Thursday, November 02, 2017

For All the Saints . . .


Yesterday was All Saints Day, and as has become a custom in our church, we commemorated those people who had been buried from the parish in the last year.  In past years we may not have been familiar with any of them, sometimes we knew one or two. This year in addition to the few whose names we recognized or whose faces we knew, there were five close friends and family members whose funerals we attended here at St. Ambrose. The families of the deceased were invited to light candles from the Easter candle and place them on the altar. We were also invited to place candles for those others who were buried in other parts of the city or country. As we added them up, we realized we had lost five other relatives and friends in the last twelve months.

I suppose this is a pattern that will only increase as we age and one of these days there will be candles placed on the altar for us. But in the meantime, farewell to our friends and relatives Dan, Bob, Barbara, Beverly, Leona, Lynne, Betty, Earl, Jim and Vickie.

"Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come."

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Frugality

Frugalness. The quality of being economical with money or food.

A while ago I came across an English blog with the word “Frugal” in it. I found it interesting and inspiring and linked from it to several others, all touting frugality. The writers practice frugality for varying reasons: some because they are hard up for money in varying degrees, some because they live frugally in some aspects of their lives while saving up for cars or vacations, some because of the principle of not spending excessively on themselves or their possessions. I learned a lot about contemporary British life (boot sales,  charity shops, yellow stickers) and found some cost saving recipes to try.  I note in passing that I linked to one of these blogs earlier today and found a whole entry on the quality of frugality, differentiating it from being cheap and explaining why paying more to get good quality is actually frugality. Naturally I can’t find it now.

Reading such blogs has given me cause to sit back and examine my spending habits. I have a long way to go before I could consider myself frugal.  I do not plan a weeks worth of errands in such a way that I will save gas by tackling the places visited in order of proximity one to the next. I do not avoid cooking with meat as much as I could. I use way too much paper towel— but I justify it in that I consider it a huge help in cleaning. I remember that after my son lived in Chad for two years he told us of the delight of the villagers in his part of the country with the discovery of a plastic coffee can and all the uses they had for it. I throw them away. Most of us do.

We spend way more on books, paper and things like ink cartridges than any elderly couple should. On the plus side we neither spend much on clothes and I try to watch the on-line sites for sales and fluctuations in price. The fact is that for so many years we had to watch pennies very carefully and now the pressure is off, it is often confusing to adapt practices of economy suitable for us in our present situation. I recently read a brief article about Eleven Madison Park, a Michelin starred dining spot in New York, that just began offering a $24 cup of joe. Actually that’s if two people share the 10 ounces of Wush Wush coffee they sell for $48. At least is not kopi luwak. Remember that?


Your (usually) diligent shopper is pleased to bring you an example of what not to sacrifice (money) in the interests of saving time. These two photographs were taken on the same day at my local grocery store. It is like a question on the exam they usually give to high school students: “Which is the better buy—2 hard boiled (and peeled) eggs for 99¢ or 18 large eggs for $1.19?”

Give some of the frugal blogs a try (and forget the Wush Wush.)



Tuesday, October 17, 2017

It Shouldn’t Be . . .But It Is

Nothing short of a miracle. After weeks and months dealing with the company we wanted to put an iron railing round the front porch—they still didn’t come out to look at it. And the electrician who wandered all over our house looking at all the work which needed to be done—he never sent a quote. There’s the guy who claims there is not a hole in our roof, but we know there is because of water collected in a tub in the attic and the peeling of the ceiling in one of our bedrooms, well he said he would return with his crew, but so far no sign of him.

There there is this. A couple of months ago this bath-room sink was running slowly and the amateur plumber of the household took out the trap and removed a huge mess of black greasy gunk. But he could tell there was more gunk adhering to the pipe going straight down. We couldn’t figure what it was. There was certainly hair, but I denied washing my hair in the sink—it is just not big enough. The sink was working adequately until a day or so ago when it totally refused to drain. So this morning I phoned the plumber who has worked for us before. We always looked forward to his visits, because he brings along his father, a fine old Italian workman who carefully “supervises” his son’s work, all the while telling the corniest of jokes. But not today: at the age of ninety he has finally decided to retire. I called the son just before ten and he said he would be out either late this afternoon or early tomorrow. Miracle dictu, he turned up a couple of hours later and used his magic machine to clear out our pipe. Again it was hair.

It can’t be. . .  but it was.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

October 7, Again.



Today is Trigeminal Neuralgia Awareness Day and once again I want to join in raising awareness of this condition. Even if you are familiar with the medical aspects of TN, please read this article which was taken from the Living with Facial Pain website. It is long, but it puts a human face on the suffering. The book referred to in the article was written by my own neurosurgeon.

"Caring for someone with Trigeminal Neuralgia

This article is written for the benefit of those people who are caring for a sufferer of TN. It describes the very worst circumstances because it is at those times that your help and understanding are most needed. Fear not, it is by no means all doom and gloom! Thankfully, there should be long periods of remission, new drugs are coming onto the market with fewer side effects, and many TN sufferers obtain complete and long-lasting or permanent relief from surgery. But if your partner or loved one is having a rough time just now, we hope the following may be of help.

It is sometimes very difficult to be sympathetic or understanding when a person has a long-standing illness or pain, particularly - as the case of a TN sufferer - they may look perfectly well and healthy. A vicious wound or a broken or disjointed limb has a visual impact and elicits more sympathy than does a hidden pain, but the suffering can be as bad, if not worse. At least with a severe cut or a broken arm, the sufferer (and the carer) knows that, given time and the right treatment, the injury will heal and life will get back to normal again. TN is an invisible disability and, sadly, the prognosis for TN is not so good. Often the outlook is that it will get worse, not better.

TN is unpredictable. It can sometimes be triggered, for example, by a facial movement, such as smiling or chewing, or by the lightest touch or even a cold wind or a draught. On other occasions, though, the same “trigger” will have no affect at all. It’s therefore easy to believe the sufferer is “putting it on”, making a fuss or deliberately avoiding a situation. This is not the case.

There may be times of complete remission, possibly even for years, but these are likely to lessen with time. TN is a progressive disease that requires surgical intervention or treatment with powerful drugs. The drugs can have unpleasant side effects and often the dosage needs to be increased. The surgical procedures can be a frightening prospect. This adds another spectrum to the illness – that of fear and very often of depression.

It is hard enough coping with someone in pain, but even more difficult if that person is fearful and possibly depressed. You may think the sufferer is becoming “paranoid” that the pain might return. The pain is quite literally unbearable and debilitating – like a jolt of lightening – and can be quite terrifying. As you have probably heard or read, it is described as possibly the world’s worst pain. It can be fleeting and so sudden that it’s almost over before it’s begun, leaving the person momentarily frozen with shock. But the jolts can be “zapzapzap” continuously, which is totally incapacitating. The aftermath of what feels like several thousand volts jazzing through your face or head can leave you weak and petrified to move for fear of triggering another attack. Yes, the sufferer is quite likely to be paranoid that the pain might return. TN does that to you!

