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


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!

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

There’s Something to be said for being an Insomniac

Most nights I sleep well, but there are times when I can’t get off to sleep or I wake up in the middle of the night or both. I try not to let it concern me too much: I do not have to work any more and most days I take a restorative afternoon nap anyway. And as I lie in vacant or in pensive mood, my inward eye sees, not daffodils, but remembrances, thoughts, concerns and way too often, worries.

A couple of weeks ago, for no good reason whatsoever—it was before last week’s news hit—the word “Passport” came to mind. Next day I checked, and although my passport expires in March, not February as I had somehow thought, I had better get moving. I had scanned the inside of my passport, but as I wrote this I had a thought and looked at the outside which is emblazoned with gold print “European Union, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.” What is going to happen here? What will my new one say? I wrote about the whole performance ten years ago. I have not yet checked, but I bet the cost has gone up. Considerably. (I do not have to renew my “green card” until next year, but that will be a whole new story.)

Will I embark on any foreign travel? I don’t know because in spite of the surgery which seems to have cured me, at least for the time being, from painful attacks, I know there is the constant chance of a recurring flare. Maybe I will take my neurosurgeon’s advice and carry in my wallet an explanatory note.

I found this rather technicolored one, but the idea of wandering around Heathrow waving a sheet of paper like a twenty-first century leper with a bell does not appeal to me. Besides, the real problem would be getting medical attention.

Still, one thing at a time. Let’s see if I can find a passport photo a little more attractive than the last.

Friday, January 27, 2017

What a Celebration!

On Wednesday we went to a special birthday party. A one hundredth and third (yes, 103) birthday party. A special birthday party for a special woman.

Betty and her son Clarence
Some time ago our friend Caroll introduced us to Betty Banton. Here are some excerpts of the Press Release sent to our local paper by the president of the Woman’s Historical Club of Detroit, of which Betty is a beloved member,

“ . . . It is anticipated that Betty will receive birthday greetings from former President Obama, Dr. Paula Johnson, President of Wellesley College, the Dunbar Alumni Federation, Dunbar High School, Washington D.C. and others.

Betty was born in 1914 and grew up in Washington D.C. She is a proud graduate of Dunbar High School in N.W. Betty has often recalled how W.E.B. Dubois visited her home when she was a young girl. As a result she was invited to enroll in Wellesley College where she studied the Classics and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. At last year’s installation as President of Wellesley College, Dr. Paula A Johnson, MD, MPH acknowledged Betty as Wellesley’s oldest living alumna.

Betty is the widow of Clarence Banton of Detroit, proudly acknowledged as one of Michigan’s 155 Tuskeegee Airmen. Following WWII, the Bantons established Michigan as home. Clarence was employed as an engineer in the Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant, Warren, Michigan.

Betty was a talented and beloved English and Latin (you can see why she and Ernie get on so well, editor’s note) teacher a Highland Park High School for many years. She was highly respected by her colleagues and frequently recognized by the Classics Department of Wayne State University. Her former students, colleagues and others continue to visit her regularly, always enjoying her great kindness and strong wit.

Betty’s body may be frail, but her thinking is intact. She is an avid reader and intently follows current events. She followed the recent election earnestly, proud to be a “Wellesley Woman for Hillary.” She often shares that one of her proudest achievements was being able to vote for Barack Obama not once but twice!

Betty is the mother of Clarence and James (deceased.) She is a member of the Woman’s Historical Club of Detroit and Christ Episcopal Church.”

Eloquent words, but any one with knowledge of the times in which she lived (or anyone who has seen Hidden Figures) can see how groundbreaking her life was. Here we see Wellesley’s oldest alumna showing her support for Hillary Clinton, arguably Wellesley’s best known alumna.

