Saturday, May 31, 2008

Riveting Magnetism And Drama

I am not knowledgeable about art, and I was never much of a museumgoer until I met Andrew.

However, the second day I knew Andrew (February 4, 2006), he took me to the National Gallery Of Art in Washington, and he and I spent a quiet afternoon there. I wrote about that afternoon on my blog entry of August 1, 2007.

I had been to the National Gallery on one occasion prior to that afternoon, but I had found the National Gallery to be overwhelming, and not much fun, and I had never bothered to return until that afternoon with Andrew.

Going through a museum with Andrew was about 100 times more interesting than going through a museum by myself, as I was to learn that afternoon. Andrew is very knowledgeable about art, and very knowledgeable about history, and he is able to connect the two disciplines in a completely captivating fashion that instantly renders both fields more engaging.

Now, when I examine works of art, I see, notice, and observe things I never saw, noticed and observed before. Art-viewing is a much richer experience for me today. Now, one of my favorite activities is visiting museums with Andrew.

That afternoon at the National Gallery Of Art, which we visited purportedly in order to see a Winslow Homer exhibition, Andrew showed me the Gallery’s Van Dyck and Vermeer paintings, after which we viewed the American painting collection. We concluded our visit that afternoon by viewing the Gallery’s collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings.

One of the paintings that most captured my attention that afternoon was Gilbert Stuart’s imposing “The Skater (Portrait Of William Grant)”.

Photos of great paintings do not begin to do them justice, but anyone who has seen “The Skater” in person knows immediately that he or she is in the presence of a great, great painting. Eight feet tall and almost five feet wide, “The Skater” is a canvas on the grandest possible scale, a work of startling originality, and a painting of riveting magnetism and drama.

Stuart had traveled from an America on the brink of war to London in 1775 to apprentice with Benjamin West, the American painter who had moved to London several years before the American Revolution. Shortly after completing his apprenticeship with West, Stuart painted “The Skater”. It was his very first attempt at full-length portraiture and it was to become, after his many George Washington portraits, by far his most celebrated work. Stuart was only twenty-seven years old at the time.

The work’s originality is due to Stuart portraying its subject, Scotsman William Grant, not only in some type of physical activity, but specifically in ice skating. This had never been done before, and it was unprecedented for a grand-manner society portrait.

The subject is presented skating on the Serpentine, the small lake in Hyde Park. The spires of Westminster Abbey are faintly visible in the painting’s background.

The portrait was an immediate sensation in London, and it was included in the 1782 exhibition at The Royal Academy Of Art, a highly-unusual honor for such a young artist. The painting made Stuart’s name in London, and he was soon engaged by other notable personages to paint their portraits. Stuart remained one of the most sought-after painters in London until he returned to America, permanently, in 1793.

The painting remained in the Grant family from 1782 until 1950, when it was purchased from Grant’s descendants by the National Gallery Of Art and shipped from London to Washington, where it has been on display ever since.

The National Gallery Of Art owns 43 paintings by Gilbert Stuart, only a handful of which are on display at a given time. “The Skater”, however, is always on display at the Gallery, one of the museum’s most important (and most popular) American masterpieces. Removing it from the exhibition rooms and placing it into storage, even for a short time, is simply unthinkable.

The painting, justifiably, has become one of the nation’s most beloved works of art.

Monday, May 19, 2008

At The Lake

Andrew and I went up to the lake this weekend, and Andrew’s parents accompanied us (as did the dog, naturally).

We assembled at Andrew’s parents’ house at 6:00 p.m. Friday evening. Andrew’s mother made us all eat a plate of food before we headed out. She had prepared sesame chicken for us, which I had never had before. She served the sesame chicken with pasta, into which was mixed shredded carrots, shredded green beans, shredded red and yellow peppers, and shredded pineapple. There was no pasta sauce, because the tiny bits of pineapple moisturized the pasta and vegetables. It was one of the best things I had ever eaten, and I asked Andrew’s mother why she had not made this before. She expressed great surprise at my question, asking me, quite genuinely, “You mean you haven’t had this before?” I had not, and I told her that I had not. “Either I have not made it for a while, then, or I made it on nights you and Andrew were not here. I’m stunned.”

