Monday, December 28, 2015

A Departure from the Norm

Every year for more years than I can remember we have sent out a Christmas letter. You know the sort. This year I ordered the paper and made a draft, handed it over to my editor in chief—then we both looked at each other and said "Do we really want to send this out?" We agreed what we wanted to do but we didn't agree on a timeline. And in case we don't, let me tell you what is important to me this year (and will, I suspect, become more and more important with the passing years):

Christmas 2015

It is a given that “old people” (and you known who you are) live in the past. As this year draws to a close, I realize that I am doing that more and more. And it makes me happy.

There are the friends I made before I left England. Diana and Yvonne started school with me when we were five and we continued at the same institution when we passed the 11+. Although we parted ways in our late teens, we kept sporadically in touch and I have seen them on my occasional visits to England. We now correspond more regularly and I admire the way they are coping with the problems they have faced. When I went on to college I made close friends in my own department, and what sad news I have heard from many of them this year. Yes, we are getting old. I think fondly of them and welcome all the news I get from them. Thank you internet! I can see photos they have posted on Facebook and read letters which would never have been written without e-mail.

Off to Los Angeles! My friends there seemed just a bit more exotic, and I treasure memories of Elizabeth and Rory, Libby (she played tennis with Barry Goldwater), Jane and the Trapps. Some I will hear from this Christmas.

When I married I met a whole boatload of Aments. My memories grew to include the parties and reunions which marked life in that large family. Of course we visited many of them and kept in touch, not only at Christmas but throughout the year. Now they are mostly gone and I have added them to the memories I mull around when I can’t sleep. Chief among them are Ernie’s siblings, Flo and Bob.

Our arrival in Detroit (and the arrival of our five children) led us to meet more people who are gradually becoming the fodder of my memories: the parishioners at St. Ambrose—especially the talented members of the St. Ambrose Players and their husbands—the teachers at the various schools the children attended and their fellow students, some of whom I still come across.

You can imagine how happy I was when my brother and sister-in-law visited us this year, not a memory but a beloved reality.

I am delighted in my children and in my 21 grandchildren. They are part of my present, but this year I wanted devote to the past. It worked for Scrooge.

Love from Beryl

Monday, December 21, 2015

Happy Birthday, Peter

In keeping with my newly re-constituted policy, I am using this post to wish Happy Birthday to our newest family member by marriage. He was a twofer, bringing with him our lovely granddaughter Blake. We will see her tonight singing at her school concert and celebrate with Peter and Lucy at dinner tomorrow.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

All I Want for Christmas . . .

No, I am not going to wax lyrical about my front teeth. Although I must admit to getting a splendid new molar yesterday to replace one that had broken off. My dentist was so happy about his new machine that allowed him to take a photo of my mouth and design a new tooth and color and polish it. When he wheeled in the new computer equipment to give me a lesson in dental design, I told him he was like a little boy who had found this equipment under the tree. I gulped a little as I wrote the check which follows the check to the dishwasher and cook top repair man and to Lenscrafters for my new glasses which I hope will enable me to read the newspaper in the morning. If they do, it will be worth it.

What I want is a series of two or three classes in punctuating—specifically blogs, which have a slightly different flavor. I am not sure if I learned punctuation in school—I suppose we must have because so much of our work was written.  I am sure I would not have been allowed that dashy thing in the last sentence. It is colons and semi-colons which cause me confusion, and where to put commas and periods (not a word I would have been allowed in England!) when I am using quotation marks.

I have Strunk and White in one corner of the basement and Eats, Shoots and Leaves in another, but I don't think I can deal with them. I have two close family members who are editors, but I don't think my daughter or son-in-law can constantly sit beside me and advise.

There we go: should it be "constantly sit" or "sit constantly? Adverbs after verbs, I suppose. Except for effect.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Minister is Pleased to Inform You

I received a letter from the Minister's lackey and my obedient servant  at the end of summer, 1963. Some time before I had received an eight-page brochure from the University of London listing those who had been successful in the "Examination for the Postgraduate Certificate in Education:June 1963." I don't know how many people had been unsuccessful. I think I should have, because all I remember of that year is playing the part of Ursula the Pig Woman in Ben Johnson's Bartholomew Fair, skipping lectures on "The History of Education", "The Philosophy of ditto"—oh, look, I wrote about this before.

I wasn't able to show you this somewhat tacky document. Once in a while I see important documents provided by important people and I realize what life was like before computers. The typing is uneven (and I am sure Mr. Simpson's secretary had her way with whiteout) and the whole document was copied crookedly on a Xerox.

I don't think I even looked closely at it before, because by this time I was getting ready to go to Los Angeles and the University of Southern California, but I see I was also qualified to teach in nursery schools, though I never knew a three year old anxious to translate Thucydides.

