Punishment loaf

Last week’s post was about my father – here’s one about my mother…

My mother was always looking for ways to save money. Although she had little spare time, with a job and five girls to feed, she decided to bake her own bread. And it would be healthy bread, at that. First, she went to the grocer’s, where she hunted down the wholemeal flour she planned to use. She might have unearthed some wheat bran, too. Next, she found fresh yeast at the baker’s. I was surprised that he sold it to her. After all, wouldn’t he be losing her business if she did her own baking? As it turned out, no.

She followed the recipe she’d found in the Continue reading

2013 Christmas edition

The Reef

The Reef

And so it’s time for the annual update. I closed last year’s letter by saying that we were expecting my sister Jane and her friend for the holidays. What I didn’t mention was that because we were having so many people to stay, all arriving and departing on different dates, that I resorted to creating a chart which showed each bedroom (color-coded, of course ), who would be in each one on what dates, and how many people I’d be feeding on any particular day. I adore my family, but honestly – I can’t do that chart again. Next time they’ll have to fight it out among themselves. I will be in the local inn… But in the meantime, this year will be much more sensible, with everybody arriving at carefully regulated intervals.

It was only in January that I managed to get out from under the pile of sheets and towels and pack a bag for our house in Phoenix AZ. Jay and I decided to take a few days and see what we might need if we were going to use it as a holiday home. To get us started, Jay insisted on packing a huge suitcase with household paraphernalia, including various serving dishes and knick-knacks. Since the beds hadn’t been delivered when we arrived, we spent the night in a hotel, but Jay left the suitcase in the house to save having to carry it around. Much to our surprise, it was gone when we arrived at the house the following day. Apparently this is the first burglary in the area for over three years…Well, Jay bore it stoically and added serving dishes and knick-knacks to our ever-expanding shopping list. One forgets that a new home needs everything from knives and forks to furniture, but we had a good time visiting the consignment (OK, second-hand) shops, where Jay bargained to his heart’s content.

2013 Australia 368

Morning visitors outside our tent

We’d barely come back from our visit to Phoenix when it was time to leave for Australia. I had visions of kangaroos and koala bears, but in fact, Australia turned out to be much more interesting than that. We snorkeled around near the Great Barrier Reef (my favorite thing). I mean that I swam, towing Jay behind me. I think he liked it…Then we took a tiny plane to a luxury camp in the middle of nowhere, where noises in the very early morning turned out to be wallabies waking up underneath our cabin. If only the tiny plane company hadn’t gone bankrupt while we were there… Still, we did manage to get to our next destination, the aptly named Kangaroo Island. About 100 miles long with a population of 4,000 people and about 10,000 animals. All the kangaroos, wallabies, koalas and emus you could wish for. And then it was on to check out the wild life in Sydney…

Sydney wild life (pretty tame...)

Sydney wild life (pretty tame…)

Just to remind us of our trip, I got us tickets for the Australia exhibition that was showing in London when we visited in September. We were on our way to Prague, to meet friends. Prague and our friends were delightful, and Jay was particularly pleased, because our enormous bedroom (in a former mansion by the river) had a balcony from which he could give speeches to the population below. He was going to try it, too, but I managed to distract him with the promise of some souvenir shopping nearby.

Eagle ignoring Jay in Budapest

Eagle ignoring Jay in Budapest

After that we took one of those Danube cruises from Budapest, via Vienna and Linz to Passau (on the German/Austrian border). Very relaxing. So much so, that Jay immediately went home and booked a cruise on the Volga River (Moscow to St. Petersburg) for next summer. Yo-o heave-ho. Or something.

We returned to New Hampshire in time for the end of a beautiful fall. It was too late for Jay to sit on his beach (see last year) but he was quite happy with his new lawn (did I mention that he’d had someone plant a lawn last year when we were thinking of selling the house?). He, Freddie and Bertie had spent most of the summer perfecting this, with Fred and Bert doing most of the work (heaving huge boulders out of the ground) and Jay ‘supervising’. From the beach.

