Category Archives: Stories

Tolkien Reading Day

Photo credit: bernswaelz

Turns out yesterday was Tolkien Reading Day.  The Tolkien Society organized the first Tolkien Reading Day back in 2003.  If you’re a really big fan, you’ll know that March 25 was the day that the Black Tower was destroyed and Sauron, the Dark Lord was defeated.

Tolkien was a fascinating man.  Born in the late 19th century, he served in WWI, studied with honors at Oxford and then returned there as a professor.  He wrote many books and articles during his years of teaching, publishing The Hobbit when he was 45 and finishing the Lord of the Rings when he was close to his retirement.

I read The Hobbit the summer of 1973 while I was living in Northfield and working at The Ole Piper Inn.  All my Carlton friends were scattered for the summer months and my boyfriend was doing an internship in the Twin Cities; except for the weekends, I had a lot of time on my hands.  I had never read any fantasy prior to this, in fact didn’t really understand that there WAS fantasy.  It was still a subset of science fiction, and I hadn’t read much of that either.  After all these years, I don’t remember exactly why I decided to read The Hobbit, but within pages I was hooked.  I was not scheduled at the restaurant that night, and I just kept reading and reading.  I finished it the next morning, having not slept a wink.

The Hobbit turned out to be the door into the fantasy genre for me.  I immediately followed up with the entire Lord of the Rings triology, Piers Anthony, Terry Pratchett, Terry Brooks and on and on.  Then I found Ursula LeGuin and Anne McCaffrey who gave me the beginnings of my dragon fixation.  To this day, while I probably read more straight-up fiction, the fantasy genre is still my favorite.  And if I need “comfort” reading, that’s right where I go.

Tell me about a book that opened a door for you.

Skim vs. Powdered

Our discussion the other day about paper plates reminded me of stories that my folks used to tell about their early married life.  My dad was in basic training in North Carolina and my mom moved there to be close to him.  She taught gym part-time and they lived in a small trailer.  One of the stories they told me about how broke they were was that they couldn’t afford to buy a set of plates.  So not only did they eat on paper plates, they cut the paper plates in half!

By the time I came along, they were in better shape, although still not great; my dad was in law school with two part time jobs and my mom was forced to quit working the minute the school district found out she was pregnant!  As a kid, things were tight, not destitute, but definitely tight. One of the ways that my mom saved on groceries was by using powdered milk.  I still remember it after all these years, chalky and for some reason never seemed to get really cold.  I hated it.

At least once a month we had Saturday dinner at my grandparents’ house – hamburger and french fry night.  There were a lot of reasons that I liked to eat my Nana and Pappy’s; one of those reasons was that they had “real” milk.  It was always very cold because that’s the way Pappy liked it and there was always plenty.  They had a special half-gallon carton holder that looked like this:

When my younger sister started school and had “real” milk every day, she began refusing to drink the powdered milk at home.  While I hadn’t been brave enough to do this on my own, I quickly followed her lead and my mom gave up and began to buy “real” milk.  I started drinking skim about 30 years ago and I’m still a big milk drinker all these years later.  My mom doesn’t understand how I can drink skim and  has suggested more than once that I “might as well go back to powdered milk”.  Yes, after all these years, she still remembers how we “forced” her to buy milk.

My milkman told me yesterday when he was making our delivery that big local dairies are going to discontinue skim milk production for a bit.  Apparently skim milk requires more steps and production time; during our current crisis, trying to keep up with demand means cutting out skim so more easily produced milks can make it to market faster.  Who would have thought?  Guess I’ll be on a higher fat milk for a while.

Do you remember any meals you enjoyed at your grandparents’?

Felix or Oscar?

