Monday, November 30, 2009

Advent Calendars Go Virtual

advent wreath Do you have an Advent calendar? Sisterfilms sent me an Advent calendar greeting card, which is waiting patiently on the mantelpiece until tomorrow, when I can start opening a window each day. But did you know that there are many online or “virtual” Advent calendars available? Some are religious, some secular in nature; some educational and some just silly fun. I’ve tested all the links below, so you can check them out and bookmark your favorites. (Warning: don’t try to visit all of them each day. You won’t get anything else done!) By the way, traditionally Advent calendars begin on December 1st and can be reused in any year. Some of the church-based ones below began on the first Sunday of Advent, which was November 29th this year.

Beliefnet’s 2009 Advent Calendar: Began with November 29th, which had a number of links to information about Advent and a quiz about how stressful your Advent might be. Day Two also has a quiz and some discussion of the Nativity story. Beliefnet’s Christianity section includes many different perspectives.

Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D.C.: This calendar, posted in 2007, features figures from the National Cathedral’s international collection of creches or Nativity scenes with pictures and descriptions. There are also links to a daily meditation and the Daily Office (Bible readings). Sadly, the Carol of the Day link is broken.

Musical Advent Calendar from the German Embassy to the UK, 2006: The more musically adventurous among you may enjoy this, which has techno and other alternative renderings of German Christmas carols. And there’s also this one, I think from 2007, with a snowman theme and some of the same musicians.

From a teacher and artist in Melbourne, Australia comes this Australian Advent calendar full of inspiration for art projects as well as meditations that are uniquely Australian. I know I have some friends and readers who would like this one.

Angels We Have Heard Are High, and the Cavalcade of Bad Nativities parts 1 and 2 which you can get to from the sidebar of Angels… are not exactly an Advent calendar, but fun to look at. Posted during Advents past by the blogger at Going Jesus, they are amazing examples of “Christian kitsch” that will either horrify you or make you laugh. Give ‘em a try. I don’t know whether she’s doing something similar this year, there’s a lot going on in her life right now.

If you have any Czech ancestry or just an interest in customs of other lands, try the Czech Advent Calendar with information for each day. It’s from Radio Prague.

In England, it appears to me, there is religious education in the public schools, and a website to help teachers with resources. It’s called REEP (Promoting Links between Religions and the Environment) and is just full of great things, including their Advent calendars with a different theme each year. There are quizzes, puzzles, riddles, and other interesting things that are fun for grownups as well as kids. Another educational site from the UK with an Advent calendar is this one from Woodlands Junior School in Tonbridge, Kent.

Castle Arcana’s Christmas site has not only an Advent calendar to “color,” but A Christmas Carol acted out by cartoon guinea pigs – how can you resist?

Nur auf deutsch: (only if you can read some German) is this very pretty Advent calendar which tells, in German, about Christmas customs in many lands.

The New York Carver website has a lovely Medieval Advent Calendar with information and links about medieval art, history and so on. The whole site looks like one it would be fun to visit, including a Virtual Cathedral.

Pagan or Wiccan and feeling a little left out? Or just want to see some lovely pictures of ancient British sites? Try the Yule/Solstice Advent Calendar. Stonehenge and other sites are featured.

The site at has a lot of German information, including, posted in 2007, an Advent Calendar which is low on graphics but high on information. For some Swiss flavor, try this calendar showing decorated windows in Swiss villages.

Lots of people home-school for a variety of reasons. Those who are doing it for religious reasons, or want to carry on some religious education at home, will enjoy TeachingMom’s Advent Calendar. I like that she points out that you can use the calendar year after year and will not be doing every activity every year! Just take what you can use and leave the rest.

Have a toddler or pre-schooler who’s getting fussy because Mom or Dad is on the computer? Take a break and show him/her one of these sites which feature a simple animated scene for each day: Greeneyesz, put up in 1999 and rather slow loading, but cute; Rooney Design is a little livelier and has music; – is this a cartoon character I don’t know about? and Billy Bear for Kids has games and such.

A couple more that I wasn’t able to preview because it’s not December 1st yet, but which look good though simple, are Greg’s Advent Calendar (he has a whole Christmas site of which this is part) and Dionaea’s Advent Calendar (NOT for children or the easily shocked) – if you try to click an upcoming date you get scolded! This calendar is another one that won’t open until tomorrow.

My old friend the Guardian newspaper in Britain has an Advent calendar that’s a little on the goofy side with animation.

I’m slightly hesitant to recommend this next because I had a little trouble loading it – some of the pictures showed up only as those annoying little Windows placeholders. However, you may have better luck or a newer computer or something, so don’t give up without trying this activity calendar from the UK.

For several years I’ve enjoyed the Advent calendars that tell a story about Tate the cat. Maybe you will too! If so, the older editions are still online as well as this year’s story.

We’ve seen medieval art, now for some Renaissance art. The useful and interesting Artcyclopedia site has an Advent Calendar with Renaissance representations of the Nativity and information about the paintings and artists.

As far as religious-themed Advent calendars go, nearly all I found that were denominational were either Catholic or Episcopalian/Anglican. Here are some: First a calendar from a site that doesn’t mention any specific denomination, but is OK with Phyllis Tickle and Marcus Borg so is not terribly conservative, Exploring Faith. Its Advent Calendar has a brief thought for each day; the site has many other resources for Advent as well. Some Roman Catholic sites: The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops – I disagree with them on so much, but they do seem to care about the poor; a calendar from the University of Dayton, focusing on Mary and other women of the Bible; a calendar from St. Margaret Mary Parish in Naperville, IL; a calendar from Trinity Church Wall Street in New York. Edited to add: LutheranChik recommended the beautiful Advent calendar from Mission St. Clare.

Whew! Have I left any out? If you run across an online Advent calendar I haven’t mentioned, please send me the link and tell me something about it. And have a blessed Advent!

(The photo of the unusual Advent wreath, which appears to function as an Advent calendar, is from amras_de, a contributor to Flickr.)

Since I needed to do a little editing anyway, I can't resist pointing out the Punk Rock Advent Calendar, which allows a free download of a Punk Rock Christmas song every day. Very unusual!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Triflin’, Part 2

The trifle was a success, but I would do it a little differently next time. If you get a chance to look at the recipe, you will see that it calls for a 9x13 pan of gingerbread and a mousse made with one can of pumpkin and a cup of whipped cream. I wound up with extra gingerbread, but a very skimpy amount of the pumpkin mousse. I would double the mousse next time. I'm also thinking that I could double the pumpkin, brown sugar and spices and use the same amount of whipped cream -- the pumpkin flavor would be stronger that way. Also, the recipe called for a two-quart bowl; I felt it would overfill either of the bowls I had so I divided it into two.

Here’s a photo of the trifle, but it’s not a very good one because I neglected to tell the photographer to scooch down and photograph the bowl from the side. There is candied ginger scattered on top of the whipped cream.

Trifle one

Other guests brought whoopie pies (homemade!), bars, and pumpkin and apple pies; and I also made the lime bars from the Betty Crocker Christmas Cookbook, which are always delicious but never look the way they are supposed to (and specifically, they are messy!) They are one of those bars where you mix butter, flour and sugar and press it into a pan, then bake that for 20 minutes before adding the filling and baking some more. It’s the first part I have trouble with; I suspect today it was because I softened the butter in the microwave. Also, I knew the clementines would be a hit, but I put the candy canes out more as decoration -- and many of them were eaten as well!

Can you tell that I really like the Betty Crocker Christmas Cookbook? It has lots of good recipes, somewhat on the Midwestern/Scandinavian side but not exclusively so, and many of which are good for any time of year. I highly recommend it. This is the one I have:

BC CHristmas cookbook and I think it’s from the early to mid-1980s. There have been several new editions since then, so I hope that it’s still got most of the same recipes.