I was the one who was stunned, actually, because the chicken and pasta were so marvelous. It was the perfect light meal before embarking on a two-hour drive.

The dog ate a plateful of the chicken and pasta, too, and he loved it. Unlike me, it was not the first time he had been served this particular dinner.

He was excited during the ride up to the lake, because he knew where we were going. He loves to spend time at the lake. I think he enjoys time at the lake more than anyone else.

We arrived at the lake just as it was getting dark. First thing, we turned on the water and gas, and ran lots of water through the pipes and faucets. Then Andrew and I removed the sheets from the furniture and quickly vacuumed the floors while Andrew’s mother prepared for us a late supper of omelets with garden vegetables. During this time, Andrew’s father was outside, observing the dog race around the yard and run in circles and roll in the grass.

On Saturday morning, we had to mow the grass, which had already grown quite tall, and do some other yard work. Otherwise we did not do much of anything all weekend. We took the dog for walks in the woods, and played badminton, but otherwise we sat around reading and talking and playing with the dog.

The dog keeps a close eye on the lake, and he always barks at kayaks as they pass. He very seldom goes into the water, because he dislikes getting wet. The exception is when he sees something really interesting in the water that he cannot resist, in which case he will leap in and fetch whatever it is that has captured his attention and immediately return to shore. Most of the time, what he brings back is only a stick.

We returned home last evening, leaving an hour before darkness set.

This week will be a short workweek for Andrew and me, because we have two duties to perform over the long Memorial Day weekend.

On Thursday, Andrew and I will drive to Oklahoma to attend my sister’s high school graduation ceremony. Commencement is Friday evening, and Andrew and I will drive all the way to Oklahoma the day before. We hope to leave home at 6:00 a.m. Thursday morning, and arrive at my parents’ house by 10:00 p.m. Thursday night. It will be a long day, and a long drive.

The morning after my sister’s graduation, Andrew and I will drive to Denver, where we will help Andrew’s brother prepare for his move back to Minneapolis. We hope to leave Oklahoma at 7:00 a.m. Saturday morning, and arrive in Denver by 8:00 p.m. Mountain Time on Saturday night.

We will spend Sunday and Monday helping Andrew’s brother sort through things and pack things for shipping, and we will bring some of his things back with us when we return home on Tuesday. Between shipping some of his things back home, and our bringing some of his things back home with us, he will only need to make one trip when he returns permanently to Minneapolis at the beginning of July.

Andrew and I plan to leave Denver at 5:00 a.m. Mountain Time on Tuesday. We hope to be home by midnight Tuesday night. It will be another long day, and an even longer drive.

It will be a tiring weekend—over 2400 miles within six days—and both Andrew and I must return to work that Wednesday morning.

Consequently, it was good we had a restful weekend this weekend at the lake.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

A World Undone

Andrew and I have read so many, many books about World War I and its causes that we almost passed by “A World Undone: The Story Of The Great War, 1914-1918” by G. J. Meyer. It would have been a grave mistake for us to have done so.

World War I has been the subject of a remarkable renewable of scholarly interest over the last decade, and it is interesting to speculate why this is so. I believe there may be several reasons for the rebirth of interest in The Great War.

First, the causes, developments and results of World War II have been rehashed so often and so extensively that there has not been much new to offer on the subject, except for events on the Eastern Front that may now be examined anew in light of recently-opened Russian archives. It is logical, therefore, that scholarly attention has shifted from the Second World War back to the First.

Second, World War II was not the “complex” war that World War I has always been. The causes of World War II were fairly simple and straightforward: it was Act II of The Great War, a continuation of the first great conflagration owing to round one’s unsatisfactory resolution. World War II would never have occurred had World War I’s denouement and end result been an effective final settlement. In contrast, the causes of—and even the necessity for—World War I remain inherently controversial, ripe for constant reexamination.

