Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Mother and Daughter

Big excitement here. Our daughter is coming home for ten days. We only heard yesterday – she has been trying to figure out a good time to come, and yesterday she found a window of opportunity. We will spend some days at Slow Loris – she loves it almost as much as our son does. She is the only one of my relatives who regularly reads my blog. Or at least the only one who comments on it.

I have finished my review. It’s too bad I don’t get paid by the hour, or for that matter, too bad I don’t get paid at all.

Family and writing have made up the major portion of my life. I do some volunteer work – less now than before. I used to teach. I read. I used to have an herb garden. Friends.

Because my mother went into a coma before she died, I never said goodbye. She couldn’t give me her last wishes, so I made them up. I knew she that there were three things she worried about. One was that I wouldn’t tweeze the hairs from my chin, one was that I would drink too much, and one was that I wouldn’t dress my daughter in “cute” clothes. I regularly (I almost wrote “religiously” because that is how I feel about it) tweeze the hairs, I am a complete teetotaler, and for as long as she would let me, I dressed my daughter in “cute” clothes. She was five when my mother died, and she became very firm about what to wear by the time she was seven and that didn’t include “cute” clothes. However, I never did stop spending effort and money on keeping her as my mother would have wished.

Monday, August 21, 2006

In Other People's Heads

One reason, I feel, that my blog-novel isn’t working is that there can be no back and forth with a fictional character. One of the most pleasant surprises I have had in blogging is the back-and-forth. I hadn’t expected that. I notice that some blogs don’t allow or invite comments. There must be a good reason for that, but the blogger is missing something exciting. Some time ago, the Scribbling Woman mentioned that she got some unwanted comments, but continued allowing them anyway. The idea that I am part of a vast blogosphere is exciting. It is great fun for me to read the other blogs that I read regularly and am disappointed when there is a hiatus.

I belong to two writers’ groups. I have the same kind of interest in the member’s bi-weekly offerings. There is something about writing that connects me more directly than conversation does with the other people in the dialogue. We have had e-mail for a long time now – ten years? We stay more closely in touch with those with whom we exchange e-mails. In one instance, we got on a family group e-mail because everyone in the group just hits the “reply to all” button. We have met most of the people in that group, but we only know two of them well – the others we know only because we have heard our two friends talk about them. I feel as if I have been admitted to an inner circle.

I noticed when I was teaching creative writing that the members of a class would become close and would stay in touch even after the class was over. Often the class would be the first experience the writers had to share their work, heady stuff, they would tell me.

William Ernest Hocking, whose book, The Meaning of God in Human Experience, changed my way of thinking, has a wonderful section about how people know each other. He says that people express the thought that it would be wonderful if they could know another person from the inside out – share their thinking, their feelings, be inside the other’s head. We do in fact because when we think we are using the things of this world, so that sitting in a room with someone else, we know a good deal of what is going on in their head – seeing the furniture, witnessing the other people’s expressions, hearing the voices, smelling the smells. This is true also about reading someone’s thoughts, especially if we perceive these thoughts to be candid, authentic.

Over in “This Space”, the blogger quotes John Banville:

“There's a notion that we writers are interested in the world; that we like the peculiarities of people and collecting characters… Fiction gives the illusion of showing how we live - but it is a thing in itself. Great art looks and smells like the world, that's its trick. But the work of art is always about the work of art."

That’s the great thing about a work of fiction. You are getting exactly what is in the writer’s head. Yes, of course there is re-writing and editing, but essentially you are catching a glimpse of the imagination of the writer.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


In church today, in keeping with the theme this summer of having lay people talk about their faith, the speaker was a Biblical scholar, and her focus was the subject of her PhD thesis, the book of Ruth. She had some interesting points to make that I had never considered. The book starts out Once Upon a Time and thus announces itself as a story rather than history. Because Ruth is a Moabite, she is surprised that Boaz is kind to her, a foreigner. What I didn’t know is that the legendary foundation of Moab is chronicled in the Bible: Lot’s two daughters seducing him so that they can have a child. The Moabites come from that ignominious beginning.

Our speaker didn’t say this, but I was thinking that from a genetic point of view, Ruth was wise to go into Judah to find a mate. What a great thing it has been for North Americans to have the genes of many countries. I come from a small village, and I can’t think of one of my contemporaries who married someone from the village. I have read that there is something in women’s makeup that prevents us from wanting to mate with our brothers and the boys in our neighbourhood are too much like brothers. We don’t often marry the proverbial “boy next door.” The aim of our complicated method of reproduction seems to be to have as many different kinds of unique individuals as possible.