Tomorrow I’ll be busy recording some more stories, and preparing for my Advent Calendar of Songs and Stories on the blog, which will begin December 1 – Tuesday! This year I’ll be highlighting the stories I recorded for Sisterfilms back in 2007, which included some that were more suitable for adults as well as some old children’s favorites.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Well, my best intentions didn’t quite work out and I’ve missed a couple of days. I’m currently in the midst of preparing a Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle from the very last issue of Gourmet magazine. (November) It’s not available online yet; they say their website will remain up for a little while, perhaps long enough to put up the November issue. If you perform a G**gle search for this, the first one that comes up is Paula Deen’s, which relies heavily on packaged things. Not for me. The recipe I’m using has homemade gingerbread, a simple pumpkin mousse, and real whipped cream.

I did have to amend it a bit since some of the eaters are vegetarians and would not appreciate being served something including gelatin from animal parts. So, I went to the natural food store at the end of the block for some vegan gelatin substitute. (No vegans coming, but the gel is OK for them.) The directions were so alarming that I almost decided to wing it and just whip the cream in the mousse really stiffly, because I was afraid of winding up with a mousse that had lumps of flavorless gel scattered through it. However, I was brave and followed directions and it seems to have worked. This is a really good thing because it also means I can make the Ris a l’Amande for Christmas Eve the way I’ve always done it (from the Betty Crocker Christmas Cookbook) – a couple of years ago I used a different, gelatinless method and wasn’t as pleased with the results.

The trifle will not be complete until tomorrow, and at that point I’ll take a picture and post it.

Since Thanksgiving is over, I can now play Christmas music. I am easing into it with a playlist of all instrumental – everything from Celtic to big band to Windham Hill to solo piano to bluegrass to classical pieces. With the shuffle feature, it’s a nice variety of sounds, familiar and unfamiliar. I put together a playlist for Advent but it’s sure going to be heavy on Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen and Veni, Veni Emmanuel! Now I need to retrieve the Christmas linens (especially tablecloths, guest towels and kitchen things) from the upstairs closet.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Real Maine Pumpkin Pie

Even though Libby is a fine old Maine name, I don’t think much of their pumpkin pie recipe – too pale and bland. I also like to buy local products when I can, so since we’ve moved to Maine I get One-Pie canned pumpkin (they also have canned squash), from West Paris, Maine. In Minnesota, we used Festal pumpkin from Owatonna, Minnesota. I like the recipe on the One-Pie pumpkin can, so here is my rewriting of it.

“One-Pie” Pumpkin Pie

1 Tbsp. Cornstarch
1 cup sugar
½ tsp. Cinnamon
½ tsp. Nutmeg
½ tsp. Ginger
scant ½ tsp. Salt
1 can One-Pie pumpkin (or your favorite local brand, or whatever)
2 eggs, beaten
1 ½ Tbsp. Butter, melted
2 Tbsp. Molasses (I like Crosby’s, which comes in a paper carton like milk, but other kinds would be fine too)
1 12-oz. Can evaporated milk, or 1/12 cups milk (I’m dubious about using regular milk, never have. However, you can use evaporated skim milk with no problem)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Sift dry ingredients together into a large bowl. Mix in the can of pumpkin (a wire whisk works fine). Add eggs, melted butter, molasses and mix together; add milk and mix until evenly mixed. Line a 9-inch pie plate with pie crust, pour in the pumpkin mixture, and bake 15 minutes. (You may want to cover the edges of the crust to prevent over-browning.) Turn oven down to 350 degrees and bake 50 more minutes, or until a knife inserted in the middle of the pie comes out clean.

And here’s a picture of the pie I made today:

Pumpkin Pie

For a nod to Minnesota, here’s the great recipe for Festal Pumpkin Bars. “Bars” are a fixture at almost every Minnesota social event and there are many delicious ones, but you can’t go wrong with these.

Festal Pumpkin Bars

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease and flour a 12 x 18 x 1 inch pan (jelly roll pan)

4 eggs
1 c. salad oil
2 c. sugar
1 15 oz. can pumpkin

Mix above ingredients in a large bowl. Sift the following and add to above, then stir:

2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 cups flour

Mix well and pour into pan. Bake 25-30 minutes.

Frost with:

1 6 oz pkg cream cheese (Neufchatel or low-fat cream cheese would be fine, but don’t bother with the fat-free stuff)
3/4 stick butter
1 tbsp. cream or milk
1 tsp vanilla
4 c. powdered sugar

Beat cheese, butter, vanilla and cream together until soft. Add powdered sugar until correct consistency to spread. Cut the bars into 2 x 3 inch bars. Makes 36. Can be frozen.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Six Nights Down, Eighteen to Go; and Other Thoughts

So far I've recorded four Christmas stories for Sisterfilms' Advent story discs. However, one of them is long and stretches over three nights. With some difficulty I've searched through about 5,000 possible songs to go with them and found some that were appropriate. Now I just have to write and record the introductions for each and then I'll have the first disc or two ready to mail along with the Advent box. Whew!

On Sunday, while eating something fairly innocuous, I seem to have cracked or broken a tooth. It hurts some, but not horribly, so I agreed to wait till a week from Friday to see a dentist about it. Still, this situation reminds me of something my college roommate used to say: "Your teeth should fall out the day before Thanksgiving!" (She didn't say it to me, of course. Well, not often, anyway.)

I'll be bringing homemade cranberry sauce, the sweet potatoes, and a pumpkin pie to Thanksgiving dinner. In Maine, Thanksgiving is all about the pie (at least in my family). So I believe there will also be apple pie, coconut cream pie, chocolate pie and butterscotch pie available. My aunt was baking a pecan pie for the Fire Department's pie sale; I wonder if that means I should make one of those too? Later this week I'm going to try a pumpkin gingerbread trifle recipe that was in the very last issue of Gourmet magazine. I got vegan gelatin substitute so that I can make the pumpkin mousse edible by my vegetarian relatives; it looks as though it takes more than a teaspoonful of brains to use that stuff.

Reading hasn't been going awfully fast unless I can count the things I've been reading aloud. I'm dipping into a romance novel (at least it's supposed to turn into one eventually) that I picked up at the church book fair. I did read a good bit of the Sunday Times and Portland Sunday Telegram and spent time on the phone with each of my daughters. And so to bed.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Reflections on the Table, 1: Setting the Table

I learned to set a table from a book called The Non-Com’s Guide. I almost thought I had imagined it but Google did come up with three hits, one a citation in a militaria forum (for collectors of military stuff) and two ratings in French for someone who sold a copy on eBay a while back. No listing in WorldCat or Bookfinder. As I recall the book was a paperback and surely fell apart or was discarded somewhere along the way.

Either of my parents could surely have showed me how to set the table, but I’m sure they already knew me well enough by the time I was 7 or 8 to know that learning things from books was my preferred method. It worked – to this day I feel compelled to rearrange the silverware at a restaurant or church supper if it’s not set out correctly.

It’s rather curious to me that The Non-Com’s Guide (a compendium of information thought to be useful to non-commissioned officers, i.e. sergeants, in the U. S. Army) felt it necessary and advisable to alert its readers on proper table setting. I’m actually not too surprised that there may have been plenty of sergeants who came from backgrounds where such niceties were not observed, but in the 1950s, I don’t think most men expected to be required to know how to set a table.

With what did I set the table? At some point I suppose Capri silverwe must have had stainless steel forks, knives and spoons, but I can’t remember any of them. What I do remember are the two sets of silverplate, still in the family, that we had when I was growing up. The first one, which was somewhat battered and missing pieces even when I started tablesetting, was this one, 1881 Rogers Bros. Capri. I did not know its name until several years ago and always thought the pattern was one of pine trees, but now I think it’s supposed to suggest waves. By making use of online auctions I was able to fill out the service for eight and give it to one of my nieces a few years ago.