In LA I was a teaching Assistant. I loved teaching, and I think I was good at it. My original intention had been to return to England and become a teacher, but when fate decreed I was going to live in Detroit, I explored teaching here. I was offered a job across the river at the University of Windsor, but with no car (I couldn't even drive) and a succession of babies, that didn't work out. As for teaching in a high school, the State of Michigan required 50 or so University credits in Education. Too expensive, no baby sitter or car—well, that was not an option. To be honest, I never waved this document in front of them and asked if there was a short cut.

I have kept this letter "for future reference" and to remind me of what might have been.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Remember Holidailies?

It took me nigh on two weeks to write about Thanksgiving, so it is once again time, if not a little late, to take off my hat to the wonderful and prolific bloggers who contribute to Holidailies. These writers post a contribution each day from December 1 to January 1. I could never do that and try as I might in the "down" season after Christmas, I can never read them all. But it is a great way to come across bloggers I used to follow and to meet new ones.

Give it a try.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Nate the Great

Thank you to my adorable grandson for sharing my birthday today. This photo was taken last year in his new house in Manassas, VA. Looks like it needs a bit of Photoshop. I just noticed what looks like a large rat on his shoulder. He is nine today and seems so grown-up. We saw him at Thanksgiving in Detroit and hope to visit him in Virginia in the Spring.

Love you, Nathaniel.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Across the River and into the Trees

I must first start out with a confession. A rather shameful confession. The realization that my cultural literacy has let me down. When I came across the juxtaposition of a river and trees/woods, I never realized that Hemingway wrote Across the River and into the Trees. (Note to self: read more Hemingway. And F. Scott Fitzgerald.) This short video shows what I always conjured up when I heard these words. Though there is too much snow and ancient means of transportation and not enough Grandma (where's Grandpa?) and a Norman Rockwell turkey.

I love the idea of children wrapping up warmly in a sled, arriving at Grandma's house where there is already a smell of gingerbread and everyone sitting around the fire telling family stories. Yes, I love the idea, but it doesn't work out that way. This year I got six exhausted people who for some reason had left Virginia at two a.m., but got here safely in time for lunch. I had made cookies, but it did not take them long to devour the whole batch. (Note to self: make more cookies and hide some.)

As usual, my memories of the Thanksgiving weekend are a little confused. What DO I remember? Well, I remember the funny noise the dishwasher made Thanksgiving morning and the fact that it kept running and running but the soap never left the dispenser. Fortunately Kate and Ron were cooking the Thanksgiving dinner and I still had my summer picnic baskets filled with paper plates and plastic silverware (my favorite oxymoron) for the other days when I had 17-25 people a meal.

I remember Gody teaching Kate how to make authentic eggplant parmesan —hope you got it, Kate, it was delicious and we want it at more family meals. And as I look through photos, I remember how unenthusiastic I felt about taking photos. This dish was I side I served with a ham and roast potatoes. I remember we let the kids go ahead in the buffet line we set up and that there were no more potatoes left when we go to the front of the line. (Note to self: remember we have 2 18-year olds at Thanksgiving, a 16 year old, and the other ten were not much younger. With large appetites. Make lots more food ahead of time and freeze it.) Even this little elf will be eating large portions soon.

One of the interesting parts of Thanksgiving. Our son, the French teacher, who will quote Verlaine rather than pick up a hammer, actually fixed the downstairs toilet, the upside down soap holder in the shower and two lights in the upstairs bathroom. That's what having his own shed and a nice new house will do for him! (Note to self: leave more chores for his next visit.)

The day after Thanksgiving was rainy and I debated whether to drag all the kids to our local parade. "Is it the same one as usual?", someone asked. When I said it was, everyone politely declined to go to the parade. Not because it was raining, but because the parade is boring. So while two grandsons and their father went to an old car museum, the rest went to a bookstore.

So Thanksgiving is over. On to Christmas

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Snow is Snowing and the Wind is Blowing . . .

We were just pulling out of our driveway and our neighbor Dave came over to assure us he would keep an eye on our house. "It's going to rain tomorrow," he said. I do not pay much attention to weather forecasts and I have a husband who wants Congress to pass a bill that no weather news or forecasts should be televised for any area more than ten miles away from where he is. The whole of California could be in flames, the East Coast could be underwater . . . he doesn't want to know. Some quote from Thoreau usually follows his declaration.

We made it to Chicago just fine, and sure enough it rained next day. It didn't matter—we were visiting Ernie's sister and her husband and we spent most of our time drinking coffee, discussing our families, eating and deciding if and where to go. What a delight to see Mary Ann and John's sons Patrick, John and Mike and—via Skype—Megan and Emiliano in Texas.

