Monday, June 30, 2008

Some learning to be done.......

This promises to be a busy and interesting day. We're packed to leave for Delaware this afternoon and will be there for a week. (Yes, I packed my flash drive this time and added food pictures to it. Nothing big is planned for the week so I should have time for a few posts.)

We'd leave earlier, but we have a meeting with our financial planner to flesh out the idea he threw out last week about annuitizing Steve's 401k for retirement income. At first blush it sounds promising--we'll get the details today.

We are having a granite countertop installed in our kitchen while we're away. The formica we have now is showing its age, and besides, according to HGTV, formica is just not the thing to have these days in a well-appointed kitchen, tsk, tsk. With all thoughts on showing the house to its best advantage, we decided to take the plunge. Amazing, the deals you can come up with doing a little research. My niece put us on to a website: It's a one-stop shopping place for all things kitchen counter, guiding you to small, independent companies who will do a job for a good price. Just for curiosity, we asked Sears to do an estimate. What they said would cost us $10,000 is instead being done for $3900, including a new double sink and faucet. And for the $3900 the job will be done in one day, to Sears's 2 weeks. Are people really so brand-loyal that the Sears name is worth that much? I don't understand how they can make any sales otherwise, especially considering that Sears itself doesn't even do the work, but contracts it out. Of course, the proof will be in the pudding. I'll report on the results, with b/a pictures. My niece was happy with the work she had done.......

So I'm off. Hope your week is splendid!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

It's another bright, hot, and muggy day, best spent indoors, although I do see the occasional stroller or biker passing by on the street as I write. They must like to sweat.

I've never liked to exert myself in the heat. When I was a kid, there was always tension in the house when my parents asked me to do yard work in the heat of the day. Without fail I'd do a half-assed job and quit because I hated working outside in the heat. They'd insist that I go back out and "finish the job," and I complied with all the sullenness a 12-year-old can muster, at least in going back out. But I don't think I ever did a landscaping chore up to my parents' standards--I just didn't care enough. The worst job of all was trimming the edges of the lawn--this was before the advent of electric string trimmers. All there was to use were those scissors-type clippers with the handles that you squeezed together. They were big and bulky and never really sharp enough to do a neat trim; they tore out more grass by the roots than cut it--at least in my careless hands.

Funny how the worm turns when you're responsible for something yourself. Steve, project-driven as he is, took it as a given that we'd have a showplace yard wherever we lived, and I enthusiastically agreed, literally never looking back. We both had models in our minds from our upbringings, it wasn't as if we were starting from scratch. My parents followed the progress of every garden and yard addition we made with avid, proud, and, I'd have to say, amazed interest, although they never really rubbed it in about my former reluctance to do the self-same work that I was so proud of now. The accretion of years of work on this place has resulted in the nicest looking house on our street, for sure, and has provided inspiration for our neighbors. We've accomplished much.

But I still hate working in the heat.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Summer Saturday, 2008

Today's post is really just an excuse to show you these flower pictures I took this morning. The one on the left is an actual cactus that just sits like a lump all winter and spring, and then, when the temperature hits the 90s, bursts into these happy blooms with a gentle, honeyed scent. The one above is in the Christmas cactus family but is one of two I have that bloom mid-year, when it's hot.

We have so many plants, the house looks like a nursery in the wintertime. There's barely room to put anything else on shelves and counters and it's always tempting to let some of them go. But in the summer, when they are out in the elements where they belong, they're so beautiful that I realize getting rid of any of them is unthinkable. Besides, most of them have been with us for as long as there's been an "us." They're part of the family. Our new house will have a dedicated plant room. Heaven help us all.

I'm not in a philosophical frame of mind and can't think of anything to reminisce about. Steve's where he always is on a weekend at home: working on the walls in the bathroom. He discovered that the wallpaper--all of it--would come down with ease, probably because it's been in a steamy bathroom for 20 years. So he'll be able to paint over properly treated walls. That's newsworthy!

Friday, June 27, 2008



No fake-out this time, folks. I'm back with some good eats, and this is one of my all-time summer favorites. It takes advantage of the season's offerings as well as staples like potatoes and garlic, it's elegant in its basic simplicity, and the various sweet and salty flavors at play are, at least to me, delicious.

I collected this recipe from I-don't-know-where. You probably know there are many variations on this basic green bean, potato and tuna salad, from completely stripped down to ultra-fancy versions calling for freshly grilled tuna on the rare side. This is more of an everyday version that is not above opening a can or a bottle or two. Not that I have anything against the fancy stuff, but I don't always want to fire up my charcoal grill just to cook a single tuna steak for five minutes.

As usual, this recipe is a guide, not law. If olives and capers together seem like overkill, leave one of them out. (I added the capers to this one.) Also, this dish is one of the very few where I think tarragon is absolutely necessary, but oddly enough the original of this recipe didn't call for it. Maybe the author (and you) know something I don't, but to me tarragon, of which I'm not normally a big fan, is a perfect accompaniment to the unique mix of flavors here.

(In case you're curious: those blue chunks in the picture are potatoes. I thought I'd try them instead of the usual baby red ones. They're good! They have a sweeter and deeper flavor--but not like yams--than the usual red or white boiler. If you can get them, try them. If not, it's a loss, but nothing major.)

For the salad:

6 small red new potatoes (or blue, of available), quartered, quarters then halved cross-wise into chunks
1 pound green beans
1 cup artichoke hearts
3 small tomatoes, quartered, quarters then halved
3 hard boiled eggs, chopped
1/2 cup black olives
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1 large can albacore tuna packed in water, drained and chunked
Mixed greens

For the vinaigrette:

1 teaspoon garlic
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon dried tarragon or 1 tablespoon fresh, chopped fine
Black pepper to taste
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Season potato chunks with a pinch of salt and steam. When they can be pierced with a fork (7-10 minutes), place potatoes in a large salad bowl. Repeat with green beans, adding to potatoes in bowl when done.

While potatoes and beans are steaming, make vinaigrette: grind garlic and salt into a paste with a mortar and pestle. Place garlic paste in a shaker container with vinegar, mustard, tarragon and pepper. Add olive oil, cover container and shake ingredients to form an emulsion. Pour dressing over still-hot potatoes and beans. Add all remaining salad ingredients except mixed greens and toss to cover all with dressing. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

To serve, place handfuls of mixed greens on individual plates and spoon salad over top.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Pleasures of the morning

With a predicted high temperature today of 95--and humidity to match--we begin the doldrums of summer. In these parts we have two such periods during the year: the winter, when it's too cold and damp to do anything outside but run to get back inside, and the summer, when it's too hot to do anything but sit very still, if you have to be outside at all.

