Saturday, June 29, 2013

Keeping the Keeper

         Yes, Internet shopping and the explosion of catalogs came along just in time for my old age.  Instead of hobbling painfully through stores, I sit here at the computer and order what I want.  Even the returns are easy – there’s always a label included, with instructions.  Often return postage is pre-paid in some fashion.  Then I can just park in front of the post office or UPS and hail some young person on the way in to please take this package and just leave it on the counter, thank you.  
          But last week came this Bread Keeper.  Never mind why I thought I needed one, or why it turned out to be the wrong size – that’s another story.  Turns out (I had hardly noticed) it came from “Amazon Fulfillment Services”.   And there wasn’t a single word enclosed about how to return it.
  So I went on Amazon, pulled up “My Orders” and sure enough, there was a spot for clicking on “Returns.”  I entered the numbers for my Bread Keeper, clicked “Continue” and was surprised when a question came up on the screen – would I like to just keep the Keeper and get a credit anyhow?  Of course I was suspicious: would I have to get an Amazon credit card, or agree to buy something else, or whatever?  So I clicked “No thanks”.
          And then another screen came up.  They had just sent the refund to my credit card, and don’t bother sending back the Bread Keeper.
          Now of course I always feel bad about returns.  No matter how carefully I re-fold that turned-out-to-be-too-pink shirt, the plastic bag with the stock label has been torn.  I picture a huge room full of people re-folding shirts, re-bagging them, re-labelling – and then someone has to put it back in the spot in the warehouse with all the other pink shirts.  Maybe they don’t even bother.  But, I console myself, they keep sending me the pink-shirt catalogs, so the system must be worth it to them.
          So what about this Amazon development?  Clearly some executive realized it costs  more than it’s worth to bother re-stocking Bread Keepers.  Would they make this offer only once per customer?  Otherwise it’d certainly be open to abuse.  Only on inexpensive items? – and where would the dollar cut-off point be?  Years ago I would have been investigating for an article in a trade magazine.  Maybe someone has already written that.
          Meanwhile, does anyone want a Bread Keeper?  For that matter, would anyone like a sturdy cardboard box?  I can’t bear to throw it out, and with all this Internet shopping, they’re piling up in the closet.



Thursday, June 27, 2013

More Wristwatch Musings

     I watched an old movie today – 1951, which of course doesn’t feel all that old to me.  A relative has returned after years in foreign parts, and he impresses the family by passing out exciting well-chosen gifts for everyone.  (I wouldn’t dream of being a spoiler and telling you whether the vague distrust we already feel for the visitor is well-founded.)  To the father of the family he hands a package containing –
                             a wristwatch!
     I decided to tell you about it when I heard Father’s reaction: “Oh Jim, you shouldn’t.  It’s much too good for me.  Boy, the guys down at the plant will be impressed.”
     Today, when one can buy a watch in Walgreen’s for less than an hours’ work at minimum wage, it’s hard to remember what a luxury item the wristwatch once represented.  I’d been planning all through college what I would do with my first paycheck after graduation.  Buying that watch was such an exciting moment that I can still see the salesman and the counter where I paid about $25 (a full week's work at 1947 minimum wage, which was still at WW II levels.)
     My mother-in-law had a platinum watch with a tiny sapphire as a knob in the stem winder.  Engraved on the back was “To Lena from Ma and Pa”.  I’ll bet it had a 17-jewel movement.  Clearly it marked some important milestone.  That couldn’t have been a graduation; Lena started working in a factory at 11-- “they used to hide me in a barrel when the inspectors came around.” 
      I suspect it was a wedding gift, and we’d be talking the early 1920s here.  I wanted to show you a picture of that engraving, and I’ve just spent an hour searching for Lena’s watch.  Could have sworn it was in my second dresser drawer down.  Did one of the kids ask for it?  Where is it today? 
Lena's watch looked something like this one.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Definitely a Step Backwards

      The kids say with such a superior air that they don’t need to wear watches any more.  They just look at their cellphones.  But  I can’t help thinking this represents a setback in the quality of life.

Think about life before wristwatches.  To find out what time it was, you had the cumbersome process of digging in your pocket, pulling out a watch and flipping it open.  No way to do that without insulting the lecturer up front.

What an invention was the wristwatch!  It must have seemed as futuristic as

Dick Tracy’s wrist radio.  All you had to do was take a swift glance down.  It could be done surreptitiously, so the lecturer never even noticed.  It made life so easy that when it was first invented it was considered a sissy piece of jewelry, worn only by women. 

          But now we have the kids, feeling so superior because finding out what time it is these days simply involves the cumbersome process of digging in your pocket, pulling out a cellphone and flipping it open. 
 And you can bet the lecturer saw you do it.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Instant Breakfast

If you want my copy, just say so. I mean it.