We went to Oakbrook and Ernie's favorite store, The Container Store. He bought boxes to store boxes containing . . . who knows. Maybe some more boxes. I must admit I found some rather useful things, but I will keep them to myself. I am now a member of Pop! We went to Owl Lumber, where Ernie bought lengths of exotic hardwood. For exotic, read expensive. We went to an event described as a "craft show". I thought it would be something like a bunch of women in a church hall. No, it was an enormous place, stacked with vendors who had arrived with huge truck-like vehicles to bring their offerings.

Fortunately pretty much the first vendor we saw was a woodworker, so Ernie was happy. The two of them discussed wood  at length. There was a bread knife (he bought one) and this interesting toy called a do-nothing. It was fancier than this and looked much nicer. The four blocks were made of exotic (see above, it means expensive) wood and I felt pretty good because thanks to my trip to Owl Lumber, I could recognize some. We bought one of these too, but I will not complain because Mary Ann and I made a small dent in our charge cards.

The high point of our visit was a trip to the theater. Our hosts live in a suburb of Chicago and at the time we drove down it took one and a half hours to make it to The Royal George Theatre. Mary Ann had bought tickets for Mike and his fiancee Jaime in honor of Mike's birthday, and fortunately Mike volunteered to brave the traffic. It was a one-man show in which Hershey Felder portrayed Irving Berlin, from his beginnings as an immigrant from Belarus until his death. Felder has been described as a one-man industry and I am not surprised, as among his talents are the singing, piano playing and acting he displays magnificently in this show. Note: why have I never heard of him? Why have I never heard of his wife, Kim Campbell, the former Prime Minister of Canada?

The night before we left, John said it was going to snow 6-8 inches the next day. It didn't, but when we woke up the morning after that at home, there it was. In the words of Mr. Berlin, "I can't remember a worse December . . . "

But this is still November.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Move Over, Mary Berry

I have become quite a fan of The Great British Bake Off and quite a fan of Mary Berry. Actually of everyone who boldly undertook the baking challenges. I have never had any confidence when it comes to baking. I do want to make an attempt at a Victoria Sponge one of these days and I know I need to make a few pies with something other than pre-made pastry. Even my children do better than that! Since my kitchen was re-modelled I have had what I feel is a good excuse. I didn't want to roll pastry on my nice wood table or on my marble counter top. It would stick, wouldn't it? But that was 15 years ago, so I finally trotted off to the inadequately named Bed, Bath and Beyond, and in the Beyond section I bought one of those silpat numbers, with outlines of various sizes of pies and I will give it a try. For Thanksgiving? Maybe not, my blood pressure is already too high. Maybe I will post a photo.

Our dear friend and fellow classicist of Ernie, who hails from upper New York, has always made fun of Ernie's flat mid-western vowels, and claims that there is no difference in his pronunciation of the vowels in "Merry Mary married hairy Harry." I must ask him how a denizen of the Hudson Valley would deal with "Merry Mary Berry married hairy Harry?" Maybe a moot question—she's too fastidious for that.

On the subject of baking. Remember that fellow in my last post who whisked my daughter off into matrimony? He bakes for his family. Buys enormous bags of flour. And gets results like this.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Rolling Up my Sleeves Again

When a person has been away for a long time, it is hard to get going again. Especially when there have been a number of sadnesses in the interim period. Two good friends of mine have lost their husbands and so has a virtual friend. I am now using office365 for my e-mails. I hate it and in my usual un-informed way I am hoping it does not creep over to blogger.

There was however, one glorious event. My brother Brian and his wife Brenda came over to visit. I keep looking at this photo and wondering exactly when it was taken. My brother was born in June of 1944. He looks a little propped up here, so I suspect it was taken around my fifth birthday in December of that year. The war was coming to and end, but we weren't to know that. And we certainly were not the kind of family to have formal photos taken. (There were two others of me which may appear soon.) I do remember my dress. It was made by my Aunty Doris, my mother's sister. Salmon silk, with dark green smocking. You have to love the sausage curls.

We seem to have changed a bit since then! Here we are at Partridge Creek Mall where I treated myself to shocking pink Crocs (I love them) and some conservative brown Clarks (ditto.) The Apple store was appealing. I need a new computer, but I restrained myself. Just another new toy I am not sure I want to learn to use.

We utilized the theatre at the end of the street to see Everest and A Little Chaos. How interesting to learn that Alan Rickman went to the same school as my brother, though they didn't run in the same circles. We cruised the Clinton River to celebrate their wedding anniversary. We went downtown to Wayne and visited Kate in her office and took part in Joe's first birthday party. We treated them to a fantastic astronomical experience when a lunar eclipse met a supermoon. At least, Ernie took them to the park where there was a clear view. I went to bed. We caught up with British personalities and talked of Jeremy Corbin and Monte Python. Not the same person.

All too soon they left. I put away the teapot.

I'm reverting to my previous practice of marking special family anniversaries in this blog, so congratulations to our lovely and talented daughter Kate who married Ron (who is also lovely and talented) twenty years ago today. We love you and appreciate all your help.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Any Suggestions?

