Thursday, July 30, 2015

Preview of Indian Summers

I cannot wait to see this! September 27.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

On not knowing an onion

I'm going to put this up for Weekend Cooking because it is food related.

Today I went shopping at my local food co-op. It carries lots of locally grown fruit and vegetables. This time of year it is a little paradise. I bought these onions

and the young woman who was packing my bags asked me what they were. I said onions; that they hadn't cured yet. I guess because they didn't have an onion skin, she didn't recognize them. It probably means that her family has never grown onions and/or never bought them fresh from a farmers' market or the co-op. It struck me as very sad.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Today's picture/Hush Little Baby daylily

Two years ago I ordered two Hush Little Baby daylilies in honor of the babies who were to be born in the coming months. The company sent more than two, and we planted them all. This year we gave two plants to Michael and Estée and one plant to Margaret and Matthew, and we still have three plants - one for each grandchild.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Can't we talk about something more PLEASANT? by Roz Chast

Can't we talk about something more PLEASANT?
by Roz Chast
nonfiction 2014
finished 7/19/15

I’ve read quite a few books in my life, and Can’t we talk about something more PLEASANT? is one of the very best. Part way through the book, I told Tom ‘one of the top ten best books I've read.’ You may ask, how can that be? How can I so love a book that is about a very difficult subject - the aging and ultimate death of one’s parents? And about a family that is quite dysfunctional. Under the author’s name on the cover are the words ‘A Memoir.’ And it is. Not just the story of her parents' declining years, but much about herself. I was shocked when she wrote that she had not visited her parents in a long time. But then again, I know adults who stay away from visiting their folks as much as possible.
From 1990 to 2001, I had not set foot in Brooklyn ONCE. Denial, avoidance, selfishness, laziness, and the day-to-day busyness of my life (two little kids! cartoon deadlines! grocery shopping!) were all partly to blame. But really, I just didn’t want to.
She feels an ‘intense need’ to go out to Brooklyn and visit her parents two days before the Towers were hit. 

We then follow her life for eight years. They aren’t easy years, and both the author and the reader know what the outcome will be. She is unflinchingly honest about what happens and her responses. It takes a brave person to admit to herself and to the world that she wasn’t always feeling or acting that kindly toward these old people. But that is the reality. Your parents are still your parents even if they are aging and dying, and Roz’ feelings toward them, particularly her mother, haven't changed.  

I think it is very important that she wrote this book. We are all so used to hearing about children who do everything for their parents, and parents being so grateful. Those are the good stories. I think Roz’ reactions are more real, and this book can help adult children of dying parents who may hate themselves for even thinking about money, for example. The fact is that many people in this country lose their whole life savings to nursing home care. This is a huge problem and will only get worse as those people born between 1946 and 1964 get older. 

Roz Chast has a page where she suggests that at the end, there should be 
something to look forward to. 
Something more pleasure-oriented. Perhaps opium, or heroin. So you become addicted. So what? All-you-can-eat ice cream parlors for the extremely aged. Big art picture books and music. Extreme palliative care, for when you’ve had it with everything else: the x-rays, the MRI, the boring food, and the pills that don’t do anything at all. Would that be so bad?

People tend to be so sanctimonious with the aged. Everyone ‘knows’ what is best for them. Why shouldn’t they (we) do just as they damn please at the end of their lives if they are still able? Start smoking those much-missed cigarettes. Eat as many french fries as you want. Drink cocktails all day long if you want. Maybe then you could die at home of a nice, quick heart attack and save your family the intense stress. I hope I do. 

After some time, her parents leave their apartment, with only overnight bags, on a trip to check out a facility near Roz’ home. They never go back. And it is up to Roz, the only child, to go through everything. She takes photos of the fridge and the medicine cabinet and the rooms. Photos that made me shudder. It makes the author take stock of all the stuff in her own home. 

Can you imagine going through rooms like this? 

She shows us what she keeps out of all that stuff.

The title of course refers to the author’s particular situation, but isn’t it the big subject none of us really wants to face, let alone talk about? Some people are incredibly cool about it, and prepared for it. Like Tom’s mum. For as long as I can remember she has occasionally send us her information - where important papers are, names and addresses of banks, etc., where she wants to be buried. Every single thing that most of us shrink away from, she faces with steadfastness and even humor. She sent us all little metal ducks that open so each child could have a place to put some of her ashes. I’m trying to model myself after her. (I got her permission to write about this here in my letters).

I could go on and on about this brilliant, necessary book. Perhaps surprisingly, it didn’t make me sad. In fact, there were some very funny parts. When her mother's mind deteriorates, she starts telling Roz outlandish stories. These are about her mother-in-law.

I think I may move Can't we talk about something more PLEASANT? up to one of my top four, sharing the honors with Gatsby and Mrs. Dalloway and something by Wodehouse. 

I know my friend Les didn't care for this book, at all, (you may read her review here) and I really understand her reasons, but I've seen too many families like Roz Chast's, and I think she has given all of them a great gift. The gift of knowing that other children feel angry, annoyed, and pretty selfish sometimes when it comes to taking care of their older parents.

There’s an interview you may listen to here.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Three Books by Heather Lende

If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name
by Heather Lende
nonfiction 2005
finished 6/19/15

Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs
by Heather Lende
nonfiction 2010
finished 7/11/15

Find the Good
by Heather Lende
nonfiction 2015
finished 7/13/15

I recently bought a laminated map of the US, and when it came I realized I didn’t have a wall that could hold it so I came up with the idea to put it in a corner of the laundry room. 

While I was reading Heather Lende’s three books, I would every day look at Haines, Alaska on that map.