Third, World War I’s five great European participants—Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Russia, France, Britain—all had vastly different (and logical) reasons for participating in, or avoiding altogether, the tragic conflict. These particular considerations have been the focus of much recent World War I scholarship, especially in the case of Britain, whose participation in the war has undergone the most intensive reexamination and reassessment. No nation on the continent was in a position to sit out the war once it began. Britain, a seafaring nation, had that luxury.

Fourth, World War I was one of those wars that could and should have been avoided, in the eyes of everyone. The conflict produced only one victor, the United States. All European participants lost the war, whether they were declared to be winner or loser at the endless conference that followed cessation of hostilities. How and why the war could and should have been avoided remains the target of current scholarship, and much of this scholarship reaches vastly different conclusions.

It is fitting, therefore, that World War I histories continue to be written and published in substantial numbers, at least in the English-speaking world. Whether French, German and Russian volumes are produced in equivalent numbers I do not know—if published, they are not being translated into English and issued in Great Britain and the U.S.

“A World Undone” is different from the recent John Keegan and Niall Ferguson volumes on the subject, volumes that attempted, with varying degrees of success, to provide a new spin on the causes and effects of the war. (I wrote briefly about both recent Keegan books on October 14, 2007).

“A World Undone” is not a lengthy argument. “A World Undone” is not a veiled rebuttal of other recent books on one or another aspect of the war, nor is it a reply to critics.

“A World Undone” is also not a book filled with brilliant and original insights, providing the reader with fresh and unusual perspectives on the war, its causes and its long-term consequences.

Instead, “A World Undone” is a splendid one-volume history (704 pages) of the conditions that led to war, the missteps and blunders of all participants in that fateful summer of 1914, the constant carnage that typified the war in its fighting stages, and the long and drawn-out aftermath that required three years of negotiations to bring the hostilities to an official—but only temporary, as it turned out—conclusion.

Meyer demonstrates a grasp of the telling detail as well as a talent for portraying the panoramic sweep of the vast drama, and he displays a deep understanding of the war’s military engagements as well as its diplomatic and political developments before, during and after the hostilities. He also evidences a real talent for bringing both the war’s major personalities to life as well as the national characteristics and considerations of the various peoples involved.

His book is a rich tapestry of event, character and analysis, epic in scope, well-told through a narrative packed with incident and immediacy, demonstrating the skills of a great novelist. This may be the finest one-volume book on the subject ever written.

Despite his studious avoidance of tendentious arguments about the causes of the war or the long-term results of its aftermath, Meyer has much to offer that is not necessarily covered in other volumes or is covered elsewhere in insufficient detail.

He is excellent, for instance, in his discussion of the Alsace-Lorraine issue, inexplicably glossed over in so many other World War I studies. He is equally superb in his treatment of the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Army on the Eastern Front early in the war, a collapse that required the German Army to remove troops from France and to reposition them on The Eastern Front in order to halt and reverse the progress of the Russian Army. The farce (and tragedy) that was Gallipoli is handled well and at length, as is the Armenian massacre. He discusses, in detail, the oft-ignored and mind-boggling failure of General Haig to come to terms with the machine-gun, and to amend his military strategies in order to take into account the lethality of that weapon.

Meyer also discusses at length the reasons why the parties were unable to bring the conflict to a negotiated conclusion once it was underway. He is one of the few writers to credit the Germans for attempting to reach a negotiated settlement as early as 1916. Germany and Austria’s populations were literally starving after the winter of 1915-1916, and Germany was under great pressure from a deprived populace to bring Britain, France and Russia to the bargaining table from 1916 on. Germany’s efforts were completely rebuffed by The Entente Powers. Millions upon millions of lives would have been saved by an early end to the war. Moreover, a negotiated settlement reached in 1916 or 1917 would not have differed significantly from the outcome eventually imposed upon Germany at Paris and Versailles, a final settlement not signed until 1921, three years after the war’s end.

