Monday, December 29, 2014

The Magi Have Returned

It's fifty years since I ordered the Platonis Res Publica I wrote about yesterday. My son asked me today about a step I had forgotten to mention. When I had a rather loose contract with my artisan in England, I completed one step of the process by ordering a copy of the text from Blackwell's in Oxford and having it sent to my Dad. So any mistake in the edition etc. was mine.

I described it as the perfect gift. And now, half a century later, there were two more perfect gifts. Within two weeks of each other.

It is common knowledge in this family that Ernie is a marmalade nut. We even made a pilgrimage to the manufacturer of his favorite tawny marmalade last time we were in England. So what a delightful experience for him to open a box from his niece Megan Gottig and find two jars of home-made marmalade and one of lemon curd. Megan explained she had been gifted with a bag of meyer lemons—and what better use to put them to than to make lemon-ginger and lemon-clementine marmalade for her uncle.

She completed her elegant gift with a label made from an early photograph of Ernie (don't you want to pinch those cheeks?) and a printed inscription in somewhat original Latin which surely means, "Real men eat marmalade." Way to go, Megan.

Enough for one Christmas, right? But there was one more gift yet to come; this time it was for me.

Things were a little crazy around here on Christmas Day, so it wasn't until the evening that I opened a gift from Ernie, which completed the trifecta of perfect gifts.

Another book—but one written by me. All my blog posts from July 29, 2005 to a couple of weeks ago in print in a beautifully produced book. He used the service Blog2Print. Their banner is on the right of my page. I had used them to produce a book for my daughter-in-law Marcie as a memento of the first two years of the life of her daughter Veronica. It is a great idea for a present. Later I will write of some of the reactions I have had to seeing my words in print. Thanks, Ernie, for such a thoughtful gift.

So, as Christmas recedes into the past, let me tell you how wonderful it has been to have had these three gifts in my life. I trust Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar felt the same way.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Time I Felt Like the Magi

Sometimes a person knows a gift is wrong before it is even bought. Sometimes that realization comes a little later. Sometimes a gift is O.K., sometimes it seems pretty good. But only rarely does a person hit on a perfect gift. I did once.

In 1964 I left Los Angeles to return home to England for the summer. I had been a graduate student at Southern Cal for a year, which is what I had signed on for. My goal had been a kind of gap year before I got a job teaching, but I liked LA and my fellow graduate students. And I liked the chairman of my Ph.D. committee, which didn't seem as big a problem as it did in England at that time.  So I had the vague feeling that if I went back to California I was crossing a Rubicon which might mean the end of life as I had known it.

I'm not sure how I spent my days back in my childhood home, but some evenings I accompanied my father the The Gun and Magpie for a half or two of bitter. My dad introduced me to one of his fellow imbibers who had a son apprenticing in the bookbinding profession. (Remember books?) I saw some examples of his skill, the gilt edges of the books, the beautiful marbled endpapers and many other facets of the bookbinding profession. I talked with the son in person over a half pint or two. A few weeks passed and soon it was time for me to make a decision. Dear Reader, I returned to Los Angeles. Alea jacta est.

I was invited to Iowa for Christmas with my professor and his family. I wanted so badly to find him the perfect gift. A book was a suitable choice, Not just a book, but the book. In those days he talked of little else except Plato's Republic, but he had every edition on the face of the earth and a few from the moon. But what he didn't have was a hand bound copy with gilt edges and marbled end papers and his initials on the blue leather cover. So I embarked on a complicated transatlantic order which in those pre-computer days took for ever, but thanks to my dad was hurried along.

 The book in its cardboard cover arrived in California in time for me to wrap it in elegant dark green and gold paper with gold ribbon. I travelled with it to Iowa and was so proud to place it under the tree. The perfect gift. One I was so eager to give. No later gift required so much time, so much effort, so much imagination.

Even the Magi should have realized that gold, frankincense and myrrh were pretty second rate in comparison with my book.

To be continued  . . .

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Too Old for Jealousy

There was a time when I grabbed all the magazines at the grocery store checkout with articles entitled "Five ways to avoid Christmas stress" or "How to make your Christmas a Time for Joy". You know the sort. Then they upped the ante and told me that elegance could be mine. They are probably still putting them out, but I don't bother to read them. I finally reached the conclusion that perfection was not for me.

I'm not sure what's going on here. Are the trees covered with snow part of the decor, carried in to the dining room to provide ambience? Or are the guests supposed to take their plates and eat al fresco? Either way it doesn't seem like something we would do in Grosse Pointe. I can see that the theme colors are green and red, though last year they were probably silver and blue, or various shades of copper. All this means, of course, that the plates and tchotchkes a person of discernment bought last year would have to be replaced. Out of date.

No longer do I want to make an impression on guests. In fact, I am the guest in my children's homes. We have always had a lot of fun when we get together. No-one throws mashed potatoes or brings large dogs. We have had our share of small children, but we understand that. As for those in-law problems beloved of Carolyn Hax, they have never reared their heads.

I think we will have fun again this year. Though I do wish I had bought a bunch of candles and bits and pieces in various shades of copper.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

On Sunday morning the laundry chute was full from the second floor to the basement with sheets, towels, tablecloths and dishtowels. There were enough plates, cups, serving dishes and wine glasses—don't forget the wine glasses—to fill the dishwasher three times over, even though I, or more likely my wonderful children and in-laws, had set it going several times on Saturday. Before the day was over we were able to announce to ourselves that Thanksgiving was over.

My oldest grandchild got to meet my youngest. Emmanuel (at 17) is here holding his cousin Joe (at 10 weeks.) In fact every photograph taken this Thanksgiving shows someone holding or looking at this little boy.

The 2014 Thanksgiving dinner was at Elizabeth's. Twenty eight of us tucked into traditional turkey and stuffing and all the fixings, followed by pecan pie, pumpkin pies and pumpkin cheesecake.

Next day was the local parade and more eating and drinking (minus three revelers) and on Saturday a trip to the Great Lakes Museum and the Aquarium, followed by a movie, interspersed with and followed by more eating and drinking. Children slept in various houses, not always where they started off. Football games and naps also played a large role.

So by the time the Washington contingent left early on Sunday morning, we (by that I mean the grandfatherly and grandmotherly duo) were exhausted and it has taken until today to get it all together.

Ernie spent the weeks before Thanksgiving working away in his workshop finishing the fourth and final Advent calendar. All our children have one, though Andrew decided to make his own. His is almost finished, but I think he has a new admiration for the skill and patience of his father. This one is for Lucy and Peter, who will eventually realize that it is also a lot of work to fill the cavity behind each door with an object to mark the days of Advent, leading up to the gold star at the top.

And before we know it, Christmas will be here.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ain't We Fancy?

I never knew there was a Facebook page called "Grosse Pointe Architecture", so I certainly never knew it featured, or rather included, our house. Mind you, since the page was pointed out to me and I have started checking it out from time to time, it looks like sooner or later every house in the Pointes will turn up on the pages. This photo must have been taken slightly earlier in the fall, because by late November all leaves have gone from the maple. Those lovely red leaves remain on the oak all winter and the rakes have to come out in spring just as the russet leaves fall and the bulbs begin to break through. It wasn't taken this fall, because the new landscaping isn't there.

The person who posted these photos has done his homework because he identifies the architect and it appears I know one of his descendants.