I have noticed that people often speculate that a child looks like so and so or acts like so and so. It is interesting to try to figure out which genes are responsible for making us what we are. My mother-in-law, husband and daughter all have the same wiry hair and dark blue eyes. On the other hand my brother and I are left-handed, but our parents were right-handed. We don’t look like either of them nor do we look like each other. I would think I was adopted except that I have my mother’s feet. My daughter does too. I also like mayonnaise, as my mother did. My parents-in-law both had a strong addiction to cigarettes, as does my husband. This bad gene is more than compensated for by his getting their smart genes.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

More About Houses

We moved into our house Sept. 1 forty years ago. We had gone to stay with my parents while it was being built. When we left, it was a hole in the ground. When we arrived back, there miraculously was the house. I can’t reconstruct what image I had of it as we waited that summer in Massachusetts, but of course it was nothing like the reality. Although I got along well with my parents, who bent over backwards to make our three month stay pleasant, I was so happy to be back, to be settled, to have our own home. I was tired after the trip and after getting the beds and the crib set up. After the kids were in bed, I stepped out on the front stoop. It faces northwest and as I looked out over the trees across the street, I was startled to see northern lights, the first I had ever seen. They were, I thought, a sign that all was right with our world, that we had done the wise thing in building this house. The house was too small, mud surrounded it, and we were only the second house on the street so there were no neighbors, no streetlights. But in a few years we had finished basement, constructed a lawn, and eight years later we had an addition put on which alleviated the crush. Neighbors moved in with 53 children, and the city made a park and paved the street.

Over the years we have made many changes: the most recent ones are to have the back deck screened in and to have the washer and dryer brought up from the cellar to the back hall.

There have been moments when I have detested the place – its basement filling up with junk, its walls, ceilings and windows always covered with tobacco goo, and its leaks that let water come into the basement and through the ceiling. I am often overwhelmed with trying to keep the place clean enough to satisfy the health authorities if not my aunt, with the horror of even the most basic renovations such as painting. But it is surely true that it has been as much a part of my life as are my husband and my children, and I can hardly imagine living anywhere else.

In my parent’s homestead, my bedroom was over the kitchen and leading to it was a steep stairway with no banister, quite treacherous. The strange thing is that 60 years after I had lived there, even when my knees got creaky, I could go down those stairs without worry. It was as if my body knew those stairs in its very bones and in the synapses of its brain. I lived fulltime in that house for only eight or nine years. How deeply then must this house, that I have lived in for 40 years, be ingrained into the synapses of my brain? Often people who must be transplanted to a nursing home die within a few months. Changing abodes is perilous business.

Friday, August 18, 2006

On Creating a Home

Over in Another Country/Walker (now called Pilgrim), Poor Mad Peter is chronicling the buying and creating of a home. I think that for most of us making a home is our single most satisfying creation.

Friends of ours bought a rather scruffy house on the banks of a lovely little river. A while ago they put on a small addition, designed by the wife, and the difference it made is amazing. Now there is a view of the river, of the bird feeders, of a magnificent tree. The house reflects their personalities too, their art collection and the art they both make.

Another couple have a house that the two created together: her weavings, antiques from both their ancestral homes, their son’s woodblock prints, a wonderful room that his carpentry created as her studio. On our street is a house that was quite plain. The new owner invented a color scheme, did landscaping, made an unusual deck. The siding he wanted was too expensive, so he literally invented another cheaper one. He changed plain Jane into something quite handsome.

Unlike most creations, a house is a collaborative affair, usually between the spouses. When the kids come along, they contribute too. Our son made a mural on the wall of his bedroom that depicts various characters in the Chronicles of Narnia.

Another friend designed a house that his son-in-law built, along with help from various members of the family. The chimney of the fireplace is so tall (twenty feet?) that his son had a hook put in the top so they all could practice rappelling.

I have already written about the camp our son created, Slow Loris.

Our local newspaper regularly has an article about someone's home, and often it is disappointing. The photos show a house straight out of a woman's decorating magazine with no stamp of the owners, no indication of the owners' personality.