If I have one criticism about the book, it is that Meyer fails to address in a satisfactory manner how and why the fighting finally stopped. Truly, no participant in the war achieved any sort of victory on The Western Front. There was no culminating final battle that settled the affair, allowing one set of participants to emerge a clear victor and another to witness a shattering and irreversible defeat. Instead, the armies on the Western Front, exhausted, simply stopped fighting. Battles sputtered out like an engine running out of fuel.

It was the French Army that mutinied first, but it was the mutiny of the German Army that finally ended the fighting. First one German unit, then another, laid down its arms until the German General Staff had a full-scale insurrection on its hands. Within days of the insurrection, an armistice was declared, the German Kaiser fell from power and sought refuge in the Netherlands, Germany became a nation virtually without a government, the various armies were sent home, and reparations talks began in Paris. Precisely what had happened to cause this extraordinary turn of events?

This is the question that all World War I historians fail to answer in a satisfactory and convincing manner. No one understands, exactly, how and why the great conflagration limped, in its final stages, to expiration. Meyer does not answer this question any better than any other writer who has addressed the subject.

The odd ending to the war is even more remarkable given that the Germans almost won the war during the Spring Offensive Of 1918. For the first time since 1914, the Germans broke the four-year stalemate on The Western Front, plowed through enemy lines and were on the verge of winning the war. Given the swiftness with which the great successes of the Spring Offensive were followed by abject defeat, it is no wonder that the German populace failed to understand why Germany had lost the war and it is easy to comprehend why the German populace was so ready to embrace the “stabbed in the back” theory on which so much of Germany’s politics would be based over the next twenty years.

The carnage of World War I was brutal, even incomprehensible. To this day, the scale of bloodletting remains too shocking to contemplate. The generals in charge of prosecuting the war on behalf of Britain, France and Germany were viewed at the time, and are still viewed today, as little more than hacks and butchers. Most of them lost their reputations while the conflict was underway—and all of them lost their reputations once scholarly studies began to appear after the war. Never was a war more haphazardly prosecuted, with so little value placed on human life. An entire generation of youth from Britain, France and Germany was literally wiped out, a slaughter on a scale so vast that it had never been witnessed before and has never been witnessed since.

I almost weep when I think of the suffering that the young men of Britain, France and Germany had to endure during those terrible years. Nothing is as likely to bring tears to my eyes as thinking about the inhuman events on The Western Front, where as many as 50,000 souls lost their lives in a single day during a gruesome and unending battle of attrition that went on and on, day after day after day, for over four years.

There are monuments to the fallen of World War I in almost every city, town and village throughout Europe. This is so because no locality, and no human being alive at the time, escaped the suffering. Literally everyone had family members or close friends who died fighting in the war.

Andrew finds the most moving such monument to be the Cenotaph in London, situated in the middle of Whitehall. The Cenotaph was designed by architect Edwin Lutyens in 1919. A wood-and-plaster version was erected for the 1919 Remembrance Day observances, and a permanent version, constructed from Portland stone, was erected the following year. The Cenotaph is a series of simple, recessed steles, about eighteen feet high, of the starkest severity, free from decoration except for a stone wreath carved into the base at each end. Imperceptibly, its sides are not vertical—they curve inward as they rise, and all four sides would meet 1000 feet above ground were the monument to reach that height. Only three words are carved on the Cenotaph: “The Glorious Dead”, from Rudyard Kipling, who lost his only son in the war. The London Cenotaph proved to be so popular that over the next two decades it was reproduced endlessly throughout the British Commonwealth, with recreations erected throughout Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, India and South Africa. No version of London’s Cenotaph, however, was ever erected in the United States.