To those who celebrate it, Happy Thanksgiving. Be back soon.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Farewell, Kafka; Bye-bye, George Orwell.

Time for confession: we all have fears. Creepy crawly objects from the natural world, maybe standing up and making a speech in front of people, even laying bare our souls in a blog. It is only in the last year or two that I have stopped waking up in the middle of the night, terrified that I have to present myself in a university examining room to fill out sheets of paper with my collected wit and wisdom on a bunch of books I have never read. I guess that is common, and the reason this topic is best dealt with by the friendly neighborhood psychologist.

Fear seems to be part of a continuum. Imagine one of those annoying lines beloved of doctors, "On a scale of one to ten, where would you assess your pain?" I hate those, it is all so relative—or maybe it isn't and I should learn to play their game. In my continuum I start with apprehension, move on to concern, nervousness (as in, "Al, I am so nervous at the thought of you and your family driving up and down the Maryland mountains to come here for Thanksgiving"), pass through to being scared (That's when I am summoned into the workroom and asked to catch a piece of wood as it passes through this monstrosity.)
I would be more scared, but I have been doing it for many a year without any harm coming to me, the carpenter or the saw.

You have been waiting for me to pass through being terrified to arriving at petrified, and there is only one part of life that pretty much guarantees I'll wet my pants.

I am turning more and more into an on-line shopper, no longer a luxury but more of a necessity in these wet, snowy and cold days of winter. I'm not always comfortable handing over my credit card number, but there are a few safeguards and the amount of money concerned is usually not too frightening (that's another synonym. Wonder why there are so many?) Staring at a site like this represents the end of my continuum.

Normally I would double those numbers, even triple and add on a car, though maybe I wouldn't mean to. What if I had made reservations at a hotel for a different month? The possibilities for mistakes are endless, especially now that I am a little more careless and forgetful.

Or maybe that is what petrifies me.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Testimonial

Way back when, I used to have a section on the right hand side of this blog headed "People I Know". Under that heading I had links to blogs written by friends. At one time or other I listed blogs written by Bridget and John, Barbara, Kim, Liza and Marcie. Well, I guess that's  not too many, but they are all people I know and I enjoyed their writing (any chance of your coming back, guys?) As they stopped writing, I took them off one by one. Life, as they say, gets in the way of writing blogs.

Now there is a worthy replacement. Allow me to introduce you to Ron's Bookshelf. As you can surmise it is a blog of assorted book reviews. I should tell you that when I subscribed to a service which will let me know a new post appears, I received this reply,


You recently signed up to follow this blog's posts. This means you're joining the most amazing conversation about books on the Internet today. You need to confirm below to receive each new post by email.

To activate, click Confirm Follow. If you believe this is an error, ignore this message and nothing more will happen".

This blog has every promise of being good, possibly great, but "the most amazing?" It's OK, he won't be offended. The writer has a wonder and acerbic sense of humor, is a published playwright, an accomplished actor, terrific husband and father—and my son-in-law.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Spice of Life

When my kitchen was remodeled a few years back, there were many decisions to make. Some were made for me, mostly dictated by the size of the kitchen —mainly walls we couldn't knock down, or adjacent rooms we could not do away with. We had to keep two doors and a window, which meant the walls we had to work with to install cabinets were pretty limited. Then there were so many cabinet designs . . .

One choice I made was one I probably couldn't have made when I had five hungry children living here—a spice cabinet. Then I would have needed the space for food or casseroles or pots and pans. At this stage of my life I have loved it, because I was so fed up with rummaging around for thyme or marjoram or whatever.

These shelves are half the width of the cabinet, which means there is an identical arrangement on the back and also taller shelves at the rear of the cabinet. Savory spices on the front and sweet spices to the rear, and arrangement which confuses the other inhabitant of the house, "Is cinnamon sweet or savory?" I keep threatening to arrange the jars alphabetically.

See those shorter jars? They make so much sense, because it is almost always impossible to use up an entire jar before it is out of date. When we were last in Chicago we visited the Penzeys store in Naperville and I bought jars, both short and tall, and caused laughter—or was it scorn?—in my family by indicating by labels the date of their purchase. Since then I have been replacing some of my older purchases, studying a jar or two before I visit the grocery store. 2002? I really bought some in 2002?

Excuse me while I go arrange my jars alphabetically. It really will be even easier to find Chinese Five Spice.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Beauty is in the Eye . . .

Two of my favorite blogs are stored in a folder entitled "frothy blogs." They are The Sartorialist and Advanced Style. In each the blogger trolls the streets of European cities, though the latter is mainly confined to New York, camera in hand, taking photos of (mostly) women, who catch his eye for their fashion acumen and eye-popping style. As you might surmise, the latter blog is confined to women of a certain age, though most of them can pop an eye or two.

The community where I live has more than its share of well dressed women, but they are mostly clad in Lily Pulitzer garments suitable for cocktails and dinner at the Yacht Club. I am exaggerating, I know, but the look tends to be a tad boring, especially in high fashion areas—such as the grocery store.

This woman really caught my eye the other day as I was buying low sodium ham. A fabulous look for the grocery store. So I, and my cart packed high with quilted Charmin, followed her to the check-out lane, where I whipped out my iPhone and took a photo. Did I need her permission? Probably. Should I have edged closer and got more detail of the red swing coat and the large hat? Quite probably.

Maybe this will encourage me (and some of you) to make blog entries whenever you see eye-catching outfits. Or even to wear them if you have them tucked away in a closet.

And you can't see it, but this woman was a candidate for "Advanced Style."

Monday, November 03, 2014

It's Now or Never

I last wrote in July, so perhaps you can appreciate that I got myself into one of those predicaments—the longer I didn't write, the less likely I was to write. Altogether a situation I disliked. Not only did I not write a post, I didn't read as many entries as usual. It was a hard period for a number of people. Death and illness entered their lives, but they seemed to negotiate through each situation much more graciously than I who was drifting through my daily life.

After a few weeks of silence I had some plan or other for my writing. I didn't follow through. Then, since my overall intention for this blog is keep a chronological record of the passing weeks, tastefully illustrated by photographs, I decided that dates and times were important. I got them (and the photographs) all mixed up. So, let me just mention in some chaotic fashion a few events—and then get on with things before November goes the way of the past few months. The clock fell back today: I started on a bit of a clean up, doing nothing I had planned to do but a few other large tasks. So why not sit at my desk and write what I can before going downstairs to watch the end of "Death comes to Pemberley." Anyone with a sharp eye can see I have drifted to the next day. All Saints Day and All Souls Day have always been holidays about which I have been confused as I march inexorably on toward the grave.

We had the family picnics that mark the National Holidays in the summer, plus a few extra. I had my hair cut three times and we had the front yard landscaped to give our house what is known as "curb appeal." There were at least six visit to various doctors and I spent two days sitting around St. John's Hospital while first Ernie then my granddaughter underwent outpatient surgery. Nothing serious, but a little alarming.

If you want really alarming, that would be the three storms of the summer. I won't forget the date of the first. It was our forty eighth wedding anniversary in August, and the worst, or maybe second worst, rainstorm ever to fall on Detroit, one of those storms when cars are left floating and basements are flooded. There were photographs of freeways being washed away and of downed power lines. Our basement suffered from what is known as "clean water", but others were not so lucky. Not so long after came the storm which knocked out power—then there was the storm which uprooted trees.