There are practical reasons why Steve and I have both developed into confirmed early risers. When I was working, I wanted to get on the roads and into town before the traffic became heavy and all the good parking places were gone. I was motivated by the strong belief that I wasn't put on this earth to sit in traffic. There were so many bonuses to the scheme that I quickly grew to believe it was the only way to go: getting to the office early meant an hour or so of quiet time to get busy work done or to plan calmly and thoroughly for anything big that might be happening during the day. And I was free to end my day early, as well. That was made easier by the fact that all the countries I worked with were 4 or 5 hours ahead of us--their offices closed down around noon our time, so the only thing that might keep me in the office late was the rare end-of-day meeting. Steve has the same attitude towards traffic, quiet time, and offices in general, and is as committed to getting up early as I am.

An early start during these summer doldrum days is essential to getting anything productive done outside. Gardening chores are dirty and sweaty and they're not made any more enjoyable by putting them off to "later." My morning walks are made bearable by the time of day they take place. Even at 5 this morning the temperature was 75 degrees. If I waited until the sun came up the heat would slow me down and I'd be breathing rush hour fumes. Not healthy.

So what started out as a practical discipline has become a favored way of living. If I sleep past seven now, I feel as though I'm missing the best part of the day: the quiet, the sunrise, the free time to allow my mind to wander and gently rest before the concerns of the day take over. I admit it's a little harder to do in the dead of winter, when the warm covers grip tightly and the sun doesn't even rise until late in the morning. But I break the covers' hold and climb out of bed, sure in the knowledge that the day contains the same 24 hours no matter the time of year. I love sleeping, but only because a good sleep makes being awake so enjoyable.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Somewhere along the line as I was growing up, the idea of "communication" took on great importance to me. I conceived the idea that if people could communicate, there would be less strife. I noticed early on that people had their own preconceived notions about things and automatically jumped to conclusions about others, excoriating or praising, based not on actual knowledge of those others' motivations but on conclusions, often wrong, arising from their own prejudices. I must have seen this phenomenon at work in my family; although I can't remember specific examples of this jumping to incorrect conclusions I do remember thinking it happened too much and those being opined about weren't being given a chance to explain themselves. People needed to work at communication, I thought; they needed to stop, listen, and learn. As a teenager, I actually developed the habit of writing down my analysis of people who struck me as odd so that I could process my understanding of them and why they were odd. (Did I mention that I was odd myself?) I wanted to be fair; I didn't want to make fun of them like everybody else did. This search for understanding became something of a holy grail for me.

The application to be a Peace Corps volunteer is like none other. You are asked the usual questions about background, skills, and interests, but even these nuts-and-bolts questions encourage free-form answers, with several lines under each question inviting you to expand. The last question is "why do you want to join the Peace Corps?" or words to that effect. It's called the "motivation statement" and can be as long or as short as the applicant wants it to be. I can't remember exactly what I said in mine (and, tragically, the original applications of my entire 1960s cohort of Peace Corps volunteers were lost in a huge warehouse fire many years ago), but I distinctly remember being grateful for first my chance to expound on my ideas about communication, and that the word itself occupied a prominent place in my statement.

Verbal skills seem always to have come as naturally to me as breathing. Nature or nurture? I'll never know. I'm from a family of singers, instrument players, writers, talkers and laughers. My mother taught me to read before I started school, and I took to it like a bird to the wing. It was only natural that foreign languages would fascinate me as soon as I was exposed to them. French and I clicked almost from our very first acquaintance, when I was in high school. I remember struggling for a semester or so, and then Édith Piaf's "Milord" came out. Suddenly I was a moth to Piaf's flame. I bought all the Piaf LPs I could find and joyously submerged myself. Over the summer between 9th and 10th grades, I got my hands on a French grammar book. Between that book and Piaf, I was for all intents and purposes fluent in French by the time I got back to school. I was completely fascinated to see that French people had the same sorts of experiences we had, the same concepts. The French way of describing these experiences and concepts, though, were slightly different from the English way, and the differences shed light on how the French experienced the world. And so I was not just learning a language, I was learning a culture, from the inside out. To me this seemed the ultimate in communication.

French was so easy for me that I hesitated to declare it as a college major--it felt like a copout. If I'd had any idea what I might do with a French major, I may have felt differently about it, but French was merely a tool that enriched my understanding of the world. I didn't want to teach it. Simultaneous translation at the U.N. would have been fun, but there were plenty of bilingual native speakers to do that job. (I did end up majoring in French in order to get some kind of degree, after spending several semesters floundering among "practical" courses of study that never piqued my interest.)

But mere impracticality never stopped me from pursuits I found compelling for some reason. I sought to replicate the rich experience I'd had with French by starting the study of German and Russian. Thus I was introduced to non-Romance languages and the profound differences between their structures and that of English. There was plenty of German pop music to help me learn that language, but college language classes weren't as intense as the daily ones I'd had in high school, and the teachers were not very inspiring. German was frustrating because of the sheer length of the words--reading it was mostly an exercise in flipping back and forth between the text and the glossary in the back of the book. German and I didn't get along, unfortunately. I had great hope for Russian--during the Cold War, if ever communication was needed between two cultures, those of the United States and the USSR were prime for sounding. I was fascinated with the Cyrillic alphabet and played with writing all my friends' names in it. I liked the sounds of Russian and how they were formed in the mouth. But Russian makes German look like child's play in its construction. Simply to say "hello" you need a four-syllable word. Declensions--the endings on words that change depending not only on their use in a sentence but indeed by how many of a thing you are talking about--were so complicated I began to wonder how the Russians could even speak to each other. They don't even use any form of the verb "to be" in the present tense. Instead of saying, "I am a teacher," they simply say, "I teacher." Articles don't exist; no "the," no "a." I know Russian babies learn this complicated language at their mothers' breasts, but it was completely incomprehensible to this "be, the"-based scholar. And of course even if Russian pop music existed during the dark Communist era, it certainly wasn't available in 1960s Lexington, Kentucky. I told my Russian teacher, an armored tank of a woman who, with her gapped teeth and pushed-up nose reminded me of nobody so much as Petunia Pig, of my interest in music and how Piaf songs had helped me learn French. I asked her to recommend something similar to help me learn Russian. "Zere EES no Rossian Piaf," was Petunia's doleful reply. To be fair, she did point me to an LP of Russian folk songs sung by a woman named Natania Davrath, a classical Russian singer with a ravishingly beautiful voice. I can still sing a few lines from many of those songs, even though the Russian language and I parted company many years ago. If I could ever find a CD of that record I would consider it a major coup...and of course, you'd hear some of it here.

