THE DAIRY FARM AROUND THE BLOCK – Marilyn Armstrong

As 2019’s first major winter storm closes in, memories of summer seemed in order, not to mention a recipe for one great and classic cake.


Garry wanted pound cake for which I needed eggs. Our half-and-half was going “off.” With pound cake, we obviously will want coffee, hence we need fresh half-and-half. I wanted new pictures; Garry needed a photo airing too.

We accomplished it in one fell swoop (click here for a history of fell swoop), merely by driving around the block.

fresh eggs at the farm

It’s a dairy farm. Milk, eggs. Sometimes local honey. Today they had homemade jams and organic lip balm. The eggs come from the chickens wandering around the yards and are often fertilized. The milk is from the happiest bunch of cows I’ve ever seen. They loll around the green pasture which lies along the Blackstone River.

farm an windmill

There are several pastures. The pasture further down the road has a small creek running through it. They take the cows there in very hot weather so they can wade in the cool stream and graze on the wildflowers and weeds along the banks. It’s shady there. The calves have a pasture of their own and graze together along a hillside on the other side of the barn.

The milk isn’t homogenized or pasteurized, which means it’s very close to half-and-half, but you have to shake it before using because the cream rises to the top.

cows in pasture on the farm

I splurged on a jar of homemade elderberry jam. They had fresh corn, but I don’t need corn today. Maybe I’ll go back Monday, get some corn then. We don’t eat a lot, so I try not to over-buy things that will spoil and end up getting thrown out.

elderberry jamAnd we got pictures. I haven’t downloaded most of them yet. These are the first batch.

Here’s my recipe for pound cake. I’ll be baking as soon as the butter softens.

  • 1 pound (3-1/3 cups) flour
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 4 sticks softened sweet butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (use the real thing)
  • 9 large eggs, lightly beaten.

It makes two cakes in standard loaf pans. I’ll freeze one. We will happily devour the other. I can feel my hips expanding as I write.

The elderberry jam is delicious. And 2 pound-cakes are baking in the oven. The smell is … wow.

IF YOU JUST LIVE LONG ENOUGH – Marilyn Armstrong

Weekly Word Prompt: Humor


One Sunday in church, Pastor’s sermon was about forgiveness. He asked everyone in the church to stand up, then he asked those who had any enemies to sit down. Everyone sat down but one very old woman.

“You have no enemies at all?” asked Pastor.

“Not a single one,” she answered, nodding her agreement.

“Please, come up here and tell everyone how you reached such a great age without having any enemies,” said Pastor. A deacon accompanied the elderly woman to the pulpit and everyone in church applauded as she slowly made her way up the steps. Pastor adjusted the microphone.

“You must have done a lot of forgiving,” said Pastor. “Please, tell us your secret.”

The old lady smiled beatifically.

“I outlived the bitches,” she said.

FRANK CAPRA – THE ODD BOID – Garry Armstrong

I was thumbing through an old magazine when I remembered this one. Don’t think I’ve ever shared it.

Early in the 1970’s at the Boston television station where I worked.  The newsroom was on the third floor and we had a lobby receptionist who looked and sounded like Thelma Ritter.

The phone rings at my newsroom desk. It’s the receptionist in the lobby.  “Hey, Geeery,  got a guest fer ya.  An old guy. Odd ‘boid.’  Sez his name is Frankie and he’s gotta book fer ya.”

Frank Capra

I was puzzled.  Didn’t have any celeb guests booked.  Who was this “Frankie?”

“Geeery, Hon. Ya still there?   Frankie’s got this book fer ya?  Whadda I do, Hon?”

I was still puzzled.  I didn’t play the ponies and I didn’t know any bookies. I asked him to send the guest up on the elevator, then I raced out to meet him. The elevator opens and out steps … FRANK CAPRA. I simply stared with my mouth wide open.

Capra laughed at me. “Hi Garry, will you interview me?” Capra continued laughing as I continued to stare.

Mr. Smith Goes To Washington – Frank Capra, Director

Of course,  we went out for a few drinks afterward. He shared some great stories about working with Harry Cohn at Columbia.  Capra had “director’s final cut” in all his contracts.

Harry used to go wild. He wanted a different ending for “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.” Frank told Harry where to go.

HIGH ENTERTAINMENT AND LANGUAGE LESSONS – Marilyn Armstrong

Learning (or, in my case, trying to learn) another language was high entertainment.

In English, I rarely if ever used a word the wrong way. I was a serious reader very young and had a big passive vocabulary. By passive, I mean I knew a lot of words but had never used them in conversation. I knew what they meant and how to spell them, but not how they sounded.

I had no idea that Too-son and Tucson were one place. Or that ep-ee-TOME was epitome. I remember those two examples because of the hilarity they caused the adults in the area. I was all of 8, but adults were not all that nice to kids. They still aren’t, if I think about it.

language school

I was even more entertaining in Israel. I am sure that my fumbling attempts to learn the language, having caused hysterical laughter, probably played a part in my never properly learning Hebrew. I was so embarrassed by my errors, it didn’t seem worth it, especially since everyone knew at least a little English.