Bill and I have been lazy for quite a few years about re-inventing our house.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The things of this world

One of my favorite quotations is by St. Augustine, “Love calls me to the things of this world.” Richard Wilbur uses it as the title of a wonderful poem. The idea that we are kept tied to this world, even in the midst of tragedy, by the things of the world is to me, one of the most profound of truths. When I see a child entranced by a bug – a white caterpillar with a black stripe down its back or a luna moth – I remember that I myself don’t spend enough time with what the world offers. There are moments of grace, however, where the world jumps up and slaps me: the time several years ago when Bill and I went on our first walk of the spring and came upon a patch of yellow flowers. Afterwards we found out its name, coltsfoot, and learned that it is the earliest wildflower of our region. Richard Wilbur wakes to the sound of the clothes line pulley and to the look of sheets hanging on the line. A moment of grace.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


I have been re-reading Ernest Buckler’s Ox Bells and Fireflies. I have compared the book I am reviewing, When I Was Young & In My Prime, to Buckler’s book. Both books are structured in small chunks, bits and pieces, unified by running themes, with little narrative thrust or plot. Buckler says straight out that his is a memoir, but he also suggests that it is fictionalized. Munce’s book, although a novel, strongly suggests that a lot of it is memoir, that the details are remembered, not invented. Both use the anecdote, rather than the scene, as building blocks. Munce uses many forms, much like Viktor Shlovsky and Guy Davenport do: prose-poems, a government pamphlet, an auctioneer’s patter at a farm sale. Both are interested in memory. A unifying theme of both is birds.

Many blogs do proceed by anecdote and by their very nature are structured in bits and pieces. Litlove, over at Tales From the Reading Room, is ruminating about the form of the blog, the blog as genre. A blog’s inherent structural difficulty is that it is read backwards. The writer begins at the beginning, with his first post, but the reader is reading only the latest installment. Of course a reader could go back to the beginning and read straight through to the present, but probably not many do. As a blogger, how do you use this backward quality? If a blog was made into a book, would it start at the beginning, at the blogger’s first post, and continue to the last one? This would destroy the intention, wouldn’t it? In a journal made into a book, the reader reads from the starting point to the end. There is usually a structure – a year in the life of, the constructing of a home, a journey.

The writer of the blog isn’t going to conform to an overall structure and probably isn’t going to envision an end. Some blogs do have a unifying theme – cooking, or making dresses, or homeschooling for example, but most have various concerns and passions.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Bad Food

My gastronomic experiences in Nova Scotia ran the gamut from the one at Fat Frank’s in Halifax to one in Shelburne. I ordered salt cod because I hadn’t had it since I was young. This was the most inedible meal I have ever been served. The chef had no idea how to cook salt cod; he had merely heated it up. Salt cod that has not been soaked and re-soaked and cooked and fussed over is like cotton fiber, or the choke part of artichokes or milkweed pod fiber. If I had tried to eat it, I would have surely choked. When I pointed this out to the waitress, she saw immediately what the trouble was. She brought me another meal and didn’t charge us for either mine or Bill’s.

Once in Maine I had a bowl of fish chowder (ordinarily one of my favorite dishes) that didn’t have even one tiny speck of fish in it. I am not exaggerating. That however was edible. To be fair to Shelburne, the most delicious fish chowder I ever had was in that lovely town.

In rural Quebec I had spoiled chicken. Even though I had never tasted spoiled chicken before, I recognized it after only one bite. It has a disagreeable vinegary taste to it. The waitress didn’t speak English, so I used my French: pointing to the chicken, I said, “Poulet est mauvais.” Our kids thought this was hilarious, and the phrase has become part of the family lexicon. The waitress did understand me.

Fifty years ago, in Austel, Georgia, we stopped to eat at a Greyhound bus station. There was hardly anything on the handwritten menu, and when we ordered, the waitress whispered, “I wouldn’t order that if I was you.” What would you suggest? She told us. The meal was awful, but I can’t remember what it was because for fifty years we have wondered what the other meal would have been like.

