Archive for December, 2009

‘There’s a Tree in the Pool’

December 31, 2009

Sorry this post has been delayed. Explanation follows.

A full house on Christmas Eve, gifts Christmas morning, dinner prep, Anna’s arrival on Northwest just as reports were surfacing about the bomber with the chemicals in his underwear aboard a different Northwest flight, Christmas dinner, tea with friend one day, lunch with a friend of Anna’s on another, a trip to her old stomping grounds in New London.

It was all enjoyable until Tuesday, which was one of the coldest and probably the windiest I’ve experienced. The temp never went above 16, and the weather service reported gusts of more than 40 mph. Wind chills stayed in the negative range all day. We were shivering and watching the trees blow around and heard a report that one blast knocked over a tree that fell on a postal truck, killing the woman driving it. So sad.

Anna’s college friend came for lunch despite the cold and wind. We had finished our soup and were working on sandwiches when Larry, who had just come in from walking the resident boarder dog, called me from the kitchen. I thought, “What’s so important? And why can’t he just tell me?” I excused myself and walked to the window.

There to my utter horror was the top three quarters of an enormous pine that sits on our property line lying across our neighbor’s above ground pool with the crown sticking out on the side closest to the house. Guy and Kelli take unbelievable care of their pool – it never has so much as a leaf in it, and he built an elegant railing to go around it that they re-stain every spring. The railing was spared, thank God.

Of course I lost my appetite. Picked up the phone and called them – no answer, left a message. Fixed tea for everyone, which seemed to calm my nerves a bit. After Anna’s friend left, I tracked down a number for Kelli’s mom. She answered and as soon as I said, “This is Liz,” she said that Guy had already called his insurance agent. We’re pretty sure that what’s left of the tree is on our property, but all the damage is on theirs.

Not long after our neighbor on the other side came walking over wearing just a long-sleeved T-shirt and a pair of cords – no hat, not gloves, no coat. I ran out and yelled, “Mike, put on a coat!”

Eventually Kelli called back, laughing. She said, “I know, I know, there’s a tree in the pool. We were the last people in the neighborhood to find out.” Guy had taken their son and a friend to the movies, and Kelli and her mom had been shopping. I told her I was just grateful that everything would be fixed before they wanted to use the pool. She said, “It’s 15 degrees outside, I’m not about to go for a swim.”

Someone told Larry that the man who lives down the hill from them was outside when the tree cracked. He stood and watched until the water started gushing out of the pool and then turned and ran into the house. We had our own little tsunami without the earthquake but with beaucoup greenery.

We are all extremely thankful that the damage wasn’t any more extensive. While I was gazing out the window I saw three huge power company bucket trucks pass by. My friend Thelma, who lives about a mile away in the direction where they were headed, reported today that she lost power for a few minutes, so the outage was somewhere between here and there. At least we weren’t like the town of Plainville where the whole town went out. Those folks have their power back, but other places in the state have been in the cold and dark ever since. And today the temps rose to a balmy 30 degrees with no wind.

Prediction: Things will improve in 2010.

Merry Christmas

December 24, 2009

I hope everyone has a merry, merry Christmas. See you next week!

Where Wuz I?

December 24, 2009

I usually start these entries around 8 a.m., glance at them once or twice throughout the day and finish them around 8 p.m. It is now after 7:30 p.m. and I’m just starting. Of course as I started, Word informed me that it couldn’t save because of a file error. And I’ve got three temporary files in the folder. So I stopped and created another file, which seems to save fine. Later the I went back and deleted the temp files and the old file and renamed the new one. Sigh.

Here’s what I accomplished today: Woke up at 5 and couldn’t get back to sleep until 6:30. Was supposed to arise at 7, got out of bed at 7:50 – at the grocery store at 8:15. It wasn’t too bad, sort of like Sunday morning with a half-full parking lot and a few people who had carts loaded to the gills. Ran into two people I haven’t seen in ages. Kathy had so few things she had them in her arms instead of a shopping bag. Al had the conveyor belt full and a cart that was still crammed with groceries.

Got home and baked a mince pie (filling made back in November) and a berry pie (frozen filling purchased at Thanksgiving also). While the pies were baking tossed in one load of laundry. When the pies finished, two loads had gone through the wash and the first one was in the dryer. Did a quick change of clothes, packed up pies, the gift for my parents’ neighbor, and the oil bill. On the way to drop off the check, I got stuck in traffic near two schools that were getting out early. Once I got on the road to Old Saybrook, the normal half-hour drive took almost an hour between the school delays and the back up in on the railroad overpass and by the entrance to the shopping center. It felt like a bad weekend in the summer by the time I arrived.

