Sunday, March 23, 2014

Product placement/towels

After we ate at the Mexican restaurant on St. Patrick’s Day, the four of us went shopping at BJs and then at Walmart. At the latter, I was amazed to find some towels that were made in the US. I stopped in my tracks and happily read the labels. 

And bought two towels. 

This is not your old-fashioned American textile manufacturer. It is a modern, truly global company. There aren’t whole towns all over the south making the towels of my childhood. But there are 200 Americans employed in the manufacture of these towels. You may read more at the site.

I’m not naive enough to believe that the American south will ever again make the towels of yesteryear. All the world is connected now. But it makes me feel good to know that within this giant company, there are 200 folks in Georgia doing the work that Rick Bragg’s family did.

Very strange

This is very, very strange. I am working on a blog post and plan to offer a link to a book report I wrote years ago on a Rick Bragg book. While I read over the book report, I decided the quotes should be a different color from what I originally used so they would stand out better. So I went into the post and did so. But when I clicked 'update' the post showed up as being written NOW. Weird, weird, weird.

The Most They Ever Had by Rick Bragg

Addendum: this book report was originally written in 2010, but in 2014 I changed the color on the quotes so they would stand out better, and the whole post came up as being published inn 2014.

11. The Most They Ever Had
by Rick Bragg
nonfiction, 2009
finished, 2/23/10

Outsiders like to talk about the working people of the Deep South in clichés, like to say their lives are consumed by football, stock car racing, stump jumping, and a whole lot of violent history. But it is work that defines them. You hear it under every shade tree, at every dinner on the ground, whole conversations about timber cut, post holes dug, transmissions pulled.
I don't live in the Deep South. I live in the far North and I can honestly say this is how it is up here too among the working people. My father didn't have any hobbies. He didn't fish or hunt or bowl. He loved the Red Sox but he lived in the time of day games, so the voice of Curt Gowdy accompanied him as he drove or as he sold cars at his Pontiac garage. When he got together with others, he mostly talked about either his work or those long-suffering Sox. He didn't work with his hands, but he was still a 'working man.' In my life I've known many, many people like him; men and women whose work is the heart of their lives.

Rick Bragg is the chronicler of these people. He is the literary spokesman for a group of people who rarely write about themselves. He shares their stories with both readers who know them, and readers who don't. His first three books were specific in their topics, each of them about a family member. In The Most They Ever Had he writes more generally about the people who worked in the textile mills of the South. He tells us what their working lives were like, and how they felt about those lives being taken away forever with the closing of these mills.

It wasn't the conditions in the mills or the low pay that scared the workers; it was the fear of losing those dangerous, low paying jobs if the mills closed. It is very difficult for those of us on the outside to understand. How does a worker live with this?
The machines snatched the hair from some people's heads, ripped the clothes off bodies, and did worse...
Others perished more slowly, choking on the cotton they breathed in the unventilated, oven-like rooms.
How they bear it, and why they bear it is the story Rick Bragg tells us. As time went on conditions got better.
In time, they worked not just for subsistence, but for one of the best blue collar paychecks in their foothills. The modern-day workers, whose ancestors labored to stave off deprivation, made ten dollars an hour, eleven dollars, more, and bought modest houses, bass boats, and above-ground swimming pools. The mill here, like others around the country, became safer, cleaner, better ventilated. A job that had once carried a social stigma - lintheads, people called them - now carried a rock-solid respectability. And the thing the mill workers never could explain to better-off people was, it always had.
But human dignity, in a global economy, is just one more cost to cut. Long before the economic meltdown of 2008, the age of the textile worker was coming to an end.
In 1991, an American trade journal ran this advertisement:
Rosa Martinez produces apparel for U.S. markets on her sewing machine in El Salvador. You can hire her for thirty-three cents an hour.
As I look around at the tags on various items in my life, I find that my flannel shirt from LL Bean was made in El Salvador; my bathroom towels were made in India and in Turkey; my Reebok shoes were made in China; my car was made in Germany; my Nikon camera was made in Thailand. In my brief survey, the only thing I could find which was made in the USA were my Fiesta Ware dishes.