          A few years ago when I complained I had nothing to read, Norm inquired quite reasonably “So what are all these books in the house for?”  It started me thinking: what indeed?  Years ago, one reason for keeping every book was the chance that a kid might be interested and pick it up.  But now, unless I may want to read it again, why keep it? So I’m going through the shelves, with stacks of discards and a sign reading
                      BOOK SALE $0. 
 Son Avi, who has a degree in Economics,  suggested last summer that I'd get rid of more with a sign reading:
           “Book Sale $1…two for 75 cents…3/.50…4/.25 …5 free.”
Take more than five and I suppose I’d have to pay you.
          I’ve placed a lot for adoption already, and the rest go to the library book sale.  Meanwhile, I’m getting visitors to pull down volumes that have lived up by the ceiling for half a century.  Lots of memories.  This morning I came across “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm”.  Just had to go back and find one scene that stayed with me from more than 75 years ago.
          Yes, here it is.  The aunts with whom Rebecca lives are laid up with “feverish headaches,” some traveling missionaries are overnight guests, and Rebecca,  who is 13 or 14,  wakes before 6 a.m. and sets about making breakfast.  Aunt Miranda struggles down to the kitchen and surprise!
          The shades were up, and there was a roaring fire in the stove; the teakettle was singing and bubbling…The coffee pot was scalding, the coffee was measured out in a bowl and broken eggshells for the settling process were standing near.  The cold potatoes and corned beef were in the wooden tray…[with] the chopping knife.  The brown loaf was out, the white loaf was out, the toast rack was out, the doughnuts were out, the milk was skimmed, the butter had been brought from the dairy.
          Yes, as I remembered, it was an impressive amount of work, building the fire, milking the cow (?), chopping the potatoes, and nothing even mentioned about setting the table.  But re-reading today, I find myself analyzing that 1903 menu.  A bit strong on the carbohydrates, wouldn’t you say?  There’s some protein in the hash that’s ready for frying, but not a bit of fruit or vegetable in sight.
          Okay, I’m done with it.  If you’d like my copy, please let me know.  I really mean it.  Take four more and they’re all FREE!!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

More Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes

While we’re on the subject, here are a few more rhymes my sister and I got hold of somewhere when we were kids.  How we enjoyed reciting them! and faulty memory or no, I have no trouble recalling these: 
             In the well the plumber built 'er,
             Aunt Liza fell.  We must buy a filter.

 Little Willie in the best of sashes, fell in the fire and burnt to ashes.
             The fire went out and the room got chilly,
             but nobody wanted to poke up Willie.

I had written Aunt Maude, who was traveling abroad.
            When I learned she died of cramp just to late to save the stamp.

I just made the mistake of googling to see if anyone else had ever heard of these – I should have known!  Should have learned my lesson that time  I went looking for an illustration of a buttonhook and ran into a large and active Buttonhook Society.  It seems these verses are known in some circles as Little Willies.  Right now there's a newspaper running a competition, a Little Willie Invitational. With prizes.  I’m not entering.
             It looks as if someone has collected 29 Little Willies.  You can see them at


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Have We No Heart?

Now that the excitement has died down, I realized something interesting about that episode last week, in which the hawklet that hadn’t yet left the nest suddenly realized the cute baby starling could be captured and eaten.  Like many of the more than 3,000 real-time viewers, I’d been following this young hawk since it was an egg.  My reactions and the ones posted on the live chat line were almost all about pride in our young protégé:
“Wow, and it hasn’t even flown yet! …Acting like a grown-up hawk!..That’s instinct for you…Brought home her own lunch…Way to go!”
Few of us concentrated on the parent starling that yelled its head off and dive-bombed the hawk, or on the appealing tiny chick that looked up so hopefully at its destroyer.  Evidently our normal sympathy with the underdog had been wiped out by those months of  living with the hawk family.  Reminds me of one of the verses from that Victorian collection of “Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes” –
                                                      Little Willie killed his sister
                                                      She was dead before we missed her.
                                                      Willie’s always up to tricks!
                                                      Ain’t he cute?  He’s only six!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Wildlife Adventures

Along with thousands around the globe, I’ve been watching that red-tailed hawk’s nest high up on a light tower on the Cornell campus, since the eggs were laid in March.  Some foolish starlings picked a hole in that dark support on the left, six inches up from the hawks, for their nest.  It’s been fun watching the dark starlings dart in and out, feeding their chicks,  ignoring the danger. But it wasn’t fun a few days ago, when the youngest hawklet was alone in the nest after its siblings had taken their first flights, and the parent starling flew in with lunch in its beak.
Young hawk on the right, chick peeking out lower right of the dark support.  Parent starling yelling. To see what happens, click below.

