed

Yesterday I wrote about letters. Here is a rather special one that has been in my husband's family since 1918. It was written by George V, the father of the hero of the movie, The King's Speech. In that movie he does not come across as a father who knew how to encourage his troubled son, but as a king, he knew how to encourage and inspire the soldiers coming from a foreign country to fight alongside the British soldiers in the defense of freedom. It must have been presented in its embossed envelope to every American soldier who sailed to England on his way to the continent.

How different from the reception given to American and allied soldiers leaving home today to join forces opposing tyranny abroad, and indeed how different from the treatment given to returning veterans.

Here is the recipient of the letter, my father in law.

It is  cheating to refer a reader to a previous blog post,  but an entry I wrote earlier contains a short essay by my husband detailing his dad's military career. I hope you read it and enjoy it. 

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Please Mr. Postman

After the President of the United States, Patrick R. Donahoe, the Postmaster General is the highest paid U.S. government official, earning $276,840. Not, I think, a lot of money for someone presiding over a doomed institution.

A couple of years ago I heard an interview on NPR with John Potter, the then-Postmaster General. Mr. Potter was talking at length about the glowing future of the Post Office, with revenue mostly derived from delivering those catalogues that no one reads anyway. I didn’t believe him. Now the Postal Service has announced that it lost $5.1 billion in the past year. Solution? Keep raising the cost of first class mail. England has the same problem, which they intend to solve in a similar fashion—1st class postage goes from 44p to 60p and 2nd from 37p to 50p. Do these guys take the same economics class?

Now I love receiving letters. I love writing letters. I have just ordered new paper from Paper Direct with blue flowers around the edge and on the envelope. My summer stationery. I use different designs for different seasons, though I admit I have to type these days. When I first left England you can imagine how eagerly I checked my mailbox every day.  And I still do, but let me tell you, Mr. Donohoe, if God didn’t want me to send e-mail, he wouldn’t have given me ten fingers. It is getting more and more convenient to pay bills on-line and even though I get those heavy catalogs in the mail, I very rarely look at them when I can see the same merchandise on my screen.

Which brings me to the real subject of this post—the legacy we received some time ago from Ernie’s brother. Postage stamps. Starting in the early sixties, their mother began collecting stamps. Sheets of them. I think she started getting serious with the issue of JFK commemoratives. I don’t think she was super interested in the space program, but she couldn’t avoid the many designs and denominations. I suspect that every time a new stamp was issued she went down to the Post Office and bought a sheet or two and often a plate block too.  Sometime later Bob began his stamp collection, collecting in a similar fashion, so it seemed logical that on the death of their mother, Bob received all the stamps. Over the years he added to it and it looked like parishioners, at a loss for what to give him for Christmas or his birthday, contributed more sheets to the cache. When he died the collection was enormous. Only one set had any value. The rest were worth merely their face value. Bob’s three siblings took an approximate third each and I gave part of our share to our five children. 
The rest I used, and for the past year we have not bought any stamps, except for Christmas ones, though we inherited many of those too. The experience has been great for honing my arithmetic skills as I figured out which sum of denominations amounted to first class postage. It has probably made us very unpopular with whoever has the job of making sure each letter has sufficient postage. The job is getting harder now, since we have used most of the larger denominations. I have about ten sheets of 3¢ stamps and they only work with large envelopes.

But don’t worry, Mr. Donohoe. I will do my part. I will continue to write “real” letters, and you can rest assured I will watch out the window around noon each day, singing quietly.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

The Stately Homes of England

I indicated in my profile that when I first came to America the more gullible USC students wanted to know if I was on speaking terms with the Beatles. Well, it was the era of Beatlemania. But now that we have entered the period of Downtonmania, no one has asked whether I was acquainted with the nobility. Toffee-noses, as my mother would have called them. We believed in Noel Coward’s views on the stately homes of England. Let me tell you a story. The history is a little vague and the assumptions are many.

My dad was an electrician, who spent his entire working life at the Enfield Rolling Mills. This factory was on the Brimsdown estate, in close proximity to the more famous Royal Small Arms factory, where Bren guns and Lee Enfield rifles were designed and manufactured. I do not know what parts, if any, the Rolling Mills supplied to the RSA. I do know that my dad was a foreman, and must have had a job of some importance, since he was excused from military service during the Second World War by virtue of his work being a “ protected occupation”. That's him, second from the right. In addition, his job got us a phone at a time when we would otherwise have put our names on a waiting list. And waited. The phone was a safeguard so if anything went wrong at work, my father could be notified and make his laborious way to work. On his bike. I wrote a bit about our transportation issues here.

Gorhambury House, St. Albans, Herts.
The chairman of the board of the Rolling Mills was the Earl of Verulam (Verulamium for those of you who remember your Roman history and those tedious roads) and the Earl had a stately home called Gorhambury House near St. Albans. I can only recall one time when the peons were invited there. My assumption is—there go those assumptions again—that it was to celebrate the end of the war, which would have made me five and a half and my brother just one, though I don’t remember his being at what my mother would have called “the bun-fight.” Nor do I remember how we got to St. Albans. Bus? Charabanc? But I do remember having to go to the bathroom. It appeared that his Lordship made an assumption too—that the hoi polloi didn’t need to use a bathroom —or perhaps porta-johns didn’t exist in post-war Britain. I remember my mother approaching a teen-age girl who was in some kind of authority position and asking her for help. I am sure she was embarrassed and I don’t remember what noun she used, surely not loo, but I remember so very clearly the girl’s reply, “You can use grandfather’s lavatory.”

So off we marched, through what was probably the kitchen garden and in the tradesman’s entrance. The corridors were dark and bleak and I began to feel sorry for grandfather. Then we arrived at the throne room. I can’t find a good way to illustrate it, but it contained a highly decorated receptacle (somewhat like this) with a high tank and a chain and the whole business was cocooned in dark wood. Spectacular, but I am sure grandfather must have had what my mother would have called a po in his room for use at night when the corridors prooved un-navigable.

And that is my experience with the stately homes of England.

What do I have in common with Kansas City?

We have both gone as fer as we can go. Will Parker was amazed by bell telephones, radiators, gas buggies and indoor privees. I am appalled by technology’s onward march.

 I have been gone for a while. My absence began with a computer malfunction. Not as if I didn’t foresee it. But instead of safeguarding the contents of the computer—I took a photograph of it for another blog I was working on.

I lost all the entries in my address book—though of course I had a photograph of the computer containing them! We bought not one but two new computers and moved on to other problems. My good and effective scanner wouldn’t work with the Mac version 10.6.8 nor apparently would our Dymo labeler. The scanner that came with the new ink jet printer is nasty. Then the laser jet had a problem. Then we got WiFi . . . I could have written several essays about the whole business, but then I realized Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross had already documented the progression of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Finally I was reading an essay by Nora Ephron, a much better writer than I could dream of being. In her essay, I Remember Nothing, she writes,

I was curious about technology. I became a champion of e-mails and blogs—I found them romantic; I even made movies about them. But now I believe that almost anything new has been put on earth in order to make me feel bad about my dwindling memory, and I’ve erected a wall to protect myself from most of it.
She goes on to state that she has “resigned myself to my computer dealing with its aches and pains of old age, much as I am resigning myself to my own.”

I too am resigned and as I resume this blog I repeat what I wrote on July 28, 2005, “hold on to something, it's going to be a bumpy ride!”