The most disgusting meal I ever saw was one Bill was served. We decided to try the new Brazilian restaurant, but when we arrived, they apologized over-profusely, saying that they didn’t have anything that was on the menu. They suggested two things they could make. I had one, Bill the other. I don’t remember what I had because the appearance of what he had was so astoundingly repulsive. It was an egg dish, the eggs barely cooked, with a plain tomato sauce over it. The tomato sauce mixing with the runny bright yellow yolk and the transparent white of the uncooked albumin turned my stomach. Bill didn’t mind it, he said.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Writing A Review

I am nearly finished writing a book review. Every time I agree to write one, I say to myself, Never again. Fortunately, I liked the book, When I Was Young & In My Prime. I understood and appreciated what she was trying to do. Next I have to write a review of a book I didn’t like. I never agree to write reviews of books I don’t like – what’s the point, I think – but somehow I got myself into this. What is more, it is about a subject I knew very little about and so have had to do a lot of reading to bone up. That part is good. Once I was in a writing group that was open to anyone, and as a consequence there was a lot of awfully bad writing. One of our group, an accomplished poet, editor, teacher, could always find something good to say about any poem. What he would say would be true, too, and helpful. I have tried to do the same, but it is difficult to do, requiring much concentration.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Something Happened Last Night

Every year about this time, my mother-in-law would say, “Something happened last night,” meaning that the weather overnight had changed from summer to autumn. We would nearly always be visiting her in the middle of August. Summer school would be over, the boys’ baseball or later their jobs would be finished.

Last night something happened. Up at Slow Loris they had a fire in the wood stove. This morning here in town the outside thermometer read 7 degrees Celsius, 44 Fahrenheit.

When Canada changed to the metric system, we found it difficult to get a handle on Celsius. Eventually we discovered that we used Celsius for the winter and Fahrenheit for the summer. Bill says that is because zero, rather than 32, is a rational base for understanding freezing, whereas Celsius doesn’t have the fine gradations needed to understand hot weather. The car we bought 2 years ago has a thermometer in it. I printed out a chart comparing the two systems. I will say, “It’s 22 out.” Bill will say, “What’s that in Fahrenheit”, and I will get the chart out of the glove compartment.

When I was young, my father measured the distance from our house to Gilson’s store, exactly a mile. I walked it often and so knew in my bones what a mile was. The post office was halfway there so I knew what a half mile was. I will never know what a kilometer is.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Reading Faces

Last Sunday, at the Camp of the Slow Loris, I fell out of a hammock, or to be more precise, I fell out trying to get into the hammock. I plunged face down on the forest floor, pushing my glasses into my nose. I had two superficial scrapes, which bled at first and scared my son, he thinking I had lost an eye. The next morning I had developed a black eye, but the glasses themselves didn’t get bent or scratched, my nose was intact, my vision fine, and my eyes not bloodshot.

A few days later I took a self-portrait with my new digital camera to send in e-mails as a joke, but my grandchild saw it, was “scared”, and had a “bad dream” about it. The neighbour’s child saw my black eye, was visibly shocked and presented such an alarming picture to the parents that the wife brought me over food. Another neighbour said I looked so awful that I wouldn’t be able to go out of the house for two weeks. My daughter wrote, apologetically, that she was going to delete the photo because it looked so “harsh.” She was not amused, I could tell.

Various charitable agencies often use a photo of a sad child or a child with bruises in their ads that ask for donations. In our newspapers a while ago, there was a child with a birthmark that made her face look as if it had been bruised. She actually had been mistreated, but not on her face. The photo was used over and over, a lie in one way. We do judge a person’s mental and physical health by their face, no doubt about it, and a child must learn that very early.

Last month my aunt phoned me to complain that I hadn’t worn my one false tooth to have breakfast with her. “You look awful without it.” I have always been vain about not being vain, but these experiences have taught me a lesson. Now that I am old, I do owe something to my friends and relatives to assure them that I am in good health. Of course they worry if they think I am not well. I did have a breast cancer removed nine years ago, but knock on wood, I have been free of cancer ever since and in general I am in good health. I guess I need to show it.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

St. Johnswort

St. Johnswort

St. Johnswort is easy to identify because its leaves have transparent round “windows.” In England it was smoked on bonfires on St. John’s Eve and then hung in doorways to keep out evil spirits. St. John’s Day or St. Jean Baptiste day, June 24, is important around here because our river was discovered by Champlain that day, hence the name.

I have noticed that St. Johnswort has become a popular herb for those who dose themselves. I have heard people (always women) give out herbal information as if it were scientifically proved. My herb books are fascinating reading but definitely not scientific. Once I heard a woman in the health food store giving advice about preparing a tea from the mistletoe she was selling. Mistletoe is poisonous, affects the heart, and was used to cause abortions. The herbalists were usually women and their clients were women. In the past many different herbs were used to cause abortions. I think many of these must have worked by causing ruptured blood vessels.