(thanks, Connie)
 If you can't find a way to respond, there's always

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Senior Moment

Well, it finally happened.  Anna phones to tell me I’ve repeated myself.  Seems I had already posted the story of My Political Career last November – on election day, actually.  Wrote it in much the same words too.  And completely forgot I’d done so.  Only consolation is that a mistake like that is probably appropriate in a blog about getting old -- and it gives me an excuse to post the Scream.
I’ve deleted the evidence -- went back and removed that old post – the one from two days ago has much better pictures.
I keep hearing from people who can't find a way to respond -- if you have trouble, try email to

Friday, June 7, 2013

My Entire Political Career

           When we moved to this suburb in 1954, The Other Party was running the town so completely that some of our friends timidly registered as Independents. That meant Our Party had some trouble finding enough people to serve as Election Inspectors, so my sister and I felt we were really doing something useful once a year.
I was home with three kids in those baby boom days and the legitimate excuse to get out with adults was wonderful.  We had to be there at 5 am – that’s how I found out Orion rises in the eastern sky in the fall – and didn’t quit till votes were tabulated and the metal boxes locked, often close to midnight.  Both parties dropped off doughnuts and boxes of candy for the inspectors all day long. And I got to dash out to Howard Johnsons ALL BY MYSELF for supper.
Then years later -- in the 70s? 80?s -- my sister, who paid more attention to what was going on than I did, mailed a letter to the editor of our local daily.  This year, she wrote, there wasn’t anyone worth voting for and one might as well stay home.
It took two days for Our Party’s local committee to phone and fire her.  An hour later, I got the same phone call.  My services were no longer required.  A clear case of Guilt by Association.
        They’d made a big mistake, of course, firing someone who’d already demonstrated that she liked writing Letters to the Editor.
                 Because she promptly wrote another one.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Breaking News

I try to post every other day, but this won't wait!
Even if you haven’t been watching the Redtail Hawks' nest at Cornell, I think you need to see what happened yesterday when the second of the three chicks, now as large as their parents, ventured out along the floodlight tower that holds the nest.  The oldest baby had already taken a first flight, but this one hadn’t yet.  So here are the exciting moments, as watched live by thousands of viewers around the world, who had followed these hawlets from before the first egg laying.

and if you want to try catching the third one's maiden voyage  in real time, you can always take a look at -- but better do it pretty promptly.  What’s great about these two webcams is that they’re being controlled live by ornithologists who have those cameras chasing the new hawks around the campus to see where they land and what they look like after their first flights.



Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Best part of being a writer is you can do it sitting down.

     Finally returning to the ostensible topic of this blog – Being Old.  I’ve decided to list the doors that have closed,  and when I put them all together, it’s an impressive collection.

Yes, I wore these!
Wearing high heels – old ladies wear those sneakers for good reasons.
Teaching  -- can’t stand for 50 minutes (can’t stand for five minutes if it comes to that) and it’s exhausting as well. 
 Scuba – took my last dive on my 80th birthday, did not enjoy it.  Can’t depend on the muscles.
     Playing in the band -- sitting in front of the trumpets, even with earplugs, damaging.  And my back couldn't make it through rehearsals.                   
    Making music at home -- lips have lazy muscles too.  Oboe and both clarinets have gone on ebay.
    Going to the movies  – dialog escapes me.  With Netflix at home I can pull up captions.
    Lectures – I keep trying, but it all depends on the timbre of the speaker’s voice.  Hearing aids can only do so much.
     Live theature – see above.  I get about one-third of the dialog.
     Musicthis is a big loss.  Doctor says it’s not the ears, it’s the brain.  Orchestras sound like so much jumbled cacophony.  Singers sound off-key.  Sometimes individual guitar or cello is okay, but that’s about it.
      Concerts – see above.
      Records, CDs – see above.
      Late-night radio -- Used to listen to our PBS station when I couldn’t sleep, but now they broadcast the BBC all night, and it’s hard to understand even the slightest accent.

     Cosmetics – trying to do anything beyond lipstick was a poor idea once the wrinkles got serious.  No great loss.
    Guided walks – the last one I took several years ago (fascinating tour of the city’s largest cemetery) I barely kept up, and I noticed one guide was evidently delegated to drop back and worry about me.
     Bird Walks – yes, these are slower if not completely stagnant, but I can’t stand up that long.
     Binoculars – yes, I can use them but not standing up – balance problem.
     National conferences -- see Lecture problem above.
     Shopping -- that's out, but buying on the Internet was invented just for me.
     Visiting the kids. This involves Airports – I’m still conflicted on this one. Resolved never to fly again, but then decided to give it one more try next week. Stay tuned.
      So if any of this rings a bell with you, do click on that little blue word "comment" below -- your responses are very much enjoyed.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Lovely Plumage

In case you lost sleep last night worrying about the deer that was reclining in the back yard yesterday -- turns out that unhealthy-looking swatch of white fur was its underbelly.  I could see that when it stood up, regained its lovely tan sides, and dashed away, after having been frightened by -- a squirrel.