Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Day in Cleveland

Yesterday Polly, John and I went up to the Cleveland Museum of Art. I wanted them to see the Gauguin show, which ends next week. It's not what you expect, since it is mainly prints he made in Brittany when he was younger. No nekkid Tahitian ladies. I had already seen it but I wanted to see more of the new East wing, which I had only dashed through the last time I was there. It had opened in July with much fanfare.

The architect of the renovations is a South American, named Vinoly, and not many people are pleased with what he has designed. The museum, like many others, needed more space, and that's happened, in spades. It is huge, and the West wing isn't anywhere near done. They are roofing over with glass what used to be this beautiful interior gardenplaza, which was right next to the cafe. It is going to be a "gathering place," which seems to be a concei t now loved by architects of large public buildings. (The Akron Art Museum, which opened its new, improved museum a couple of years ago, has one that looks like the underside of a football stadium without the hot dog stand.) The enclosing of this space at the Cleveland Museum means a loss of an open air garden in which one could have lunch and relax.

The new exhibition spaces are large and cold. All the warmth of the old museum is gone, or maybe I'm just not used to it yet. I did find some of my favorites which I always have to visit. They've been moved out of their former places. In the original 1916 building, which is still there and still beautiful, there were these sort of hidden niches, where certain treasures were displayed as if in the home of a wealthy collector. They have spread these out now, but at least they're still there.

One of my favorite paintings seemed to have disappeared, but I found it, in one of the new galleries, the very last one in a series of open spaces. It's not by a very famous painter, but it used to be in one of those little niches, along with some lovely decorative art of its period (early 19th century) and it just glowed on the back wall, so you couldn't miss it. It is of a young lady wearing an Eastern head dress and it's by an Austrian I've never heard of. I was very afraid they would have deaccessioned it, since it's not that distinguished historically. I also have to visit the silver tureen, which is an enormous thing crawling with what looks like lost wax created sea creatures and a crow. It's there, but not as elegantly displayed as it used to be. And I have no idea where the Guelph treasures are. Everything will be open in 2012, so I'll have to wait.

We had lunch at Presti's an Italian deli in, where else, Little Italy, and gelato for dessert. It was a nice day.

Monday, December 28, 2009


I am informed by my European correspondent (and frequent proof-reader)that it is spelled as in the title of this post. I had it for the first time in London, in an Italian restaurant around the corner from Victoria Station,16 years ago. My European correspondent testifies that she is burnt out on it, having eaten too much of it in the years that shes has lived over there. It is easy to find here, but it is too rich for frequent indulging. But the Greek bakery's version was delicious and that will do for me for another 16 years.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Boar's Head Festival

We were so lucky yesterday. Snow had been predicted, which always makes me nervous when travel is involved. Even though we're only 45 minutes from the Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland, I still don't like to drive or be driven when there is snow on the roads. However, the sun shown all day with nary a flake.

We got there early enough to get our usual seats. This year there was a full choir in the back of the nave which was quite good. We could not take photos with flash so I am including a picture from their web site. There are several groups in the procession: first, the Beef Eaters; then monks who light the tall candelabras; then the food and flag bearers (boar's head, roast peacock, sweetmeats); then a hilarious group of teeny little elfish jesters in bright green and red; then the Herald who sings the Boar's Head Carol; Good King Wenceslaus and his servant;the Yule Log, which this year was rolled in wildly by some little bad boys who kept fishtailing it around the corners, almost throwing off the little one who sat astride it ringing a bell; the Waits who are merry makers; Joseph and Mary, she sitting on a donkey, which this year did not bray although we wished he had; shepherds with one sheep which this year did not bleat; the three Kings in all their splendor. All this is accompanied by music from the participants and the congregation and there are horns along with the mighty organ.

The thing is, we have got to quit telling people about it. Some people we told about it who came last year were back this year bringing friend with them, and I can see this multiplying next year as those new people bring more people. Well, it's a lovely thing, and one does want people to experience it. When we went to Number One Pho for dinner afterward, we ended up with 13 people at our table, and there were 6 more who went to another restaurant which didn't have room for all of us. But we had a splendid time with some really fine people.

Oh, before Christmas, we went up to the West Side Market and I found out that my Greek bakery lady, whose picture was in one of my posts last year got married this year and I met her handsome husband. I am so happy for her.l Her father does the baking and she has staffed the stand for many years. I had visions of her growing old (she's probably around fifty something now), slaving away for her father . Well, she was beaming when she introduced her husband. They will be going to Greece for their honeymoon this spring. An d, she had tera misu (even spell check doesn't know how to spell it!)instead of the usual torte which I have always liked It was excellent.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Fa La La

What a nice Christmas we have had, with three fourths of my children here and the other fourth Skyped in the afternoon. She had sent us a box of German goodies: chocolates, Lebkuchen and spiced tea.( That was lovely, but having her here would have been lovelier, of course.) John made us a big breakfast, with Polly's help: home fries, Amish bacon, scrambled eggs. People had gotten up a tad late, unlike the old days when "Can we get up now?" was heard starting around 4 a.m.

I'm the one who got toys this year - an Ipod Nano from Sally and an Internet radio from John. There will be a learning curve with these gadgets, although John has already programmed the radio so that I can get WCLV and BBC4. Now I can listen to the opera on my stereo and enjoy the quirky (to me) British programmes. There's one channel which plays the Goon Show! Or I can listen to broadcasts from Lower Slobbovia or some thousands of other countries in all languages. The Nano has a video function which we have already played with. Now I have to learn how to download podcasts and other things. Music is easy, since I've messed with ITunes in the past. Sally has an Ipod Shuffle which we gave her a few Christmases ago, so she's conversant with those things and has already helped me with some things. Both of these toys have manuals and web sites to help, so I shall occupy myself with figuring out what's what.

We had a good dinner with turkey and company Jell-O. We have so many sweets around that we have hardly touched the apple-walnut-raisin pie that John made on Christmas Eve. We had gone to our usual Universalist Unitarian candlelight service, where we saw old friends and listened to the choir and sang "Silent Night " in English, German and Spanish. Unitarian are all about diversity. (A friend had once expressed her concern that "Unitarians are not Christians." but they are more Christian than a lot of people who claim to be so.)

Tonight we are going up to the Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland for the Boar's Head Feast and then to the Number One Pho for dinner. Perhaps we'll swing by the Christmas Story House on the way home. A very nice holiday has been had by all here and I hope for everyone else.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

Once again, Burnell pet Dupree stars in my annual Christmas card, joining me in wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and in general a pleasant holiday season no matter what you call it.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Here We Come A-Caroling

We had our annual caroling party the other night, which meant that I finally got the manger and my cheap little lighted village up and running. John baked two pies, one apple and his first ever pecan pie. Both were delicious and well received by all. We had cider to wash the pie down. I am still amazed that we can crowd all these people into this living room, especially with the tree up, which rather restricts space. There were fewer than usual, only thirteen of us, rather than the usual 18 or so.

We do this acapella because that's the way we like it and also because guitars would take up too much of the limited space. I reckon we went through about 25 carols or so, in four part harmony. We have song sheets with the words and we all know the tunes. We save "Silent Night" for next to last with "We Wish You A Merry Christmas for the grand finale.

Years ago, when we were younger, we tried doing this outside, but when we went to the homes of non-singing friends, they just stood in their doorways, confused s to their roles as recipients of carolers. Were they supposed to ask us in? Distribute cookies? Join in? Since everyone involved, including the carolees, were freeing, it just didn't work, and we just do it here in the warm living room.

When my sister and I were Girl Scouts, back in Atlanta, our troop would go out caroling at a few homes, but also to the orphanage and the TB hospital (at which I would try not to inhale lest I become contaminated.) Occasionally we would be given treats, because Southerners now how to deal with people singing out on their front lawns.

We have a new walnut Baby Jesus for the tree. The original was given to me 40 years ago by a non-observant Jewish friend. She and her husband decided that their children should go to Saturday school at the temple in Akron and learn about their Jewish heritage. Unfortunately the children took it very seriously and decided that Christmas was unJewish. My friend had to give up the Christmas tree, so she would give me an ornament every year to get her Christmas "fix," and admire our tree. Well, that little walnut infant is rather dingy, but I love it because it reminds me of a dear friend who is gone from this earth. Polly just happened to be given one by a friend this year, so we added him to the tree. He's much fancier than my old one, but is a welcome addition.