There were visits from out of town family, and numerous trips to the grocery store. We accompanied Kate on a trip to Chicago to take three teenagers to stay with a friend and to visit comic con 2014. Driving through Chicago on a Sunday, with lanes closed for a bike race, was another interesting experience. Under what I would consider extreme sports was Ron's entry into, and completion of, the Detroit Free Press Marathon. We went down to cheer him and countless others on.

Sometime between storm 1 and storm 2 we handed over our house to daughters 1 and 2 who were giving a baby shower for daughter 3. It was a gorgeous day and many of their friends joined us to wish Lucy well.

I know there is much I have forgotten and I trust that no-one in the family will be upset if I say that my absence from Amen with a T was crowned by this:

This is grandchild number 21, Joseph, born to Peter and Lucy on September 26, the same day his cousin Benjamin was born in 2001. More photos to follow. Doubtless.

I will keep writing.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Caution: Men at Work

As I drove up and down a street in Grosse Pointe during the last couple of years to the school four of my grandchildren were attending, I noticed the construction going on across the road. The building is just about completed, but the publicity started a long time ago (I'm not going to use any names, or post any photographs just in case, well you know.) It is billed as a senior living facility, a continuing care community where we can gracefully age in place. It's true, we need such a place in Grosse Pointe. Should one or the other or both of us need to give up our large house and move to an "apartment home", we would be relieved to live close to three of our children and in easy reach of the battalion of doctors we visit these days. Nice to know we would be across the street from the Hunt Club, close to the Yacht Club and two Country Clubs. Yes, we live in an up-scale area.

I compare any facility I visit to the one in which a former neighbor lives—the Henry Ford Village, a much older facility which has learned by experience what works for seniors. It is in Dearborn, which, I believe, has the largest population of Arabs in Michigan, if not in the USA. But no Hunt Club.

Our new residence had an Open House on Saturday, and surprisingly I was able to persuade this house's co-resident to come along with me. What did I find surprising? The lack of organization, for one. We signed in in a book where we were not asked to provide our address, though this event was surely a recruitment exercise. We were corralled by a very attractive young woman who didn't know as much as she should about the facility, but was quick to tell us that the remark, "This place must have been designed by a man" had been bandied around.

Hence the title of this post. As soon as we walked in to the building there was a small, formal waiting room and right behind it— the swimming pool, and right next to the pool, the eating area. Only a man would have thought that 80 year old women in their swim suits wanted to be in full view of new arrivals and diners. "Abundant closet space". Yes, for a guy with six golf shirts and an equal number of pants. I wondered why the built in washer and dryer was the first thing she showed us in every room. Only a man (with a calculator) would design a TV room for about 10 people without realizing that seniors have a need to socialize and cosy common areas are so important.

A lot more to say, but I came to the conclusion that perhaps some day the stars might align to cause me to end up in this facility.

Until I read the cost sheet.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

I'm in Love!

Let me explain. When I saw water escaping from the bottom of my old (and I mean old ) washing machine, I realized that its days—or hours—were numbered and that those commercials about the Maytag repair man having nothing to do were somewhat exaggerated. I have an impeccable sense of timing. You are talking to the woman who had a sewer back-up on Christmas Day, when, or maybe because, there was a houseful of people wanting to eat. And we would need water to do dishes! In this case I was about to take a trip to Chicago. Fortunately I could eke by on my already-washed clothes, but I needed to have a washing machine up and running by the time I returned.

My research this time consisted of running across the driveway to borrow my neighbor's Consumer Reports and calling my sister-in-law who had earlier been telling me that she had bought two washing machines which she hated and returned before settling on a third. She told me that the first two were not "washing" machines, they had merely given her laundry a shower. I soon found out what she was talking about.

The evening before my trip saw us visiting store number one, going on to store number two and returning to store number one. (I left number two not because of their choice of machines, but because they wanted to charge $15 to haul away the old one. A matter of principle, not $15.) My biggest problem, however, was that I wanted an old fashioned washing machine. I wanted a top loader to begin with, and then I was dismayed to discover that the new machines do not have an agitator. More roomy drums, but even the salesmen admitted that the lack of an agitator made getting laundry harder to get clean.

I settled on a Whirlpool. A plain, old fashioned Whirlpool. Being plain and old fashioned didn't exactly mean that it was inexpensive, though it was half the cost of the fancy new models with enough buttons and doo-dads to send the device into orbit. I have been doing laundry for fifty years and have never needed half the controls some of these machines have.

I ordered it and it was delivered and installed and waiting for me on my return. Could the person with whom I share the house have taken it for a test drive in my absence? Well, he could have, but at the beginning of our marriage he announced, "I don't do laundry."

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

The Agony and the Ecstasy

The best-kept secret in this house was Lucy's pregnancy. This photo was taken several weeks ago, so you can imagine why it can no longer be a secret. She and Peter wanted to choose the right moment to tell Peter's daughter before the new baby became public knowledge.

That's done now. Her two sisters want to give her a baby shower, so on Sunday the four of us went to put together a registry. I wasn't much help. I suspect my older four told us what they would like as a "grandparent" present and I didn't bother with the rest of the things they were accumulating. I haven't had a baby since 1976 (the one and only time I was the recipient of a shower. More about that at a later time.) We went to a large nationwide store which I won't name because I can't get the punctuation right. Aisles and aisles of products for babies and toddlers. These products were neatly organized: sleeping, eating, playing, bathing—you get the idea. They were divided into "must haves" and "would likes", or words to that effect. And the choice! Just in the stroller category we have jogging strollers, full sized strollers, luxury strollers, double and triple strollers—lord have mercy—stroller accessories, stroller bunting and footmuff. To name but a few.

That set me thinking. What do I remember about buying equipment for my children? Very little. I do remember going to what was then J.L. Hudsons, our local large department store. They certainly didn't have stores specializing in babies back then. We bought a crib and the following year when it became clear we needed a second crib, I think I sent my husband off to buy one. Crib number two didn't seem so special! I suppose I bought some baby clothes and I know got signed up with Dydee Service which took my used cloth diapers away every week and replaced them with soft, fluffy clean ones. Until the nurses handed over newborn baby number one, I had never held a baby. We had no family in Detroit who could have given us advice about feeding and clothing and bathing. We figured it out.

So when my new grandchild arrives, I will be ecstatic. But marching around the baby emporium, especially with my still hurting knee, was agony.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Let Us Pray . . .

. . .  or scrub the floor, or weed, or, for that matter, walk without looking like a drunk. All impossible. For some reason my knee is killing me and I find it hard to move it. I would like to say it is the result of my ten hours of wallpapering on Saturday (details on Facebook) but my duties for that project were largely sitting down and giving instructions and acting like an over-educated gopher. I belong to the "wait and see what happens" school of medicine. It will either get better or it won't.

Let's hope it does. And soon.

Friday, June 20, 2014

I Made Someone's Day Magic

My last post was grumpy. I am not grumpy all the time. In fact, a couple of weeks ago I made someone's day magic. MAGIC. Tammy S. was the lucky lady.

Let me explain. I went to a certain department store in search of a new iteration of the garment which the French call "soutien gorge." With or without a hyphen. Eventually I found something marginally acceptable and then set about finding two more. No more to be found, even with the help of the pleasant sales associate. Is that what they call them these days? This delightful woman called another branch and said my soutien gorges would be delivered to my house. Free of charge.

