Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Bon Voyage

Andrew and I are in a state of excitement about our upcoming trip.

We depart tomorrow.

Andrew has been to Munich many times, and he has been to Austria many times, but I have never visited Southern Germany or Austria.

I cannot wait.

Andrew and I are already prepared for our departure. Our bags are packed, our bodies are rested, our spirits are high.

We are ready to go!

My mother, on the other hand, is a pile of nerves.

First, she has been in a frenzy for months worrying about something going wrong with our various connecting flights to Chicago. She worries that Andrew’s and my flight from Minneapolis to Chicago will be delayed, or that my family’s flight from Oklahoma City to Chicago will be delayed, either circumstance of which may prevent all of us from flying on the same airplane from Chicago to Munich.

We keep telling her that an unavoidable delay will simply result in a rerouting to Munich and, in that case, we shall all meet up at Franz Josef Strauss rather than O’Hare.

Nevertheless, she is quite concerned.

Second, my mother worries about luggage being lost or misrouted, which she somehow views as a virtual certainty since connecting flights are involved.

We keep telling her that any delayed luggage will be delivered to our hotel in Munich, but she worries nonetheless.

Third, my mother worries about clothing. She worries about what to wear in Munich and Vienna versus what to wear “in the provinces”, and she worries about what to wear to the opera in Vienna. She—quite seriously—thinks that she will be able to wear heels most of the time. When we explain to her the amount of walking we intend to do in Munich alone, her response is always the same: she plans to take “comfortable” heels.

Fourth, my mother worries about food. She fears she won’t like German cooking, and she fears she won’t like Austrian cooking, and she holds up as evidence the fact that my sister did not like the food in Britain last summer.

We keep telling her that my sister is a very picky eater and, in any case, that everyone knows that food in Britain is not good. We keep telling her that food in Germany and Austria is excellent, far better than food in Britain, but my mother somehow expects to be presented with plates of blood sausage, sauerkraut and pickled beets three times a day for ten days.

Fifth, my mother worries about hotels. She worries that European air-conditioning will not be up to snuff, she worries that strange noises will keep her awake at night, and she worries that water pressure in European bathrooms will not meet her exacting standards.

We keep telling her that German and Austrian hotels will be perfectly fine, and that in any case we plan to sleep at the hotels, and little else.

Sixth, my mother worries about the opera performance we plan to attend in Vienna. She fears that my father and my brother will not enjoy the performance.

We keep telling her that a chance to experience an opera performance at Theater An Der Wien, the theater of Mozart and Beethoven, will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for my father and my brother, and that they will welcome the opportunity to spend one evening of their lives among the ghosts of Mozart and Beethoven.

She is not convinced.

Seventh, my mother worries about museum visits. She fears that my father and my brother will not enjoy the museum visits we have planned.

We keep telling her that we plan to visit only three museums, all in Munich, and that my father and brother are likely to enjoy all three museums immensely.

Of course, my mother is a professional worrier—she is, after all, an accountant—and there is not much we can do to change that. As soon as the vacation begins, she will have the time of her life, and her worries will disappear.

My sister is not worried about our trip in the least. She, like Andrew and me, is in a state of total excitement. She knows she will have a wonderful time.

She loved our trip to Britain last summer. It was her first trip out of the country, and she had such a good time that she wants to return to Europe as often as possible.

My brother is blasé about the trip, or at least he pretends to be. For him, the vacation is a high-school graduation gift, and he’s not quite sure what to expect.

This will be his first trip outside the United States. He chose our destination, and he based his decision on his desire to see the Alps. Beyond that, he really does not know what to expect.

It is my father that concerns me.

My father is always wound up. He cannot find within himself the means to relax. He is an instinctive trial attorney, combative, on guard, and ready to pounce twenty-four hours a day, and he cannot turn this quality off. Taking a vacation with my father is akin to taking a vacation with Admiral Halsey.

I hope my mother can keep my father under wraps.

THAT should be the source of my mother’s worries, and nothing else.


Today Andrew’s nephew and niece came over to spend the day with us.

We played with them all morning and, after their naps, we played with them all afternoon.

Tonight we had a full table at dinner, as everyone was present, a “Bon Voyage” of sorts for Andrew and me.

We had Shrimp Newburg, followed by roast chicken and stuffing, mashed potatoes, fresh green beans, fresh carrots, fresh white corn, a cranberry salad and a tomato-cucumber salad. For dessert, we had homemade blackberry cobbler and homemade ice cream.

While Andrew and I will be away, Andrew’s niece and nephew will receive visitors: their British grandparents will arrive from London for a three-week stay. This will be the first time Lizbeth’s parents will see their new granddaughter, and the new house (and Minneapolis, too, for that matter).

Andrew and I will catch up with them when we return.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Like General MacArthur . . .

We have returned . . .from the lake.

However, there was no Bataan death march, no Battle Of Corregidor, no naval action at Surigao Strait.

There was, instead, lots of food and lots of fun (and lots of peace and quiet, too).

Andrew and I depart for Munich on Thursday.

Like General MacArthur, we shall return . . .on August 10.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Getting Things Ready

Yesterday Andrew and I got our things ready for our trip.

The bags are packed. Everything is in place. All we need do next Thursday is pick up our bags and head to the airport.

Last evening Andrew and I had dinner with friends. It was good to see everyone again.

This morning we are getting things together for a weekend at the lake.