And here is where this post fits in seamlessly with the quasi movie review I wrote in my last post. When I walked into the small party, there was a man I didn’t recognize. He introduced himself as Chauncey Spencer, the son of a deceased Tuskeegee Airman. Caroll had met him at a Martin Luther King commemoration and invited him to the party as a link to the distinguished military unit in which Betty’s husband served. Chauncey honors his father by keeping memories of the airmen alive.  The subject of Hidden Figures came up, because Katherine Johnson's husband had also been a Tuskeegee Airman. I asked Chauncey if he had seen the movie. “Yes” he said. “I know Katherine.”

I attended her 102nd birthday party and hope to be at number 104.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Now That Was a Surprise

A couple of nights ago we went to see the movie Hidden Figures, which we both enjoyed. It was one of those “talk about it later” movies, centering around the contribution of three Afro-American women to the space industry. I read my share of non-fiction books, but I had never heard of this trio, and I can’t imagine why. In the last two days the Internet has yielded so much information on them and their work that I can be kept busy for the next several weeks.

I was not surprised that they had to fight because of their color to achieve their success. This was the beginning of the American space program, the early sixties, still a period of racial discrimination. I arrived in America in 1963, but Los Angeles was not a city of overt racial tension, though I suppose the Watts riots of 1965 put pay to that idea. If I saw George Wallace and his dogs and water hoses on TV, it was rather like seeing the huge snowfalls in the mid-west—not quite real. This movie, by showing the everyday discrimination which these women faced with quiet courage, highlighted their dilemma. There is a wonderful scene where Katherine Goble comes running back to her work station dripping wet after having had to run half a mile in torrential rain from the “colored bathroom” because she was precluded from using the bathrooms in her building. When her supervisor wonders why she is late back from her break her response is moving—and for once effectual. It had not occurred to me that even libraries were segregated, though Dorothy found a way to get her hands on a necessary book on programming with Fortran.

I was not surprised that the protagonists had to fight because they were women. That was the excuse they were given for their failure to earn a promotion or for being unable to attend meetings where information vital to their jobs was being disseminated. And the dress code. Simple strand of pearls! Katherine addressed that one too.

But what did surprise me was that the calculations for the first manned flights were done “by hand.” Alan Shepard and John Glenn were sent skidding off in space with their flight trajectories and even the calculations to get them back to earth figured out on little bits of paper in a blue binder. It was not too far into the program when IBM machines were introduced (hence Dorothy’s need to learn Fortran), but early on huge blackboards were covered with equations and symbols and then checked and rechecked. At the time I don’t think I ever thought about it and of late I just assumed everything was calculated by computer. I have become a denizen of the computer age.

There are so many reasons to go see this film (when the Oscars roll around you will be glad you did) and until then Google is your friend and you can meet and see photographs of three outstanding women, Katherine Noble Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Noteworthy Day.

No, not for the reason you think. But since we spent ages trying to remember the date we were in Washington for an inauguration, it might be worth while to note that this year, 2017, the inauguration fell on January 20th.

January 20th also happens to be the birthday of our granddaughter Blake. She celebrated her 12th birthday today. She is a wonderful big sister to little Joe and can make life a little easier for Lucy and Peter by reading to him while they take care of little Gigi. In this photo she is at school and taking her turn to be “Principal for a Day.” I just love the outfit and I think she could pass for Principal of St. Clare of Montefalco. A year to go before becoming a teenager, so keep on being your sweet self, Blake.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

MLK Weekend: as Usual

As usual Andrew took advantage of the extra day off school to come and visit us. This time he brought all six of his children. As a birthday present he had bought a ticket for Linus, son number two, to see a hockey game at the Joe Louis arena, one of the last before the Redwings move to a new home. And, as usual, I worrited (wasn’t it a character in Dickens who used that lovely word?) all evening as they drove the 500 miles to Detroit on the Thursday evening after leaving school at mid-afternoon. It was close to mid-night when they arrived—but in spite of their late arrival, they were all up before me in the morning.

As usual, Andrew’s siblings wanted to spend every possible moment with him and their children wanted to spend every possible moment with their cousins, so there was a lot of toing and froing. Fortunately the weather cooperated so there were a couple of excursions to the park to let off steam.