And they were, and carefully tucked away inside was this card. Tammy S. feels the magic every time she packs an order, so I guess it is just not me that made her day, but my two garments (one white, one toasted coconut) certainly contributed to her euphoria.

Monday, June 16, 2014

A Plague on all you Apothecaries

I take two medications prescribed by my neurologist. Nasty medications with unpleasant side effects. The Tegretol was particularly bad when I first started to take it, the Neurontin not so bad, but the combination can make life difficult. I will not complain, because I can deal with the problems; not taking them causes a situation with which I cannot deal.

This is not a "please feel sorry for me" entry, but a comment on the stupidity of the people who manufacture or dispense medications,

When I picked up my medications in past months, I received pink pills with brownish  code (Tegretol) and bright yellow shiny lozenges (Neurontin.) My dose was divided between morning and night. Now look what a dose looks like—

There are some people who make jokes about the elderly sorting medications into their pill boxes. Let me join the butt of their jokes. Try distinguishing the pill on  the left (two per day) from the pills on the right (four per day.)  I can see pretty well, but one of my side effects is a lack of focus in the morning.

Something just seems so stupid about this all.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Too Little, Too Late

My brother-in-law was a much beloved country priest. His parishioners showed their affection for him by leaving gifts on his doorstep. These gifts usually consisted of cakes, cookies and pies. Although he would tell us that as a member of a family beset by diabetes he would prefer a stew or pot pie, he never found the courage to announce this firmly to the parish. When he was seriously ill, a few friends came to his house to cook him a birthday dinner. My sister-in-law, who was staying with him, told us this story. Mary Ann was talking with a rather over-weight woman who had taken part in the cooking and sat down to eat with them. The woman piled her plate full with mayonnaise-laced potato salad, creamy sauces and frosted cake. The topic of diabetes came up, and the woman admitted that she suffered from that dangerous and hard to manage condition. Mary Ann asked her how she could eat the type of food that she was currently enjoying and she replied that she had an infusion device inserted beneath her skin so that when her blood level indicated a need for insulin, she could inject insulin—and carry on eating!

Fast forward a few years. Yesterday I was reading the Detroit Free Press section which highlights new or original items for sale, mostly rather expensive knick knacks. My eye was caught by the advertising copy "Just because you are nursing does't mean you can't enjoy a cold one. Milkscreen is an alcohol testing kit for your your breast milk to ensure everything is safe." If you click on the link you will see Kourtney Kardashian endorses it! A Kardashian is trying to tell nursing mothers that if their milk test too high in alcohol they have the choice between rushing out to buy Enfamil, letting the baby cry until the next screening shows a less dangerous reading or letting the baby nurse anyway?

Wrong. It is all so wrong.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Eggs, Oranges and Bombs

Where have I been? We had a couple of groups of visitors and apart from that it has been end of term activities, preparation for summer (which may have finally come), and a hurried attempt to work my way through one of the most interesting books I have come across. I have been paying attention to footnotes and I borrowed through inter-library loan from Central Michigan University a book that turned up in one of the histories of World War II. I can never keep the title straight, but it is, in fact, FEW EGGS AND NO ORANGES, A DIARY showing how Unimportant People in London and Birmingham lived through the war years 1940-1945 (somewhat sic.) Oh, and written in the Notting Hill area of London by VERE HODGSON.

The author, seen here, supplies many useful maps, photographs and historical and biographical information. She herself had been born in Birmingham where she later received a degree in History. She had also taught in the south of England and at the Poggio Imperiale in Florence, where she numbered Mussolini's daughter, Edda, among her pupils. At the time war broke out, Vere Hodgson was engaged in Social Work in London, associated with a Christian Spiritualist movement, though she does not seem much of either. Earlier I was enthralled by a similar diary, Nella Last's War, but that was written in the North of England. I found Few Eggs and No Oranges more moving. It was more familiar territory, although my family did not live in central London, but in the environs. It helped me understand the difficulties my parents had gone through, rationing and shortages, and surely most of all fear not so much for themselves, but for me, born at the beginning of the war, and my brother, born at the end. No part of England was safe from the bombs she so graphically describes, incendiary bombs, V-2's and Doodle Bugs, which fell virtually non-stop for five years. Amazingly, she was not hurt and although she constantly felt the shock waves, she was never the victim of a direct hit. The book is 500 pages long, and it would take that number of pages to tell her story. We had just seen The Monument Men, and what did I read here? "The most exciting news is about the Italian Art Treasures. Major Eric Linklater entered a villa on a ridge a few miles from Florence to look at the city. He saw suddenly an Italian crucifix, . . . gazing around, to his amazement he discovered Botticelli's Primavera stacked against the wall—also numerous pictures  of Fra Lippo Lippi, Cimabue . . . in fact all of the treasures of the Uffizi!"
I loved the way that bombing raids and kipper rations, lack of sheets and death tolls all took equal space, not because she was an unfeeling person, but because it was the only way to carry on. Here she learns about Pearl Harbor.
"Listened to the Midnight News on Sunday, after they told us at 9 p.m. that American Bases in the Pacific had been bombed. Studied the map of the area, found Hawaii, and it looked so far from Japan—but we had forgotten Aircraft Carriers.
Poor dear people in those islands of bliss, sunshine and fruit drinks. They must have had an unpleasant Sunday afternoon."
After every blitz in the vicinity of Notting Hill, she would go out the next day to survey the damage, not from some ghoulish and morbid curiosity, but because government news was not always correct, presumably to lead the Germans astray. In April, 1944 she writes "West Middlesex Hospital at Edmonton was hit." Very close to home, but there was no West Middlesex Hospital. It was North Middlesex Hospital and that was where I was born in December, 1939. My brother was born there on June 8,1944. I remember a family legend that the hospital was hit when my mother was there and my dad couldn't get through on the phone to see if she was safe. Did she go in early because of her high blood pressure? Why didn't we ask questions when my parents were alive?

Happy 70th Birthday, Brian, and I wish you were here to sort out my indentations.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Don't Do it, Hillary

Politics aside, if anyone asked me what I would tell Hillary Clinton as she considers a run for the Presidency (and let's face it, she is considering it), I would tell her to forget it.

I can only argue from my own experience, and whether I am average—or is it median?—I am not sure. I am a few years older than Hillary. I can call her Hillary, can't I? But that means she would be 69 when elected and 77 after 8 years in office. Now the Pope is currently 77 and when he took a few days off the other day because he was tired, no one minded. Imagine the President of the United States taking a few days off for that reason. By the way I, who used to be pretty adequate at arithmetic, had a wretched job getting my brain around those numbers. I think I would have a lot more trouble with the budget of the USA. Of course, I was working on this problem as I was lying down for my obligatory afternoon nap.

All this is to say that age IS a factor. I am a great fan of Ronni Bennet and her blog about aging. Some time ago ago she wrote an eye opening post asking when old age actually begins. The comments section is worth reading. The writers differ greatly in their perceptions of old age, both the physical and mental changes they are undergoing. But hardly anyone reaches the late 70's without age rearing its ugly head.

Of course she would have some advantages. Someone to choose and buy her clothes (designer if the occasion warrants), a doctor just outside her door and a hairdresser on hand to help with the scrunchy or whatever she needs to make sure her hairdo befits a President. Imagine being called out of bed in the middle of the night to the Situation Room to deal with a possible Third World War with tousled hair. That's why Margaret Thatcher favored the helmet and hairspray look.