I went on, through Spanish (easy), the Ashanti language Twi (deceptively simple but hard to use) and Portuguese (less like Spanish than you think). Threading through all of this language learning was my need to understand other ways of looking at the world. I never did come up with any professional application per se for this fascination with languages, but the core idea of communication has informed everything I've ever done and is so basic to my way of being that it's like a second skin. At work I was proud of my reputation as a straight shooter, someone you could come to if you needed an unvarnished, but nuanced, opinion. If you are telling me a story, I'll probably stop you at some point and ask, "why?" I am an enthusiastic consumer of discussion (as opposed to "talk") radio--I relish hearing experts on a subject calmly exploring differing views. If I do form an opinion about something, I want it to be as reasoned as it can be, and I am always open to more reason from the other side. (But it has to be reason!) Writing, of course, is part and parcel of this need to communicate, and any clarity I achieve in it springs from my need to understand and be understood.

I think the germ for this essay is in a video about the Free Speech Movement at the University of California-Berkeley that Eclecticity posted a few days ago. The original 1960s Berkeley FSM seems an exercise in cherubic innocence compared with what you see in the video of a recent attempt to recreate it. Everybody has megaphones now, so that we can be louder in yelling past each other. We have become a society of uncomprehending screamers. Our ideas are the only right ones! Blessed reason is lonely these days.

We are not communicating.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Brown, Fat and Happy

We are just back from a superb flesh-and-blood weekend that somehow still kept the real world at bay. When we weren't riding all over Southern Delaware waters in the boat or driving to our favorite junk/antique shops, Michele and John and Steve and I spent our time sitting in our little outdoor living room, pictured above, looking out at at the water, talking, laughing, and putting away more wine than our bodies have had to deal with in many months. And the food! I was a cooking fool for my captive audience, in my element, and if we weren't eating homemade food we were taking our friends to our favorite eateries--the 2nd Street Grill in Lewes (by boat) for lunch and to Bev's in Rehoboth for Sunday breakfast. We reminisced, we caught up, we patched a few holes created by long absence. Michele and John are exactly our age and have lived the same sort of life we have, a two-earner childless couple with similar experiences and outlooks. They've done house rehabs, and they garden. They even have cats. When you're with people of such like minds it's so easy and comfortable to pretend for just a while that the world is perfect. It was only a weekend but it was a true vacation. We did realize, though, that we would never survive too many good times like the ones we were having. The joy that comes from overdoing everything is the very knowledge that you can, at least for a few days. Soon enough you'll be back to your disciplined, healthy ways--which make the occasional blowouts possible in the first place. If you ask me, that's not a bad way to live!

My mind is still filled with not much, although I have spent a couple of hours this morning catching up on all of my e-family's musings and music, getting some chuckles and inspiration, and being reminded of the joys to be had here in the ether. Unfortunately, the only thing that really keeps returning to my mind is a job I have to do outside and the coming beastly heat in which to do it. (Nobody needs a vacation more than someone on the first day back from a vacation!)

I'm sorry for the long absence and thank you regulars for faithfully stopping by. I've written so much since January. I have a secret hope that some of you who have arrived more recently will take the opportunity to dig back in the archives for some of the interesting stuff. Sort of close your eyes and point your mouse at something. You never know what you'll come up with. As I settle back into life here in the comfy confines of 12th Street I know some ideas will present themselves. A few are bubbling in the background already.

Friday, June 20, 2008


.....not! Sorry, everybody. In the heat of all the company last weekend when I made those snazzy dishes for dinner, I forgot to take any pictures! That meal was going to take me through several Food Fridays and I forgot to take the damn pictures.

And then--I forgot my flash drive, that all-important gadget that carries music and other goodies to put up here when we're in Delaware. So I'm empty today and this whole weekend. I'll make it up when we're back home next week, promise.

It's looking glorious here, a great weekend for the reunion we're so looking forward to. Steve's project today is putting speakers out on the deck so we can listen to music easily outside.

So great to be an outlaw (at least in Virginia) with a genius!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Peace Corps, part 3

I was never really afflicted with a strong wanderlust per se. If I ever go somewhere, it's usually the prospect of either seeing old friends or making new ones that I'm enthusiastic about, not the idea of traveling itself. (There have been exceptions, of course, most notably our trips to Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii. They were nothing short of magical, and about people only to the slightest degree.) To me, traveling is a lot of work, inconvenience, and discomfort, from carrying heavy suitcases to living out of them for periods of time. Air travel is an expensive form of torture for those of us blessed/cursed with bodies not built precisely to fit the padded stalls the airline industry calls "seats." If you're a picky sleeper, which infortunately I am, it can take almost an entire trip just to get used to new sleeping arrangements and enjoy a full night's rest. I sweat a lot. My clothes get dirty and are never cleaned the way I like them to be.

You'll remember I had a career at the Peace Corps. This attitude towards traveling wasn't what you'd call common there. A very big feature of the job I spent my last five years doing at the Peace Corps, Country Desk Officer (CDO), was the desk trip. For most, it was a big draw and made the position very competitive. When I took the job, it was in spite of the desk trip, not because of it.

The job of the CDO is to represent the interests of Peace Corps staff in a series of countries to Washington headquarters and vice versa. I was the go-between, the conduit for information, the advocate for overseas staff in DC and the explainer of HQ policies and positions to overseas staff. I was the one and only expert in the entire federal bureaucracy on all things Peace Corps as they pertained to my countries, Senegal, The Gambia, and Cape Verde. (I also had Guinea-Bissau for literally a few days before it blew up in a violent coup when I first began the job, and I was assigned Mauritania for a short time later on.) I really loved working so closely with overseas staff. The local Peace Corps Director is an American, usually with a background in development, ideally with strong skills in both diplomacy (for dealing with high-level officials in the insular diplomatic communities in the developing world) and babysitting (for dealing with volunteers). Strong management skills are a must, because Peace Corps missions have large staffs. The administrative unit, which handles the nuts and bolts of the operation--everything from volunteer housing and its procurement to bookkeeping and budgeting--is a feifdom in itself. The people who directly supervise the volunteers in their various projects are called Associate Directors. Some are Americans; most are from the country where the work is being done, and all of them are the hardest working and most dedicated people I will ever have the honor of knowing. I have tremendous admiration for them, especially the host-country nationals, whom I consider patriots of the highest order, working long hours under hard conditions for little money, all to further the development of their countries.

