Friday, December 31, 2010

Trapped by the Wrap

On Christmas, if you've been good, you get things, like this fine laptop. You also get useful gadgets of the the tech variety. What you also get with these gadgets, and food, and toiletries, and household products, is that which contains them, many times a rigid, transparent packaging which looks like glass but is apparently made of Kryptonite. These containers are dangerous, requiring the use of a box cutter, hatchet, screwdriver, pliers and a large box of Band-aids and maybe the occasional tourniquet. I think the purpose of this armor is to prevent thievery, since products are now available freely from the shelves of the modern store. I remember the bad old days when you had to ask the person behind the counter to fetch whatever you wanted to buy. Who wants to go back to that? Who even remembers that besides those of us of great age? There must be an easier way to make this packaging more accessible and still discourage the light fingered nerd who desires some futuristic device at the local Best Buy.

Because the modern toddler cannot resist drinking drain cleaner, we now have most household products almost impossible to open. I am at the age where I even have trouble opening a package of gum. Right now in my kitchen is a new bottle of dishwasher liquid, the top of which is the kind you have to press really hard to release the tabs that lock it, in order to screw it off. I cannot do this without a wide jawed wrench of some kind, which I am not in the habit of having at hand among my kitchen utensils. Fortunately, I have a son handy for such things, but what about geezers who live alone? Hey, new job op - opening things for geezers!

Ian Frazier has written some hilarious short pieces in the New Yorker featuring "The Cursing Mommy." It's as if he's living next door and has bugged my house, since that is how I cope with my frustration over trying to open things, even the goddam waxed paper inside the freaking cereal boxes. When I'm in that state I should not even be around sharp things, like knives and scissors which I need if I want my breakfast. I know I am not alone in this. In fact, I think I read somewhere that there have been some serious injuries from the damn clam shell packaging. I wonder if the insurance industry is behind this?

I don't have access to my scanner right now, so I had to do the illustration for this piece with Photo Shop, which I haven't done for a while and almost forgot how to. Got the plastic thing from Google and the photo from my camera. Such fun!

Monday, December 27, 2010


I am composing this on my new gigantic laptop. I think John got tired of hearing me curse using my very slow Dell, and decided to provide me with one that has speed and a lot of bells and whistles. It's lovely. By coincidence, Sally got me a neat little Passport portable hard drive, so I can empty the old one and pass it on to a deserving citizen who can take over the cursing.

As is usual when Polly and Sally are here at the same time, there is very little conversation, rather the clicking of computer key boards as they commune with people who are elsewhere. On Christmas day, with my new computer's built in camera, we had one of those broken Skype sessions with Emily and Chris and visitor DCB in Germany. The main problem was with the heavy Skype traffic, the result of which is frozen pictures, many "Can you hear me nows?" and un-Christmas spirit frustration.

We had an nontraditional, for us, Christmas dinner. John decided that we should have duck, rather than roast beast. He went to Difeo's, a poultry purveyor in Akron, and brought home a 6 pound Long Island duckling. He also was the cook for the fowl, basting it with red currant jam and orange juice. It was sooo good. Polly prepared roasted sweet potatoes, and Brussels sprouts cooked with bacon and maple syrup. Sally made a red and green salad with baby spinach and raspberries. I did nothing, ab-so-lute-ly nothing. It was the most flavorful, delicious Christmas dinner ever. Polly also made bread pudding in lieu of the plum variety, but it was equally spicy and filled with raisins. walnuts and apples. Feast!

We made the usual trek to Cleveland for the Boar's Head Festival at Trinity Cathedral. It seemed to be bigger than in the past, and wonderfully colorful. There's nothing like hearing a brass choir in such a beautiful stone cathedral. They even serve ham and mince pie afterwards, and this time we partook before we took off for the Number One Pho, a Viet Namese restaurant housed in what looks like an Edward Hopper painting in a rather dodgy industrial section of East Cleveland. I tired to emulate a Hopper with my camera, but the light was just not bright enough and all was blurred. Besides, I was not sure that the other patrons wanted to have a picture taken that may show up on Facebook some day, especially if they were there with someone their wife or husband may not approve of.

We're having some very fine left over split pea soup made by the chef du jour from Provincetown, who is as much an artist in the kitchen as in the studio. At some point this week, we are going up to the Police Museum in Cleveland, which promises some very gruesome artifacts from a number of unsolved murders, an interest my children seem to have developed on their own. Makes me wonder what may be in store for me as I get older and creakier. I may need to hire a bodyguard.

These are some Ladies of the Court, who entered sweetly singing a lullaby for the Holy Infant so tender and mild. So lovely were their voices in that huge space.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Merry Christmas

Woolworth's Five and Dime

I want my dime store back. That's where I used to do m y Christmas shopping. I would have 50 cents to buy gifts for the entire family, and I would get wonderful things for them there. I remember the pseudo cloisonnne incense burner I bought for my mother one year. It was orange and green and brown, with gold beading, and I thought it was beautiful. I don't think we had any incense, but that didn't matter. To a seven year old it was magical. I bet if it was on "Antique Road Show" now, it would fetch a pretty penny. Woolworth's was full of bright, shiny things, which was what Christmas was all about. In those days, there were tons of things that were actually five or ten cents in price. I think that incense burner was a whole quarter, which meant that the other family members got lesser treasures. You could also find great wind-up toys, little china dolls or animal families, tops, marbles, Big Little books, and all those things that no longer exist in the world of children, so are not missed.
These stores were still around when my children were little, and that's where they shopped at Christmas, too. I still have a few things they bought down at the Woolworth's at University Plaza years ago, like a gold-sh locket , in which I put their pictures, and a necklace with a big "G" on it. Never go me a fake cloisonne incense burner. I think they had better taste, or figured that I had.

Even when prices rose above 5 and 10 cents, dime stores were great places to find simple things: dish towels, kitchen gadgets, gold fish and turtles, coloring books and paper dolls. What reminded me of this is that yesterday, John decided that we should make gingerbread men. I had tossed out all my cookie cutters years ago and I realized that there was no dime store to go to to find a new one. All of that stuff is now relegated to specialty kitchen stores, which carry over priced gadgets for people whose hobby is cooking. Coking as a hobby! What a concept.

The same thing happened a few years ago when I broke my glass juicer, a simple reamer I had had for 40 years or so, which I had probably gotten at Woolworth's, along with a spatula or a slotted spoon. I went to the only outlet available to me - ugh - Walmart - which had destroyed the local very fine Kmart, which was a really good substitute for the old dime store. In fact, I think Kmart is descended from the old Kress' (in the South) or Kresge's in the North. So I'm at -ugh- Walmart, and I ask where the juicers' are, and the guy led me to the housewares department and shows me this cheap plastic thing. I said, "But I want a glass one like the one I broke. I'd had it for forty years." He smiled and said,"You 'd had it for forty years or more. That's exactly why they don't make that kind any more." So I ended up finding one at an antique store, and I treat it very carefully.

So, anyway, there was no handy Woolworth's, McCrory's or Kresge's to go to to find a gingerbread man cookie cutter. As I was on a bit of a journey to find a gift, I realized that I was going right by one of those complexes (Aurora Farms)which has tons of shops, including a couple of kitchen ones, I drove around and found a parking spot not too far from one of them, went in , asked a lady in an apron if they had such a thing and they did. It wasn't even expensive. It wasn't exactly the shape I was looking for, and it looked like a person of indeterminate sex, but a person for all that, so I bought it. Since I wasn't in a dime store, there was really nothing else to look at except that they had tons of sample's of their specialty dips, so I grazed thorough a number of them and left. When I got home, I discovered that John and Polly had found an almost identical one, even cheaper, at another kitchen shop in Hudson, a very posh one that offers gourmet cooking classes for those for whom cooking is a hobby instead of a *&#$@% chore that you have to do every day.

But I digress. Had there been a Woolworth's handy, it would have been so much more fun and lots more things to browse. I used to buy a very fine journal there every year until they closed. No one else has them, so I don't even keep a journal any more. There were still Woolworth's in England , at least a few years ago in Scunthorpe, where I bought a very fine tea cozy. It was just like the ones we used to have here. Lovely. I always loved dime stores.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Beware the Grand Inquisitor!