Had a delightful visit with my parents’ next door neighbor. It was sad to learn that houses on both sides of his are empty. The people who bought my parents’ house made their second move to Houston, Texas, but are planning to return during the summers. In the meantime the house sits empty. I don’t know if they’ve tried to rent it. The house on the other side is empty, too, and Bob doesn’t know what happened. It sounds like a foreclosure. And one of the houses across the street is for sale. These are places that in the boom were going for $1 million – or at least that was the asking price. The area still looks gorgeous, though, and with the snow two feet of snow piled around it’s postcard perfect.

Zipped back to Middletown with no obstacles – everyone was still at the mall. I dropped the pies at Barbara and Hector’s. They were eagerly awaiting the UConn women’s game against No. 2 Stamford. (Before I sat down, we had won, but I don’t know what the score was because I was doing other stuff.) That included finishing the laundry and starting the table decorations for tomorrow. Barbara gave me three gorgeous dish towels in red, white and green plaid, which I plan to use for table runners. The bread basket I’m saving for a smaller gathering. Still have to put the pretty hand towels in the guest bathroom and do a whole bunch o’ other stuff.

Am worried about Anna’s arrival on Friday. She’ll be OK leaving and OK in Connecticut, but there’s an awful mess in between. At least she’s flying through Minneapolis where they are used to dealing with snow as opposed to any of those idiot places that pretend they don’t need snow removal equipment.

Update: I got everything done on my list except the books. Looks like they are in place until January, at which point they will be overdue. Oh, well.

Another Round of Too Much To Do

December 23, 2009

After I returned from the store yesterday, I returned to bed, where I reposed until this morning except for two excursions downstairs, one for a bowl of soup about 4 p.m. and a bit later to feed the cat, eat more soup and post yesterday’s entry. I seem to have fended off the worst of a cold. The fact that I could take a nap (or two) was an indication of something seriously wrong. I haven’t been able to sleep in the middle of the day since the Reagan administration. (I don’t think there was a connection, but you never know…)

It is now 8 p.m. and I feel terrific that I’ve been able to be on my feet for more than 12 hours today.

In between yesterday’s naps I made mental lists of what I have to do over the next few days.

Today:

  • shop for booze for Christmas Eve
  • return books to library
  • deposit clothes in used clothing bin
  • shop for plates, napkins and a few odds and ends of food
  • wrap presents
  • retrieve poster from frame shop
  • deliver paperwork to secretary for former church

(Note: at the end of the day I had not gone to the grocery store nor returned the library books, so those chores get added to tomorrow’s list.)

Tomorrow:

  • make two pies for our friends who did not get them at Thanksgiving
  • go to O.S. with a gift for my parents’ next door neighbor
  • deliver pies
  • transfer frozen foods – turkey, shrimp, etc. to refrigerator or back porch where it’s the same temp as the fridge
  • drop off check for oil bill
  • return books to library
  • shop for plates, napkins and a few odds and ends of food

Christmas Eve:

  • finish getting house ready for family gathering
  • prepare food
  • entertain family

Christmas Day:

  • cook turkey, sweet potatoes, green beans
  • pick up Anna at the airport
  • serve dinner
  • collapse

White Christmas, New Year’s and Probably Easter, Too

December 22, 2009

It was late arriving and delivered somewhat less than promised, but the great Storm of 2009 will still go down in the record books. Little Connecticut experienced a bit of everything. The shoreline got hammered with 22 inches of snow and whiteout conditions. The northwest corner, which normally gets lake-effect snow from Lake Ontario and the fallout from the Berkshires, had to settle for one to two inches. Here in the center, we had about 10, which was more than enough, especially since the wind blew the stuff into drifts twice that deep. It was eerie to wake up at 6 a.m. Sunday to absolute dead silence outside: no newspaper deliveries, no folks making early morning runs for coffee, not even a snow plow for several hours.

Usually at this time of year it takes the snow a while to stick. This time we’d had temps in the teens and twenties, so as soon as the flakes hit any surface it was covered. Even the blacktop turned white almost instantly since there hadn’t been any sun to warm things up for some time. Plus the air was dry so we had those little bitty flakes that don’t melt on contact the way the big clumpy ones do.

I ran out early Saturday because I discovered I had no Christmas cards. There were lots of cars at the mall but not that many shoppers – and even fewer people with actual purchases in their hands.