My first big discovery — during my first week in the country — was that Zion (Zy-on) means penis. In Hebrew, it’s tzee-own. So if you say that Israel is the Land of Zion using your good American pronunciation, you will reduce Israelis within earshot to tears of laughter.

They can be a rough crowd.

To add another layer of problems over the difficulty in just getting the words out through my teeth which were clearly not designed for all those gutturals, many words in Hebrew are very much like one another, yet have hugely different meanings. Sha-ah is an hour. Shan-nah is a year. So there you are saying “My Hebrew isn’t all that good, I’ve only been here for two hours.”

After a while, I mostly spoke English and used Hebrew words as needed when I could find no English equivalent. Eventually, I got to a point where almost everyone could be expected to understand most of what I said. Without laughing at me. But not happily. My accent made their ears hurt.

You might consider this when you meet immigrants who are trying to learn English. I mention this only because, having been on the other side of this experience, a bit of kindness to people trying to work through a difficult life transition while learning a new language and culture can go a long way to make them feel less lonely, threatened, excluded, and generally miserable.

Just a thought.

HOW A FORTUNE TELLER RUINED MY GRANDFATHER’S LIFE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My father was a scientist and a very rational man. He didn’t believe in religion or have any superstitions, except one. He told me to never, ever go to a fortune-teller. He had a logical reason. HIS father had told him an eerie story about HIS experience with a fortune-teller, which had haunted him throughout his life.

My grandfather, on a lark, when he still lived in Russia, went to a gypsy fortune-teller in a nearby gypsy camp. He was given a long, detailed story about his future life. Most of the story seemed outrageous, if not impossible at the time. He forgot about the incident. Until, to his dismay, the predictions started to come true, one at a time. I don’t remember all the details but here are a few.

The gypsy told my grandfather that he would serve in the army. At the time in Russia, only first-born sons were conscripted into the army. My grandfather was the third son, so this would never happen. Except that his oldest brother shot off his toes to avoid military service. Then the second oldest brother died suddenly and young. So it fell to my grandfather to take up arms. Just like the gypsy told him. What are the odds?

My father’s father

Next, the gypsy told my grandfather that he would take a long journey involving a boat. He had no intention of ever leaving Russia. Until he couldn’t make a good living as a tailor when he finished his military service. Then he decided to come to America – a very long journey, part of it by sea.

The personal details the gypsy told him were the creepiest part of the story. The gypsy told him that he would marry a young woman who would bear him seven children, including a set of twins, but only two of the children would survive. Believe it or not, my grandmother had exactly seven pregnancies, including a set of twins. The oldest and the youngest, my Dad, were the only ones to survive infancy.

By now my grandfather was freaking out! The next prediction by the gypsy was that his wife would die young and leave him to take care of two children on his own. She died of tuberculosis when my Dad was three. The gypsy said that my grandfather would struggle for a few years but would eventually marry a strong woman who would be a good mother to his children. This happened exactly as predicted. His children, aged three and eleven, were latch-key kids until he met his second wife who, my father always said, ‘rescued’ them.

The rest of my grandfather’s life also played out pretty much as the gypsy had told him. He started making a good living. (He was the first to bring the pleated skirt to America). He lived comfortably until his death as an old man for the day – he was in his 70’s.

The story doesn’t end there. My father understood his father’s aversion to clairvoyants. But as a young man, he fell madly in love with a woman who was ‘beyond his reach’. He was a poor, Jewish medical student and she was a proper WASP who wanted a comfortable and respectable life. He was not in a position to give this to her.

My Dad as a young man

My Dad was so smitten, that he took a year off from medical school to pursue the woman full-time! During this period, he came across a fortune-teller. He couldn’t resist finding out if he would ‘get the girl’ in the end. The gypsy told him that the woman would never marry him. She said that the woman would string him along but eventually would marry a man from Chicago who was ‘like a locomotive’. Dad remembers this phrase because it was an unusual way to describe someone.

As predicted, again, despite a long courtship, his paramour eventually sent him a letter breaking off the relationship. She said that she had found a well established, well-off man and was moving to Chicago to marry him. She described him as strong and commanding, ‘like a locomotive!’

Unbelievable! My father had no rational explanation for any of this.

Neither do I.

LACK OF SUBSTANCE – MARTHA’S VINEYARD – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Substance

When we used to spend a month or more on the Vineyard and became “summer people,” our vacations were completely lacking in substance and that’s the way we liked them.

You lost your watch on the third day. You forgot to wear underwear by the end of the first week. By the middle of the second week, you had no idea what day of the week it was and were probably at least a little tipsy.

Vineyard house – Originally part of the New York Yacht Club, it was a boathouse that became a house and is now an air BNB. This was where we stayed before it was restored. This looks “pre-restoration,” so the odds are that I or one of the many other photographers with whom we shared the house took the picture

If you made it to week three, by then you forgot what you used to do back on the mainland.