This is not about a Monty Python skit, although I half expected Terry Jones to appear when one of the characters sang this phrase twice - in Italian, which I don't understand, but there were subtitles. I went to see "Don Carlo" on Saturday, the live from the Met HD version. It's the reddest opera I've ever seem. The set and costumes designers went a bit too far here with the most blazing shades if red in the spectrum.

The story is as follows: Don Carlo, the prince of Spain, is betrothed to Elizabeth, Princess of France, one of those deals they used to do with helpless royal offspring, where they'll meet for the first time on their wedding day. BUT - they accidentally meet in a forest, so they can sing a duet and fall in love. Their countries are at war, and unbeknown st to them, Carlo's Pa, Filippo, decides that HE wants to marry Elizabeth, as part of a deal to end the war, the bastard! A side story involves Carlo's BFF Roderigo, who's a baritone, so that he and Carlo, who's a tenor, can sing a really great duet professing their BFF-ishness, and they hug a lot during this number and swear their undying love and all, and you start to wonder. Roderigo goes off to help the Flemish (at least the people of Flanders, and I don't think they're call Flanderish) and asks Carlo to ask his Pa to call off his Spanish conquerors and leave the Flanders folks be.

Well, there's a lot of singing and all, and there goes Elizabeth walking around in very red clothes with Filippo,m who's also clad in crimson, and Carlo, in black as befits a heartbroken prince, weeps and moans like a bastard. This is 16th century Spain and the Inquisition is still the main hobby of the Church, and when Roderigo comes back from Flanders and confronts Filippo about his unjust war on Flanders, Filippo tells him, "Beware the Grand Inquisitor!" Since the Church pretty much ran the world in those days, if you piss off the king, you're dissing the Church, so you'd better beware the Grand Inquisitor and all

So there's this scene with Filippo singing this gorgeous aria, about how Elizabeth never loved him - duh!- an he makes a deal with the G.I. to turn his own son into the Inquisition, along with Roderigo. At least I think that's what the deal was. Anyway, Roderigo gets shot during an Auto da Fe, with people getting burned all up behind a huge scrim with the face of Jesus on it, in case you didn't get the irony. Carlo cradles Roderigo in his arms. Roderigo singes "Morire" or something like that which means "I'm dying here, but first, I'm gonna sing ya a little tune," which he does, a very beautiful aria and all He's singing this while lying on the ground with this huge starchy collar almost covering his mouth. He dies, finally A few minutes later, Carlo gets stuck with a sword by somebody I didn't know, and the ghost of his grandfather - Filippo's father- takes him away to Paradise, where Roderigo awaits! And Elizabeth is left with Filippo, the bastard.

It's a five hour opera and the best music is in the last act, and I enjoyed the whole thing Those wacky royals and priests! Those folks who want a theocracy should check out this opera.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Pleasurs of Flesh

The best part of Thanksgiving, for me, are the days after, when fine turkey sandwiches are available until there's nothing left but the carcass. The perfect turkey sandwich is made as follows: white bread, mayonnaise, white meat with a sprinkle of salt, accompanied by a glass of cold milk. I have done this with whole grain bread, dressing and cranberry sauce, but this year the dressing was so good we ate it all on Thanksgiving Day, and the cranberry sauce didn't jell properly, so I'm back to the traditional as described and pictured above. John and I went up to the West Side Market Saturday and bought some wonderful Hungarian crusty white bread, which makes the ultimate old fashioned turkey sandwich. By the way, I think the dressing was so good is that I was out of sage, so I went out into the garden and picked some parsley, rosemary and thyme and used that instead. Excellent.

I spent the first half of my life (so far) under the Catholic church's ruling of no meat on Friday. This meant agony on the day after Thanksgiving, with the turkey sitting in the refrigerator, exuding all its roasted turkeyness, untouchable. If I spent the day with non-Catholic (that's how we described those not lucky enough to be born into the true religion) friends, when their mother would get out the turkey and slice off those luscious pieces of white meat for luncheon sandwiches, I had to eat peanut butter and silently offer up my suffering for the lost souls in Purgatory, as the nuns often advised us to do when in pain. Or I could just curse my ill-born religious luck. We'd stay up until Friday midnight, and as soon as the minute hand moved past twelve, we'd all race to the kitchen and attack the turkey, scarfing it down like those poor starving children in China we were always hearing about.

The irony of all this was that, if we went to Mass on Friday, we could partake of the body and blood of Christ, which if you believe in Transubstantiation, which we' re bound to do, we were eating meat, or flesh and blood, actually. Whichever pope infallibly made up these rules was not much of a logician. I asked our parish pries about Transubstantiation once, asking if it wasn't meant to be symbolic, and he said that it was one of the basic tenets of the Church. In fact, I used to lead the congregation with my guitar in a jaunty little song with the chorus, "Eat His Body, Drink His Blood, Allelu, allelu, allelu!" Well, both the priest and I left the church soon after, he to marry an ex-nun who looked like Elizabeth Taylor at her most gorgeous, I to become pretty much a Druid, never more to urge people to participate in cannablism. Then Pope Juan Two Three opened the windows of the church to let in some 18th century air. and we started having hamburgers on Fridays, and turkey on the day after Thanksgiving, the day that merchants call Black Friday. Yes!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Obscure Connection to Fame

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that I would be having a couple of pieces in the Cleveland Museum of Art, drawings I did during the Drawing in the Galleries class. It's not exactly the same as being featured in an actual gallery, but there you are. It's quite a nice exhibit, featuring works from all of the classes from the fall schedule. So we can all brag.

The Degas is one of the dancers from the "Frieze of Dancers," one of my favorite things in the museum. The mask is from the African gallery, and it caught my eye because of the fine hat, made of woven straw, very complex and interesting. As I mentioned before, it was used in a circumcision ceremony and is not a happy face. But the hat is perky!

Annual Turkey Fest

The other day, when I was checking out a bunch of candles for the Thanksgiving table, the check out lady mentioned that she was having 22 people for Thanksgiving. I told her that I would have to lie down with a cold cloth on my head if producing such an event were up to me. My parents had moved far away from their families, so we never had droves of relatives showing up for holiday meals, just our nuclear family of seven, which I think was quite enough for my mother. My job was polishing the apples and arranging the center piece fruit bowl, drapmg the grapes picturesquely. When I married and had my own children, we never went away to relatives' homes at Thanksgiving and that's the way it's always been.

I had only one experience with one of those large, extended family affairs. It was the first year we were married, and my husband and I went down to a small town on the Ohio River, where most of his aunts lived. They were all large women, named Frieda, Ernestine, Beulah and Genevieve. They didn't much like men, a consequence of their father , the local school superintendant, having left their mother in 1915 to marry his secretary and start a whole new family, none of whom were ever mentioned. They themselves had all married, presumably in order to have children, since there didn't seem to be much evidence of affection or even friendship between the spouses once they had each produced one or two children.

We met at Aunt Genevieve's big house, which contained Uncle Herb's general store and the village post office. When my husband and I went into the dining room, with its groaning table, I realized that I was the only woman in the room, among the silent and hungry men. "Where are your mother and the aunts?" I whispered to my husband. "Oh, they'll eat in the kitchen," he said. "They like it that way." Occasionally one of the aproned sisters would come into the room to see if we needed anything. I could hear them in the kitchen, laughing and chatting away, while I sat amongst the men who ate more food than I'd ever seen a human being put away. It was good country food, much of it home-canned. There was no turkey on the table; the women had sliced it in the kitchen and put in on the table in a huge mound on a platter. (My father had always carved the turkey; it was a guy thin in our family.) Needless to say, everything was delicious. But I muttered to my husband that there was no way I would ever eat Thanksgiving dinner in the kitchen wearing an apron.

When I went into the kitchen to help with the dishes, the women were all sitting around the large room on straight chairs, with their plates in their laps, gabbing and laughing. All of the men had left the table and waddled into the parlor to watch football. As soon as the kitchen was clean there came the request for some of that good pie and coffee, which the women dutifully provided on trays for the stuffed sports lovers in the parlor. (I could just see how my mother would have reacrted to these men: "You want pie? I'll give you pie!--Right in your face!") I have a feeling the air in the parlor was not too fragrant, given the amount of food and the speed with which it had been ingested. I didn't venture in, but went outside and had a cigarette with my husband. He had grown up with this holiday pattern and was a bit surprised that I found it strange. But I never ate Thanksgiving dinner in the kitchen on a straight chair wearing an apron. And men can get their own damn pie and coffee in my house.

