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MILO ONE


Piles of milo

You only have to know one thing; you can learn anything. It’s amazing what we don’t know, but comforting to know that there is so much we can still learn.

Colorful milo grain lies in orderly piles on the Kansas plains, confounding the uninformed as to just what they are. Tiny beads of gold and saffron fall in random design after the harvest, ready to serve as fodder.

Seeing the fabulous photos taken by Shoreacres prompted the return of my paintbrush, for how can one resist mountains of red, orange and yellow lying where Mother Nature put no mountains.

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MONDAY, MONDAY


Remember the Mamas and Papas singing “Monday, Monday so good to me, Monday morning all I hoped it would be.” This worked out to be that kind of Monday morning. Bright sunshine, a door and window open day. a few selected trees showed the possibility of green growth.

Since Maty left suddenly, we are back to cleaning house once more. You never forget how. Dr.A is often looking for something to do, which isn’t easy once the gardening is taken care of by someone else, so he took over mopping and polishing miles of tile floor this morning. I tackled bathrooms. I told him that there is always something to do around the house. If I play this right I may have the only handsome 91 year old housekeeper in the neighborhood. People will be begging for his services.

Some younger people seem to think people older than themselves have nothing to do. The truth is that age has nothing to do with it. You still have a lot to do, but you do it slower.

Charlie has been given a blue pill to take for a month for an obscure internal problem. It is supposed to be given with his breakfast food, but I found it tucked neatly against the side of the bowl, so I began wrapping it in a dab of cream cheese. Like Mary Poppins said “Just a spoonful of sugar—“. This Morning Dr. A proudly said he had tried to give it to him in three different cheeses to no avail. However, I saw the remnants of the cheeses he turned his nose at. One was ricotta, another was sour cream, and the third was a half empty bag of mozzarella. Charlie is an intelligent dog and waited for the cream cheese.

I wrote a post some time ago about how long it takes to form a habit. It was interesting to read the other day that some experts still often say 21 days. The real answer is more complex.
I looked for an answer the same way most people do these days. I asked Google. Most of the top results referenced the same magic 21 days. These websites maintained that ‘research’ had found that if you repeated a behavior each day for 21 days you would have formed a brand new habit.
There wasn’t much discussion about what type of behavior it was or the circumstances you had to repeat it in, just the same figure of 21 days. Exercise, smoking, writing a diary or turning cartwheels; you name it 21 days is the answer. In addition, many authors recommend that it’s crucial to maintain a chain of 21 days without breaking it.

Thanks to recent research though, we have some idea of how long common habits really take to form. In a study carried out at University College in London, 96 participants were asked to choose an everyday behavior that they wanted to turn into a habit. They all chose something that they didn’t already do that could be repeated every day; many were health related like eating a piece of fruit with lunch or running 15 minutes after dinner. Each of the 84 days of the study they logged into a website to report their findings. Acting without thinking or ‘automaticity’ is a central component of a habit.

So how long did it take to form a habit? Across the board it took 66 days until a habit was formed depending on what activity each tried to do. People who resolved to drink a glass of water after breakfast were up to automaticity after about 20 days while people who tried to eat a piece of fruit with lunch each day too twice as long. The exercise was the trickiest, with 50 sit ups after morning coffee still not a habit after 84 days. Walking for 10 minutes after breakfast turned into a habit for one participant in 50 days.

This research seems to say that habits are slow to form and some might even take as long as a year. In my own case, things such as drinking water or exercising a certain time each day, while once being considered habits, are now occasional activities. However mysterious it may be; when we moved into this house 44 years ago, we had a light switch moved from one side of a door to another. This was accomplished in a matter of a few days during a remodel, however, I still reach for the original place to turn the light on. That habit had only taken a few days.

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GAME PLAYING


monoppoloy

There was a time when nearly every house in America owned a Monopoly game board, as well as Parcheesi, Checkers, both Chinese and the other kind, and if you were somewhat intelligent, a Backgammon board and a chess set. Suffering the lack of visual entertainment, we either passed the evening hours playing games or reading.

When TV knocked on the front door, we forgot how to play games. You might say we forgot how to think. It was so easy to sit in front of a lighted screen and wait to be entertained.

We played all kinds of games while I was growing up. I used the floor as my table for solitary four handed play. I’m sure I wore out at least a couple of Monopoly boards during the 30’s and 40s.