Since Polly is home for Christmas this year for the first time in many years, she and Sally decorated the tree with more than the usual number of ornaments, going through the box and pulling out things they remember from their childhood. The tree has born up well under the onslaught. The tree is, as usual, the most beautiful tree ever.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Hat Hater

I don't know what has happened to my head of late. I don't mean my brain, which is no more addled than usual, but my actual head, noggin, bean, kopf, tete. I simply cannot wear a hat any more. This especially apples to headgear of the winter variety. I do all right in the sum me, with my Tilley hat, or various sun hats that I keep around to work in the garden. It's these winter hats.

I don't think my head has grown. I have always had a rather small head. I know that when one gets older the ears grow, which is why so many of us older ladies keep our hair long enough to cover the massive things that seem to practically reach our shoulders. (Old men have hair growing out of theirs; we women get the Basset hound look.) However, my head seems to have gotten bigger in some way.

Certain hats will not stay down, popping right off my head. If I pull them down, I get that bag lady look, the street person mumbling to herself look. If I try to tie my scarf around my head it slides off the back. No matter what I do, if it isn't popping off or sliding down, everything bunches up at the back of my neck causing me to walk funny and making me have to turn clear around to see anything off to the side.

Yesterday was the first really cold day of the late fall and I had to wear something on my head or risk having my ear lobes freezing and breaking off (which would have been a painful solution to the growing ear problem) and I just walked around feeling trapped and furious about my hat. Maybe I experienced some kind of birth trauma, like getting my head stuck in the birth canal and that's what hats on top of and sliding off my head remind my psyche of.

And then, too, yesterday reminded me that this is the beginning of all that cold weather stuff.

I realize that the world situation and economy are not good and that I should be worrying about that instead of my non-hat head, and that I am lucky to have a head at all and warm hats to not wear on it. Well, I'm just not Pollyanna and some things are just annoying. Really.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

More Soup

Since I wrote about boiling my turkey carcass for broth, I thought I would show off one result of that process. This is the vegetable soup I made on Monday. It's mighty good. Been slurping it for lunch for two days and it gets better with age.

One thing that makes my soup so good, I am sure, is the pot in which I make it. This was my mother's Club Aluminum Dutch oven. I use it for pot roast and beef sew (when I 'm not doing them in the CrockPot), chili, pork chops with sauerkraut, chicken with artichoke hearts and various one pot meals. The lid was long gone when I inherited (or stole) this vessel, but I have another which is almost as good, although the original was more dome like.

So ya have the soup, crusty bread and a glass of wine, which is ever so good for one's stummick and well being.

Monday, December 7, 2009


Saturday afternoon I moseyed over to Akron, to the majestic Civic Theater, one of those rococo pleasure palaces built in the 20s, with starry skies over what seems to be semi-Gothic, Moorish palace gardens. And I mix my architectural styles in the spirit of the romantic build es of that era. It's from the days when going to the picture show was an ADVENTURE. It is being lovingly restored and is used for a variety of live performances such as the one I attended that afternoon" the "Nutcracker" ballet.

It has been staged for 17 years by a local professional ballet company, consisting of dancers from the ages of 4 or 5 to adult. It's connected to a pre-professional school of ballet and most of the adult dancers are former students who come back to Akron for the production. They put on an absolutely beautiful production, with gorgeous costumes and scenery. I love to watch the teensy little dances, who are amazingly disciplined, playing mice and angels. They always receive a round of applause as the patter off the stage. The Waltz of the Flowers was just gorgeous, and so were the Snowflakes all in white, with snow drifting down.

The audience is fun to watch, too, consisting of large numbers of little girls, dressed in velvet and spangles. They sparkle, too. After the ballet, the dancers mingle in the vast lobby and meet their star struck fans. I wonder how many of these little people go home and dance around their houses.

I would love to have been able to go to something like this when I was a child. My sister and I took a few weeks of ballet when we were living in Montgomery with our relatives at the beginning of the depression. Our glamorous Aunt Amalia ran a dancing school and taught ballet. She could dance right up on her toes! We loved it, and when we moved to Atlanta, she arranged for us to study with Madame Solomanov, who had, it was said, come over from Russia with Anna Pavlvoa's troupe and stayed on to teach lazy little Southern girls. Unfortunately Madame scared the hell out of us, and we begged to quit. So we did - and I just know that, like Lady Catherine de Bourgh, "had I learnt I would have bee a great proficient."

Since there was no televison then, I didn't even see any ballet until I was in high school, when the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo came to Springfield, Ohio and I got to see the real thing. The Joffrey Ballet also came through the next year. Somewhere in the stuff that I have too much of, I think my program from one of those ballets lurks. Some of the great dancers of the era were in those companies.I remember that one of them did "Rodeo" and one did a pas de deux from "Swan Lake." It was lovely.

And seeing "Nutcracker" makes me readier for Christmas.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Ready or Not, Here It Comes

The other day, when I went to my eye doc, the first person I encountered asked, "Are you ready for Christmas?" The next person, the tech who props me for the doc, asked the same question, as did the next person, the tech who takes pictures of my eye balls. And then my darling retinologist Dr. Lamkin (isn't that a cosy name for a guy who is going to stick a needle in your eye?) asked it again.

What does that mean, "Are you ready for Christmas?" Have I been out to the mall buying useless gifts for people who have everything they already need or want? Have I baked cookies? Mailed packages off to faraway loved ones? Is my tree up? Have I strung lights all over my property? Do I have enough wrapping paper and Scotch tape? I just finished boiling the turkey carcass to make broth for future soups, fa cryin' out loud.

I hate to sound like Scrooge here, but everyone gets so pressured and frantic around this time of year. I get a sense of anxiety in the people who ask this question. I figure they're not ready themselves and are hoping I'll say,"Wow, is Christmas pretty soon? I guess I'd better order that electric orange peeler they're advertising on TV at 3 in the morning."

We have pretty much decided this year to shower each other with consumable stuff, since we have run out of space for anything other than ephemera. It's fun to receive gifts, of course. Who doesn't like to open a gift? The problem, however, is what to do with it, where to put it then.

Everyone has too much stuff already. I'll be "ready" for Christmas on Christmas Eve, I think.

And I wonder if, as Mary and Joseph walked into the inn, the innkeeper asked her, "Are you ready for Christ, Miss?"

You read it here first.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Super Soup

For Christmas last year, my son John gave me a big slow cooker, one big enough for roast beast. I had a small one which he had also given me years ago with his paper route earnings, which I have used mostly for beef stew. Now I have one big enough to make a delicious pot roast with nice brown potatoes and carrots. This also results in a lot of gravy and general meat juices with which to make great soups.

One favorite is mushroom barley beef soup which is ever so good for one , with all that barley. If I throw in a little sherry it's even better. And if you have a glass of red wine, then you have an even healthier meal, since we all know that red wine is good for the heart, or arteries.

The other day I made the best vegetable soup ever. I had enough leftover potatoes and carrots to dice and added onions, broccoli, tomatoes and shreds of leftover pot roast and a little barley. It was very rich and almost stew-ish. With a good salad and crusty bread it was a very filling dinner. And a glass of red wine, of course.

John's girl friends' mother (I love serial possessives) gave him her recipe for butternut squash soup. He has made two batches so far. It's quite labor intensive and requires baking the squash, and lots of processing the pulp in small batches. It has fresh ginger and other spices and is very delicious. Her mother adds apricots, but John hasn't tried that yet. I found recipes online that are similar., which is where I found the directions for the following experiment.

I am not a squash person, but I found some of those really picturesque acorn squashes at the last farmer's market and decided to make soup with them. I had no idea they would be so hard to cut in half and at first I had the feeling that my best knife would be stuck in the first one forever. I finally gave it a good whack and it fell apart, so I whacked the other two successfully and put them into the oven to bake. An hour later, I opened the oven door and recoiled in horror. It looked as if I had baked a bunch of giant beetles. They gleamed like scarabs in a truly yucky fashion. Since they didn't crawl toward me, I removed them and let them cool in thier own beetle-y way. Then I had to peel them and dispose of a bunch of dead beetle skins. Ewwww!The soup turned out quite well. The recipe called for half and half, which I had on hand for coffee use. If I ever make it again, I think I will add sour cream or buttermilk instead.