Others in my family do the big Thanksgiving dinner and have a lot of fun with it. My brother Micheal and his wife have about 40 or so people, all relatives, and my sister Mary Lucille with just her kids and grad kids can add up to about 30 if everyone shows up. Everyone pitches in and nobody eats in the kitchen wearing an apron. We will be just four here, and that will be fine. After dinner we'll watch one of those movies we all love: this year I think it will be "To Kill a Mockingbird," which I'm DVR-ing tonight while I'm up in Cleveland seeing "Billy Eliot."

Good times.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Music! Drama! Theater!

Every once in a while, there's a period of a few days when there are all sort of interesting things happen one after the other. This past week-end started on Friday night with the KSU production of "Brigadoon." Now this is probably the lamest musical ever written - and by Lerner and Loewe yet, the guys who wrote "My Fair Lady." I only went to see it because the university theater department puts on simply splendid musical productions - with the exception of that terrible "Jane Eyre" a couple of years ago. So off we went, not expecting anything too wonderful. BUT the thing was just delightful, thanks to the excellent dancing and singing, the costume design and the lighting. They even did a half way decent job with the Scots accent, usually the downfall of college productions. Way entertaining!

Saturday afternoon, a friend and I went to see "Don Pasquale," the latest HD transmission from the Met. A Donizetti opera, there was fine bel canto singing and a lot of cornball Italian comedy, with the diva a magnificent Russian, Anna Netrebko. I love these HD productions. Between the acts, you get to see them moving the massive sets into place by a team of some hundred stagehands. It was a fun comic opera and nobody died.

Sunday afternoon I went to see "For Colored Girls." I had seen the play years ago and just loved it. When I heard that they'd made a movie of it, I wondered how they would do that, since the play is basically poetry. I had also heard that Tyler Perry was producing it and he is the guy who dresses up as a bossy woman and that he had played the Chittlin' Circuit for years with comedies amid a the Black community. Since this isn't a comedy, I wondered what he would do with it. I must say he did a good job and respected the original work. This is not an easy story to watch, since it involves not only the impact on women of racism, but of sexism and violence against women as well. The cast is first rate, consisting of some of the best actresses in film and theater. It is certainly not and Italian comedy.

Sunday evening I went to hear the KSU symphony up on campus. The first piece was probably the most annoying music Beethoven ever composed. It was a triple concerto for cello, violin and piano and consisted of the same melody over and over again - not even variations, just the same damn melody in the first and third movements, with about ten possible endings that never happened....well, until it finally did after I had given up all hope of that happening. The players were great, but someone needed to tell Ludwig that it was really boring. Maybe he compose it after he lost his hearing and he didn't know he was being repetitive. The final piece was Brahms' 4th symphony, which started badly but ended perfectly. It was a fine evening.

So that was my week-end of music, drama and more music. So tonight I'll watch "Dancing With the Stars" and come down to earth. With a bang.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Poetry on the Cheap

When my mother was growing up in the early days of the 20th century, one of her main pleasures was reading. Her own mother had always read to, and sung to, her children. There was a great library in their small New England city and my mother treasured the opportunity to explore the shelves and find books to enjoy.

When my mother was in her eighties, she received letter from a long ago play mate, someone she hadn't seen or heard from in probably 65 years or so. This woman had lived with her grandmother next door to my mother's family. Her father was a vaudeville performer, a widower, and often away on the road for long stretches of time. She was writing after many years, to tell my mother how much she had loved coming to their house, because there was a love of books and music, and that she had gotten her life long love of reading from listening to my mother's mother reading to her children, or anyone else who happened to be there. This pleased my mother n o end, and I thought it was just a fine thing to hear.

My mother took after her own mother, and when we were little, she would read to us every night at bedtime. She'd also sing us songs she had learned in her childhood.One of my favorite poems was "Winken, Blinken and Nod." A few years ago, I found a copy of the very Eugene Field picture book of poems from which she read to us. It has in it, "The Sugar Plum Tree," "The Calico Cat and the Gingham Dog" which she also read. The book has the most bizarre illustrations in it, which used to fascinate us, and finding's this book in a used book store, simply swept me away into the past.

One song that she sang was "Babes in the Woods," a terrifying tale of two little children who were stolen away on a bright summers' day and lost in the woods so I've heard people say. Well, they end up dead, of course. The tune is mournful and somewhat lugubrious, and we would wail and Mother would say, "I'm not ever going to sing that song again." I mean,, my sister and I were two little children! It was only a few years later, after we had moved to Georgia from New Jersey that the Lindbergh baby was kidnapped. In New Jersey! Anyway, a few nights later, we'd beg her to sing it again, she would, we would wail, and so on and so on. I think we finally got over it when we reached our teens.

When the Depression hit, we moved to Atlanta, where my father had been transferred by Fairbanks -Morse. In the move, we lost our "Winken" book, but mother found these fine little books of poetry in the dime store. These are not our original copies, but ones that I once again found in used book stores Again , looking at then is another step into my childhood. The poems range from Shakespeare to T.S. Eliot. They are amazing, given the general illiteracy of out current time. These little books probably cost all of 15 cents.

The ones for children have all the wonderful children's' poets of the time: Rose Fyleman, Rachel Field, Cristina Rossetti, Robert Lois Stevenson, Eleanor Fajeon, Edward Lear and more. Along with them, were Robert Frost, Yeats, Wordsworth, John Masefield and other poets who wrote so wonderfully about life and nature in ways that children could appreciate. There were quite a few poems about fairies. That would never go over now. I think today's kids would even let Tinker Bell die.

One little book that mother bought for herself had several poems that I liked to read because they made me sad: Poe's "Annabel Lee," a mournful tale of lost love- and death, and a truly heart-breaking poem, "Four Little Foxes," tiny newborn kits whose mother ..."Her feet within a trap, her blood upon the snow.." has left them shivering and blue with cold... I tell ya, it's unbearable! I guess I had a morbid streak at 8.

It's all about words and imagery, and all in these cheap little books with black and white illustrations!

Friday, November 5, 2010

I Hab a Bad, Bad Code

"When I was sick, and lay abed,
I had two pillows at my head .."

Thus begins one of my favorite poems from Stevenson's "A Child's Garden of Verses," a book my mother read to us when we were small. There is a wonderful illustration by Jessie Wilcox Smith, of a small boy lying in his bed, with a toy village placed her and there in his "Land of Counterpane." Oh, it is ever so cozy.

That's what it was like being sick when I was a kid. Oh, I didn't have a toy village, but there were books and crayons and no school. There was Campbell's chicken rice soup, soda crackers, ginger ale and Jell-o - and paper dolls. When I moved to the couch in the living room I could listen to the soap operas on the radio: "Vic and Sade,""Ma Perkins," and "Pepper Young's Family." Having a cold then was fun. Then.

Now it is a miserable, painful, messy, awful condition that seems to last forever until you can't remember what feeling well is like. The head aches, the nose hurts, the eyes burn and the sneezing and coughing go on forever and keep you awake at night. I've got all the herbal teas, the ginger ale, the crackers and chi ken soup and throat lozenges which provide only temporary relief. Right now I'm missing the spaghetti night at the First Christian Church, but I don't have much of an appetite anyway. My house is littered with snotty tissues and I want my mama.

I know it will end sometime in the near future, but that looks rather bleak after the rotten election results. Wothell is wrong with people? Has this country gone nuts? Even when the damn cold is gone, I'll still have to cope with living amongst people who think it's better to go back to the stone age of the Tea Partyites.

Well, I gotta go blow my dann nose.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Messing Around in the Museum

I just finished an 8 week class (one a week) at the Cleveland Museum of Art, called "Drawing in the Galleries." We started out with five students, but ended up with only three. We began in the Rodin Sculpture Gallery, which is located in a new part of the museum; it's basically a glass box, so the lighting is perfect. Unfortunately, their Rodin collection is not particularly distinguished, but it was a good exercise to begin with, if a tad boring.

We worked with charcoal the first two sessions, working in black and white to get a sense of values. Since most of the time we were in the new East Wing, we were only allowed to use pastel pencils. Before all the new construction, students were able to bring in paints and regular pastels, but now everything is so new and shiny that such messy media are verboten.

