Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Serendipity Yet Once More

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

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

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


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

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

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

Monday, April 07, 2014

More Basketball/More Food

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

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

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


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

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

Monday, March 31, 2014

Buns

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

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

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

Thursday, March 27, 2014

When do You Give up on a Blogger?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 17, 2014

In Which She Writes on Laundry

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Lost Weekend

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

The Winter of our Discontent

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

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

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