CDOs must have intimate familiarity not only with these wonderful staff people but also with the volunteers, where they work with and how they live. Thus the desk trip. It covers all countries at once, a week per country, and the objective is to meet as many staff and volunteers and travel to as many volunteer sites as possible. For me, it was a forced march, sheer torture.

You are met and greeted and wined and dined royally when you arrive in each country. Peace Corps folk love a party and your arrival is as good an excuse for one as any other. And so I found myself "on" from the moment I set foot on the first tarmac, after a long and sleepless trip. After the party there was a short briefing from the Director, a meet-and-greet with staff, and then I was on my way. Each Director orchestrated his portion of the trip in his own way. In Cape Verde, a series of islands, I was given an itinerary. Volunteers on various islands had been told to meet me at the airport/ferry dock of their island and take me under their wings. In The Gambia I set out with two Associate Directors, one American and one Gambian, and traveled the entire length of that snake-shaped country, meeting volunteers and seeing them at work along the way. And then there was Senegal.

The Director in Senegal was a control freak. A nice guy, but insecure and unable to let go of the reins. He wouldn't have me traveling on my own or with mere Associate Directors. No, instead he piled me, a Peace Corps nurse (who also needed to visit volunteers), his wife and his 17-year-old Lolita of a daughter into a Land Rover, and we became the Peace Corps Senegal equivalent of Monty Python's Flying Circus for a week. We traveled through the east and south of the country, usually on paved roads but often enough in ruts and dried riverbeds to give justification for the tough reputation of Land Rovers (and to challenge my sense of balance and my physical strength, as I fought to remain upright in my seat). We were an excuse for volunteers to party hearty every place we stopped. Lolita was in her element with the young, horny male volunteers. The director monopolized all conversations, never giving me an opportunity for private, serious conversations with volunteers (and who wants to talk business at a party, anyway?); the nurse knew the volunteers and could conduct her business while chatting in the party context (but they were medical conversations and so, private); the wife was Earth Mother to all; I struggled to feel relevant. At the end of that trip I knew more about the dynamics of that family than I'd ever dreamed, much less needed or wanted, but alas, still next to nothing about volunteer attitudes and their realities. (This, of course, was the point.) At the end of that Senegal marathon (The Gambia was still to come), the Director and his wife, whose house I stayed in while I was in Dakar, wanted to take me on the ferry out to Gorée Island, an old slave holding area that has been developed for tourism. I simply couldn't make my body move. Instead I said "no thanks," closed the door to my room, and laid there in total silence. It was the only quiet, relatively comfortable time alone I had in three weeks.

I came home from that trip beyond exhausted, and gladder than I'd ever thought possible to stand on familiar ground. Steve arranged a welcoming party for me at the airport, complete with champagne. I was touched; they couldn't possibly have known how ludicrous a party seemed to me at the time, in the condition I was in. When I finally entered our little house, I thanked them all and went straight to bed.

In my five years as a CDO, that was the only desk trip I managed to take. In 1999 I went to Cape Verde for a month, acting as Director there while the hiring process went on for a new permament one. A month as Director was enough to show me I didn't want the job. I'm not one to live above the store, as it were--the Director in a Peace Corps country can never really "go home"; you're in the country only to do a job, and as long as you're there, you're at work. The buck stops with you, and while your staff has immediate responsibility for situations that arise, you are the final arbiter, 24/7. No, thanks. I need to escape.

My last trip, to a Director's conference in Burkina Faso, was supposed to begin September 12, 2001. I was actually looking forward to that one, staying put in one place for a few days and hanging with my friends the Directors, but given the panic of that time I found myself in no mood to board anybody's airplane. And so my traveling days with the Peace Corps came to an end. Before long, the discouraging realities of the current administration's priorities made themselves clear, and finally, with the advent of the Iraq war, I decided that whatever the Peace Corps was becoming, it wasn't what I had signed up for. Burnout had begun anyway, and the war provided all the oxygen necessary for a full-fledged conflagration. After 28 years, I bid adieu.

Plenty of people wanted me to stay. I was offered other jobs, and people wondered what would become of the Africa Region if I wasn't there to knock heads together. I was hugely flattered, but I reminded everyone: graveyards are filled with indispensable people. I'm grateful for everything the Peace Corps gave me, but I'm also grateful for this life outside it I'm living now.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Odds and Ends, Again

There is plenty I could write about today. I could go on and on about Comcast, the extraordinary 28-hour outage that lasted from Monday night to Tuesday night, and the total lack of communication between this company, whose very reason for existence is cable communications (they have the local monopoly), and its customers during a time like this. For me, lacking phone, TV and internet connections was an irritant. It's not a stretch to imagine some for whom it could be a crisis. The best Comcast could muster was a mostly unintelligible acknowledgement of the "trouble" in the introduction to its automated answering system, including the words "repairs will be made as soon as possible." Updates were put up at their convenience, and they were equally information-free, except for a change in the time it was recorded. Speaking to a live person was no more enlightening. One poor soul I spoke with couldn't even see a record of a problem, even though the communications system of which he was the human representative had already acknolwedged it. All I was hoping to find out was, what's going on? Given the extraordinary duration of the outage, I didn't, and still don't, think that was a lot to ask. But 'twas never to be. I found out we were back on line when I picked up the phone and got a dial tone. I got the name and address of the company PR official responsible for this area. I may write a letter, but this venting may end up being enough. Life's too short to keep reliving its painful moments.

I could write about the return of cool weather. We're headed only for the mid-70s on this mid-June day in Washington. I had to put on shoes, socks and a shirt with sleeves to ward off the chill. I'm not complaining--in a bit I'll be out in those unseasonable temperatures schlepping composted leaves in a wheelbarrow around the yard.

I could write about Steve's job situation. He found out yesterday he didn't get the in-company job he applied for. He was one of two finalists and they went with the other one. But there was good news, too. He spoke with his financial advisor yesterday, as well, who showed us a way out of the unlit tunnel we thought we'd be in if Steve found himself vested but with only a few years' work credit: annuitize. Whoda thunk? Brains with expertise are so great to be able to call on!

Well, looky there--I wrote about all of it!