The person you care for may have difficulty in talking, eating, smiling and laughing. They may suffer facial twitching and/or involuntary head jerks. Additionally, high doses of medication may make them mentally slow, forgetful and confused. They may be exhausted and depressed. Not good company all round really!

You might find you have to sacrifice activities that you both once enjoyed together. If the TN sufferer is badly affected by movement of the mouth, they may not be able to talk and can often be unwilling to join in a social occasion. (They are even seemingly unresponsive to their nearest and dearest, but not through choice.) If they have difficulty eating and drinking, they will be reluctant to go out for a drink or a meal. If their TN is triggered by cold or wind on the face, they may avoid going outside, and so become reclusive.

This makes life harder for all concerned and it is important that the carer does not also become isolated and uncommunicative. Both of you need the friendship and company of others. Unlike, for example, migraines or MS, TN is a little-known disease and will require explanations. You will need to make sure your wider family and friends are aware of the situation and ensure they are supportive too.

If you are looking after or even just visiting someone who is affected in this way, remember that your care and attention is invaluable. They may not be able to express their gratitude, but it will be immense, you can be sure of that. At times when their pain is severe, try not to engage them in long conversations (you may only get a grunt by way of a response!), but just your presence and kind words will do much to alleviate their distress. Try not to make them feel as if they are a burden (even if they are!). Little acts of kindness and words of encouragement mean so much.

Try to accept the fact that they will have good and bad days, and do your utmost to be there for them on the bad days as well, even if it isn’t much fun! It also helps if you can learn as much as possible about their problems so that you can explain the situation to others, hopefully eliciting their sympathy and help – thereby lightening your own load. Also, the interest you have shown by taking the trouble to broaden your knowledge will be greatly appreciated.

To be in the company of a fellow sufferer is comforting beyond belief, but better still is to be with a loved one who has done everything possible to really understand the problem and is patient and sympathetic.

The more you read up on the subject, the better will be your understanding of what the sufferer is going through and the more you will be able to help and advise them. The best starting point would be the book, Striking Back – The Trigeminal Neuralgia and Face Pain Handbook, written by an American neurosurgeon and a journalist and former sufferer, which is available direct from the TNA-UK at £16.50 including p&p.

The pain may strike when talking, so be aware that conversation may be halting or may cease altogether for a while. If it strikes during mealtimes, eating may be slow or hesitant. If you are in company when this happens, you should be aware that your partner may have “seized up” and it would be helpful if you could take over the conversation until he/she recovers or explain to friends why your nearest and dearest has stopped “mid chew”, so to speak. Eye contact messages between you, or hand gestures, will become more important. You may even spot the flinch or hear the intake of breath. Try to pick up on these signals quickly and take appropriate steps to prevent your partner having to suffer embarrassment or further unnecessary pain in trying to explain why they cannot talk or why they are taking so long over their meals.

The sufferer may find it almost unbearable to wash their face or clean their teeth properly. You might have to put up with someone who has bad breath and whose personal hygiene leaves something to be desired. It isn’t their fault and this situation will be temporary!

In the case of couples, the disease may also have an affect on the intimate side of the relationship since the sufferer will not want to kiss or be kissed, have their face or head stroked or, sometimes, risk a hug. This loss of intimacy may appear to be a form of rejection. Please don’t misconstrue it as such. The sufferer may yearn for physical or intimate contact but be frightened that it may trigger a jolt of intense pain. It can almost seem like a form of aversion therapy to have an electric shock when partaking of a pleasurable pastime!

Because the anti-epileptic drugs are designed to suppress electrical impulses firing in the brain, they also have the same deadening effect on other brain functions, such as memory and thought processes. If the TN sufferer is on high doses of medication, their memory could be badly affected. They may have trouble with word recall, they may repeat themselves, forget important dates or arrangements, appear confused or muddled. To some this is a great source of embarrassment and it can make them very self-conscious, as well as being unimaginably frustrating! You may need to be their memory, their prompt and their organiser. Try not to take over the organisation of their lives, but if you are able to “catch them when they fall” and not get irritated at their forgetfulness or temporary stupidity, it would be a great help. The medication may also make them extremely tired and sleepy. The more sleep they are able to get, the better, so try to be understanding about this, too. They may be struggling to achieve simple daily needs while experiencing overwhelming fatigue.

In an emergency, it is possible to get immediate (but, of course, temporary) relief from a “nerve block”. It is always a good idea to write or type out notes about the patient’s TN medical history to take along to a hospital or pain clinic because this is invaluable and even the best carer cannot be expected to remember it all.

The sufferer may have visited several practitioners over many years, been disbelieved and patronised, they may have tried dozens of treatments and therapies, been nauseated and debilitated by the medication, they may have lost their quality of life, suffered desperation and disillusionment.

As a carer, you will need to be protective and supportive. You will need a positive attitude and perseverance. You will need compassion, patience and sensitivity. Doctors, neurologists, neurosurgeons and fellow sufferers are all looking for ways to find a cure."

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

I mean, it’s like learning how to fold a fitted sheet. I can't make a fitted sheet look neat even though lately there have been all kinds of helpful videos showing how to do it. It is too late for me to learn. I tend to read a lot of recipes and kitchen hints, as opposed to actually cooking, and although I now know I am supposed to crack a hard boiled egg at the sharp end (or is it the rounded end?) in order to peel it neatly, and that cutting the stem (non-stem?) end of a cucumber gives you bitter slices, I have been peeling eggs and slicing cucumbers with a reasonable amount of success for over sixty years without needing to know such esoterica.

This leads me to my eyes. The two cataract surgeries were clinically a great success. I can now drive or sit and watch television all evening without any glasses, I can now, with the aid of reading glasses, sit all day with a book and see all the words. I replaced the cheap reading glasses with ones that enable me to see the computer screen also, so I should be OK, right? Wrong. No-one just sits and watches TV—I am always reading or checking documents or using my hands at the same time. This means taking the glasses hanging round my neck and constantly putting them on or removing them. Frequently I forget to remove them and gaze fuzzily into the distance and think the surgery has come unglued. No-one reads for any period of time without occasionally looking up at people or staring out the window. Eating is weird: my food is too far to use the readers but too near to be able to use my new eyes. (I have even been known to spill soup on my dangling glasses.) Anyone who has tried this will know what I mean.

It is not just my eyes that misbehave. My arms automatically reach out to the bedside table to grab the glasses without which my brain still tells me I won’t be able to see when I get out of bed. It is like phantom pain from an amputated limb. After sixty odd years of wearing glasses they have become a source of comfort.

I started to explain all this to my surgeon when I went back for a check-up.  He immediately whipped off his glasses and put them on me. Eureka. He wears progressive lenses with plain glass at the top. As soon as my eyes heal he will give me a prescription for new glasses with the same properties and I will joyfully revert to wearing glasses. Basically progressive reading glasses. As he smilingly said, “Very expensive reading glasses."