The boys really didn’t need to do this, since they both graduated from university this year. Moving rocks hardly seems like fit work for a biomedical engineer and an astrophysicist, but Jay can be very persuasive…

And what of our careers? I hear you ask (don’t I?). I’m still writing; there’s a memoir of my mother based on her wartime diaries and my blogs keep me busy. Next weekend I’ll be telling my story of Jay and the Santa suit at a couple of Christmas concerts at a local inn. Jay will be there to heckle cheer me on. Meanwhile, he’s still very busy with his usual pursuits, to which he has added the position of board member at Colby-Sawyer College, a small liberal arts school (liberal? Jay? Surely not…) in our New Hampshire hometown of New London). The board seems to like him, even though Jay spends most of his time “suggesting” ways they could be more businesslike.

I was beginning to think the whole idea of building a new smaller house had died down for good, when the house next door to us came onto the market. Last weekend (bear with me here) we were supposed to be visiting houses around town that had been decorated for Christmas. Instead I found myself being shown around a characterful (read: not enough bathrooms) 100-year-old house, with Jay murmuring things in my ear, like: “we could put the other bathrooms over here”, and “what about extending this wall and making this into a new bedroom?” I should have let him do more shopping in Budapest, so he got it out of his system.

Just for now, we’re still in the house with the beach, the lawn and the gigantic fireplace, so I’m going to ignore the future and enjoy the present. (I think Jay got me a present?)

Wishing you a very happy and peaceful Christmas, and an encouraging New Year

Talking Turkey

It’s that time of year again –  With Thanksgiving speeding towards us, my husband Jay wanted to talk to me about the menu.

I was surprised, because we always have the same Thanksgiving meal: turkey, stuffing, roast vegetables, asparagus, pumpkin pie and a pecan pie for Jay. But this year there were only going to be five of us for Thanksgiving. And I’m a vegetarian.

“So, what should we do about ordering the turkey?” he asked one evening last week.

turkey

Being a seat-of-the-pants type person, who leaves everything until the last minute, I hadn’t really thought about this, but his question made me reflect.

“Well,” I began. “They usually say about a pound per person for turkey…”

Jay interrupted me.

“So we should order a 4lb turkey?” he asked brightly.

“We could,” I said, “but it would be called a chicken.”

“But a chicken’s not the same is it?”

I had to agree.

“I mean, there’s nothing like the smell of turkey cooking on Thanksgiving.”

He had a point. “We could buy a turkey breast and roast that,” I offered.

“But then I’d have nothing to carve.” (I do the carving but I let it pass.)

We discussed the options. Duck? Too small. Goose? Too greasy, and anyway a goose is a Christmas bird. Lamb? Easter. Roast pork? Too pedestrian. I could see that Jay was going to find reasons why none of my suggestions would work, so I sat back and waited for him to make the choice I wanted him to. It took a while, but, you’ve guessed it, we’re having roast beef (and Yorkshire pudding).

beefAt last, an English Thanksgiving.

2012 Christmas edition

It seems like less than a year since I wrote my last Christmas letter. Oh wait – it is less than a year. In fact it went out last January, which makes me realize how well-organized I am this year. When last I wrote, Jay and I were off to South America with friends. We took a ship through the Panama Canal. It’s not so much a canal as a series of very large locks which take a very long time to navigate, largely because the ships that go through it these days are designed with about a foot of leeway on each side – going through it reminded me of trying to put my jeans on after last year’s Christmas dinner. But I digress.

It was a wonderful trip. We went to Cartagena, Colombia, and though I looked around for drug cartels and similar miscreants, all I could see were pretty houses and ladies in traditional costume who wanted a dollar if I took a photo of them. Then on to Ecuador, where the port cities sat glumly under grey skies and tried to look enticing, rather like streetwalkers who’d been at it too long and had lost hope. But Peru made up for it all. Beautiful country with lovely people and a lot of potatoes. Some 300, sorry 3000 different kinds, and it seemed every one of them was to be found in a local vegetable market in Cuzco, high in the Andes. They even had a freeze-dried potato, pure white and weighing next to nothing, which you can store for years until you need it. (Frozen on a glacier and then left in the sun to dry – amazing). Cuzco is the jumping off point for Machu Picchu, at least I was jumping, and Jay was proceeding at a stately pace with his bionic knee. We took a train to the site, and I told Jay not to wear any clothing that gave him away as a Yale man, since a hundred years ago one such Yale man ‘discovered’ Machu Picchu and walked off with a huge amount of swag, which the Peruvians are now demanding back. Quite right, too, but I didn’t want anyone demanding it from Jay or his friend Tom (another Yalie who was traveling with us).