One of John's clients gave him a beautiful pie pumpkin from which he has made two pies and has enough left over to make another - or perhaps pumpkin soup. It's been a very squashy fall. Soupy, too.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Breaking Taboos

I remember when Madelyn Murray O'Hair was practically tarred and feathered for defending the Constitutional requirement for the separation of church and state. She claimed that prayer in school was in violation, and furthermore, that she was an atheist! Well, you would have thought that she had admitted to some heinous crime against humanity. An atheist! Good Christian men awake! She was condemned in churches nationwide. Called terrible names. Taking prayer out of the public schools was seen as downright un-American.

Since I had attended Catholic schools where we prayed four times a day (first thing in the morning, before lunch, after lunch and at dismissal) , I found this puzzling. They prayed in public schools? Whatever for? They were all doomed anyway on account of not being Catholics. That's the sort of thing we learned when we were not praying.

Well, atheism has come a long way since Ms. O'Hair disappeared. It has become quite trendy, what with books out by Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens and some other guy whose name I can't think of right now. Nobody has consigned any of these writers to hell or accused them of sexually abusing goats and chickens. Their books have been best sellers, they've been on TV without being scorned. It's possible that there are folks who are clucking about this on talk radio, along with the birthers and death panel fear mongers, but they're not on my radar.

But there are limits. Even though an African American can become president, and openly gay people can serve in Congress, I have a sense that an avowed atheist could not become president in this country. Ever since Reagan pretended he was a born again Christian, presidential candidates have fallen all over themselves to show that they are church-going, born bona fide Christians and true believers, even if they're not. I think atheism is the last taboo. We'll have a Jewish, black, gay female president before we'll ever have an atheist, or even an agnostic. It's the American way, init?

Friday, November 6, 2009


I have been reading a lot in the area newspapers about the consolidation of Catholic parishes and the closing of churches. There have been sad interviews with mostly older parishioners. These are people who were baptized, made their first communion, confirmed, married and their parents and grandparents buried from these churches. In large cities like Akron and Cleveland, most of these parishes were established in the late 19th and early 2oth centuries by immigrants from Europe: Italy, Poland, Germany, Slovenia and Hungary. They built magnificent churches, which became the centers of their communities, along with the schools they built to educate and "Americanize" their children and inculcate Catholicism, of course.

In some of these churches the mass was said in the language of the parishioners. (I attender a church in Berea where Polish was used for the mass and for the sermon.I never knew what was going on. My favorite story about that is that one day after mass I asked a woman I had seen every Sunday what the closing Polish hymn , which sounded very martial, was about. She said, "In don't know. I'm a convert.")

We never happened to live in an ethnic parish, mostly WASPY kinds of churches. We always attended parochial schools from first grade through high school. Aside from high school, our parish schools were pretty much neighborhood schools. It was like being in a large extended family, with a few crazy aunts thrown in (some of the nuns). Our parents were involved in church activities unrelated to the school - altar society, choir, that sort of thing. It was a strong part of one's identity. I have good memories and some not so good mostly related to the crazy aunts. They were great for English grammar, literature and history - except when it came to the Reformation. In my high school there were no art courses, drama or music classes, aside from the chorus, run by Sr. Margaret Angela, who had a voice like a steam whistle, causing dogs in downtown Springfield, Ohio, to howl in misery.

I am no longer a church goer, but I remember the sense of community engendered by belonging to a parish, and empathize with those people who are now forced to leave the places that fostered them and nurtured them throughout significant moments in their lives: birth, marriage, and death. The children and grandchildren of the founders are now in the suburbs, attending churches that look like shopping malls. The bricks and mortar buildings of their forefathers will stand empty, be razed or converted into some other use. It must be like losing a limb. You still have the rest of your body, but you will always be aware that something is missing.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Great Ride

The other day, I took a ride down to Tuscaroras County, which is about 70 miles south of here. There's a place I like to go every few years, mainly in the spring or fall. It's called the Moravian Trail. Back in the late 18th century, a group of religious Moravians established settlements in that area: Goshen, Gnadenhuttan and Schoenbrun. They converted the Indians and set up peaceful agrarian villages. The Moravians and their Indian converts were massacred by the British and the villages they founded have been restored and are part of the state's historical sites.
None of these settlements is on the Moravian Trail, so I have no idea why it bears that name, except that it may have been a path they used for some purpose. The whole area around the trail is now part of the Muskingham Conservancy District, a series of lakes formed as a result of flood control dams built in the '30s. The trail itself runs along a wooded ridge and encompasses 55 miles of absolutely gorgeous territory., The views are breathtaking, especially now, when the trees are a glory of color.

The section I drove is about 25 miles long and runs from a little town called Dennison, up hill and down and around many curves and ends up at Tappan Lake down at the bottom of the ridge. Abut halfway to the lake is a little town called Deersville, in which is a general store which has just about anything you might need in the hills or on the lake. There's a touch of "Deliverance" about it, at least in the folks who hang out there, big bellied men. I like to stop there for an ice cream cone or a package of chips. One of the men was talking about a big buck he had seen in a field that morning. He didn't want to say where the field was because he was going hunting and had his eye on it.

There are some beautiful old houses in the village, some of which have been fixed up by outsiders who come down to enjoy the peace and quiet. I know a couple of folks who have cabins down there which they escape to occasionally; in one case a literal log cabin, of which there are a number scattered about. I don't' know those people well enough to have been invited, but I'd love to see it. So far as I know they've never been tied to a tree with their pants around their ankles, but it seems to be the sort of place that could happen.

It's a lovely place this time of year, especially without dueling banjos and I'm glad I got to see it before the trees turned bare. In the spring it's also lovely, since thee are a lot of flowering trees and wild flowers. When I stopped to take this picture of the lake, the water was absolutely still, like a mirror, which was why I wanted to take a picture of the tree reflected in the lake. Suddenly there was some sort of disturbance under the water by the far shore and these ripples starting fanning out toward the shore where I was. I didn't see anything, but whatever it was made quite a strong current across the lake. It was a tad creepy.
But then it's almost Halloween.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Generation Techno-gap

I have been hearing all these commercials for HD radio, including the local NPR station, which is boasting of their three channels, each carrying different programming: one all classical music, one folk music and one news. All this with better reception as well. I thought this sounded like a good idea, especially since WCLV, the great classical music station which used to be on the east side of Cleveland but moved a few years ago to the far west side (to Lorain, in fact, and is now only accessible to me on my computer) has been HD for quite a while. That's the only radio station around here which still broadcasts the Met on Saturday afternoons. Now I don't know for sure if I could even get WCLV with an HD radio, but I decided that I'd check it out.

Since Best Buy has been running commercials for this product, it seemed the logical place to go. My past experience with Best Buy has not led me to be too optimistic for reasons that will become obvious as I relate my tale of woe and frustration. I headed for the electronics department where I managed to flag down an "associate," as they are called these days.

"I'd like to see your HD radios," I said to a 12 year old associate.
"A Walkman?" she queried.
"No, a radio," I responded.
"Oh, a boom-box," she replied.
"No, just a radio," I rejoined.
Consternation played over her chubby little baby face.
"The boom-boxes are over there," she pointed out.
"I don't need a tape deck and a CD player, just a radio," I snapped.
"A radio?" Doubt cast a shadow over her innocent visage.
"Yes," I said, " the kind you just plug into the wall and turn on and sound comes out, like music, or people talking. You put it on a table or some kind of flat surface and listen to it."
"A boom box." Her little face brightened.
I decided to go back to my original question.
"I've heard your ads for HD radios. Does anyone here know where they might be?"
She tagged a passing 14 year old male.
"Do we have any HD radios?"
He was moving pretty fast, but he managed to say, "Yeah, but just for cars."
So much for communication between the advertising department and the actual store. Never had said anything on TV about HD being just for cars. In fact, in the recent NPR begging fest, an HD radio was one of the premiums if you sent them a couple hundred bucks. Cars were not mentioned.