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Cyclops

The Cyclops by Redon
This is rather an adorable depiction of Polyphemus. (Or, as Veronica loved to say, Totes Adorbs.) The colors pop and he looks like a toy small children would enjoy. (If you want to encourage nightmares, try googling “Cyclops” and see some of the monsters who are lurking on the Internet.)

So why am I writing about about the Cyclops? I feel like one these days. I knew last year that I needed cataracts removed, but since I was already lined up for inter cranial surgery, I didn’t want too many people messing around with my head. When I finally got around to calling for an appointment, I had to wait nearly five months—which either means my eye doctor is fantastically skilled and in demand or there are a lot of people walking around with cataracts. I waited patiently and was most encouraged by the account of a fellow blogger on her surgery and the wonderful results that were achieved.

When I was asked after a thorough examination if I wanted to go ahead with the surgery and if so, when, I replied, “As soon as possible.” I had the cataract removed from my left eye on August 11 and I am scheduled to have the right eye taken care of this Thursday. Like Maggie May I had a new lens implanted which has given me back my distance sight: unlike her I can function with the left lens popped out of my glasses. After the next surgery I will be legally able to drive without glasses, though I am going to have to pick up cheap reading glasses at the drug store. How my vision will be for using the computer I don’t yet know.

I can only concur that the world is brighter and that I am so happy I finally took this step. The one-day check-up, the one-week check-up and soon the three-week check-up are pretty tedious. I will be using steroid eye drops for a while. It is just about impossible for me to get the drops in my eye and I tend to land up with the expensive liquid running down my nose.

So the lens still in my glasses would have needed a new prescription without surgery and my view though the empty side of my glasses is great for distance, lousy for close up. My brain is coping, but I can’t wait for Thursday. Being a Cyclops is not much fun.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Days Dwindle Down . . .

The co-inhabitant of this house complained yesterday that the Solar Eclipse had snuck up on him.  I have forewarned him that the next solar eclipse is April 8, 2024 and to start preparing now. It’s even coming through Detroit. But events do have a habit of sneaking up, don’t they?

The last major visit of the summer is over and I am still working on washing sheets and towels. Andrew and Marcie and their six children arrived from Maryland last Saturday, stopping off to spend Friday night with Liz and Jeff in Canton. That gave them eleven kids to find sleeping accommodations for. I didn’t ask. We were short one bed the first night, but the customary arrangements of cousin mix-and-match sleepovers took care of our problem.

Aristotle was discussed.
How much easier it is when the children are older. I didn’t have to decipher breakfast requests or figure out what everyone wanted to do. “When do we get to see our cousins?” was the most uttered question. The first day was Josephine’s eighth birthday, so we celebrated with a large cake and some of the cousins came over to share it. (Sorry, Josephine, I can’t find the photos.) Three of the “local” cousins have jobs, so there was often someone missing, but for the most part everyone was able to join us.

On Sunday we managed to get together at our park. We had four children and their husbands/wives with us and seventeen grandchildren. Fortunately it was beautiful weather, so all the children swam and then played volleyball. When I walked over to watch them, I discovered they were actually burying each other in the sand.

Is this legal?
After abusing the volleyball equipment, they went on to abuse the park’s wheelbarrows meant to transport coolers etc. to the tables.
Charlie gives Veronica, Joe and Lydia a ride



















It never takes long when we have guests for patterns to develop. However early I got up Andrew had already taken a drive along the lake and visited Starbucks (just like his older brother did when he was here.) Marcie slipped out in the early hours to run long distances as part of her training for the Marine Corps Marathon in the Fall. The children were all eager to discuss the classes they would take in the Fall and the boys were anxious to get back to their swimming team.

Before long it was time to say goodbye.

So far I have only found four forgotten  items to be packed up and sent off.  Wonderful visitors: I miss them all.

The days of summer are gradually dwindling down. I suspect there will be another monsoon or heat wave—this is Michigan after all. But I am thinking about buying some new chrysanthemum plants and some new sweaters. Soup sounded pretty attractive today in the cool of the morning. One grandson is already back at college and out practicing on the soccer field, the other is leaving at the end of the week.

All in all, summer is coming to an end. But I suspect it is not the dwindling summer days I miss, but the days of visiting children and grandchildren, the days of heavily laden cars backing out of the driveway. Of being together.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Vita Would Not Approve

It was twelve years ago that I got the misguided notion that my garden might somehow, some day resemble Sissinghurst. Too bad, I thought I had included a photograph in that post, but apparently I did not, proving that even I realized that a few dabs of white do not constitute a white garden.

In that post I mentioned my David phlox and the faithful nicotiana. The nicotiana must have died out and I had forgotten I even had it, but sometime ago I planted a bunch of shasta daisies which have really taken off.

Too much white—too much yellow, for that matter, and the purple clematis which once covered the arbor is going to meet its maker. I just don’t have the stamina to work in the garden the way I used to. The trouble is, as long as we are here I have to do something with the flower beds. I can’t just leave them.

Today I noticed that my grocery store, my occasional source for inexpensive plants, has pots and pots of chrysanthemums and asters ready to add a touch of autumn color. Not a white one in sight. Then I start  thinking of all the work involved in moving around my current plantings and re-organising the neglected garden.

I think I will buy a large book of photos of Sissinghurst instead.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Two Down, One to Go

Another jumbled post, because I have been too busy to write and because so much has been going on. So here are a few notes, because I am sure before long I will be wondering what it was we got up to this summer.

The two and the one I refer to in the title of this blog are sets of visitors. Summer was always the prime season for guests. Not so much any more as some  family members are not as handicapped by the school calendar which made the summer months the best time to take a trip. Even so, life is complicated: I was lamenting to my son how sad I was that my sister-in-law (part of our last group of guests) had not seen Liz and her family while she was here and she had seen little of some of Kate’s children, because of their summer jobs. He replied, “Life is not full of problems. It is just full of life.”

I love guests and count myself lucky to have known so many wonderful role models in hospitality. One of my great satisfactions in life is that my children are kind, generous and welcoming souls. (Pretty means cooks, too, because entertaining always requires a lot of cooking.) And I grieve that I am finding it a little more difficult these days to roll up my sleeves and get to work in the kitchen.

It is hard for me to explain that in England there was little concept, at least when I was growing up, of inviting semi-strangers into your house for a meal. As soon as I arrived in California, I met Dick and Carol Trapp, who became my greatest role models. As I was later to find out, Classics teachers don’t bring home large paychecks, but the Trapps added a place at their table for so many, and eventually for me, as they had done for Ernie before me, and it was at their house that I first met my husband to be. This photo is a memento of Christmas 1964, the second Christmas I spent at their home.