In late February I was planning a trip to England to see my mother, when she had a stroke. I spent most of February and March over there, and at the end of March, my mother had a heart attack and did what she always said she would, and left this world when she decided to. She also said she’d never go into a nursing home and by golly, she never did. She was an amazing woman who lived through some of the most important moments in history, grew up rich but learned to manage on very little, brought up five daughters and helped bring up sundry nephews and grandchildren. There were a hundred people at her funeral representing all the different interests my mother had. Nephews and nieces came from South Africa, Poland and Italy, as well as her grandchildren from the United States, Geneva and elsewhere. It was quite a party we gave her. I’m sure she was sorry to miss it.

Talk, talk, talk…

And speaking of parties, later in the year we got together with more former Yalies and their wives, Jay’s old classmates, in Charlottesville Virginia, where we sat around and chewed the fat for 72 hours straight. We also talked quite a bit.

Moving right along…Bertie our youngest, was lucky enough to be able to go to Geneva to study for his Spring term. Geneva is home to the CERN Hadron Collider, which…um…collides atoms or something to make even tinier particles. Point being that Bertie was there when they discovered something they’d been looking for for a while, the Higgs Boson… I have always told the boys that if they can’t find something, they should move something. (Whatever they’re looking for is always beneath, or behind something – usually their dirty clothes.) Apparently this works in astrophysics as well. So Bertie is becoming an astrophysicist. Scary, I know. But if anyone can find a way to live on Mars, Bertie can. So be prepared.

Fred is one credit short of graduating as a Bio-medical engineer with a side order of electrical engineering. The course starts in January, and so in the meantime he’s working for Sears, a huge department store company, unloading the trucks full of household appliances that wives everywhere are going to get for Christmas instead of cashmere and perfume. He’s also on an organizing kick, so their filing cabinets have never looked so good…

As a reward for the boys sterling academic work and because they didn’t go on last year’s Caribbean cruise, Jay and I decided to take them on a cruise round the Adriatic this summer. It was either that or travel around Europe with them, which sounded like hell on earth to me (trying to make them get out of bed and see the sights, trying to make them do things when we wanted to etc). The cruise was a great compromise, since it visited a lot of places they wouldn’t have got to on their own, and gave us all a bit of space while sailing so that we weren’t tripping over each other all the time. We went back to Istanbul where the smashing guide we had 4 years ago was persuaded to take us around that fascinating city. The boys loved it, partly because Ziya is such a fount of knowledge and could answer every one of their questions, of which they had many. We almost lost Jay in the Grand Bazaar, where he was being welcomed by the stallholders with open arms and cries of “Effendi!” which I believe means “Sucker!” in Turkish. They may have recognized him from our last trip…

A couple of ruins flanked by Bertie and Fred

A couple of ruins flanked by Bertie and Fred

Ephesus, Montenegro, Santorini, and a few rugs etc later, we ended up in Venice, just before it flooded. It was my first ever visit to Venice, so of course I loved it. Jay had a wonderful time at Murano where the glass-makers understand the art of haggling as well as they do in Istanbul. With the result that we ended up with a glass model of an Americas Cup yacht (practically life-size) and a Picasso head of a woman with two noses. Really, we need a bigger house to store all this stuff in. But weren’t we planning to downsize last year?

That's Jay beneath the umbrella

That’s Jay beneath the umbrella

Yes, we were. And yet, once Jay started fixing all the little things that tend to go wrong with houses (like no beach, for example) he decided he loved it so much we would stay. So he put in a beach. Of course. (If you’d like to know more about the beach, check my blog here.)

This encouraged Fred to begin putting in a lawn, creating new stone steps in the garden and generally beautifying the place. Once all this had been done, there was no point in moving.  Having run out of things to buy abroad, Jay decided to buy a house in Phoenix, Arizona. Now there’s a place with a beach. Actually, more of a desert. A friend was looking to sell his house at a bargain price, and so… About six months after we’d bought it, I actually got to see it, and allowed Jay to buy two tiny lions to grace the front doorstep. It’s delightful, of course, and the weather in the winter there is pretty much perfect – it’s just that I don’t know when we’ll have time to visit, because we have so many other travel plans. I fully expect we’ll be the proud (or possibly suicidal) owners of a kangaroo by this time next year, because we’re going to Australia in April.

