Monday, July 30, 2007

Grammar Guerilla

All my adult life people have fidgeted when I told them I taught English. Many felt obliged to admit that English wasn't their strongest subject, that they couldn't spell, or some other perceived deficiency in reading or writing. I hope I never put somebody who wasn't in my class on the defensive, because I tried never to criticize any adult on his or her speaking or writing. That said, one of my pet peeves inside and outside the classroom is people's problems in using apostrophe S. People confuse plurals (more than one) with possessives (ownership). I admit to having changed signs on marker boards in coffee shops (bagel's $1.00), and to ranting a bit. I tried my best to make thirty three years worth of my students understand how to use an apostrophe correctly, but I suspect some people just don't care. It's just too easy to add an apostrophe any time there is an S at the end of a noun. I took a picture of this sign in Henderson, Kentucky, which massacres both the spelling and the use of apostrophe, and ranted to my husband, and now to you. Serenity now. I feel much better.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Recent reads, Stoner

“William Stoner entered the University of Missouri as a freshman in the year 1910, at the age of nineteen.”

This is the opening line of the novel I finished this week, Stoner, by John Williams. This was my first book by Williams, but I hope to read more. Stoner is the story of a man’s life, from his first days fresh off the farm entering the university, through his marriage and working life as an English professor, to his final moments. The setting is the Midwest, through W.W.I, the Great Depression and W.W.II, times that were difficult for the country, and also for this character.

Stoner was published in 1965. I had never heard of it until some online friends raved. I know a person shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but when my paperback edition arrived in the mail, the portrait of the serious, sad looking man on the cover didn’t call out to me as good summer reading. However, the story, written in a direct and unembellished style, captured my attention immediately. I identified with the farm boy who enters the university, discovers literature as a passion in his life, and who leaves his parents and the farm behind. Much of the rest of the plot, particularly his difficult marriage, does not mirror my life, but his wish to impart his love of literature to others does. I recognized in the author a person who has thought deeply about teaching, about personal goals and feelings of inadequacy, about office politics, about the nature of love, and about what makes a person honorable. Stoner has something to say about all of this, and it says it in a way that rings true as much now as it did when it was published, more than forty years ago.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Twain on a river sunset

One night my husband and I stood at the stern of the boat, and watched the sun set over the Ohio River. It made remember this part of Mark Twain's wonderful travel book/memoir, Life on the Mississippi. This excerpt is from chapter nine. Some things just don't change - except I hope I never lose my appreciation for such a lovely sight.

"Now when I had mastered the language of this water and had come to know every trifling feature that bordered the great river as familiarly as I knew the letters of the alphabet, I had made a valuable acquisition. But I had lost something, too. I had lost something which could never be restored to me while I lived. All the grace, the beauty, the poetry had gone out of the majestic river! I still keep in mind a certain wonderful sunset which I witnessed when steamboating was new to me. A broad expanse of the river was turned to blood; in the middle distance the red hue brightened into gold, through which a solitary log came floating, black and conspicuous; in one place a long, slanting mark lay sparkling upon the water; in another the surface was broken by boiling, tumbling rings, that were as many-tinted as an opal; where the ruddy flush was faintest, was a smooth spot that was covered with graceful circles and radiating lines, ever so delicately traced; the shore on our left was densely wooded, and the somber shadow that fell from this forest was broken in one place by a long, ruffled trail that shone like silver; and high above the forest wall a clean-stemmed dead tree waved a single leafy bough that glowed like a flame in the unobstructed splendor that was flowing from the sun. There were graceful curves, reflected images, woody heights, soft distances; and over the whole scene, far and near, the dissolving lights drifted steadily, enriching it, every passing moment, with new marvels of coloring."

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Poetry Thursday

luna moth

On Tuesday, July 17th, the American Queen stopped in the sleepy little town of Grandview, Indiana. We were there all day to allow two shore tours to be completed. My husband and I decided not to take in "The Quiet Treasures of Spenser County" or the "Holiday Tour." Instead we wandered up and down, and I found this luna moth in the grass. One of those "quiet treasures" that aren't found very often.

Here's a poem featuring a luna that I enjoyed.