The strength of the herb is determined by where it is grown and in what soil. Water hemlock, poison in some climates, can be eaten in other climates. It grows wild here in the ditches of the road to the golf course.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Family Circle

My aunt phoned last night, and we got talking about her father. I have written about him before, the early Jehovah Witness. She described how special the time with him was when they would kneel at her bedside to say her prayers. He would say, “Who do you want to bless tonight?” She would name the usual people and sometimes add someone new. This is a lovely picture, isn’t it? I am assuming he did this with my mother as well. I wonder why she didn’t do it with me. The closest my mother and I came to naming people was to induce me to eat she would say, “This spoonful is going down to Grammie. This spoonful is going down to Aunt Tempie.” The idea that there was an intimate circle of relatives and friends who should be blessed or fed was early ingrained in my aunt’s mind, my mother’s, mine. My mother expanded that circle to include many of the walking wounded of the world.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Toad at Slow Loris

A Garden Path

Bill, our son and I were up to our camp over the long weekend. I have written about the place before. It is a beautiful spot. The cabin itself is incredible, built by our son and his friend. The beams are made of the large cedar trees that had to be cut down in order for us to have a septic field. Gradually we have introduced amenities – a deck, wooden walkways to the shore of the lake, a dock, a platform down by the water, hot water, stove and fridge, ingenious double-decker beds that are a double bed on the bottom and a single bed on the top.

This weekend we were building a path designed by our son, to go around the side of the cabin and link up with the walkways. The paths are lined with cedar logs, filled with rocks. This required shoveling the rocks into a bucket and carrying it to the path. Top soil and then wood chips will be put over the rocks. I had more exercise in one day than I usually have in two weeks. I am not good at exercising for itself, but I love to exercise when it involves having something substantial at the end. I think many people my age feel this way. It is surprising to me that so many young people exercise for its own sake – walking briskly in all kinds of weather, walking on a treadmill in their cellar, or going to a gym. The franchise Curves spread like wildfire throughout North America on the principle of jumping on and off machines to lively music. If someone could invent an exercise routine where something was actually accomplished, I think it would become popular.

We haven’t been able to settle on what to call the building: cabin or cottage? For me, cabin has a romantic ring. A cabin in the woods. Thoreau’s cabin. We do have a name for the building: Slow Loris. This comes from a piece of art that Bill made and which hangs in the living room. It is of a Slow Loris (a kind of monkey creature of the sloth family), made of thick gesso, painted pink, with large red beads for eyes. Bill fell in love with the beads at a yard sale and had to figure out how to use them.

Monday, August 07, 2006

A Perfect Moment

The most superb meal I have ever had was at Fat Franks in Halifax sometime in the early 80’s. I had gone to give a writers’ workshop there; the organizers had given me a meal allowance, but I hadn’t used any of it. I decided to blow it all on one meal. Someone told me about Fat Franks. I began with the single best thing I have ever put in my mouth, saffron soup, a plain cream soup flavored with saffron. At the time I had never tasted saffron, just read about it. I had a delicate, perfectly cooked Coquilles St Jacques for the main course. It had an ideal blend of flavors. I had never had the dish made by anyone else but myself. The dessert was Bavarian cream so subtle that it required my taking one bite, waiting, taking another.

As soon as each course was served, a fat man in a chef’s hat stood in the doorway watching me, staring at me, Fat Frank himself, I figured. When I had finished each course, he would disappear until the waiter brought the next one. I wondered why he was watching me. Did he think that because I was alone, I was a restaurant critic? Could he tell by what I ordered that I would enjoy the food? Was my delight evident? As I was eating the Bavarian cream, he came to the table and commanded, “Eat it all.” Yes, I said, I am just slowing down to enjoy it fully. The meal cost $21, quite a price for that time. As I was leaving, the man I presumed to be Fat Frank helped me on with my coat. I said something complimentary. He beamed.