Happy hump day!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A quickie

We've been without Comcast, meaning without internet, TV, or phone, for 24 hours. I'm writing this from a public computer at the library! Hope I'll be back in commission tomorrow. Thanks to all for your kind comments on the various posts. I'll respond personally when I once again have the luxury of my own machine to sit at and am not being timed......

Computers! They make all these great relationships possible--and now IMpossible!

Monday, June 16, 2008


Monday these past few months has taken on a whole new character for me, directly opposite from the one it had when I was working. This is just another welcome reassurance that life keeps changing the way it wants to, whether you happen to be looking for a change or not. Random change is just what it is. Depending on your situation, it can be a good thing or not. This one is an unexpected gift.

Monday morning used to be filled with a low-grade angst, ruining Sunday in anticipation with a quiet, entirely spontaneous shutting down of the "fun centers" in my brain. Monday meant slipping the "official" harness back on (symbolized by that civilized noose also known as a necktie), taking my place with the communting horde into the city to fill my chair behind a desk, being responsible for concerns and issues beyond my own comfortable little world; in short: work. Of course, once the day got going and the week's rhythm had me in its embrace, I started enjoying all the random banter that a generally copacetic group of people can bring, the mental challenges of problems to be solved, the occasional ego stroke for a job well done...I have to admit the good parts of work were OK. But the mental preparation for Monday morning after an especially enjoyable weekend (and what weekend isn't enjoyable?) was a little weekly trauma.

Now, Monday is the time for me to pamper my Myers-Briggs "I." I hasten to add here we had a great weekend. Steve's sister and brother-in-law are wonderful company, and the dinner Friday was fun and pretty, in the cool breezes of an evening on the deck. Saturday we took a short morning walk down the main drag of this section of Arlington to view the new Air Force Memorial, high on a hill directly across from the Pentagon (in fact, it faces the wall of the Pentagon that was hit by the plane on 9/11), had a leisurely lunch of leftovers from the previous night's feast, and then went out for dinner. Our company left early Sunday morning, which left the day open for us to get back into our normal routine of chores. Steve continued with the never-ending spackle job in the upstairs bathroom (yes, that's still going on!); I did my Sunday stuff.

And now I have this Monday morning and it's mine, all mine! In fact, the whole day is completely unplanned, and that's just fine, because the rest of the week is filled to the brim. The county is bringing a truckload of leaf mulch tomorrow that I will have to deal with (small favor: the temperature is set to plummet overnight so I won't be sweating like a pig as I haul wheelbarrow loads of the stuff around the yard), a favorite neice and her husband, whom we haven't seen in over a year, will be through town Wednesday and we will meet them for dinner; and then Thursday we head for Delaware and a long-awaited weekend-long reunion with our dear friends Michele and John, whom we haven't seen in 7 years. Michele and I were in the same city in Ghana the Peace Corps--when we're together our spouses become "honorary Peace Corps" as we reminisce and tell inside stories. They are comfortable folks, all about good food and music, and we always have a super time with them. This visit will be a highlight of the summer.

And so with all these wonderful things to look forward to that will keep me away from my introvert "I," I have no qualms making time today for a visit with myself. Today's music is mine, all mine, too, but I think you'll like it.

I'm off to peel me a grape and then read the paper.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Fathers and Sons

I wrote this several months ago and decided, for Father's Day, to post it again, for those who may not have seen it the first time.

I've received so many blessings from this daily writing exercise: I'm using and developing whatever talent I have for putting words together in a meaningful way, and thanks to the generosity of others and the limitless imagination of the human mind, I'm having new (to me) worlds of music opened to me. Best of all, I'm making new friends. A very rich correspondence I've begun with one of my regular visitors has led me to today's subject. I like apple pie and July fireworks as much as the next red-blooded American, but there are some national feasts of celebration I sit out, or at least experience with something less than a patriotic enthuasiasm. That orgy of forced jollity we call Christmas is one. And Father's Day is another. We wallow in father worship, thanks to the media. It's a chance for "real men" to show their soft sides--as long as that softness is about father worship. Stiff, manly hugs and all that. Well, some of us experienced our relaitonships with our fathers in more complicated ways.

As I've been doing these daily essays, it's been driven home to me that writing is as much my second nature as some other great joys of mine, such as music, or food. The origin of the interest in the latter two is easy to guess: my mother. But the writing? It's dawned on me only recently that it comes from my father. At the age of 62 I can still be surprised at some new discovery about my own life. Miles to go yet, I guess. (I hope!)

This realization comes as a surprise because I spent several years coming to terms with the idea that my father and I did not live up to the ideals we had set for each other. There was a lot of mutual frustration and disappointment earlier on, and I've always found comfort knowing that by the time my dad left the scene, we had both matured and were able to appreciate and enjoy whatever good we could find in each other. There really was no unfinished business between us at the time of his death; in fact, his mind had failed to such a dgree that we all felt we had lost him long before his failing heart failed its last. My mother, into her 80s, ended up his primary care giver in the last, worst years; his physical demise actually came as a relief. My mother and father had been married for 67 years by the time he died. During his last months in the nursing home, my mother never even went to visit him. Instead, she lay back like a lady of leisure and read, relishing the solitude. This woman, who had never been alone for more than a couple of days, needed the rest. We all knew, but she better than the rest of us, that the man we had called husband, father, grandfather, uncle and friend was already farther away than a nursing home. I am so grateful that he and I made our quiet amends when he could be aware of them.

Writing has always been a part of my life because my father was a writer by trade. The word "trade" is chosen with consideration. He was a reporter, a newspaper man, a bylined columnist. Stringing words together to tell a just-the-facts story was what he did to keep a roof over our heads. On Fridays, the day it was published, he would bring a copy of his paper home, but he never called the family around proudly to show off his work. My father was an artist in many ways. He could draw. He was magical with his hands, able to make me toys--string puppets, batons, painted bathtub boats. He played the banjo and could whistle, and he appreciated most music. (But he refused to let me buy "Jailhouse Rock" because it "glorified prisoners." Now, I can chuckle at that.) He did not consider what he did with words, however, art. Writing was a trade, like plumbing.

Still, fine points of art or craft aside, writing was in my life, a natural thing for me to do, and my parents encouraged me in it. My first toys had to do with words. I had a printing press with rubber letters that fit into a grooved block of wood. You pressed the letters onto an inkpad and then onto paper and there you had it: a newspaper! A mere toy typewriter I was given as a present was a disappointment--I wanted the real thing. A highlight of any week was a visit to my father's office, where I headed straight for his typewriter and marveled at how the keys made the letters hit the paper. I wrote poems and little songs. My crowning achievement, at about 10, was a collection of childrens' stories featuring Eddie Elephant. They were patterned after the Uncle Wiggly bedtime stories my mother had read to my sister and then, later, to me. Eddie had friends in the jungle whose daily life dilemmas he helped solve. I stole most of the story ideas from my comic books, and my illustrations were cutouts from Golden Books. I bound it all up into a booklet with green craft paper covers and shoestring. (It would be a priceless treasure if I still had it but alas, it was lost in a flood.)