None of those advantages would outweigh having to get out of bed in the first place. Most of us enjoy the occasional sleep in. I suppose this is the place where someone mentions Ronald Reagan. Or someone tells me I am a traitor to my age or to my gender. She would be closely scrutinized because when you are the first to do something, it happens. We have all seen that. So don't do it, Hillary. Enjoy your new grandchild, have nothing to do with ambitious men in navy suits.

Notice, I haven't mentioned Bill once.

Happy Thanksgiving

The Postal Service held its regular food drive a couple of weekends ago. The idea is to leave a bag of contributions for the carrier to pick up. So off to my pantry to see what I had. I remember a set of instructions I once  had— don't just give away "basic" foods because the hungry will appreciate a luxury item now and then and remember that often the needy will not have access to a stove. As I sorted out my food items, I was pretty sure that some of the items I once bought for a long forgotten recipe would not be welcome. So the fava beans, chopped pimientos and chipotle peppers in adobe sauce went back on the shelf. Now if only I could remember why I bought them. The biggest sacrifice in this house is the Wilkins Tawny Marmalade, but that too was omitted.

At last I had to confront my elephant in the room when it comes to canned goods. Each year my kids recognize that the part of Thanksgiving dinner I am least likely to burn/omit ingredients from/overcook is pumpkin pie. I suspect that if they were in charge they would go out, pick pumpkins, scrape out flesh and make a tasty pâte brisée. Alas, those days are over—if they ever existed. So for me cans it is. Libby's pumpkin, Pet evaporated milk. However, I am always afraid I have not made enough. If you had seen the size and appetite of my teenagers you would understand why. So I always buy extra and leave them sitting in my pantry. And who eats pumpkin pie in May? Maybe we should. A few of them I had bought when I was in my rather smart if anal period of sticking on labels to make rotating cans easier. I could see some of them were several years old. But when I looked at their expiration date, there was still a long time to go. That stuff lasts for ever.

Memorial Day is coming up. Pumpkin pie anyone?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Ooh la la, Brigitte

I wrote at dreary length about my fall on the black ice on our porch. My ankle was not broken and it began slowly to heal. It took forever for the pain to abate, but I am left with a swollen ankle that looks like a hunk of meat. My doctor decided to inflict more pain when he took a chunk of flesh to biopsy (people shouldn't get moles THERE), though I am happy to report I did. But he decided my ankle and my varicose veins  needed some help and gave me an order for elastic stockings.

Where do I start? If it was winter, I would get the black version, but it is summer so I went for ivory. I am not going to sit on a stool and show you how I look.  Mine do not reach as far up my leg as the ones on the package, so skirts, even fairly long ones are a tad iffy. In fact, there is a reason mine do not look like this. This woman is a MODEL. She was chosen for her slim and perfect legs and her pointed feet, not for her varicose veins and chunky ankles. Ah, advertising!

The lace is nice and so far is holding up. But I am pondering the meaning of the icon at the top of the package. It looks a little, well, male, to me.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Dead Mountain

The third book in the cold-weather troika of books is Dead Mountain by Donnie Eichar. It is also the most bizarre and best introduced by the facts. In 1959 nine experienced hikers from the Ural Polytechnic Institute set off on a journey through difficult terrain in the Ural Mountains of Russia, a trip that would earn them Grade III certification. They would need to be gone for sixteen days with at least eight in uninhabited regions and with no fewer than six nights in a tent. This rather dreary past-time was, in fact, very popular in Cold War Russia. When the hikers, who came to be named the Dyatlov group after their rather charismatic leader, failed to return after three weeks, a rescue operation was mounted. Eventually their tent was discovered with many of their boots and coats lying inside. The tent doors were still laced closed, but there was a large rip in the side of the tent. Over the course of the next several weeks the bodies of the hikers were found. Most died of hypothermia, though a few had headwounds. A couple were in a frozen embrace, all were shoeless.

The theories were countless, including a snatching by a yeti (or by the Mansi tribe which lived in the area.) Visitors from outer space were proposed, but none of the suggestions made sense once it was determined that the slash in the side of the tent was made from the inside.  Lev Ivanov, who headed the investigation, pronounced that the situation was due to "an unknown compelling force."

Enter Donnie Eichar who was fascinated by the incident and determined to shed light on it. To do this successfully, to follow the footsteps of the hikers and to write a compelling book would, I imagine, require that the investigator be a good writer, reasonably versed in Russian and accustomed to crossing large expanses of snow and ice. Donnie Eichar is a film maker, but the two other people who appear on   the jacket must have been used as co-writers. His Russian is non-existent, and that was a distinct problem (though bits of Russian songs and poems are interspersed with the text to give it a Russian feel.) As for experience, he says, "I had seen snow less than a dozen times in my life."

Nevertheless, I give him credit for his resolute determination to solve the whole question of what happened to the Dyatlov party. He does a believable job. You will have to read the book. Spoiler alert—Karman vortex.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Serendipity Yet Once More

Some time ago my son-in-law passed this book on to me, while my daughter asked, "Mom, why do you like to read these books about people undertaking dangerous expeditions?" I did ask myself this question in print some time ago, but luckily for you, I can't find that post. The answer had something to do with being warm while others faced the cold—or rapids—or mountains.

Many of you have read Endurance, the story of Shackleton, his ill-fated, aborted attempt to cross the Antarctic and his courageous and  eventually successful attempt to reach safety and rescue his crew left behind on Elephant Island. So have I, but I need to go back and read it again, because I don't believe there was any mention of the other integral part of the expedition. Realizing that he and his men would not be  able to carry enough food and equipment for his entire crossing of the Antarctic, Shackleton planned to have another ship sail to the opposite side of the continent to go out and lay stockpiles that the main expedition could use at the end of their journey. Actually, the word "plan" is used loosely. Shackleton had little money, he bought the ship Aurora which was to transport the Ross Sea party sight unseen and picked up many of the crew in Australia and Tasmania, including some scientists with no polar experience, a newly-minted clergy man (for the adventure) and other  ill-assorted officers and men. The Aurora made it to land and began to unload the provisions that were to be taken a third of the way across the continent. The land party and the dogs disembarked—when the ship got caught in a current which took it way out to sea, leaving the land party of ten men with little in the way of clothing or provisions for themselves.

The Lost Men is the story of how the land party fashioned clothes out of tents and odd bits of fabric, dealt with the problem of an uncouth sailor who knew how to train the dogs and his opposition by the de facto officer who did not, but never once gave up on the promise they had made to Shackleton—never knowing that Shackleton had not set foot on the continent of Antarctica. They fulfilled their promise at a terrible price and the author does a wonderful job, unearthing a hardly known story, interviewing descendants and wading through diaries and other documents relating to the truly "harrowing saga." It is a gripping and bone-chilling account, made even more powerful by actual photographs of the crew.