We drew in the Egyptian exhibit, the African exhibit, the Impressionist gallery, the Post Modern gallery and the American Impressionist gallery. Along the way, we had to do quick timed drawings of some sculptures by various artists. I think we all liked the more modern galleries best, although the instructor had promised us the Dutch Masters, too, but we never got there. There's a Franz Hals there that I wanted to try.I discovered a Gabriele Munter which I'd never noticed before, so I did that one. I don't know how long they've had it, but I was glad to see it.

At the end - yesterday- we had a general critique and the instructor chose several of our things to hang in the student gallery, just down the hall from the classrooms in the education wing. But it's a hall which visitors to the museum have to pass on their way to the main galleries, so we can all say that we have work at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Mine are a drawing from the Degas "Frieze of Dancers" and an African mask used in a circumcision rite. Needless to say, it does not portray a happy face.

Above are the originals of the Gabriele Munter painting and the Picasso from the museum and at the bottom are my copies, more or less. You can see that even copying what you see, it's the real artists who knew what they were doing.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

To Get Into My Yard

This past Saturday was the last day of the market for the year. Oh, they will have an indoor market for a couple of days in late November with Christmas goodies - cheese, jellies, soap, maple syrup, but the fine summery things will have to wait until next year. My friend Susan was here for the week-end, so we went and bought peppers and kale and squash. I had already gotten a lovely pie pumpkin the week before, in hopes that John would make one of his fine pies. He has been too busy, so the pumpkins is sitting on the counter with a couple of butternut squash which one of us will make into soup soon.

When Susan and I got home from the market, I heard the unmistakable sound of a clucking chicken. Susan thought it was probably a goose flying over. It seemed improbable that that a chicken would be anywhere in the vicinity of my backyard, but it sounded like a chicken to me.

Then, when I looked out of the kitchen window after I got in, there WAS a chicken, a beautiful white, fat chicken strutting around the backyard, pecking at the ground, and checking out John's truck. A live chicken!

There has been move in this town to allow people to keep chickens. It's all part of the urban farming movement. City council is fighting this move, claiming that rats are attracted to chicken coops on account of the feed. To say nothing of hungry coyotes after the rats.
When I was a child in Atlanta, many folks kept chickens in the city. Hearing roosters crowing in the morning was common. I'll never forget when I was at a playmate's house (her name was Dorothy Crawford and she had a big brother named Beau) and their servant came out with an axe, grabbed one of their chickens, took it to the chopping block and decapitated it with one blow. The headless creature then hopped about, spurting blood everywhere around the yard for a while before collapsing and being taken into the kitchen for dinner. The family's, not the chi ken's. Cold blooded murder! I was six, and I can still see it. We never kept chickens, and bought ours already dead, so I never saw that again.

So anyway, we had this white chicken in the back yard, strutting and clucking and no idea where she had come from. Susan and I went off to see "Waiting for Superman, an excellent documentary, and when we came back, the chicken was gone. John went around the neighborhood and found her owners, who apparently are raising chi kens, and have been doing so, in spite of City Council's refusing to allow it. Good for them. If we start seeing well-fed rats or coyote we'll know whom to blame.

So the chicken is back with her sister hens, but she did cross the road to get to our back yard, which answers that age old question. And I hope she never gets her head chopped off for some one's dinner.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Out With the Old, In With the Fake

There is a trend here in Ohio, where a frenzy of mall building has destroyed the down towns of small cities. They are building fake small towns, Disney-esque in appearance, after tearing down the existing old buildings and replacing them with psuedo-Victorian/Federal brick-fronted "shoppes." These picturesque villages contain no hardware stores, no little pharmacies, no dry cleaners or other mainstays of small towns. Rather, they are full of upscale clothing stores, chain stores, over priced ice cream shops, and various restaurants. And more upscale clothing stores. There are paving stones in the narrow streets and cast iron street lamps (Or maybe they're made of plastic designers to look like cast iron.) There is some on street (or maybe I should call it on-lane parking) but mostly the places are surrounded by huge parking lots, so that one can approach the "village" from a distance, across the non-verdant fields of asphalt. We're not in Hardy country, in spite of the vaguely British names of these places.

My small town, which used to have an actual downtown in which one could find just about anything one needed, has long since died from defection to the many malls surrounding us. We still have some nice old buildings, in which some enterprising folks have started small retail businesses: a book store, a gift shop featuring well-crafted items, a chocolate shop...and bars, and bars and three or four tattoo parlors.

In the last year or so, a gazillionaire has managed to put up a string of fake Federal style building fronts over a group of nondescipt buildings and brought in some boutique-y businesses which are now the pride of the Chamber of Commerce. The effort is to get the students from the university to come into the downtown and shop. He is apparently unaware that students already come downtown in droves to drink and get tattoos. Many of the service businesses which students used to need in town- banks, post office, restaurants - are available on campus, along with stationery, CDs, and periodicals.

Now, with stimulus money as a boost, the town and university fathers are in the process of realizing their dream of having a conference center and hotel right downtown, along with a multi-modal facility for buses, bicycles and car parking. A conference center! A hotel! Now hundreds of people will come to Kent for conferences and stay in a state of the art hotel! There also will be an enormous visitor center right on the by-pass, right in the city, for the university! An esplanade wends its way through the campus right into the downtown, to ease the way for students seeking to get a tattoo! Dozens of houses will be torn down for this symbolic yellow brick road to the many bars.

Right now the hotel/conference center site, one whole square block, is a desolate area of earth scraped over what used to be buildings and houses. I waited too long to get a picture of what it looked like for several weeks, when all you could see were the remains of foundations and basements of what used to be there. It's all surrounded by chain link fences. Building will start soon. There will be retail located in the hotel and the multi modal building - tattoo parlors, bars, maybe a pool hall or game arcade.

And when it's done, we'll have jolly crowds showing up to cheer for our half -baked football team, our pretty good basketball team and who knows what else. The theme is red brick and a mish mash of architectural styles. The buildings will be good for about thirty years at the most and some ambitious developer will tear them down find a new use for the land - maybe a mega tattoo parlor with attached bar.

On the other end of town, the landscape has been made barren in order to build an enormous bridge supposedly to ease traffic over the river. Unfortunately, the design will complicate matters severely, especially since the no-planning committee approved the construction of a mega service station right on the corner by the traffic light, where two main roads come together, both of which are nightmarishly busy during rush hour. It's one of the few ways to get out of town on the north side and there are thousands of commuters who use that intersection every day going both ways. Oy weh!

I don't expect things never to change, it's just that the people in charge around here have no vision, even though they think they have. They still be live in bricks and mortar retail as the salvation of their town, rather than look at the future and how people's needs will change. So they tear things down.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Changing Seasons, Changing Clothes

It's the time of year to get out the fall and winter clothes and put away the summer stuff. Twice a year I go through the same chore, and the Amvets, collectors of other people's cast-offs, fill their trucks with things that people don't want anymore, including clothes that I am just plain tired of. At my age, I don't usually wear things out. I just get really, really bored with my clothes. (Why do people say bored "of" these days? That's what my kids said when they were little, but now I hear adults using that phrase.) This year I got particularly bored with some things I've had for about 6 or 7 years. I just don't want to wear them any more, ever. They're not worn out, but my interest in them is.

Now this is the sort of thing about which I feel guilty, on the order of that thing that mothers used to day about starving children in China. It just seems so dog in the manger.Well, what happened this year is that I kept getting theses Land's End catalogues which had some things I have been trying to find forever, namely, long-sleeved cotton tee shirts which are long enough for my torso, with a crew neck, and all in the most terrific colors. For the last ten years they have made the kind that would hit my around the belly button, with V-necks, boat necks, or scoop necks. I found more at Kohl's and, and old fashioned cardigans, without ruffles or any fancy buttons. Bean's and Land's End don't even have that kind. So I had to buy a lot of new things that I won't be bored with for some time to come. And the beauty part is that all of these things were ON SALE!

Around the house, I usually wear favorites things, like a couple a really nice long sleeved undershirt-y weave things that I bought at Kmart years ago and old blue jeans.

As you can see, I am not a high end shopper. I do clean up good, in the event that I have to attend something where a Kmart undershirt-y thing would not be appropriate, such as wedding or funerals.

The Cleveland Orchestra concerts start this Friday and I'll wear some of my new duds. Nobody gets too fancied up for these matinee concerts, since most of us are geezers who need sensible clothes that don't bore us.