In the middle of the afternoon, Andrew’s mother and Andrew and I (and the dog) will go pick up Lizbeth and the kids and head north. We should be at the lake by 5:30 p.m. or so.

An hour later, Andrew’s father and brothers will follow.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday

On Monday, Andrew and I worked outside most of the day.

There were occasional rain showers on Monday, but the showers did not interfere seriously with our work. The showers were short, and involved only light rainfall.

We performed some exterior touchup painting and performed some trimming of shrubbery and a couple of trees.

It was not serious work, and we found our tasks to be as much play as labor.

The dog certainly viewed a whole day outside as play!

Andrew’s mother was gone most of the day. She had a church meeting in the morning, and afterward she went to the care facility to have lunch with her mother. She spent most of the afternoon at the facility, which had to be painful for her, as Andrew’s grandmother is now 96 years old and very seldom recognizes anyone. Her “lucid intervals” are less and less frequent now, if not practically nonexistent.

Andrew’s mother is the “baby” of her family, just as Andrew is the “baby” of his family. Andrew’s mother was born several years after her nearest sibling, and her mother always doted on her (as did her father).

Andrew’s mother is the only one in her family that visits the care facility several times a week. The reward for her devotion is observing the mother she has always loved survive in body but not in spirit—and that is no reward at all.

When Andrew’s mother returned home, we all decided we should go out for the evening and do something fun, even if only for a few hours.

We faced one small problem: there really is not much to do in Minneapolis on a Monday evening in the summer months (unless one is an avid baseball fan and the Twins are having a home stand).

For lack of alternatives, and because we had a taste for Italian food, we decided to go to Southdale once Andrew’s father got home from work. We thought that a walk through Southdale might be a relaxing, low-key way to kill a couple of hours, and that dinner at Maggiano’s Little Italy might be a splendid way to conclude a Southdale excursion.

And that’s what we did. Andrew and I cleaned up, and we waited for Andrew’s father to arrive so that we could all drive over to Southdale.

Southdale was America’s first fully-enclosed, climate-controlled shopping mall. A project of Viennese architect Victor Gruen, Southdale opened in 1956. It was the prototype of the modern American shopping mall. Much of the original structure remains intact, exactly as it was more than half a century ago.

Southdale has been greatly expanded and modernized over the decades—it is now more than sixty per cent larger than the original structure—but it still features the giant central spaces and multi-level European-style arcades that Gruen designed in the early 1950’s, features that were not to be incorporated into the countless malls that followed in Southdale’s wake.

Other than the shopping mall itself, the bulk of Gruen’s scheme for Southdale was never realized. Gruen wanted the shopping mall to be one of many components of a multi-use residential and commercial center, a place where people might gather for art, culture, political meetings, socializing—and shopping.

The city fathers of Edina, however, had other ideas. They did not like the other parts of Gruen’s original vision (apartment buildings, office buildings, schools, medical centers, small, practical individual houses) because the rest of the project would have involved an invasion of Edina by the middle classes, which city fathers sought to avoid.

City fathers were happy to see people from elsewhere come to Edina and spend their money—but city fathers wanted those same persons to leave town after their wallets had been emptied.

And city fathers got their wish: the shopping mall was the only portion of Gruen’s grand project that was built. Gruen became embittered over the outcome, viewing it as a perversion of his original scheme.

I wonder what Gruen might make of the Southdale of today. Over the years, Southdale has gone more and more upscale, catering more and more conspicuously, if not exclusively, to the well-heeled. I especially wonder what Gruen might make of Southdale’s host of concierge services geared to the wealthy—as well as its valet parking.

Persons not from Edina, I believe, are now expected to give Southdale a pass and head to The Mall Of America instead.

I have always found it enjoyable to walk around Southdale. The grand spaces are still attractive, and still unique.

The interior might be mistaken for the grand public promenades of a giant museum devoted to modern art. (“THIS is the building New York’s Museum Of Modern Art should inhabit” were Andrew’s first words to me the first time I stepped inside Southdale.)

There definitely remains something compelling about Southdale, despite its proliferation of overpriced luxury shops. (The Galleria, Edina’s other shopping mall, is similarly upscale, if not more so.)

We walked through the entire center before we had dinner, without intention of buying anything. We were there solely for a stroll and some moseying.

Andrew’s mother used to love to shop at Southdale. For five decades, Southdale always housed no fewer than two superb department stores.

Southdale used to have a Dayton’s, a Minneapolis-based department store chain, which was sold to Chicago-based Marshall Field’s in the early years of this decade. Andrew’s mother always liked Dayton’s, and she always liked Marshall Field’s.

Marshall Field’s was sold to Macy’s in 2006, and the current store at Southdale is a Macy’s—and Macy’s, alas, is no Dayton’s or Marshall Field’s.

Southdale also used to have a Donaldson’s, another Minneapolis-based department store chain, which was sold to Chicago-based Carson Pirie Scott at the end of the 1990’s. Andrew’s mother always liked Donaldson’s, and she always liked Carson Pirie Scott.

Carson Pirie Scott was sold to California-based Mervyns a few years ago—and Mervyns, alas, was no Donaldson’s or Carson Pirie Scott.

In any case, Mervyns is no more—the company declared bankruptcy in 2008 and closed all stores.

Consequently, there is now a giant (and quite beautiful) four-level department store building in Southdale that is vacant, awaiting a decision about its future. It would provide ideal space for Lord And Taylor or Nieman-Marcus, but I suspect the space will remain empty until the outlook for retail trade improves.