The grocery store was another story. If Isis hadn’t needed dry food I never would have ventured anywhere near it. I had to make my own parking space because the lot was full. Inside the store the lines snaked around and doubled back on themselves. Everyone was pretty calm until they realized the woman in the self-scan line had no clue how to check out her groceries. When I arrived the woman in front of me in line said she’d been waiting 20 minutes. I think that may have been a bit of an exaggeration but not by much. Finally with three people helping, the novice was on her way and the line moved.

Our neighbor went to the store a few hours later and told Larry he’d never seen such pushing and shoving. “It was amazing to watch the Christians,” he said.

It is now time for me to venture out to the store again but I’m hoping everyone is still eating all the bread and milk and eggs they bought on Saturday. Have never been able to figure out why they buy big things of milk which will only spoil if the power goes off. Of course with this storm it was cold enough to use Mother Nature’s great refrigerator on the lawn. Update: The place was crowded but people were civil and I managed to get in and out in less than an hour and that included looking for things that I still can’t find since they remodeled the store months ago.

This weekend’s weather may have had something to do with the fact that New York ranked last in the happiness index with Connecticut next in line. SADD could be a factor, but California also ranks low in happiness. My own personal view is that the best-educated, most intelligent people occupy the least happy states. (Michigan, New Jersey, and Indiana are up there with us on the unhappiness scale.)

The correlation between depression and intelligence dates back at least to Ernest Hemingway. And has been frequently noted. This post makes the point especially well and supports my view that the radical right’s claim that conservatives are happier is probably true. They’re too oblivious to know better.

Invictus Conquers

December 19, 2009

Go. See. This. Movie. It will tackle you in the opening frame and pin you down until the final newsreel footage. Even though the concept of rugby dominates, the movie isn’t about the game. Genius director Clint Eastwood seamlessly weaves an explanation of the elements of the game into the narrative so that by the last match everyone will understand enough to appreciate this game of tactics, skill, and yes brutality.

The story is probably familiar to anyone who was conscious during the 1990s. Nelson Mandela, the head of the African National Congress, spent 18 of his 27 years in prison in an 8 by 8 foot cell on Robben Island when he wasn’t breaking rocks in the blaze of the sun. After his release, blacks were allowed to vote for the first time, and they overwhelmingly elected him president. One of the early shots of the movie has him taking a pre-dawn walk with two bodyguards, colleagues from the ANC. A pile of newspapers written in Afrikaans lands at their feet. The guards ask him about the headline. Mandela says, “He can win, but can he govern?” The guards bristle, but Mandela says, “It’s a legitimate question.”

It is scenes such as this that made me feel that I was watching a documentary. Morgan Freeman embodies Mandela – his erect posture and stiff back with injury only implied, his speech patterns, even the sadness in his eyes. He shows the man’s humanity and compassion, also his sprightly humor, his ease at flirting with pretty women, and in some of the most poignant scenes, his loneliness and isolation.

Mandela realizes that even though he has the wholehearted support of the country’s black majority, he will not be able to govern effectively unless he engages the white minority – especially the Afrikaners who had oppressed his people for decades.

To that end Mandela enlists the support of François Pienaar, the captain of the failing Springboks rugby team. The team has been a glaring symbol of Afrikaner supremacy as the whites always the support the team and the few blacks who watch rugby always root for the opponents. Even the colors green and gold evoke revulsion.

Eastwood made another genius move in casting Pienaar, though the choice wasn’t obvious. About 20 minutes into the movie, Larry exclaimed, “Oh, that’s Matt Damon!” The guy had bulked up to approach the heft of the real Pienaar who stood more than 6 feet and weighed almost 240 pounds. To my untrained ear, Damon also nailed that slightly nasal accent, which you know is related to German but isn’t German because of the occasional overtone of Aussie-inflected English.

Invictus is based on the book Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation, and of course the ending is no secret: Supported and even goaded by Mandela, Pienaar takes his team to the World Cup finals. The final match, against the unironically named New Zealand All Blacks (for their uniforms), is quintessential theatrics. The All Blacks open each match with a haka – a Maori war dance. Just watching those beefy white men and one terrifying Maori grunt and posture is worth the price of admission.

The movie title comes from a brief nineteenth century poem. The word means undefeated, and the poem ends, “I am the master of my fate;/I am the captain of my soul.” Eastwood uses those words to maximum effect at various places throughout the movie.

If there are any negatives, they are so minor as to be inconsequential. The action moved too quickly at various points, but at 2:20 the movie never dragged, so I guess speedy action was necessary. Also there are a couple of vaguenesses – the woman with Pienaar may have been his girlfriend or his wife – not clear. And how the Springboks wound up with one black player before Mandela’s government took over was not explained.