I thought that the Hamburg Ehrenmal was even more moving than the London Cenotaph. The Hamburg Ehrenburg is situated at the water’s edge on the Alster Lake, at one end of the great plaza on which lies Hamburg’s giant Rathaus. It is one of the most beautiful and moving monuments I have ever seen. It is twice as tall as London’s Cenotaph—the Hamburg Ehrenmal is 12.5 meters high—and it is nothing more than a simple white stone stele. It was designed by architect Claus Hoffman and erected in 1932. Its only words appear on one side: “Forty thousand sons of the city lost their lives for you 1914-1918”. On the opposite side is a cartoonish relief of a mother and her soldier son, by sculptor Ernst Barlach, removed by the Nazi’s in 1938 but recreated in 1949. I hate to express agreement with anything associated with the National Socialist regime, but the monument would be far better off without that ludicrous Barlach relief, which adds nothing to the dignity or solemnity of the monument. Our personal observations, while we were in Hamburg, were that people simply and assiduously ignored the side of the monument with the Barlach relief. We did, too.

Meyer is unafraid to criticize the politicians and generals, on all sides, in “A World Undone”. No one is immune from his harsh assessments. One of the strengths of his book is that he is very good at describing the personalities responsible for leading their nations into cataclysm and self-destruction and for making military decisions of astounding brutality throughout the engagement.

He ends his book by telling the reader what became of these various figures—politicians, rulers, monarchs, generals, cabinet ministers—after the war. Hardly anyone with an important role in World War I had a happy or fulfilling post-war life or career; on the contrary, almost all such persons had nothing but tragedy to face in their remaining years.

There was, however, one exception.

That person, the final such figure he addresses in his book, is Winston Churchill. Meyer briefly recounts Churchill’s 1920’s career and his 1930’s “wilderness years”, when Churchill served as an oracle issuing unwelcome warnings about the rearmament of Nazi Germany and the grave threats Hitler and his policies posed to Britain and the world.

Meyer’s discussion of Churchill’s post-war career—and Meyer's book—stops short, abruptly halting at the end of the 1930’s, with Churchill not yet in power and with Europe once again on the brink of war:

“But that is another story.”

Monday, May 5, 2008

A Good Weekend

Andrew’s brother from Denver joined us this weekend, and it was good to have him around for a few days.

He flew in Thursday evening, and Andrew and I and his mother all went to the airport to pick him up.

We had a late dinner Thursday night when we got back to the house: pepper pot roast (slow-cooked with a variety of special black and white ground pepper as well as peppercorns, AFTER having been soaked for a day in a special peppercorn brine), mashed potatoes, homemade butter noodles, steamed peas, corn and carrots, and a fresh pear-strawberry-walnut salad. For dessert, we had homemade ice cream and peanut butter cookies that Andrew’s mother had baked Thursday afternoon.

Andrew’s mother always makes homemade butter noodles for his brother on his first night home. Homemade butter noodles are his favorite food.

Andrew’s mother’s pepper pot roast is stunning, but it is very peppery. Because it has a very strong flavor, it goes best with creamy, buttery foods like mashed potatoes and homemade butter noodles, as well as plain steamed unseasoned vegetables like peas, corn and carrots. It would overwhelm and conflict with any other highly-seasoned foods. Only when the ice cream came along was I at last able to flush the taste of the pot roast from my senses.

The dog cannot be given pepper pot roast, as it is too strong for him, so Andrew’s mother gave him tiny pieces of cut-up beef, very slightly grilled, along with some mashed potatoes and a few butter noodles. The dog loves mashed potatoes with his meat at dinner, and he was perfectly content with his meal.

He was also happy to eat ice cream and peanut butter cookies for dessert. Peanut butter cookies are his favorite cookies (and Andrew’s brother’s favorite, too). He eats his ice cream from a bowl, but he is given small pieces of cookie by hand. When eating ice cream and cookies, he walks back and forth between his bowl and whomever is feeding him cookie pieces, having a few bites of first one and then the other. It is amusing to watch him enjoy his dessert.

Despite his size, the dog is a very delicate eater. He licks his food from his bowl in tiny, delicate tonguefuls, walking around and around his bowl as he takes one tongueful and then another. He constantly wags his tail while he eats, and he licks his bowl clean and inspects it very carefully when he is finished eating to make sure that he has not missed anything. I was absolutely riveted the first evening I was in Andrew’s family home, observing the dog eat his dinner.