By this time, my eye had caught sight of a tiny little flat screen LCD TV on a nearby shelf. Giving up on HD radio, I wandered over to have a look.
When TV went HD, I had to give up my little black and white desk model analog TV, which I kept on my drawing table. I missed it. I turned to the 12 year old associate.
"Hey, does that thing work without having to be connected to cable or a converter box?"
She picked up the box and pretended to read what was written on it.
"It doesn't say, but it looks like it just works with this antenna that comes with it. Maybe."

My God, I thought don't thee people have any clues about what they're supposedly associated with? I examined it. It would fit just fine on my drawing table. It didn't seem to have any connections beyond the outlet it was plugged into. I didn't see any other cables.The 14 year old male associate drifted back into view and wanted to discuss the HD radio thing again, but I told him to just forget it and did he know anything about this little TV. He didn't.

I decided to take a chance on it. I could always bring it back . When I got to the check-out, I mentioned that the associates back in Electronics seemed a bit poorly informed and could she find someone who could give me information about this little TV. She sent a 16 year old back to ask, and when that person returned she said that I would need a converter box with it. I didn't believe her, since there had not been any sort of thing connected to it in the store. She surmised that it could have been hitched up in some way invisible to the casual observer (well, she didn't put it exactly that way) but that it probably was hitched up to something like a cable. Since I had not seen anything other than the usual cord, I said I'd take my chances with it, and bring it back if it didn't work on its own.

And then I paid and got the hell out of there. Sure enough, when I brought it home, I plugged it in and it worked just fine - no converter box needed.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Leaves and Amish Laundry

Right now it's raining, but last Monday I took my friend Harriet, who can no longer drive, up to Geauga County, where the trees color up earlier than here in Portage County. It was a cloudy day, but the colors were still brilliant.

We drove through a rather isolated Amish area, where even on a cloudy day, clotheslines were loaded with washing - Monday is still wash day there. I don't envy the life of an Amish housewife. Depending on the sect, there is no electricity and laundry is done on a wash board. They do have manual wringers. There weren't many buggies out that day, only a few carts driven by farmers.

I have heard that the Amish in Geauga County are more conservative than those down in Holmes County, which is overrun with tourists this time of year.
That's where my friend and I had the enormous sandwich a while back. We had gone to the community of Berlin to see "Behalt" at the Mennonite and Amish Historical Center. It's a huge cyclorama, painted by a German artist who was fascinated by the Anabaptist's. He came to this country and offered his services to portray their story. It is a history of them from the very beginning, telling how they split from the established church over infant baptism. There were two leaders who arose, one named Mennon and one named Ammon. They went through draconian persecution and ended here in land that resembled their home countries (Germany and Switzerland) with lots of arable land and rolling hills. Ohio has the largest population in the country. The woman who narrated the cyclorama for us had a slight German accent. She told us she didn't speak English until she was 6. She's no longer Amish, and had contributed some of her clothing to the costume exhibit at the center. Cool!

But I digress. On this trip, we stopped at a little diner in Burton, which is a maple sugar center. And, and we each had a real sandwich in this little place, one that was the right size, the kind I would make at home, the kind a person could hold in one hand and eat. And it was delicious. It was a very nice afternoon, even though cloudy (which Harriet kept complaining about as she is wont to do.)

I shall have to miss the next couple of farmers'markets because I am taking a class in pastel paining which started out on Wednesdays but had to be changed to Saturdays on account of the iunstructor got a real job. It's a great class and I am learning a lot. But I hate to miss the market. And pastels are messy.

The picture above is the maple tree in my front yard and is from last year. Hasn''t turned yet, but when it does it makes my whole living room glow golden.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Farmers' Market Saturday Mornings

We only have a few more weeks left. When this market started a number of years ago, there were maybe 5 or 6 stalls and only a hew shoppers showed up. Now it is packed with vendors and buyers. It's the place to be on Saturday mornings and I love it. It's what this town was like years ago, when our downtown was full of shops, the sidewalks were crowded, and you could hardly walk a few feet whiteout running into people you knew. Ohioans love malls, so many were built and that's where people went and our local shops went out of business.

But now, starting in late June, like Brigadoon a little mini-town appears and stays until the end of October. There are still vegetables to be had: squash, kale, radishes and potatoes. Starting last week, there are lots of pumpkins and mums. There was a new food vendor this week selling hot soup, just in time for nippy weather. I bought potato garlic and it was terrific. One of my favorites is Gaelic Imports, which sells pasties, sausage rolls and little cottage pies. A favorite of everyone there is Rafael, the Spanish baker. He makes wonderful breads. He said he even used to grow and mill his own wheat, but while it was an adventure, it was just too time consuming. There's a young man who bakes and sells cookies which are quite varied and good. One woman makes organic dog treats, but nothing for cats, so I can't buy any of her wares. I haven't checked to see if there is any catnip seller, but I bet there is.

We have a couple of goat farmers with all sorts of gourmet cheeses and feta. I buy my face soap from a young woman who makes the best herbal soaps that feel like cram on my face. I don't think it has had any effect on the wrinkles, but it certainly feels good and it smells heavenly. Everyone loves the garlic man and his two dogs, who sit in the bed of his truck and smile at people. He said it was not a good garlic year, but he also had shallots and fancy onions this time.

Music is provided from some of Kent's best folk musicians. This week I happened to run into a fine folk singer I know as she was talking to the musician on duty and I said. "You should be singing here." They conferred briefly (they've worked with each other before) and did a rousing number together, so I threw some money into his guitar case. (The folk festival happens next month and they'll both be performing.) World renowned composer Halim El Dabh was strolling about looking like an Old Testament prophet, wearing one of his African robes and using a long walking stick like Moses. He has performed there in the past. He and Rafael, the baker, are two of the most charming men in Kent and have quite a good time flirting with women of all ages.

Last year, some of the vendors had an indoor Christmas market in a big unused business garage and I hope they do it again this year. Our family has decided that we all have too much "stuff" and are planning this Christmas to give only things that can be consumed rather than objects which take up space,, so this is the kind of place to find those things.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Fit For A Boa Constrictor

I realize should be contemplating the meaning of life or the state of the world, but I am not. My mind focuses on trivia, only some trivia looms large in life at times. My current concern is the size of sandwiches. For most of my life, a sandwich was something between two slices of bread: peanut butter and jelly, or a piece of baloney, ham. or roast beef, with maybe a bit of lettuce. These sandwiches were held in one's hands, stuck together without the aid of toothpicks and easily eaten by the normally jawed. One would occasionally get a triple-decker BLT at a nice tea room sort of place, delicately divided into fourths and skewered with cellophane tasseled toothpicks. It could be a job to keep it together long enough to convey to the mouth, but it was not impossible without dislocating the jaw .For the past decade or so, however, sandwiches have become towers compiled of layers and layers of meat, cheeses, and lettuce. Unless one has jaws hinged like unto a boa constrictor's, it is almost impossible to bit into one of these things.

Recently, for instance, a friend and I, having rambled around in Amish country, stopped for lunch at a nice hilltop eatery. (It was not Amish, although there were a few young Amish women amongst the wait-staff. ) There was an interesting looking sandwich on the menu and we were able to persuade the server to let us halve it, knowing we would be unable, as geezers, to eat a whole one. When it was brought to the table, each half on its own plate, we were confronted with this 5 inch high creation, stuffed with lots of lettuce, thick bacon, tomato and turkey. It looked delicious, bur we were forced to use out knives and forks to cut it into manageable size. It took forever. We really didn't need that much food. I could not imagine anyone eating the whole thing without developing some terrible jaw condition. (And along with the sandwich and a cup of soup, the waitress brought little biscuits with cheese baked into them. At least they were the right size to bite into. )

I am not sure why sandwiches have gotten so huge. But then Americans have also gotten huge, so there must be a connection, no? There's enough stuff in the average restaurant sandwich to feed a village in Upper Volta, or whatever it's called these days. So I guess I am thinking of the state of the world after all.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Days to Remember in February

For the past month we have had the sort of weather I dream about when the winter days are gray and the earth looks dead. The skies are blue, the temperature is in the low 70s and the sun is golden. The leaves are still brilliant green as the sun shines through them. Late summer has become almost my favorite season; there are still flowers, the markets are full of wonderful local fruits and vegetables. Even though parts of my garden look creepy, I still have plenty of fresh herbs and healthy tomatoes and green peppers.