The second set, which I still have, is called First Love, by 1847 Rogers Bros., and was their best-selling pattern for many years. Here’s a picture because I’m too lazy to get the camera and go photograph my own:

first love silver

This pattern had a nice heaviness to it. It is a bit more ornate than I would choose for myself, probably, but I cherish it because it was my mother’s and the silverware we used on many occasions.

I wish I could show you a picture of the everyday dishes we had growing up. They were Melmac – I think either Texasware or Boontonware. Before Corelle, Melmac was the miracle dishware for 50s families with children who might break other, more fragile dishes. It was virtually indestructible and for all I know one of my siblings may still have a cup or saucer from the set. The thing that stands out about my family dishes is the color scheme. Some Melmac was white or cream with a pattern such as roses or wheat, but ours was resolutely solid colored, half in a very dark green and half in a deep dusty rose. The green stood the test of time better than the rose, considering my parents’ love of coffee, which tended to stain the rose cups. I never asked about it, but I think this was a very modern choice for my mother to have made.

I could go on about table setting and probably will, but it’s late and I’m very tired after a day at the church fair selling books.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Recipe for Thanksgiving

As a make-up for missing yesterday’s blog, here’s a recipe I mentioned earlier today that some people asked for. It comes from, I think, the 1975 edition of the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, with a few alterations.


2 lbs. sweet potatoes (recipe says “2 medium,” whatever “medium” means)

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/3 cup broken cashews (a little more wouldn’t hurt, you’re just going to buy a can and use the rest for snacks, right?)

1/4 tsp. ground ginger

1 15-oz. can peach slices in juice (original recipe called for a smaller can which is now hard to find)

3 tablespoons butter

Cook the sweet potatoes (see below for instructions). Cool, remove skins, and cut crosswise into thick pieces. Combine the brown sugar, cashews, and ginger in a small bowl. Drain peaches well. In a 10x6x2 inch backing dish, layer half each of the sweet potatoes, peach slices, and brown sugar mixture. Repeat layers until done. (Since everything is already cooked, don’t worry about size of pan if you don’t have the exact one called for.)

Dot with butter. Bake, covered (aluminum foil is fine if your dish doesn’t have a cover) in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Uncover, bake 10 minutes longer. Spoon the brown sugar syrup that has formed over the potatoes and peaches before serving. Serves 6 to 8.

Cooking sweet potatoes: for some reason I’ve always boiled them for this recipe but this year I may try baking. Anyway, to boil, wash the sweet potatoes and cut off ends and any obvious woody parts. Boil in lightly salted water to cover, 25-35 minutes. If you want to bake instead, it’s 375 degrees for 40-45 minutes. In either case you’ll want to allow yourself enough time for the sweet potatoes to cool before you peel and slice them. This recipe is a fine one to prepare the day before Thanksgiving up to the point of putting it in the oven. When traveling to someone else’s house I’ve had good luck either bringing it fully baked and reheating in microwave or, if arriving just before dinner, just doing the last 10 minutes of baking at the destination.

For another sweet potato variation, I tried this recipe from the Penzey's Spices catalog recently. It was good, but it made a huge amount so you’d have to reduce the recipe unless you have a real crowd, I think. Here is the link:Orange Spice Mashed Sweet Potatoes.

Friday Five: Thanksgiving

Thanks to Jan at RevGalBlogPals for this Friday Five:

The Cure
Lying around all day
with some strange new deep blue
weekend funk, I'm not really asleep
when my sister calls
to say she's just hung up
from talking with Aunt Bertha
who is 89 and ill but managing
to take care of Uncle Frank
who is completely bed ridden.
Aunt Bert says
it's snowing there in Arkansas,
on Catfish Lane, and she hasn't been
able to walk out to their mailbox.
She's been suffering
from a bad case of the mulleygrubs.
The cure for the mulleygrubs,
she tells my sister,
is to get up and bake a cake.
If that doesn't do it, put on a red dress.
--Ginger Andrews (from Hurricane Sisters)

So this Friday before Thanksgiving, think about Aunt Bert and how she'll celebrate Thanksgiving! And how about YOU?

1. What is your cure for the "mulleygrubs"?

Baking something is a pretty good cure; also cleaning out cupboards, organizing things and general tidying up.

2. Where will you be for Thanksgiving?

We’re going to my aunt and uncle’s house, and their daughter and her two teenage sons will be there too. I expect much hilarity.

3. What foods will be served? Which are traditional for your family?

Turkey from a local farm, mashed potatoes, stuffing and gravy; I’ll probably contribute homemade cranberry sauce, and my sweet potatoes with peaches and cashews; probably one or two other vegetables at least; several different pies! My childhood Thanksgivings are memorable for the abundance of two things, vegetables and pies. We also had a turkey probably twice the size of the one we’ll be eating next week. In Minnesota we had that green bean casserole, but that is not traditional here (and I don’t really miss it, but my kids would.)

1942-11 Mary Billings in her kitchen My grandmother in a photo taken November 1942, very possibly preparing Thanksgiving dinner.

4. How do you feel about Thanksgiving as a holiday?

I think it’s a great holiday, and even people who aren’t especially religious seem to get the spirit of gratitude on this day. I recognize that some American Indians have trouble with the historical part of it, on the other hand they have taught us much about how to be thankful for the bounty of this land and how to use it respectfully.

5. In this season of Thanksgiving, what are you grateful for?

My family, my home, my dog, my friends, the Internet, my local public library, farmers’ markets (and farmers, and fisherfolk), hope for a partial solution to the healthcare mess…that will do for a start.

BONUS: Describe Aunt Bert's Thanksgiving.

After her usual morning chores and making sure Frank was comfortably settled, with the parade on TV, Bert started preparing Thanksgiving dinner. This year they would just have a nice fat chicken roasted; even a small turkey would be too much for the two of them. She remembered the days when Frank would go out to the woods and bring back a wild turkey for Thanksgiving; sometimes he’d have time to go duck hunting and there’d be two or more birds on the table. Taking out the pan of cornbread she had prepared the day before and frying up a bit of Joe Smith’s homemade sausage for flavoring, she began preparing the stuffing, then put it aside when she remembered that she needed to bake a couple of pies first. Luckily, although he couldn’t be up and around any longer, Frank still had all his teeth so he could enjoy his favorite pecan pie with nuts from their own trees. She recalled fondly how her nieces had visited earlier in the fall with their children, and all had helped with the tree-shaking. It’s good for kids to learn that food doesn’t just come from the grocery store. She’s looking forward to their visiting at Christmas time; she told them not to try coming down from Chicago for the short Thanksgiving holiday. Now that the pie was in the oven, she could start peeling potatoes and making the creamed onions. And she mustn’t forget Frank’s favorite, the fried okra. Good thing she had plenty of okra in the freezer.

At last everything was ready, and at just the right time, since it was half-time of the Lions-Packers game Frank was avidly watching. Ever since his brother Earl had moved to Detroit to work on the line at General Motors, Frank had followed the Detroit sports teams along with him. Earl had died a couple of years back, and maybe it was just as well, with all the trouble his old employer was having; but Frank still rooted for the Lions, Tigers and Pistons. But, being a country music fan from childhood, Frank wasn’t too interested in the big Motown salute during half-time, so Bert could get him to turn off the TV and say grace. After the prayer, they had always gone around the table saying what they were thankful for. Frank says he’s thankful for Bert and all her care of him. Bert says she’s thankful for Frank too because he’s still good company after all these years. Then they tuck in to their Thanksgiving dinner.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A few things I'm thankful for today....

