Friday, December 30, 2011

Facebook is freaking me out. First, some "friends" post stuff they shouldn't. TMI. And, people post political pieces. (I was going to end with "rants" instead, blame irresistible alliteration.) Shut up! I recently tagged one friend's emails as spam for this reason, so now they will go straight to the trash. Years ago, I tried asking to not receive that sort of thing, and the sender was offended! So spam it is.

In recent semesters, I have been asked to write letters of recommendation for a few students who are different than the normal reference seeker. Usually, students who ask me have taken more than one class with me, and achieved A or A- in them. They have GPA >= 3.0. Within that general parameter, they fall into two camps; 1) perfectly fine student who didn't stand out in any way so that I don't feel I know them that well, and 2) perfectly fine student who is memorable in some way - extra hard working, extra charismatic, extra good writer, extra clever ideas, etc. I have a positive, sort-of form-ish memo that I use in the first instance, and I write something special for the second.

But recently, for the first time I have been asked by students who have taken one class with me and got B or B+. This is one of their highest grades, and their GPA < 3.0...way less than 3.0, in fact. Are you kidding me?

So, I'm honest and tell them that they are unlikely to get into graduate school immediately after graduation with those grades, that low GPA is the most common reason for being denied admission. That my class and my recommendation are not strong enough to stand alone. That it is not a life sentence without parole -- they should get experience, take nondegree classes, grow up, and apply down the road. I think I am saving them time, money, and disappointment, but still they want my reference and to take the risk. OK, but what do they think the letter will say?

Caught up on all else, so I am working on research this afternoon. It's a task I'm finding difficult because I receive no feedback. I have to find a way to overcome that obstacle.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

I lightened the Christmas pictures. Howie was the champ at gift opening -- truly without peer, he LOVED opening packages and anticipated holidays impatiently. But all my dogs have opened presents, and Sam and Sophie keep up the tradition:

They love their gifts:

A new plush squeaky toy!

A soft wooly blanket!

TB/TC didn't open the package (Sam did him the favor), but he has been laying on his activity mat nonstop:

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Efficiently clearing my plate to do what? That is always the question that presents itself. What do I most want to spend time on? The choices are tantalizing.

Casting around for something to write here, considered the following:

1) I respect Meryl Streep, believe she is extremely talented and I like most of the movies she has been in, but I can't stand pretentious Hollywood awards programs. Yuck. "Greatest" is compared to what? I think Pollack said late 20th Century, fine, even no contest. But this morning a headline on AOL (that I now can't find) was asserting someone said greatest of all time? How could anyone alive possibly know? It seems so now-centric, as if all other times don't mean a thing. Or is that because it is so now-centric that the comparison is early or mid 20th Century (ie, Katharine Hepburn)? And what's with the sexist greatest actress stuff anyway? Hasn't language evolved so that those in the craft prefer just "actor" for both genders now?

2) In other Hollywood news, Cheetah, a chimp who might have been in Tarzan movies, has died at a sanctuary at age 80. I never watched Tarzan, hardly watched TV as a kid, in fact. But still, this seems notable. For me, because of the animal, of course. The pictures show a wonderful elderly face. I wanted to learn more, was frustrated by the dearth of information. Discovered that much of this is "alleged;" some insist chimps can't live to be 80, others assert the roles were composites, records were poor or nonexistent, and there is no way to know if any particular chimp was in a movie. Regardless, there is not much on this Cheetah, except that he was undoubtedly old, lived in a Florida sanctuary (that seems to have been started by retired circus performers), and died recently. The detective in me is fired up. It should be relatively easy to discover if he did indeed come to the sanctuary from Johnny Weissmuller's estate fifty years ago, wouldn't you think?

The absence of details reminded me of what I wrote here, about Myrtle McSpirit.

And that reminds me of this, from A Visit with Mimmie: Catskill Mountain Recipes:

Ann K. Eckert, 88. How can someone's life be reduced to a couple of inches and a small headline in a newspaper column? There seems to be nothing odd, aside from the obvious, about obituaries until a loved one dies, and then a front-page story is not enough.

Among Mimmie's possessions, my mother discovered an old photograph and a letter. Mimmie is about seventeen years old in the photo and she is with a young man. Years later, in 1938, long after she had married and moved to West Shokan, Arthur Johnson wrote to her and enclosed the picture.

I have a copy of a cookbook which is inscribed: "To Gina on her Wedding Day. With much love and many happy memories of the good times we have had together. Mimmie." And from several years later, a letter: "Hope you will have a very Happy Anniversary. It will be your seventh won't it? As you know I am very happy with my granddaughter and her husband "A lovely couple."

Mimmie. That single word says more to me than a front-page story ever could. I have been told that "mimmie" was coined by my oldest brother, too little to say the word "grandma" clearly. And so she was "Mimmie" to us, and never "Grandma."

Inspired by Mimmie's wedding gift to me, by the collection of recipes which my mother gave me after Mimmie's death in 1993, and by Mimmie's occupation as a cook, I originally envisioned a cookbook. The text soon began to lead me as I wrote it, "over the river and through the woods." It took shape, becoming an account of rural life, a guidebook of household hints, gardening ideas and delicious recipes.

But this transformation is appropriate. Mimmie was a fine cook; she loved flowers; and to her, cleanliness truly was close to Godliness. Most important of all, she was an avid reader until shortly before her death, when failing eyesight prevented enjoyment of her favorite hobby. Those of us who shared her love for reading would recommend a book, or take a recommendation; later we would steal happy moments, sitting at her kitchen table in the sanctuary of her home, discussing its contents.

"Janette came to visit me a few days ago, and brought me the book you gave her for her birthday, Ironweed. I have finished it and thought it interesting. I gave her the one to read that you gave me by Patti Davis. I thought that very good and enjoyed it."