One of summer's pleasures which is still enjoyable is the ice cream stand down in New Baltimore, a crossroads hamlet just over the southern border of the county. There used to be two splendid antique shops there as well, but only one is left., and I don't need any more "stuff," anyway.

Although the place is on a main route, I like to go on the back roads through some lovely farmland. There's one place which, in early summer, had the most gorgeous garden right by the road. In June there are huge bright red poppies, iris and all kinds of roses. Last year I stopped to take pictures (which I have unfortunately erased) and the people came out and showed me around the back where they actually had some opium poppies which the man said his mother had started many years ago. Since I so admired their garden, the man picked me a selection of the most beautiful roses I've ever seen. he told me the names of them, but I don't remember. A few weeks later I stopped back with a painting I had done of one of them as a thank you gift.

The ice cream stand in New Baltimore is very popular because the ice cream is handmade and the flavors are unique. They also put eyes on top of the ice cream for the little kids, which I guess I could ask for if I wanted to. Nothing like having your ice cream staring back at you before you lick it. One afternoon this summer a group of antique car owners made a stop there during one of their rallies, so the parking lot was full of gleaming old beauties from the past. Motorcyclist roar in frequently, too, with their tanned babes on the back. It's also a popular stop with county fair goers, too, since it's on the same highway a few miles away. Even when it's crowded, they're very efficient, so you never have to wait long.

In the past couple of years, they have duded up the place, adding a vine covered arbor to sit under while you slurp. This year they are going to stay open a little longer, which will be nice for the leaf peepers in October. I'll probably get a couple of visits in before it closes for the year.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

When Good Veggies Go Bad

This has been a bonanza year for tomato growers. I have several varieties and they have all produced prodigiously. Somehow I got a couple of beefsteak tomatoes, not my favorite except for BLTs. (This is the only time of the year when I allow myself the luxury and cholesterol of bacon.)

With the other tomatoes, I have made chili, spaghetti sauce and even experiments with tomato paste which Erma Bombauer promised I could do easily. Alas, I do not keep the required brown sugar in my staple supply , but I made a tomato paste-like concoction which took most of the day to cook , turning 8 great tomatoes into about a half cup of goop with which I thickened my spaghetti sauce.

With most of the tomatoes I have made our favorite tomato, basil, garlic and onion topping for pasta, the memory of which will haunt us in February. Or sliced tomatoes, with mozzarella and balsamic vinegar. I have also frozen a few little packets of tomatoes for soup this fall and winter.

What with family reunions and much loved company for the past month or so, however, I have rather neglected that care of my garden. I went out yesterday and discovered the above horror in one of the beefsteak tomato plants. Eeewww! There is something so disgusting and ghastly about the transformation of a healthy plant into something so grotesque. It looks like something Hieronymus Bosch would put into a sort of corrupt still life, fruit for the damned. A good veggie gone bad on its way to eternal damnation. No more the shiny, red, edible globe. Aargh! Something nasty in the garden

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Goofy Pleasure

Years ago, before VCR or Tivo, when television was "live", Sunday nights were the nights for watching the Ed Sullivan Show. In spite of the fact that Ed Sullivan was one of the clumsiest hots ever, it w2as a terrific variety show, which brought all sorts of wonders to us out here in the spaces between New York and Los Angeles. We could see the stars of Broadway shows doing a complete number from a hit musical: Julie Andrews, Robert Goulet and Richard Burton from "Camelot," for instance, and Paul Lynde singing the Ed Sullivan anthem from "Bye Bye Birdie." We could see Rudoph Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn doing a pas de deux from "Coppelia." Itzak Perelman, as a child prodigy appeared, too, as did Isaac Stern. He introduced some of the great comedians, like Stiller and Meara. Of course one of the biggest TV debuts ever was the first performance on American TV of the Beatles, featuring hundreds of screaming teen aged girls. (A charming, funny little movie was made about that, called "I Wanna Hold Your Hand", which is worth seeing.)

Among the more unusual and old fashioned acts were Senor Wences, with the head in the box - "S'all right!" - and Topo Gigo. There was some guy who would spin dozens of plates on slender sticks, Myron Cohen with his old Jewish lady jokes, Frank Gorshin the impersonator, and a comic dog act featuring a dog who only stared at his desperate trainer as man tried to get the animal to do tricks. I think this part of program was like the vaudeville shows that my grandparents' generation had enjoyed back before movies killed them.

One of the old vaudeville acts that never failed to make me laugh aloud was that of Mr. Pastry, a British music hall performer, whose schtick consisted of a demonstration of The Lancers, an old fashioned group dance popular at grand parties. Dressed in white tie and tails, with white gloves, he would dance alone, but make you see the whole company. He was on probably once a year, and that''s the only thing he did, but he did it perfectly. I had forgotten his name, but I came across it in a memoir I was reading and immediately found him on YouTube. His real name was Richard Hearne and I rather doubt that he's still among the living. Some people reading this may remember him. This is only a little clip, but it still makes me laugh.

I 'm sure that the entire Ed Sullivan show is archived out there. It was not always memorable, but there were moments that I still remember. It is nice to have Mr. Pastry available to watch again.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Wild and Crazy Music

The New Yorker of August 31 has an article by Alex Ross, their music critic, about embellishment by musicians, historically and currently. He mentions the cadenza, that event in the concerto, particularly, where the soloist can show off his/her ability to improvise, or in most cases, stray from the score using the composer's own invention. He mentions a couple of YouTube examples of whist he calls "full cadenza craziness." I checked them out and just have to share them.

The first is from a violinist called Gilles Apap, who both looks like and plays like a Gypsy, having his way with Mozart's Violin Concerto. Check this out.

The other is Alfred Schnittke, being not quite so crazy with Beethoven. The Apap performance is on video and you can see that some of the musicians Are Not Amused. I think it's pretty cool myself, even though I love both of these concertos. The Cleveland Orchestra concerts start soon and I would love to see/hear something like this once in a while.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Busy August

Yikes! Summer is a goin' out and I haven't even posted an entry for August. It all started when Emily, Katina and Elena arrived in the U.S. of A. First I had to dust behind the furniture, buy a new kitchen sponge, wipe away the cob webs in the hall, alphabetize the canned goods, color coordinate the dish towels and perform other household tasks that can go unnoticed until company arrives. (What I really need to do is rent a dumpster and throw out the accumulations of 46 years in this house.) The thing is unless the mess is absolutely egregious, no one notices any of that stuff anyway.

So into my semi-clean, semi-neat house, the three lovely ladies arrived un-jetlagged, since they had spent the first few days in New York. The young ladies are taller than when I saw them last, two years ago, and still beautiful. It has been a whirlwind of activity for a couple of weeks, since there is an awareness that Emily is back in town and phone calls arrive almost simultaneously with her coming in the front door. The girls are now old enough to wander about on their own, mostly to a couple of favored coffee shops. I kept my studio free so they could draw (which they do beautifully) and peruse books and just lounge.

The main reason for their coming was the Harper Hootenanny, held in Dayton. This was a reunion planned by the cousins, originating in the Hofbrau Haus in Munich, when Emily and Terry decided that the Harpers needed a reunion. They generated an email list of all 26 Harper grandchildren and sent out the word. Despite the initial enthusiastic response, we were missing about 60 or s0, with some of the West Coast, Alaska and New England relatives unable to make it (even though Emily CAME ALL THE WAY FROM GERMANY!!) And sadly, we lost our dear Terry in June, but his parents and his family, Lee Ann, Dale and Jace were there.

All of these people are the issue of May and Sid Harper, which is pretty amazing. I mean, what a crowd! I don't know how many of us are still Catholics and how many of us are atheists, but the lack of birth control from a couple of generations really caused a population explosion for a while. We are all quite fond of each other and had a wonderful time. There were a couple of nephews I hadn't seen for ages, whose children are now grown. There are a tribe of adorable little ones, the youngest of which is 4, all blond and movie tyke gorgeous. They were like a flock of puppies and I loved watching them. We all welcomed Jill's new husband, who seemed not a bit overwhelmed. The Dayton and Cincinnati Harpers all brought edibles and drinkables, including Paul's delicious home brew. I heard that at one point some Maker's Mark was hoisted in toasts to the spirit of Terry.