April Inventory

The green catalpa tree has turned
All white; the cherry blooms once more.
In one whole year I haven’t learned
A blessed thing they pay you for.
The blossoms snow down in my hair;
The trees and I will soon be bare.

The trees have more than I to spare.
The sleek, expensive girls I teach,
Younger and pinker every year,
Bloom gradually out of reach.
The pear tree lets its petals drop
Like dandruff on a tabletop.

The girls have grown so young by now
I have to nudge myself to stare.
This year they smile and mind me how
My teeth are falling with my hair.
In thirty years I may not get
Younger, shrewder, or out of debt.

The tenth time, just a year ago,
I made myself a little list
Of all the things I’d ought to know,
Then told my parents, analyst,
And everyone who’s trusted me
I’d be substantial, presently.

I haven’t read one book about
A book or memorized one plot.
Or found a mind I did not doubt.
I learned one date. And then forgot.
And one by one the solid scholars
Get the degrees, the jobs, the dollars.

And smile above their starchy collars.
I taught my classes Whitehead’s notions;
One lovely girl, a song of Mahler’s.
Lacking a source-book or promotions,
I showed one child the colors of
A luna moth and how to love.

I taught myself to name my name,
To bark back, loosen love and crying;
To ease my woman so she came,
To ease an old man who was dying.
I have not learned how often I
Can win, can love, but choose to die.

I have not learned there is a lie
Love shall be blonder, slimmer, younger;
That my equivocating eye
Loves only by my body’s hunger;
That I have forces, true to feel,
Or that the lovely world is real.

While scholars speak authority
And wear their ulcers on their sleeves,
My eyes in spectacles shall see
These trees procure and spend their leaves.
There is a value underneath
The gold and silver in my teeth.

Though trees turn bare and girls turn wives,
We shall afford our costly seasons;
There is a gentleness survives
That will outspeak and has its reasons.
There is a loveliness exists,
Preserves us, not for specialists.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Drawing in public

One of my goals has always been to be able to produce interesting travel sketches. I adore looking at illustrated travel diaries, and want to be able to do my own. However, there are some problems for me. First, I am just shy about having people look over my shoulder at something unfinished, and comment. My face burns, and sometimes my hands shake. I know in my heart that nobody is going to be critical or cruel, that in fact people are fascinated by artists. Still, I am uncomfortable in public.

I did draw on this Ohio River cruise, but only from photos I had prepared. I had some reasons for that. First, when we were touring the towns where the American Queen stopped, I was with my husband. He wasn't interested in sitting and waiting for me to finish a sketch. In addition, it was high summer hot most days. We walked and dripped, then returned to shower and cool down. I mostly wanted to see what I could see then get back into the shade near our stateroom. Finally, I am not very skilled, or even interested, in drawing architecture. I probably need to work more on drawing houses, barns, shops and so on. Oh well.

It was interesting to me that when I was working on these sketches, mostly in public, very few people interrupted or commented. However when I got out my little travel watercolor set and tried wee paintings of the shore (death by greenery), every other person stopped to look and comment. The watercolor sketches were intended as gifts for our partners at the dinner table, and I added our names and addresses as a little souvenir. They weren't very large or detailed, but they were one-of-a-kind, and our new friends seemed pleased.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Rolling on the Rivers

People who have never taken a river cruise have asked me what the attraction is. For me there are several attractive aspects of traveling by paddlewheel steamboat, and the first is the boat itself. The American Queen is a beautiful sight, a floating wedding cake. As the boat steams along at about seven miles an hour people pull over in their cars, stand waving, take pictures. At night I could see the flash of cameras as the Queen passed homes and towns. She's big, over 400 feet long, almost 90 feet wide, with 222 staterooms and ten public rooms. She's fancy, white with red and blue gingerbread trim and a red paddlewheel, and two feathered stacks that can be lowered when the Queen passes under bridges. She can be loud when she whistles or plays her steam calliope. Everything about her says "Look at me."

Inside too is lovely in a fussy Victorian way. Our room had comfortable beds with lots of pillows, room for storage, and a good bathroom. There is a pretty dining room with big windows to showcase the passing view, there is a Grand Saloon (theater) for lectures and musical entertainment, there is a Mark Twain Gallery (library) and there are parlors decorated for ladies and gentlemen, complete with fireplaces and caged birds. There is a bathing pool for cooling off, and there is a small gym that I failed to use. If all of these possibilities fail, there is a small television in each stateroom.