Mimmie rarely went out; she preferred to be home with her cats and her plants and her books. For someone with so focused a view, her taste in books was broad, and included both fiction and non-fiction. She devoured the books we brought her, whether they were mysteries, romance novels, household hints, humor, best sellers or academic publications. She especially enjoyed biographies of former politicians.

What is the single most important thing that you are doing now? "I guess the most important is visiting with Anna. Certainly that seems like it's most important. That's real. Books isn't (laughs), which is what I like to do next. I think I feel better if I've visited with her for three or four hours, then she went home all happy, then I set there reading a book."

"Still read a little, read a good book about Lincoln that (Aunt) Jean sent me. Never got the book you wrote about, The Beans. But will this winter."

"No books at the present time. Miss you."
The best thing about winter (and summer) break - I am still teaching but don't have to go to campus - is that I can revert to my preferred natural state...sleep in and stay up late. My winter session class is turning out to be very manageable, eleven students. I am taking care of some lingering details from Fall '11, but soon I will be able to turn my attention to things I save for break and its leisurely owl pace.

Cold is improving, but still annoying.

Several weeks ago, when I was observing an elementary school class, one student had brought in large stuffed animal snake. I realized I had the same one when I was a kid, a beloved long-forgotten toy. In my mind’s eye it was pink rather than yellow/orange but I could be wrong on that detail. I even remembered for a moment playing with my room full of stuffed animals, arranging them all on the carpet, the snake like the one in the classroom, the deer with the false eyelashes, the big fuzzy pink dog I called “Spoofer,” the smaller dog I called “Pocket Nose,” Vincent Van Gopher with the hard face (who was really my brother’s), sitting among them, pretending we were a community in the woods.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Back home early this evening. Bob is sick now too. I will be very surprised if he is the only one who didn't escape. Makes me feel kind of guilty! But I couldn't stay away at Christmas (even though I would be willing -- only to spare others from this plague!). We are going through cases of tissues. Back to routine tomorrow, week two of my winter session class.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

I have another cold! Came down with it Thursday -- spent the day in denial, and the night in misery. Any time I do a school visit, that seems to be what happens. The elementary school kids are always sick, and never kept home when they are. I must be susceptible ever since I had the dental-visit caused sinus problems over the summer. What a drag!

In spite of this (and remember I am a bad patient -- pathetic, in fact), I managed to get through the day. Up early to see Bob off (he's visiting his family, which with their move farther east is a trip I no longer make on holidays), open house at my sister's and then church. I hope I didn't give this illness to anyone -- I tried to be careful, no hugging, flashed the peace sign instead of handshaking.

Last night we put up our Samsonville tree (as you can see), wrapped gifts, and -- since the risk that they would unwrap the finished packages under the tree that were not for them was great otherwise -- gave the animals their presents. All got edible treats, plus Sam got toys, Sophie got new blankets, TB/TC got what I think must be his first toy ever and he loves it! Pictures of the festivities coming eventually. (Similar to the tree photo, they are too dark to post unedited, and I am not fixing them right now.)

My mother says the horses have hay on their knees Christmas morning because at midnight they kneel, and her favorite always has the most. I have never personally witnessed this miracle, but I have no reason to doubt her. So I didn't have to risk pneumonia and hoof it out to the barn in the cold and dark tonight to verify her story; I know that's what they are doing as I write this.

Tomorrow: Big dinner at my parents'. Then crashing!

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

In Search of MAD (1998)

There should be a shower stall at the end of the magazine aisle at Coulson's convenience store, or at the very least a hose for rinsing off.  Coulson's has the best magazine selection around; luckily, The Writer, my favorite -- and the only one I buy faithfully every month -- is near the ice cream cooler, right as you enter the magazine area.  It's funny, not in the ha-ha way, but in the strange way, that this obscure little magazine is there among the popular and trendy section.  Its neighbors are George, The Advocate, The New Yorker and Redbook.

In a way, Coulson's reminds me of "Skin's," which was the general store I visited daily as a kid in my hometown.  The store's real name was "Davis' Store," but everyone referred to it by the nick-name of its owner, Lester (Skin) Davis.  Skin ran that place for years; my mother recalled sitting there, on the front porch eating candy, just like I did in the ‘70s, and just like the kids did after I went off to college.  When I was a teenager, a new sign was installed at Skin's, and "Edna's and Skin's Store" was painted on it rather than "Davis' Store," to acknowledge, I suppose, that Skin's wife was always working in there, too.  You'd suppose an early feminist like me would have taken pleasure in that enlightened sign, but instead it seemed inaccurate, because we continued to call the store simply "Skin's," as always.
Skin sold newspapers, but not magazines.  Coulson's, on the other hand, stocks every magazine in the world.  A strange mixture of homeless people and well-dressed men from nearby banks and state offices frequent Coulson's for lottery tickets, quarts of beer, cigarettes and Hostess Twinkies.  While there they crowd the magazine aisle; I'm not sure if any copies are purchased, but Coulson's rivals the library for how many times each periodical is read.  As you travel down the aisle, past the popular section, to craft, home decor and computer magazines, then to automotive magazines, on top of the rack at the end there is pornography, seductively calling out "pick me up!  look at me!"  to the businessmen and bums, who are more than happy to oblige.