I'm thankful for a clean house and a clean refrigerator.
I'm thankful for a beautiful November day, bright blue skies, and not having to turn the heat up until the sun went down.
I'm thankful for finally realizing that the alternative instructions for heating Hannaford's Garlic Bread result in a much tastier product.
I'm thankful that our car, which in the morning seemed about to need another major repair, merely needed a bit of thoughtful attention and a good battery connection.
I'm thankful that I got an inspiration for a good blogpost, wrote it, and then realized how I could make it better ... more on that tomorrow.
I'm thankful I don't have to fill a certain number of column inches, so I can stop blogging now and go to bed early.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


is one of my problem areas, and another is not getting distracted from one task by another. So I'm going to blog today about some of my upcoming tasks and maybe by writing them down so publicly I can prioritize or at least check them off. I used to visit a website called There were people, and probably still are, who would post daily to-do lists that started with "Get up. Shower. Brush teeth. Get dressed..." I'm not making fun of them. I have been, if not quite there, pretty darn close at times in the past. But there is something a little funny about stopping to post the list on the Internet....As there is with what I'm doing. But I have an ulterior motive, as I realized I hadn't blogged today and it's after 11.

So, before December 1st (and in some cases quite a bit before) here's what I want to accomplish:

Write, compile, and send out a Thanksgiving issue of Speedwell Stories, my (mother's side) family history newsletter. (I do it by email.)

Complete acquisition, wrapping and mailing of Advent presents for Cordeliaknits and Sisterfilms.

Choose and record Christmas stories on disc for SF and mail them.

Mail the 2006 stories on disc to my niece for her daughters.

Prepare December blogposts (about the stories from 2007) in advance.

Have a potluck dessert party for family on Advent 1.

Finish getting ready for the church Christmas fair this Saturday -- I'm co-chairing the book room.

Seriously begin Christmas shopping; organize namedraw for Christmas Eve festivities with the extended family.

Clean my office. Do laundry. Organize guest room so that it will be hospitable for Sisterfilms and The Traveller when they come for Christmas.

Finish the library books I have out, then go on a library fast for a few weeks and read books I already own, including more of the Guardian 1000 Novels.

Catch up with my movie reviewing on Queuing Up.

Keep a few other promises I've made to various people.

I guess I'd better get some rest so I can get busy tomorrow!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do, or Do Without

That’s the old New England saying that I try to live by these days, with varying degrees of success. One thing we’ve certainly been better about most of the time is food wastage. I’ve fought a battle for about 40 years now with overly-optimistic buying, especially of fruits and vegetables. Since we came to Maine and live quite near the supermarket and farmers’ markets, it’s been a bit easier not to overbuy, but it still happens occasionally.

This occurred recently when pears were on sale at the supermarket – not just pears, but all varieties, so I bought a couple of each. However, they weren’t ripe, nor were the avocados I got at the same time. After a few days in our chilly kitchen had done nothing, I found a paper bag and put them in it with a slightly elderly apple. Unfortunately I’m one of those “out of sight, out of mind” people, and although I used some Comice pears in salads, some of the pears wound up unusable. At the same time a bag of apples was beginning to have the same problems. Today I decided it was time to take action, and I tinkered with a recipe for apple crisp and made this:


10 cups mixed pears and apples, peeled, cored and sliced (I had Cortland apples, and two each of Bosc and Red pears)
1 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 heaping teaspoon ground cinnamon (today, Penzey’s Indonesia Korintje cassia; cassia is what most of us think of as cinnamon)
1/2 cup water (could have done with a bit less as pears are very juicy when ripe)

1 cup quick-cooking oats (I just had “old-fashioned” oats, no problem)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup packed brown sugar (light brown)
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degree C).
Place the sliced fruit in a 9x13 inch pan. Mix the white sugar, 1 tablespoon flour and ground cinnamon together, and sprinkle over apples. Pour water evenly over all.
Combine the oats, 1 cup flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and melted butter together. (I think it works better if you combine the dry things well first, while you’re melting the butter.) Crumble evenly over the fruit mixture.
Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for about 45 minutes.

This goes very well with your favorite locally-made vanilla ice cream. I’m thinking that another time, especially if I had more pears, I would experiment a little with the spices, since I think ginger goes well with pears and would add something.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Living on the Edge

During the many years that we lived in Land of 10,000 Lakes, we were more or less in the middle of the Central Time Zone. Now, however, we are close to the eastern edge of the Eastern Time Zone. This has several ramifications, most of which I experience without fully understanding them. In other words, I’m pretty much talking through my hat here.

However…. I hardly ever watch television any more. We just have “Limited Cable” – enough to keep from having to send Onkel Hankie Pants up on the roof, but that’s not the only reason. Chiefly, I have not been able to get used to the East Coast version of prime time, which doesn’t start till 8:00 pm. Things I used to watch at 9 are now on at 10, and the ten o’clock news comes on at eleven! Can’t be doing with that, so I just skip it.

Telephone conversations with my daughters in the Central and Pacific Time Zones can be problematic. I have finally internalized the fact that Pacific Time is 3 hours earlier than here, not later. It just seems counter-intuitive.

But of course the main thing is daylight, or at this season, the lack of it. Fortunately I do not suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or I’d really be in trouble. Postponing the end of Daylight Saving Time until November 1st seems to have made things worse, not better, because we’ve had less time to get used to the early darkness. Yesterday we got the tail-end of Ida rainstorm, and it was pitch dark outside at 4:15 pm. Rusty’s after-supper walk is always in the dark now (I hope for no pickup duties on this walk, since he seldom wishes to do his “bidniss” under a streetlight). Oddly, I find that the early darkness does not help me get to bed at a reasonable hour, rather it skews my perception of time so that I find myself staggering off to bed close to midnight.

I just checked, and according to the Weather Channel, we actually had 5 minutes more daylight here than Minneapolis (but 29 minutes less than Berkeley, CA). However, the sun rose and set about half an hour later in Minneapolis, giving the illusion of a longer day.

People in Downeast Maine (Eastport, for example), which is not only North but East of us, have it even worse. Many of them would like to see Maine adopt the Atlantic Time Zone, used by our cousins across the border in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, or just maintain Daylight Saving Time all year round. I have to admit that I also dislike the days in early spring after we “spring ahead,” because my preference would be always to get up with the sun, but sometimes I have to get up ahead of it, especially when DST has just begun. I suppose there is no solution that will please everybody. And now it’s time for bed.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

What’s Wrong with This Picture?

Walking the dog around our neighborhood is usually a pleasant experience, and is demonstrably good for my blood pressure. But last night and today, I came back from our walks more exercised in mind than in body. Here’s what I brought home – one of many I tore off telephone poles on our street and three of the side streets. (And I’m not one bit sorry I did!)

What's wrong with this picture

What’s wrong with this picture?

  • Whoever posted it has a staple gun and access to a copier (and probably the Internet for the picture), but is sadly lacking in cojones. No name, address, phone number, or even an organization name appears anywhere on the flier.
  • I don’t want to seem alarmist or paranoid, but posting a picture of our President, dressed like Che Guevara, with such a simple slogan invites the question, HOW? I doubt this person has impeachment, lawsuits, or elections in mind.
  • Socialism? Please. If President Obama really had us on the road to socialism, he wouldn’t be getting nearly as much flak from commentators on the left as he is from those on the right.

I think the anonymity of these fliers bothers me more than anything. If you or I write a letter to the editor, put up a lawn sign, affix a bumper sticker to our car, sign a petition, attend a rally or speak up at a meeting, we have the courage to stand behind our convictions. The positions we advocate can be argued with; or jobs, our associations and our reputations can be used by others to judge whether they believe or agree with us. But when I and my neighbors see this poster, we don’t even know whether the person who put it up lives in our neighborhood, our town, or our state. We have no way of knowing whether the person is a high school dropout with time on his hands, a college student conducting a sociology experiment, or a nut with a gun who might start targeting houses where the car in the driveway still sports an Obama sticker.

This is the second time similar fliers have appeared in our neighborhood; I never saw the first set, which were removed by other members of our neighborhood association who felt they were racist and created an atmosphere of fear that we do not want in our diverse small town neighborhood.