Al and three of his sons were our first guests. Gody was working, as was my oldest grandson, Emmanuel, who earned college money this summer as a lifeguard. These visits tend to be cousin-fests and we do our best to mix and match the next generation. How times have changed: a couple of Kate’s boys also stayed one night and I woke up one morning to find Charlie, a pot of coffee already made, emptying my dishwasher!

Ernie’s sister-in-law came next, driving in from Chicago with her daughter Megan and two granddaughters. Megan and my daughter Lucy have been partners in crime from their childhood, through college and living in France. Lately Megan’s life has taken her to at least seven far off US cities, so this was a grand reunion. The idea was that their children should join the spirit of cousin-fest, but it appears that Lucy’s Joe and Megan’s Cecilia are both at the stage where “mine” is the uncontrollable mantra. Fights ensued.

 Don’t they look sweet and harmless?

We have suffered through yet another Michigan monsoon, we celebrated several birthdays, all of which I failed to commemorate, we have mourned the passing of friends and I finally went to my long awaited appointment with my ophthalmologist.  The upshot is that I am having two cataracts removed, the first this Friday when Andrew and his family arrive. Lousy timing, but as Andrew himself said, “(Life) is just full of life”.

I also turned my attention to the garden, managing to remove not only weeds and vines, but handfuls of phlox, shasta daisies and black-eyed susans, which have proliferated in alarming numbers and needed thinning with a firm hand,

Finally this guy celebrated his birthday yesterday
and Thursday will mark our fifty-first wedding anniversary.

That will do it for now. Watch this space.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Independence Day, 2017

This year the Fourth of July fell on a Tuesday. When I was working I always studied the calendar to see which day of the week the Fourth would fall on. If a Tuesday or a Thursday, should I take off the Monday or Friday to give me an extra long weekend, or was it worth going into work because the rest of the University would be gone and the work load would be light? Alas, no concerns like that when you are retired.

My relationship with the Fourth of July is checkered. No-one will let me forget the bicentennial year when there were extra fancy parades and celebrations. Lucy was just about five weeks old, and she and I were sleeping downstairs in the dining room in the hope that her night-time cries would not wake the rest of the kids (or their father.) When I woke up on the morning of the Fourth I knew I was in a bad way. I had come down with something akin to the flu and could not get myself out of bed (or out of the rollaway on which I had slept.)  I am not sure how the rest of the family got through the morning, but I relied on Ernie to bring Lucy to me so she at least could eat. After lunch I sent all the others off to the local parade and managed to get up and fetch Lucy when she cried. The rest of the day is a blur. And next day I was just fine again, though the allegations of my being a poor British loser continued.

Since then there have been variations of the swim/picnic at the park, with guests or family. I suppose on some occasions it rained, but it was always fun and in the event of a sudden storm we learned how to pack up in a hurry and return here. With the passage of years the make up of our group has changed. The boys prefer to come home from the East Coast later in the year and our middle daughter and her family now join their friends for a day long celebration in Plymouth, MI. For a couple of reasons we decided against a park celebration and accepted an invitation to our oldest daughter’s house, along with our youngest daughter and the two adorable little guys. But some traditions are hard to break and Eleanor called to say she and the rest of Kate’s family wanted to come over for the traditional flag raising ceremony.


On most holidays Ernie runs the flag up the pole and leads the Pledge of Allegiance, and if the neighbors are lucky they get to hear a rousing chorus or two of a patriotic song. This year it was “America the Beautiful.” We followed this with a hearty breakfast and then took a break before the July Fourth cook out.

July the Fourth is a day for fireworks, but there is always confusion as to when they are lit. The official civic celebrations vary as do private firework displays (I am not quite sure about the rules for buying and setting off fireworks on private property, it’s not like Guy Fawkes Day) and I have been hearing fireworks after I have gone to bed for several days. Last night they were going off with a vengeance and though I could not see them from my bedroom window, I could certainly hear them.  Nothing in the realm of fireworks can top the celebration that is held at Greenfield village, when the Detroit Symphony blasts out the 1812 Overture accompanied by a spectacular firework display. We only attended once, but it was unforgettable.

There will be an encore flag raising on Labor Day, so if you are in the vicinity . . .

Monday, July 03, 2017

Remembrance of July 3, 1967

Fifty years ago today our first child,  a little boy,  was born. There are people who claim that, good English woman that I am, I jumped up and down to avoid having him on the Fourth of July. He was ( I think) the smallest of my children, weighing just over 7 lbs.  I have no idea what he weighs now, but whatever it is looks good on his 6' 7” height. From the number of references to the big 50 on his Facebook page he is either afraid no-one will remember his birthday or he is aghast at the large number involved. We are waiting to hear when he and the family will arrive for a summer visit and a Detroit family celebration.

In his early life he was an adventurer—two years in Chad with the Peace Corps and another term of service in Madagascar. When he announced he had been awarded an internship with Catholic Relief Services, there were two places I did not want him to go, Kosovo and Rwanda. He went to Rwanda. And there he met his wonderful future wife Godelive. In the midst of all this he earned an M.A. in French at Wayne and then a M.Ed. at George Washington University, degrees which enabled him to become a French teacher in Fairfax County, VA.

Lucky for him my scanner seems to have stopped scanning, so there will be no photographic panorama of his life. I did come across a small digital photo of him honing the skills he used to become a college basketball player.

Happy Birthday, Al, and here’s to many more celebrations we can share with you.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

“I Wasted Time . . .

. . .  and now doth time waste me.”

It is sixty one years since I sat for O-levels. Questions on the essay papers usually included an injunction to back up our points with suitable quotations, so I had large chunks of Shakespeare, Conrad, Lamartine and other set authors committed to memory. Many of those quotes are still in my head, even though I can’t remember what I did yesterday. This quote from Richard II sticks with me, because even though I knew it would validate some argument or other, I never really understood it.

But I think I do now. It has been a while since I posted an entry. There has been “busyness” but no real accomplishments. Never mistake motion for action (again a quote, variations of which are purported to have been uttered by various authorities.) The time has gone by and I have little to show, although since I now often sleep later in the morning  and usually take a nap in the afternoon, why am I surprised? Did I mention I don’t do much after dinner either? I was always the amanuensis of the family, but I am even behind with e-mails and I owe real letters to a number of people. The garden is half weeded and tamed, maybe I will finish it later.

But you didn’t want to hear my problems, did you? I chose to write today because it is the first anniversary of my MVD surgery. The surgeon had told me that the surgery is 92% successful, and I am such a miserable excuse for a  human being that I fully expected to be in the 8% failure rate. I wasn’t, and though I still take just a little medication to be on the safe side, I no longer take the amounts which caused me to act like a zombie. I lost some of my sense of balance, but I have a brightly colored cane which helps me keep upright. Apparently it can take up to two years to fully recover.


My family has been running around with the usual sports events and end of year parties, etc.  I wanted to include this photo which makes me so very happy. My grand-daughter Veronica, who was born weighing 1 lb 4 oz six years ago and who spent the first months of her life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, is now a strong, healthy little girl, competing in swimming events and here being coached by her big brother Theodore.