To steal a Dylan word picture, I pushed forth into my own games. I went to college, suffered, came home, went back, found music in a big way, came out, joined the Peace Corps, marked maps, foundered, floundered and fell in love deeply and foolishly. And I wrote. I never gave it a moment's thought, but I wrote. I've never been able to keep a journal, though--journaling for me is a useless exercise. Anything I do using words must have an audience, real or imagined. I write songs imagining I am on a stage singing them. I write these words now knowing someone is going to read them. My writing over the years has been in letters, now emails; a collection my correspondence would make for a very detailed biography. I simply love writing and know that my life would be unimaginably diminished without it. But that realizaation has dawned on me very late. Until now, I've thought of my writing as just something I do, nothing special, just like my father thought of his.

Our family always wished that my father would use his retirement years to write his memories down, but he never did. He and my mother--as do all our parents--told funny stories from their youth and their earliest times together. They had known each other since they were teenagers, and we wanted that history put down in concrete form. But I don't think writing was ever really enjoyable for my father. It had just been a means to a life, and in retirement, he didn't have to do it anymore. As other men have learned from the mistakes their fathers made in important areas of life, such as being careless about their health, I have learned to cherish words precisely because my father did not. I have no children. My legacy will come from my mind and not my loins. I have no regrets about that, and I recognize and happily accept the job ahead of me. Words are the tools that enable me to carry that work on.

Better late than never, now I know to say, "thanks, Dad, for the words."

Friday, June 13, 2008


I'm hitting the ground at full speed today, getting ready for the first wave of company due sometime this afternoon, and then my sister and her entourage, who will be arriving later this evening. I'll be shopping, cooking, and doing last-minute prep as soon as I leave the computer. Curious what we're having? You'll be familiar with a couple of the items on the menu: Cape Verde Chicken (which I've now added more color to than what is pictured) and, for dessert, Oléron Raspberry Tart. The chicken is cheap to make, delicious, and easy, and the tart, of course, is a showstopper. I'll also be making the guacamole from Saveur Magazine, a side salad of orzo with greek spices and Kalamata olives, and another Cook's Illustrated special, a cherry tomato salad with a dressing based on the tomatoes' own concentrated juice. Essence of tomato! I'll be sharing all these recipes in this space in the near future. Sound good? I hope so!

Today's recipe is a very simple and versatile couscous salad based on one from a cooking bible of mine, Cook's Illustrated. Potential additions are limited only to your imagination; use this as a basic guide if you like. As with the other couscous salad I recently featured, I prefer the multi-colored vegetable couscous to the plain, and I also add more flavor by cooking the couscous in chicken stock instead of plain water. And although I've never tried it, I'll bet protein-rich quinoa would make a great substitute. As usual, if anyone tries it, I hope they will report their results.


2 cups water or low-sodium chicken stick
1 1/2 cups plain or multi-colored couscous
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 medium clove garlic , minced
1/3cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 can (16-ounces) chickpeas , drained and rinsed
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
3 medium scallions , chopped
4 ounces feta cheese , crumbled
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring water to boil in medium saucepan. Remove from heat, add couscous and stir. Cover and let stand 10 minutes. Transfer couscous to serving bowl and fluff with fork.

Meanwhile, whisk together lemon juice, garlic, and oil in small bowl. Add lemon juice mixture and chickpeas to couscous, toss well to combine, and cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes. Toss in parsley, scallions, and feta. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Loving Day

I thank NPR for remembering this landmark case, whose Supreme Court decision was announced 41 years ago today. A commentator says everything I could ever say about it here. All I can add is that I wish the rabid sentiments remembered in the piece were foreign to me. Unfortunately, they are part of my birthright and I had to unlearn them. For starting that education, I thank my third-grade teacher, Inez Pratt.

For many people, the foundational issue in their upbringings, the one they either turn to for reassurance for the rest of thier lives or rebel against for just as long, is religion. For me, it's race. Injustice in all its manifestations is my soapbox issue. But today I'm letting someone else do the talking.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Happiness is a thing called electricity

I was awakened at 3:30 this morning by a sudden silence. The overhead fan had gone off. The white noise of the air conditioner had stopped. It was quiet, and with all the house windows closed and no fans, the air was too still, stuffy. The power had gone out, again, for the second time in 24 hours. I knew that the rest of the neighborhood was asleep and wanted to report the outage then and there so the power company would look into the problem and, with a quiet, storm-free night, make the necessary repairs quickly.

A technician finally pulled up in his truck at 7:30--four full hours after the initial call. He roamed around in various back yards looking up at the wires, searching for a break. Then he moved to a transformer down the street. He pulled out a wrench and tightened something. At 9:00 we had power again--for 30 seconds.

The technician left and I sat here in silence for another two hours. Then a veritable convoy showed up. Three cherry-pickers and three big trucks all congregated at the transformer. Guys in hard hats stood around with their hands on their hips, looking up at the wires and the other stuff on the pole, shouting to each other in telephone repairman-ese. I walked in their direction (having already done everything I could do in the house without electric power I had nothing better to do) thinking to ask them something but then realized I probably wouldn't have the slightest inkling of the meaning of their responses--like approaching a native speaker in a foreign land asking "where is a toilet?" in your best phrasebook version of the local language, only to get a very detailed and helpful answer, none of which you understand. I don't speak telephone.

So I went back home. I finished The Washington Post. I read the local county rag. Finished that. I ate lunch. Finally, I pulled out the biography of Julius Caesar I just started. It was Caesar who solved the problem, evidently. The power came back on at 12:30, nine hours after the initial call, made, I repeat, on a quiet, storm-free night when there should have been no other pressing problems to compete with.

We've had more power outages in the last five days here than we've had in the last 10 years. I mentioned brief flashes and brown-outs the other day. Maybe whatever repairs that brought the big guns out today will bring an end to this spate of problems. Thank goodness the heat wave is over and the air conditioning wasn't necessary--at least I was able to open the house and even do my sitting and reading outside.