Our local police, contacted about the earlier posters, said there was nothing they could legally do. I plan to urge my Council member to introduce an ordinance stating that all signs, posters, or fliers put up on the public ways must have visible the name and address or phone number of the person posting them. Anonymous hate- and fear-mongering has no place in this or any community.

(Lest my readers think I’m marooned in a sea of right-wing nutcases, let me hasten to add that I live in one of the most liberal districts of one of the most liberal towns in Maine, judging from our last two elections; and I also believe that most of the Republicans in town are people of good will and good sense.)

I can thank Mr. Anonymous for one thing, though. I didn’t have to rack my brains for something to blog about today!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Five: Friday the Thirteenth!

Friday 13th The very erudite Sophia at RevGalBlogPals (I think she can really read the Greek) tells us: “The fear of Friday the 13th is called paraskevidekatriaphobia, a word derived from the concatenation of the Greek words Paraskeví (Παρασκευή) (meaning Friday), and dekatreís (δεκατρείς) (meaning thirteen), attached to phobía (φοβία) (meaning fear). The term triskaidekaphobia derives from the Greek words "tris", meaning 'three', "kai", meaning 'and', and "deka", meaning 'ten'. the whole word means three and ten. The word was derived in 1911 and first appeared in a mainstream source in 1953. (Wikipedia)
With thanks to my dear spouse TechnoGuy for the great suggestion, it's a Friday the 13th Friday Five!”
1. How is this Friday the 13th looking for you?

Pretty peaceful. There’s a possibility Onkel Hankie Pants will be released early from work today, so we might do some errands in the afternoon. No special plans, though.
2. Have you ever had anything unlucky happen on Friday the 13th?

Not that I can recall. But then, I consider myself a very fortunate person.
3. Did your family of origin embrace or scorn superstitions?

Somewhere in the middle, I guess. Although, if we said “I wish it were Christmas, or my birthday, or next week…” my mother always said “Don’t wish your life away.”
4. Are there any unique or amusing ones from your family, region, or ethnic background?

My father had some that had to do with boats, although I’m not sure how seriously he took them. You mustn’t paint a boat blue; you mustn’t say “pig” on a boat; and whistling on board might whistle up a wind that you wouldn’t want.
5. Do you love or hate horror movies like "Friday the 13th"?

I guess I’d have to say hate, as I haven’t seen a horror movie of that type since Monster from the Black Lagoon over 50 years ago. I just find them boring, not scary.

Here’s hoping you all have a lucky Friday the 13th! Thanks to PixelPackingMama on Flickr for the photo! And thanks a lot to Sophia for giving me an easy way to fulfill my NaBloPoMo pledge today!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Trampling Out the Vintage

200px-JohnSteinbeck_TheGrapesOfWrath When I was in eighth grade, our English teacher, Mr. Robert McConville, chose a novel for each of us to read and report on. The one he chose for me was John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, and it was a wonderful choice for me. It had a very strong influence on my politics, and also became one of the novels I would remember always. (I did reread it a few years ago and felt just as strongly.) In 1991, the Steppenwolf Theater’s production of a play based on the novel was shown on PBS and I watched that, but for some reason I had never seen the John Ford film until this evening.

I’m not going to do an exhaustive review just now, but wanted to put down a few thoughts (and also get my daily blogpost in before bedtime!)

  • What actors do we have now who can convey sincere idealism as well as Henry Fonda and James Stewart did? Is this something that 21st century actors are even asked to do?
  • In the opening scene where Tom Joad (Fonda) hitches a ride to get home and insists on telling the driver he's been in prison, as he leaves the truck he tells the driver he was in the penitentiary for "homicide" which he pronounces "home-icide." Shortly afterwards he and Preacher Casey are told about the real "home-icide" by Muley -- the sharecroppers' homes being knocked down by tractors.
  • In the book, Weedpatch Camp (run by the USDA) is presented as an oasis in the middle of the Joad family’s journey. In the movie, it’s called Wheat Patch Camp, appears near the end of the film as almost the Promised Land (although the family leaves it for the promise of cotton-picking work in Fresno).
  • Throughout the film I kept hearing Woody Guthrie's Ballad of Tom Joad and Vigilante Man in my head.
  • The supporting actors in the film looked so realistic as starving migrants that I was surprised when I looked them up and discovered I’d seen them in other films. I do wonder about some of the extras, whether they were real “Okies and Arkies.”
  • Speaking of which, when OHP and I were in the Monterey Bay area of California (near Steinbeck’s hometown of Salinas), there was a local establishment called “Tressie’s Okie and Arkie Tavern.” I never went there, though. It sounded a little scary. But since I’m talking about 1971-72 here, someone much like Tom Joad could well have been the owner.
  • The term “Great Migration” means a lot of different things in U.S. history. The first was the Puritan migration to New England, which began in 1630 and about which much has been written. The Great Migration of African-Americans from the South to the northern industrial cities has been the subject of several books. I’m thinking that I would love to read a family/social history of some of the real people who, like the Joads, traveled Route 66 from Oklahoma, Arkansas and the rest of the Dust Bowl to California in the 1930s. I wonder how things turned out for them after all their suffering?
  • It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t see this film a long time ago, since it was only digitally restored in 2003, so a print seen earlier (according to the extra feature about the restoration) would have been of much lower picture quality.
    I would definitely recommend both the book and the film for understanding of an important period in our history, and also for their literary and cinematic artistry.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans’ Day: Remembering a Relative

The Spanish-American War, like all our country’s wars up till World War II, saw more U.S. servicemen die of disease than of wounds sustained in combat. One of those servicemen was my great-granduncle, George Warren Hodgins. This is some of his story. (Below, a photo of George published in the history cited here.)

George Warren Hodgins

George Warren Hodgins was born in Calais, Maine, on July 17, 1864, the eighth of 12 children born to William Hodgins and his wife Eliza Nason, and the fourth to be born an American citizen after the family’s move across the river from St. Stephen, New Brunswick. My guess is that he was named for a family friend, as no earlier Georges or Warrens are to be found in either family. Four years later, my mother’s grandfather, Allen Drew Hodgins, was born, and it seems safe to assume that Allen looked up to his older brother, since he named a son Warren after him. (There are several indications that G. W. Hodgins went by Warren both inside and outside the family.)

Warren’s father was a ship carpenter and also had a small farm. Thus, according to Warren’s biography in Worcester in the Spanish War (1905), his boyhood “was given to farm work and the public schools.” The 1880 census found Warren, age 16, “at home;” he is also said to have worked for a time in a shop in Calais. William Hodgins was evidently prosperous enough to send several of his children to some post-secondary education, and Warren was one of these. At 19, in the winter of 1883-84, he attended Eastman Commercial College in Rochester, NY; but it appears that his aptitudes and interests lay elsewhere, for in 1885 he began learning the machinist’s trade at a shop in Worcester, MA. He remained there until 1896; his older brother, John Nason Hodgins, also lived in Worcester with his family, and both brothers were connected with the local Fire Department. In 1896 Warren returned to the farm in Calais for about 18 months, perhaps to help his aging father; he returned to work in Worcester March 1, 1898, and on April 29 joined Company H, Wellington Rifles, 2nd Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteer Militia.

The book Worcester in the Spanish War, in which I found much of my information, twice mentions this poignant anecdote: as he was in the process of enlistment, Warren was asked for the name of a friend or next-of-kin who should be notified in case of his illness or death. He replied, “That is a good idea, for I have no expectations of coming home alive.”

The regiment, now styled as part of the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry, U. S. Volunteers, traveled first to Framingham for some training and then South by train, spending some of their training time in Lakeland, FL, and later in Ybor City. As June wore on, they at last embarked on the vessel for Cuba; they landed June 23rd.