Whitehorse, Canada is about 260 miles away which you may drive to, unless the winter snow has closed the road. To get to Juneau, which has no road going in or out, and is 90 miles away, you must take a ferry or an airplane, neither of which can be relied upon if the weather is bad. In good weather, the ferry takes 4 1/2 hours. When Heather Lende was injured badly in a bicycle accident (Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs), she had to be flown to Seattle, almost 1000 miles away. In the first book If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name, the author says that babies are no longer delivered in Haines. There aren't facilities to cope with any problems that could arise. The doctor who delivered her oldest child, says that particular birth was “the 'perfect example' of why he’d quit obstetrics. 'If things hadn’t gone right …’ he began. 'Healthy women who are well prepared can and do have catastrophes. It really isn’t safe. I loved delivering babies, Those were wonderful, almost home births (in a clinic), but I hated being so apprehensive, doing acrobatics without a net.’“

So, you get the picture. This little town of a couple thousand people is, as they say, off the beaten path. I feel that it takes a certain kind of person to live there. People who come from Chicago or New York City, may think that I live in a rural, isolated place, but there are hospitals in all the nearby towns, and a major hospital (where Hazel Nina was born) about 2 hours away by car. I love country life, but I could not live in Haines. Nor could I live on an island. I wouldn’t want to be dependent on a boat or a plane in an emergency, or even just to take class trips. As a vegetarian I would have a hard time with the deeply ingrained fishing and hunting. I know it goes on around me, but it isn’t quite so much a part of the culture as it is there.

That said, Heather Lende presents Haines as a wonderful place to live. A place where there are conflicting political and religious views, but a place so small and isolated that the residents work at getting along no matter what. You may intensely disagree with someone, but you still sing next to them in a choir. In the first book, we learn about the town, through Heather’s obituaries. She is the obituary writer for the local paper, and when someone dies, she goes to their home and sits and talks (mostly listens) to the family as they tell her the facts and the stories about that person’s life. These obituaries are works of poetry. She also works for the Hospice program, and has cared for some of the people as they depart this life. 

It seems to me that lots of people are able to live their lives without thinking much about death. Heather isn’t one of them, as she couldn’t be, doing the work she does. In some ways, it probably gives her a deeper appreciation of life. But it isn’t always easy for those of us who are pretty aware all the time that ‘in the midst of life we are in death.’ Those words come from The Book Of Common Prayer, which is used in the Episcopal Church in which I grew up. Heather Lende is also an Episcopalian, belonging to a little tiny church where there are sometimes a dozen at a service. Although I don’t attend church now, the Episcopal Church is part of me. I loved how the author incorporates the words in the prayer book and hymns into her writing. If you aren’t Episcopalian, you won’t be offended by her writing. She isn’t ‘preachy.’ 

I think that in any fishing community there is an acute awareness of death. Drownings are common, and they are so very sad. We learn in the first book that one of six children was drowned. In the second book, we see his brother getting married, and the man who does the service is the man who saved him that day his brother died. 

But, though there is a bit of an elegiac feeling (and how could there not be?), the books themselves show the deep, deep joys of life; the kindness of people, the neighborliness in a small town, the fun they have, the love of family. Every book uplifted me. I first heard of Heather Lende three years ago in a blog posting written by Les. Please do read it here. I knew then that I wanted to read everything the author has written, and will write. Her writing is conversational, earnest, kindly. She writes a blog which you may visit here. And she is on Facebook. I ‘liked’ her so I get to have little visits to Haines very often. 

The three books are all five years apart so that we see her children grow up and grandchildren come into the world. I read them one after the other, and was in a bit of reading heaven for the time I was within their pages. The first book tells of the townspeople through (mainly) the obituaries. The second one is about the kindness of the people of Haines when the author has her terrible accident. And the title of the third Find the Good says it all - about the books and the author. I am so fond of Heather Lende and her writing that I could almost, almost live in Haines. 

You may see some gorgeous photographs of Haines here. It is unbelievably beautiful there.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Today's song/Hold On Tight by Greg Holden

This is the best song and video! Great message.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

In the hours before Indy Thomas was born

On Tuesday, we took care of Campbell Walker while Estée was in labor. He was here from about noon until after 9 pm when Tom drove him to a town halfway between our house and his, where Estée’s mum picked him up and brought him home, as he slept all the way. 

He had a big, big day. Matt was on vacation so he and Hazel Nina were up here most of the day. Our cousins were visiting from Arkansas and they came by in the late afternoon. Some local friends brought supper, Margaret came after work, Matt’s mum was here, and we had a grand get-together. Later we found out that Indy had been born while most everyone was still here. Tom and I took lots of pictures that day, so here is the way the world looked at Grammy and Grampy’s in the hours leading up to the little fellow’s arrival.

Grammy and Grandson

Cousins choosing a cookbook

A little lunch conversation

We had bought a bouncy house a while ago, but wanted to wait and set it up when both cousins were here. Today was that day! It is a blast. It holds up to 250 pounds so the adults can enjoy it, also.

At first Campbell was more interested in the motor than the actual house.

But later in the day, he discovered how much he loved it, especially the slide!

Taken through the netting, but you can see the fun they were having (including the other 'kid').

Earlier in the day, we took a cart ride. Tired little ones.

I told some friends that if were 100, I would look back upon this day as the most perfect in my life. And when I said my prayer of thanks, I called it a Holy Day.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Indy Thomas, our new grandson!!

Indy Thomas was born the evening of July 7, weighing almost 9 pounds!  It was a home birth, and it went wonderfully. We visited yesterday and Mama Estée (our son Michael's fiancée) and baby are doing just fine. Our cup runneth over.

Thursday, July 2, 2015