It didn't used to be like this. Most of our cars were made here. Our cameras were made in Rochester, NY by the Eastman Kodak company. And our cottons, our sheets and towels and underwear were made in the American South, in the mills which Rick Bragg writes about in this book. These workers took pride in what they did with their hands. Not just mill jobs are being lost, but so many 'little' jobs which took human skill and talent. There used to be a shoe repair place in town, but it has sat empty since the owner died because no one wanted to take it over. There used to be seamstresses but I don't believe there are any in the area now. If the zipper breaks, we throw the coat away or use it without zipping it up. If the sole of the shoe wears out, we get new shoes. I've heard there is a lack of plumbers and electricians. What happened to the basic jobs of life? The common, everyday needs that must be met?
"It's got to the point, my brother Sam said, "that the only thing we make in this country is money."
Maggie wrote a terrific review of a book on this subject: Shop Class as Soulcraft.

In his acknowledgements, Rick Bragg says about writing this book:
It began more than seven years ago, and for a slim volume has taken up more work, more time, than anything I have ever done.

Each chapter tells a story of a separate life, though the sufferings they endured do run together across the pages. They are grim in many places and sad in the spaces in between, but when I told that to a friend, worried that no one would stick with such a book cover to cover, he told me not to worry. "Well, it ain't a damn barn dance, is it? It's an American tragedy."
Rick Bragg wanted to get it right. He wanted to be sure he told their stories, and that he gave these people the homage they deserve. I think he succeeded. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Rick Bragg is one of the best writers in the world, past or present or future. And the interesting thing to me is that he writes nonfiction. He brings poetry to truth. This book isn't cheery but it is uplifting. The reader does not feel sorry for these people. Rick Bragg has told their story and given them the dignity they deserve. I don't believe anyone could have done it better.

Another book report on a Rick Bragg book at Letters from a Hill Farm here.

Friday, March 21, 2014

February Reading

February's books were as stellar as January's.  

9. My Turquoise Years 
by M.A.C. Farrant
nonfiction 2004
finished 2/1/14

I wrote about this book here.

10. Sidney Chambers and The Shadow of Death - book 1 in the Grantchester Mystery series
by James Runcie
mystery 2012
library book
finished 2/11/14

11. Sidney Chambers and the Perils of the Night - book 2 in the Grantchester Mystery series
by James Runcie
mystery 2013
finished 2/18/14

I feel like I’ve been waiting for the Grantchester mysteries my whole reading life. For me, they are perfect. I loved every minute I spent inside the books. There’s a little feeling of Agatha Christie, a strong sense of England in the 1950s, a very human Anglican priest, and characters that aren’t caricatures or silly.

When I went searching for photos of Grantchester in the 1950s to add to these book notes, the page for the series came up. These pictures give the reader a sense of the place in those years. And on the site, you may take a walking tour along with Canon Sidney Chambers. This is one of the true wonders of the internet for a reader so far away. I can ‘see’ where the book takes place. This is a particularly wonderful website. Please do visit and find out about the series, the background, British history.

I read these books on my Kindle, but I’ve ordered them in paperback, and plan to buy the new one in the same form when it comes out. Some books I just have to have in the ‘real’ version.