Once we had taken a gander at everything at Southdale we wanted to see, and explored a few stores, we went to Maggiano’s Little Italy for dinner.

At Maggiano’s, one has the option of eating family style. This was the option we chose, since it allowed us to sample a larger variety of foods.

We ordered two appetizers: stuffed mushrooms; and sausage and peppers.

We ordered two salads: spinach salad; and Caesar salad.

We ordered two pastas: baked zitti and sausage; and chicken and spinach manicotti.

For dessert, we had lemon cookies.

It was a perfect dinner, because each of us received a half serving of six different foods. The food was excellent.

Despite the fact that our dinner had been more than ample for us, our dinner had been the “light” family-style dinner. The “classic” family-style dinner includes two additional entrees. We would not have been able to make it through a “classic” family-style dinner—it simply would have been too much food for us.

It was a good Monday-night outing for us. It got us out of the house for a few pleasant hours, the main purpose of our visit to Southdale—and we enjoyed a nice dinner, too, without having to cook and clean up afterward.

Yesterday there were more rain showers, but the rain showers did not impact us—and this was because we did NOTHING AT ALL for the entire day.

We read, and listened to music, and played with the dog, and performed a few small household tasks, and that was it. There was nothing else we wanted to do, and nowhere we wanted to go. It was a relaxation day, pure and simple, and a very successful one.

Among other things, Andrew and I poured over old travel guidebooks covering Munich, Bavaria and Austria. Even though we already have our Munich and Austria itinerary fixed, we had a ball reading from the ancient travel guides. Andrew and I love to read old travel books, and so does Andrew’s mother. Much of what we read was genuinely not out-of-date (except for the quoted prices).

Today, after breakfast, Andrew’s mother and Andrew and I (and the dog) went to spend the day with Lizbeth, Tim and Helena.

All morning we played outside with the kids—or, more accurately, we played outside with Tim while Helena looked on.

Tim has a new gizmo, ESPN Better Batter Baseball, and Andrew and I played baseball with him for half an hour.

In our version of baseball, no one but Tim is ever at bat.

Once Tim hit the ball hanging from the ESPN Better Batter Baseball machine, he got to run the bases. Afterward, he went right back to the plate and was at bat again.

The game holds his attention for half an hour, no more, and we played a few other games with him, too, including kickball. We also pulled him around the yard in his wagon.

This afternoon, after he woke from his nap, Tim decided to play with his building blocks. Andrew and I sat down on the floor alongside and watched him. He is very serious about his building blocks. He built something—he said it was “Grandma’s house”, which could have fooled us—and then he waited for his Dad to come home (and his Granddad, and his Uncle Alex, too).

We all had dinner together (fried chicken, potato salad, baked beans) before it was time for us to come home.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Weekend In Town

We spent the weekend in town.

Saturday began in a strange manner.

Andrew and I, for once, did not wake up with the dog standing on us and licking us at 5:30 a.m., demanding to be taken to the park. He had been over at Alec and Lizbeth’s house since Friday, as we had had plans for Friday afternoon and evening, and it felt peculiar not being greeted by an eager and playful Rex first thing in the morning.

Andrew and I got up early anyway—we are still operating on East Coast time—and we went down to the kitchen and drank coffee and talked and read newspapers until Andrew’s father came down.

Alex came over at 8:00 a.m., and Andrew made everyone a big breakfast: cereal, fresh strawberries and cream, zucchini bread, ham-and-cheese omelets, hash browns, English muffins with his mother’s fresh strawberry jam, and orange juice and cranberry juice.

We didn’t do much of anything Saturday morning except clean the kitchen.

The kitchen in Andrew’s mother’s house is always kept in immaculate condition. Despite the presence of a dog in the household, one may practically eat from the kitchen floor—or from any other kitchen surface—without worry.

Alec and Lizbeth and the kids—and the dog—came over right before lunch. I don’t think the dog had missed us over the previous 24 hours, what with all the company he had enjoyed.

We had a lunch of grilled tuna, pasta, peas and applesauce, accompanied by a garden salad. Helena had chicken broth, pureed peas and pureed applesauce.

Once the kids turned in for their naps, Alec and Alex and Andrew and I prepared for a major episode in car-washing: we cleaned and washed and waxed every vehicle in the family (except Andrew’s and my car back in Boston). The project took us all afternoon.

Once the kids were up from their naps, they came outside and watched us.

They did not find our work to be all that interesting, truth to tell, and after a few minutes they directed their attentions elsewhere. Tim played with Andrew’s father in the yard while Helena sat on the deck with her mother and grandmother, enjoying the beautiful weather.

We had a major dinner Saturday night: lobster bisque, followed by a tomato-cucumber-goat cheese-onion-carrot-tuna-celery salad, followed by beef tips cooked in red wine served with wild rice, grilled red and yellow peppers, and snap peas.

We had peach pie and homemade ice cream for dessert. Peach pie and homemade ice cream are Tim’s favorite dessert.

Helena tried a couple of swallows of the lobster bisque, but she did not quite know what to make of it. She was happier with her cream-tomato soup, pureed butter beans and pureed pears.

She had a little ice cream, too, and she also had a few swallows of pureed peach pie, which she liked very much.

Tim is now fully accustomed to eating at table, and he fits right in. He no longer shows off, as he did back in March when he first started eating at table. Instead, he concentrates on his food and listens to the conversation, mostly allowing others to do the talking. He generally talks at table only after he has finished his food, when the meal is winding down.