I could wax nostalgic about how life was better when we weren't so electronically dependent. But that would be a crock. Life with its electrical, touch-of-a-finger conveniences is immeasurably better now, at least when those conveniences work. The problem is our dependence on those wonderful amenities, and how life as we now know it comes to a funereal halt because a wire breaks, depriving us of them. We have become vulnerable to very small, random occurrences, and that, depending on the circumstances, is either a pain in the ass or downright dangerous.

Meanwhile, I've been awake and in a more-or-less sour mood since 3:30 this morning. This is the best company I will be today. Lucky you.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Odds and Ends

Mrs. M. Dove and her children are doing fine, thank you. I knew you were wondering, so I decided I should show you the latest family portrait. As usual, Mr. Dove was out collecting whatever it is that doves consider The Bacon, or he'd have sat, too.

This has been a morning just for me, interjected with one obligation, to get a DVD of the MRI I had done on my hip a couple of weeks ago to show to the orthopedist I'll be seeing on Thursday. I looked at the pictures and I trust they will make more sense to the doctor's trained eye than to mine.

It's still too hot to do anything outside, but inside beckons and my indolence will end after lunch. We have weekend visitors coming and the house must be presentable, so I'll be picking up a duster and a broom. Since the house has been closed for the past week or so, it isn't overloaded with dust, so the job should not be overly taxing. (Of course, there's always the kitchen, that busy place with all its footprints and grease spatters. That'll take a little elbow grease...a word to the wise based on personal experience: never buy a shiny black cooktop. It shows every speck of dust and the tinest drop of whatever may have boiled over. I didn't understand the multitude of sins made invisible by a baked-on white porcelain finish until I decided to get fancy with a black one. Never again.)

The weekend visitors due here are Steve's sister and her husband, who will be passing through on their way to visit their daughter, an officer with the Air Force who is about to be moblilzed. I'm using the occasion to get my own sister here for a rare visit. On Friday, the weather having cooled considerably, we'll have a dinner for the in-law siblings on the deck. I'm looking forward to it.

It's not only my sister's visit that will be a rare occasion: the entire get-together will be a one-off affair. My sister lives not far away, but her life, with four grown daughters and their own family dramas, seems to be in a constant state of upheaval. (I don't know how she puts up with it, but she does, cheerfully.) It's hard to make long-term plans with her, such as booking her for a dinner. Scheduling visits is further complicated by the fact that we are in town ourselves only every other weekend during the summer. And Steve's sister and her husband live in Florida and get through DC very seldom. When I saw the opportunity to get everyone together, I grabbed it.

And now I must face the music and ask the vacuum cleaner for a dance.

Monday, June 9, 2008

A Quick Howdy

Just popping in with a short post on a foreshortened day. We got away from Delaware earlier than usual this morning, which turned out to be a mistake because we hit DC at rush hour. When we finally pulled into home, the power had been off for several hours and didn't return until around noon. That gave both of us excuses for doing outdoor chores, since whatever needed to be done inside needed electricity. So I'm starting my after-the-beach chores late and just sliding in this little visit.

I wanted to show you the picture above. Those are the three dozen crabs I caught between Thursday and Saturday evenings--all of them good sized, and some mosters. I took the picture Sunday morning just before I sat down to pick them. Three hours of sit-still work, literally, sitting in one position, bent over your fingers as they pick the meat from all those crevices. It kills your back. (Or at least, mine isn't fond of it!) The payoff, of course, is the deliciousness that awaits. These 36 crabs yielded two pounds of meat. That's a lot. I divided the bounty into two one-pound packages and froze them in brine. One pound will make crabcakes for us and our friends Michele and John, who will be visiting us from Ohio in two weeks.

And that's where the "yum" comes in, and why the picking is worth the work.

More tomorrow.

Friday, June 6, 2008



It was quite a shock to arrive in Delaware yesterday evening to be greeted by early spring-like temperatures after leaving a steaming hot, summery Washington. We had left the city in shorts, tanktops and sandals and had to put on jeans and sweatshirts when we got here. The heat wave now gripping DC isn't due here until tomorrow. The same flash of violent weather Wednesday we experienced at home did occur here, a 45-minute storm during which the strongest wind gust was clocked at 62 mph. The front page of the local paper features a photo of a funnel cloud over Lewes (NOAA says ther was no tornado, however). A couple of local businesses on the Coastal Highway lost their storefronts and an inland trailer park suffered damage. Here, we see small gullies created by swiftly-running rivulets of rainwater towards the Prong, but no wind damage at all. There isn't even the usual mess of twigs to clean up.

With a warming trend upon us, I feel it in my bones that the crabs should be running well this weekend. We put traps out last night. If we get a good catch, I'll post a picture. There may be crabcakes in our future yet!

On to the subject at hand.

Why another grilled beef recipe? What's different about this one is that I use chuck. The piece is a bit large to be considered a steak; at 3 1/2 pounds it would work as a pot roast, but I grill it. I conceived the idea many years ago when I found myself unsatisfied with the bland dryness and uniform texture of London Broil, which is really a round steak cut thick, and with the ridiculous price of flank steak. I knew chuck had good marbling and chewiness to it, so I decided to experiment with grilling a cut meant for the braising pan as if it were a steak. We liked it from the start and I've been using chuck ever since as my standard grilled beef, even for company.

The marinade is also my own evolution of various recipes I'd seen and tried. The molasses and brown sugar are my innovations, giving depth to the Asian sweetness, a contrast to the salt of the soy sauce, and deep carmelization over the coals. Note: try to use Angus beef if it is in your area. The flavor is much better.

1/2 cup dark soy sauce
1/2 cup Chinese rice wine or sherry
1/4 cup molasses
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seed oil
1 TB minced fresh ginger, or to taste
1 TB minced fresh garlic, or to taste
1 3- to 3 1/2-pound Angus chuck roast

Combine marinade ingredients and pour all but 1/4 cup into a ziploc bag. Add beef and turn so it is completely covered with marinade. Marinate at least 4 hours, or, best, overnight.

About an hour before grilling, remove beef from marinade and let rest on a rack to air dry and to bring beef to room temperature. Discard used marinade.

Prepare grill. Directly over coals, sear meat, uncovered, 7 1/2 minutes per side, or until the meat has a brown, crunchy surface. After searing, lift grill, with meat still in place, and rotate so the meat is opposite the heat source. Cover grill and continue cooking over indirect heat for 20 minutes. Turn meat and cook, still covered, another 10 minutes. At this cooking time, the meat will be uniformly pink, as pictured. (If you prefer your beef more well done, you know what to do.)