I took my little Flip video camera and interviewed many of the participants and intend to make a family documentary if I can figure out how to edit it coherently, so I can cut out the shots of my feet. Still photos are being downloaded onto various Facebook pages as I write. There is talk of trying to do this again with hopes of increasing the participants.

The amazing Jill Harper Collett was the major planner, managing to put this all together AND running off to the Rockies to get married AND buying a new house AND planning to move just about all at the same time. Brother Mike and wife Marian ended up having a lot of us descend on their home periodically during the weekend and managed to make everyone feel welcome. They have a lot going on in their lives right now and I hope they are getting a good rest.

So that's what I've been up to and why I have not added a post for such a long time. Emily leaves for Germany on Monday and John leaves the same day for a conference in Colorado, so the house will feel REALLY empty. Dupree and I will have to muddle through.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Profiling, Racial

As the effects of the recent incident in Cambridge, MA ripple out from the regular press and cyberspace, it can be hard to find a rational, considered discussion of the events. However, I have read two very fine op-ed pieces reprinted in the Akron newspaper. Unfortunately, both escaped into the recycling truck before I could get the names of the authors. Both essays covered the same ground essentially, using the term "personal narratives" to analyze the possible states of mind of Dr. Gates and Sgt. Crowley. I like this concept because it makes the "teachable" moment suggested by President Obama operational.

The idea is that these two men each brought his own set of experiences to the interaction. For Dr. Gates it could be the story of what has happened to black men in confrontations with police in the past and his sense of his identity as a scholar and a man in his own house. For Sgt. Crowley the narrative has to do with the uncertainty and danger of what may confront a policeman in the situation of a possible break-in and his own vulnerability as a husband, father and cop. Both stories seem to involve fear of the Other. Both these narratives are emotionally loaded and when emotions take control, rational behavior disappears. I am oversimplifying this and cannot put it as eloquently as these writers did. Is racism involved? Probably, but just labeling it as such doesn't help us explore and learn what needs to be done. (Personally, I think Dr. Gates was unnecessarily handcuffed and arrested and justifiably angry.)

How can we use these powerful personal narratives ( back in the 60s we called it "where you're coming from") we all carry especially when they have an impact on race and other cultural differences? We are all so proud that we elected an African-American as president that we think we have the racial issues in this country signed, sealed and delivered - and we haven't. Maybe this incident will be a catalyst to do some significant and hard work, honest work.

By the way, I heard a conservative on the radio discussing this and he said he'd never heard of Henry Louis Gates. That's not hard to figure out: Gates is well-known outside academia to people who listen to NPR and PBS and read Harper's or The New Yorker, not media popular with conservatives.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Favorite Road

When I have to drive back and forth to the same place frequently, I like to vary the route to relieve boredom. Twice a week, early in the morning, I drive over to my water aerobics class in Ravenna. This is located at the hospital rehab center which happens to have a nice warm pool in which to do exercises. This is also the same place where I drove every day for 6 weeks to have the radiation treatments this spring. I could drive it in my sleep, which is tempting at 6 a.m.

There are four different ways to get to Ravenna from my house. One had many traffic lights, one has a lake view, one goes by the university and has traffic even early in the morning and one is not practical when the mornings are dark, since the road is a bit rough and popular with deer, ground hogs and the occasional coyote.

When I am late, I take the one with traffic lights, since at 6:30 a.m., there's no traffic and the lights stay green almost the whole way. This road is the straightest shot to Ravenna, but it is also the one with the WalMart , a couple of strip malls and a bunch of new student apartments. No scenic value at all. When I am early, I take the one that goes by the lake -actually a large pond. It's twisty and a bit pathetic. I almost never take the one by the university or the very dark one, at least not on the way there.

However, the dark one is the one I love to take on the way home, by which time it is quite light. It's part of the Akron water supply system. It goes through a real lake, or reservoir, formed by the damming of the Cuyahoga River. The road is almost like a causeway in parts, with water on both sides. Then you go through a tunnel formed by enormous maple trees. In the fall, you're under a canopy of brilliant gold and it's magical. It turns your whole car interior golden. In the spring and summer you are enveloped in a cool, dark green cylinder, so dark you need to put your headlights on. Behind you is a circle framed by the branches of the trees, back lit and gleaming At the end of this green tunnel, you come out into the sun sparkling on the water beside you. It's like a bright "Good morning!" greeting. It's a great way to start the day.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

How Does My Garden Grow?

I don't know if it's all the rain or all the cool weather, but my garden is already producing. Today I had the first BLT of the summer. I have never had tomatoes this early. These today came from a plant that Cynthia gave me, a huge thing that lots of fruit. Th lettuce is like Strega Nonna's pasta pot. Cynthia put in three little plants a couple of months ago. They have grown and I pick a bunch of leaves every few days, and in a few more days there are more ready for salad. I planted spinach rather late, but have already had several salads and side dishes from that. I like to saute it in olive oil and garlic with a little lemon juice Tuscany style. Tonight I'm putting it in Portuguese kale soup with spinach instead of kale.I love having a garden. Mine is quite small.

This year I have planted three heirloom tomato plants and three green pepper plants that I bought at the Crown Point Ecology Center in Bath. It's a former retreat that some nuns changed a few years ago to a farm which specializes in Green agriculture. Their buildings are even earth friendly. They have a huge plant sale every May which is very popular. You have to get there early to get the good stuff.

In my small garden I also have a nice collection of herbs: thyme, basil, rosemary, parsley and chives. By August we'll be having pesto. I found a number of recipes for all sorts of pesto - oregano and parsley even. I love to use thyme and rosemary in spaghetti sauce. Both of those are great with chicken or potatoes, too.

I remember when it was so hard to find pine nuts, among other "exotic" ingredients. Now I can find all sorts of things like that at my local supermarket: fresh ginger, capers, goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, all sorts of mushrooms, etc. It seems that when I was learning to cook many, many years ago, there was salt and pepper, chili powder and McCormick's seasonings, like sage and the spices for pies and cakes. Now I have access to the kinds of things once only available at specialty stores in big cities.

It's so nice to have food from my own back yard. I know it's free of pesticides and chemicals and it's right from the garden to the table. Like many towns, Kent has a couple of community gardens for people to grow their own produce. You can see whole families out weeding and watering their crops. Most of them also provide food for the food banks, or ask folks to plant a row for the poor (although I don't think they call it that). I don't have enough room, though the way the tomatoes are producing this year I may be able to take some down to the local free lunch place.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Who Me, Old?

Friend Chris in California sent me an article about how people view old age. It seems that most people consider old age a number 20 years older that they happen to be. So that makes my idea of old age 102.

Back when I was still working, one of my colleagues (who was around 45 at the time) referred to someone as "elderly." I asked her how she defined that word. She replied that it meant people around 65. I was 62 at the time myself and hardly thought of myself as elderly.
I guess I am more than elderly now and my body is indeed, elderly, old, ancient; I am a senior citizen, a golden ager - in short, a geezer. My ears have grown longer, my toenails are the consistency of rhinoceros horn, and if I get down on the floor, I must perform a few gymnastic didoes to get up again. I can no longer run, leap in the air, play hopscotch or jump rope.

The thing is, in spite of those limitations, I still don't think of myself as "elderly." Like many people of advanced age, I forget about it until I see that old person in the mirror, or until I hear people of my age referred to as old. Someone recently mentioned seeing this old lady walking her dog. That "old lady" is one of my neighbors who is a few years younger than I and in perfect shape. I've never thought of her as an "old lady" fa cryin' out loud. So what does that make me? Oy!

Age is a state of mind, I think. Some people are old at 40. We're all much younger than our parents were at our age, aren't we? So no matter how decrepit, we are probably all old-age deniers unless we dwell on the negatives that come along with surviving. Oh, and people in California just pretend it doesn't exist, thus making plastic surgeons very wealthy.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Death and Infidelity

I have received a crabby note from a distant relative that she is tired of reading the same old rant about twist-ties. Well, not much has happened in my life of late, while celebrity deaths and scandals and resignations have swirled about the mainstream media.

As I write this Terry Gross is re-running an interview with Robert McNamara who died today. Even after admitting that perhaps the Vietnam War was a mistake, he is still justifying it. I can't listen to that. It's deja vu all over again, as Yogi Berra explained.