At 8:00 p.m., Alec and Lizbeth and the kids had to go home, and the rest of us played scrabble and talked until it was time for Alex to go home and time for the rest of us to turn in.

Andrew and I DID have to get up early on Sunday morning, since we had been unable to pawn the dog off on Alec and Lizbeth for a second consecutive night.

He got his early-morning run, and he was happy.

No one was especially hungry on Sunday morning, so we skipped eating a breakfast of pancakes and sausages, the usual Sunday-morning fare. Instead, we ate cereal and scones and strawberries and cream, taking advantage of the fresh strawberries as long as we had them.

Sunday was the first Sunday since Thanksgiving weekend that Andrew and I had visited our church.

Over Christmas, Andrew and I had been in Minneapolis only for four days, and our visit did not coincide with a Sunday morning.

When we were home in March, we could not attend church because we had tickets for the regional NCAA tournament games at the Metrodome that Sunday.

Last weekend, we were up at the lake—and next weekend we will be up at the lake, too. The following Sunday we will be in Munich, and the Sunday after that we will be in Munich as well.

Sunday, consequently, was our only church-going opportunity of the summer. We got to see a lot of people we had not seen for many months, and Andrew enjoyed it very much. I enjoyed it, too.

Helena was very good during service. However, to stay amused (and silent), she changed laps every few minutes. She started on her mother’s lap, moved to her father’s, moved to Alex’s (where she fell asleep for twenty minutes), moved to mine, and ended on Andrew’s (where she fell asleep a second time). If the service had lasted much longer, she probably would have reversed course and ended up back on her mother’s lap.

The pew arrangement had changed slightly since the last time Andrew and I had attended church. Andrew’s father still sits nearest the center aisle, followed by Andrew’s mother. However, Tim, who used to sit between his parents, now comes next, followed by his mother and father, who between them hold the baby. Alex comes next, followed by me, with Andrew sitting on the outer aisle.

In another year or so, Helena will require her own place on the pew, at which point the pew will be completely filled. The next member of the family will precipitate a crisis: we shall be required to spill over into a second pew. Since the nearby pews are already taken, I don’t know what will happen.

We had only a light lunch when we returned home. bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches. No one was hungry, and no one wanted anything substantial. Helena ate hardly anything, because she was ready for her nap.

We did nothing at all while the kids were asleep. In fact, Alec and Lizbeth took naps, too, while Tim and Helena were sleeping. Parenting young children has got to be exhausting.

Tim wanted to do something fun when he woke from his nap, so his Granddad, his Dad, Alex, and Andrew and I took him to the park. We would have taken Helena, too, but she seemed to be fussy, and we thought it would be better to leave her in her mother’s care.

The dog was definitely not fussy, so we took him with us as well. We spent the rest of the afternoon in the park, staying until it was time for us to go home for dinner.

We had chicken breasts baked in an apple-cranberry glaze, accompanied by potato pancakes, steamed carrots, steamed broccoli and an apple-cranberry-celery-nut salad. For dessert, we ate pineapple sherbet and pirouette cookies. It was a perfect summer supper, both light and substantial at the same time.

Andrew’s mother indeed has a gift for food.

Once again, Helena did not eat much on Sunday night. She ate a couple of swallows of pureed carrots, a couple of swallows of pureed potato pancakes, and a few swallows of strawberry Jello—and that was it for her. Not even the sherbet enticed her. I think she must have been out of sorts.

As soon as dinner was over, everyone went home.

After the kitchen was clean, Andrew’s parents and Andrew and I went outside and sat on the deck, talking until long past sunset.

All four of us sense that some disruptive, propulsive event shall soon shake the world. The present reminds us of the eeriness of the years leading up to World War I, when persons all over Europe sensed, intuitively, that a great and tragic cataclysm was approaching.

I firmly believe—as do Andrew and Andrew’s father—that the reason there has been a veritable EXPLOSION of scholarship addressing the causes of World War I in the last few years is because intellectuals and historians sense the approach of a similar cataclysm, and look to World War I for answers.

Whatever form the coming cataclysm will take, it is undoubted that many, many persons all over the globe shall perish before things sort themselves out again.

Andrew and I don’t have anything planned for the coming week.

We may use our time to do a little shrubbery trimming, and even a little tree trimming.

We may also paint the garage doors, and touch up a few windows and doors.

On Friday, we will go back to the lake for the weekend.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Strawberry Day

Today was a strawberry day.

Early this morning, Andrew and I went out to pick up two very large crates of strawberries from Andrew’s mother’s strawberry supplier and bring them home. Andrew’s mother insists that her strawberry supplier is able to obtain the finest strawberries in the Twin Cities and that no one else can match him.

The primary purpose of the strawberries was to turn them into strawberry pies.

Andrew’s mother makes a strawberry pie that is divine. It took her over twenty years to perfect her recipe, but she insists that her recipe can no longer be improved upon—and she is right. It is a strawberry pie unlike any other.

The secret, she says, is selecting JUST the right strawberries, JUST the right amounts and blends of sweeteners, and JUST the right bonding ingredients, all of which are very tricky to get precisely right. However, since 1994, she has had the recipe right where she wants it, and she has not altered it one iota for fifteen years.

Andrew’s mother makes strawberry pies only once a year—the pies are too much trouble to fiddle with on a more frequent basis—but when she is in the mood to make strawberry pies, everyone takes notice. This is because her strawberry pies are magnificent and beyond compare.