My husband received this dollar bill as change from a purchase. Initially I thought someone had just been scribbling random words and sentences on the back, but as I read it I found a sort of rhythm. To me at any rate each successive clause/phrase seems weaker than the last, and I came to the conclusion that a wouldbe writer of a rap song did not have any paper handy. Pretty impressive pen though. I know nothing about rap and have been trying to come up with a fourth line. Are there rules? I am pretty sure it is not supposed to follow the structure of a sonnet.

Any suggestions?

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Au Revoir, Dr. John

He first appeared in our lives in the 70's (I think.) He was in a Latin class of Ernie's. We found out he lived on our street and he was kind enough to give Ernie a ride to Wayne some days so that I could have the car. Later we learned that before we got to know her, his mother had seen me walking to the local store with a couple of kids walking beside me and two or three riding in/hanging onto the stroller. She had remarked to John that she felt sorry for me. Me too.

John applied to Medical School (and I think I remember Ernie telling him that if he didn't get in, he would make him take Greek.) He did get in and qualified as a Family Doctor.  I remember the graduation party, and as I write this many memories of times spent together come back. As his mother grew older, she needed more care and John hired carers and eventually moved to a one storey house where there was room for her wheel chair. About fifteen years ago his mother died and John became a world traveler—as well as he could while remaining in his practice.

We gave John a party for his sixtieth birthday a couple of years ago and he continued to combine his travels and his work. Eventually he realized he could combine the two passions and before we knew it he was applying for one year locum positions in New Zealand.

Finally the name "Ashburton" appeared, and we watched various on-line descriptions and movies. We heard about the clinic where he would be working.

It was on our picnic table that he finally signed the contract. And today he left for San Francisco where he will board his connection to New Zealand—first Auckland for a brief interview, then on to Christchurch.

We no longer have small children for you to remove stitches from. We will not be seeing you arriving at our house for Thanksgiving and Christmas with your arms full of gifts. Au Revoir Dr. John. We will await your return.

Monday, September 07, 2015


A year ago were thinking of ways to encourage Kate's husband, Ron, who was in training for the Detroit Free Press Marathon. He belongs to a gym and works out regularly, but a Marathon? He is more at home on a stage. We joined the crowds of people lining the streets of Indian Village, watched him go by and got the news (via i-phone) that he had finished his first Marathon. We were all so proud of him. Somewhere I have a photo, but . . .

It took courage on his part, but this year I will be watching the progress of a runner with a different kind of courage, and one which I understand perhaps more. I first found an article on Beth Kline-Markesino in a paper which is distributed freely in Grosse Pointe. It described how she is running the Detroit Marathon to "raise awareness of a painful, little
known disease called trigeminal neuralgia". Sound familiar? Beth surprised me by saying she was diagnosed when she was 25, which is outside the normal range (over 60, 5 to one female and right cheek more likely than left.) I cannot imagine knowing she has so many years to live with this condition.  She introduced me to an on-line fundraising site of which I was not previously aware:

Later she was one of five runners featured in an article in the Detroit Free Press written by Kristen Jordan Shamus. I was amazed by Beth's quote, "Somebody just recently said why are you coming forward? Why aren't you being quiet??"

I join Beth in not being quiet, but I am not about to run a Marathon. I applaud this lovely young woman. Join me in thinking of her on race day and in praying for her and the others who suffer with this painful and under-researched condition.

Friday, September 04, 2015

So How Was Your Day, Mrs. Ament?

As often, though not always these days, I arose with my day organized, at least in my head. The world was washed cleaned by last night's storm. I read the more interesting pages in today's WSJ and then went up to do battle with my computer. There is most certainly a problem and a Comcast agent is going to send a new modem. She assured me it would be easy to install, but—

I used to work with an Admissions Officer called Dorothy, who claimed that the admissions system worked only half the time. I was scornful, but I found my internet connection which had been dead was working just fine and banged out a few e-mails. Sorry Dorothy.

Next I did a  little cleaning—just in case. Together with the three daughters who live in the area we are going to give a last swim of the season/farewell picnic for our friend John who is slated to leave for New Zealand on Tuesday as a locum in a medical facility for a year (two years?) The weather is bound to be lovely, right? But the thunder and lightning we enjoyed last night would not work out well for a picnic, and my house was Plan B. The weather was not the only threat . . . John's visa was late in coming. Then who should arrive but John to tell us all is well with the visa and he leaves Tuesday. More then.

After lunch I had a short attack of what I call the "Two o'clock wobblies." It never lasts long, but a sit-down with a book helped. Let's see, before long it was dinner and the news. We were attempting to locate the channel showing the first Michigan State football game of the season. First we bumped into the game show Jeopardy with the charming host, Alex Trebek. All three of the contestants were teachers, and in response to a question about how she kept order in the classroom, one contestant claimed that flexibility of lesson plan and humor helped. To this Alex Trebek said he had had a couple of teachers like that. Perhaps that included Prof. Ernest Ament who taught a young Trebek at the University of Ottawa in the late fifties.