By chance, at the same time my son gave me a copy of Sir Edmund Hillary's book, View from the Summit. Although one section deals with his remarkable ascent of Everest, there are several sections relating other adventures he undertook. Obviously he was a man destined for great things, although I was somewhat disappointed in his attitude. Sir Edmund was a great humanitarian who built hospitals and schools for the sherpas in the foothills of Everest, but when writing of his fellow climbers, he was often less than gracious. "I don't quite know why I seemed to be doing the majority of the work at this stage" (p. 92), "I don't know where Earle Riddiford was at this time—he often seemed to disappear on his own agenda." (p. 73)

Where does the serendipity come in? When an Englishman with the risible name of Bunny (Sir Vivian) Fuchs planned an expedition to cross the Antarctic from the Shackleton Base on the Weddell Sea across to the Ross Sea, he asked Hillary to supply depots from the Ross Sea to the Beardmore Glacier, thus duplicating the journey made by the Lost Men. This time the intrepid explorers had the advantage of communications, up to date polar clothing instead of rags, Sno-cats and "three Fergusons and a weasel" to pull their laden sledges across the ice. Their predecessors used man power. The fact that nowhere does Sir Edmund mention the earlier men who covered the same ground surely means he had never heard of them. He writes vividly of the ever-present danger of crevasses opening up, fog, poor visibility and screaming gales. But when a couple of the party suffered minor physical problems, one of which was a back strain from an old rugby injury!, they were air-lifted out. I thought admiringly of the ten men of the Ross Sea party who had no safety net. They ate fresh seal meat to ward off scurvy, though the clergyman succumbed to the disease and two more members of the party disappeared, presumably falling into an open lead.

So just by chance I read these two books, one after the other. But if you do read two books, the combination of Endurance and the The Lost Men will be unforgettable.

Monday, April 07, 2014

More Basketball/More Food

Last Saturday we got to the Final Four in the NCAA Basketball Tournament (Florida vs Connecticut, Wisconsin vs Kentucky: Connecticut and Kentucky won.) I include the names of the teams as an aide- memoire because in a week or two someone will ask which teams were in the Final Four—and I will have completely forgotten. The final begins in just over an hour, and we have already eaten dinner, but on Saturday I was faced with the problem I had had the previous week. What to eat for dinner while watching basketball.

There seemed to be an easy solution: make a small pan of lasagne to eat, while making two large pans to freeze for Easter. Not that we eat lasagne for Easter: our main celebration is Easter breakfast, with the Iowan celebrating his Iowa heritage by cooking an enormous amount of ham. One way and another it takes all morning, and then everyone stays around for the rest of the day and I wanted a head start on some of the other dishes I would need at the ready.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that I have lost some of my cooking acumen, but I got about half way through preparing the lasagne before realizing my mistake. I was supposed to mix parmesan cheese with the ricotta, but instead I had mixed a large amount of mozarella. Those Italians with their cheeses ending in "a" were to blame. What to do? I simply added the parmesan as well and figured it wouldn't taste too bad. It didn't.

Which I think is more than can be said for the recipe on the back of the noodle box. Kroger calls the recipe, "BBQ Chicken Lasagna". By clicking on this photo, you can read the ingredients: ground chicken breast, chili powder, red onion, BBQ sauce, black beans, frozen corn etc. In essence, we have the ingredients of a tasty Mexican dish, in which case, why not use tortillas? Because it would not sell lasagne noodles, that's why. And two bottles of BBQ sauce? It doesn't even look too appetizing.

Half an hour before the Final. I'm rooting for U-Conn.

Monday, March 31, 2014


It was time to figure out a dinner menu for last weekend. March Madness had come to the stage where I knew we would be eating while watching—so what's for dinner? If I wanted to avoid being tied down to the kitchen while the combat for the Final Four was underway, it had to be a Crockpot meal, or something that could be made earlier and warmed up/finished off while the battle raged. And that's what we did.

The idea of Sloppy Joes took my fancy, so it was an easy job in the grocery store to pick up the meat, tomato paste etc. that I would need for my gourmet meal. All that remained to be done was to grab a package of hamburger buns. But wait—they did it again. I wanted plain old everyday hamburger buns. But I had to choose between jumbo dark rye, extra large crushed wheat, pretzel, Aunt Millie's Buffalo Buns, sesame, whole wheat, potato, dark whole wheat grain, 8-grain—and so on ad infinitum.

And to think, the grilling season will soon be underway and I will have to make this headache-inducing choice regularly. For the record: I do feel kind of sorry for Aunt Millie.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

When do You Give up on a Blogger?

As I look through my bookmarks, I see I have quite a bit of de-thatching to do. Some of the general links are still interesting, and I had forgotten I had them. Some of those filed under "English blogs" and "American blogs" are most disappointing. Writers I hadn't checked with for a while have not written for a couple of years: sometimes I get the dreaded 404 screen.

I had to start with the blogs I reference on my own blog. I had a section titled "bloggers I know". When I re-started my blog after my hiatus, I found that most of them were no longer writing either. I chided them gently, as only I can do. At least I knew they were still living, but I have now deleted that section.

Many, many years ago I joined a group called The Ageless Project. Members' sites are listed by decades. One is from the 10's, ending with a lovely obituary for Grandma Julia. There are 20 from the 20's, four still extant, three with obituaries, one recently celebrating an 89th birthday and ten with last entries ranging from 2006 to 2013. The 30's boast 47 blogs. You can see where I am going with this, so no analysis. I wonder if anyone still edits the Project and I wonder if it is right to remove an author who has not written for a year or two. After all, I took a hiatus.

One of the authors on the 30's list, just a couple before me, is John Bailey, aka the Old Grey Poet. I read him faithfully, every day, for years and years and enjoyed him so much. He became ill, and wrote a note of assurance on July 1, 2013. I check with him regularly. He is four months older than I am. My other enjoyable elderly English blogger is John Copeland. He will turn 80 this year and then intends to retire from blogging and computers. I shall miss his acerbic comments on life in contemporary Britain, and I think he'll miss having a sounding board for his views.

Of course so many bloggers stop writing for reasons other than old age and death! I guess I'll just have to find other criteria for culling my bookmarks.

Maybe it is a good idea to provide someone with passwords to access my blog so you won't ever think I have just voluntarily gone away and left you.

Monday, March 17, 2014

In Which She Writes on Laundry

But first a spot of housekeeping. (I have always giggled when I am at conferences and an elderly gentleman comes to the microphone and makes that announcement. I know he has never worn an apron in his life. Actually, he usually tells us where the bathrooms are and the time for lunch.) I want to announce that my ankle is not broken. Indeed, it feels quite a bit better as I walk in a forwardly direction. As I try to turn it, however, it is incredibly painful and turning over in bed is still excruciatingly painful. In the pro column, however, my dryer is now humming like a top, and the repair man who turned up ten minutes early on Monday announced that in spite of its age, it was worth keeping for as long as I could—which is considerably longer than any appliance bought today.

I started thinking of what laundry meant in my youth.One day was always set aside for laundry—and that day was Monday. That way we could, in theory, eat the the leftover meat from Sunday's roast, though I am not sure there was a lot of meat, but some gravy and boiled potatoes filled us up. In truth, I don't remember much about the "washing" part of the day. When I was at school I missed it all and when I was on holiday there was not a lot of room in our small kitchen for me to observe the goings on. Because that is where the washing part was done. No laundry room for us. What I still refer to as "the whites" were boiled in a big pot on the stove top and other items were washed in the sink. I am pretty sure that at some point a portable machine that spun the washing around was placed on the draining board by the sink. Or maybe it was a dryer. One thing I do know: this function was performed early in the morning because it was important to get the clothes out to dry on the line before any other housewife in the street. That's how a woman's housewifery was measured.