She is very, very particular about the strawberries that go into her pies.

Small strawberries get set aside. Small strawberries must go into jam, not pies, or so she insists.

The very largest strawberries also get set aside. Large strawberries, she says, must be eaten as pure fruit, in a bowl with sugar and cream.

It is mid-sized strawberries that are best for strawberry pies, according to her rules.

However, strawberries for pies must be not only mid-sized, they must also be fully ripened (but not over-ripened). They must have a consistency of firmness and texture—which she insists translates into a consistency of flavor and sweetness—that makes them indistinguishable, one from another, in an individual pie (which apparently is the point).

When Andrew and I arrived home with the strawberries, the first thing Andrew’s mother did was personally sort the strawberries. Small strawberries were set aside and placed in the refrigerator. Large strawberries were set aside and placed in the refrigerator.

After this first round of sorting was completed, Andrew’s mother did a second round of examination. Each strawberry was checked for firmness and ripeness, and only about half of the remaining strawberries were deemed “useful” for pies after this second cut.

After this second sorting, Andrew’s mother put all of the strawberries into the refrigerator, and Andrew and I were instructed to get to work.

Andrew and I were assigned the task of preparing the largest strawberries—those Andrew’s mother had deemed useful only for eating with sugar and cream in a bowl.

Andrew and I were told exactly how to wash and de-stem the large strawberries, we were told exactly how to slice the large strawberries (which must be sliced in a very particular way—and with the very sharpest of knives so that the strawberries do not “bruise”) and we were told exactly how to package the large strawberries (some of which were to be stored in the refrigerator for a few days, but some of which were to be stored “for up to two weeks, but no more than two weeks” in the freezer).

When Andrew and I were done with the large strawberries, we were given the task of dealing with the small strawberries intended for jam.

We were told exactly how to wash and de-stem the small strawberries and we were shown exactly how to look for imperfections in the strawberries and how to remove them. (The strawberries for jam were to remain whole.)

While we were working first on the large and then on the small strawberries, Andrew’s mother was preparing nine pie crusts (of all the strawberries we brought home, there were only enough “useful” strawberries for nine pies, or so she judged).

Andrew’s mother is so serious about her strawberry pies that she uses a unique piecrust solely for strawberry pies. It is a crust completely different from her other piecrusts. It is thicker and heavier, and baked differently, and provides what she says is the ideal foundation for her strawberry filling.

While the crusts were baking, Andrew’s mother did her third and final sorting of the strawberries intended for the pies. She divided them into nine groups, matching them for color, texture, size and firmness. Each pie was to have its own particular selection of strawberries.

It was only at this point that she washed and stemmed the pie strawberries herself, and sliced them according to her exacting specifications. When her pie strawberries met her satisfaction, she put the strawberries in the refrigerator and set to work on the filling.

The filling is very complicated, because she makes it in four different steps. After each step in the process, the filling must be cooled to room temperature before the next step begins.

I have always been surprised by some of the ingredients that go into the pie filling. Cream of tartar is used in one of the steps. Fresh lemon juice is used in one of the steps (and NO hint of lemon may be discerned in the final result—the lemon is present in order to enhance the flavor of the strawberries). Cornstarch is used in one of the steps. A very small amount of unflavored gelatin is used in the final step, after which the filling is refrigerated for nine—and exactly nine—minutes, at which point the filling is poured over the strawberries, already nestled carefully in their pie shells.

If this is done correctly—and it WAS done correctly—there is no seepage of strawberry filling into the piecrusts.

Only at this point were the pies done, and placed in the refrigerator in order for the filling to reach the desired consistency.

While the pies were in the refrigerator, all three of us attended to the mid-sized strawberries that had been deemed “not good enough” for the pies.

These strawberries were washed and stemmed, and sliced, and coated in sugar, and then packaged and frozen “for future use”. I think that “future use” means accompaniment for ice cream.

By the time all this was done, it was 3:30 p.m.—and Andrew and I had further work to do.

Andrew’s mother kept two strawberry pies at home, but the other seven pies were to be delivered to friends and family members—and Andrew and I were to be the deliverymen.

We had seven stops to make, no one of which was far from home. However, we wanted to get the seven deliveries accomplished in two hours or less, because we wanted to be back home by 5:30 p.m., when Andrew’s father would be home from work—and Alex, too, since he was joining us for dinner again.

Andrew’s mother had not told anyone in advance about the pies—after all, she had had no idea how many strawberries might be “useful” and how many pies might result—and Andrew and I were under strict instructions with regard to the order of our deliveries and what to do if no one was at home at a given house (“ move on, and move down the list”). There were ten names on the list, three more than there were pies, and the extra names were necessary in the event that people were out for the afternoon and, as a result, had to be passed over. (One may hardly leave, unannounced, a strawberry pie upon someone’s doorstep in the summer months.)

Happily, everyone on the list was at home, so Andrew and I had to make only seven stops. We had to limit ourselves to ten minutes of visiting at each house, which the pie recipients kindly understood, knowing that there were other pies to be delivered in addition to their own.

The seventh and last stop on our route was Alec and Lizbeth’s house, where we dropped off their dessert for the evening. We saw the kids for a few minutes, but we were not able to stay for long.

We made it back home by 5:35 p.m., right about the time we intended.

And our dessert tonight WAS strawberry pie.

The pies were perfection. Each of us ate two pieces (and sent the remainder home with Alex).

The main course tonight was pot roast, served with mashed potatoes, green beans, parsnips, red cabbage and Andrew’s mother’s special version of Waldorf salad.