I have never spent blog entries writing about how my day went. But sometimes a lot of nothing adds up to a whole morning, afternoon and evening.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Memories are Made of This.

My older son served twice in Africa in the Peace Corps. The second stint was in Madagascar. He has preserved many memories of that beautiful country, both in words and in photographs.

Here he seems to be holding a salamander of sorts, but there is a story of him carrying a lemur on a bus for several hours to re-house it in a National Park. My husband has put together a number of Al's letters, photos etc. in a booklet called The Red Isle. We sometimes see comments on his Facebook page written in Malagasy. (Malagache?) I wrote here about one of his most poignant accounts, the tombstone of a French soldier.

One reminder of his two years in Madagascar is a photograph that sits on our piano. The Peace Corps had a competition for photographs showing how women were contributing to the economic development of their country. I believe Al's was a (the) winning photo.

A group of women planting rice. This is the posture I have always used when weeding. My husband always said women are built this way, while men kneel, and he kept offering me a rubber mat (which I only used when wearing a skirt.)

This summer I suffered badly from vertigo and instability. I would get into bed at night and the walls would go round and round. The neurologist sent me for yet another neck MRI followed by an ENG and then a VR something or other. When I had mastered the alphabet I landed up having some real or imagined chrystals shaken up in my ears. I had to sleep upright in a chair for two nights and I was supposed to sleep on my right ear. No improvement and although I was supposed to go back—I didn't.

This whole business manifested itself badly when I was trying to weed. I landed on my face in the flowerbed several times. Usually it was a toss up whether my body or the plants were hurt worse. At least the flowers couldn't drip blood.

So off I went to the hardware store. If the rubber mat was not acceptable, I thought this might be.

I now use this piece of landfill fodder as a seat while I bend over and weed. It works pretty well. I cannot claim I am contributing to the economic development of Grosse Pointe, but I have not fallen on my face. Yet.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Ain't She Sweet?

In earlier days I wrote about my previous refrigerator. Public enemy No. 1. We tended to refer to it as "our new refrigerator", although it, together with our other "new" appliances was installed in 2000. Time flies.

Oh the trouble we had with melting rubber hoses, replacement hoses that didn't work and a noisy compressor which was good for 2 weeks or 2 years, according to Rick. No water and no ice either.

So a couple of weeks ago this lovely appliance found it's way into the kitchen. It had to be counter depth, but the freezer is on the bottom, and there have been all kinds of improvements in the last 15 years. Click on the photo to enlarge it.

Look at all the space. I can put big platters of food in it for a party. I wanted to show a photo of the fridge with food arranged tastefully (no pun intended). But a few minutes after I took the photo of the empty appliance, my son and four children arrived. I sent them to the basement to bring up the food I had stored in the basement refrigerator and we shoved it randomly in this beauty. Now they have left and the refrigerator is plundered. I have to decide where everything is to go. Eggs on the left? Pickles on the right? Problems again. But at least water and ice are dispensed from the door rather than the floor.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

This is Ridiculous

If I have no problem, I will create one. It was some time ago that I marked my 10th anniversary, proudly announced I would return—and disappeared off the face of the earth. There were reasons: prior to an iteration of each real or imagined reason I had sketched out a post, written a witty title, researched photos and then I came to a withering halt.

There was the title "The Summer of my Discontent". Not as witty as I imagined, but it did come a fair way to describe a summer which started off cold and so rainy that weeds had their unfettered way with my flower garden. A nice reversal—flowers eventually choked out most of the weeds, but I never bothered to remove the remainder. We did get a few days of the stifling heat and humidity of a typical Detroit summer and today it was so chilly I was looking for a sweater.

We had our usual share of visitors. I had plenty of warning, but I have lost my touch. They were all family of various degrees, all spoke English and all were helpful. The days of screamers and seas of diapers are over. Now I need to find a way to put food into the mouths of teenagers (and I have to remember that "pre-teens" get ravenously hungry too!) I don't have the words to thank my three daughters and their husbands who helped me with meals. Put it the other way round: I occasionally helped them. The weather co-operated with us, so for the most part the kids could use up their energy, and work up an appetite in the pool. A visit from grandchildren would not seem right without an out-door movie. This year it was Breaking Away, which brought forth memories of the 70's for some of us and smiles at the bits of messed up Italian from our guest from Italy.