It was only a short time after their arrival that the company was called to assist at the Battle of Las Guasimas, June 24th. This battle is generally characterized as a cavalry action (including Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders) so it’s not clear what part the Rifles played in it. The event did give rise to this amusing anecdote: “When the alarm for Las Guasimas fight called them from their bivouac, they marched away carrying their provisions in all sorts of ways. Private Hodgins had the most of his hardtack strung on a string and the streamer of tack was suspended from his bayonet as he threaded the Cuban mazes.” (Worcester in the Spanish War, p. 183)

Speaking of hardtack, bad food and water probably killed at least as many soldiers as mosquitoes did. The rations included pork and beef that the troops called “embalmed;” hardtack; and canned tomatoes. However, at least the troops in Cuba could take advantage of some of the local fruits, with mangoes, limes, and other delicacies available for the picking according to contemporary accounts. By the way, the month’s pay for a private like Warren Hodgins was $15.00.

Sp-Am War Memorial Worcester Mass

The city of Worcester has a memorial plaque for the members of the Wellington Rifles, shown above (click on the photo to enlarge it and you will see Warren Hodgins’ name in the first column). It lists the battles of El Caney and San Juan Hill and the Siege of Santiago as actions in which the Rifles took part. Having arrived in Cuba in late June, much of the regiment would be on its way home by August (the eastern half of Cuba had surrendered in mid-July but the troops were kept on the island because those at home feared the spread of yellow fever.) But Warren Hodgins’ premonition had been correct. He was too ill to travel home with his regiment and had to be left behind at the field hospital in Siboney. Soon, the hospital ship Missouri arrived to carry the sick soldiers to a hospital that had been set up at Montauk, Long Island. (Again, fear of yellow fever was probably the rationale for locating the hospital in a fairly remote location for that time.) Warren was taken on board, but died soon after, probably on September 3, 1898. (I’ve seen several dates, but this seems to be the most likely.) He was buried at sea.

Hospital Ship Missouri painted by Jacobsen

(The Missouri, painted by Jacobsen. ) The Missouri docked at Montauk and unloaded its passengers on September 10, 1898, as described in the New York Times, which listed the names of those who had died on the voyage, including Warren Hodgins. Camp Wikoff, the site of the hospital at Montauk, was a hellhole, understaffed and poorly supplied. Warren may have escaped even further suffering by dying on board the Missouri.

There were four principal diseases that killed soldiers in the Spanish-American War: dysentery, typhoid, malaria and yellow fever. I do not know which of these accounted for Warren’s death; I hope to obtain records from the National Archives someday to learn a bit more.

Politically speaking, the Spanish-American War was not our finest hour. It was precipitated by the sinking of the battleship Maine in Havana harbor, an event about the causes of which there is still controversy. Americans were urged into war by William Randolph Hearst’s jingoistic Yellow Journalism. Why did Warren and his comrades in arms enlist? Was it patriotism, a wish for adventure, a desire to be one of the gang? Perhaps, at least for some, it was the idea that Cubans, Puerto Ricans and Filipinos, though in some ways very different from machinists and store clerks in Worcester, should have the same rights of self-government that Americans enjoyed. Over a hundred years later, there has been some, though not enough, progress toward that ideal, and Warren played his part.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Reading Report

Books to the ceiling, books to the sky.
My piles of books are a mile high.
How I love them!
How I need them!
I'll have a long beard by the time I read them.

≈ Arnold Lobel

To date this year I have read 151 books; this includes two books that I read a significant portion of but did not finish and do not plan to revisit. I would like to reach 200, but I’m not sure I’ll make it.

Of the books, 94 were mystery/detective/suspense novels or collections of short stories in that genre. This is partly because I have two “projects” or challenges going on in that genre; one is to read all the Edgar Best Novel Winners, in chronological order (they’ve been given out since 1954, and I’m up to the late 90s now); the other is to read at least one mystery, by an author new to me, from every state in the Union and Washington, D.C. I just finished a book from Michigan a couple of days ago. The other reason, besides that I like mysteries, is my participation in the DorothyL listserv, where I am constantly reminded of old favorites who have new books and l also learn about authors I’d not been aware of.

Nine of the books were fantasy or speculative fiction; most of those were by Terry Pratchett. The two books I didn’t finish also fell into that category.

Fiction of various other kinds accounted for 30 books; I also read one autobiography, two memoirs, and 15 other non-fiction books.

The third challenge I’ve set for myself is to complete reading the Guardian 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read (I’ve done a recount and it’s actually 1070, since they lump all Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series together as well as some other trilogies, quartets and other series). Optimistically believing that I might have 25 years of reading in which to do this, I calculated that I should be reading 40 of the novels per year (since I had already read a couple of hundred or so during the course of my reading life). So far this year I have read 21 novels from the list.

So, between now and December 31, my goal is to read 48 1/2 more books (I’ve already made good progress on #152), of which 19 ought to be from the Guardian’s list. Since I have some other things I want to do and/or have to do, I may not reach that goal. But I will enjoy trying!

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Suggestion for Conde Nast

By now anybody who follows food writing knows that the November issue of Gourmet magazine is its last. The website will remain up for an unspecified time and some recipes will be available on another website, but the magazine which made foodies of so many is no more.

I would like to propose to Conde Nast, the magazine’s publishing company, that they follow the example of their other publication, The New Yorker, and make available the entire run of the magazine on DVD. I received the complete New Yorker on DVD a few years ago for Christmas and it is a wonderful product – easy to search, easy to read on the computer screen, and if you wish, you can print out a story to peruse in your favorite armchair. Not only can one read the first publication of works like E. Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain, John Hersey’s Hiroshima, and articles by John McPhee and Calvin Trillin, but one can also enjoy looking at the cartoons, seeing what was playing on Broadway or who was appearing in nightclubs at any time during the magazine’s history. And the advertisements are a lot of fun to read as well. (Since the New Yorker is still being published, an extra DVD is offered every year to update the set.)

I would so love to have Gourmet in this format. I know that Google Books now has the complete run of Life and New York, Ebony and Mother Jones, and it’s nice to have them available for free (although I find their site less pleasant to use than the DVD New Yorker), but why shouldn’t Conde Nast make a little more money off Gourmet? A few other magazines have also been issued as sets of DVDs – Rolling Stone, MAD, Playboy (the 1950s issues) and National Lampoon; I think National Geographic issued a DVD archive a few years ago too.

Well, that’s my bright idea for the day. Too bad I don’t know anybody at Conde Nast. Are there any old magazines you’d like to see on DVD?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Good Day at Church

I have to confess that since we moved to Maine and joined Big Taupe Church, my attendance has not been the kind that would get me a nice little lapel pin at the end of the year. It’s partly my introvert self having trouble with a church four times as large as my old one, and partly a sort of spiritual “meh” that has more to do with me than with any particular church and finds me far too often succumbing to the lure of reading the Times in my bathrobe.

Today, though, we were scheduled to usher so we had to show up, and I’m really glad we did. I might have known things would go well when I was able to pin on my usher’s boutonniere without stabbing myself. When Twin Cities organist and composer Paul Manz died recently, I thought about suggesting to our organist that he play some of Manz’s work. I didn’t have to do it, though, as our prelude this morning was Manz’s Partita on St. Anne – a tribute to one fine organist from another.

We’re in the middle of a three-week series on the Book of Ruth, and the children’s time featured a puppet show telling the story of Ruth and Naomi. The puppets, made by a church member and recently donated, were near life-sized so that I could see them even from my usher’s station near the entrance doors. I hope we’ll see those puppets again!

In our denomination, the sermon is central to worship, and today we heard a sermon that spoke to my condition and, from what I heard, to others’ as well. Today’s Scripture reading was Ruth 2, and the sermon title was Gleanings. The minister began by quoting Karl Barth, that one should write sermons with the Bible in one hand and the daily newspaper in the other. She then expertly related the themes of Ruth to three major headlines of this past week: the repeal by 52% of the voters of Maine’s same-sex marriage law; the tragic shootings at Fort Hood; and the announcement of double-digit unemployment. She gave us a word of comfort, a word of warning, and a word of exhortation – and most of all, a word of hope.