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Diverse Rite

Last Sunday was the day of the memorial service mentioned in my last blog. It was quite moving and a memorable memorial. First of all the church, St. Colman's in the near west side of Cleveland, is a most impressive space. Built in the early 20th century for Irish and German immigrants, it has the grandeur of a European cathedral. It was one of the many diocesan churches which was to be closed by order of the bishop. However, the pastor and the parishioners refused and fought with and won over the bishop. It is proudly the Irish church of Cleveland. I can't imagine how it could possibly have been closed. So now it still stands and serves a mixed congregation, since that area is now largely Latino.

The service started with a group "Om," a sort of audible breathing in and out which filled the space with a living hum. Lovely! Then there was a slide show of the life of the deceased (hereinafter designated as F.) presented by his brother, great family pictures of the two of them as children with their parents and as young adults. There were testimonials by F.'s friends, stories of a talented and witty person. In fact, one of the reasons the service was held at the church is that F. had written a story for the local newspaper about the church and its congregation and the need to preserve it. He had been a writer, a historian and a volunteer for many local historical sites, including the famous Playhouse Square, which is one of the highlights of downtown Cleveland.

One of his friends and Emily and John sang "If I Had a Hammer," a song he had like and everyone sang along. Sounded so fine in that great place.

The Buddhist part included some candle lighting. The Buddhists present were all white suburbanites wearing saffron robes. There was a lot of chanting in which we were invited to participate. Even though it was all written in the program, I had a hard time following it, and jut sort of did some Sha Nah Nah noises, which fit in with the general hubbub. It sounded good since there was a built-in reverberation there.

The final music piece was a kind of Jewish mourning song, sung by the folk singer along with a violinist, again the congregation joining in on the chorus. Even though I did not know F. well, I think he would have liked his send-off. In fact, it was a literal send-off in a way. The final ritual was the clapping of our hands three times while the Buddhist leader told F. that he could go now.

I like that idea . In fact, I thin it would be a good way to get rid of guests who stay too long. Clap! Clap! Clap! Off you go!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Ecumenical Farewell

Emily is home for the third time in six months. In a previous blog I wrote about the tragic loss of our friend's brother. The friend came to our family through Emily, and he is one of her closest friends, so she came back to the U.S. of A. to be with him as he goes through this time of mourning. He has planned a memorial for his brother this coming week-end which promises to be a very interesting, as well as sad, event.

The deceased was a non-observant half-Jewish Buddhist. He had been very active in the Buddhist community in the Cleavland area, and there has already been a Buddhist memorial, so this one will be more ecumenical. There will be chanting, tabla drumming, incense burning, and various testimonials, one of which will be by a rabbi who is also a member of the Buddhist Kirtan in Cleveland. John and Emily will be singing a folk song with a friend of the deceased. There will be audience participation in the chanting and some rhythmic clapping.

All of this will be held in a beautiful Catholic church in an ethnic neighborhood on the near west side of Cleveland.

So I guess all the bases will be covered and the soul of the departed will be at peace at last. And our friend will be surrounded by people who care about him.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Last week was fashion week, if anyone was paying any attention to such a thing. We used to have a local fashion writer on our little local daily paper and she would go to New York and hobnob with designers and media fashion stars and write a full report for the Sunday paper with accounts of luncheons at Park Avenue designers' luxurious apartments and all. This always struck me as somewhat over the top for our small town . I mean, the publisher's wife made her own goddam clothes, for cryin' out loud. This fashion editor wrote well enough to win awards for her breathless accounts of what she saw on the runways. She was also the editor of what used to be called the Society page, and was my favorite source for WCLV's "This Week in the Media," for which prizes were awarded to those sending in goofs from the media. I don't know how many prizes I won thanks to her: CDs, jewelry, tickets, etc. I even got something published in the New Yorker from one of her columns, plus a check for $25.00. But I digress.

My subject today is the irritating word choices that the fashion folks use. The first is their calling pants "pant," as in, "Here we have this divine pant from Gucci, in hot pink silk boucle,"

A pant is what one does in the heat of passion, or what your pooch does when the weather is hot. If you are wearing a pant, you may well be run in for indecent exposure. Maybe a one legged pair of pants could be called a pant, but then again, you may have the indecent exposure thing happening. The word "pants" is plural. Use it, dammit.

The other word usage which irritates the hell out of me is "You look well in that dress," or "That dress looks well on you." This is quite common, and is of those "between you and I" school of excruciating attempts at correctness. Clothing is moot capable of looking, therefore it cannot look well or even spectacularly. It is not capable of being ill, ergo, cannot look well. If one has been sick, then one can look well (healthier) even in rags, if need be, once one has recovered. It is okay to use the word "good." If something looks good on a person, clothing, a necklace, a tick, for goodness say tell them they look good, o r that the clothes they have on look good on them, or if they have torn them off and are panting, tell them that they had looked good, especially with their pants on.

God! Idiots!! - Napoleon Dynamite.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Gold and Blue Septemeber

In spite of the drought which is turning the trees too early, we've had some lovely days this month. The corn stalks in the fields are already that dry tan hue, and they rattle in the breeze. The colors of the tree leaves are pale tans and faded reds rather than the bright golds, deep reds and oranges that should come in October. I fear we won't have that this year. However the sky is brilliant cobalt and the golden rod blazes in the fields.

Saturday I drove up to Rafael's bakery and took a different set of roads to get there. It was just beautiful: rows of white fenced meadows and neat farms, views for miles from the top of rolling hills. As I approached the village where his bakery is, it looked as if I were in New England, with the little church's white steeple poking up above the trees. I had never come to the village from that direction, so it was as if I were discovering it for the first time. I bought a loaf of his sweet bread, which has blueberries and strawberries studding the round loaf. Great with tea in the afternoon.

Yesterday, John and I drove up to Lake County to explore two historic sites. The first was the Kirtland Temple, built in 1833 by the followers of Joseph Smith, one of the founders of the Church of the Latter Day Saints. It is one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever been in. I am in awe of those early craftsmen, who did everything by hand. Every aspect of it it is so graceful and symmetrical. We were not allowed to take any pictures inside, unfortunately. The top floor is the educational area, and consists of these absolutely perfect connecting classrooms, so that when you look through the door of the last one, back into the first thee rooms, it's almost like looking through a mirror at a reflection of a series of doorways. Maybe you hadda b e there.

The downside of the tour is that you have to listen to the fantastic story of their religion. An angel named Maroni? At the dedication of the temple, there were flaming people dancing on the roof, dropping down from the sky, and Jesus came into the main room, as did a few of those Old Testament prophets, like Isaiah and all. Since all religions have their fantasies, I guess this one isn't all that ridiculous. But, an angel named Maroni? The first time I toured there, a number of years ago, I asked the guide who the architect was, and she said, "God." This time the guide told us that a number of skilled craftsman built it and that they used Jonathan Goldsmith's ( a Western Reserve architect of the 18th -early 19th century whose beautiful homes are still around) pattern books. It is an amazing edifice, that Temple, and I am sure that God would like it very much.

Next we went out the Kirtland-Chardon Road to explore a house that is in one of my books on Western Reserve architecture, which John wanted to see. It's a stone farmhouse, built around the same time ass the Temple. John went to a part f Canada this summer, to a small town called Cambridge, which had bee settled by Scottish stonemasons. It was a stone mason's paradise, and he was particularly intrigued by a certain style of cottage. Regent style?

The house we went to see is almost an exact replica of those kinds of cottages. It has bee re-habbed by the Herb Society of America and is now their national headquarters, a perfect fit for such an organization. It had been abandoned for a number of years, so they have had t o do a lot of work on it. In the early 20th century it had been owned by the architect (Hubbell) who designed the Cleveland Museum of Art and the West Side Market. He had made a few additions in the 20s, but had not disturbed the basic integrity of the building. The librarian showed John all through it, basement to attic, while I sat and enjoyed the sun shining through the windows. (Which reminds me: the glaziers of the Temple windows were none other than Brigham Young and his brother And all the inside windows still have their original glass panes!) It's a perfect sort of house, with two large front rooms and fine windows that bring in the light and give you a view of green things.