Just when I was about to write that much awaited (ahem) first post, I got entangled with that neurologist again. Warning, if you can possibly avoid them, do. This time it involved a neurosurgeon, a bunch of MRI's, a treatment for my inner ear which demanded that I sat up in a chair for two nights and subsequently slept on my right side. I also tried taking less medication—but taking more if I had a problem, which of course I did. The problems involved inability to focus my eyes and uncontrollable shaking of my hands. So goodbye typing for a while.

I feel pretty good right now, but suddenly, though not unexpectedly, my e-mail was converted to a Microsoft based system. There are training sessions for all the employees, but we retirees are on our own.  It took me three days to figure out how to print a document. I'm getting there because I hate to be defeated, but I still have to deal with the instructions on "How do I set up my Apple iPhone (and iPad) to synchronize to the new Wayne Connect using Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync?" Until then, I cannot get my e-mail on my phone, but it involves backing up to iCloud, which I have always avoided.

O well, time to call in the grandchildren. See you soon. I promise.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Ten Years Ago . . .

. . . I made my first post on this site.

There's lots I want to write, but it is late (great victory, USA). Always an excuse, isn't there? But I will be back. It just seemed appropriate to mark this anniversary.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Hamburger Helper

Embedded in our family lore is an item about me and a not-too-palatable food item called "Hamburger Helper." Yes, there is some truth to this story, but I can explain.

First, I need to go back at least half a century. My family never possessed a car. That was not in the least bit unusual when I was growing up in those post-war years, although by the time I left England in 1963 car ownership was becoming more common. During my childhood, not having a car was never a hardship, although of course it may have been to my parents, when it came to shopping and all the requirements of life, like shopping and going to work. I blithely lived my life jumping on a bus.

Here is the form of trans port ation my dad had before his mar riage. I wrote about this in an earlier post. Fast-forward to 1971: Andrew had just been born and with four children under the age of five I decided I needed to learn to drive. We had a bizarre lifestyle which involved waiting for Ernie to get home before we bundled four children into a car so he could take us all to the grocery store, for appointments at the doctor etc. I don't think I realized that doing all that singlehandedly would not be much fun.

In any event, I signed up for driving lessons in the parking lot of Grosse Pointe Farms. I am a bit vague about who offered the lessons, how many times a week, but I am pretty sure they were at 5:30. (Or was it six?) It involved Ernie and the kids dropping me off, going home for dinner, and coming back to fetch me. They would need dinner, so I bought this product called Hamburger Helper, which called for browned ground beef which was mixed with the contents of the box. That way I could prepare it in advance and it merely needed warming. An added advantage was that the kids liked it. Heaven knows how I fed Andrew. I completed the course, passed the test, parallel parking included.

Last week I went to the grocery store. I had noticed earlier that the shelves were looking different. Some brands were being culled, others restocked. Imagine my surprise when I came face to face with shelves stocked full of a product I had not looked for for years. All flavors, all kinds of Hamburger Helper. Chicken Helper! Tuna Helper!

There must be a lot of mature women learning to drive.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

It's Always Greener . . .

Our winter is, perhaps, winding towards its close. Though heaven knows, we have had some pretty rough Marches in the past. All  we have to do is navigate potential spring floods. My guest beds remain un-made. Should I make them with flannel—and have to rip the sheets off and re-make the beds with percale if my first bunch of spring guests arrive on a hot spring day? Or should I make the beds with percale? Then I have to search out blankets already smelling of mothballs to keep them warm? Problems, problems, problems.

This will be with us before long. And worse. I'm just showing this to people who say they like to live in the Mid-west because of "the seasons." Then the question is bandied around, "Which do you prefer, the winter or the summer?"

I know the answer to that one—whichever we are not suffering from at the time.

Friday, March 06, 2015

It Calls For a Reversal

In late 2012 I was pretty insulting to the firm Paper Direct for the slew of catalogs they were sending. And still do. I should not be upset, because they had rightly surmised that I loved to write letters and that I loved attractive stationery.

Paper Direct's Pretty Petals
In the past, many of my letters and non-cyber communication were addressed to my sister-in-law who did not have a computer and had no intention of getting one. So I loved to send her long letters on paper like this. I had to use a computer because I have a somewhat shaky hand these days, but it was probably easier for her to read. After her death I found my correspondence was pretty much limited to e-mail. Not that it saved work: I write some pretty long e-mails usually with photos attached. It would be easy to plunk the text in a letter and mail it, but I have fallen into the trap of instant gratification—the e-mail can be there within ten seconds, I save the cost of a stamp and don't have to make the trip to the mail box.

The other day as I was reading some blogs and following links to some previously unknown blogs, I was thinking that there are a lot of great writers out there. And I got to wondering how many letters they send. Perhaps an aunt or cousin would love to get the content of their blog not on the internet but as a letter. (Don't expect that friends and relatives will read your blogs and follow your life from the internet. They won't. After a long post about, perhaps, a month long safari, someone is bound to ask , "What did you do this summer?" Needless to say, I made up the safari bit, but the underlying truth is there.) I can promise you that the sight of the mailman coming up the walk with a letter will make the recipient happy and feeling loved.