Our Fairfield home, for those of you with less than stellar geography skills, is about a mile from a real beach, which proved to be interesting when Ultra Storm Sandy arrived in October. The water came up to the end of the driveway and then evidently thought better of it and retreated, but we were without electricity for 5 days, which wasn’t as much fun as I thought it might be. I finally had a ceramic sign in the shape of a lemon made for the front of the house. It read: 33 – The Lemon. Naturally, it was doomed, and, true to the nature of the house, fell down during the storm and smashed into several pieces. TangoBut to console myself, I was able to read Tangerine Tango by flashlight. It’s a small pocket-size anthology of women writers, in which three of my memoir pieces and a poem were published in October. It’s selling quite well (considering) on Amazon. (Thank you to those of you who bought copies. And those of you who didn’t, will be buying them soon, won’t you? All proceeds to benefit research into Huntington’s Disease.) Now I’m finally revising the novel I wrote last year with the help of my writing group, and writing Christmas letters in my spare time.

We’re expecting my sister Jane and her friend Sheila to arrive for Christmas any day now, and once again we’ll be hosting the hordes over the holidays. Here’s hoping you’re planning a restful and happy holiday season.

A Tangerine tangle of subjects for you

I promise this is the last of the promos for Tangerine Tango, the bright orange little book that all your friends are hoping to get for Christmas. (They may not know that they want it, yet, but the minute they see that you’ve bought it for them…) All the proceeds from sales (not just a measly 10%) are going to help fund research into Huntington’s Disease, so you can feel virtuous about each copy you buy.

This last set of extracts is pretty much a catch-all. Hope you enjoy them. You know where to find the rest of each article!

Stacey Caron is an antiques dealer and appraiser in New Jersey. She happens to love cooking and has her own blog devoted to food. She writes about traveling abroad via recipes and gives a wonderful recipe for a tart from Seville, Spain.

I love to travel.  Every night I travel to Italy, Spain and France – via my computer.  I guess you can call me an “armchair traveler”. I could tell you every good hotel in Piedmont and fabulous château in Bordeaux. What airline flies direct from New York to Milan and how many miles between Paris and Provence via the high-speed train.

I am always planning my next vacation, years in advance. Though we only take 1 trip a year, I make it worthwhile. I do as much research as possible, using  Google maps, best places to eat, neighborhoods, Tripadvisor, Yelp reviews, word of mouth, blogs, etc. In the end, it makes for a memorable vacation.

Try it. French, Italian or Spanish.  Open a good bottle of wine from the region, a cheese from the same region and make a simple recipe from that same place, and for an evening you are transported to somewhere special. 

I have just saved you a lot of money on airfare.

Judy Ackerly Brown works at a retreat center in North Carolina, and writes about nature:

There’s a new type of therapy called Green therapy or Eco-therapy. The Japanese call it shinrin-yoku or forest bathing. Even the name sounds soothing.

Green therapy is said to help children with ADHD, reduce stress and pain, increase immunity and even help nursing home patients who suffer from dementia-type anxiety.

I find this concept ironic but affirming. It is so basic. Our ancestral hunter-gatherer relatives are probably shaking their heads in disbelief, Fresh air and absorbing nature is now a therapy!

Barbara Chapman is one of life’s survivors, having beaten cancer and lived with MS for years. She works at a hospice in Connecticut, and thinks it’s the best job ever.

I have the dream job. I work for Hospice.

I immerse myself into the life of someone who is in the process of making that final surrender and immerse myself in the lives of the loved ones gathered bedside; haggard, sleep deprived, and in tremendous emotional pain.

I am often asked how I could do this kind of work because it is so sad.  I tell them. Yes, it’s sad but also  a time of great honesty and vulnerability. I am invited into the tight circle of a family when they are spent. No one cares what they look like; no one remembers when they last ate. I plunge into the midst of it. It is an honor.

Take Merrill. He is listening to his favorite country western singer, Johnny Cash. In the final stages of Huntington’s Chorea,  Merrill’s body flails around in his bed uncontrollably. I sit beside him and initiate the same conversation I have had with him for several weeks. He doesn’t recognize me, so the conversation is always new. “Merrill”, I say, “Is it true that you were a paratrooper in the Korean War?”

 Leah Singer is a writer and blogger. You can read her other work on her blog, Leah’s Thoughts, but here’s something from the pieces she wrote for Tangerine Tango:

It has been a year since my husband , Bryan, and I said “I do.” It was a beautiful wedding. We stood under a chuppah adorned with flowers and there was just enough of a breeze to keep the July evening from becoming too warm.