Certainly there is plenty of good food and drink; cruises are famous for that. But it's more. It's people, both passengers and the crew. It's the chance to explore America from an unusual vantage point. It's an opportunity to learn about the history of river transportation and history in general; I know lots more about Lewis and Clark and Natives American people of the Ohio River Valley than I did before. It's a slow pace that invites contemplation. For me all this added up to a really pleasant and interesting excursion.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Back from Steamboating

We have been away from home just over a week, and now piles of newspapers, bills, and magazines await our attention. My online book groups have been busy chatting about books and whatever else they can think of. There are loads of dirty vacation laundry to do, garden and house plants to water, weeds to pull, and a lonely cat on which to lavish our attention. But despite the catching up that needs to be done, it feels good to be home and sleeping in our own beds.

My husband and I just returned from our third steamboating trip. About ten years ago we took a four day cruise on the Mississippi Queen from Cincinnati to Pittsburgh. We were both working at the time, and I felt torn about taking a summer trip, since that meant precious time away from my garden when it was at its best. It was hot, really really hot outside, and inside the boat the AC chilled the air to a temperature that would keep cold cuts in good shape. Dick was glued to the slowly passing panorama of the shoreline, bridges, power plants, and barges. He loved the locks and dams. I was too wired to sit and enjoy the show, too hot, too cold. And the only book I brought was Light in August, a very bad choice, I discovered.

This past November we took another four day trip on the Mississippi Queen, this time from Saint Louis to Memphis. We knew it was late in the season, but hoped that the southern route would be warm enough to be comfortable, and that there still might be some leaves. Wrong. It was chilly and rainy, and there were no more leaves to watch, though we could see lovely homes on shore that would have been hidden earlier in the season. This trip had problems. The boat had a crack in the hull from hitting a submerged piece of conrete from an old lock, and we had to sit in Saint Louis two of our four days for repairs. To be fair, the steamboat folks gave us free tours of Saint Louis, and we had the usual good food and excellent entertainment. Our dinner table partners were charming, very good company. But it was frustrating to cruise on by the stops we had looked forward to, like Cape Girardeau, and Paducah.

So, we weren't really planning another steamboating vacation. But the new company that bought the Delta Steamboat Company sent us tempting brochures, a really good deal as returning passengers, and we had a nice voucher from the last trip. So, we booked. It was a new boat (to us), the American Queen. It was a new route, from Cincinnati to Saint Louis. We had the chance to see Paducah, missed last time, and we liked the theme, Native Americans.

The next few days I hope to share some of the highlights of this river cruise. The photos are from our arrival in Cincinnati. We drove to the airport, left our car in long term parking, and the steamboat folks shuttled us to the boat.

To be continued.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Badger State Biking

One nice thing about being retired is that I can take day trips any time I want. Yesterday my husband and I rode part of Wisconsin's new Rails to Trails conversion bicycle trails, the Badger State Trail, between Belleville and Monticello. The trail eventually will link Illinois to Madison, but the last eight miles nearest Madison isn't funded yet. This was a ride I could handle, though it certainly was not challenging for my spouse, who rides everywhere on his bicycle, and routinely goes out for 40 mile rides. This particular ride was flat, nine miles each way, the 1,200 foot Stewart Railroad Tunnel in the middle for some interest. I am not crazy about walking in total darkness (there is a bend in the tunnel), but we brought flashlights, and the cool air in the tunnel was pleasant on a warm summer day. The scenery is classic Wisconsin, fields and streams, farms, trees, wildflowers, and songbirds. We relaxed in a Belleville park by a stream and watched cedar waxwings swooping over the water to catch insects. It was a great day in Wisconsin.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Summer Garden

My garden gives me a lot of pleasure, especially when other things do not. For example, the kitchen light fixture in my old house needed to be replaced, and the new one couldn't be easily attached because the old electrical box wasn't a standard size. Then the ceiling got scuffed while we were trying to replace the fixture, and no paint matched, so now the entire ceiling needs repainting. And the new camera suddenly only took blurry pictures, when it was fine just two days ago... When these sorts of annoyances happen, my flowers give me some serenity.