Remove meat from grill to a rack and let rest 10 minutes. Slice 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick at an angle. The meat will be chewy, but not tough. Drizzle slices with reserved marinade.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Stormy Weather

Seems like everybody is mad at Washington, D. C. these days. Even Mother Nature got her licks in last night with a line of enormous thunderstorms that brought gale-force winds, horizontal rain, and hail. One person near here in the Virginia suburbs was killed as he sat in his car and a tree fell on it. Whenever a storm like this comes through, I wonder if our old maple tree in the back is going to survive once again or fall, either tearing up the deck or obliterating the roof. So far, so good, but a limb from our next door neighbor's tree did fall into our yard, in a safe place, thank goodness.

My walk this morning was an obstacle course in places where downed trees or major trunks thereof were blocking the way. I heard generators in various spots along my route, supplying electrical power where the grid had failed. Schools are closed because they are without power. (Even in good weather, we've been having more flickering and brown-outs here recently than at any time in my memory, as demand for power reaches the limit of the local company to provide it.) Comcast, our connection with the world, has been hit recently with breaks in its own cables as well as general power outages. Losing all Comcast service had been unheard of for years until very recently, and such a loss is worse than a mere nuisance. When Comcast and its TV, internet and phone services go, a lifeline goes with them, and a cell phone becomes a necessity rather than a mere convenience.

For now everything is normal in our little pocket of the metropolis, after a Comcast outage last night. This morning I turned on the air conditioning for the first time this year, anticipating high humidity with temperatures in the 90s while we are away. I must cut the grass today if it ever dries out; otherwise we will be faced with a hay field when we return on Monday.

À demain, chers liseurs.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Summer is on the way

I feel surrounded by beauty this morning, in spite of the fact that the actual day outside is no great shakes. We had rain off and on last night. Today promises to be gray and humid, with more rain in the afternoon. A sullen sun takes an occasional peek through the haze, but appears to prefer to hide its brilliance. It appears that our unusally long, cool springtime is finally bowing out to make room for the sticky, hot temperatures that are a hallmark of summer for this area.

But look who has taken up residence in a flower hanging on the front porch. I am in love with mourning doves. Their tawny coat looks lush enough to get lost in. Their innocent stare dares you to think there's not a sentient soul behind it. They trust. They pair so openly and warmly. Their cooing adds a quieting back note to any day. Instead of careering frantically through space searching for food, they perch calmly above the feeder to await the sunflower seed. They are models of serenity and patience. And we are honored with the presence of a family on our premises.

This morning is uncluttered enough to allow me the time to savor my music. I think everything I have deserves to be shared here--there's always an audience for even the most wide-ranging styles--but I enjoyed finding music that was just right for the mood of this day. Today is hump day for most of you office folk, and for Steve and me, it's the last day before we head for our other life on the water. In either case, there is cause for optimism. And even if you have no place special to go and you don't work, welcome change is coming anyway. I always wondered before I retired how I would know it was the weekend. Well, now I can say you just know. The rhythms are different, sometimes busier, sometimes more relaxed, but those two days remain distinct from the rest of the week. So most of us are headed shortly for a welcome change in routine.

The ongoing concerns of our life remain. Job, retirement possibilities, real estate--all these situations stay unchanged for the moment. We still await the results of that company job Steve interviewed for several weeks ago. Questions can nag, doubts can gnaw, sleep can be lost. The hardest life lesson for me is not to sweat what I can't control. I seem always to be re-learning it. It's these plentiful, peaceful moments that make me grateful for the here and now.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Say It Ain't So! Bo Diddly's Left The Building

Bo Diddly and his "Say Man" represent one of the earliest steps I took into my own world, away from the racially ignorant attitudes my parents expected to pass on to me. "Say Man" came out in 1959. My 13-year-old's reaction right off was, "This is funny and it has a great beat. I like it!" My parents loved good music and good humor, but I knew they'd just call this "trash" because of the race of the performer. So "Say Man" was a hidden childhood pleasure for me, but it was hidden in plain sight, that's for sure. It was a Top-40, mainstream hit. We white, urban kids were on to something new and great, thanks to radio stations that weren't afraid to mix things up and show us the good stuff.

The times, they really were a-changin'. Thank you, Bo Diddly.

MP3 File

Monday, June 2, 2008

Write while I can....

Blogger has been down all morning. I was well prepared, had my morning all planned around a 10:30 hole for a doctor appointment, but life, as they say, got in the way. At around 9 o'clock I figured out I wasn't going to have time to post anything, so I decided to hop in the car and do my errands. That brought me back here at 10:15, just in time to empty the car and rush back out to meet the doctor. I got there right on time....only to wait a half-hour for him to see me! Oh, he apologized, and later on I heard something about his being at a nursing home, so God knows what unexpected professional duties this rheumatologist was performing to make him so late. But it's still galling to break your butt to keep up your end of the bargain only to have the butt-breaking not reciprocated. In the end, he only spent ten minutes with me anyway, just long enough for me to tell him the pain in my elbows is gone thanks to the medicine he gave me, and to ask for more of it. Won't be seeing him for another three months.

Blogger was still down when I got back from the doctor, so I had lunch. While I ate, I decided to play a show I had recorded a few weeks ago and never got around to watching, a Frank Sinatra special on Turner Classic Movies. It was one of those "Man And His Music" specials he did back in the 1960s, and what a show it was. He had Antonio Carlos Jobim and Ella Fitzgerald with him in this 1967 production and they were worth the price of the Comcast subscription. Jobim and his bossa nova were the hottest things on the musical horizon at that moment, and Sinatra did four numbers with Jobim accompanying him on the guitar, just lovely. (These were obviously companion pieces to the album and and Jobim had just put out, but there was no overt plugging.)

And Ella! What a treasure, and how lucky I was to share the planet with such a creature for just a few years. She and Sinatra do a version of "The Lady Is A Tramp" that just about burns the house down. We do have our own musical thrills now, yes, but we will never again see the particular combination of energy and talent preserved on that show. I plan to put it on a DVD, so if anybody would like me to copy it and send it to you, just say the word and it's yours.

We are being blessed with unseasonably gorgeous weather these days--I hate to rub it in on you poor souls who are suffering one rainy day after another. We, too, had a record-setting May for rain, but we are having an exceedingly pleasant respite at the moment. The humidity is low and the temperatures are in the 70s. This can't last forever, and there is heavy landscaping work outside with my name on it. It's time for me to go and dirty my hands.