While Andrew and I washed and dried the dishes, Andrew’s mother announced that she was going to make jam with the small strawberries Andrew and I had prepared this morning.

When she said that she was going to make the jam tonight, I was flabbergasted. I remember my grandmother making strawberry jam when I was a child, and it was a complicated, multi-hour project, and I mentioned this.

“That’s because she was making preserves, designed to last for up to a year, which is far more difficult than what I am about to do. I am going to make a simple fresh jam, nothing more, which must be used within a week” was the response I received.

And Andrew and I watched his mother prepare the jam while we continued to wash and dry the dishes.

It was not an arduous process, largely because the strawberries themselves had already been prepared this morning. The strawberries had to be cooked with sweeteners and bonding agents, but the process was nothing like what I had observed my grandmother do many years ago. In comparison to my grandmother’s preserves, the jam tonight was a snap.

Andrew’s mother made enough jam to fill fifteen jars—and she has already compiled her list of jam recipients. One jar will stay home, one jar went home tonight with Alex, and in the morning Andrew and I will take one jar over to Alec and Lizbeth’s, where we plan to take care of Alec’s lawn tomorrow so that he will not have to worry about lawn work this coming weekend.

Andrew’s mother plans to deliver the other twelve containers herself, and she plans to do so tomorrow.

She said it may take all morning.

The fresh jam will go to people who did not get strawberry pie today.

I hope they don’t feel cheated.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Wednesday With The Kids

Andrew’s niece and nephew came over today to spend the day with us (of course, their mother came, too—she had to, as neither Tim nor Helena has been issued a valid Minnesota driver’s license and cannot get around on their own).

They came over around 10:00 a.m., and we all immediately set out for the park.

The park is only four blocks away, and we walked over, except for Andrew’s niece, who was in a stroller.

It was a beautiful morning, a perfect morning for a visit to the park.

We walked all through the park, and played with Andrew’s nephew on the swings and slides and merry-go-rounds set up for small children. Andrew’s mother and Lizbeth sat with the baby in the shade while Andrew and I (and the dog) played with Tim. We had a marvelous time.

It was the second park visit of the day for the dog—Andrew and I had had to take him to the park for a romp at 5:45 a.m., too, as he always demands an early-morning visit to the park whenever we are home.

We went home for lunch. We had chicken-salad sandwiches—a particular chicken-salad that Tim especially likes—and we enjoyed the sandwiches with Amish sweet pickles and Amish pepper salad, both of which are to die for. Andrew’s niece had a lunch of chicken broth, pureed peas and pureed pears.

After the kids had had their afternoon naps, we played out in the back yard for the balance of the afternoon. Andrew and I played kickball with Tim all over the back yard while Andrew’s mother and Lizbeth and the baby watched from the shade.

Andrew’s brothers joined us for dinner. Gathering for dinner on Wednesday nights has become the custom since they returned to Minneapolis.

Andrew’s mother prepared a pork loin baked in a coating of cranberries and special seasonings. She served the loin with stuffing, lima beans, white corn, glazed carrots and a tomato-cucumber salad. For dessert, she had made an apple pie, which we ate with a cinnamon sauce and ice cream.

Helena had a dinner of pureed lima beans (which she seemed to like), pureed glazed carrots (which she also seemed to like), and pureed cooked cranberries. She also had ice cream and a tiny bit of pureed apple pie (which she liked very, very much).

Everyone departed at 8:00 p.m., because the kids have to turn in early and because Alec and Alex have work tomorrow.

Andrew and I spent the remainder of the evening doing the dishes and cleaning up the kitchen and talking with Andrew’s mother and father about many, many things.

Tomorrow will be devoted to strawberries. Andrew’s mother has a source that supplies her with exceptional strawberries, and she has decided to make use of the available strawberries tomorrow.

Andrew and I will help her.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Further Adventures In British Dentistry

Presenting . . .

The Merchant Quartet Of London

Please enlarge in order to derive full enjoyment.

This photograph is priceless.

Helping Andrew's Mother

Since we got back from the lake on Sunday evening, Andrew and I have been helping Andrew’s mother.

Yesterday morning, Andrew and I engaged in a major bout of food shopping, visiting three different food stores in order to stock up for the week. We brought home enough food to feed forty persons for a fortnight.

Minneapolis has excellent food stores, the finest I have seen anywhere. The stores are very spacious and very well-designed—and very upscale—and are comprehensively stocked, as well as stocked with items of the highest quality. There are no comparable food stores in Boston.

Yesterday afternoon, Andrew and I did yard work. We mowed the grass, trimmed the edges, weeded a couple of flowerbeds, and attended to shrubbery. The work took us all afternoon.

This morning, we ran additional errands for Andrew’s mother.

This afternoon, we gave the dog a bath and took him to the veterinarian for his six-month appointment. He had his hips and joints examined, as German Shepherds must.

The dog is fine. The dietary supplements he began taking last year and the mild anti-inflammation medications he was prescribed at the time seem to be doing the trick in addressing his mild arthritis as well as preventing onset of hip dysplasia.

The veterinarian assured us that the dog should have no problems for a few more years. It will be in the last year of the dog’s life, the veterinarian said, that problems with the dog’s arthritis and joints will begin to cause discomfort and impair his mobility. It is to be hoped that continued use of anti-inflammation medications shall be sufficient to address the dog’s needs until he dies peacefully in his sleep at some grand old age.