My youngest daughter was having more work done on her house, so she moved in with her family. She and her husband are so competent and they did a lot to help me, as well as caring for Joe and Gigi. It worked out well that the two little guys took naps at the same time in the afternoon—and I joined them.

This was the view that greeted me when I came downstairs in the morning and along with the pot of delicious coffee which was awaiting me, it was a great start to the day. During their stay we celebrated Fathers’ Day and at one point I noticed my son-in-law  walking into the garage with a brimming bag of garden waste. He had commandeered nine or so grandchildren to weed my front yard. It looked so good.

Even little Joe helped out by removing weeds from the patio.

So here we are at June 28th. This date also marks the day that the Dymo printer stopped printing and the scanner stopped scanning. I have a feeling those events will be the catalyst for several days of grief and no action.

Two of the bloggers I link to in my sidebar are now undergoing treatment for cancer. I can learn a lot about staying positive from their posts Ronni and John, I’m remembering you daily.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

In Which She Mentions the Unmentionables

Panty hose. Not really unmentionable, but I haven’t heard the topic in conversation lately.

My grandchildren would probably think it odd it I were to tell them I was around when panty hose were invented. Or even more odd if I tell them that in my teenage years it was de rigeur to wear a corset and stockings. Not even a frilly garter belt—tho’ not a pink satin boned creation either. As best as I can remember it was a kind of elastic pull up thing. I have no problems with panty hose in winter: I wear thickish, dark colored tights which wear well, are super stretchy and keep me warm in the Michigan winter. But summer—well, that is a different story. It took me a while (and the example of an 80 year old friend) to realize that the bare legged look was in.

On Saturday I attended a funeral. This is a hard time of year. I haven’t got out all my summer clothes, but the winter ones are beginning to look a little hot. I realized I hadn’t got out the right summer tops to go with the bottoms I have moved back into my closet, but I did find a reasonable outfit which involved a blue and cream silk skirt. Clearly panty hose were called for (I couldn’t imagine going to a funeral bare legged and certainly not with my winter white legs.) In a drawer I found a brand new package of Berkshire Ultra Sheers. I actually think I had intended to wear them three years ago for my daughter’s wedding, but forgot I had them. Just as well I didn’t try to wear them on that flustered day. I sat on the edge of the bed and put my right leg into the intended receptacle. First realization—they were gorgeous. Very thin and the color was perfect, not that nasty yellowy color which passes for nude in those cheaper hose which come in egg-shaped plastic containers. So “nude” in fact that you could see all my varicose veins, just as if I were indeed bare legged. Second realization—having got my first leg in successfully, I couldn’t get the second leg in. I rolled over on the bed and tried all kinds of contortions.  I was tentatively declaring victory when I heard that snagging noise I recognized only too well. As I pulled then completely on, I realized I had a fairly hefty run (or ladder as I used to call them) in the left leg.  No plan B. Another virtue of the perfect nude color is that it made the run just about imperceptible, especially to my friends with aging eyes. Nevertheless, I did find myself emulating Meg in Little Women. Remember the scene when she attends a party in a dress she burned a hole in the back of while attempting to iron it? She stood with her back against the wall for the entire evening.

I think there were about 2 seconds when I was just about wearing them. At $7.95 a pair that works out at . . . forget it. I need to come up with a new game plan.
That was the post as I intended to publish it. But just before I did, look what I came across.

Somehow this pattern looks like a Maori totem pole. Wonder how many tries it took for him to get them on? But they do have possibilities!

Friday, May 26, 2017

Another Discovery and a Bit of History

When I wrote to my parents in 1967 that we were going to have a baby, my mother did what all self respecting English women did at the time. And many still do. She pulled out her knitting needles and bought skeins of fine while wool. And knitted. It wasn’t long before a package arrived with a number of lovely “matinee coats” inside. Matinee coats, booties and bonnets were the traditional gifts for a new baby. A baby arriving in Detroit at the beginning of July doesn’t really need a bonnet or booties and I am pretty sure she didn’t make any.

The coats were lovely. Such small gauge and perky white ribbons to keep them tied round the neck. I did’t know much about babies back then, but I did realize that they were messy creatures and that any garment they wore would need constant washing. So I kept most of the coats for “best” and used the same rationale with subsequents babies.


Over the years I have passed on to my daughters some of the coats I was saving for posterity because the were just too nice for daily use. I was clearing out my sewing room last week when I came across this beauty. It is the very last of the coats. No ribbons, but a pretty smocking detail. I certainly didn’t know baby number one was going to be a boy: maybe she just added this detail after he was born and sent it on. It is a little grubby round the neck, but I am not going to try to wash it. Its putative wearer will be 50 years old this summer. I love to think of my mother sitting down to knit for a grandchild she would only see twice. (The first time he bit her.) I am also sad that we were unable for many reasons to have us all spend more time together. Those pre-Skype days presented so many obstacles to families like ours.

I remember once reading an article that claimed that with the advent of knitting as a pastime countless babies' lives were saved. The warmth provided by a tiny sweater was enough to combat sickness brought about by damp and cold. I tried to find the article again but couldn’t. I did however find numerous accounts of the role of knitted hats in preventing pneumonia in newborn babies, two million of whom die every year according to the Save the Children Fund.

A well researched and illustrated post on war time knitting I found on a Canadian blog appealed to my sense of nostalgia and my interest in war time history. And the blog certainly gave me a source for many more hours of reading pleasure. It also reminded me of my schooldays in the late 1940’s at St. Georges C of E primary school. Mrs. Wilson and Miss Freshwater presided over our class as we spent hours with big needles and thick wool as we attempted to learn the secrets of knitting. By then the war was over and no service man or woman had to wear the mangled articles we made. Actually, I don’t remember making garments. Just misshapen squares.

And I have not improved much since then.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Gardening Wisdom of Ella Mae O'Neill

We moved into this house in 1969. Our next door neighbors were the Kuhns, with four children about the age of ours, and Jim and Ella Mae O’Neill.  Several years ago I wrote a post describing them and how we cherished them as our neighbors.

I came across this photo the other day in my relentless effort to clean out and cull. Here are the O’Neills at Elizabeth’s birthday party. I think it was her fourth: note the cast on her arm. She learned the hard way that if a baby sitter says “Stop climbing on the footstool”, she has a good reason for the request.

I have been thinking of the O’Neills lately, now that I can acknowledge that the days of spending hours outside in the blazing sun working in the garden are over. While I, with my British reticence, and my neighbors, with the good manners born of experience and maturity, often didn’t make eye contact when we were working in our adjacent yards, out of our sense of a kind of insularity and mutual regard for privacy, there was one time of day when I was aware of what they were doing and even watched them as they went about their lives. After lunch, with small children taking their naps, I would stand at the kitchen sink cleaning up the debris of the morning, and through the kitchen window I watched Mr. And Mrs. O’ Neill walk out of their back door for their afternoon round of errands. He would turn left, walk to their garage, then back the car down as far as their door to pick her up. It only took a minute or so, but she put that minute to good use. She would bend over and start weeding. I wondered why she would bother when her time was so limited.