Taking up the offering is the part of ushering I dread, since we use those baskets on sticks and I’m usually afraid I’ll poke somebody with them. But today I was able to forget myself because the choir was singing Ralph Vaughan Williams’ setting of Walt Whitman’s Dirge for Two Veterans. Like the sermon series, the offertory had been planned weeks or months in advance, in this case for the Sunday nearest to Veterans’ Day. As happens surprisingly often, the music was exactly appropriate for this particular day (and beautifully performed, as well). As the service drew to its close, I noticed some welcome changes – we sang Marty Haugen’s “As the grains of wheat” as the offertory response, and the choir replaced the benediction response that I’d been getting a little sick of with the familiar three-fold Amen.

In the afternoon, I returned to church for an Ecclesiastical Council. This is the next-to-last hoop to be jumped through for candidates seeking ordination in the United Church of Christ. (The last one is to be called to a church or other ministry setting.) I’ve been to several of these in the past, but this one was special. My friend A., the candidate, was one of the girls who made friends with me when I arrived at a new high school midway through my senior year. I’ve always remembered something from the description under her yearbook picture: “Striving for: servantship in a world of dirty feet.” After college she took a graduate degree in Christian Education at the Lutheran seminary in Chicago (where a cousin of Onkel Hankie Pants was one of her professors), then returned to Maine, raised three fine sons with her husband, and worked in Christian education for two UCC churches and then the Maine Conference. At our 40th high school reunion she told us she was returning to seminary to prepare for ordination.

At an Ecclesiastical Council, the candidate reads her/his ordination paper, which includes, among other things, a statement of faith, a discussion of one’s call to ministry, and further statements about the candidate’s theology and understanding of ministry. The candidate can then be questioned by the clergy and lay delegates and then a vote is taken. A.’s paper was excellent, as I knew it would be, but I was even more impressed by her answers to some difficult questions posed (not in a hostile manner) by the delegates. Of course, she was unanimously approved, and some church in these parts will be very fortunate to get her as their pastor and teacher. I went home rejoicing, feeling much better about the church both universal and particular, its future, and my part in it.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Measure Twice….

I’ve not much to say today, having been out to the church bazaars, craft fairs and book sale; shopping plumb wears me out. But I thought I would show off the results of a little of my earlier shopping.


My old red plastic measuring cups were becoming less and less useful, so for my birthday in July I requested a set of stainless steel measures. We started looking for them and I could not find what I wanted although I searched a couple of specialty cooking stores as well as various other places. Finally a month or so ago I decided I’d have to go online, and I found what I wanted but couldn’t quite make up my mind to spend the money. A couple of weeks ago we had occasion to go to City by the Sea and its suburbs, and I did some shopping at the Christmas Tree Shops. There I found the black measuring cups in the photo – made by Farberware and on sale for under $2.00. Too good to pass up! Only a few days later, though, I was notified by that the price of the stainless steel set had gone down, so I ordered them and they swiftly arrived at my door. You can probably see what’s special about this set: it has not only the standard measures of 1 cup, 1/2 cup, 1/3 cup and 1/4 cup, but also measures for 2/3 cup, 3/4 cup, and (the one I can’t do without) 1/8 cup.

1/8 cup, as Miss Furlong taught us in eighth grade home ec class, is the same as 2 tablespoons. I strongly suspect that knowing that, and that there are three teaspoons to a tablespoon, are some of the most useful facts I learned all that year. There are several recipes I make that call for either white sauce or a roux, and usually that 1/8 cup of flour is the right amount for something that feeds two people.

The first general purpose cookbook I bought for myself was a paperback edition of The Fannie Farmer Boston Cooking School Cookbook. (It was probably the 1959 edition.) Miss Farmer was known as the Goddess of Level Measurements. She may not have been the first to dispense with “butter the size of a walnut” but she certainly popularized the system most American recipes use to this day. I bought the book in a little drugstore in Waltham, Mass. during the summer after my freshman year in college, when I was sharing an apartment with two SDS members. The apartment was on a one-way street leading to the local hospital, and across the street from a body shop and a moving van company; even without a radio we were not deprived of Sergeant Pepper, because the downstairs neighbors played WBZ’s Top 40 well into the night. I know we must have cooked things from that book, but I can’t remember what; the constant noise of sirens, hammers, moving vans and rock’n’roll must have driven them all from my head. But I still remain loyal to the concept of measurement for baking and some cooking, and I wouldn’t think of measuring dry ingredients in a liquid measuring cup or vice versa.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday Five: Something New

Songbird at RevGalBlogPals tells us: “There's a new baby on my street, a double PK whose Mom and Dad are Methodist pastors and church planters. I'm hoping to go over and meet her today. I love new babies, the way they smell and their sweet little fingers and toes. Little K has me thinking about all the new things that please us with their shiny freshness.
Please share with us five things you like *especially* when they are new.”

1. KITTENS! Puppies too, I suppose, but I have more experience with kittens. Since the passing of our cat Heidi last summer, we have been a cat-less household for longer than we’ve ever been during our whole marriage. Heidi and Rusty never got along very well, so this seems like a wise plan, and yet, we occasionally catch ourselves wistfully wondering whether a new kitten (well, 8 weeks old, as our state law requires) could get used to Rusty and he to it and that there could be peaceful coexistence or even friendship.

2. APPLIANCES! Since we moved into this house in 2005, we’ve replaced the washing machine, the clothes dryer,GE JBP66HSS ELECTRIC RANGE and the refrigerator; most likely the stove will be next, although I both hope and fear that its replacement is a while in the future still. I still appreciate all the newer appliances, but when they were really new and shiny I appreciated them even more, making excuses to wash and dry things, trying out new arrangements for the refrigerator shelves….

3. NEW PENS, NOTEBOOKS, ETC! I like these far, far too much. At this point, I am making myself use up the pages of old notebooks to write my first drafts of blog posts (I generally do FFs off the cuff, but the others I write in longhand first), because I have so many lying around. It’s a little easier to feed my addiction to new pens because they do get used up or lost/misplaced regularly. I like gel pens mostly, with black fine point as the default. But sometimes it’s fun to write with a thicker blue line, or red or green or purple. This picture is from a blog that I’m going to have to start reading because it seems to be all about pens and stationery!pens A trip to Staples is both a joy and a struggle for me as I try to resist buying things I don’t really need, but really, really want.

4. NEW BOOKS! New to me, at least. But even though I have no problem with used books and library books, there is still something extra special about crisp-paged, brightly-colored, hot-off-the-press new books. The new book shelf at the library is great, too. This photo is from the Legislative Library in New Brunswick, Canada. I'd be interested in that rubber duck book.bookshelf

5. NEW SLIPPERS! I’d really like some. Pretty soon they’d be old slippers and I’d still like them even then. Wicked Good slippers from Bean’s, size 11, color immaterial. New shoes are nice too, but sometimes problematic because they can need to be broken in. But new slippers are comfy and warm right away.

I have to say, I do like new babies, for all the reasons Songbird mentions; but as I’ve seen with my own children, the wonder of their babyhood just keeps getting better and better as they grow. I might like to visit those baby days for a little while, but not forever.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Skiving Off on a Slightly Snowy Day

I woke up with a bit of a headache today -- perhaps because I stayed up too late finishing a book -- and the real blogging today will take place at my other blog, Queuing Up, where I'm still trying to catch up on my movie reviews. But, for your looking pleasure, here is a picture of what I saw when I opened the blinds in my "office" this morning, and a little mood music:

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I Remember Mama

Today would have been my mother’s eighty-fourth birthday, had she not succumbed to colon cancer at about the age I am now. (And before you ask, I get my screenings and all is well so far.) So today, I remember Mama.