Today I am gathering copies of likely markets for my essays.  Hudson Valley, House Beautiful, McCall's, first section, no problem.  Wow, they even have Village Voice.  One publication is left on my list.  Long ago I dreamed of writing for MAD, and that particular magazine remains.  "Coulson's has everything; of course they have MAD!", I think.  I struggle past the assorted men, trying to avoid brushing their suits and ties, or alternately tee shirts and jeans, with my dress, venturing further down the aisle than I usually dare.  Ugh, I am up to the car section.  "Damn!," I whisper to myself.  Comics are in the last section, across from porno.  "Excuse me," I say out loud to a man who is squatting at the end of the row, as I lean down to retrieve the magazine.  I try not to see what he is skimming.  "Sure," he says, hopping aside a bit, but not removing his eyes from the page.
I purchase my copies and leave Coulson's in a hurry.  I haven't seen a copy of MAD in twenty-five years, so I eagerly flip through it as I wait at the light for a break in traffic.  It is exactly as I remember; Alfred E. Newman, Spy v. Spy, gags about the media.  Suddenly I realize there is a very good reason for the familiarity; it is a reprint of one of MAD's earlier issues.  Tomorrow I must return to Coulson's to get the current issue.  Now where is my pepper spray?

2011 note: In about 2000, The Writer was sold to Kalmbach publishing, and its offices moved from Boston to Wisconsin. Gradually, all of the magazine's attributes were stripped away, and the change justified as modern improvement. The once-delightfully humble magazine became a pale imitation of Writer's Digest, and I stopped reading it.
I had hoped to print up copies of this photo and send them in the mail as this year's Christmas card (we only received about a dozen this year), but neither of my color printers would cooperate. I spent a few hours Tuesday night, and few more yesterday, and no luck. First, I had to hunt for the photo paper. Then, the photo printer has a couple of cartridges that are past the expiration date -- so even though they are not empty, the printer won't print. My all-in-one doesn't need a cartridge change, but it would if I wanted to print in really high quality  -- and I don't have a spare color cartridge. So I guess I am not sending cards this year!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Just entered grades, a day before the deadline! Yay! I finished this afternoon, but I like to set them aside and wait a few hours before submitting. Tomorrow, a school visit for my research, then off to Lee, MA for some fun.
2011 Castleton Tree

I cut my nails Saturday, shortly before putting the tree up. They were incredibly long. I let my nails grow until one breaks, then I cut them. Occasionally, as was the case Saturday, none has broken for a very long time, and I let them go. They don't really get in the way of typing, washing dishes, or gardening, because they are strong. However, eventually I notice they are a distraction to people. This has been true for about the past two weeks, as students in my classes, colleagues at the end of semester luncheon, and friends are mesmerized as I talk with my hands, and when that happens the attention starts to render me self-conscious and finally mute.

Bob advises to paint them instead of cutting them, but I can't figure out how having them bright pink or red would do anything but cause them to be more riveting - and also make them go from rather weird to extremely tacky. I don't dye my hair or wear make-up, as if I would sport fake nails (which is what abandoning natural would make them seem, I think). Regardless, the other motivation to cut them is that once they are this long, there is always the risk that a painfully short break will occur. So they had to go. I tend to procrastinate even once the decision has been made that the time is now, because it isn't that easy a task -- I have to set aside time to do it, as filing the sharp points after I cut them requires patience.

Anyway, that is a long, tedious preamble to this: while putting up the tree, somehow I jabbed myself, whether needle or ornament hook or something else I am not sure, and my left pinkie nail suddenly was soaked in blood. It took a while to get it stopped, and even today, my finger is sore. Maybe if I still had my sturdy talon it wouldn't have happened!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Bob's 2011 creation

I am in such good shape grading-wise that I took the weekend off. That wasn't exactly my plan, but that's the way it worked out. Regardless, I will be done after a full day of work tomorrow, and that will be a full day before the Tuesday deadline.

My winter session class starts tomorrow officially, but it has been ready for two weeks. Students started to login on Friday. I think finals were done on Thursday so I guess that's why they didn't access the class sooner.

Yesterday we put up our tree. We got it from the boy scouts as we always do, fresh cut. It is a tiny scotch pine. For the past few years we have been getting small trees that we can put on a table, but this year's is especially diminutive. I will post a picture eventually. The plan is to put up a tree in Samsonville on Friday, a native pine cut from the yard as usual.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Status Sort (1998)

There is a worn path in the carpet, extending from the door of my office, around my desk, to the printer beside my computer.  It wasn't there when I moved to this office three years ago, saying perhaps as much about the prior occupant, J.S.M., and the one before him, J.W.S., as it does about me.  Does the printer show it too, I wonder, some extra shine on the plastic, bearing witness to pressure from countless elbows?  My visitors always lean there as they face me to talk, while I sit at my computer.

Lately that path is quickly becoming more threadbare.  A new regime.  Retirements.  A transfer.  Accelerated game playing.  Fear.  Redistribution of work, combined with more draconian rules for the clerical staff, but correspondingly very little change among the professionals.  "You're the only college-educated person I know who doesn't look down on us," H.C. says from her place by the printer.  I am touched, but remind her that it isn't true, it's just that this is a very stratified place. It's as if the database coding table that we use to identify campuses -- doctoral on top,  comprehensive next, specialized next, community next -- is mirrored in our staff. A trivial but poignant illustration is that professionals in our office invariably use three initials, while members of the support staff use two.  With the exception of me, of course, since among other reasons, the "M" would ruin the alliteration of my name.

"Let's all go out to breakfast together at the Miss Albany Diner," says department head R.A.L., trying, and genuinely I think, to implement some idea he learned from a management article.  But the clerical staff doesn't want to go, and they start making excuses and plans to take the day off.  The senior professionals wouldn't want to go either, but can't resist the temptation to bask in his glow.  Staff meeting.  "Is the breakfast only for the senior staff?" asks a timid junior professional.  The question is ignored by all but me.  "No, no," I quickly respond, "this isn't a status sort," and then I can't resist the opportunity to skewer our new provost's directive about using titles by teasing, "Staff Assistant T.J.M."  There is surprised laughter from all at the table.

