MEMORIES OF MAO

Long ago in a land far away, we had a Siamese cat. Mao — “cat” in Chinese. I don’t know if that’s Mandarin, Cantonese or some other dialect, but it was a good name.

English: A two-year-old seal point "tradi...

We got Mao as a tiny kitten. From day one, he was a feisty, chatty cat.  He was also our first cat, which his name reflected. Mao Ee (Cat 1). There were, of course, many more cats over the decades, in all the houses in I’ve called home (except this one where it has been only dogs). Regardless, there was never another cat like Mao.

When we traveled, friends took care of our house. I was a great grower of plants back then. Feeding the cats was one part of the job … but watering the 200 plus plants was — or should have been — the bigger task. Frank — best friend’s husband — was often tasked with house care in our absence. Mao was a thinking cat. A logical cat. He decided we were gone because Frank had driven us away. If Mao could drive Frank away, we would come home.

Therefore, when Frank came to the house to feed and water cats and plants, Mao attacked him. I don’t mean a little pounce, a playful swat. It was all out warfare. Mao crouched in shadows and attacked, all 20 claws outstretched, going for gore. Poor Frank loved cats and he and Mao had always gotten along fine. He had no idea why Mao was out to get him.

The moment we came back, Mao was back to normal, friend to the world. He had obviously been right. We were back … ergo, it must have been because he drove The Invader (Frank) away. Logical, yes?

After that, Mao attacked everyone who took care of the house in our absence. He was the terror of Our Crowd. It got increasingly difficult to get someone to take care of things while we were gone.

The years moved on and Mao moved with us. There were children, jobs, bigger houses, dogs. Life. We held celebrations … big Thanksgiving dinners. One memorable occasion, we had a full house including a dozen and half people and featuring a huge turkey. When the turkey was roasted, I put it out on the counter to set while I moved food in the dining room and greeted arriving guests.

Thanksgiving006

I wasn’t gone 10 minutes. When I got back to the kitchen, Mao was on the counter, finishing off a drumstick. Its remains were still attached to the turkey — a ragged, conspicuously gnawed hole. Not the presentation I had in mind.

The husband and I consulted. We agreed and served the bird as it was.

“What happened to the turkey,” asked friends and family.

“Mao got it,” I said.

“Oh,” they said. “Pass the bird.”

It was a good Thanksgiving. Mao was some cat.

WHAT’S “TRADITIONAL”?

There was a time … long, long ago … when I had traditions. Celebrating Passover. The rituals of Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Day. New Years Eve and New Year’s Day Feasting. The decorating and piling presents under the tree. Carving a pumpkin. Putting out the little gourds for Autumn.

Oh (little) Christmas Tree

As time moved on, everything slowed. then stopped. We celebrate a semblance of Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, but the piles of gifts are gone. I save the best gift for my granddaughter, then nice ones to both parents. Garry and I go shopping during the sale following the holiday when everything is half price.

Uxbridge Common

We don’t need that stuff anymore. We haven’t changed sizes in years. We have plenty of clothing, sweaters, shoes and lord knows I do not want another decorative item for shelves or walls. We were full up on that stuff a long time ago. A particularly interesting book from one of the used bookstores can be interesting and small things that go with the cameras — bags, cleaning cloths, and spare lens caps — are good. Especially spare lens caps. A new camera strap? Okay.

Otherwise, what we really need are things no one can afford. A better screen door for the kitchen and, for that matter, if one exists — a new Dutch door too. And maybe everyone would come over and spent four hours cleaning a couple of times a year — I’d jump for joy on that one!

Even so, we seem to be getting along very well without a lot of the stuff that seemed such a big deal years ago. I don’t miss the 8 foot tree with the falling needles that were still under the rugs two years later.

Or all the broken class ornaments knocked down by cats and dogs. I don’t mind figuring out how we are going to fit a tree into the house. We have a wee little 4-foot table tree that lives (decorated, no lights) in the attic, covered, and can be comfortably plopped on the table in season then covered up and moved back to the attic.

I always wondered why Garry’s parents used to more or less beg us to NOT put up another tree. We were young and we didn’t get that they’d had a lifetime of trees and were perfectly happy to celebrate without the symbols.

Maybe that’s the real truth of it. We like the “feelings” of the holidays, but we don’t need the panoply, the endless decoration, the expense of wrapping papers and tapes and ribbons and cards, then are bagged and dumped. No one needs all the inexpensive little things we gave each other, just to fill up the corners of the holidays.

I miss the family dinners. so if someone else is willing to cook? I’ll put my bells on! I think I have cooked enough family dinners for several lifetimes. And it’s okay. Paper plates work for me!