While the wedding was certainly lovely, getting to the chuppah was not an easy task. Especially because Bryan and I were an interfaith couple looking to plan a wedding that was welcoming to our families and held to our own religious beliefs.

I was raised in what I would call a culturally Jewish family, but certainly not religious. We celebrated the Jewish holidays at home but never went to synagogue. As I grew older and went to college, Judaism became much more important to me and I began to seek out ways to bring it into my life. Bryan’s family was Catholic, and like me acknowledged holidays and little else.

 

Weddings…

The only people who were really happy about our August 6th, 1983 wedding were Jay and I, my mother, my sister Susan, and Jay’s best man, Carl. That’s why, on our wedding photos, we are the only ones smiling with our eyes. My son and daughter are scowling at the camera, as much as to say “You made us come from Chicago to live in Connecticut for this?” Jay’s two girls are smiling, but their eyes look sad. They’re pretty sure they’ve lost their father. Jay’s mother and her second husband are trying to look gracious, but there’s a hint of disapproval there.

It’s 29 years later and things have changed. We acquired two extra sons along the way when my sister Susan died 16 years ago. Then we were presented with two sons-in-law, one daughter-in-law and six grandchildren. Our six children look amazed when we remind them we’ve been married so long – it makes them feel old. Our six grandchildren have never known us as anyone other than Grampa and Grandmama.

Remembering our wedding days, it’s a miracle we got married at all. Yes, days, because we were married twice. We’d married first on a cool Spring day in May, without telling anyone. I wore a chain store dress, and our witnesses were two people we rounded up on the day: Jay’s landlady and her gardener.  I was living in Chicago, Jay lived in Connecticut, and my Chicago immigration lawyer told me that I needed to get married because my US work visa was running out. It seemed like a terrible reason at the time, but I didn’t really mind, so long as, at some point, we had an actual wedding, for our family to attend.

We decided on August 6th, because it was a Saturday, not realizing that it was the 37th anniversary of the day the US dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. We found out that morning when the radio news reminded us. It was a hot sticky day, and we had no air conditioning in the small cottage we’d managed to afford. We switched on the fans, but were glad to go out on the deck for the wedding itself. The sun had disappeared, and the Justice of the Peace (who’d married us in May and kindly agreed to do it again) was casting worried glances at the lowering clouds.

We read our vows, which we’d written ourselves, and as the JP said “I now pronounce you man and wife,” the heavens opened with an almighty clap of thunder. We made a dash for the French doors, piling into the dining room in disarray.

After Jay’s family had left, we newly-weds, with Adam, Helenka, my mother, Susan and Carl, sat around, exhausted by the heat and the emotions of the day. Sweat dripped slowly down the back of my neck. We had fans on, but it was still humid, and wasn’t due to cool down ‘til later. I can’t remember who suggested it, but we all agreed with alacrity – we would go down to the beach for a moonlight swim. There was a moon by now, because the skies were clearing and we knew there’d be a breeze by the shore. We had the beach to ourselves – until a night watchman came up to demand what we were doing.

After we’d explained, he decided to turn a blind eye. He even wished us luck. We returned home, cooler and happier.

Our marriage has been like that. Sunshine and thunderstorms, family and friends, time alone and  time together, cool days and hot days. And through it all there’s been love, to keep us hanging in there.

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. But now I’d do it somewhere air-conditioned.

Time for the Christmas edition of this blog…

When I first started writing this “Christmas” letter it started “It’s November, and…. Then it morphed into “It’s December and…”

Fact is, you’ve probably noticed that, in fact, “It’s January and…although I’m sitting here looking at a deceptively placid and sunny lake, we’ve already had at least a foot of snow here in New Hampshire. And that was quite a shock for us when we returned from our longest vacation ever in early November. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

As I think I mentioned last time, Jay and I had taken a cruise to Alaska last year (2010) and Jay liked it so much he booked another for the whole family to go to the Caribbean in February. And so we went. Fifteen of us. Actually, Freddie and Bertie couldn’t make it, since they had to stay at their respective universities. When we said we would be traveling with six grandchildren, they seemed somewhat less disappointed to be missing the trip…

Here’s a picture of the band of seafarers, and considering it was taken at 11 at night, it’s a miracle that everyone looks more or less awake!