The chair was purchased for $5 from a second hand shop, painted with acrylics and sealed with polyurethene. A friend with tools cut a hole in the seat that fit a pot, and now it is my garden planter. White begonias and asparagus fern are filling in nicely.

Out in the flower beds the firecracker red bee balm is attracting lots of attention from the hummingbirds. I usually hear them before I see them, a whirring thrum alerts me to the presence of hummers in the red blossoms. The lilies are all blooming too, the yellow stella de oro lilies, the bright orange tiger lilies, and the peach daylilies all lend their colors to the flower beds. The white and pink coral bells are blooming too, along with some of the hostas. When I was little my mother sang a little song about the coral bells, though then I had never seen one.

Sweet coral bells
Upon a slender stalk,
Lily of the valley lines my garden walk.
Oh how I wish
That I could hear them ring.
That will happen only
When the fairies sing.

UPDATE - The camera is fine. I took it to the shop where a patient man showed me a big fingerprint on the lens, made when I loaned the camera to a relative for a reunion shot. Serenity now.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Summer Sunset

I live a couple doors down from a historic district in Janesville, Courthouse Hill. On summer evenings I enjoy taking a walk to look at the old homes, lit to show their beveled glass and grand stairways. The other day as I passed Courthouse Park, the sun was setting beind the 1902 Civil War memorial. According to a brochure I saved, it was designed in 1902 by Hutchins and Rundle of Rockford, Illinois, is about fifty two feet tall, constructed of granite from Barre, Vermont, and is designed to honor soldiers and sailors of the Civil War. On a daily basis it is pretty much invisible to me, having become a familiar part of the local landscape. But on this evening, the soldier atop the hill, looking out into the sunset, struck me as lovely and sad, and did perhaps what it was intended to do. It reminded me of our soldiers today, fighting far from home.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Poetry Sunday

The Tuft of Flowers
by Robert Frost

I went to turn the grass once after one
Who mowed it in the dew before the sun.

The dew was gone that made his blade so keen
Before I came to view the levelled scene.

I looked for him behind an isle of trees;
I listened for his whetstone on the breeze.

But he had gone his way, the grass all mown,
And I must be, as he had been,—alone,

As all must be,' I said within my heart,
Whether they work together or apart.'

But as I said it, swift there passed me by
On noiseless wing a 'wildered butterfly,

Seeking with memories grown dim o'er night
Some resting flower of yesterday's delight.

And once I marked his flight go round and round,
As where some flower lay withering on the ground.

And then he flew as far as eye could see,
And then on tremulous wing came back to me.

I thought of questions that have no reply,
And would have turned to toss the grass to dry;

But he turned first, and led my eye to look
At a tall tuft of flowers beside a brook,

A leaping tongue of bloom the scythe had spared
Beside a reedy brook the scythe had bared.

I left my place to know them by their name,
Finding them butterfly weed when I came.

The mower in the dew had loved them thus,
By leaving them to flourish, not for us,

Nor yet to draw one thought of ours to him.
But from sheer morning gladness at the brim.

The butterfly and I had lit upon,
Nevertheless, a message from the dawn,

That made me hear the wakening birds around,
And hear his long scythe whispering to the ground,

And feel a spirit kindred to my own;
So that henceforth I worked no more alone;

But glad with him, I worked as with his aid,
And weary, sought at noon with him the shade;

And dreaming, as it were, held brotherly speech
With one whose thought I had not hoped to reach.

Men work together,' I told him from the heart,
Whether they work together or apart.'

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Everyday Matters challenges#26, #125

These summer days, the very same ones that seemed so long when I was a child, seem to fly by. I try to sketch most days, but housework, gardening, and visiting with friends and family here for visits seem to fill my days. Still, I managed to complete a couple sketches for my Everyday Matters drawing group. The first is a mallard drake, photographed at our beautiful Rotary Gardens, and the second is the skull of a whitetail deer. The skull was found by a friend in his woods, and kept as a curiosity. It has one broken antler, and a small shred of skill still adheres to the bridge of its nose. It is a challenging and interesting thing to look at and draw. I'd like to draw other angles before I return it to my friend. Actually, I think it would be fun to draw items found on walks, both for the challenge and for the record of time spent.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Summer Eating - Olive salad

Yesterday's picture of my grandfather grilling out in the 1950's put me in a mood to eat outside. These days we only grill occasionally. More often summer suppers are cold salads, bread and cheese. Recently my husband made a Greek feast - fried cheese, crusty bread, yoghurt and cucumber salad, grilled eggpant, and this cold olive salad. Waltermelon makes a cool and juicy dessert.