I remember the first time I told my mom I thought it was time for me to make Thanksgiving. The look of relief that swept over her. I had been expecting an objection, maybe even a complaint … until I realized my mother hated cooking. It was usually my father who cooked with all the resulting bedlam — and even had we been a more “normal” family, they had been hosting family dinners since before I was born. And it was a big family.

 

After I took over that first year, I did it every year. I liked it. I messed around with different versions of turkey, discovered I should never, ever serve soup before the big bird. Stick with simple stuffing. Also, don’t let the bird cool on the counter when you have hungry cats.

There is a time for The Traditions. And then, there is a time to pass traditions slide down the tree to the next generation and the one after that. Sliding down the tree of life, if you think about it, makes sense. That’s the way of it.

When the kids are young — and even when the grandchildren are young — there’s a surprise and a certain bubbly excitement to oncoming holidays. But by the time all three top generations in the family are adults, that magic has quietly faded away. Hopefully leaving some good memories.

We had good holidays. No family battles. No shouting or sniping or ugliness. We didn’t hate each other.

We merely grew older and got tired. Now, the best part is watching old Christmas movies. Bring on “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Going My Way” and “Holiday Inn” and more. Each generation will have their own. Thanksgiving? “Wizard of Oz,” of course! And every single American holiday, it’s “Yankee Doodle Dandy” at least twice, with reruns of the best dancing.

Bring on traditions — and don’t forget the music and movies!

DESTINATION: FRIENDSHIP

A Trip to Alsace, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog


In the eastern part of France, along the Rhine River and the borders of Germany and Switzerland, lies the region known as Alsace.  The colorful history and culture of this area could never be told in a brief post. From ancient time to the present, the land has been part of the Holy Roman Empire, the Frankish Realm, German Empire, Kingdom of France, Nazi Germany, modern-day France and others.  The fusion of cultures and languages makes the area a fascinating trip through history, tradition, architecture and cuisine.  A prominent feature of the region today is the wine vineyards.  A trip down the wine road is a delight.  I have done it often.

Green alternative

Although you can take a flight to Paris and go on to Strasbourg, the largest city of Alsace, by train, the more efficient and cheaper transit may be to fly to Frankfurt/Main, as I did on my most recent journey.  From there you have several choices to reach Strasbourg.  I have taken the Lufthansa bus in the past, but this time my friend recommended Flixbus.

This is a relatively new service connecting many western European cities with a “reliable and green alternative” to other services.  The new buses and quick trip to Strasbourg, along with the significantly cheaper prices compared to the Lufthansa bus, make it the best choice if the timetable fits your schedule.  This time it worked best and I arrived quickly in the center of Strasbourg.

My friend collected me at the bus stop and on we went to the small town of Selestat, which dates back to at least 727 AD.  We have spent much of our time together here in recent years.  It is the center of our adventures.  For me, the best part of the trip is to sit on the small balcony of his apartment, look at the castles on the hills around us and enjoy a local beer or glass of Alsacien white wine.

Selestat, Alsace, France

It is not necessary to go to exotic and expensive places to have a good time.  We watch sports and eat together in my friend’s apartment.  We visit with friends and relatives.  We make some local stops, but the time together discussing American sports is more enjoyable than I could explain.

When my friend was off to work, I took in some of the local sites with his father.  He speaks no English and I know little French.  It does not matter, we have a good time.  At least I am having a good time and I think he is too.  Sometimes I do not understand where we are going until we arrive.  I don’t mind.  It will be fun.  Our first adventure took us to a local distillery museum.  It is new and has interactive displays.  At the end you finish in a gift shop (of course) where we sampled their main product, Eau-de-vie (water of life).  It is really a clear, fruit brandy.  A friend of mine calls it French moonshine.  It will certainly wake you up if you took a morning tour of the museum and gift shop as we did.

The Maison du Distillateur

You’d need help to carry this home.

If a clear brandy does not suit your taste, perhaps the local chocolate museum and shop will.  On our next adventure, all I understood from my friend’s father was chocolate was in our immediate future.  How could I say no?

So off we went to learn about the making of chocolate and to see a demonstration by a craftsmen who melted chocolate and then created leaves and animals and a variety of chocolate charms to the delight of the crowd.

The chocolatier spoke French so I understood little, but watching him create was a joy.

Le Maitre Chocolatier

Old church, small town Alsace

The region is dotted with small towns that are a step back in history.  We have no such places in the US, as these town contain buildings that pre-date America. The culture has evolved over many more centuries and the history of many of these locales tells tales that would delight an historian. In each of the stops, we see a lifestyle unlike our own. I particularly enjoy the ancient churches for what they tell us of the individual towns.