Now I know. It’s the old elephant joke:

Q.   How do you eat a whole elephant?
A.   One mouthful at a time.

I will emulate the monks who spend a finite amount of work on each daily endeavor, I will follow Mrs. O’Neill who knew that a small task, repeated often enough, achieves a worthwhile result.

And those weeds between concrete slabs in my driveway? They were no match for me yesterday as I walked from the car to the back door after brunch with friends.

Monday, May 15, 2017

A Nice Cuppa

Why were cups of tea always nice? I grew up thinking that the word for the water in which tea leaves were steeped was “nice cuppa.” Now if I am correctly parsing the British Show I am ashamed to say I watch with some degree of regularity it is a mostly called a brew. A nice brew?

When I first arrived in the States in 1963 I abandoned tea and became a coffee drinker, but as the years have gone by I have partially reverted to tea. Still can’t bring myself to add milk and certainly not sugar. But tea, at least during the day, is my beverage of choice.


 All I need to make a perfect cup of tea is my teapot (though my mother would turn over in her grave if she knew that a mug and a teabag are quite sufficient) and my favorite brand of black tea. And of course, hot water. Boiling water. My family has got used to my harassing wait staff in restaurants as I repeat my mantra, “HOT water.” It is usually heated in a microwave and comes back hot but not hot enough. Panera does a pretty good job with hot water. The other problem is that even if the water is sufficiently hot enough for me to want more, if I ask for my little pot of hot water to be refilled, they never bring another tea bag. I solved that problem by taking a little baggie of tea  bags in my purse.

No one will be won over to drinking tea if they read the article in the Sunday paper a couple of weeks ago which makes it look like a good cup of tea cannot be had without these complicated (and expensive) accoutrements.


I can’t quite see the need for a programmable tea steeper for $129.99 or a $199.99 Tea Cere to make matcha tea, authentic or otherwise.

I think I will sit down now with a book and a nice cuppa.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho

I  just can’t ignore any more of the work that needs to be done around here. So I have made an attempt on the garden. Actually, I worked on it four days ago. It was a lovely day and I flitted from task to task . . .  a little weeding here, a little cutting down here, a little tying up here, all instead of concentrating on one particular flower bed. The fact is, I hadn’t felt up to putting the garden to bed last Fall, so there was twice as much work to get it ready for summer. I was  quite excited about my progress, until the next day when every muscle in my body cried out for attention. Fortunately, it rained for the next three days solid and I had a good excuse for not resuming my labors.


At Easter we had a big hand from three of the grandchildren, helping with the outside chores. Charlie was on ladder duty, going around the house taking care of windows that cannot be cleaned from the inside. Danny was in charge of removing the last of the leaves from the grass and Ellie was Vice President in charge of flower beds.

Bit by bit we are making progress. Thanks to son number 1 who came in from Virginia to get the vegetable beds turned over, thanks to son number 2 who is coming in from Maryland in a couple of weeks to mend the picnic table and mend some of the fences. We will bite the bullet and have a company do our side fence which didn’t make it unscathed through the last storm.  It is increasingly obvious that we are sliding from two steps forward and one step back to one step forward and two steps back. I have worked hard to create a garden that my family and I enjoyed. It will fall so much short this year, and next year I fear the weeds and grass will take over. As I was cleaning up my bookmarks I realized that I had kept some photos of gardens past. Here are some more.

My Flickr page seems to have fallen on hard times too, but I am glad I was smart enough to think of photographing what was growing. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Farewell to April

I have been so inconsistent about noting family birthdays on this blog. While cards and gifts do get sent off, I so frequently forget to make mention of them. So here are the April birthdays we celebrated, all in one place.

It’s easy to remember Henry’s birthday. It is April 15, the day Income Tax forms have to be filed. We usually spend the day chasing down deductions and getting the whole business to the post office. This year, however, the taxes didn’t have to be filed until the 18th, so that was the day we spent chasing down deductions and getting the whole business to the post office! Henry looks so very serious in this photo. Normally he is smiling and bubbly, but for him baseball, and especially pitching, is a serious business. It is fun to see him on the mound, staring down the opposing team. He has quite an impressive wind up and we can’t wait to watch some of his games this year. 2017 marked his twelfth birthday.

Next came Veronica, our miracle grandchild. She celebrated her sixth birthday. She is sharp and so very cute (and she knows it, look at that smile!) Now she has joined her siblings at St. Patrick’s in Rockville, absolutely none the worse for her traumatic start to life. Marcie takes her back to the NICU at George Washington Hospital once in a while to see the doctors and  nurses who took such good care of her. She’s a tremendous advertisement for their expertise and skills.

Birthday number 3 belongs to our youngest grandchild, Gladys Grace. Her first birthday and here she is chowing down on the obligatory cake. She was smart enough to know what to do with it. None of the smashing her face into the top of it for her. Her mom described her as “happy, affectionate, strong-willed and so determined.” Can’t beat that description. She is also a creature of habit, so although she ate and loved her birthday dinner she was longing for bed and  had to open her gifts the next day.

Last, but by no means least, Frederick made it through to the teenage years, giving his poor parents three teenage boys. He’s the nicest kid. Although he is one of a soccer playing family, he has decided to switch to basketball and see how that works out for him. We will be seeing him in the summer (and maybe he will switch sports again, because Eleanor is a good buddy of Frederick’s and she is sold on soccer.) We will see.

That was April. We are now into May which is exceptional in that it is the only month in which we do not have a grandchild with a birthday.  I can relax!


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

More on Easter Food

I wrote in my last post about some horrific Easter food, here’s some of the good stuff.


My son-in-law is a great cook and several years ago he decided he was going to branch out into bread. Here’s the challah bread he made this year for Easter. Over the years he has talked about the Blessing of the Easter food, which takes place every year on Easter Saturday. I have never attended this ritual, at times because noon on the day before Easter Sunday didn’t work for me, but mainly because I saw it as an ethnic custom.

This year I decided I wanted to ex-perience it for myself, so I attached myself to Ron and the kids. Yes, it is ethnic, but not just Polish as I had thought. I saw many parishioners of Italian and other European origins, all of them with large baskets containing the food that was to be eaten the next day. It was fun to peek into the baskets—lots of kielbasa and ham, decorated eggs, wine and various cakes. Some people had flowers in their baskets, some had embroidered cloths covering their food and while some attendees had candles in the basket, we even saw one illuminated by LED lights!

All the baskets lined the aisle and the priest said a prayer over each and gave it a hearty sprinkle of holy water.

Here’s another colorful offering. Ron says that next year he is going to make his bread with the eggs in it as in these little rolls.

I think I will accompany his family again. Food has always been an integral part of Easter and the blessing can only make the meal more meaningful (though I don’t think it will work with for chocolate bunnies with red frosting and plastic faces.)