His food is always cut up into very tiny pieces so that it takes him a while to eat it. Otherwise, he might gulp everything down in one bite and then feel cheated and beg at table.

The dog was happy to see Andrew’s brother, jumping all over him and licking him as if there were no tomorrow. For the previous couple of days, we had told him that Andrew’s brother was coming, and I think he understood this. When we left for the airport Thursday evening, we told him that we were going to the airport and that Alex would be with us when we returned, and I genuinely believe that he fully understood all that we were telling him.

We did not get to bed until very late Thursday night, because we stayed up talking until just past 12:30 a.m.

Andrew and I had to work on Friday, so Andrew’s mother and brother went to the care facility on Friday to visit Andrew’s grandmother and to have lunch with her. However, Andrew and I did manage to leave work early on Friday afternoon, and all of us (even Andrew’s mother accompanied us) spent late Friday afternoon with the dog in the park, running him around and playing games with him.

We spent most of Friday evening helping Andrew’s mother prepare dinner. She only prepared three dishes, but all three were sort of complicated, involving only fresh ingredients and taking some serious time and attention to prepare. We did not sit down to eat until after 9:00 p.m.

We had a dinner from Provence: Salade Nicoise, Bouillabaisse and apricot tarts with honey and almonds. The dinner was exceptional, probably superior to anything available in the finest French restaurant.

The dog was given a tart for dessert, but for his main course he was given grilled chicken, cut up for him, because he does not eat salads or seafood. He didn’t seem to mind.

After dinner, we watched a movie on DVD: “Islands In The Stream”, an adaptation of the Hemingway novel published after Hemingway’s death.

I had never seen the film, and I was astonished how fine it was. It is certainly the best film adapted from Hemingway I have ever seen.

Apparently the movie was not well-received on its initial release in 1977, either by critics or movie-goers. It died a quick death at the box office. This is regrettable, because it is an exceptionally fine piece of work.

The director was Franklin J. Shaffner, the cinematographer Fred J. Koenekamp, and the editor Robert Swink, all major talents working at the top of their games. Jerry Goldsmith wrote the musical score. The primary actors are George C. Scott, Claire Bloom and David Hemmings. Scott is called upon to carry the film, and he does so magnificently. Surely this is his finest screen performance. Scott is totally believable and perhaps even inspired in the role of a solitary sculptor working on an island in out-of-the-way Bahamas in 1940, as war clouds gather and as family crises involving children from two failed marriages command his attention.

“Islands In The Stream” is a very subtle and very moving film. The slow pace of the film is what must have prevented it from becoming a major critical and commercial success at the time of its release, although I understand that “Islands In The Stream” is slowly but surely acquiring a high reputation among film scholars and film historians.

It’s a wonderful film.

On Saturday, we had a big, big breakfast—first we ate cereal and fruit, after which Andrew made us scrambled eggs, fried potatoes and bacon, after which Andrew also made us waffles and sausage—and then we spent most of the day outside doing yard work. It was sort of fun because we had three guys to do the work, which was more than enough to keep pace with the dog, who generally tries to undo the work as quickly as it is completed. We had a lot of fun.

We stopped for a light lunch—tuna salad sandwiches, made from the same tuna cooked for Friday night’s Salade Nicoise—and then we worked until late in the afternoon, when we all got cleaned up and went out for the evening.

We went over to Bloomington and first we had an early dinner at Ruby Tuesday. Alex, Andrew and I all ordered the steak-and-crab-cake entrée. Andrew’s mother ordered Parmesan shrimp pasta.

After dinner, we went to see the musical, “The Pajama Game”, performed by the resident company at Bloomington Civic Theater.

I loved the performance—I thought it was top-notch—although the show itself is not good in the least. The score, the lyrics, the book: all are pedestrian.