Alas, Fat Franks had closed by the next time I got to Halifax.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

How To Become Refreshed

At the beginning of summer, our minister gave out a form titled, “How I find my sacred balance”, to fill in and bring back in September. We are to describe how we use the summer to refresh ourselves, to become rejuvenated. I have never found the summers to be refreshing. There is no schedule, for one thing, and I have always thrived on a schedule, more so as I grow older. For most of my life, the year began in September because school began then. Now that my nest is empty and my husband is retired, there is no beginning, no ending. Much of the time I feel as if someone has taken a wooden spoon, stuck it in my brain, and stirred energetically. I used to be rejuvenated by writing, always in the morning, from 9 to 12, when the kids would be in school and even after they left home. Now I don’t have anything that compels me. Every once in a while, depressed, I make out a vigorous schedule, type it out in a large font, post it in several places -- and don’t follow it.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

New Brunswick Food

When we came to Fredericton, we discovered some wonderful bargains in food. One was butter. The dairy industry had persuaded the government to enact a bill that protected butter so that it was just as cheap as margarine. What is more, it was delicious butter. Butter now is more expensive than margarine, but after years of real butter, I can never go back to margarine. A brand of Sussex NB butter has consistently been named the best butter in the world in international competitions.

Another bargain was smoked salmon, in the US an unaffordable luxury. I concocted a dish which I fed to every American visitor. It was really just a cream sauce with smoked salmon, modeled on creamed finnan haddie, a dish my father loved. I found out that there were two kinds of smoked salmon. Cold smoked salmon is like lox, smooth, sliced thin, put on bagels, or crackers with cream cheese. Hot smoked salmon is more like cooked salmon, thick. I used the hot smoked salmon, served with boiled potatoes. It is one of my favorite dishes.

I discovered fiddleheads, available in May and June, picked along streams and rivers. They are the unopened fern buds of the fiddlehead fern, shaped like the head of a fiddle. Boil them; serve them with butter, or butter and lemon juice, or hollandaise sauce. When we would go to visit my parents after university got out, we would take my father a big bag of fiddleheads.

We discovered the Saturday farmer’s market. Mr. Merrithew had delicious liver. The liver was so good that people lined up at his stall as soon as the market opened. Eventually, getting Mr. Merrithew’s liver involved the strategy the three pigs used, getting up earlier and earlier to beat the wolf, until finally people would drive out to Keswick to his butcher shop Friday evening. He was a tall man with the largest hands I have ever seen.

Twenty years after we arrived, the Patels began to sell samosas at the market. Since I first tasted Mrs. Patel’s samosas, I have had those of many other cooks, but none ever compare. The Patels are now threatening to shut down their operation because others at the market complain that their long lines interfere with other businesses. Unbelievable.

For a number of years Bill had a garden plot in a community field presided over by Dr. Dorothy Farmer. From that plot we had tiny new potatoes: the essence of potato.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Eating and Cooking

As long as I can remember I have loved to eat. I do remember, however, that my mother would try to get me to eat by feeding me, saying, with each spoonful, “This is going down to Aunt Tempie, this is going down to Grammie.” I take it from this memory that I wasn’t a good eater when I was small.

My brother and I didn’t have many rules, but one was inviolable: no fighting or arguing at the table. Supper was to be a pleasant occasion. We weren’t forced to eat anything we didn’t like, although we were urged just to try it. I remember once when I refused mushrooms, that my dad said, “Someday you will love mushrooms.” And he was right. We always ate well, even when money was tight.

My father did the grocery shopping. He had worked for a while in a grocery store, learning to be a butcher, and so he knew how to pick out meat. He liked trying new things. He would go all over Lowell and vicinity for special items: one place had pure peanut butter, another liverwurst, another pickled kielbasa, another good corned beef. Way before such things became popular, we had sour cream, pita bread, Lebanese cheese. Often my brother and I would go with him. Sometimes he would get some exotic treat for us to bring to school. I remember bringing kumquats to school for my first grade (we had two grades in a room, so it was for the second grade as well.) Needless to say, the kumquats weren’t well-liked, although my classmates remembered them for many years.

My mother didn’t teach me to cook, so when I got married, I had to fend for myself. My father helped out by buying me cookbooks. I came to love cooking, especially new dishes. Early on, I made a dish of tuna fish and grapes. “Hot grapes?” my husband said, incredulous. Once I bought a pork shoulder and began to cook it when we got home from work. I kept looking at it; it kept being pink. About 11 PM, we went out to a restaurant. It cooked all night, and in the morning it was still pink. I am not sure when I finally realized I had bought a ham, not a pork roast.