I am much more familiar with the drying/ironing/airing facets of wash day. When I came home from school on a rainy day, washing was festooned over a clothes horse in front of the fire (it looked like this, not like a horse.) Often the house felt steamy like a sauna. If, however, the clothes had dried, we moved to ironing. I often helped out at this stage. The ironing board was moved into the dining room. The fire was there and it was, in fact, the room where all our living took place. And o, the things we ironed. We ironed towels, and dishcloths, and sheets, and every item of clothing. Sounds like a lot, and it was, but we had strict rules about clothes to be washed. Several  days worth of dirt constituted "dirty clothes".

I had left home before some of the labor saving devices of the 50's made their way into the house and I regret to say that because I didn't know better I was not as glad as I should have that my mother was freed from some of the plain drudgery. I am delighted with the invention of "no-iron" fabrics, though I regret that some of my children do no know one end of an iron from the other.

Now I wonder what else would make my life easier. I do still have a sore ankle!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Lost Weekend

It would be a nice few days, catching up with a few (a very few) jobs and culminating in a dinner the girls and I were giving on Saturday for our old friend John who was soon celebrating his 60th birthday.

The first sign that all was not well was on Wednesday when I went running downstairs to pull some laundry out of the dryer and throw in another load that was already washed. The dryer contained some warmish items but it was clear it had not been rotating. "It's the belt", I announced, but it was already past 5, so I would have to wait until next day to call my very efficient appliance man. And when I did call on Thursday, they told me he would be here between 3 and 5. Great. But he wasn't and when I called next day, it was the family emergency story. But he is worth waiting for, so I agreed to Monday.

During this period the weather was warming up, snow was beginning to melt slowly and I was thinking that spring was perhaps coming. I was glad to wake up early Saturday morning. I could drink coffee and read the paper before Ernie woke up and before I had to start my preparations for the evening. I looked outside. No paper, though I was delighted that no longer would we have to burrow under piles of snow. The porch was clear. So I made coffee, emptied the dishwasher and by that time, there was the paper. Out I went—and found myself flying across the porch. My right leg went out straight and my right arm knocked the porch bench into the burning bushes. What my left leg did, I am not sure, but it was kind of crooked. The whole porch was a sheet of invisible black ice, and too slippery to stand up. Where are the joggers and the dog walkers when you need them? So I grabbed the paper and crawled back into the house. I sat (on a towel: my rear end was wet) and read the paper until Ernie surfaced and then began to get ready for the dinner. Fortunately I had marinated the meat the night before and didn't have a lot to do, except peel potatoes, thanks to my girls who were bringing major contributions. We sat around after dinner talking until I couldn't take it any longer and crawled off to bed. John is a doctor: he understands. My daughters and sons-in-law did a perfect job clearing the table and stuffing the dishwasher. After a while I needed to go to the bathroom and got in a right old pickle when I managed to crawl into the bathroom but was totally unable to stand up to accomplish the object of my mission. Thanks, Ernie.

Timing again. I had to wait until yesterday to go to the doctor. She sent me to the hospital for an X-ray and I am hoping it is just a sprain. My ankle certainly feels somewhat better today, so all is right with the world. And then . . . Please, no!

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

The Winter of our Discontent

Corny title. Corny content. But I did want to firmly establish in this quasi-journal which (I hope) my children and grandchildren can refer to if they want to have something about me and their grandfather preserved when we are no longer around to tell them, that there was something very special about the winter of 2013-2014. Hopefully it will not be when one of them is writing a dissertation about the origins of global warming/freezing or flooding. A few years ago I made a successful attempt to locate the members of the Bedford College, London, department of Classics, graduating class of 1962. Their stories were different, but as they wrote about their post-college years, a number of them used the abysmal winter of the early sixties as a kind of benchmark.

I really do hate to write about weather, but this winter in Detroit was special. It was bad enough that our former mayor (and a number of his cronies) was tucked away in prison, that the city was bankrupt, that the horrendous state of education, the lack of lighting and transportation had become subjects of legend, that the the contents of the Art Institute were being held hostage, but here, according to Time magazine, is the final ignominy. My whole life is turned upside down. I cannot just run out to the library or the mail. Cold weather and/or cold breezes can cause my facial condition to flare up. Actually, cold doesn't seem to be a trigger for me, but just in case I swathe my lower face in a warm scarf and only venture out in a hijab-like garment. That is after I have put on boots, a puffy jacket and warm gloves.

I was going to be positive and search for a photo of Grosse Pointe in the snow, which I must admit can be be beautiful. The trees, the lake . . . I was waxing quite lyrical, and then I got this image on Facebook from my daughter Liz. My grandson Henry has said it all.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Concerning Oyster Mushrooms

Time was when every penny counted in the grocery store, when coupons were carefully hoarded. I fondly remember the period of my life when Andrew and I went out on Tuesday evening and bought the grocery items for a week. There was not a penny left in our bank account, but in those pre-digital days I could write a check, knowing that money would be deposited from our paychecks first thing Wednesday morning before the checks made it to the bank. I just looked that transaction up and check kiting, or in our case playing the float seems to be illegal, so please don't tell the IRS. There were a few food items I coveted, but would never dream of buying. Raspberries, mushrooms, avocados were worth their weight in gold and never made it on my list, let alone in my shopping cart.

I should be equally careful today, because who knows what the future has in store or what will happen with our pensions, but now I only have two mouths to feed instead of seven, I buy an occasional luxury. This week I checked out mushrooms. I love the occasional mushroom omelet and it brings back such happy memories of my friend Sylvia. I wanted just plain old button mushrooms and as I looked over the various sorts of mushrooms, I noticed the sign WIC in front of every shelf. In case you don't know, WIC indicates that the foodstuff has been approved for the Women, Infants and Children program, which enables families who are low income and who satisfy other requirements to obtain nutritious food free of charge. I am a great believer in making nutritious food available to children and am certainly not about to query this program, but shitake mushrooms? Oyster mushrooms? Organic portobello mushrooms?

I wondered if the decision to include these items was made by the store manager, but a little research led me to the State of Michigan WIC approved foods website. It is fascinating reading and I applaud the authors for making clear in words and photos exactly what cereal for example has been approved. When it comes to fruits and vegetables, I found that every fruit, with the exception of pre-prepared fruits, has been approved and all vegetables, except while potatoes. Shitake mushrooms, but not white potatoes? I supposed the authorities are afraid that mothers will fill up their children with mashed potatoes and omit other more nutritious dishes. like beef tenderloin in a port shitake reduction or spinach and mushroom quiche with shitake mushrooms.

You see my problem here, don't you, and it is one that occupied my thoughts as I made my way home with my small punnet of button mushrooms, made infinitely more attractive by being offered as a "Manager's Special."

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Bookstore Memories

When I was at university ( or, as they say now in various places, at uni or at college) there was no such thing as a college bookstore where a student could retreat, reading list in hand, and pick up all the texts required for upcoming courses. We sat down, fountain pens in hand, and wrote to our bookstore of choice (Foyles on Charing Cross Road, Blackwells in Oxford come to mind) to request the texts we needed for the upcoming term—or was it semester, I don't remember. We politely asked for second hand texts in good shape and we trusted them not to send, and demand payment for, new ones.