The Vineyard was where you went and nothing happened. There were no events. No parties. No concerts except usually one around the end of August to raise money for the food bank — generally the Taylor and Simon families propped up the event.


Since 1884, islanders have enjoyed the beauty of this magnificent carousel. Built by Charles W.F. Dare, it is the nation’s oldest platform carousel still in operation. Acquired by the Preservation Trust in 1986, the carousel is a National Historic Landmark. Children (and others) may enjoy a ride from Easter Sunday through Columbus Day. Rides cost just $1 and if you catch the brass ring, you ride for free. Video games and refreshments are also available.


Unless a president came to visit, or a plane crashed somewhere, nothing happened. Oh, right, one year, there were fireworks in the channel behind the house. There were two Clinton parties, one hosted by the Simons (that was when Clinton played the saxophone) and the next held by the Taylors, which is when I met Kate (I had no idea who she was until later). She was the only woman I met who dressed like me in long Indian dresses and beads.

One year it was really hot.

One summer it was surprisingly cold.

One summer, a novelist I liked did a book signing at “Bunch of Grapes.”

One of our friends made an amazingly good daiquiri. I made frozen strawberry daiquiris using real strawberries and brown sugar that tasted so good, even people who never drank got wiped out.

Garry commented considering the alcoholic stupor many of us were in, our real question should have been “Do I know who I am?”

Back deck Vineyard house. Did a lot of drinking back there. Eating. And reading. There was a big rope hammock at the end of the deck. This picture had to be pre-restoration while we were still the summer residents — along with a bunch of other people.

So what made it so special? Probably the same thing that makes boating special. Nothing. You slept, you hung out on the dock. Read a book. Roamed through Oak Bluffs looking for bargains. Wandered around Edgartown. Had a burger. Had a drink. Bought something useless but pretty.

No substance. Doing nothing and loving it.

The Island Theatre. When we were there, it wasn’t air-conditioned. I suppose it is now.

Strolled over to the Flying Horses carousel. If you got lucky, you might catch a gold ring and get a free ride while the calliope played.

Watched pink sunsets over Nantucket Sound.

If it rained, maybe we’d go to a movie.

1891 – Circuit Avenue, Oak Bluffs. It changed very little in a century.

There was no schedule until you had to leave. Then, you had to find your watch, make sure you could find your ferry tickets. Hope the bridge was not open so you wouldn’t miss your boat. Missing the boat could mean a very long day in the parking lot of the Steamship Company.

Nothing was special or substantial about the Vineyard. That’s what made it special.

DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM? – Marilyn Armstrong

This story has been on the news for the past few days. Every time it has been on, Garry and I had a good laugh.

There was a zesty little scuffle between Bill Murray, actor, and Peter Simon, a photographer who is, incidentally, Carly’s brother. And it was at “the restaurant” to which everybody who is anybody goes so that everybody knows they were there.

We used to go there once every vacation. It was wildly expensive, so not the sort of place you visited often. Or at least, not a place we visited often. Mostly, I prepared our meals at the house.

The Simon’s are permanent Martha’s Vineyard residents (and you should see their house — it’s amazing) which means something on the Vineyard. They do a lot to try to help feed the people who get hungry in the winter when all the tourists are gone and there’s no work.

The Taylor family (James, et al) are also Vineyard residents, so even though Carly and James are no longer married, they sometimes get together and do a show that will raise money to feed and house the hungry.

Thus, when Bill Murray asked Peter Simon “Do you know who I am?” and Peter answered with “Do you know who I am?” it was like a Vineyard joke.

Photo: Washington Post – Bill Murray

The thing is if you’ve spent any amount of time on the Vineyard — not as a two-day visitor but weeks at a time — you realize that everybody on the Vineyard is somebody, or is related to somebody, married to somebody, used to be somebody or is about to become somebody.

It’s a very somebody kind of place.

Peter Simon, photographer

I remember when Garry spotted Patricia Neal at a store in Edgartown. He whispered to me to wander over and find out if that was really Patricia Neal.

It is considered uncool on the Vineyard to ask for autographs or anything like that. People come to the Vineyard to get away from that … but they do want to make sure you know who they are. This can be difficult if they are on the naked beach in Aquinnah, by the way. Naked people just don’t look like their picture in the newspaper.

So as I was sashaying over to see if I can overhear relevant conversation (yes, she was), someone else was pointing at Garry because that was when he was somebody, too.

Lucky for me, I wasn’t anybody. Pat did give me some good advice which was “The most important thing for a woman is to have someone who’s good with hair and great with makeup.” Not that I have anyone, but if I had become a star, I would have taken that to heart because I’m sure she was right.

Patricia Neal – PHOTO: JAIMIE RODRIGUEZ-GLOBE PHOTOS, INC

There’s no point to this story except that if you are going to vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, be careful about assuming you are more important than that other guy. His face may not be familiar, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t own a movie studio. Or his father does.

RDP #74 – ZEST