WEEK 9

February 26, 2017 – SUNDAY

Spring blooms

Predictions: For several hours this afternoon JM and I worked in the garden. The East Bay Times weather forecast: “Cool with a partly sunny sky as a disturbance passes by the area.”

We thought that meant a dry day. Our bad. After an hour or so of work, we got caught in rain. We rushed to put away the tools: Hoe, weeder, trimmer, pick, trowel, pruner…. Was that ‘a disturbance’ passing through? And then the rain stopped, so tools back out and we worked until dark. Then later in the evening, a downpour. Disturbances did not just pass our area, they left their mark.

Parts of our garden have become overgrown. We decided to cull. Out came the Cordyline, Forget-Me-Nots, Lilies, Euphorbia, Fleabane, Penstemon, Lavender, Geraniums and miscellaneous other plants. We more than culled the lower terrace because as we started removing the vigorous growers, we decided to go further and remove most of the old plants. We’ll pretty much start over. People and horses get long in the tooth, perennials get long in the stem. Today we did not get far and managed only to clear out the lower terrace. On our little hill JM planted some plants we got last week, but the next terrace up we did not touch. It remains to be culled. Once that is done, we’ll replant both terraced areas. Why are some flowers so prolific, “taking over” the garden, while other plants struggle to maintain themselves?

I am looking forward to Spring flowering, which has already begun with Daffodils. A few years ago we ordered a medley of Daffodils. The medley? Only one kind of Daffodil. I suspect the medley bulbs were the ones that did not sell. Next time, we’ll order the specific varieties we like. I want to get Foxgloves and Sweet Peas for blooming in late Spring. We have seeds unplanted and perennials (liked by humming birds, butterflies and bees) yet to select.

A beautiful garden does take time. JM said of the afternoon that he does not like working in the garden by himself, but finds it a pleasure to do so in my company. The English love their ‘cottage’ flower gardens. We love ours too, but somehow finding time to actually garden and garden together is difficult. We gardened today, and because of that I had no time to read my Sunday paper. ‘Tomorrow is another day.” I’ll read the papers tomorrow, old news or not.

February 27, 2017 – MONDAY

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Detroit love – PT Cruiser

My out-live list:  Michael and I recently talked about the fact that we’d like to live long and healthy lives. But beyond that, there are some people we would like to outlive. JM asked me, “Who is on your ‘out-live’ list?” “Well,” I responded:

  • “There is X,” the female architect who took forever to do anything. She owned an apartment building and said she needed to work managing it on the weekends so asked for my help. I helped and helped and helped, but she never thanked me once. JM said it was because she thought herself eminently superior to me (& to most people) and because of her innate superiority, she thought it my DUTY to help her. I helped her out of pity. I felt sorry for her. I saw co-workers literally double up with laughter outside her office door. I understood why. She was incompetent, but beyond that she was ‘weird,’ truly weird, and I did not want the only other female architects in the group to be looked down on, so I helped her. She did not deserve my help, but that has never stopped me from helping others. We got a new boss, and she, hoping to get a promotion, started stabbing me in the back. “Why?” I asked our long-time secretary, who simply said, “I’ve told you for years, she is vain and delusional! She is also afraid of your competence and she is trying to eliminate the competition.” X did me wrong. I no longer associate with X and, indeed, am glad not have to keep company with one of the most boring individuals I have ever known. Even though I no longer have to endure her dullness, I still want to out-live her, if for no other reason than to make up for the time I wasted doing her work for her.
  • “And there is Y,” the male architect who, when I joined the organization, called me into his office and for over an hour lectured me on how to be an architect. I stood, waiting for him to offer me a seat. He never did. He lacked manners, and he assumed that he had had bigger and more diverse jobs than I (a female) had had and that he had knowledge that I lacked. Both were wrong. I worked with him for eight years and during that time he often walked across 40 feet of open space separating our offices to tell me I was typing too loudly; or not to talk while at the Xerox machine, although he did virtually every day; or when it was my turn to present my projects, he’d get up and as he left say, “I don’t have time to waste.” I was required to waste my time listening to him, but he was toooooo important to waste his precious time. One day we were in a group talking. I gestured with hands, as I frequently do, and he grabbed one of my arms and shoved it down to my side. He said he didn’t like my gesturing. I asked that he not do that again, but was intimidating, especially because he was about a foot taller than me. I wrote up the incident in my computer, but he was a friend with someone in IT, and minutes after I recorded the incident, it disappeared before my eyes. He had physical power and connections. He thought he should be head of the department and repeatedly bad-mouthed the supervisor to our bosses’ boss. There was plenty of reason to complain, but as one of the supervisor’s favorites, I thought Y should show a little loyalty. Ultimately he did not get the promotion he thought his due, developed a lung disease and died weeks after it was diagnosed. Someone called to inform me of his death and asked if I were not sad. He was not a nice person and I responded, “I’m not sad for him. I’m sad for his wife and children.” As it turned out, he ‘did not have time to waste!’ I have outlived him, so one down.
  • There are always those who will treat us badly, who we do not treat them as they deserve and who we will want to out live, even if we can’t remedy the wrong they did/do to us. “So there is Z and A and B and?” The alphabet has 26 letters but thankfully numbers are limitless. I’m glad not to be gainfully employed partially because so many of those I want to outlive were workplace colleagues. I’m a cooperative and helpful sort of person who really dislike competitive types whose main purpose in life seems to be, not so much about doing a good job, but about trashing others as a means of getting ahead. They are now out of my life, but in truth, I want them out of life entirely and want them gone while I live on!

I have also outlived some my age and younger that I wish were still living. Our vintage turquoise PT Cruiser is back – we loaned it to a friend who was between cars – and its return thought of my recently dead cousins who loved old cars.

  • My first cousin David, a few years older than me, died this past year. I had hoped to visit with him again. I remember the child me envying his Christmas gifts: magnetic Scotch terriers, an erector set, a Slinky, Tinker Toys and Lincoln logs. I got dolls, which I liked, but never or rarely played with. I would much rather have gotten David’s gifts, things I could build with. Who knows? If I had gotten those building toys, I might have received my first college degree in engineering instead of biology and theater. David loved cars and in spite of a degree from the University of Michigan, he preferred all things automotive to his banking career.
  • I just learned that my first cousin Don died a few weeks ago. He was more the age of an uncle than a cousin, but still a cousin. My Uncle Zeph and Aunt Edna had a passle of kids – about a dozen of them. Today only two remain, the older cousin Hobie Landrith (a retired major league baseball player living in Califorina) and the youngest child in the family Dale (living in Maine). My parents married late, had children late. My Father’s older brother was a grandfather shortly after my father and mother had their first child. As a result, our first cousins were pretty much like aunts and uncles, and their kids, our second cousins, were our cousins. When I was a teen, I babysat for Don and his wife’s Marion’s children. Now not just my parents generation has died off, so too are the children of my aunts and uncles.
  • I loved my Aunt Norma and her sons. Her third son, Chuck, was gifted. He had brains and athletic talent. His coach, my high school world history teacher, said of him as he introduced our class to a film of Chuck running in a competition, “He was the best athlete I have ever coached.” One of Chuck’s Detroit-area records stood for over 50 years. He was that good! Colleges all over the US recruited him. Family ‘gossip’ claims his girlfriend said she was pregnant when she was not! – so to do the right thing by her, he married rather than going to college. Even after the marriage, colleges still offered Chuck scholarships, and those scholarships included living accommodations for his wife and child (not yet conceived), but his new wife would not have it. He made a bad decision and paid the price. That was the family story. It’s no story that he was liked by the ladies and had at least four wives (all of whom he met in church). That first wife died days after Chuck’s funereal, saying (I was told) she wanted “to go to heaven to be with Chuck for eternity.” I hope she doesn’t get first dibs and that Chuck is not stuck forever with the woman who possibly tricked him into marrying her and into forfeiting a college degree thereby limiting his accomplishments here on earth.
  • Another cousin, ‘Junior,’ died shortly after attending Chuck’s funeral, but I hardly knew him. Still it made me sad. I had thought of calling him a week or so before I got the news of his death.
  • A day or so ago, my younger sister Lois called to tell me that Bobby, Aunt Norma’s late son Loren’s oldest son, had died. I was shocked. I had baby sat for Bobby. I thought him ‘too young to die.’ It is one thing for people my age or older to die, but when someone I remember as a small child dies, it gives me pause. I had liked the child Bobby, and as an adult I had found him and his wife fun and entertaining. A few weeks ago Bobby reached out to me on Facebook. I was thinking of an answer to his approving post on the conservative preacher Franklin Graham. I wanted to say, “Your Grandfather Forsyth, (Bobby’s mother’s father) was my first high school science teacher. He introduced me to ‘the scientific method.’” I wanted to share with Bobby my thoughts about his grandfather who instructed me in the importance of forming a hypothesis, testing it, then, based on data, modifying it. And I wanted to say, “How can you support a man like Franklin, who is anti-science, who inherited from his father his god, his fortune and his $880,000 a year job? Franklin Graham is not a man of principle. He is a man of expedience who lacks intellect and who is using ignorance and fear to promote (unlike his father) his livelihood?” I was still thinking I might send something like that to Bobby’s Facebook link, when I learned of his death.