It was love and sacrifice that brought people together to build unique structures before there was any modern technology or construction equipment.

Ribeauville, Alsace, France

I could wander endlessly through the streets of these old towns and villages, stopping in shops to view the local wares.  It is a joy to have a cup of coffee at one stop, a pastry at another and perhaps a wine at another.  The slow pace of exploration is so much more pleasant than the tourist traps of the major cities.

Yes, I enjoyed Paris and would even go again, if I could, but the back streets of the small towns will fill your eyes with delight and warm your soul for reasons you will not fully comprehend.

Sunset in Alsace

Each time the sun sets on our visit in France, the sadness grows a little stronger.  That is because there is one less adventure in our future, one less year to be together.  It is also a time of joy, because there was one more adventure and one more memory to take home.

HAPPY NATIONAL ASSHOLE AWARENESS DAY!

Although there has never been a dearth of assholes in our world, I think this year has a special importance. Assholes are everywhere! I’m having a lot of trouble figuring out which asshole is the ultimately biggest asshole … but … wait … I think maybe I’ve got it. I don’t want to overly influence the election, so I will leave it to you, my friends, to make this critical decision.


Who is America’s biggest asshole?

I have to thank my husband and his friends for bringing this important holiday to my attention. I had long felt that the morons, jerks, and assholes in our lives were not getting the recognition they deserve.

Often ignored and disrespected, this is a special day, dedicated to them all. The assholes we love, the ones we meet on the street. The ones we worked with and for. And most especially, for those we elected to run our country.


To all assholes everywhere, this is for you.

THE BEST TRIP EVER – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Our all time favorite vacation is renting a canal boat and spending a week or two driving it through the English countryside. England has a network of canals that run throughout the country, from London up to Wales, with many circular routes or ‘rings’ in the center of the country.

The canal boats are not like any boat you’ve ever seen. They’re called narrow boats. They are basically long and thin steel barges, about 7 ½ feet wide and ranging from 45-65 feet long. They are like houseboats and can sleep anywhere from two to eight people. There is always a living/eating area, often with comfy chairs and a wood burning stove. There is a kitchen and bathroom in addition to at least one bedroom. They are amazingly roomy and comfortable.

The outside of the boats are painted in distinctive bright colors with classic patterns on them. They are beautiful and each boat is unique. The style is country craft meets gypsy. Lots of stylized floral motifs.

All the boats also have a small outside deck area where you sit or stand and steer the boat – from the back. The boat can only go about five miles per hour and you steer it with a single tiller. When another canal boat is coming in the other direction, you may only have six inches or so of space between the two boats. At first driving the boat is daunting and intimidating. But after a while, it becomes second nature and it’s no big deal.

Locks are something unique to canals. They are part of the allure and the culture of the canals. To get up and down the numerous hills and valleys, you go through locks. These are sluices that raise or lower the water level to the water level on the other side of the lock. In England, they are all manual and the boaters have to work the locks themselves. I don’t have the space here to go into lock technology. But it takes time and requires physical labor by the lock person, while the navigator drives the boat into and out of the lock compartments.

Locks add to the charm of the canal experience, except in the pouring rain or in 95 degree heat. We have experienced both.

The canals and the scenery alongside them are beautiful. You can drive through scenic farmland, dotted with cows and sheep. You can also go through heavily forested areas, suburbs with gorgeous canal side houses, or even swampland. There are also industrial towns along some of the routes. The canals were originally built in the eighteenth century for industries, like the famous English china factories such as Wedgewood. The canals were for the transportation of supplies and marketable goods back and forth around the country.

Canal boating is a very self-contained and independent type of holiday. If you see a pub that appeals to you, you stop for a beer or a meal. And there are lots of picturesque pubs along all the canals. When you get to a town, you walk to the stores and shop for food or just putter around. When you’re ready to stop for the night, you pick a spot, pull over and hammer down stakes to hold the boat in place.

You get totally caught up in the peaceful, slow-paced world of the canals. You get friendly with other boaters camped near you or going through the locks with you. Many English boaters live on the canals for months at a time, often with their cats and/or dogs. That sounds idyllic to me!

I’ve been on three canal trips. One was with another couple and four young children and two were just with my husband, Tom. It’s one of the only vacations I want to go back to again and again. To reduce stress, when I think of a peaceful, happy place, I transport myself to a canal boat in the English countryside.

SINGING AND DANCING AT THE GREAT BIG BIRTHDAY PARTY

Yankee Doodle Dandy

We watched “Yankee Doodle Dandy” tonight. Again. This is a movie that I have watched several hundred times. They used to play it on “Million Dollar Movie” on channel 9 in New York, where I grew up.