Saturday, April 15, 2017

This is a No-No

I have posted this avocado-hued photo of an Easter gone-by before (I really loved that wallpaper, but glad it went shortly after this.) The kids look—well, like kids— but the star of the show was the lamb cake. Back then, however busy I was, I always made a lamb cake, pouring the batter into the bottom half of the cake tin, wiring the top half on it and trusting that I had the right amount of batter to give the lamb all its legs and its cute face without bursting through the joints in the tin. The illustration that came with the tin showed a lambkin with white curly frosting all over and a wreath of flowers piped on its head. I never quite reached those heights, but my fleeces were always suitably white, even if the jelly bean eyes gave the animal an appearance of being cross-eyed. If I felt really creative I dyed shredded coconut green to give him his piece of verdant pasture.

It has been a while since I tried to duplicate my earlier efforts. I thought lamb cakes had gone out of fashion, but as I was leaving the grocery store today, look what I saw.

This nasty attempt at a lamb cake had a whitish fleece, but a scary plastic face. There were chocolate lambs with pink fleeces. There were scarlet lambs and yellow lambs. Nary a wreath of flowers or anything that could be found in nature.

This is so wrong. Next year I think I will pull out my trusty mould and return to simpler days.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

SOAS and SSEES

Do you have an author you found at some point in your life, read avidly and then forgot about or did not for some reason keep track of?

Such a writer for me is Margaret Drabble. I recently read her name somewhere or other and remembered how much I had enjoyed her early books. There always seemed a little more of a connection than that—she was born a few months before I was, we sat for the Newnham entrance exams at the same time (she got in, I didn’t. In fact, she got “a starred First.” I don’t even know what a starred First is, though I can guess. I wouldn’t have come within a mile of one.) After graduation while I was studying the Philosophy, History and whatnot of Education, she was writing and publishing her first book. So I took a trip to the library, took out what they had and reserved some more.

The first book I read was The Pure Gold Baby. When I got to page eight, I came across this passage.

“Jess came from an industrial city in the Midlands and had graduated from a well-regarded grammar school via a foundation course in Arabic at a new university to a degree at SOAS. SOAS! How magical those initials had been to her as a seventeen-year-old when she first heard them, and how thrilling and bewitching they were to remain to her, even into her late middle age! The School of African and Oriental Studies, situated in the heart of academic Bloomsbury.” The whole page brings back memories of a part of London I too have such happy memories of. And while this is a sidebar  to my post, I found that this this book contained so many connections with my life: mention of Potters Bar and Waltham Abbey and the location of the “special” school she chose for her daughter Anna—Enfield, where I grew up and in particular Enfield Lock where my paternal grandparents lived and where my father grew up.

It was the reference to SOAS that grabbed me. Just a few days earlier I had been poring over my “University of London, B.A. Examination for Internal Students: 1962 Pass List”.
looking for the name of someone I knew. As I leafed through the document I noticed there were about two pages of English graduates and about two pages of French. About one page of students graduated in German, less than half a page in Spanish and six students in Italian. Each student had his college printed after his name—Bedford, Westfield, University  College, King’s College and so on. History and Geography followed the same pattern. Lots of History.

What really stood out was the one student who received a degree in Hausa, with SOAS boldly printed after his name. And the six students from the same college with degrees in Swahili. Where did these students come from? Was the one Hausa student the son of missionaries? I doubt any of the grads would have been accepted into their degree programs without first showing some proficiency in the language. SOAS also gave us one Classical Arabic degree, seven Classical and Modern Literary Arabic degrees, one Persian, four Chinese and three Japanese degrees.

The other outlier, SSEES, or the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, graduated eleven students with degrees in Russian.

So, what is my point? My strength has always been languages and no-one ever told me that it would be possible to get a degree in a language more esoteric than the four I knew. (Not to mention the fact that the mainstream college, University College, seems to have taught Scandinavian languages, Dutch and Hebrew.) Would I have been a good student of Hausa?  Swahili? I will never know, but I can’t help thinking that I would have been as excited as Jessica, for whom “SOAS  was a sea of adventure, of learning, of cross-cultural currents that swept and eddied through Gordon Square and Bedford Square and Russell Square.”

Footnote: just as I was about to publish this post, I received an e-mail from my daughter, linking to the book review she had written for her professional association. I guess Robert Frost made my point  better than I could! So did she.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

I Miss Them!

‘I specialise,’ said Raoul, as we entered the uninspired repetitive landscape of the South Circular, ‘in phantom pain.’

Anyone recognize the book (obviously British) from which this sentence was taken? The book will appear in a later post. I quote the words now because there is a phenomenon —I believe—which could be known as phantom sound.

These guys, and their parents and big sister, stayed with us for a week. It was great. They are extremely well behaved, go to bed with no complaint and are utterly delightful. Same goes for the other family members. The children were not even noisy, though there was a time when I told my daughter I would send them all out to the curb if I had to listen to “The wheels on the bus go round and round” one more time. As a result of phantom sound, I still hear a little voice calling out “Dada" or "cheese.” He is a great devotee of them both. I wake and think I hear one singing and one making that little baby noise meaning “I am warm and cosy and happy for right now, but I’m going to want companionship/food/a dry diaper before too long”.

There also has to be a name for the grandparent reaction which causes us to climb the stairs on tip toe making no sound because the kids are in bed or taking a nap—but they have long departed. I’ve done it for years.

Yes, I miss them. And you are fortunate because I wanted to link to that silly bus song and couldn’t figure out how to do it without including another hour’s worth of chirpy music.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Two Days in March

It works out well for me to make a note here of dates I may want to mark—it certainly beats scribbling information on odd pieces of paper.

There are two dates to remember this March. The first was March 8, Michigan’s “wind event”, when record setting numbers of people lost power, some for as long as a week. Actually, the incident that had most people here on edge was the plane carrying the University of Michigan basketball team being blown off the edge of the runway at Willow Run. Amazingly, we were among the few who didn’t lose light and heat. We usually do when there is a storm which knocks down trees on our tree-lined streets. I hadn’t been feeling too great and had no need to go out, so I am ashamed to say I didn’t realize that a number of friends could have used a bed or a hot meal. I have sort of happy memories of past storms: there was a March ice storm when the children were small and the house was getting colder and colder. Thank goodness for a neighbor who showed us how to rig the furnace with a large voltage battery. I am sure it was dangerous, but it saved us hotel bills for five days and we got by with an occasional meal in a restaurant, usually surrounded by neighbors who were in the same predicament. I also remember a time after I switched from an electric stove to a gas one when my burners were kept busy as I made soup for the neighbors camped out around the kitchen table. There may have been a bottle or two of wine involved.