She was the sixth child and third daughter born to my grandparents, who ended up with ten children, five of each. She was the tallest of the girls, getting her height and Roman nose from her father, her dark hair and eyes from her mother, and a gentle spirit from both of them. Annie Ellen was named for her maternal grandmother, and her father used to sing her the mournful Stephen Foster song, “Gentle Annie.”

Annie started first grade (there was no kindergarten in town then) when she was still 4 years old. I believe it was at Coombs School in the village, where she also graduated from high school in 1942. Here’s a photo of her as a child, age 7, with the family’s then-home in the background:

Annie Billings 24 Nov 1932 Fisher Road house cropped

Growing up on a dairy farm, Annie had both indoor and outdoor chores. She helped deliver milk by bicycle and, after learning to drive, by pickup truck, and learned cooking and baking from her mother – she always had a light hand with pastry, and I recall her telling me about making a chocolate cream pie for Easter shortly after her youngest sister was born. She learned to sew, and also made a little money cleaning houses or doing child care for people in the village. But there was time for study and fun as well – she played basketball in high school (“just girls’ rules” she told me modestly) and was an excellent student. In fact, she was valedictorian of her high school class, but again being modest, she pointed out that by graduation, “There were only seven of us.”1942 or earlier Mama's class at Coombs High School, Bowdoinham This school photo is a little confusing to me; is it a class photo or an all-high-school photo, and if the latter, why is neither of her brothers who were two years older and younger, respectively, in the picture? She is fourth from right in the third row.

Graduating in the early months of World War II, (here’s a photo dated 1940)Annie Billings 1940 , Annie went to work at the nearby shipyard. I don’t know exactly what she did or what her wages were, but I have a short-lived diary that my grandmother kept a few months earlier in which she marvels that two of Mama’s brothers were going to make 25 cents an hour doing shipyard work in Portland. It’s quite possible Mama made even less, but that it seemed like a lot of money then.

It was after the war, I think, that she met my father, whose stepfather lived up the road from my grandparents, but who had been away in the National Guard and then the Army since 1940. They were married June 27, 1947, she in a navy blue suit. We have no wedding photos. Their first home was an apartment in downtown Brunswick – the building is still there and the view wouldn’t be much different today if we could get passenger rail back to Brunswick again!1947 View of Brunswick railroad station from Petroffs' first apartment

Although she had had some experience cooking, she had at least one “bride’s kitchen disaster,” when she mistakenly added vanilla to a beef stew instead of Gravymaster. She always claimed that they ate it anyway.

Shortly, Mama and Daddy moved to a rented house in Bowdoinham. Rural electrification was just getting going there, so shortly after my birth in the year after their marriage, my father paid someone $5.00 to install one electric light and one socket in the house.

A veteran’s bonus enabled my parents to buy land just north of my grandfather’s farm, where a previous dwelling had burned down. They began building a house there, and my father rejoined the National Guard for some extra money. The Korean War began in 1950, and his unit was called up for training in Georgia. Soon Mama and I were on a train to Georgia (Camp Stewart as it then was). Brother #1 was born in Savannah, and we then moved to Fort Hancock at Sandy Hook, NJ, where my father decided to transfer to the Regular Army. Based on later memories of hearing the murmur of my parents’ voices as they discussed everything after we children were in bed, I’m sure my mother had input into that decision, which was to be instrumental in giving her a very different life than she had probably expected.

Three more children (including twins) and several more moves (including two tours in Germany) would become part of Annie’s life before she and my father could return to Maine for good when he retired from the Army in 1965. I think that the way my mother approached all this had a huge beneficial effect on our own view of our childhood as Army brats.

Through the alumni group of the high school I attended in Germany, I get links to websites and descriptions of books and films about the children of military men (and now women). I usually find it difficult to relate to these items because they keep talking about all the sacrifices we made. That’s not the way I saw it at all, and in large part that’s due to my mother’s example. She, like me, was definitely an introvert. Very possibly she would have been perfectly happy to stay in her hometown, socializing mostly with family and a few old friends. Instead she got a life with frequent moves, long separations from family, wide differences in housing, and frequent husbandly absences. Yet she seemed to take it all in stride, never complaining or seeming put-upon and viewing each move cheerfully as a new opportunity. So by and large, we took our cue from her and enjoyed our peripatetic life.

It was hard work, I know, raising five children on a non-com’s pay. Mama made most of the clothes for herself, my sister and me, and I even remember her sewing striped t-shirts for my brothers. She often, if not always, starched and ironed my father’s uniforms to save the laundry fees. We seldom went out to eat, and nearly all meals were made from scratch – and whether it was steak and home-made French fries on payday, or corn pudding with hot dogs cut up in it at the end of the month, it was all delicious. Yet even when she was ‘right out straight’ she never acted the exhausted martyr. There always seemed to be time for coffee and a chat with a neighbor, reading one of her favorite historical novels, quizzing me on Words of the Champions, or teaching herself New Math so she could help us with our homework.

I haven’t come nearly to the end of all I could say about my mother, but lest this be so long no one will want to read it I’ll stop now. Here’s one of my favorite pictures of Mama enjoying a temporary rest. Maybe she’s resting now in heaven, but I have a feeling she might be rearranging the furniture.1954 06 A much needed rest

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Going to the Movies with My Brother

1954 Stephen and Nikki are reading, El Paso, Texas

Brother #1 and me, a couple of years before we started going to movies together.

I have a vague recollection of being taken to a drive-in movie by my mother and one of her brothers when I was 6 or 7, but my first real memories of going to the movies go back to 1956, when we moved to the Hainerberg housing area in Wiesbaden. Our apartment was on Mississippistrasse, which may have been close to the outer edge of the housing area at that time. My memory is that it was at the top of a hill with the PX and Post Theater at the bottom of the hill. About halfway down, there was a Bread and Milk Station where I was sometimes sent on errands for my mother.

The hill is long and steep as I look back on it, but it really probably wasn’t that bad, since Brother #1 and I could walk down and back by ourselves to go to the movies. (Yes, we were free-range kids!) Fifty cents would buy both our tickets and leave twenty cents over for candy. I don’t remember ever getting popcorn; I guess we just preferred candy.

When we started doing this, Brother #1 was five and I was eight. I’m sure we always went to matinee performances, but I don’t recall any specifically-for-kids movies except for Walt Disney’s Song of the South. My parents must have exercised some oversight over our choices, since, while I recall seeing trailers for The Rose Tattoo, Tea and Sympathy, and The Bad Seed, I never saw the actual movies. But here are some of the ones we did see: Beyond Mombasa – my brother loved movies about Africa, and for some reason this title stuck in my head, but I’m sure we saw several others like it. We also saw Something of Value – which I suspect would not get a PG-13 rating nowadays.

Bundle of Joy – Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher in a comedy about “unwed motherhood,” 50s-style

Tammy and the Bachelor – more Debbie Reynolds, but I had forgotten that “the Bachelor” is played by Leslie Nielsen!

Friendly Persuasion – Indiana Quakers in the Civil War, with Anthony Perkins and Gary Cooper

Kismet, The King and I, and Oklahoma – three of the great movie musicals. My brother still tells of being snookered into going to see Oklahoma because “It’s about cowboys.”

The last time I can remember going to a movie with my brother was in 1964, and again, it was at a Post Theater – this time at Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart-Moehringen. We hadn’t been there very long and the theater was showing The Longest Day (starring my pre-teen heart-throb, Fabian!) There was a long line to get in, and standing near us was a middle-aged buck sergeant who told us he wanted to see the film because he had been in the D-Day Landings himself (after all, it was only twenty years in the past then). He explained his low rank by having spent some years as a civilian before returning to the service. Ah, Sgt. Gnospelius, where are you now?

Now that my brother and I live near each other again, perhaps we should make a date to take in a movie together once more; I bet we’ll have just as much fun as we did 50+ years ago, but I know it will cost a lot more.