12. Park Life
by Katharine D'Souza
fiction 2012
finished 2/24/14

The only other time I’ve read a book set in Birmingham was Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost. I thought it presented quite a gloomy view of a city that had seen better days. It was published five years before Park Life, and set a few years earlier. Birmingham seems transformed into a vibrant, appealing city. I think that if I were British, and younger, I might want to move there myself. 
The café stands on Poplar Road; perhaps why they've called it Tall Trees. The other businesses are an interesting, independent mix ranging from the niche market of Caribbean delicacies to the practicality of a launderette. A steady stream of cars and pedestrians flowed to and from the High Street and back.
I liked the road. Something about the atmosphere has elements of the familiar small town scale, but then there are hints of spice, undercurrents of exoticism: the contemporary, cosmopolitan attitude I want for myself.
Near the end of the book a park is described.
"What I like about parks like this, is they're one of the few places in the city where you see Birmingham's diverse population all in one space." ...
I looked around. He was right. All races were represented. All of the families were out enjoying the park in the same way - they wanted some space, some air, some greenery around them. In such a landlocked city, it made sense that everyone congregated there.
Often in the book, Birmingham was referred to as Brum. From wikipedia:
People from Birmingham are called 'Brummies', a term derived from the city's nickname of 'Brum'. This originates from the city's dialect name, Brummagem, which may in turn have been derived from one of the city's earlier names, 'Bromwicham'.

The two main characters are Susan and Craig. She is a woman in her mid-forties who has left her husband and a ‘cushy’ life in the suburbs, and he is a man of 25, who has quite a good job and his own flat. Their stories are told in alternating chapters. 

I was amazed at how Katharine D’Souza could get inside the head of such disparate characters. One might expect that a woman could imagine and express the thoughts and feelings of Susan, but she describes Craig as easily as if she were this young man. She’s got the language, and the seemingly shallow lifestyle, and the often hidden deeper concerns of Craig and so many like him down pat. If you are offended by swearing, you might be put off but the reality is that most people that age use particular words as just part of their lexicon. As I read once of the Irish, the ‘f’ word is expressed as all parts of speech - noun, verb, adjective. With Craig, it works and the story would be false without it. 

Like Mr. Lynch’s Holiday, Park Life is a new book with a cheerful spirit and a happy ending. Not that everything is pleasant or easy for the characters, but they are not overwhelmed with horrible life stories. The characters are people like most of us. 

I found out about this book here. I’ve also bought Katharine D'Souza's newest one Deeds Not Words.

And every time I read the title I’m reminded of the old Blur song which I love. Not that it has anything to do with the book, but it is great fun. The lyrics follow.

Confidence is a preference for the habitual voyeur
Of what is known as
And morning soup can be avoided
If you take a route straight through what is known as

John's got brewers droop he gets intimidated
By the dirty pigeons, they love a bit of him
Who's that gut lord marching?
You should cut down on your porklife mate, get some exercise

All the people
So many people
They all go hand in hand
Hand in hand through their parklife
Know what I mean?

I get up when I want except on Wednesdays
When I get rudely awakened by the dustmen
I put my trousers on, have a cup of tea
And I think about leaving the house

I feed the pigeons I sometimes feed the sparrows too
It gives me a sense of enormous well-being
And then I'm happy for the rest of the day safe in the knowledge
There will always be a bit of my heart devoted to it

All the people
So many people
And they all go hand in hand
Hand in hand through their parklife


It's got nothing to do with
Vorsprung durch Technik you know
And it's not about you joggers
Who go round and round and round

All the people
So many people
And they all go hand in hand
Hand in hand through their parklife

All the people
So many people
And they all go hand in hand
Hand in hand through their parklife

13. Fancy Nancy 
by Jane O'Connor; illus. by Robin Preiss Glasser
children's book 2006
library book
finished 2/24//14

I wrote about this here.

14. The Violets of March
by Sarah Jio
fiction 2011
library book
finished 2/28/14

I began this near the end of February, sure that I would be reading it in the month of March, but it was so enjoyable, I finished it before March even began. A lovely book. Life is not turning out as Emily expected it might. She wrote a highly successful book many years ago, and hasn't been able to write another one. Her husband had an affair, and the marriage ended in divorce. She's at what the British call, 'a loose end.' Her great-aunt Bee invites her to come spend the month of March on the beautiful Bainbridge Island in Washington state. 