I know that was the case with Flo. So this is a challenge for some of you great writers. Forget the blog and use your skill to enrich someone's day.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Where Are They Now? (Anyone Know?)

Official Wayne State College Bowl photograph.
In the early sixties the program managers at NBC figured they could swell their audience share with a show which pitted students from two universities each week, not in sports, but in brains. And it was a success. The show was College Bowl, sponsored by GE, and each week from 1959 to 1970 one school was knocked out and another took its place.

In 1968 Wayne State was invited to take part. We never knew what prompted the University authorities to decide that the perfect person to select and train the WSU team would be a member of the College of Liberal Arts who had arrived in Detroit a scant eighteen months earlier. Possibly it was because Ernie had become good friends with Sherwin Collins, the go-to man for the College who had the ear of the Dean. There was no shortage of knowledgable students from which to choose, but the trick was to pick four who together could cover the whole gamut of arts, science, sports, culture—and who would not fall apart at the sight of a camera. In addition they needed quick reflexes, because the first person to ring the bell in front of him/her would have the opportunity to give the answer. The College of Engineering supplied ersatz bells which were taped down to a table with duct tape for training sessions.

Here's a casual practice photo of the team of Chuck Zastrow, Dennis Staszak, Sanford Cohen and Joel Shulman, fingers at the ready. Ernie had John Gregg from the Communications Department to help him and I did my bit by sending down practice questions. That made three of us who knew next to nothing about Astronomy, Geology, Physics etc.

A week before the big day Brandeis beat the school against whom they were pitted, so we knew Brandeis would be our opponents. I don't recall the flight to New York, or the journey to the Warwick Hotel, but I do know that we were shepherded by Mike Sibille, the university PR guy.

I think we flew out on Saturday
morn-ing, which, accord-
ing to my note on the back of this photo gave us time for a visit to the Central Park Zoo. Those of you who know Kate may recognize her peeping through my large pink coat. My only explanation for the white gloves for a trip to the zoo is that this was the 60's.

In the evening we all went for dinner at Mama Leone's. The next day we prepared for the show which was broadcast live.

The WSU team was wonderful, but in the end they were no match for the seasoned team from Brandeis. We excitedly flew home after the show. The cameras had concentrated on the team, of course, but we knew there were occasions when they had been turned on us. Our friends and relations in Detroit and all over the country had been watching. We went straight to the friends with whom we had left eleven-month-old Al to ask their reaction.

The golf match which NBC ran prior to our show had run over-time and College Bowl was not broadcast.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

This Nearly Was Mine

The Oscars will be awarded this evening. As usual I will start watching the show and then groggily go up to bed half-way through, bored stiff. I have seen two of the films up for consideration. I love Turing's story in The Imitation Game, a mathematical equivalent of the puzzle classicists found in the decipherment of Linear B and I have written before about my interest in all books about Enigma. I can't say I have much interest in Hawking's exploration in cosmological inflation and quantum gravity. But as a person he is fascinating and therefore The Theory of Everything is equally fascinating.  What do these movies have in common? Cambridge University.

Turing's Cambridge of the 30's has obviously little connection with me, but not so the Cambridge of Stephen Hawking. There is a scene in The Theory of Everything pretty much identical to the one shown here which we took on a trip back to England (except the view in the movie included a random cow or two.)  My trips to Cambridge are because my brother lives just outside the town, not because of any nostalgia.

I came very close to that nostalgia. At approximately the same time as Hawking was riding his bike through the streets of Cambridge to his lectures, I was sitting the exams for Girton and Newnham. There was a general exam which required a precis of a long passage and a couple of essays to test our writing ability. For some reason I wrote on polar exploration. What a great job I could do of that today. At the time I think I had only heard of Scott's tragedy on his return from the South Pole. What could I have written? Instead of the question on eccentricity, I would love to get my claws into question 8, "Old People." Old people? What were you thinking of, Girton?  In addition there were chunks of Vergil, Horace, Livy, Cicero, Hesiod, Sophocles, Xenophon and Plato to translate into English and blocks of English to translate back into Latin and Greek. Joy of joys, I was summoned for an interview. By letter? Phone? I suppose today they tweet the applicants. Anyway, dear reader, I went.

I do not remember the interview. We must have had dinner in hall and I know I was expected to spent the night. I remember a freezing cold room in a stone building and making myself cocoa in an equally cold kitchenette.

I returned home, only to hear sometime later that G & N would not be requiring my presence the following year. Now here comes something which in future posts I will refer to as a Brian Williams moment, somewhat different from a senior moment. You will either understand or you wont. I am convinced that somehow, maybe even from the university itself, I heard I was next on the waiting list and that if anyone were to drop out, a place would be extended to me. It wasn't. I don't think I could have crossed paths with Stephen Hawking. He would have arrived to study for his Ph.D. just as I left.