Everything else – the scenery from the crushing poverty of the shantytowns to the beauty of Cape Town from the air, to the seething hatred between the former ANC leaders and the Special Forces who return to guard Mandela, to brief glimpses of his hostile daughter – is altogether brilliant.

Invictus gets an A. I’d go see it again in a minute.

Year-End Donations

December 18, 2009

It’s now officially the middle of crazy season. We celebrated Larry’s birthday last night with a quick dinner out. Tonight a movie, to be followed by shopping, cleaning, cooking, etc. etc. etc.

We went to see Invictus as a fundraiser for quad rugby. I will review this brilliant, stirring movie tomorrow. For those unfamiliar with the sport (I call it full-scale war) of quad rugby, it involves guys in wheelchairs playing the incredibly brutal game of rugby on hardwood floors. The movie about it was appropriately called Murderball. The only differences between quad rugby and regular rugby are that the guys in the wheelchairs don’t have as far to fall when they go down, and they can use their chairs as well as their bodies to ram into each other.

As for today’s topic, this time of year always gets me thinking about where to send one or more charitable contributions. First thing I did was to donate my old cell phone. The local police station has a box where one can drop them off after purging all identifying info. The police hand out the phones at abused women’s shelters and the like. I discovered in the process of wiping all my phone info that there’s a web site where one can locate places to make the donations.

I’ve also got a few items of clothing to drop off at Good Will. Most of my clothes are only good for cleaning rags by the time I finish with them but here and there I manage to salvage a shirt or skirt or a sweater.

As for the rest, I made annual contributions to the Middlesex County Community Foundation until a couple of years ago because I served on the board and established a fund in my parents’ name. And I gave to the foundation’s Women & Girls’ Fund for its first years. Those obligations are fulfilled, and I’ve been looking around for another organization in the spirit of “spread the wealth,” or in this case spread the pittance.

Last year I gave  a bit of money to Connecticut Public Television when I answered phones during one of the UConn women’s basketball games. May do that again especially since they lost some big corporate sponsors. May switch to public radio, though I find the beg-a-thons beyond annoying. Plus the station I listen to managed to go off the air just as the program was engrossing me this morning. And that’s not the first time.

I probably will not give money to a local theater again. I sent the check in mid-December, and it took until March to receive an acknowledgement. I realize it’s an artistic endeavor, but the place still needs someone to manage the business side.

Other possibilities are a different theater, or the food pantry, which is serving more people this year than ever. In general I like to give to money for arts-related activities but may rethink that in the next few days.

If I want to stick to the arts I can choose from one of the many solicitations from libraries, historical societies, museums, and theater groups all over the state.

Or I may go global, though I prefer to keep it local because it’s easier to see results and also to keep tabs on possible mismanagement. There were good reports on Donors Choose, which connects gift-givers to classrooms around the country. Teachers post their needs, and donors select which projects to fund. I was impressed with the concept but disappointed that so many of the requests are for high-tech equipment, though one second-grade teacher in Connecticut requested a rug for his students to sit on that “will allow my students to focus on the other end of their bodies … their brains.”

Going even more global, Kiva is more about loans than donations, but the concept is fabulous. The organization continues to help many people, mostly women, out of poverty by giving them micro loans. If I donate there I’ll just keep putting the repayments back into the pot.

Half the Sky also got me thinking about education for women in places where they don’t always have access to it. The book, and an article by NY Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn has engaged Oprah, so I’m sure the funds to support their efforts are forthcoming and will continue to flow.

While I’m making up my mind I’m surfing through the links at Charity Navigator.

Celebrate, Good Times, Come On!

December 17, 2009

Happy Birthday, Larry!

Love,

L.

At Last

December 16, 2009

I am thrilled that someone finally brought to the national scene the issue of doctors’ addressing patients and nurses by their first names. “Exam-Room Rules: What’s in a Name?” contains much that I agree with – about the disparity between a 25 year old M.D. who is allowed to call an experienced nurse of 50 “Betty” or whatever, but she has to call the greenhorn “doctor.” Worse, I think it is a sign of disrespect  to call the patients by their first names.

This whole issue is likely to fade as the etiquette generation passes into oblivion. I don’t think most of my contemporaries care. And younger folks are happy with “Yo, homey” and “Hey, girlfriend.”

My mother always went ballistic when doctors called her by her first name, especially on first meeting. She always corrected them, usually to the embarrassment of the doctor.