Still, the lower caste won't go.  The day before our reservation, all of the junior professional and clerical staff announce their intentions.  "I have a doctor's appointment," one offers, "I'm staying to watch the phones," says another.  I am annoyed and say so.  The idea of getting up earlier than usual gives me no pleasure, and a meal at the M.A.D. isn't something a vegetarian relishes.  "So I am not going either, but I'll make no excuses," I tell them.  There is distress on their faces.  They waver.  The junior professionals and half the clerical staff have a change of heart.  "If you go, we'll go," they say from the familiar worn spot.  "I'll meet you," I promise.

It is morning of the appointed day.  The professionals, especially M.D.L., the least respected, vie for spots closest to the Man.  It is not a happy group; peacemaker G.W.C. had his first chemotherapy treatment yesterday, uppity N.L.R. is outraged at the loss of her secretary and not at all satisfied by her reassignment.  I purposely sit at the low status end.  I steer the conversation away from work.  I flamboyantly tell every witticism that comes to mind.  Everyone relaxes a little.

Back at the office, I accomplish a lot without the constant interruptions.  The atmosphere feels calm today.  There may yet be a little life left in that carpet, after all; the spot near the printer is vacant.
My last day on campus for the fall semester was Wednesday. I don't have any classes that day, just several meetings and a luncheon. I purge my office. One detail I addressed was chatting with the woman who handles my grant. I was telling her about my research. I told her one thing I'm learning from the classroom observations is that it would be relatively easy to design a fair teacher assessment that didn't rely on standardized tests. She remarked, "that should be your next grant proposal." Wow! What an exciting idea. I believe I could do it -- and the model would be good for parents, good for administrators, good for teachers, good for taxpayers -- and most importantly, good for students. Of course, people would need to embrace change rather than resist it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I sold my fish tank at the yard sale we held at the old house before Mimmie moved.  I’d never had much luck with fish except for goldfish and algae eaters, and then the last goldfish was alone, grew to a carp, and one sad day died; I decided to stick with mammals.  Now I know that I overfed them and the tank was in too sunny a spot.  But I was happy to unload it for a cool $5.

Mimmie wasn’t in a very good mood that day.  She didn’t want to move from the old place, even if it had little water, and she’d have plenty -- enough for an automatic washer in her new trailer, instead of the Ward’s wringer model that was in the old kitchen.  She reminded us of her displeasure many times after her move.  Years later she told me that it had taken her all of two years, but she came to love her new home.

That day we helped her sell many of her things.  She decided what would go, making it clear that she preferred modern things rather than old junk, anyway.  I didn’t think of it then, but just not when it came to the house itself, I guess.  She didn’t take the chrome and enamel kitchen set with her, though I so wanted her to.  An old notebook says that it sold for $18.35.  It was a symbol of the old kitchen.  She liked the new, improved harvest gold and brown ‘70s version that was waiting for her with the automatic washer.  It quickly displaced the older set to become the symbol of her kitchen.  She did bring her old hand mixer though, still in the box it came in the day my father won it in 1956 for selling Fords, the day of the move and still to this day carefully sewn together in Mimmie fashion with blue string.  She also brought her metal tea canister, which had a Lipton tea bag tag taped to the top for easy ID.  And the framed picture Aunt Dot had given her of her favorite politician, FDR.

It didn't take long to accumulate more stuff, though. "I’ve got quite a few baskets that I got for presents, that was my sort of hobby.  Now I want to get rid of them all,” she told Michael during a visit one day many years after moving to the trailer.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Why is competent leadership so hard to find? No one wants to make hard choices, or focus on change that could actually be beneficial in the end, even a win-win.

Working away, making good progress on grades. Time to emerge from my third floor isolation, see about dinner.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

I'd Probably Be Working Yet

“Hundreds of youngsters did see the pixies that lived in the ferns beside the barn!  Very special wee folk, they delighted in serving everything miniature size in their own special dishes.  Tea sandwiches were served in the pixie refrigerator, luncheon was served in their train or boat.  A dog cart and pony wagon were treasures reserved for serving dessert.  During the meal, the pixies busied themselves wrapping tiny gifts of the heart to delight their pint size customers.  The Inn scrapbook contains so many letters written to the pixies, we know the children shared the pixie love of giving, laughing and enjoying.  We knew they would enjoy being remembered by all the ‘young in heart’” (Graeffe & Horner, Favorite Recipes of Watson Hollow Inn, 1972, p.136).

Mimmie worked for many years as a cook at Watson Hollow Inn in West Shokan, New York.  Desserts were her specialty.  My fondest childhood memories are of sitting at Mimmie's enamel kitchen table very late at night, selecting delicious homemade cookies from a tin container, and drinking many cups of tea while she shared stories of her life.  Mimmie liked her tea strong, and always left the tea bag brewing in her cup the entire time she drank the tea.  She preferred Lipton brand, although she would tolerate Tetley, but she disapproved of all other kinds.  I doubt she knew there was such a thing as decaffeinated.  She used evaporated milk rather than lemon or ordinary milk in her tea.

I asked her, "what do you think about time?"

"Time isn’t important to me anymore.  And I mean, I used to do everything on schedule, anyone that got me off of that schedule...  Anymore, I would say, you know, there’s a lot more time to do that.  This can be done some other time.  I have all the time in the world to visit, and read.  That made me very nervous, schedules.  When I was working, I mean Clare caught on right away, that it bothered me.  And I know I heard her say one time to somebody, don’t get Ann off her schedule, or she’ll, I don’t know, she said she’ll kill you or something like that," she replied, laughing. 