Would that we all had such a place to go to when things weren't going our way. She finds inspiration for a new book, a decades old mystery to solve, and of course, romance. But the book is not facile. There is depth in the characters, and I found each of them interesting and appealing in their own ways. I love books that have connections between past and present. The Violets of March was wonderful, and I look forward to the other books Sarah Jio has written.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Today's poem by David Keig

Spring Cleaning

Clean away the cobwebs
make light of dirt and grime
wave high those feather dusters
it's now spring cleaning time
for spring's first day has broken
and those windows must be cleaned
cold winter's grey has gone away
replaced with fresher scenes
ah! the joy of such spring cleaning
oh! the joy of household life
sometimes i am the paragon
of a 1950's wife! 

David Keig
b. 1951
Submitted to Poem Sunday, August 28, 2005

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Today's picture(s) - St. Patrick's Day

Doesn't everyone spend St. Patrick's Day in a Mexican restaurant? Had a great time with Michael and Estée. The baby is due in less than four weeks!

My favorite dish, the one I get every time, Taquitos del Rancho: four fried corn tortilla taquitos filled with potatoes (potatoes cooked with onions and tomatoes). Served with Spanish rice, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream and guacamole.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

My Turquoise Years by M.A.C. Farrant

My Turquoise Years
by M.A.C. Farrant
nonfiction 2004
finished 2/1/14

As I think back on my childhood school life in the 1950s-1960s, I remember a few kids who weren’t the 'same,' who didn’t live in families like most of those I knew. I didn’t think much about them being 'different,' but at the same time I didn’t hang out with any of them. There was a boy who lived with his grandmother. I never wondered what had happened to his folks. There was another boy who lived with just his father. He was quite odd, and now would be classified as having some kind of mental problem. He committed suicide in later years. And there were two other boys whose home life was a mystery to me, a mystery I didn’t even try to solve.

If I’d been in the same school with M.A.C. Farrant, she would have been one of those kids. Her father was in her life every other weekend, she lived with her aunt and uncle, and her mother wasn’t in the picture. But people didn’t really know the details, just as I didn’t. And maybe this is why.
At school, in those days, your personal history stayed personal. "It’s none of their bloody business," Elsie [the aunt] would say, turning into an unexpected ally whenever teachers asked probing questions like: "Where is your mother?" "Why do you live with your aunt?"
"Tell them nothing," Elsie instructed. "Or tell them: 'My mother’s on a long vacation. I live with my aunt and uncle. My father visits.' "
I recently read a quote from the late Mavis Gallant:
I had a mother who should not have had children, and it’s as simple as that.
These words could easily have been said by M.A.C. Farrant. The word 'strange' barely begins to describe this woman who was a shadowy presence in her daughter’s life. After not hearing from her mother for years, young Marion received a two-months late, wildly inappropriate birthday present in the mail. It was truly startling to the young girl. 
I pulled out a long, purple see-through nightgown that was slit up the front and had black feathers - something Elsie called marabou - attached to the plunging neckline.  … A pair of bikini underpants lay on the turquoise tiled floor. Across the bum, stitched in blue, were the words, "Hi Sexy!"
Marion was thirteen.

The feeling I carry with me about this book is one of humor and joy, not depression, gloom, or sadness. How can that be? Well, because some people really don’t dwell on the negative. They don’t whine, they don’t complain, they just live their lives as they come. Nothing really horrible happened to the author but still her mother was dreadful. Not abusive. Definitely neglectful. But you know, the good thing is that she didn’t raise her. Marion had a really strong family upbringing, with traditions, and different personalities, and events, just like anyone else. There are two years covered in the book, the year she was 13, and then four years later. Her mother shows up, but I’ll let you read the book to find out about those visits, except to say that Marion tells her aunt after the second one:
"All she wanted to talk about was her clothes, … "And show me her dresses and jewelry. It was like visiting a stranger. A boring stranger. A boring stranger who’s selfish. I don’t care if I ever see her again." Elsie nodded. "I’ve always said the only person Nancy’s ever loved is herself. You would have had a tough time living with your mother."… for a long while I’d known what was true. That I’d been lucky to escape Nancy. That I’d done the right thing to keep her at arm’s length, pushed away. That her replacement [Aunt Elsie] was so much better.
My Turquoise Years is not your usual memoir. M.A.C. Farrant is clear-headed and unsentimental about her miserable mother. This is a refreshing attitude, one not often expressed in real life or in memoirs - that sometimes we aren’t dealt the best parents and are better off without them; that other people can love us and support us and bring us up to be good, well-adjusted, happy people.