It was a good day to enjoy old buildings in the sun, especially in the Western Reserve, a little bit of old New England carved out off the forests of northeastern Ohio.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


I had a few rants which I had planned for my next post, but a tragic event has put some perspective on what's really important. The brother of a very dear friend (a friend who is practically a family member) ended his life the other day, leaving everyone in a state of shock and deep sadness. I did not know the deceased very well, having only met him a few times, but his bereaved brother is very dear to me and to my family. He had talked about his brother to me, and I understood him to be a gifted but troubled person, but without any hint of ever being suicidal. It is so sad that he felt he had no other choice, and that he did not explore other options for whatever he was feeling that led him to take such a step.

Any death is sad, but death by one's own hand is not just sad, but leaves its survivors with so many unanswered question: Why ? What could I have done to stop it? Did I miss any signals? And , again, Why?

For many years, I worked at a mental health agency, first on the crisis line, then as a trainer of volunteers for the crisis line, and then as director of the community education program. As a volunteer I fielded calls from suicidal clients. I trained other volunteers to handle such calls. We had the advantage that if people called a hot line, they were ambivalent about actually going through with ending their lives. We also did have people call who had already taken pills and needed help to survive. It was frightening, rewarding work.

When I moved into eh community education program, my staff and I developed a number of programs dealing with mental health issues, including a school based suicide prevention program, in which we helped kids understand that there were school and community based resources to help them wrestle with family and personal issues which might cause them to feel desperate enough to consider suicide, that there were other options. From that we developed workshops for educators, social workers and church personnel to familiarize them with warning signs and resources. We were quite busy with requests for these programs, which, alas, are no longer available regularly in the community because of budget cuts.

One of the last workshops which I designed was on the aftermath of suicide, the impact on those left behind. The participants were social workers, ministers and educators. I had a number of people as presenters who had experienced the loss of a loved one in this way. a father, a mother and a widow. All had experienced guilt and anger along with the pain of loss. All had worked through their grief over a number of years, but it was a powerful experience, hearing their stories.

I bring all of this up because, even though I have worked with this issue, and have talked with suicidal people, there is still something so terrifying, so mysterious, so painful when it happens and when someone you know and care about is having to face that kind of nightmare. I know my friend will get through it; he has a lot of good friends, but I wish he didn't have to.

Friday, September 10, 2010


After not going to Blossom Center but once all summer, we ended with a flurry of visits, My friend Helen performed with the Blossom Festival Orchestra (the Cleveland Orchestra was touring Europe at the time) and gave me comp box seats for the performance. Box seats!! In all the years I've gone thee I've either sat on the lawn on on the hard seats in the pavilion. It was quite a treat to have nice cushioned seating. The program was "Music for the Greatest Generation," and it was geezer city there....never seen so many walkers, wheelchairs and three legged canes. A bus load of them came in late and it took them forever to find and get into their seats. Helen did a group of great songs from that time, looking quite glamorous in blue stain. Her Mun was there, too, visiting from England. I took Mum up to Amish country the next week and we had a great time. She's NOT a geezer, being a young 70 and quite ambulatory.

My poetry award provided tickets to the final Blossom Center programs for the year. It was the Joffrey Ballet, with the Cleveland Orchestra as the pit band. Not bad! The young dancers were just terrific. Such leaps! Such grace! Such athleticism, especially in the make dancers! The whole company was a collection of these perfect little bodies, with one rather tall make dancer who was a splendid Corsaire. The music varied from Tchaikovsky, Phillip Glass, to Gottschalk. There was a witty Tarantella, with choreography by the great Balanchine, which I would love to see again.

It was a beautiful evening to be at Blossom Center. It is a wonderful venue for listening to music or watching ballet. Years ago when the girls were little, I took them there to watch the New York City Ballet, with the likes of Edward Vilella and Jzacques D'Amboise at their peak. They did Balanchine's "Jewels," all glitter and agility - beautiful.

It's been a while since I've seen live ballet, other than "Nutcracker." I used to have a season ticket to the Akron Ballet, which was developed by Heinz Poll who was a choreographer whose ballets are still being done here and there. The company dissolved after he died and funding disappeared. Too sad. It's hard for a city the size of Akron to support the arts now, with all the big factories closing. The art museum and the symphony are both very well supported and are high quality, but 30 miles north are two of the top cultural organizations in the country which draw more of the available money for such things. We're lucky to have access to all of those things where we live, as well as the university's offerings.


The day after I received news of winning the poetry contest, Dupree promptly went into a decliner. He stopped eating , lay under his arbor vita tree all day without moving, and looked as if he was not long for this world. John rushed him to the vet, who hydrated him and took some blood tests. The vet gave him a steroid shot also. He continued to lie about and not eat. John took him back to the vet the next day who took X-rays and told John that there was cancer in Dupree's stomach and lungs. John decided to get a second opinion and took him to another vet. That one found a lot of gum infection and pulled a couple of teeth and started him on a course of antibiotics. He is eating again and seems to be a lot better. He is 16, and up until now, he has been quite kittenish. I hope he'll be with us for a while longer.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Bred, Good Bread

I have written about Rafael before. He is the Spanish charmer who sells bread at the local farmer's market. Last year he bought a wonderful old building in a little village called Nelson. His place is on the village circle, on which there is a white painted wooden church, a white painted town hall, a former grocery store, which is now dwelling of some sort and Rafel's building. It's the kind of village which makes me want a time machine, so I could see what it was like in the 19th century, when it was a center where local farmers came to shop, to attend school and church and to socialized and run the town in the village hall. That hall is now used for meetings, social gatherings(e.g., the Women's Literary Society) and monthly Swiss steak dinners of high quality.

There are four main county roads that meet at the circle, which is why it's a fine place to open a bakery. The building which Rafael owns has always been favorite of mine. It started early in the 19th century (1824) as a church or a town hall. For years and years of the late 20th century it was pretty much a wreck. About 30 or so years ago, a couple of piano builders bought it and restored it, repairing the roof and the siding and strengthening the floors and walls. They only stayed a short time, however. Then it was bought by a man who tried to make it into a sort of general store. He did some further restoration and added some attractive landscaping. That didn't last and it sat empty for a number of years until Rafael took it over last fall.

Rafael was a DJ in Spain. He met the American woman who is now his wife one night when she came to the disco. He told me he put a bunch of records on and took her out for a walk, leaving the music to play on without him. Is that romantic? Hell, yes. She teaches at Hiram College, but she has been quite ill since Rafael has been at our market. The new bakery is not too far from their home, which is convenient for both of them.

I went up there for the first time the other day. Rafael greeted me with a hug. He loves the acoustics in the shop, which is an open three stories, all wood, so he ran up to the balcony where his CD player is and put on a medieval choir CD, which filled the space beautifully. He said that he is very busy and sells out every day he is open. The place smells wonderful, since he makes all kinds of breads,, sweet breads, nut breads, gluten free breads, Spanish bread (which is French bread, but he is Spanish, so that's what he calls it.)

When I was leaving, a big, burly trick driver came in and greeted Rafael with a "bonas tardies," a regular customer. I found out that Rafael also raises sheep, has them sheared and spins his own wool; there's a little spinning wheel behind one of the counters. He also lets the local quilters hang their quilts from the balcony and he handles the sales for them. He loves the look of them, so he is most happy to oblige them. They do add a lovely touch to the place.

When I left, he hugged me and said to tell my daughters he loves them all. It's mutual.

Cat Prizes for Me


We are old, he and I.
We walk more slowly
Than in our younger days.
But his tail is still held high
Like a plume on
The hat of a Victorian lady.
His topaz eyes still gleam.
Never a lap cat 'til now,
His old bones
Need our warmth
And my old bones find ease
In that soft, purring body.
Because we are old,
Dupree and I.

This is a poem I submitted to the WCLV (the Cleveland classical music station) for their Pet Poetry contest, along with a picture of Dupree. I won the grand prize, which consisted of a bunch of pet products and two tickets to the Blossom Festival and a CD of "Carnival of the Animals" and "Peter and the Wolf with Peter Schikele." I was quite surprised and if you go to WCLV's home page here you will see the whole thing. At least I think you will. It was read over the air twice and I missed it both times, since they did it on the early morning show when I am busy with the crossword puzzle and cannot be distracted.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Why Logic Fails

We are now hearing that 26% of Republicans believe that President Obama is a Muslim. Again. I guess they have already forgotten the fuss that was made over the Methodist minister whose church he attended in Chicago, the Rev. Wright. Whatever. There was a really good article in Newsweek a couple of weeks ago (Aug. 16, to be exact). Titled "The Limits of Reason," the essay was a discussion of the fact that, although confronted with facts, people choose to believe their own version of reality. The author explains that confirmation bias, which she defines as "seeing and recalling only evidence that supports your beliefs" is a mechanism which allows people to avoid any appeals to reason or logic. She doesn't mention the Internet, but there is plenty of ammunition there which enables those who want to believe that the president is a Muslim, is not a native born American and any other information that meets their anti-Obama bias. Any factual data which belies their beliefs come up against a stone wall.