Bobby, like David loved cars. Perhaps if there is an afterlife, he and David can drag race American-made cars, and Chuck can run the pants (assuming they are worn) off of the competition in heaven, just as he did on earth.

So, in the wake of this week’s bad news, I think of those whom I wished would have lived longer rather than concentrate on a list of those I’d like to outlive. Life is not just. Many of those who do harm, live and succeed, while others with talent and kindness die young, unappreciated. With the death of my cousins, some of my history, some of myself has died. The world that I knew populated with parents and aunts and uncles and cousins is no more, or is at least diminished. As a child, life seemed stable. It was a life that would last forever – but now the past is gone, because many of those that populated it are gone. People, more than things, make up that which I value. I am glad they are (dead or alive) still part of who I am and they will be as long as I live.

February 28, 2017 – TUESDAY

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JM waiting of haircut

The cutting:  As long as I’ve known him, Michael has hated going to the barber. The summer before he started graduate school at Duke University, he worked at Great Lake Steel on the Detroit River gathering ore samples from the smelters for testing in the lab. It was hot work, and he had his hair cut to stubble, military style. At orientation, Al Loftis, a banker returning to graduate school, introduced himself. Because of his haircut, Al took Michael for a ‘good guy,’ and they became life-long friends. Would they have met if JM had had another haircut? I think not. However, once, out of the factory and into the university, Michael let his locks grow. Grow they did and unevenly. The father of one of my students was a barber. I told her of JM’s reluctance to go to a barber: “My dad will cut his hair.” He did once, only once. JM never went back because he had instructed my student’s father to “even up my hair a little” and was taken literally. The barber gave Michael a Dutch-boy, bowl haircut, even all the way around. The Beatles had worn such haircuts. Maybe the barber had thought he was casting JM as a pop star. A serious, though longhaired academic, JM did not like the look, and haircuts remained something to be dreaded in spite of the fact that his childhood barber had told him he had a senator’s head. Perhaps he did not like being compared to a politician, or did not like being told that he had a big head. Whatever, he’s been reluctant to engage with a barber.

For decades Michael’s hair was worn in various stages of shag. When we were in Kansas for a year, my older sister, Mary, gave Michael a permanent. She gave them to her husband, who had limp, straight hair and it improved his looks, so JM agreed. The perm took. He looked great in blond ‘Afro locks,’ but when we returned to the San Francisco Bay area, he only had his hair permed once. It cost a lot, and the barber-man did not do the quality work of my sister, so back to unkempt straight, shaggy look once again.