If they receive good care, German Shepherds generally enjoy a lifespan of twelve-to-fifteen years.

Rex is now nine years old. The veterinarian told us that Rex should be completely fine for at least three more years. However, at age twelve, thirteen or fourteen, Rex will begin to experience deterioration in his mobility and, within twelve months of that event becoming significant, will probably die of old age (unless humans must intervene and administer an end to his suffering sooner).

I don’t know what Andrew’s mother would do without Rex. He is at her side all day. He keeps her company no matter what she’s doing.

If she’s cooking, he sits down on the kitchen floor and watches her. She always talks to him while she’s cooking (and generally offers him tidbits of whatever she is preparing).

If she’s cleaning the house, he follows her from room to room and watches her.

If she’s running errands, she takes him with her (unless one of the stops will be a prolonged one).

If she’s at the computer, he sits on the day bed alongside and snoozes.

Whenever she goes to see her grandchildren, he goes with her.

In the evenings, the dog sits between Andrew’s parents in the kitchen while they sit and talk, or read, or listen to music. They talk to him while he sits between them, and pet him all night.

It will be a great loss, for Andrew’s mother and for everyone, when the dog is no longer with us.

Now that the dog is nine years old, or about two-thirds through a normal life span, everyone realizes that he has less time in his future than in his past. Occasionally we comment upon this fact.

It is very sad even to contemplate life without Rex. His character and personality are as distinct as those of a human being. He is very loveable, and undyingly loyal. He’s also a great deal of fun.

When Rex leaves us, Andrew’s parents will not get another dog.

Instead, after Rex is gone, Alec and Lizbeth plan to get a dog. That way Tim and Helena will be able to grow up with their own dog in their own household.

Tomorrow, Tim and Helena will come over to spend the day with Andrew and me and Andrew’s mother—as well as the dog.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Adventures In British Dentistry

"Adventures In British Dentistry" is a new, ongoing series I am starting here at Joshua And Andrew.

Only the choicest specimens will be on offer for the delectation of my readers.

The above photograph has not been altered or enhanced in any way. It is a real photo of its subject, David Nice, of London.

It is a very brave man--as well as an alarmingly fruity one--who would display himself in such a way and then publicize the repelling results.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

My Final Updated List

On August 24, 2008, I listed the theater performances Andrew and I had attended between February 2006 and the end of August 2008. By my tally, the total was forty-eight, quite a large number of theater performances over a period as short as two-and-a-half years.

Since August, Andrew and I have attended another thirteen theater performances.


William Nicholson’s “Shadowlands”, at The Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis

Joan Didion’s “The Year Of Magical Thinking”, at The Lyric Stage Company, Boston

Emlyn Williams’s “The Corn Is Green”, at The Huntington Theatre Company, Boston

The John Kander-Fred Ebb-Joe Masteroff musical, “Cabaret”, at New Repertory Theater Company, Watertown

Peter Shaffer’s “Equus”, at the Broadhurst Theatre, New York

The Richard Rodgers-Oscar Hammerstein II-Joshua Logan musical, “South Pacific”, at The Vivian Beaumont Theater, New York

Tennessee Williams’s “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof”, at The Lyric Stage Company, Boston

John Ford’s “Tis Pity She’s A Whore”, at Center Stage, Baltimore

Anton Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard”, at Everyman Theater, Baltimore

William Inge’s “Picnic”, at Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham

Charlotte Jones’s “Humble Boy”, at Publick Theatre, Boston

Noel Coward’s “Design For Living”, at The Shakespeare Theatre, Washington

Matthew Lombardo’s “Looped”, at Arena Stage, Washington


Our rate of theater-going has been cut in half since we moved to Boston.

This has been so for two reasons.

First, Andrew and I have not had much free time since we moved to Boston.

Second, Boston, unlike the Twin Cities, is not a theater town. The quality of Boston’s professional theater productions is distressingly low. Theater-lovers in the Twin Cities have no idea how lucky they are to have The Guthrie.

The best production from the above list was “The Cherry Orchard”, performed by a small (albeit professional) theater company in Baltimore. The worst production was “The Year Of Magical Thinking”.

Andrew and I still have not seen any Ibsen or Stoppard plays, a situation I noted back in August. One would think, of sixty-one productions, that at least one Ibsen play and one Stoppard play would have been encountered.

The only play Andrew and I have seen in more than one production is “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof”. Having now seen the play twice within a reasonably short period of time, we probably will want to give the play a rest for a few years.

This summer, we plan to attend a J. B. Priestley play at The Guthrie (the production just opened), but otherwise Andrew and I have no theater performances on our schedule.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

And Another One . . .

On December 29, 2008, I listed the orchestra concerts Andrew and I had attended between February 2006 and the end of last year. According to my list, we attended twenty-three orchestra concerts during that three-year period.

In the last six months, Andrew and I have attended another five orchestra concerts.