As I mentioned in the last paragraph, I had not been feeling too great, so when March 13 dawned, I was looking forward to a day with nowhere to go and the prospect of curling up with a book. So I was wearing a pair of grubby slippers (no socks), some tired yoga style pants, a grubby, baggy white turtleneck and some undies which had started out blue, but had found their way into a load of whites laced with bleach. They were a streaky looking disgrace. Sorry, Mum, I know what you always said! I wasn’t, however, knocked down by a bus, but I found myself in an ambulance on the way to the hospital with what was probably a reaction to the on-again, off-again prescribing of strong medication. I only stayed one night with orders to follow up with all the doctors involved, but I was poked and prodded, gave up a lot of blood and examined by a number of machines. They dragged me out of bed at 1:00 a.m. for an MRI and found myself being wheeled down a long corridor to an elevator. The floor was definitely on a slope and when we entered and exited the elevator there was a pronounced bump. The poor young woman pushing me was most concerned about the bump and apologized profusely. “It’s OK, it doesn’t bother me”, I said reassuringly,”but it could be hard on your older patients.”

A marked silence. I forgot I am seventy seven. And no-one showed any interest in my undies.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

It is Cold

Therefore I have been escaping into books which describe even worse conditions. I have written before about my attraction to K2 (and if you follow this link, please look up Jennifer Jordan’s book and Daphne’s post) and was happy to find two more books which were worth reading for different reasons.

This first book is rather over-dramatic (note the subtitle), but it does give a historical overview of all the attempts to climb K2  and highlights at length the first successful ascent by the Italians Compagnoni and Lacadelli in 1954. This expedition has led to a bitter “who carried the oxygen bottles, who hid the oxygen bottles?” controversy and much print dedicated to Walter Bonatti. Conefrey claims he has “new evidence” to dispute the accepted evidence, though I am not sure exactly what it is. He certainly has the most intriguing beginning to one of the chapters in his book—to any book come to that, “Aleister Crowley was a flamboyant, bisexual drug fiend with a fascination for the occult. He was not a typical twentieth century mountaineer, but for a few years at  least he was a very keen one.” While it is impossible to approve of his later life style, I couldn't help a smile when reading about the restrictions on gear.  Crowley was unwilling to give up his large collection of books, stating that while other mountaineers might be willing to forgo intellectual pleasures and behave like savages "when traveling through a savage country”, he could not live without his Milton. Needless to say he didn’t get far.

What didn’t I like about this book? Murky diagrams of the mountain and the various ridges and placement of camps and too few photographs.

The second book is Graham Bowley’s “No Way Down” which deals with just one expedition, the 2008 international ascent which resulted in the deaths of eleven climbers. While K2 has been climbed about three hundred times, something like a quarter of the successful climbers didn’t make it down. This was not a truly international expedition, it was several expeditions from a number of different countries, all climbing at the same time. Even if you are not interested in mountaineering, this book is worth reading as  a study in psychology or management or just plain logistics.

The author is not a mountain climber himself. Whether that makes a difference, I just don’t know.

What didn’t I like about this book? Strangely, too many maps, too many pictures. I say this in reference to this book because we get to know the characters so well. As yet another climber falls to his death, there is a compulsion to go back and look for his photograph. Text to photo, photo to text and a feeling of disappointment when a climber we have come to admire does not have more photographs

There is some kind of consolation in YouTube. I rarely look at this application, but I found myself enmeshed in video and photographs which brought the climbers to life, some more than others. (It is somewhat confusing trying to figure out what is “real” footage and what is re-creation.)

In the end, the one fact that remains is that none of the climbers is the central figure. The main protagonist is 28, 251 feet of vindictive rock, snow, ice and wind.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

In Which She Reams Out a Fedex Employee

Editor’s note: this post has been sitting here for a couple of weeks, but I was too lazy to finish/edit it. I am now renaming it Part 1 and adding a happy ending in Part II.

At the end of my penultimate post I commented that I hoped I could find a passport photo a little more attractive than the last one. Didn’t work out that way.

I hadn’t actually got around to doing anything about renewing my passport, so I thought I needed to do some research and after entering various applicable terms into Google I came up with the official website. It informed me I had to fill out the form online, but as it was obvious I couldn’t actually apply on line because I had to send some new photographs, I thought I would push the "get started" button to figure out what was involved. But pretty soon I realized that I was actually filling out the form and I finally got to a place where I could “exit and save” and my data would remain for 72 hours. I didn’t want to give my Visa number at that stage, because I wasn’t sure whether they would void the payment if I didn’t print the form within 72 hours, or if they would pocket the cash and use it for their own nefarious purposes.

So I turned my attention to the photo and realized I didn’t know where I could get one taken these days. A few minutes with the phone and finally someone said, “Try FedEx.”

We went off to the FedEx store and a girl with a big camera couldn’t figure out how to get rid of the shadow. (It involved closing the window shade.) She disappeared for a few minutes and a guy took her place. Eric? I nervously asked if the photo would come out to the required dimensions. "Aren’t all passport photos the same size?" asked Eric, who proceeded to point the large camera at me and click. It wasn’t a bad photograph. He wandered off to the area where the photos are processed and came back with a 2x2 inch photo. I had been smart enough to print off the five pages of instructions about the photo as provided by Her Majesty’s Government, and I told him it wouldn’t do. "It is the only size I can print it, “ replied Eric. Me: "You mean to say that this nation wide business enterprise cannot help any one who wants a photo other than than one corresponding to the American specifications?” This all went on for a while and Eric’s best contribution was the remark that there used to be a photo studio down the street, but it had now closed down, followed by the mumbled acknowledgement that the drug store across the parking lot “might” be able to help me.

Walgreens to the rescue: a very friendly man with a tiny camera, took my photograph, then put it in a machine with a list at the side of various countries, pushed UK and within five minutes I had my photograph. I was still so mad from my dealings with Eric that I looked like an ancient bad tempered crone, but I had my photograph!

Part II: to be retitled “In which her Majesty’s Government does an awesome job.”

I hadn’t even attempted to track my package of documents winging its way from Detroit to Durham. Give it time. And then two days ago we came home and took ownership of two big yellow envelopes which my neighbor had signed for. One contained my old cancelled passport and one my new passport. The birds which graced the pages of my last passport have been replaced by a series of designs which I decided to call “Merrie Olde England”, but if you have nothing else to do you can admire the art work here.

Thanks for your offer of help, Tim. I am all set. Well done, your Majesty’s Home Office.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Another Teenager

Today Eleanor becomes thirteen. And just to keep the family oral tradition alive, I must report that when she was born (so it is said) neighbors cried. Nothing against Eleanor, but because everyone was so relieved to see a little girl after three boys. As you can see, Eleanor isn’t one for pink bows and frilly dresses—she’s more interested in soccer cleats, but it’s the principle of the thing! She excels at Math and inherited much of her parents’ musical accomplishments.

So today is turning out to be a good one. My breakfast oatmeal was cooked by the family sous chef, we went out to lunch while running tedious errands and we will be dinner guests tonight at Kate and Ron’s to celebrate Eleanor. My favorite kind of day!