My family were keen on a great number of card games, the names of some are no longer in my memory. Game playing complements our spirit of competiveness as well as polishes our little gray cells. As we grow older we find that fewer people are playing games. Out of a large number of our friends, there are only a few who still like game playing.

I learned to play Bridge many years ago which has given me a great deal of pleasure, both in the game and in the social aspect. Some friends have been social players and some have been eager, go-for-the-throat players. Usually that kind of person likes all games.

My friend Joan was that kind of person. After learning a few tricks from a male client of mine, we entered a local Gin Rummy Tournament, and though we did not win, we didn’t disgrace ourselves.

I grew tired of Monopoly, perhaps because of such close early association, but a number of years ago on New Years Eve, we played the game with close friends at their cabin at Lake Tahoe. The men lost their paper money and went to bed early, which left Joan and I still in competition.

The hours passed, the coffee pot was refilled, and still we battled the game. This became serious stuff. The snow lay thick on the ground as the sun rose on a new year, when the game was finally decided—ten hours later, Joan was the unanimous winner! I have never played Monopoly again, and I do not expect to find another competitor with such determination.

Toward the end of her life, when beset with so many stumbling blocks, Joan continued to test her game playing with all comers.

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OPENING LOCKED DOORS


Would I have stopped painting six years ago if I had known that one day the pleasure I had known all of my life would hide behind a locked door? It seemed as if I were blindsided that year; a year during which I not only received a new shoulder, but they also removed all my teeth, and a broken tendon assured that I could no longer enjoy even a walk around the house. I’ll admit that I did feel a bit sorry for myself, but using my father’s approach to life in general, which was “get over yourself”, I decided to find something else to fill in the gaps.

I had always written; through my early years I became well acquainted with the publishing community, who delighted in enclosing polite regrets as they returned my manuscripts. But I had never considered blogging. Actually I wasn’t sure what it was, until Cheri suggested trying it.

My blog, and all the wonderful places it has taken me to meet so many wonderful friends, has been the spice of life so to speak.

Suddenly a few weeks ago, for no apparent reason, I decided to paint again. My eyesight has been steadily “heading west”, but I thought I would give it a shot.

I have discovered a trait that many children raised in the military acquire early in life; when you are transferred to another post, you rarely look back. As my sculpture studio emptied out with kilns, wheels, slab rollers etc. sent off to their new homes, I knew I would never work with clay again. I paint in a room in my house, which I felt heeded to be emptied of all things painterly, as I probably wouldn’t paint again either.

Once I had made up my mind to paint again I needed to replenish my supply of everything. The internet is a wonderful shopping venue, and I bought new brushes and paint, saving me the trouble of trying to find what I wanted in the local art store.

After a day cleaning out the studio and arranging paint in the old pallet, I confidently set out to do a very simple painting.

Whoa. In trying to do a very simple sketch, I found that the lines completely disappeared into the paper. Suddenly there was a locked door. Certainly a disappointment. As some of you may know, a great deal of my work has been in portraiture of some detail. All of which entails a preliminary sketch. I should have know it might happen, because I find myself writing over a previous item on a grocery list, so that when I get to the store, I have no idea what I had intended. Dr. A is a wonderful shopper who follows me around and read the labels.

Anyway, I look forward to learning a new way to paint after 80 years. No identifiable subjects, just apply paint on paper. My first teacher in the second grade said: “first wet your papers children”, and that is the way I advised beginning students of watercolor during my 25 years of teaching art. Bear in mind that art is in the eye of the beholder, so bear with me my friends.

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TOBERMORY REVISITED


cat

The cat is the perfect subject for a Saki story. There is something catlike about many of his young protagonists; urbane, poised, a bit smug, and yet underneath it all, a feral streak. So it comes as no surprise that Hector Hugh Munro (1870-1916), better known by his pen name “Saki”, wrote a wonderful cat story. “Tobermory” (1911). Even better, it’s about a cat who was taught to talk.

Talking cats go back a long time in English literary curiosities. But Saki puts his own stamp on this small but rewarding genre of animal tales. A man named Cornelius Appin has managed to teach a cat, Tobermory,to talk. The cat belongs to his friends, the Blemleys, and it is at Mrs. Blemley’s house party that Appin reveals that he has managed to teach Tobermory the power of speech. At first, the party guests are naturally incredulous, but when Sir Wilfred Blemley fetches Tobermory in from a neighboring room, it soon becomes clear to everyone present that Tobermory has indeed learned to talk.