JM’s hair started to thin. He hates comb-overs. He also disliked his always-wispy hair, now thinning, lying limply on his senator’s head. “Off,” he said one day to his lady barber and off it came, and since then he has kept his hair short. A few years ago, while shopping at Costco, he saw a complete barber tool set and bought it: “YOU can cut my hair.” I’ve never had a talent for fixing hair, and my tresses are an example of that, but he kept insisting and I gave in. Now he gets the most regular haircuts he’s ever gotten. He likes getting shorn because the vibrating shaver feels like a massage, and he not only wants haircuts, he likes them long and slow so that the head massage continues. He’s the one who gets out the electric clipper and says, “It’s time.”

Mother learned to cut Dad’s hair on shipboard on their way to Africa. One of the sweetest photos of them is of her cutting Dad’s hair. In the U.S., I remember her commenting on Dad’s barber-cut hair: “They did not get the back of your neck. You need to tell him to finish the job and cut the hair off the back of your neck, below the collar.” I remember her comments and do my best to make sure the haircut is a complete haircut. I trim the back of his neck, remove the ‘old-man hairs’ now growing in his ears and on his nose. I cut JM’s hair this morning for an important meeting. He went forth, head nearly as smooth as a billiard ball and as big as any senator’s.

March 1, 2017 – WEDNESDAY

Orders from the Pope:  The Pope called me out. He’s repeatedly talks about society’s becoming less civil, less mannerly. He requests that we change our ways and treat one another in Christ-like ways. My father, who died on this day in 1988, believed in treating others as Christ would treat them. He obeyed the ‘golden rule,’ but my observation is few know of the rule, let alone abide by it.

Our president is a prime example of rudeness, crassness, incivility and worse! But I too, on occasion, behave badly. I find that I’m less mannerly now than I was in my youth. I’ve become less mannerly partially because I’m tired of being on the receiving end of nastiness from people who never seemed to have learned how to behave in a civil manner. It’s not just an occasional misbehaving; it is their modus operandi.

People seem to have forgotten, or never understood, the fact that society functions partially because of acceptance of ‘behavioral norms.’ It is not because there is only one way to do something or that a social ‘nicety’ must be a certain way, but it is because ‘society’ collectively has ‘agreed’ that in a particular situation a certain behavior constitutes good manners, a manner of proper behavior. (Is that where the word ‘manners’ came from?) For example, we here in the US drive on the right side of the road while in United Kingdom, the English drive on the left. One is not better than the other. It is simply an agreed-to norm (now law) developed to reduce hazard, to simplify life and to make living easier, more pleasant. Norms mean that we do not have to think every action through because others, before us, have done so.

Bikers, in my experience, seem to be some of the least cooperative and most unmannerly individuals I have come in contact with. Michael and I bike on off-road trails. Our favorite is the ‘Bay Trail,’ a public right-of-way populated by bird-watchers at their scopes, walkers (of every age), parents pushing children in strollers, skateboarders, people on scooters, skaters, people in wheel chairs, dog walkers and bikers. In spite of the fact that the ‘Bay Trail’ is often thick with people, bikers ride at high speeds, seemingly unaware of anything but themselves and keeping up their ‘pace.’ Trail signs instruct bikers to ‘call out’ before passing, few do. I adjust my passing anyone in relationship to both those directly in front of me and in relationship to on-coming ‘traffic’ so as to minimize inconvenience or a hazard.

Today, without a warning, a biker came up fast and close between JM and Peter. JM, to avoid a crash (he’s crashed before and lost plenty of blood in the event), veered far into the opposite lane. As a result of his swerving, he forced a jogger off the trail and onto the path’s shoulder. JM apologized to the jogger, but had he not swerved the speeding cyclist might have caused a serious accident.