So lets look at the last two weeks' last bows: Farrah Fawcett, whose work I enjoyed, and Michael Jackson whose work I enjoyed but not his weirdness as a crypto-human.

I heard Al Sharpton (who really needs to get a life) say that Jackson paved the way and made it possible for African Americans like Tiger Woods and Oprah Winfrey to become what they are. Has this man never heard of Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, or Count Basie? Compared to them, his music is a mouse squeaking in the wilderness. And, of course, there are hundreds more who led the way: civic leaders, writers, actors, educators, comedians, composers, etc., etc.

And I wonder why the contribution of Quincy Jones to his success is not more prominently mentioned. There's the genius behind "Thriller", for instance. Yes, he could dance, but to compare him to Fred Astaire is ludicrous. Geez! He had been an extraordinary singer as a kid and as a young adult but he was not the Messiah. Hell, he wasn't even Sammy Davis, J.!.

One person grateful for Jackson's death had to be that idiot governor of South Carolina. Jacko's death and the concomitant press frenzy did take a bit of attention away from his bizarre tale of infidelity and sniveling contrition. And he has made hiking the Appalachian Trail a new code word for cheating on your spouse.

And what to make of Sarah Palin? Not much I hope. Perhaps she'll just disappear and leave Tina Fey without another career boost. As I wrote on my Facebook Wall, perhaps her husband is on the old Appalachian Trail. Her speech was on a par with the S.C. governor - rambling nonsense about nothing really. Actually, I wish her well. It's not her fault that McCain chose her as a way of discreetly throwing the election once he realized what a complete mess the country was in , thanks to 8 years of his fellow Republicans. I am convinced that he chose Sarah to avoid having to cope with what Obama is now struggling with.

Well, away from twist-ties and into current events, and what have you got? Necrophilia and adultery?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Twist of Fate

Alas! The irony of it all. Last night Jean called. She is nice, but not a close friend. She is the director of the Kent State Fashion Museum. She was not calling to arrest me for wearing bad clothes. Two years ago, Cynthia helped to design a lace exhibit for the museum, and through Cynthia, Jean had commissioned John to build her a fabulous dry stone wall for her garden.

She was calling to let him know that her spinach and lettuce were boltintg. Whatever picture that makes in your mind, think again. She thought that we might like to come out and pick our fill of those fine greens. I volunteered to do this, since both John and Cynthia were working today, and bolting greens must be picked before they get clean away.

So I went out this morning and picked a bunch of gorgeous bright and dark green greens. I came home and washed them and spun them in my salad spinner. Then I fished out a few of those fine plastic bags that you use in the supermarket to put your produce in, which I save for this very event, and lo! and behold! THERE WERE NO TWIST TIES IN THE HELL DRAWER!!

I knew this would happen.

Here is a picture of the Great Wall.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


So Emily has returned to Germany for a while. She'll be back, mit kinder, in about 6 weeks for the fantastic, phenomenal Harper Hootenanny down in Dayton in August. Since the older, geezer branch of the family kept talking about a reunion and never doing anything about it, a number of the next generation, a group of cousins, decided to get down and do it. Terry was on of the ring leaders and he and Emily and Jill got busy and put this thing together. Instead of dithering abut dates and locations, they decided to set both and whoever shows up will show up. Terry will be there in spirit, of course. and we'll raise a glass or two of lemonade, Maker's Mark , and chocolate milk to his memory. I hope that a lot of the far-flung family members will make it. Many of us were together in Indianapolis for Terry's memorial service and celebratory party, of course. Emily was the only Burnell present for the party, which she said was perfect.

When she returned to Kent, there was shopping, lots of phone calling and friend visiting and some good meals. The Euro is so strong and the dollar so weak, that she couldn't resist a few sales. I took her up to Aurora Farms, a large discount center full of major stores featuring good buys. When she comes back in August, I am sure her older daughter will have a fine time there. If shopping is genetic, I know whose DNA is loaded. Unfortunately, Dada will be staying home to supervise the remodeling of their apartment. There'll be a lot of Skyping.

Our farmers' market is up and running. There are a surprising number of fresh produce stands already: lettuces, beans, strawberries. There are also more vendors than ever before, with flowers, baked goods, coffee, soap, honey and maple syrup. There's live music - acoustic folk and soft rock. It's a lovely way to spend a Saturday morning, with a stop at the Backerei for croissants and a good coffee afterwards. The Backerei, which has an umlaut over the "a", is a bakery started by a former high school German teacher. We encourage people to patronize his place because it's one of those small shops which give a pathetic downtown like Kent's a little lift amongst the bars. Last year Emily sent him a cap from Erding, which he wears proudly every day. He works hard and his chocolate croissants are a wonder.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Across the pond, an owl calls.

Summoned by the piper

We begin to gather on the bank.

The silence is broken

By the thumping of the oarlocks

As his two sons row out

To the center of the still water.

The minister speaks words of comfort

And the wife, too young to be a widow,

Sits with his parents and his brothers

To watch the solemn young men in the boat

Lower onto the silken surface

The small reed vessel in which

The ashes of their father lie.

We hold our lighted candles and our breaths

As they ignite this Viking symbol

To carry his mortal being away from this world

And leave his spirit with us forever.

We watch the little pyre boat

Move slowly across the pond

While the piper plays the song

That so defines our fallen warrior.

The flames go out and the little bundle of reeds

Sinks into the now dark water.

The owl does not call again,

And from us are only the sounds of sighs and sorrow.

Soon, up on the hill

Another fire blooms, and we

Gather there to tell each other stories.

All we favorite aunts, uncles, and cousins

Claim our parts in his life.

(We all insist we are his favorite, as he is ours.)

Old and new friends, colleagues, his beloved fraternity brothers,,

Neighbors, make us laugh with stories of him

That had made them laugh when he was with them.

Their stories are as warm as the bonfire

Which dims now with the

Rising of the brilliant full moon.

One favorite cousin says that

He expects a new star to shoot across the sky tonight.

We embrace each other

And leave this special place, for now.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Terry G.- In Memorium

Yesterday the Harper tribe - the immediate family of Lee Ann, Dale and Jace, brothers David and Tim, parents Ed and Joan, and the extended family of aunts, uncle and 25 cousins -lost a bright and shining son, brother, nephew and cousin , Terry Guenveur Harper. He had fought a brave fight against a cruel brain cancer. He was full of life and intelligence and wit and grace, handsome as all get out and loved by many. He called himself Favorite Nephew and Favorite Cousin to all of us, and he was.

He wrote his own obituary on his blog which he started two years ago, right after his diagnosis. He writes with humor, insight and no bitterness about his experiences with this terrible disease. He was a seeker after the truth and handled all the procedures with aplomb and his unfailing wit. I would read the posts and laugh, and assure myself that he was going to beat this thing. I think we all truly believed that he would.

Our family and his many friends will celebrate his life and mourn his death this week-end. There is an unmendable hole in the fabric of our lives, but we are so very glad that he was in this world with us.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

More Attention Must Be Paid

I'm not sure what's gotten into me, but it might have been a cartoon by Roz Chast in the New Yorker a few weeks ago. Her work manages to parse the fears, guilt and angst of the average semi-neuritic that I am on occasion. This cartoon began with a woman looking with disgust at her butter dish and thinking that she should probably wash it. In the succeeding panels every item, every piece of furniture, every window, every book, etc. began to complaint that they, too, were dirty, messy, dusty, awful. She looks again at the butter dish and says that she might as well buy a new one. The butter dish replies that she'll regret it.

Of course, I found this very funny, but apparently, my cupboards were shouting at me in some subtle way that took a couple of weeks to reach me. This time I tackled the gadget drawer and the hell drawer. The hell drawer is full of stuff collected from other drawers where the stuff just doesn't fit , or because I don't know what else to do with it. It is hard to open, of course, and it there is something there that I need, it takes a lot of fussing and cussing before I can find it. This time I was determined to get serious and make some choices that would thin out the clutter.