The guests begin asking Tobermory questions; whether he’d like some milk (yes) was it difficult learning human language (he doesn’t deign to answer that one) , and what he thinks of human intelligence. The woman who asks this last question, Mavis, gets more than she bargained for, with Tobermory replying that he overheard the Blemleys discussing Mavis, and Sir Wilfrid described Mavis a a ‘brainless woman’, (his wife agreed, adding that Mavis was so idiotic that she’d agreed to buy a useless old car off Lady Blemley.)

Seeking to change the subject, another guest, Major Barfield, asks Tobermory about his ‘affairs’ with the ‘stable cat’. Tobermory turns the question around, asking the Major how he would like it if Tobermory told everyone about his affairs, implying that Tobermory knows all about the Major’s extramarital dalliances.) Fearing that Tobermory knows all about their lives, and will expose all their darkest secrets, the guests begin to grow nervous. Tobermory goes on to reveal that one of the guests had admitted that she had only come to the Blemleys party for the food, and she found them dull company. Before he can cause any more embarrassment among the guests, Tobermory spies an old adversary of his, the tomcat from the nearby Rectory, outside, and in a flash he vanishes through the open French window.’

black cat

After he’s gone, the Blemleys discuss what to do about Tobermory, that he cannot be kept alive now he’s acquired this new gift of speech – as he’ll reveal everyone’s secret – they resolve to have him destroyed by lacing the food scraps Tobermory eats with some strychnine. However, although Tobermory dies, he meets his end not by ingesting the poison but by being mortally wounded in a fight with his deadly enemy, the big Tom from the Rectory. Cornelius Appin, the man who had taught Tobermory to speak, tries to impart his teachings to an elephant in the Dresden Zoo, but the elephant. evidently not in a hurry to learn about verbs and nouns, lashed out and killed him.

Tobermory is arguably one of the funniest short stories in the English language, partly because it is about exposing the hypocrisy of those upper middle class people whom Saki, in some of his other short stories, deems ‘respectable’ (the adjective is not meant to be taken as a compliment). Everyone is two-faced at the Blemleys’ party, except for Tobermory, who tells the truth. This gives him his power, like the child protagonists in Saki’s other classic stories, The Lumber Room, and Gabriel-Ernest, and Sredni Vashtar. He cuts through the adult world of lies and ‘respectability’ exposing it for the sham it is. For doing so, he has to die, but even here he eludes the deceitful adults’ plan to poison his food. He dies a hero, vanquished but with his dignity and integrity intact.

Critics have analysed ‘Tobermory’ as a satire on various political groups who were active at the time, chiefly the female suffragette movement. But this seems unlikely, or, if it was really his intent, it is barely evident in the story, where male and female guests at the party are exposed for all sorts of social hypocrisies, and political issues are not touched upon. It seems to make more sense to interpret the story as an attack on hypocrisy itself, with Saki firmly siding with the animal, as he always does, (or in some stories with the child character.) First and foremost we shouldn’t forget that the story is delightfully funny, not just because of its fantastical concept of a talking cat, but because it shows ‘civilised’ society (which always uttered with a wry sneer in Saki’s stories) as, fundamentally, something of a sham. It is the still-faintly-feral Tobermory, in his scrap with the Rectory tomcat, who is the real-thing. Even leaning to talk in the manner of the ‘respectable’ adults cannot make him forget this.

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IT’S IN THE GENES


a-hat-for-all-seasons “A HAT FOR ALL SEASONS” watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Is there a different category for each of those tiny gene things we confidently assume make up our personality? Just because Great aunt Hattie was an accomplished oboe player, will that make us a musician? If Uncle Henry cashed it in at the ripe old age of 102, does that mean we will follow suit?

Of course not, what a silly thought. But what about the clothes shopping gene? I can only answer for myself, and I’m sorry to say that because of the women in my family and their example, I have not only spent an inordinate amount of time and money in the rag trade, but have passed that gene on to my female descendants, including a ten year old great granddaughter, to my shame.

Call me shallow, but I even remember the new coat I had at age 11 when we went to see “Gone With the Wind”. The Depression made it difficult for people to indulge themselves, so that pink coat was a one-off experience for me.

I can’t remember a time when shoes have not attracted my attention; either on someone’s feet or in a store display. Perhaps it was the effect of the shiny Mary Jane’s my Grandmother bought me. I spent a lot of time washing their soles at the end of the day. One of my first jobs in dressing window displays was trying to make men’s work boots attractive. This was before I made a business of doing it a few years later.