The ambience of Cambridge is unique, and I like to think that this nearly was mine.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Two Hundred and Twenty Five Years

We first met in 1945. At least, that's my best guess. No pre-school in those days, just First Form at St. George's Elementary School in Freezywater, Enfield. Come to think of it, I doubt it was called "Elementary" School and "First Form" would have been reserved for Enfield County School (our high school). Yvonne and Diana on the left probably met a little earlier, living as they did in The Greenway, dark-haired Yvonne at no. 7, blonde Diana at no. 4. I lived on the other side of the Hertford Road at 27 Bedford Crescent. I don't remember us being in the same class together, though I suppose we must have been. All I remember of St. George's is sitting with Mrs. Wilson, the Headmistress, and knitting. I am sure we walked to and from school together.

After three or four more years at Chesterfield Road School (our middle school) all three of us passed the 11+. This showed we were in the top 33% of the population, but the streaming was not over. I found myself in the form designated "L" for Latin, a stream destined for university, the other two in "S" for Spanish and "DS" for Domestic Science. Don't ask. The streaming meant little to us and we much of our spare time time together, at  Brownies, playing tennis or taking long walks.

This photo was probably taken at Easter in the mid 50's. By this time we had all decided on a path in life. Or it had been decided for us. I would go into 6B Arts and continue on my path to University, these two would go into 6B Secretarial and become upper class secretaries. Both, I must add, would have been totally worthy University applicants and  they made up for that omission in later life.

Diana and I went on from Guides to Cadets, but when the Cadet summer camp in Cornwall was arranged, there were not enough of us going, so was invited. Here are the three of us on Porthcurnick Beach. Looks a little rocky!

Soon we all went our various ways. We all left England for various periods, we all married. But we kept in touch and the photo at the top of the page is from my visit to England in the 70's. Yvonne was living in Swindon, Diana in Eaton Royal where we got together, together with Diana's parents, for a lovely afternoon. 

Some time after that we lost touch. When people marry, change their names and move around the country, it is hard to find them again. The ace up my sleeve was Yvonne's brother, who for professional reasons was not too hard to find and who put me in touch with his sister, who had never lost touch with the third member of our trio.

They have both had more than their share of tragedies in their lives. By the end of April we will all be 75—that's almost 225 years of combined friendship. How nice, perhaps, if we could go back to St. George's and our days of Sir Brian Botany.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

What to wear?

An article in this weekend's Wall Street Journal brought back a memory. It is an incident which will remain vivid as long as my husband, my sister-in-law or any of the people who attended her wedding in 1965 are alive. And I regret there are not too many.

I still have the invitation, but my attempts to look through photographs (I am still organizing) have not met with success. I didn't take any and I am sure the official photographer was told to keep me out of the photographs until it was certain that I was actually going to join the family.

I figured out that Iowa in June was going to be as hot as California and that I could wear my rather nice cream colored two piece linen dress. It looked good—I was a lot skinnier in those days. I hadn't been to many (any?) weddings in England, but I had the suspicion that hats were worn. (This was before the days of fascinators, you understand.) So I was lucky to find a cream linen, rather simple and elegant hat. Thought no more of it.

On the day of the wedding I caused a sensation. A hat! From that day on I was known not for my brains, or for my wit, or even for my origin—I was the woman in a hat. It made sense—I had to cover my head. This was the era when mantillas covered heads in church like never-ending lace curtains. Now when I meet an odd aunt or old friend, I hear, "You wore a hat to Mary Ann's wedding".

So what did I see? An article that hats are the new scarves, rather like orange is the new black. The best point that someone made is that if that is true, hats should come in varying sizes. I have tried on a hat or two in an attempt to keep my reputation going, but they tend to rest on the top of my head like a pin cushion.

My husband claims there is a photo of the side of my hat in a photo in his album in  the basement, but now it is simply a memory, kept alive by a relative or two—and the Wall Street Journal.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015


Well, not really. A friend wrote in her blog the other day that at the beginning of last year she had chosen a word, "a personal theme for the year and her role in it." While she remained true to her word, she kept the word secret until the end of the year when she made it public and analyzed how successfully she had achieved her goal.

It's the word part I am copying, but I am not keeping it to myself. I don't care who thinks I have succeeded. I will know.

The word is organizing. I have written about it many times before, but usually in terms of macro-organizing. My bar, which gets lower all the time, is inching even further toward the floor. I can't deal with the flood of decisions with which I seem to be faced. I will be happy if my organizing can take care of the relative dispositions of the two photographs I had in my hand three minutes ago, one of which seems to have disappeared for ever. One micro-organizing success a day—and I will be happy.

 I'll let you know when I find the other photograph.