This is the group on Sunday night before Andrew and his family left to spend the night with the five “Canton cousins.” The day before there had been another grandson here, but he left to return to college for a new semester. The third boy down on the right is the birthday boy. Can you believe the smart, talkative and altogether adorable little girl in the striped shirt is the granddaughter who had such a rocky start in life? It really wasn’t fair for Ernie to tell her there was an alligator at the bottom of our laundry chute and that he needed to be fed. I retrieved a lot of oranges from the dirty sheets.

Note to self: this is not an attractive photo. Figure out how to use your new camera. Fast.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Fifteenth Day of Christmas or Thereabouts

I make my own timetable for when I put my Christmas decorations away, and this year it is because I am expecting a houseful this weekend.

I have written before about the birthday gift I get every year from my daughters—they come to put up my Christmas decorations and we all have lunch together. Of late they have been bringing their daughters with them. In the interest of making things go smoother earlier in the week I bring up from the basement the boxes and bags of the decorations I have amassed over the years. It was so much harder this year. Stairs are not my friend, especially the metal-edged basement stairs where I have at least twice taken a tumble. So I told the girls that maybe they should cull some of the wreaths and garlands and bows and baubles and that they were not to tell me which items were going to disappear, nor would I tell them what to get rid of. They took me at my word. I also said we would put nothing outside which necessitated climbing a ladder in the middle of winter.

So farewell to the outside decorations (just a few lights on the low hedges.) Even the mantel decorations were not as fancy as these in a photo from a few years ago.

Today there were far fewer boxes to take down to the basement and even so I have left one or two for the resident handyman. Last year we bought an artificial tree: a small one and I love it. No more needles to clog up the vacuum cleaner. I was sad when we made that decision, remembering the years when it was such fun for the family to go out and buy a tree together and to position it just right in its stand.

Soon everything will be packed away ready for next year, although I do intend to finish the patchwork tree skirt I started four years ago.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Yet Another Era Bites the Dust

Yes, a mixed metaphor, but you get the idea.

When we arrived in Detroit in 1966 it did not take us long to make the acquaintance of the J.L.Hudson Company. In downtown Detroit (and yes, there was a vibrant downtown) there was the flagship Hudsons store. Check out the link: it is mind boggling that the city which has become synonymous with crime and decay once boasted such a jewel. I have so many happy memories of riding up and down the escalators, of wandering around the classy and extensive fabric department, of eating at the fabulous restaurant—and the day in 1966 when we were Christmas shopping going to a huge bank of telephones with a dime clutched in my hand to call the obstetrician's office for the results of my first pregnancy test. We bought clothes there, we bought furniture: in fact it was possible to buy pretty much anything.

When the children came along it was a little harder to make the trip downtown, involving as it did the parking garage and the maneuvering of strollers between floors. But by this time the era of the Mall had begun, and there was a Hudsons out at Eastland Mall in Harper Woods, about twenty minutes from our house. That became our store of choice, anchoring the Mall which also contained a J.C. Penney store. Over the years we heard that the downtown store had come on hard times. Our friend Charles who often came to stay and always combined his trip with an excursion to Hudsons reported that whole floors were being closed down, until eventually came the great implosion.

We could still purchase whatever we needed at Hudsons in the Mall, although the store changed hands, becoming Dayton Hudsons, then Marshall Fields and eventually Macy*s (sic, they love their little star.) There were bigger Macy*s stores at the up-scale Somerset Mall and at Lakeside but all of these required a longish drive.

The writing was on the wall. Two of the four floors at our Mall store closed down and so it was no surprise when I looked in my Facebook feed last night and found this article. I am very sad. I don’t see myself driving way across town too much and I grieve the lack of stores close to my zip code. Whenever chain retailers consider Grosse Pointe as a site for a new store, I am told they draw a circle round the area to see what their customer base would look like—and find that 50% of the circle covers the lake. Circumstances being what they are, I am shopping on-line more and more, but I do not find that a satisfactory way to shop for clothes.

Goodbye Hudsons, Dayton Hudsons, Marshall Fields and Macy*s. I enjoyed knowing you.