Here’s what I wrote about the issue in At Home Inside:

Mother had a violent objection to anyone’s addressing older people by their first names. When her regular doctor wasn’t available, she saw his partner. Mother found his care adequate, “Other than the fact that he called me ‘Ann.’ It seems to be the usual procedure in doctor’s offices and hospitals to call patients by their first names, though I don’t know why. Mebbe to reduce the patient to a humbler station in life, to suggest childhood, a paternal relationship? Why? Does the doctor expect the patients to call him by his first name? Of course not.” [Journal February 7, 1991]

She especially objected if the person using the first name was much younger. Mother and Aunt Bush went one day to a local bank to have their signatures notarized, and the young loan officer kept calling my aunt “Helen.”

“He kind of nodded at Mrs. B. I said … ‘Who are you talking to? – this is my sister – to you she is Mrs. Bush – and I don’t like that.’ His face turned red and kept getting redder.” He apologized repeatedly, but as they left, Mother said, “ ‘You know the only reason he did that was because we were black – I would find it difficult to believe that if we’d been white – two older white women – he’d have dared call us by our first names.’ ” [Journal June 11, 1978]

At one point Mother tried to analyze her aversion to casual forms of address and discovered an explanation in a novel by one of our favorite mystery writers. “It’s cop psychology to use first names when talking to a suspect. It diminishes them, robs them of dignity, like stripping a man naked before you question him.” [Tony Hillerman, People of Darkness] Mother came to refer to the habit of people in authority using first names as a demeaning “phony kind of intimacy.”

Even people whose position entitled them to call others by their first names came in for criticism. “… and the president calls the reporters by their first names – the reporters submissively call him Mr. President.” [Journal May 14, 1982] This particular episode occurred during the administration of Ronald Reagan for whom Mother reserved some of her nastiest epithets, mostly having to do with his age. Senile was the least pejorative.

My own personal view is  much more relaxed. When people call on the phone and say, “Mrs. Riley?’ I still say, “Larry’s mother isn’t here – oops, that’s me.” Mostly I just hate it when people mispronounce “Petry,” which they do pretty much everywhere except on the bayou. In our family, it’s a long e, not short!

Tapas on Ann

December 15, 2009

The restaurant where Rob and Maria and Larry and I had dinner before the UConn game on Thursday boasts of its Mediterranean cuisine and includes a bit from many countries, though I didn’t see anything on the regular menu from Portugal or from France. The number of choices is also limited.

For an appetizer, we shared a plate of hummus served with sliced onion and tomato, a few olives and wedges of somewhat tough pita bread. I was underwhelmed as the hummus tasted only of chick peas, no garlic, no lemon, no tahini. And it arrived just about the same time as our entrées.

The side salads, in the Greek style, offered generous portions of lettuce, tomato, onions, olives, and feta with a single not particularly hot pepper. They rivaled salads I’ve had at traditional Greek restaurants. I was full by the time the waitress set down the rest of the food.

Larry and Rob had kabobs – Larry’s was steak and looked tough. He was in urgent need of a toothpick after the meal. Rob said his chicken was good, but the waitress forgot his Greek fries, which when they arrived were the waffle cut moderately spicy variety. OK but not overwhelming. Maria had the same reaction to her falafel, which she found only so-so. My salmon sandwich (which I can’t find on the menu) was a step up in quality, but the portion was small, the fish on the hairy edge of being overcooked, the bun of the cheapest variety, and the sauce not particularly flavorful. I should have tried the spanakopita.

True to the name on the door, the menu does include tapas, but they are served on pizza dough or a tortilla depending on the size. I was sorely tempted by the Baby Moon and Mushroom with portabella mushrooms, tomatoes, basil, ricotta cheese and fresh baby mozzarella. Nobody in our party chose any of the tapas, so I can’t report on their quality.

And then there was the service …

When we arrived the place was about half full with people in various stages of ordering, eating, and finishing. Shortly after we sat down, the rather small room began to fill up, and pretty soon a group of six appeared at the door all wearing UConn jackets. Then a couple appeared, then another. The area between the door and the register was at that point full to bursting. People were eventually seated, but we could see disaster looming just before we left because the same waitress who messed up two of our requests arrived at the table behind us with the wrong salad for one person and no salad for someone else. The patrons complained vociferously. I just knew they were going to want to be out the door and on their way to the game eons before the waitress straightened their orders. I’m glad we weren’t around to witness the fallout.

Of course the price made up for some deficiencies, since the total check for four people with appetizer, salads and main course, a glass of wine, a beer and a couple of sodas came to less than $70.

Overall: I’d go back for an inexpensive if not terribly inspired lunch but not for dinner. If I’m in the Hartford area, I’ll head west to the tiny lunch counter at Tangiers. There’s plenty of parking, and the spicy falafel sandwich is to die for. Check out the reviews of the food and of the gorgeous young men behind the counter and at the register!