It turned out to be a great trip. We visited San Juan (very Spanish), Grand Turk (very sandy), and St Maarten, which Jay and his daughters had visited regularly in the 1970s. Determined to recreate this past paradise, Jay rented a truck (sorry, minivan) and we set off to find the fabled beach house of yore. After several wrong turns and dead ends, we found the beach.  

It was a stone’s throw from the airport, which in the 1970’s didn’t matter, because the planes were small and relatively infrequent. Now, the roar of jets probably drowns out the local birds. Still, the view was lovely, and Amanda (left) and Heather (right) had fun trying to decide which of the now huge beach houses had once been the cottage they rented.

Back on dry land (in Florida) Jay and I decided we needed a vacation, so we drove down to Key West, the most southerly point of the continental United States. Key West is famous for Ernest Hemingway (who spent most of his time in a local bar or fishing), Harry Truman (who spent his time gambling – either playing poker or taking important policy decisions) and Key limes. We ate a lot of Key lime flavored things – pie, of course, ice cream, barbecue sauce, dips, crisps, crackers, soap…oh, no, wait, we didn’t actually eat the soap. But you get the drift.

And talking of drift, our next stop was Sanibel Island, also off the Florida coast, and famous for its shells. When people told me they went shelling on Sanibel, I had visions of dangerous military activity, but the American verb, ‘to shell,’ means to look for shells. I dutifully did this, wandering up and down the beaches and coming home with a few bedraggled samples. Jay did much better than I did. He walked into the nearest shell shop and bought several magnificent specimens (probably from Thailand, of which more later).

From March to July, we more or less behaved ourselves, but we got itchy feet again in August, and decided, on the spur of the moment, to drive to Canada. We spent our first night in Ottawa, a city I had seriously prejudged. I think I expected it to be a completely modern city, purpose built to be the capital. I was probably mixing it up with Canberra or Brasilia. Anyway, it turned out to be delightful, historic (the changing of the guard with real Coldstream Guards) and beautiful. We’ll go back, I’m sure.

Next we visited our best man and his wife in Toronto. I had always told Carl that I thought he might actually have been the best man, but that since he was already taken… We had a wonderful time before we set off for Niagara Falls, which Jay and I had never visited together. All the hotels there now have windows facing the Falls, which meant we had a terrific view, and even though I managed to prevent Jay from shopping in Niagara itself, he managed to discover the tiny town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, from which he came away with armloads of Christmas presents for the family.

On the way home, I noticed we weren’t travelling in the right direction. I put this down to the fact that Jay’s sense of direction leaves something to be desired, and hinted that if we travelled east rather than south we might get home sooner. “Hall of Fame,” he muttered under his breath. And I thought he’d forgotten. He knows it has been a lifelong dream of mine to go to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, and so he was taking me there. Wasn’t that sweet of him?

After we returned I was off again for my third visit to my indomitable 91-year-old mother in London. Bertie decided to come too, and due to our impeccable talent for organization, we left on separate planes one day apart. We saw each other briefly in London, but while we were there, Hurricane Irene terrified the airports into closing, and we ended up flying home two days late. And in fact, we flew home to Montreal (about three hours drive from New Hampshire) because there were no flights available to either Boston or New York. Jay drove the three hours to meet us, which was noble of him, and the four hours back, since we got lost in Montreal’s one way system for an hour on the way out of the airport…

September saw us at a Yankee Red Sox baseball game in Boston. This is dangerous turf for a Yankee fan (Jay) especially if he’s taken there by his daughter Amanda, her partner Barb and their family (avid Red Sox fans). The Yankees had been losing all season long, and I had prepared myself for a stressful game by downloading a copy of War and Peace onto my cell phone to read when the going got tough. To my surprise, Napoleon had barely decided to invade Russia when the Yankees started to win, and continued to do so until the end of the game. Rejoicing ensued, especially on my part, since I would have had a two hour drive home with a despondent Yankee fan, and that’s no fun.