Helene Hanff's apartment is on the left, the bookstore of Marks and Co. on the right.
So much of this came to mind last Fall when my son-in-law directed a production of 84, Charing Cross Road. The above photo includes some of the tech people: the cast is very small. It is a tour de force for the actress playing Helene Hanff and the actor playing Frank Doel of Marks and Co. Helene and Frank forge a delightful long distance relationship as she writes to him requesting books and she does her best to make up for the deficiencies in British post-war diet by sending a box of nutritious foodstuffs at regular intervals. I know that 84 no longer exists, but of course Foyles does.

My husband bought books across the Atlantic from Heffers in Cambridge and Blackwells in Oxford. Sorting through one of his many piles of papers the other day he came across this letter:

Imagine Amazon being half this polite.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Brussel Sprouts

Like most of us who grew up in England after the Second World War, I have a vivid memory of stewed cruciferous vegetables. Boiled cabbage made an appearance at almost every meal, unseasoned and boiled until it was pale green and mushy. I didn't actually mind it too much, but I was relieved on those rare occasions when we had brussel sprouts (always referred to in our family as "Brussel Sprouts" or "Brussels"). In our house they made an appearance at Christmas as a rather neglected companion to turkey.

When I was in a position to cook meals I renewed my acquaintance with brussels, rather intrigued when I discovered that they grew on long stalks. (Maybe that's the way we got them in England, but I didn't put in much of an appearance in the kitchen at home: indeed there was not room for two cooks in our tiny kitchen.) I found them much more appetising when cooked a little more al dente. But then, miracle of miracles—my avant garde son-in-law read somewhere that they were delicious roasted. Tossed with olive oil and spices and roasted in a hot oven they were a food for the Gods.

So was happy when the Wall Street Journal called my name last weekend with an article entitled Brussels Sprouts Break Out. Maybe I could be the first at family dinners to serve an enticing vegetable dish. Doesn't "Fried Brussels Sprouts with Savory Onion Caramel, Garlic Confit, Lime. Mint and Aleppo Pepper" sound great? But Fish sauce? Aleppo pepper, Onion juice? All those steps? A glob of olive oil does it for me. Then we have a dish involving Marcona Almonds, Whole Coriander and Pecorino cheese. Darn, I keep meaning to buy a mandoline, but the dish does look nicely crunchy.

All these dishes look delicious but involve so many steps. In a restaurant I would make a bee-line towards them, but at home? Boiled cabbage anyone?

Friday, February 14, 2014

When I'm worried and I can't sleep . . .

I count my blessings instead of sheep

And I fall asleep

Counting my blessings
When my bankroll is getting small

I think of when I had none at all
And I fall asleep

Counting my blessings
I think about a nursery and I picture curly heads

And one by one I count them as they slumber in their beds
If you're worried and you can't sleep

Just count your blessings instead of sheep

And you'll fall asleep

Counting your blessings.
What made me think of this? Well, remember I said my friend Rosemary would be appearing in this post. Literally. I sent these photos via e-mail to my college class and said I couldn't remember where they were taken.

One of my classmates suggested they were taken at Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park when we went for a weekend seminar on Utopias. Could have fooled me. Anyway, I am on the right and that's Rosemary on the left. Of all the people I know, she is the most likely to be counting her blessings, but what struck me was the comment she made, "I can remember that coat." I can remember mine too. I got it at the only place we bought coats—a dutch company with a name including a lot of initials. They had a big store on Oxford Street. So what is my point? When I can't fall asleep, or when I wake up in the middle of the night, I try to list all the shoes I have ever had, all the sweaters, all the jackets etc. During the period of my life in England, Austerity Britain, the list was very short, but at the same time the objects were carefully chosen. Just how many colors did Marks and Spencers have the sweater in? My three years in Los Angeles were supported by a Teaching Assistantship and a small stipend. My first years in Detroit were a whirl of small children and panic set in when there was a University function, "I don't have anything to wear!" My working years required more clothes, but at the same time I was working to help support children who needed their own clothes and to pay university tuition.

And now I am not very interested in what I wear. Soon I will start on woolly sheep.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

The Dumbing Down of America

My college friend Rosemary, who will, I hope, appear again in my next post, lived for a while in Cincinnati in the 80's.  Amazing how sometimes a comment can stick with you for so long: she could not get over the way Americans made cakes—with a package and an egg, which she claimed was no easier than mixing up the five or so ingredients needed to make a cake from scratch. I just hated to tell her it was a lot easier for me, since I had not learned to make a cake at my mother's knee. I don't want to insult my mom, she did make cakes and a few months ago I had the biggest urge for a great big slice of Victoria sponge, but the 250g/9oz measurements that appeared on line were a little taxing for someone who has got used to measuring in cups. So Duncan Hines it was. And Duncan has not heard of Victoria sponge.

Lately I have noticed an annoying and growing trend on-line. When I look at some sites, they give a link to an article I am interested in reading. But when I click on the site, lo and behold there is that triangle which takes me to a video. I don't want to watch a video, I want to read an article. Apart from the unexpected noise that fills the house, the video contains sparse news and there is no background information or attempt to quote sources. Can't people read any more? No, I am not knocking America: the BBC news is one of the biggest culprits.

I am an avid reader of those sections of the newspaper which used to be called "The Woman's Section" and now tend to be called "Life." So it always astonishes me when I come across a previously completely unheard of person or trend. Often one which has slithered from "Life" to "Business." Such is Jenny Doan. I read about her in The Wall Street Journal. They gave the lucrative background to her YouTube tutorials in which she gives all kinds of short cuts to making quilts. Me being me, I went straight to them and yes, her short cuts are a dumbing down of of a wonderful artisinal skill, but boy are they useful. I am working my way through her videos—next I will start on the quilts.

Last Sunday was Super Bowl Sunday. The less said about the game the better, but earlier that week I asked the primo football fan in the house what he wanted for dinner Sunday night. "Tacos." I had most of the ingredients to hand, but I did need to pick up taco shells. I approached the shelves where taco shells are usually found, raised my hand to grab a couple of packets and what did I find? Taco dinner kits, and not only taco dinner kits, there were fajita kits and enchilada kits. What on earth would I have found in a taco dinner kit? Dehydrated onions and tomatoes and cheese and lettuce? I'll never know. I thought that was sinking as low as commerce could sink, but there was worse to come.

One of the quilt squares I found attractive was called the "snowball square." I had enjoyed Jenny's quick method of making one and joining it to other squares. Anxious to check out a few other quilt patterns using the snowball square, I googled "easy+snowball." Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present to you an easy snowball maker. Get your small children dressed up in coats and boots and scarves and mittens—and remind them to take this travesty outside with them, because after all, using their hands to make a snowball is way too onerous.

I'm not telling Rosemary about this one.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


This is my husband's favorite outside plant container. Well, maybe he likes his strawberry pot just a bit more. Every year he takes a long while to find just the right plant for Froggy–and sometimes he never finds one. It must have been pretty late in the season when he found last year's plant, because it was still vibrant when we were putting all the pots away for the season, so I brought Froggy inside for the winter. I don't know what the plant is, but it now resembles the fuzzy mullet of an aging rock star. Somehow Froggy's foot/leg/arm got broken, which makes watering a problem, but he looks happy perching over my kitchen sink, in spite of all the snow outside.

So when Spring comes—and it will come—Froggy will once again perch on the picnic table watching us eat hamburgers and potato salad. I can't wait.