"Everything I did, I wanted it done -- and sometimes it couldn’t be, but I thought if they kept on their schedule, it wouldn’t interfere with mine. They just thought that you couldn’t always keep on a schedule.  And I could, you know, if they went to the store on time.  Because if you don’t get it done on time, how are you going to serve the meals on time.”

Watson Hollow Inn was a magical place.  Known simply as “the Inn” to employees, regulars and local folks, I suppose it was somewhat of a bed and breakfast, though it was in business long before B&Bs were chic.  Afternoon tea and Sunday dinner were served at the Inn.  Operated by Clare Graeffe Kearney, Anne Graeffe and Paul (Pat) Kearney from 1942 to 1970, Mimmie worked there from 1958 until her retirement in 1970.

I was a little girl, and did not often get to visit while Mimmie was at work, so my most vivid memories of the Inn come from Mimmie’s late night stories.  Occasionally in the evenings, the owners, guests and a few employees would play games and put on simple performances.  Mimmie greatly enjoyed the antics at the Inn and, at the same time, thought they were silly. “...All leaf lettuce, parsley, baby carrots and corn came directly from Pat’s garden.  Fresh clover was picked daily, washed, and gently pressed into each butter pat” (Graeffe & Hoerner, p.129). Finding four-leaf clover was one of those antics, and was among Mimmie’s many responsibilities.

A recollection of my own is of a time when I did visit Mimmie in the Inn’s kitchen while she was working.  Clare offered to make me a shake.  In my limited experience, a shake was ice cream, milk and most likely chocolate.  Clare’s combination consisted of wheat germ, a raw egg, and other unfamiliar ingredients.  Clare, Anne and Pat practiced a sort of health-food lifestyle before anyone cared about such things.  I reluctantly drank it and said that I liked it, although I was a fussy kid and it was not sweet at all.  But I had been told many times not to practice my finicky ways when I was a guest.

The nice elderly women at the Inn gave me a little package to take with me when I left that day.  I was to open it after we drove away, when the Inn could no longer be seen in the distance.  Although too polite to refuse the wheat germ-egg shake, I was skeptical of the story I was told about what would happen if I did not listen.  The pixies who lived in the ferns would spirit my gift away!  Ignoring the warning, I ripped the little decorated bag open almost as soon as I was in the car.  Inside was a cute plastic deer statue. (I save everything, but don't have it any longer; I suppose it was spirited away after all.) 

The building which once housed Watson Hollow Inn burned down close to Thanksgiving in 1971, a year after it stopped operating as a business.  (The pixies who lived in the ferns may have done it.)

Mimmie remarked, "of course if Watson Hollow Inn was still there, and I lived where I did, I’d probably be working yet.  'Cause if I’d never had to stop, I think I would have kept in good enough condition to work.  I think that they wouldn’t have been working full-time there.  And I know if everything had gone well and they had been living, they’d be running that place today yet, maybe in a smaller way."

Here's a WHI recipe that is perfect for holiday celebrations:

Watson Hollow Inn Fruit Punch

Nutmeg    (to taste)
Cinnamon    (to taste)
Cloves    (to taste)
Cranberry Juice    4 cups
Apricot Juice    3 cups
Pear Nectar    2 cups
Pineapple Juice    3 cups

Put all ingredients in gallon jar and chill.  When ready to serve add one can frozen lemonade, stir and fill remainder of jar with ginger ale.  Add cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves to taste.  Fill glasses and add one melon ball cutter, the largest one, of orange or lemon sherbet to each glass.

excerpted from A Visit with Mimmie: Catskill Mountain Recipes

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Working, working, working away...hoping to spare myself 12 hour days and quitting time of 2 am as the grading deadline approaches. We'll see!

Here's a respite...

"Do you see a difference in how people of different ages perform their jobs?" I asked Mimmie.

“I’ve seen both.  I’ve seen young people that worked real hard, and I’ve seen some that didn’t.  I’ve seen somebody that was about my age or a little younger that wasn’t worth two cents.  While I was working down there at the Inn.  This one, that I remember, she wasn’t a bit conscientious.  She used to make out that she was working.  Fooled some people.  I mean, she was almost my age.  Not now, then.  I’ve seen girls eighteen, nineteen worked like the place was their own.  I don’t think it has a thing to do with it.  Today they talk like, people, old people always, I mean, with the sense they have, that they always were like that.  I mean, kids did just the same as they do today. They didn’t come home when they were told, and stayed out too late, sneaked in if they could.  I know even I did.  Our door was locked - 12 o’clock by my father.  My mother always got up very quietly and let me in.  I mean, how could you get back by 12 o’clock if you went to Kingston for the movies?  If you went to a dance, they had dances right there, not too far from where we lived, it just about got started at 12 o’clock.  You’d go there at nine, there wasn’t hardly anybody there.  My mother wouldn’t want you to stay out all night, or 3 o’clock in the morning, but she didn’t care if you were just down there dancing, two miles from the house.  She trusted you enough to believe that’s where you were if you said so.  She would have never thought of locking the door, I don’t know what my father thought -- I guess he thought she gets up and lets you in, that’s what he must have thought."  She paused, her remark punctuated by laugher. "But maybe he didn’t realize that we weren’t home, I don’t know.  I mean Alice and I were together, and some other girls that lived right near us.”