Oh, and the title comes from the color which was ever-present in North American homes during those years, turquoise. The author grew up in British Columbia.

I loved this book, and want to thank my blogging friend Janice for recommending it to me. I’ve also bought a book of Farrant’s essays which I look forward to reading. I like her voice. I like the person.

M.A.C. Farrant’s Facebook page is here, and there’s a great interview with her here.

Addendum March 15 - I almost feel like I should redo the book report because two commenters thought the book sounded more dismal than it is. I put in two quotes about the mother, but honestly the rest of the book shows the pretty much normal, regular childhood. There was humor and joy. I don't read horrible gloomy memoirs. This was anything but. 

This is my fifth book for the Canadian Book Challenge.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Sunday Supper - Quinoa Patties

My Sunday Supper last evening was quinoa patties, and because Tom doesn’t care for quinoa, he had a homemade bean dip on toast which I'll post the recipe for another time. 

Quinoa Patties

Put 1/2 cup quinoa in a strainer with tiny holes, and rinse with cold water for five minutes. I have written about this process here.

Cook quinoa over a low boil for 15 or so minutes until those cute little rings form. 
Strain it in same strainer.

Sauté a small onion in a tablespoon of olive oil.

Mix together:
1 slightly beaten egg
the onion
about a tablespoon of chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup bread crumbs (I put a slice of bread, with the crusts cut off, in the food processor)
maybe 1/4 cup flour 

Stir in the cooked quinoa.

Grease with cooking spray a fry pan, electric fry pan (my choice), or a griddle.
Spoon the mixture into the pan and press down lightly with a spatula.
Cook about three minutes and flip them gently. 
Cook on other side a little less time.

I topped mine with some homemade tomato sauce. Excellent meal. Easy and quick, most delicious, and very nutritious! 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Today's song/NICU at Nite (The Preemie Song) - Hugh Blumenfeld

Do you think I cried when I heard this? Whew. And every word is true. 

Our family's preemie miracle, Hazel Nina

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Monday, March 3, 2014

An evening of firsts for Hazel Nina!

Last Wednesday was an evening of firsts for Hazel Nina!

First time she went to a restaurant (like mother, like daughter - four hands up)

First time she met her Uncle Michael and Aunt Estée -

Love at first sight

Makin' faces

First time she wore a dress

First time she wore boots (for five seconds)

Only a few more weeks and Hazel Nina will have a little cousin, Campbell Walker!!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Sunday Supper - Orange-Blueberry Cornmeal Pancakes

Orange-Blueberry Cornmeal Pancakes

Mix together:
1 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup white flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Beat together:
1 egg
1 cup orange juice, preferably freshly squeezed  (perfect because this time of year I squeeze a glass every day. Recipe also called for zest of one orange, but I didn't use it.)

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
2 tablespoons melted and cooled butter (the recipe called for teaspoons, but I misread it and 2 tablespoons worked well)

Pour liquid ingredients into dry ingredients, and mix together. Don't over mix. 
Stir in one cup frozen, not thawed, blueberries.

We bought an electric frypan and it was a lot easier to use than last week's stovetop griddle. Sprayed it with cooking spray and heated it to 350º F. 

Cook until bubbles form and then flip. Cook a bit longer. 

The recipe came from 

These were excellent pancakes! Highly recommended. 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

A Year of Afternoon Gardens - March

The afternoon garden doesn't look much different from February's, except for more snow. You can see on the left where Tom plowed it with the tractor. Snowy, the 'outside winter dog' is back in the cellar. We usually bring him out in December and leave him for a couple months, changing his Christmas hat to a wooly one in January. Our little bit of whimsy.