Just as the leaves were turning their usual gorgeous colours here in New England, we left for Indochina. Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, to be precise. Now that we’ve got the cruising thing down, we decided to try a couple of different kinds of boats, One was a junk on Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, a unique part of the world (UNESCO says so). Another was a trip down the Mekong River from Cambodia to Vietnam in a new river cruiser, something like to paddle steamers of old to look at, but with all mod cons. (Air conditioning, hot water, fitness center – where, by the way, people stuck their heads in to laugh at me as I desperately tried to shed the pounds I seemed to be gaining on board). It was a good thing we were traveling by boat – Cambodia and Thailand were both suffering from the worst floods they’d had in a long while. It was a fascinating trip and we were glad we’d been able to see Vietnam and Cambodia in particular, before they become industrialized and their old way of life is lost.

Jay was thrilled that we managed to get some clothes made in 24 hours, and that he succeeded, after much haggling, in buying two huge marble lions, which he expects will be gracing our front doorway any time now.  Ernest and Mabel are shown at left…

It turns out that Jay is a firm believer in feng shui – no, I didn’t know that, either – and the lions are going to improve the chi flowing into our home. So long as they keep Jay from breaking anything else, that’s okay with me. Maybe it’s working already, since this is the second break-free year in a row!

In Thailand, we went to visit some elephants, and soon (rather too soon, in my opinion) found ourselves riding them bareback around a large paddock. The mahouts were kind to us and didn’t laugh too much, though they did take quite a lot of photos, which was rather mean, since we looked incredibly silly. The high spot, however, was painting with the elephants.

Hearing about this, I visualized the elephants slapping paint on a large wall, with us looking on and feeding them the occasional Danish pastry. Au contraire. They painted with paintbrushes, watching our hands as we sketched the design on an easel, and copying it with the paintbrush. Jay got a bit carried away as you can see here. I am not even going to attempt to explain what it’s meant to be.

While in Vietnam, we hit the first of November. This is significant, because I had signed myself up to write a 50,000 word novel in the 30 days of November, and if I were going to succeed I’d have to start on vacation. So there I was, in the back of the bus, typing away on my laptop. Unbelievably I did it. I now have a printed copy entitled Horrible First Draft. Funny title for a novel, you might think, but I maintain it has a certain ring to it. And maybe the next version will be called Slightly Better Second Draft.

Two weeks after our return I was off to London again, which is one reason this letter is so late. My mother is battling on, living on her own, criticizing the Tory government and attending the vicar’s coffee mornings and afternoon teas. The assistant vicar got married while I was there, and my mother and I went to the wedding. But only after she’d insisted on having a new hat. Well, one must dress for a wedding, it goes without saying.

Then came Christmas and the New Year. My daughter Helenka and her children went back to Connecticut, and our other daughters Amanda and Heather and their families came for New Year’s weekend. So it was a very busy week (meals for 12 every day…)

However, my reward for this virtuous life was that we left on January 5th for a cruise through the Panama Canal and on to South America and Machu Picchu. I had my fingers crossed that Jay wouldn’t fall off this fabulous Inca ruin high in the Andes. And told him he’d better not buy a llama, either, no matter how nice a pet it might make. Progress report next year, or sooner if you sign up to follow this blog. 🙂

Here’s hoping you have a very happy and healthy 2012!

A Landfill Waiting to Happen

You’d think it would be easy. The plastic, glass and cans go in there, and the newspaper, card and junk mail goes there. The men I live with have a dozen (more or less) university degrees between them. And yet, when it comes to recycling, it’s harder to get them to do it right than it would be to put socks on an octopus.

Let’s take my husband. Please. I can’t deny he’s getting a bit better, but it’s taken me at least ten years to explain that cardboard you can bend (like cereal packets) is, for the purposes of recycling, paper. He still takes the card to the dump inside a corrugated cardboard box, where he proffers it proudly to the tired man who’s given up trying to explain.

Please don't squeeze...

As for plastic – when the town started recycling, it would only take plastics 1 & 2, but it seemed to be beyond my husband to find the symbol on the container. I tried to make it easier for him by explaining that it meant clear plastic like milk containers and water bottles, and colored containers from dishwashing liquids and other household cleaning products. After a while, I gave up and started weeding out the yogurt pots, the paper milk cartons, Styrofoam coffee cups and used flowerpots, and putting them in the trash.

As for washing things before recycling – it seems a concept that’s completely alien to my men. Not only do they not wash their soda bottles, but they twist the bottle caps on so tightly that I can’t open them to wash out the bottles myself. Aaargh!