In discussing issues with others, our confirmation bias is stronger than reason, since, as the author says, "arguing is less about seeking the truth than about overcoming opposing views." This is a discouraging idea, but it is obvious if you have ever tried to use reason when discussing certain issues with those who are not open to factual information - which is my own bias. Emotions come into play, too,which only reinforce the need to hang on to our own biases. Of course, we like to think our own biases are the "right" ones. It is just difficult to hear people proclaiming so strongly opinions disguised as facts, or "facts" garnered from unreliable sources that have proven to be false. Truth suffers greatly these days.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Moving Right Along

I had a very pleasant birthday last weekend. John took me up to Cleveland to see the very last road company performance of "The Phantom of the Opera" at one pf the fabulous Playhouse Square theaters. The theater is as ornate as the Phantom stage set, which is very ornate indeed. I am amazed at the magic that can be done with lighting, sound, sets and costumes. I'm not a Lloyd -Weber fan ---except for "Jesus Christ Superstar" --since all his music sounds alike, but this is a fun thing to watch and the Phantom had an incredibly good voice. We then went to the Mad Greek for a very fine dinner. I had a chicken dish which I replicated a few nights later: lemon juice, garlic, oregano, olive oil marinade with a dash of balsamic vinegar, then baked with onions, mushrooms and kalamat olives, which I didn't have on hand but will for the next time.

A very fine surprise was from Cynthia. She painted these beautiful panels for a cabinet in my room, based on an 18th century French wallpaper. This cabinet, now so elegant, is like most chest- like furniture in my hose: it's full of Stuff, stuff not worthy of the gorgeous exterior. The original cabinet was built by one of my brothers for my 78 rpm record albums, back in the day when such things were common. My husband made the doors and I think we kept clothes in it then. Now it looks like an heirloom.

I was happy birthdayed by phone, email, e-cards, regular cards and Facebook. It was very nice.

Three Out of Towners

Last week-end was also a time for visits by people who used to live in Kent. Two of them left here over forty years ago. One hadn't been back since then; one had been back a few times. Two of them had left as teen agers and are now middle aged. Nancy and Joe from near Philadelphia made a quick visit after being at Chautauqua for a week, and stayed in Kent with their old friends Lloyd and Roberta, who kindly invited me for breakfast and some catching up. Short visit, but we keep in touch via these blogs.

The next visitor was David, last seen here when he was 15. He was back for a 40th high school reunion. His parents and I were great friends and his mother in Massachusetts and I have stayed sporadically in touch for over all the years they've been gone from here. David is one of six children, all smart, all great looking and now all living on the East Coast. Their grandfather was one of my favorite English profs when I was a student. It was great to see him and hear all about the rest of the family. He didn't actually graduate from the University School, since they moved east when he was only 15, but he came back because the U. School went from kindergarten through high school and these were people he'd know throughout his childhood. He also had a chance to check out the houses he'd lived in and was shown through one of them by the current occupant. Nostalgia reigned.

The next visitor was Marcy and her husband Fred, who were taking son Nathaniel to Cornell to start his freshman year. They are both professors of philosophy at Indiana University and Nathaniel is going to study --philosophy. Marcy's parents were my second family here for years and I've known her since she was 4. They moved away from Kent when she was in high school and are both gone now, but she stops in Kent on her way to or from other places. Actually we met for lunch in Hudson, since they were on the road, avoiding freeways and exploring small towns along the way. Nathaniel is a darling and I have a feeling there will be some real empty nesitng going on in Bloomington for a while.

So I got a year older and saw a lot of people in one week-end and it was pretty good.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Cats in Dog Days

Yesterday afternoon I looked out the front door and found these three cats sprawled out in front. Sateen was right on the front walk, Herman was in the hostas and Dupree was under the arbor vitae. They could have been dead, victims of an unknown assailant.However, they were only sound asleep, stretched out the length of their bodies in hopes of a breeze. Only one of these cats lives in this house, but he doesn't mind sharing space outside as demonstrated above.
Too bad humans can't do the same.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I Read the News Today, Oh Boy.

Maybe it's the heat. (After a few days of bearable temperatures, it's back to the 90s.) It's gotten so I find it very hard to read or listen to news. It's not just the wreckage of the lives and careers of folks living on the Gulf coast, or the floods in China and Pakistan, or the choking smog in Moscow,or the endless and futile war in Afghanistan. It's the little things that the media seem to think we need to know.

We're being over radiated by the medical professions. This is something I'd rather not know, having been radiated for six weeks last year after the breast surgery If you have fat around your abdomen, you're doomed to shorter life. (Shorter than 83?) As a former skinny person who gave birth to 4 kids in 6 years, I have developed a paunch, which is abdominal fat, of course. The amount of air pollution because of the heat is killing old people and people with breathing problems. I fit both categories. Is forgetfulness a sign of Alzheimer's or normal aging? Quick, what picture won an Academy Award for Best Movie in 2009? Ads for pharmaceutical products contain long lists of side-effects which sound worse than the condition they are supposed to treat, mostly disgusting things like diarrhea, nose bleeds and, rarely(hah!), sudden death.

There seems to be an endless stream of these little tidbits, almost all of which portend imminent death or disability. Well, dammit, it's just TOO FREAKING MUCH INFORMATION!
"Ignorance is bliss" may be a cliche, but it rings with truthiness. Bliss is hard enough to achieve with all the big things happening in the world - well, actually impossible - but I don't need all those terrifying little bits of stuff in addition.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Demon Racer

A few posts ago, I wrote about the neighborhood where I spent my childhood. The recent Soap Box Derby last week-end in Akron reminded me of this horrible boy, Lamar, and his horrible sister ,Jackie. I shall not use their last name because, in the unlikely event that they reproduced, I would not like to defame any spawn still in existence.

Lamar was a bully. He swore, using words that are now common in restaurants, malls, sports venues, cable TV, etc., any place where people gather, especially young ones. He picked fights over nothing. Both Lamar and Jackie were sturdy children. Jackie would stand in the middle of the sidewalk, hands on hips, and dare you to get by her. Jackie had been attacked by a dog at some point in her young life (probably provoked by her brother) and bore the scar on her face. That fact and Godknowswhat kind of home those kids came from probably wee behind her meanness. However, I was a skinny little person and she probably could have knocked me down by breathing heavily on me and I was not about to psychoanalyze her personality even if I'd known what that meant. All I knew was that the pair of them terrified me and every other kid in the neighborhood

In 1934, the first Soap Box Derbies were held in various cities. In those days kids made their "cars" out of whatever they could find around the garage, basement or the local vacant lot/rubbish dump. Baby buggy wheels, coaster wagon wheels, mounted on boards with a wooden carton for a body were the usual elements of the kid derby car. Lamar put together something and went to the local race.

It was sponsored, along with other organizations, by Rich's Department Store, which was offering the grand prize: a genuine gas-powered mini-racer. The other prize for the winner was an all expense trip to Dayton, Ohio, for the first national Soap Box Derby. You have probably already guessed who won that mini-racer and the all expense trip to Dayton, Ohio. Now, 1934 was just about the height of the Depression. Kids in that time were lucky to get a used bicycle, much less a genuine gas powered anything. The only good thing about going to Ohio was that he would be on a train! And stay in a hotel! Lamar! And his name and picture were in both the Atlanta Constitution and the Atlanta Journal. Fame! Fortune! Lamar!

Well, at least he'd be out of the neighborhood for a few days, which meant freedom, a hiatus from fear. However, before that happened, we had to watch Lamar tool around the streets in his bright red and green gas powered min-racer from Rich's. Well, everyone was dying to get a ride , but knew there was no way anyone was going to ask Lamar for anything. And he knew it too, the little bastard. We stood on the sidewalk and watched him zoom (at around 3 mph) past with a smug look on his evil face.