Braised Olives and Tomatoes

2 Tblsp olive oil
1 garlic clove
1 chopped onion
12 oz chopped olives (pitted kalmata, green, or a mix)
1 can tomatoes
1 tsp. chopped thyme
1 tsp, chopped oregano
black pepper
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp vinegar

Drain and rinse the olives, cut in half if they are large. Saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil. Drain the tomatoes and add to the mixture along with the olives and seasonings. Don’t add any salt. Heat through, but serve cold.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Kodak moments

Howard Tess, Elkhorn, about 1958

Ralph Pierce, Sherry Pierce, Buttons Bay, Wisconsin, about 1951

Me again, cooling off

I have been unable to post here because I fell off my bicycle. I didn't break anything, although I have a couple trophy bruises, and I was sore in more than a couple places. So instead of doing anything else physical, and risking hurting myself more, I settled into scanning some family photos from my mother's many albums, with the view of some cropping, annotating and organizing. How was I to know this would lead to several days of obssession?

Mother was the photographer of our family in the 1950's. She took pictures of everything and everyone, often several times in case the first two didn't turn out. Of course then she kept all the pictures, so there are multiples of all of us in our baby carriages, our high chairs, our cribs, our holiday clothes. Cats, dogs, new cars, houses, barns, tractors, toys, everything was captured on her Brownie camera (later Instamatic). My grandmother loved photos too, and demanded copies of everything, so when she died the albums were haphazardly merged. Chronology was lost. She wasn't as obsessive about identifying dates or people in the pictures. Many I know, being the first child, born in 1950. But some of the elders, the great aunts and uncles, the family friends, are lost to me. I have an aunt and an uncle left I can ask (though neither lives nearby), and one or two of my mother's high school friends, but it's frustrating to me have have holes in the fabric of our family story as told in black and white, and some fading color, photos.

These are a few recently scanned photos that speak to me of long ago summers.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Self Portraits

My friend Mary Ann is hanging a show of self-portraits at the Middleton Publis Library today. I'm contributing these paintings. They're all fairly recent. I painted the realistic one a little over a year ago, the feet just a year ago and the goofy twisted one this spring. If I had painted them today I might have handled the backgrounds a little differently, but I don't believe in going back and revising old work. Self-portraits are strange. They involved the challenge of making the image look like you, but also of getting to something of personality. Plus they're hard to hang. I'm a bit disturbed by looking at me looking at me. Anyway, I hope that the two pictures show both my serious and my more playful selves. As for the feet, who knows? I tried to show how water curved at my ankles, and to also indicate reflection and transparency. But the most successful part of the whole thing is the denim jeans. Sometimes you just don't know how a thing is going to turn out.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Poetry Sunday

My youngest sister, Mary, and Dad about 1960

One With The Sun
A. F. Moritz

one with the sun
in trackless fields
of yellow grass and thistle, scent
of humid heavy air and the wing music
of bees and flies.

Child, slender
nakedness to itself unknown,
true colour of the light
dispersed invisibly
or glowing around the black hulls
of distant thunderheads, around
the grasshopper’s countenance,
solemn, vigilant and wise.

Green apples, poured full
of density, of crispness, float unmoved
under leaves on the slope. Brown
fallen apples nest
in secret whorls of grass. The apple tree:
alone in so much space. And below
in the woods by the water
a sweet dead branch
cracks lightly
in the shadow in the wind.

But here is an old track
through the grass head-high
to a child: who
made it? They must have
passed and passed by this one tree,
by the abandoned, tireless car
where rabbits peer out, and the circle
of black embers,
cans, springs, skeletons
of furniture. They too
passed here many times
on their way from the street’s end
to the oaks that screen
the river. There
the sun is nesting now, night
rises with pale flutterings
of white wings from roots
of plants and the black water.