The staging, however, was clever and imaginative, and the performers were quite good, despite the fact that Bloomington Civic Theater is not a professional company. The company’s performances, however, are fully up to professional standard, and everything about the production was excellent, from the stage design to the choreography to the orchestra in the pit.

I think the fact that Bloomington Civic Theater performs in a state-of-the-art auditorium seating only 366 persons and employs a full theater orchestra for its shows helps make its productions enjoyable and immediate. No amplification is used for the singers, and Broadway-type synthesizers in the pit are verboten. Consequently, Bloomington Civic Theater performances are not “canned”, unlike performances of Broadway musicals in New York, which are pretty deadly.

We all enjoyed the performance very much, and we were pleased that we had made the decision to go see this unremarkable musical, a decision we made more or less at the last minute.

After we arrived back in Edina, we stopped to have dessert before we went home. We stopped at The Cheesecake Factory and had cheesecake. We ordered four different kinds of cheesecake and shared, so everyone got a taste of each: vanilla bean, white chocolate raspberry truffle, lemon raspberry cream, and key lime.

On Sunday morning, Andrew made us omelets with ham, three different cheeses and cream, and he followed that up by making us one of his specialties, apple-cinnamon pancakes, which Alex especially likes.

After church, we did not eat lunch. Instead, we drove straight downtown in order to see two very small temporary exhibitions at the Minneapolis Institute Of Arts: “Visions Of Piety: Devotional Prints In The Counter-Reformation” and “Paris 1900: Graphic Design In Revolt”. It did not even take us an hour to complete both exhibitions, so we spent another hour at the museum in the Ancient Art section, examining antiquities from Egypt, Greece and Rome.

After we had had our fill of the museum, we returned home. It was only the middle of the afternoon when we arrived, and we played with dog and talked and helped Andrew’s mother prepare dinner.

She stuffed and roasted a chicken for dinner. We ate the chicken and stuffing with mashed potatoes, homemade butter noodles, green beans, fried red tomatoes, baked okra and homemade applesauce. We had cranberry-orange bread for dessert.

We spent all of Sunday night talking, and making tentative—very tentative—plans.

Andrew’s brother will be moving back to Minneapolis at the beginning of July. He will be staying with Andrew’s parents until late August. When Andrew and I abscond to Boston, he will move into our apartment.

He does not start his new job until early September, so he wants to do as much traveling as possible during the months of July and August.

Andrew and I have not decided precisely when we will leave our current jobs. We have etched August 1 into our minds, but that is only a tentative date.

We will all spend the first week of July up at the lake—that much is already settled—but Andrew and I are not prepared to spend the remainder of the month of July and most of the month of August traveling, even assuming we would leave our current jobs around July 1, an assumption we are not yet prepared to make.

Alex has lots of travel ideas. In addition to a two-week trip to Great Britain he mapped out several months ago, he wants to make a two-week trip to Toronto, combining Toronto with a lengthy visit to the Shaw Festival in nearby Niagara-On-The-Lake. He wants to make a nine-day trip to Philadelphia-the Brandywine Valley-Wilmington-Princeton-Allentown. He wants to make a two-week trek through Michigan and a corner of Ohio, visiting Detroit-Kalamazoo-Holland-Grand Rapids-Muskegon-East Lansing-Flint-Saginaw-Ann Arbor-Toledo. He is also busy mapping out a plan to see as much as possible of Scotland over a two-week period.

Clearly, he is keen to go somewhere!

Andrew and I are no position to make firm plans at the moment, and we have decided to put him off until Memorial Day weekend, when we will visit him in Denver and when we can begin to make decisions whether and where and when to go.

Andrew’s mother would like to go somewhere, too, because she has not been out of the country since last September, when we visited London. She has Paris and Venice on her mind at the moment, but Paris and Venice are not ideal destinations for the months of July and August, and she is perfectly well-aware of this fact.

At the moment, everything is swings and roundabouts.

All we know for certain, at the moment, is that Alex returned to Denver early this morning and that Andrew’s father will return from Taipei on Wednesday.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!