Friday, December 09, 2011

Clothes Poles

Mimmie had no use for “permanent press.” She liked cotton and ironed everything regularly, from her housedresses to Uncle Buddy’s blue jeans to sheets and pillowcases. When a tablecloth became worn or stained, it finished its life as a cover for her old wooden ironing board. Mimmie had a wringer washer at the old house, and an automatic one at her mobile home, but she did not have a dryer. Stretched between two trees in her yard was a clothes line, and due to its extreme length, she used Y-shaped poles every few feet to prop it up. Her linens never dragged on the ground as they dried in the breeze, and hunting for appropriate poles for this important task was her continuous endeavor. You won’t find them near the Tide and Wisk in the supermarket, or even with the ironing boards and clothes pins in a discount department store. Mimmie’s perfect clothes-pole specimens grew in the woods near her house.

illustration by Janette Kahil

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Eggplant is my favorite food. Thinking back,  I realized this past week I had:
  • eggplant napolean at The Point in Albany for dinner on Wednesday of last week (it was divine), 
  • eggplant napolean from the Outtakes store on campus on Thursday for lunch (it was acceptable, even tasty. I suspect slabs were packaged up the day after it didn't sell out at the Patroon Room lunch buffet -- sort of reminds me of elementary school when an apple was the snack and kids would take maybe one bite, then go up to throw out the tray. A lunch aide was always there, grabbing the trays full of trash. Next day, 1/2 apples were the snacks. Hmmm),
  • eggplant parmesan from Scarnato's in Castleton on Friday (it was to die for, my favorite, best anywhere, no contest, A+++, rivals my own or even Ma's),
  • frozen Celentano eggplant for dinner on Saturday (it was not that good),
  • eggplant and white bean soup for brunch at the Chatham House on Sunday (it was heavenly),
  • eggplant parmesan at Teagan's in Rensselaer on Tuesday for dinner (it was serviceable).
What? A week with only six days of eggplant? How can that be?

Something I don't do as much as I'd like is cook time-intensive, more complicated dishes. Some of my favorite things to make involve pie crust (with apple pie topping the list!). Today I decided to make a quiche. It's been ages since I made one. My recipe: pie crust (1 1/4 c. flour, 1/4 t salt, 1/3 cup butter, 4 T water), roll out into one crust, put in pan, line with foil and bake 450 degrees for 8 minutes, remove foil and bake 5 more minutes. Filling (4 eggs, 1 1/2 c milk, 1/4 t salt, 1/4 t nutmeg, 1/8 t pepper, 1 t minced garlic, 8 oz shredded cheddar cheese, 2 c chopped spinach). Bake 325 degrees for one hour. 

Today is another day without eggplant. (Already know I'm having it tomorrow though.)
Turns out that the answer to the question in the last post is "no." Looks very pretty, but no work.

With no FTF classes, getting caught up on lots of details. Always make me happy!

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Snowing like crazy. Will I have to shovel tomorrow?
From Elwyn's 1941 Diary:

December 7. Clear, cold, biting northerly winds.    At dawn Japan without warning suddenly attacked with air & naval force Pearl Harbor Hawaii, & Phillipines.  Japan has attacked without provocation and declared war on the United States.  Tonight our country is at war. -Already hundreds of our soldiers have been killed.
LATER - over 2700 U S sailors & over 200 soldiers - Battleship Arizona sunk, also Utah & several other ships.

December 8. United States declared war on Japan.  President Franklin D Roosevelt signed the document at 4.10pm -  The President addressed Congress at 12.30pm  Senate voted unanimously and the House 188-1 for War. Miss Janette Rankin  of Montana cast lone dissenting vote. 

December 9. New York City had 2 air riad alarms pm. - Heard President Roosevelt’s radio message to Nation at 10pmJapan has dealt a serious blow in the far

December 11. Italy and Nazi Germany declared war on the United States. Congress and House of Representatives retaliated unanimously and President Franklin D Roosevelt signed the Declaration

December 15. Secy of War Frank Knox reported today to Nation 2700 officers & men were killed by bombs in last Sunday’s Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Last day of classes! I was feeling better so I managed, although I had two bad coughing spells. One in the morning in the privacy of my office made me wonder if I could make the day. Then, another, not quite as bad, when my evening class was almost over. At the end of that class, a student gave me a card and candy cane and thanked me for the class. That is the first time that has happened. Not being verbally thanked necessarily, but the careful thought of the token. I was thinking of that corny Hallmark commercial, the one when the woman comes back years later and gives her former professor a card as he is retiring and packing up his office. I've received a few gifts and thank you cards from students before, when I write them graduate school recommendations and it is a student I know especially well. But for a class? This was a first. Very gratifying!

Monday, December 05, 2011

I Started This Notebook in 1926 

I twisted the knob, attempting to open the door that led to the little room Uncle Lou had added to Mimmie’s mobile home.  It was locked, so I knocked.  “Mimmie,” I called. Inside, I heard her fumbling around with the door. It took a while, as she had several latches to release, as well as a hook and eye.  That little trailer in the woods of upstate New York was more secure than many apartments in New York City, 100 miles to the south.

The door swung open. Mimmie stood a little to the side, so that I could pass. That day, as always, her floral house dress was perfectly pressed, her stockings complemented by a pair of white sneakers. Not once in my life did I see her in pants, although my mother says that in Mimmie’s younger days sometimes she did wear jeans.

We were going to sit at the kitchen table, drinking tea and eating coffee cake while we talked. That was what we always did during our visits at her trailer, and before that, when she still lived at the old place. But this day I was going to tape record her answers to a list of prepared questions. It was an assignment for a class at college, and I had already asked Mimmie if she would be my subject. She had agreed, reluctantly.

Mimmie circa 1985

I sat down at the table and arranged my notepad and tape recorder. Mimmie hovered nearby. “Should we have some tea first” she said. It was not really a question. I said yes, and before long, it was brewing. She took a danish out of the refrigerator and heated up a few slices in her toaster oven.