A few months ago, the town started recycling almost everything, telling us that we could put all the paper together and all the plastic, glass and cans in a separate container. You might be thinking that this surely made it all easier – but I’m afraid that the only difference is that I’m now retrieving all the yogurt pots, Styrofoam cups, and  flowerpots from the trash, washing them, and recycling them myself. As for milk cartons, the middles of toilet rolls and paper towels, egg boxes and the like, my men just can’t seem to grasp that they are made from paper of differing thicknesses. Paper bags covered in grease from the Chinese take-out, on the other hand, are squashed into a ball and lobbed at the recycling bin.

Last week, the Good Men Project, http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/is-recycling-for-girly-men-naaaah/, an online men’s magazine that I write for, ran an article intimating (the way I read it) that women were much more likely to recycle than men. I don’t think that my guys assume  recycling is a woman’s job. But I do think they don’t seem to understand the value of it, even though our town dump tells us how much money they’re making by recycling. It’s on a huge sign that gets updated regularly as you drive in.

A landfill waiting to happen

Maybe it’s because my husband doesn’t quite believe in global warming.  “We had more snow than ever last winter,” he says, and of course, our tiny part of the world is the entire globe to him, so it must be getting colder. My sons believe in global warming, but don’t care enough about the planet – they’re already planning to colonize Mars. All I can hope is that they end up with women who do care – or Mars will be a landfill before they know it.

Red Sox, Brown Armchair

We went to the Red Sox Game last night. Nothing unusual about that, you might think. But in fact, this is something we do only once a year, when one of our lovely daughters and her partner buy tickets for my husband Jay’s birthday present. In a way, this is a backhanded gift, since they are avid Red Sox fans and have even indoctrinated their poor misguided 6 year-old son. And they know that Jay is a rabid Yankee fan. With the Yankees current record, we were going to drive two hours to be humiliated.

So it was with some trepidation that I got into the truck in New Hampshire for the trip to Boston. Truck, you ask? This is Jay’s red pickup truck, with the number plate MY TOY. (They allow this sort of foolishness in New Hampshire, where we legally reside.)  Our youngest son had texted just that morning, wondering whether we still had the Pier One sofa (circa 1991) that had been languishing in the basement. If so, he pleaded, could he possibly have it for his new student apartment at BU? I saw a chance to kill two birds with one stone. If the Yankees were to be ignominiously slaughtered in the Fenway amphitheatre, at least one positive thing would come out of it – Son would be comfortable.

I found the sofa in the basement, and even a matching armchair. No problem to get them up to ground level and into the truck. They were made of foam and some sort of balsa wood and weighed less than a bag of mulch… I suggested that maybe it would be a good idea to strap the furniture down, but this was met with a firm “No” from Jay, who was sure that nothing could budge these objects. (Jay failed physics in High School, I suspect.) And off we went.

We were 20 miles down I-89 when Jay asked me to look and see whether the armchair was still on board. I turned round and giggled. I am not by nature a giggler, and this was by way of a nervous reaction.

“Nope,” I said, “it’s gone.” Jay smiled indulgently. He thought I was kidding. “No, really,” I repeated. Language ensued.

Jay made an illegal U-turn and started back up the highway. “Keep an eye out for it,” he said.

New Hampshire being a rural state, there were forests between us and the opposite lanes, and the armchair was brown, so I knew there’d be no hope of seeing it. But I shut up and kept an eye out as directed. It seemed the armchair had decided to Live Free or Die. It was Jay who decided we should go back to the beginning of our trip, and it turned out he was right. (This happens sometimes…) About half a mile from where we’d joined the highway was our armchair, sitting sedately by the side of the road, its cushion next to it, and one of its feet lurking nearby. It was the work of moments (more or less) to tie the thing down, although we were hampered somewhat by having no idea of how to work the ratchet thingies on the straps and in the end resorted to the scouting knots of our youth. In the event, it took another two and a half hours to reach Boston, and we ditched the truck outside Fenway stadium, having contacted Son to come and drive it to his flat.

And then came the game. It took three hours and forty minutes before I could persuade Jay to leave, and we hadn’t even got to the top of the eighth (I believe that’s the expression – second half of the eighth inning, right? For foreign readers, eighth out of nine) He didn’t want to leave because the Yankees – unbelievably – were winning. Jay, of course, immediately claimed credit. On the way home he was planning our trip to the next Yankees game, wherever it is. Because, he says, they obviously can’t win without him. This could become very expensive, even if I don’t go with him. I’d rather deliver armchairs.