I rode slow, so the guys were far ahead. At the end of the ride, a biker came up un-announced from behind – fast and very, very close. (Many bikers seem to think they are riding in the Tour de France and, to increase speed and save energy as they pass, they move up closely from behind staying in the lee of the biker in front.) His close passing startled me. I hollered, “Please signal,” to which he seemed not to respond at all. I then uttered a single word, “JERK!” He stopped suddenly, straddled his bike, turned toward me saying, “What do you want me to say before I pass?” I responded, “’Biker approaching’ or ‘biker left,’ or ‘biker right,’ depending on where you plan to pass.” “You were rude to me,” he said. I was, and I apologized.

I have been ruder. On a holiday, the path filled with holiday-minded folks, JM & I biked the Bay Trail. A biker whizzed by me close at high speed and cut back sharp in front of me. I, a mature woman, said, “Please signal.” He, a young man, responded, “Go fuck yourself!” I responded, “You fuck yourself! Oh, that’s right, you can’t get it up so you can’t!” I could see his whole body respond in anger to what I said and realized that my coarse response to his coarseness had potentially created a dangerous situation for me. I should have realized that any guy who responds that hatefully to a polite suggestion from a mature woman lacks not just manners but self-control and civil decency. I do have a temper. It was bad enough that the biker was riding without regard to others using the trail as his personal biking speedway and that his cutting in directly in front of me made me have to brake abruptly, but I feared for my safety when I saw his response to my response. My own lack of manners had the potential to result in physical harm to me from the man I had insulted. That man’s riding showed he lacked respect for others and anyone who upset him was fair game for his anger. Manners, ‘customs,’ keep society not just functionally smoothly, but they also keep individuals out of harm’s way.

Should a rude person be rudely treated in response to their rudeness? Perhaps not. One often reads how rude drivers, if called on their rudeness / recklessness, attack the person calling out their poor behavior, sometimes even killing those who try to make them aware of their improper driving. That response from overly assertive drivers is termed, “Road Rage.” Many rude individuals are filled with rage, and that rage is ready to be bestowed on anyone who annoys them. I need to be careful, not just in the car, but anywhere. Rage and rudeness sometimes co-mingle and there is a danger in that. I need to be mannerly, even when I am treated rudely because if I am not, rude unstable people may retaliate. And I think of Trump and his rudeness, his attacks on our civil society and even on our democracy because he cannot stand being called out. He is an example of the worst that can happen from a rude bully. The Pope’s message needs to be heeded by us as individuals and also by the head of our state.

March 2, 2017 – THURSDAY

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Company ready

Home made ready:  Today cleaners are ordering the house and a gardener is raking and planting in the flowerbeds. My parents took care of house and yard entirely on their own, but I hire help to assist in keeping our house and yard up. It is a way of reducing my workload as well as a way of making sure our home is cleaner and nicer than it would be if the upkeep were entirely left up to me.

When I think of the work, the time and the money that goes into keeping up our little home, I wonder why we Americans neglect our streets, roads, highways, bridges, dams, parks, libraries, hospitals, cities, our collective habitat. Why do we resent paying taxes, taxes used to care for our community’s home? The ‘house’ we live in as a society is gigantic, and keeping it up well requires considerable maintenance and much money. Most European countries, possibly because they are older and long ago learned the lesson of neglect, spend considerable assets to maintaining their collective ‘home.’ I find traveling in those countries, walking their streets, visiting their cultural centers very pleasant and that is in part due to the fact that their ‘public buildings and spaces’ are maintained well. Should I, who enjoy a clean house and a beautiful garden, want my larger world to be less well kept than my own home? Should I want my public world to be less enjoyable? I think not, but then JM and I put more time and assets into our home’s maintenance and upkeep than most Americans. As a result of our care, our home is more pleasant to be in than most homes are. I hope that Americans will come to value our ‘American Home’ (our public places) more and, as a result, determine to pay, via taxes, for its care.