“You know, I think these coffee cakes aren’t so good anymore. I think they bake them right in the boxes now,” she remarked. I smiled. Years later, I decided she was probably right! And a little time in the toaster oven always improves store-bought baked goods.

“Maybe we should get started?” I suggested. The clock with the big numbers above the kitchen sink was loud when it ticked. The hours slipped away during visits with Mimmie. I had to make the bus back to Oneonta later that evening, and this assignment needed to be finished. “Where were you born?”

“In my parents’ house.” Mimmie’s parents lived on Dug Hill Road in Hurley, New York. Her father was a widower with five children, but it was the first marriage for her mother. Mimmie was the oldest of three surviving daughters from this union.

“And you lived there your whole childhood?”

“Yes.” When she was a girl, Mimmie often visited a neighbor on Dug Hill Road. She taught Mimmie about running a household and cooking.

By our second cup of tea, there were still a lot of questions to go. The first ones had answers I already knew. “When were you born?” I asked. “September 13, 1904” came the reply. “Do you have children?” “Yes, three.”

“What are their ages?” “I was told not to answer that,” she said, and we both started laughing. “What did your father do?” “He was a farmer.” “And your mother?”

“How did you come to West Shokan, and when?” “How’d I come? I moved here in 1932, no reason why.” I made some notes in my spiral-bound book. West Shokan was my grandfather’s hometown.

Eckert Homestead in West Shokan c. 1915

“What other places have you lived as an adult?” “Well, I lived in Woodstock, working there, for two years. And I lived in Alleben. That’s all.” I made some more notes. In 1918, after finishing eighth grade in the one-room school at age fourteen, Mimmie left home. She went to work in Kingston, New York. In 1922 she moved to Woodstock, New York, to work as a nanny for the Reasoner family. Mr. Reasoner was an artist who owned the Woodstock Playhouse.

Mimmie when she was about 17

“What is your occupation?” “Crazy questions, aren’t they? I don’t want to say jack of all trades and master of none.” She was laughing. “What would you be, mostly I’ve been a housewife, cook. As a young girl, I worked in a factory.”

“What did your husband do?” “Farmer, carpenter.” I continued my notes. Grandpa owned the store Mimmie worked in when she lived in Alleben.

As a newlywed in 1926, Mimmie started writing recipes in a spiral-bound notebook. On the cover is taped an illustration of a kitchen by Maxwell Mays that looks much like Mimmie’s at the old house. At some point she labeled this notebook “Old Book.” The stained pages inside are written in fountain pen and long ago started to crumble. At one place, they were sewn by Mimmie to the binding, and the thread remains intact. This old book begins with a recipe for Irish Wedding Cake, and several pages later, there is One Egg Cake.

The 1926 Notebook

In the 1940s, Mimmie’s sister Alice and brother-in-law Frank would drive to West Shokan from their home in Stony Hollow for a visit. Most of the time, these visits were an unplanned surprise. Having no sweets readily available to offer them and few ingredients on hand to rectify the situation did not prevent Mimmie from slipping into the kitchen to see what she could manage. A short time later, without fail, she would emerge with a just-baked cake.

For one visit Alice decided to save her sister the trouble by bringing something she had picked up at a store. Mimmie served the dessert and coffee, and Alice remarked, “isn’t it good, Frank?”  “I guess so,” he replied. “But I prefer those one-egg cakes that Annie stirs up in a hurry.”
Why not try a recipe that will not taste like it has been baked right in the box?

excerpted from A Visit with Mimmie: Catskill Mountain Recipes

I am going to make a batch of these, from the Old Book:

Ginger Snap Cookies

Sugar, 1 cup
Shortening, 2/3 cup
Egg, beaten, 1
Molasses (light), 1/4 cup
Flour, 2 cups
Salt, 1 teaspoon
Baking Soda, 1 teaspoon
Cinnamon, 1 teaspoon
Ginger, 1 teaspoon
Cloves, 1 teaspoon

Thoroughly cream sugar and shortening, add egg and molasses and beat well. Add sifted dry ingredients. Mix well. Roll 1/8 inch thick on lightly floured surface. Cut with floured cookie cutter. Bake on greased cookie sheet in moderate oven (350 degrees) about 10 minutes. Makes 6 dozen cookies.
Right on. This is basically what my father said to me when we were at an aquarium while on vacation in Florida in '92. He commented on how boring it must be for the large fish who were swimming 'round and 'round, that it was not natural. "The Other Coast" is currently my favorite comic strip, btw. Since I don't get The Record any more, I read it every day online.

Since Tuesday, I have been fighting a cold. I had a minor symptom or two on and off, but it didn't settle in until yesterday, when I must have kicked back and allowed it in. Winter session class was almost ready, so now my defenses betray me - figuring there is time to be sick!

Tomorrow is my last day of classes, and although I have not canceled a class this semester, I really don't want to do it on the last day so I hope I feel better by then. I had a dentist appointment today which I had to reschedule. This is reminding me that I got a terrible sinus infection immediately after going to the dentist last time. I don't think it was a coincidence. Then, in September, I had a cold on my birthday. (Of course.) I have not caught every cold going around since a few years after the brown recluse spider bite. After that, my immunity was compromised, but in recent years I don't get many colds. Certainly no more than 1-2 a year anyway. I suspect my elementary school observations are the culprit. I was there Monday, and the same was true of the birthday cold. I am not sure how teachers manage.

I have been looking forward to tomorrow night's classes, because I made an experimental change in the Thursday class and it worked out great so I wanted to try it in the Tuesday classes too. I will write more about it eventually.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

My First Lesson in Leadership (1997)

I worked for John one summer at a park in my hometown.  He was a substitute science teacher at my high school who spent the summer as Director of Recreation.  He was a popular teacher, young, athletic and easy-going.  I'd just finished my freshman year of college and had landed the coveted job of "gate attendant" at the public pool.  We had strict limits on the number of swimmers for health and safety reasons, a subject John had warned us about since bending the rules for friends was always tempting to staff. I was very by-the-book, a future bureaucrat.  Luckily, it wasn't usually an issue, since every kid in town would have to show up to exceed the 40 capacity.