New York Philharmonic
Avery Fisher Hall
New York

Riccardo Muti, Conductor
Thomas Quasthoff, Baritone

Haydn: Symphony No. 89
Haydn: Four Arias From The Operas
Brahms: Serenade No. 1


London Symphony Orchestra
Symphony Hall

Valery Gergiev, Conductor
Alexei Volodin, Pianist

Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 (“Emperor”)
Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5


Boston Symphony Orchestra
Symphony Hall

Charles Dutoit, Conductor
Lisa Batiashvili, Violinist

Ravel: “Mother Goose” Suite
Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No. 2
Stravinsky: Petrouchka [Complete Ballet] [1911 Version]


Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall

Yan Pascal Tortelier, Conductor
Vadim Repin, Violinist

Brahms: Violin Concerto
Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5


The National Philharmonic Of Russia
Symphony Hall

Vladimir Spivakov, Conductor
Denis Matsuev, Pianist

Liadov: The Enchanted Lake
Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 1
Tchaikovsky: Romeo And Juliet
Prokofiev: Four Excerpts From “Romeo And Juliet”


Next school term, there are seven subscription concerts of the Boston Symphony that hold some appeal for us, but Andrew and I probably will not make it to all seven concerts.

We certainly do not plan to miss next season’s Boston appearances by the Berlin Philharmonic and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra.

Another Updated List

On October 23, 2008, I made a list of the opera performances Andrew and I had attended between February 2006 and October 2008. That list revealed that we had attended eleven opera performances during the period.

This particular list is very easy to update. We have attended only one opera performance since October 2008:

Peter Illich Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, performed by The Metropolitan Opera

I can take or leave opera. Indeed, I would be happy to go years without hearing another opera performance.

Lucky for me, Boston is not an opera town. The city has two small opera companies, neither highly-regarded, and Andrew and I are happy to skip their presentations. Our lone experience last year with one of the Boston companies was exasperating.

Next season, the two Boston companies will offer productions of Strauss’s “Ariadne Auf Naxos”, Bizet’s “Carmen”, Offenbach’s “The Grand Duchess Of Gerolstein”, Mozart’s “Idomeneo”, Rossini’s “Tancredi”, Britten’s “The Turn Of The Screw” and Zhou Long’s “The White Snake” (a world premiere).

As things stand now, I think Andrew and I plan to skip them all.

The only opera performance in our near-term future will be next month, when we will attend a performance of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” at Theater An Der Wien in Vienna. “Don Giovanni” at Theater An Der Wien will be a new production, with an international cast, and I actually look forward to it.

Updating My Lists . . .

I am a maker of lists, and I have decided that the summer months present a good opportunity to update my lists.

On December 14, 2008, I listed the ballet performances Andrew and I had attended from February 2006 through mid-December 2008. The list was not a long one—we had attended only seven ballet performances during that period, a period that covered almost three years—but our pace of ballet attendance has increased significantly since we moved to Boston in August 2008. Indeed, three of the seven ballet performances that appear on my list from December 14, 2008, occurred after our temporary relocation to Boston.

Since December’s list, we have attended another six ballet performances, almost as many as we had attended the previous three years. In fact, we almost attended a seventh ballet performance in the last few months, but we had to skip Boston Ballet’s “The Sleeping Beauty” owing to my study schedule.

Boston has a fine ballet company, while Minneapolis does not. Consequently, Andrew and I have decided to continue to take advantage of our presence in Boston by attending as many Boston Ballet programs as we can.

Next school term, we plan to catch four programs by Boston Ballet: “Giselle”; “The Nutcracker”; “Coppelia”; and an all-Balanchine program.

It is possible that we may catch one or two New York City Ballet programs next term, too.

Below are the ballet performances Andrew and I have attended since my earlier list.


New York City Ballet
New York State Theater
New York

Chiaroscuro (Francesco Geminiani/Lynne Taylor-Corbett)
Papillons (Robert Schumann/Peter Martins)
Concerto DSCH (Dmitri Shostakovich/Alexei Ratmansky)
Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet (Johannes Brahms-Arnold Schoenberg/George Balanchine)


Miami City Ballet
City Center
New York

Square Dance (Antonio Vivaldi-Arcangelo Corelli/George Balanchine)
Rubies (Igor Stravinsky/George Balanchine)
Symphony In C (Georges Bizet/George Balanchine)


New York City Ballet
New York State Theater
New York

Swan Lake (Peter Illich Tchaikovsky/George Balanchine)
The Steadfast Tin Soldier (Georges Bizet/George Balanchine)
“Romeo And Juliet” Balcony Scene (Sergei Prokofiev/Sean Lavery)
Slaughter On Tenth Avenue (Richard Rodgers/George Balanchine)


Boston Ballet
Wang Theatre

Emeralds (Gabriel Faure/George Balanchine
Rubies (Igor Stravinsky/George Balanchine)
Diamonds (Peter Illich Tchaikovsky/George Balanchine)


Boston Ballet
Wang Theatre

The Prodigal Son (Sergei Prokofiev/George Balanchine)
Spectre De La Rose (Carl Maria Von Weber/Mikhail Fokine)
Afternoon Of A Faun (Claude Debussy/Vaslav Nijinsky)

[By design, Andrew and I skipped the final work on the program, a new staging of “The Rite Of Spring”.]


The Royal Ballet
Kennedy Center Opera House

Manon (Jules Massenet/Kenneth MacMillan)


I’m not sure I even like ballet, but I certainly like some of George Balanchine’s work, and I certainly appreciate the level of artistry at New York City Ballet, a company that can dance rings around every other company I have seen.

A week ago, when I saw The Royal Ballet for the first time, I was dumbfounded how SLOW and HEAVY and IMPRECISE the dancing was. The Royal Ballet was the very antithesis of New York City Ballet, a pack of mules compared to thoroughbreds.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Fourth!

Childe Hassam (1859-1935)
Allies Day, May 1917
National Gallery Of Art, Washington

Oil On Canvas
36 1/2 Inches By 30 1/4 Inches