How many twist ties do I really need, for instance? Why had I saved them? How many paint can openers do I need? (I had to ask John what they were.) How many decaying rubber bands? What are all those loose screws for? Why are there so many Phillips screw drivers? Why am I saving that stupid little functionless set of screwdrivers in the cute plastic container which I bought from some school kid as a fund-raiser for a new playground? (That school kid probably has school kids of his/her own, or maybe even a few college graduates by now.) What is this thing? Why have I kept it? This ball of hemp twine looks as if it's been smoked and it's sticky, too, but with what? Why do I have three coils of wire? Dirty plastic tape of some kind? Ah, there's my little tape measure which I haven't seen for years!
I was ruthless and recycled some and tossed most of what was, basically, trash. Once again I need to share this marvelous result. Should I send this to Roz? I'd hate to make her feel guilty, though. After all, I do have two butter dishes and once in a while I switch them.

P.S. Perhaps the most important object in here is/are my red-handled scissors, frequently miss placed by persons unknown when all my children were living here. Now the children are gone, and the scissors safely dwelling where they belong. I wonder if the adult children can a still hear my frustrated cry, "Where the hell are my red-handled sciossors?"

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Attentiom Must Be Paid

There are many boring and odious tasks involved in running a household. Boring: making beds, vacuuming floors, dusting, thinking about what to have for dinner, shopping and most things involving the kitchen- except for eating (I have no dining room.) Odious: garbage stuff, floor scrubbing, toilet cleaning, and sometimes laundry. Of all these mundane activities, one that I manage to avoid most of the time is the cleaning of kitchen cupboards. A number of years ago, when Emily was home for a month before moving to Germany, she had organized all my cupboards beautifully. It pays to have an anal retentive child. Alas, that's never happened again during her subsequent visits.

I have a very small and inconvenient kitchen. My son calls it a two-butt kitchen, meaning that no more than two people can work in there at the same time. I have very little storage space, so that most large portable appliances (bread machine, food processor) have to stay down in the basement until needed. What cupboards I do have are pretty packed, to the point that things fall out occasionally when the doors are opened. The worst of this sort of thing is when something falls out into the cat's water bowl. That particular place is the only place there is room for the cat's water bowl, or I'd move it. It happens to be under the spice cabinet, which is in frequent use.

The other day, I decided that perhaps if I cleaned out a few cabinets, especially the one with the spices in it, I would probably be able to throw out some stuff, since I had been just stuffing in things for quite a while now, and that this might mean more room in there and that maybe things would not fall into the cat's water bowl so often. Also, a new Penzey's store has just opened near Trader Joe's and I had bought some and felt that my spice cupboard was entirely unworthy of it.

Being a recycler, even before global warming, I have always used newspaper to line my shelves. This has the disadvantage also of letting me know just how much of a slob I am, because of the dates on them, you know. The first cupboard, a really difficult one, since it starts on the floor level, which is a really hard thing for a person of advanced age and creaky knees to maneuver around in, had papers dated from 2005, which is, in all, not too bad - at least it was in the current century. I managed to throw a huge amount of unused stuff away, and even had room for some new big soup bowls I bought recently which had had no place to go until now, and had sat forlornly on a counter top. The cupboard now looks stunning inside.

Next came the spice cabinet. Oy weh! I had moved the cat's dishes away (Dupree had just started his 12 hour nap and wouldn't be around to fuss about it) but nothing fell out. I discovered that I had three containers of cumin, which only gets used when Emily visits, two of coriander (ditto for Emily) and a lot of unidentified dried up stuff. The newspaper in that space dated from 2003 - again, in the current century. I tossed, I scrubbed, I replaced the newspaper with a few pages of a current edition of the Akron Beacon Journal sports section. The shelf above it contains a miscellany of things - Gorilla Glue, Elmer's Glue, silver polish, furniture polish and my steam iron which I haven't used since that last century. I threw a few old things out of that one, too, and now the whole thing looks stunning inside.

The thing about cleaning cupboards is that nobody can see the splendor of what one has done. I always have to fight the urge to run out into the street and invite the neighbors in to come in and see what I have wrought, and I would be willing to go look at theirs when they have done the same. It's such a thankless job, isn't it? Then I realized that I have this blog and I can show it to whoever chances to drop by. I didn't take pictures of all the cupboards, just the spice one. In an informal survey, I have discovered that it is everyone's nightmare, except for those rare neurotic perfectionists who probably have their spices alphabetized. If I knew one of those, I would invited her over next time, say in a few years.

I think I should mention that I finished radiation treatments yesterday. I shall miss the candy dish in the waiting room.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Sun and the WInd

One of the glories of Spring is being able to hang out the laundry. There is nothing to equal the effect on one's washing of having towels, sheets and outer clothing dry in the sun and a fresh breeze. The first warm daythis year, my laundry was dry within an hour. Besides that, everything smelled like clean, fresh air.

I started doing this again during the early days of rising energy costs. I have indoor lines to use in bad weather, and a small wooden drying rack for the things I don't want to have seen by passersby, such as my giant underpants. (I live on a corner and my backyard is open to scrutiny by all.)

Actually there are even days in the middle of winter when I can hang my laundry out, days when the sun is bright and the sky is that brilliant blue. I love to just stand and watch the wind whip the sheets about and think about being on a ship and watching sails flap. The cold even makes things smell better for some reason.

I feel sorry for people who live in the kinds of developments that forbid clotheslines. I remember when that rigged energy crisis hit in California, and some people who were trying to be "green" were fined by their homeowners' association for hanging out their clothes to dry instead of using their dryers. They were accused of lowering the property value of the development. I guess it's better to hide that fact that we get our clothes dirty and have to wash them than to conserve energy. I haven't had any complaints from the neighbors here, but then we don't have a "homeowners' association" here, thank God.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

At Home in Utopia

That is the title of a PBS Independent Lens program that was on Saturday night. I fell asleep and missed it, but I heard an interview with the producer on Bob Edwards Sunday morning. (You can learn more about it here.)I had wanted to see it because I knew someone who grew up there.

Clara and Sid came to the university the same year that we did. It was Sid's first job in years, because he had been caught up in the McCarthy witch hunt mess. The then president of the university, D.r. George Bowman was a brave and compassionate man. He had hired the first African American professor in an Ohio state university. He hired on the basis of competence and was not swayed by the prevailing prejudices. So Sid and Clara, who had grown up in a communist/socialist commune in the Bronx, were hired for the library science program because they were experts in their fields.

We met them at the reception for new faculty in the fall of 1959. The first thing I knew about them was their struggle with employment during the Red scare. They were hardly the types to overthrow the government. Sid had been in the service during WWII, for one thing and they were two very gentle people, but passionate about free speech and the fight for civil rights . Of course, these things were highly suspect during McCarthy's power over sanity. We did not become fast friends, but they were part of the milieu we traveled in.

When my husband died, after the funeral Clara came by with a gift certificate for the children at the local book store. Her field was children's literature. She started the Virginia Hamilton Lecture series, an annual program on multicultural children's literature. She built up the collection of children's lit at the university library. (Once when I was in D.C., I went to the Library of Congress to check out some old children's books. I mentioned her name to the librarians and they knew and admired her greatly.)

She had told me about her growing up in what was called "The Coop", an apartment complex built by Jewish immigrants int he Bronx, members of the garment unions, as a place where they could be free from anti-semitism and slum housing. The prevailing political orientation was anti-capitalism, as they saw the downside of capitaliism in poor working conditions (sweatshops), poor housing (slums) and poor health conditions for their children. Clara told me that she marched in May Day parades as a child. She also said that there were different factions within the complex, and that the Trotskeyites resented the Leninists and how the children should be indoctrinated. I told her she should write a memoir about her upbringing, but I think that what she and Sid had been through during the 50s made her reluctant to do so.

During the civil rights movement in the 60s, she and Sid were activists, and when the Viet Nam War became the center of protest, they were there, too. I remember at one war protest march here in Kent, along with speeches about the war, Sid made sure to mention the plight of the garment workers in the South and their needing our support, too. They were there to support the students after the killing and wounding of university students in 1970. They put up bail for students arrested during succeeding protests in the early 70s. There was a rumor that they had mortgaged their home to hire lawyers, too.

After Sid retired, Clara continued to do her work at the library. When he died suddenly, Clara went into a deep depression. I again suggested that she write her memoirs, but she was just not able to get the energy to do this. They had known each other since childhood, and I think she was just not able to face life without him. Sadly, she took her own life a few years after his death.

I am glad that I knew these people. As a lover of children's literature, I appreciate the work that she did. Of course, in the McCarthy era, I would be guilty by association and labled a pinko commie.