One very hot Saturday there was a political fundraiser at the park, and between the regulars, the Democrats at the picnic and the summer residents from NYC, the limit was taxed.  I was on duty, and mindful of the rules as always, I turned away numerous regulars and a pair of weekend residents, a father and son.  When
someone left, I'd dutifully let in a replacement, in order of arrival.  The father wasn't satisfied with my stance, argued with me, then left briefly, and returned with Ernie, a member of our town board, who had been shaking hands at the picnic.

Ernie yelled at me in front of the forlorn group of local kids waiting at the gate, and with John's acquiescence, forced me to let in the father and son out of turn and over the limit.  They passed by me at my post with a very superior attitude and a smug look, as if to say, "we showed you, you ignorant hick." Meanwhile, the local kids now had to wait for two more swimmers to leave before they could enter.

Later, John was apologetic, but it was too late.  He'd already lost his credibility.  In my teenage mind I nurtured a grudge against Ernie, privately planning to return to that small town one day with all my degrees and unseat Ernie from the board.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

I spent a very long day getting my winter session class ready. I still have a couple more hours of work left. I plan to finish it either tomorrow afternoon or Monday morning. The class doesn't officially start until December 19, but it goes live on the 5th.

It's an odd combination of technical tasks involving the courseware (blackboard), scheduling, intense brainstorming on how to achieve the same learning outcomes as in the academic year and summer, and finally translating that all into assignments. By 7 PM I was developing keyboard / mouse back strain. We are the modern variant of industrial workers, harnessed to our machines, which results in physical injury. And mental too? Are the machines our masters?

Why hasn't someone invented some other method for creating and manipulating information that doesn't involve a keyboard, a mouse or a touch screen? Why haven't voice activated solutions taken off, I wonder? Because it is just too hard to recognise speech?

Friday, December 02, 2011

The Search (1998)

Tell us dear why you should make the sale
We need a candidate who will not fail
A fellow from Princeton, Harvard or maybe Yale

What’s that you’ve worked here nine years you say
But compared to the Ivy that’s barely a day
And if we miscalculate, there will be hell to pay

We certainly hope you won’t be mad
When we tender the offer to the pedigreed lad
We still like you, you know so you shouldn’t be sad

It’s so silly of you to walk over this
Just think of all the opportunities you will miss
No we don’t mean advancement, we mean asses to kiss

If that’s your decision we’ll hold open the door
Actually it will be a relief to have you here no more
Don’t expect a handshake, unpolished mongrels leave here poor

Thursday, December 01, 2011

OMG - let's see if we can come up with the worst idea possible and implement it. 1) Research does not support this grade configuration, and districts in growing states are not building middle schools. It is too many transitions -- simply a terrible idea. Both the junior high and one of the elementary schools made the state's under performing list...HELLO! 2) Enrollment is rapidly plummeting. In the not-distant future it doesn't take a clairvoyant to see that there will be only one central campus needed. It isn't a pleasant vision, but it is reality. Make the best of it! 3) I call BS on all three of these plans costing the same money. No way. This is an agenda-driven proposal, it is not designed with good sense or sound educational strategies in mind.

I've been doing classroom observations and something that has struck me (and my college student partners) is that some (or all except one?) of the teachers tell the kids, when they are writing and ask how to spell something, that spelling doesn't count. Then on Monday, I witnessed students in one class with little dictionaries, looking words up. In this class, spelling does matter apparently. A light bulb went off in my head! The other teachers are using the whole language approach, and this teacher is using phonics! I can tell you anecdotally that whole language doesn't work. I know it is the "modern" way that is supposed to encourage writing, because phonics was the more traditional approach that might turn off kids' natural creativity or something, but that isn't what I see at all. I see students becoming lifelong bad spellers who over rely on computer spell checkers.

Mark Twain wrote about spelling:

I have had an aversion to good spelling for sixty years and more, merely for the reason that when I was a boy there was not a thing I could do creditably except spell according to the book. It was a poor and mean distinction, and I early learned to disenjoy it. I suppose that this is because the ability to spell correctly is a talent, not an acquirement. There is some dignity about an acquirement, because it is a product of your own labor. It is wages earned, whereas to be able to do a thing merely by the [grace] of God, and not by your own effort, transfers the distinction to our heavenly home—where possibly it is a matter of pride and satisfaction, but it leaves you naked and [bankrupt.] (March 27, 1906).

I think he may be right that spelling comes easy to some and not to others, but it it also true that phonics trumps whole language in producing good spellers! I am not sure that I agree with him that being able to spell well isn't an important skill. I don't think being a bad speller = character flaw, but I do think knowing how to spell is one attribute that makes it easier to utilize expansive vocabulary and write well. Twain was a master writer, and produced work that will be admired for eternity. He had no illusions about this. Is it just a coincidence that he could spell? Sure, primitive spelling can be charming, in a child's stories or even in a humble adult's letters, but I think there are educational methods that work, and they can be done in a humane fashion. What I see in the whole language philosophy is spelling separated out as its own unit, and I think that is likely to be the approach that causes worry for kids who are not among Twain's naturally talented spellers. Which reminds me, I finished the autobiography and am now reading Margaret Atwood's latest book.

Once again, this reminds me of the most extreme position on teaching reading and writing: simplified spelling, my i.t.a. experience.

Last day of my Thursday class! It was a good semester.