I don't know how Lamar fared in Dayton, only that he did not become the first national champion of the first national Soap Box Derby. I don't remember how long he continued to drive his mini-racer; maybe it broke down, or his father took it apart and used the motor for something else.

The National Soap Box Derby moved to Akron, Ohio the next year where it continues to draw both boy and girl racers from all over the U. S. of A. The racing cars are now sleek fiber glass with standard wheels. The fiction of their being built by the kids is now over. It used to be held in August, and I would take the kids for school shopping at the two big department stores, which are, alas. no more. We would have lunch on Polsky's balcony and watch all the derby families at the other tables. There were special derby paper napkins and place mats. If we came a little early in the week we could watch the racer kids being driven down Main St. in convertibles and being greeted in front of the Mayflower Hotel by brass bands and pretty girls.
The Mayflower is now housing for people with disabilities and old folks in chronic poverty. Polsky's is part of the University of Akron and O'Neill's is occupied by a giant law firm. I think the kids are now welcomed at the new downtown baseball field , the pride of Akron, across from the old Mayflower. I'm sure that it is every bit as exciting as in the old days for those kids, but I am glad that we had our own fun back in the day.

But I wonder how many Lamars there are in that crowd of fresh faced kids?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Dispatch from Abroad

Katina just celebrated Abschluss in Germany. Here is her mother's report.

In other words, Graduation Day. It started off in typical Burnell-Petrou disorganized fashion. First of all, I had to wake Katina up for school as I slept in myself...I was wondering why she was still in bed at 8:15 when school normally begins. But it turns out it didn't start until 9 a.m. Katina acted like it was no big deal - according to her, she just had to show up at school, pick up her final report card, give a gift to her teacher and have a glass of champagne. No formal ceremony, no parents. Well...thank God she asked me to drive her to school (it was raining, and god forbid her natural curls show up) because it was then that I saw hordes of dirndl clad mothers and daughters approaching the school. Totally bedraggled, unshowered and still in my pajamas, I asked her, "Wait...are parents supposed to be at this thing?" To which she slowly replied, "Um...I don't know...I didn't think so..." As if that weren't bad enough, the road to the school was blocked by Gymnasium brats blocking the way, going so far as to SIT ON MY CAR, refusing to move until I PAID them. WTF? I pleaded with the little f---ers that my daughter needed to get to her graduation, to which they just scoffed, "Too bad, pay us and we'll move". I could have throttled the privileged pimply faced brats. Apparently it's a custom for them to do this, to belittle the Realschule where Katina goes, to point out their "superiority" as Gymnasium students. As many of you know, Katina spent the majority of her high school education at Gymnasium, and this further justified my hatred of the place. I told them I had no money (again, no mercy, just braying laughter) and then I dug out a few cents from my wallet and threw it into the sweaty palms of the ringleader. By then, Katina had already fled the car in fury and impatience. I flew home, took the quickest shower of my life, threw on some nice duds and rode in the pouring rain on my bike to the school. Which was empty, because everyone was shoved into the airless church nearby. There was an endless mass going on which went on for an hour, full of that sort of droning folk music that makes you weak in the knees with misery and exhaustion. When that finally ended, we poured into the school, where the requisite glasses of Sekt and Mimosas were offered. In true Eileen Heckart fashion, I swilled a glass of Sekt, followed by a Mimosa, and threw some pretzel stix down my throat, realizing with horror that I hadn't even brushed my teeth yet, and my breath reeked of a combination of a dead mouse and garlic (perhaps THIS is the reason Katina doesn't inform us of school events?). Anyway, at this point I met up with Katina, who was surrounded by mama- and paparazzi snapping pix of their clique - of course, the parents all knew each other, and probably have for years, and one woman came up to me with a thick Bavarian accent and said, "Oh, I wondered who you belonged to!" (I said to Katina, "Story of my life.") Then we were rather unwillingly herded back to the church for more long winded speeches and folk music, but this time I was lucky to nab a seat in what appeared to be the foreigner section - i.e., the other 'garlic munchers' (as Chris and his siblings were called growing up in Anglo Australia). I dozed on and off while the speakers, in love with the sound of their own voices, wore us all to the ground. Give a German a microphone and purgatory ensues. Anyway, finally the wilting girls were given their diplomas, parental videocameras whirring, cameras clicking.
This dispatch contained a photo of Katina and some of her classmates. I am not using it because this blog is available to anyone who chances upon it. Needless to say, these are attractive young women and I don't like the idea of some creep drooling over a photo of them, especially Katina.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Salad Days

Too hot to cook. Almost too hot to eat. So salads have become a staple for dinner. Salads have come a long way since I was a child. In those days, it was usually cut up tomatoes and iceberg lettuce with mayonnaise. Since we lived in Georgia there was also shrimp salad which I loved, at least the way my mother made it with mayonnaise.

When WWII came along and my father had the back yard plowed up and put in a "Victory Garden" we started having home grown leaf lettuce with oil and vinegar(probably Wesson Oil and Mott''s apple cider vinegar) along with spring onions and tomatoes from the garden. Mother rubbed the salad bowl with a clove of garlic for a continental touch. Of course, during the winter, it was back to lettuce and tomtoes with mayo. And, of course, tuna salad with onions and pickle relish and mayo. There was also apple salad, with raisins, celery and the inevitable mayo. Sometimes Mother would make her own mayo with oil, eggs and lemon juice. It was delicious. We were big on mayonnaise. One of our favorite grilled sandwiches was peanut butter and mayo - on white bread, or course.

But I digress. The subject is salad. How did we live without a gazillion kinds of greens, olive oil, feta, sunflower seeds, sliced almonds or pecans, kalamata olives, oregano or dill, balsamic or wine vinegars, shredded mozzarella, Parmesan, fruits, raw vegetables, bacon or diced chicken, or all the other things we can make a big whole meal salad from? It will be nice to get back to a cooked meal eventually, but for now salads are great. I had lunch (a BLT) at Ray's today with some women from my aerobics class and one of them is going to bring me a recipe tomorrow for a great sounding couscous salad. Who ever heard of couscous back in the old days? Outside of a souk in Morocco?

Food, glorious food, salad-wise!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Staying Temporarily Hydrated

Ever since my experience with dehydration while in rehab for the broken hip, I have been very mindful of keeping hydrated. I keep a large container of ice water handy wherever I happen to be in my home. Especially in this beastly hot weather, I keep reading and hearing how important this is for geezers to keep that water going.

And that s the trouble with hydration. The life giving water does keep going. It does not seem to want to stay in my desiccated body very long. Our water aerobics instructor keeps telling us to bring a water bottle with us, which I refuse to do. I would have to get out of the water and dash to the loo and miss most of the exercising. As it is, I get a lot of exercise right here at home, dashing to the bathroom to dehydrate myself.

I have heard that the body gets used to this and regulates itself eventually. I have been drinking a lot of water for months now and it hasn't regulated anything. I've never been much of a water drinker. I have friends and children who have always been mighty water drinkers, who feel a thirst for it, gulping down great quantities of it. I almost never feel thirsty, even in hot weather, so I have to force myself to imbibe. I do not have to force myself to get rid of it; it forces me. I can be contentedly reading, or drawing and keep being interrupted by its demands. I have not choice, I guess, being old and dried up and at risk for blowing away, so I'll have to look at it as another form of exercise.

I have an addendum to my screed about the weather: my arms keep sticking to the drawing table, with the result that my drawing tools occasionally stick to my arm, too and I keep dropping pencils and such. My large bottle of water sticks to the coaster, which ends up dropping, or flying to the floor. More exercise spent leaning over to pick things up.

But life is good, innit? I just finished reading a good book (between trips to the bathroom), a fictional accocunt of the Bubonic Plague in a small English village in the 1660s. The inhabitants decided to quarantine thenselves to avoid spreading the plague to other villages in their vicinity. That actutally happened, but the author, Geraldine Brooks ("March"), made it into a very fine, if gruesome, story. I kept wanting to shout to the characters, "It's the fleas on the rats, people!" Alas, they didn't know that until the 1880s. Just so we can feel safe, since there are so many other things these days which can bump us off, the plague can be cured with antibiotics, if you haven't been using them for colds and such, for which they are no good anyway. One less thing to worry about. But I would not still not play with dead rats.