March 3, 2017 – FRIDAY

Stockpot w/ cooking stock

Separate, but all needed: The creation of a good stew takes hours. Today I’m working on a beef stew. There is the making of the stew, the creation of a basic beef broth. I did that last week using ‘sacrificial vegetables’ (onions, leeks, garlic, carrots, celery, parsley), meats (beef shanks, veal shanks, beef bones), spices and waters (potato & tap). I discarded the bones, spent vegetables and fat. The night of the making of the broth we enjoyed a beef soup with udon noodles. The rest of the broth / stock was frozen.

Last week’s frozen stock has been unfrozen and used as the base of today’s beef stew. I cooked the beef with beef stock to which I added more ‘sacrificial’ vegetables, homemade tomato juice, herbs and spices. The meat was cooked slow and long with vegetables, herbs and spices. The tender meat and double-rich broth was saved, but the spent vegetables, which contributed so much to the flavor of the beef, were pressed and discarded.   I used some of the rich broth to cook the various vegetables for the final stew. Each vegetable (carrots, potatoes, celery, pearl onions) was cooked separately to insure that each was cooked to the precise level of ‘doneness.’ When a vegetable reached its perfect ‘doneness’ it was drained and cooled and the same broth used to cook the next vegetable. After the last vegetable was cooked, what remained of the vegetable cooking broth was added to the stew pot. The stew elements have been placed in the refrigerator, waiting to be made into tomorrow’s stew. Tomorrow, to complete the stew, the various ingredients will be combined, the gravy thickened and the stew given a final tweaking. The making of a good stew is a long and complicated process, but the results are worth the effort and time.

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Vegetables for stew

March 4, 2017 – SATURDAY

Of Comfort: JM and I talked of the trying political times we are living in. Trump seems unhinged, and we continue to fear his policies will result in great harm to our nation and potentially to the world. We had talked of a desire to feel secure and a desire for the feeling of ‘basic comfort’ again. We frequently choose a theme for our poker parties and as the result of our fears, in memory of the ‘Trump the Joker’ poker party and a desire for security, we decided to choose ‘COMFORT’ as the poker theme. While trying to decide on potential poker theme, JM read an article in the New York Times about how Danish people place high value on “hygge,” Basically, security, hominess, pleasure in the everyday. He told me of the article. That settled the poker theme: hygge.

What foods to express comfort? Soup and warm bread and apple pie? We decided on cherry. We had frozen cherries from the farmers market, but the purveyor lied to us and sold us sweet cherries. I thought it likely a lie, but bought them anyway, spent hours pitting them and tried them on a pie. As I suspected, NOT sour but sweet, so they did not make a good pie. But … not pie. Cobbler! But like good pie, usually made with sour cherries. I improvised with the adding of lemon juice and vinegar, but still sweet cherries cook up differently than sour and the result was tolerable, but not the comforting cherry dessert from my childhood. The all-American apple we made into a salad: apple slices, matchsticks of celery root and dressing of sour cream and ‘balsamic’ apple cider vinegar with dill. It was comforting, but the most comforting dish of all — the beef stew. It symbolized not just comfort, but ‘out of many – one!’ To get a good beef stew, there must be the combining of numerous separate elements, elements that remain distinguishable, but surrounding those individual elements is the gravy, gravy made from the melding of the many flavors from each of the elements that make up the stew. To eat a good stew is to indulge in comfort, to luxuriate in it and to know that it can only be created by taking the best of each element, and combining all into one. At its best, a stew symbolizes the best of the American home kitchen and is a metaphor for this nation.

So tonight a night of poker, of hygge and comfort food. Our cat Charley, who came to live with us almost six years ago, just after the poker night with friends was initiated, loves the poker table, if not – because he is temperamental – the poker players, and he seems to find comfort in the reemergence of the table.