No one can go into the clothing trade unless you truly love clothes. My grandmother, mother and aunt were accomplished seamstresses who also had a great deal of good taste, and I became comfortable sitting at a sewing machine as well. One of my daughters at age six was annoyed with me for not mending the hem of a dress as soon as she wanted it, so she grabbed a needle and thread and did it herself. I think sewing may be a lost art among the young today.

My mother in law tired of sewing soon after I married and gifted me with her old electric sewing machine. They were not always electrified. As a small child staying with an auntie, I slept in her sewing room, where her old foot pedal Singer machine stood.

My ‘new’ sewing machine was a Damascus Grand. It had copper fittings inside and when it need repair, there was only one old man in town who knew how to fix it. It perked away for years, keeping me and the girls presentable, eventually turning out clothes for the grandchildren. When it finally gave up the ghost, we made a lamp out of the head, which stands now in my studio.

We seldom throw things away, sometimes keeping them long after their usefulness is a memory. It is fortunate to have a friend of the same size and taste as your own, and closet cleaning is a fine time to share. Some years ago a friend called and asked if I could come help her clear out her closet. You can only do that with a close friend. At the end of the afternoon, glass of wine in hand, she decided she could bear to pass along a pair of light green sling back shoes I had admired. A few days later she knocked on my door at 7:30 a.m. to say she really wanted them back. What could I do? Sometimes we become too attached to our belongings.

So saying, I said a sad goodbye to my collection of ‘never-to-be-worn-again shoes by loading them into the trunk of a friend’s car. She is happy.

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COME ON-A MY HOUSE!


Rosemary Clooney set my heart racing when she sang about all the food she would have ready for me if I came to her house. I had never had any of the stuff she offered, but if she had thrown in a bit of Italian pasta or Mexican enchiladas I would have hopped a freight to go right over.

I grew up on plain American cooking; nothing fancy or exotic. I ate what my New England forebears had eaten, and was glad to get it most of the time. My Grandmother leaned toward casseroles; today we would call her the Casserole Queen. My Dad was a meat and potato man, and the dinner plate always contained two vegetables as well. No salad as we describe it today. Perhaps a slab of iceberg lettuce with a splash of Thousand Island dressing on top. No garlic, olive oil or wine, and salt and pepper were sufficient.

In 1890, about 100,000 Italian immigrants lived in New York. Italians in America were fiercely loyal to the food of their country and its various regions. Unlike eastern European Jews, Poles, or other European immigrants, whose children and grandchildren adopted generic American food as a way of assimilation, Italians saw to it that succeeding generations continued to cook Italian food. Even being teased in school about what you brought for lunch, which is still today a powerful inducement to culinary conformity, failed to force Italian kids to reject their parents cooking.

Nevertheless, immigrant families made a number of adaptations, in many cases all to the good. Food was plentiful, and instead of eating meat on rare occasions, families were able to eat meat whenever they chose. When one woman went back home, her neighbors had difficulty believing that people could eat so much white bread and butter and that she ate meat every day.

Americans began eating what were marketed as ‘Italian’ sausages, while in Italy each region had a different way of making them, and people could rarely afford to eat them. Macaroni (pasta) eaten by the well-to-do in southern Italy, became the emblem of Italian cooking, and meatballs and spaghetti became almost humdrum. Rather like thinking that ‘chop suey’ or ‘tacos’ represented the whole of their particular ethnic cooking.

By 1890, Italian restaurants were the most popular foreign restaurants, and a substantial portion of their patrons were non-Italian. For Italian and other ethnic restaurants, moving out of the enclave of immigrant patronage and catering to the majority of the population was irresistible, both because there were millions of people of all nations in New York, and because the non-Italians were less critical about the food.

The huge variety of Italian food is mind-boggling, as is found in all sorts of ethnic cooking. How many times have you heard someone swear that what they were making was the ONLY way to cook that dish? Recipes even vary wildly between families.

My late son-in-law, of Italian extraction, was a great cook period, but I heard his mother complain that he never put enough water in the pasta water. “I taught him better”, she told me once. A story circulated through the family for years about the time a young man came courting her daughter. After consuming a large plateful of homemade gnocci, he asked for seconds, not realizing that it was a first course before presenting the meat dish. She did make marvelous gnocci, a dish I worked on for a few years and then gave up as a lost cause; I even went so far as to purchase a heavy potato ricer. I envision light fluffy balls of potato and flour, but mine sink to the bottom and stay there in the cooking water. The commercial ones are not much better so I take heart.