“Million Dollar Movie” played one movie a week. It played the same movie all day every day for seven days — often horribly mutilated to make room for the advertisements –and if I happened to be home sick from school, I watched that movie all the time. They played “Yankee Doodle Dandy” often and it seemed to coincide with incidences of tonsillitis, one of my primary reasons for being out of school. I learned the songs. The dances. I know all the words not only from the songs, but from the entire script.

I love it. I still love it. Garry loves it. This despite the fact that we cannot figure out why it wasn’t made in color since it is so obviously a movie that ought to be in color — but I digress. At the end of the movie tonight, Garry commented that “All young movie makers should be required to watch this movie.”

In many ways, it is perfect. If this can’t get a little American fervor running through your veins, nothing will. This despite the current pathetic condition of America’s politics and elected officials. It still makes me sit up, smile, and sing along. I love the piccolo solos and the singing and the flag waving. It reminds me that I really am American. Born here, raised here. Went away, but came back because this is my home and I belong here. However awful it is these days, it simply has to get better. I demand it get better! I am horrified by this version of America and I want it to go away.

It’s the 6th of July again and the fireworks are over. Boom, bang, and back to reality.

When we lived in Boston, we got to see the fireworks live and hear the concert from our balcony where we lived. I know all the dog owners are dyspeptic about the fireworks and I understand, but I can’t help it. I like fireworks. Shoot me down, but I love the bang and the flash and the giant flowers in the sky. I always have. Back in New York, it was a mile walk to the park and we walked it. And back because the roads were a parking lot and there was nowhere to park even if you did manage to get there.

We would lie flat on the ground and watch the sky light up.

BostonFireworks2013

We watched Boston’s show last night on Bloomberg. David Mugar is no long sponsoring the fireworks and none of the TV stations had the money to cover the show. Bloomberg stepped in and took over sponsorship. I’ve never bothered to watch Bloomberg before. It was strange not to be watching it on NBC or CBS, but it was the same great show. Now only does the Boston Pops play one rousing version of the 1812 Overture, but the guys from the Army drop by and shoot off the artillery. It has got to be the loudest concert in history.

Now today was movie time.

We watched again as James Cagney dances down the steps in the White House. We always replay it half a dozen times. Can’t get enough of it. In case you feel the same way, I’ve included it so you can replay it as many times as you want. Happy Birthday to US!

This is the beginning of American autonomy, when we stepped off the sidelines and entered the mainstream of the world’s history and politics. Let’s hope we remember that what we do matters, not only to us, but to the entire world. We aren’t a little colony anymore. We’ve moved up to “the Bigs.” We need to really make America great.

Really great. Again.

DAYS OF INDEPENDENCE

Today is America’s Independence Day. Nothing screams liberty like blowing stuff up, so there will be a lot of fireworks everywhere. Sometimes, we can see them from the back porch depending on which town is blowing up what on which evening. We don’t have fireworks anymore. We ran out of money, but we celebrate anyway.

The holiday is America’s birthday party and celebrates the presentation of the Declaration of Independence, our formal statement to King George and Great Britain that we no longer were willing to retain our status as colonies.

Declaration-of-Independence-signing

There’s more than a little confusion about which event happened when regarding the Declaration of Independence, so here’s an historical timeline. Not everyone agrees on this exact timeline, but it’s close for most purposes.

JULY 2, 1776: John Adams, a leader for independence, gets the delegates to the first Continental Congress to unanimously ratify the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson wrote the draft document because in a rare moment of general consensus, the delegates agreed that Jefferson was the best writer.

JULY 4, 1776: The Declaration of Independence is signed. July 4th becomes the U.S.’s official independence day, although John Adams argued it should be July 2nd, the day the document was ratified rather than the 4th on which it was signed. But that was Adams — arguing about everything.

JULY 4, 1776 through August 2, 1776: Following its signing on July 4th, the Continental Congress announced the Declaration of Independence. It is distributed and read across the colonies. The process of reading the Declaration — getting the official word out — took about a month.

By August, a more attractive document displaying all the delegates’ signatures had been produced. In any case, whether or not the colonists had read or heard the document officially read, everyone knew about it. The “official word” took a month to distribute, but men on horseback going from town to town told their friends and family and the word was quickly spread. People talked in pubs and over the pasture fence, as they do today. But without Twitter or cell phones.

JANUARY 1777: The first printed versions of the Declaration of Independence are distributed to the general public. The colonies are fully engaged in rebellion against England.


Jefferson’s original draft, with changes by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, as well as Jefferson’s notes of the changes made by Congress, can be viewed at the Library of Congress.

declaration_independence

You can see the most famous version of the Declaration, the hand-written signed document, at the National Archives in Washington DC.