Today’s post comes to us from Minnesota Steve

The Odd Couple was a popular play that then became a hit movie and then became a television series that ran for five years. The original play, written by Neil Simon, features conflict between recent two divorcees who room together. Felix is a neat freak; Oscar is a slob who is comfortable being a slob. Essentially, the two characters are defined by their very different positions on the OCD scale. I particularly liked the movie. In it, fussy Felix was played by Jack Lemon, an actor who could do crankiness well. Oscar was played perfectly by Walter Matthau.

One reason I found the jokes appealing was how they mirrored my relationship with my favorite hunting and fishing partner, Bill. Bill was Felix; I was Oscar. Bill used to wear suspenders and a belt to keep his pants up; by contrast, I’ve been known to wear neither, with predictable results. We have been pals for over fifty years. Bill has gradually grown less uptight, while I have become somewhat more prepared. It has been the best friendship I ever had.

I was shocked to learn, when I was in my sixties, that I had slight OCD tendencies. One night I sat behind a woman during a small theatrical production. The tag on her blouse was sticking out. I found myself seriously tempted to tuck the tag out of sight. I didn’t, of course. Men who rearrange the clothing of women they don’t know might suffer harsh consequences. I couldn’t wait for that play to end because that loose tag was like a bit of grit in my eye.

When I moved to Michigan, a family friend helped set up in my new apartment. She donated glasses, silverware and furniture so the place would be livable when I arrived. To my disgust, I found myself freaked out by having “mixed” flatware. I lived for 48 years using nothing but the lovely Dansk flatware my erstwife and I got when we were married. After Nancy’s intervention, my elegantly stylish flatware shared a drawer with all kinds of alien forks and spoons from Walmart or who-knows-where. Every time I opened the silver drawer I was disgusted by the clash of styles. When I moved back to Minnesota I secretly dumped all the alien utensils.

So I’m still Oscar, but have a carefully hidden streak of Felix that only my best friends see.

How about you? Are you more slob or neatnik? Do you have enough OCD in you to be slightly bothered by it from time to time? Sitting in the doctor’s waiting area, did you ever straighten up the stacks of magazines?

Remaking Murder on the Orient Express

When they re-made Murder on the Orient Express a couple of years back, I made it a point to NOT go see it.  The Albert Finney version made in 1974 is a favorite of mine and you all know full well that I don’t generally like Hollywood to re-make my favorites.

But it’s been on tv lately, so I succumbed last week.  It wasn’t a good beginning as far as I was concerned and by the time it got to the discovery of Ratchett’s body (which was very weirdly and disorientingly shot from above), I was done.   Then a couple of nights ago, I thought “what the heck” and clicked it on.  By luck of the draw, it was right in the spot where I had turned it off before so I didn’t have to watch the first 25 minutes again.  I made myself watch it until the end.

For the most part I like Kenneth Branagh but his Poirot was dark and moody, something I didn’t expect.  The characters weren’t all the same and the two movies varied widely on how the interviews were done and the murder solved.  Not to mention a couple of wildly grandstanding moments like when Branagh is standing on TOP of the stalled train “thinking”.   This MOE just isn’t a good a film as the 1974.

The wide variations between the two films made me really stop and wonder.  Do I really know which of the two movies is closest to the book?  I have to admit that no, I do not.  I read Murder on the Orient Express in high school, which is when I read all the other Agatha Christie novels.  High school was a LONG time ago so I’ll have to say, except for the stunning “they all killed him” denouement at the end, I really don’t remember most of the book.

You know where this is going, right?  I’ve requested the book from the library to find out.  I’m hoping the 1974 version is closer to the book, but even if it isn’t, I’m pretty sure it will still be my favorite!

When was the last time you had to look something up to refresh your memory?  Any movie remakes that you actually LIKE?

My London Jumper

Last week, on what may very well have been the last below-freezing day we have this winter, I pulled what I lovingly refer to as “my London jumper” out of my closet. I bought this sweater over 30 years ago; it is black with various bright-colored threads woven through out – yellow, turquoise, red and blue.  It is a turtle neck and very warm so doesn’t get worn too often each winter.

When I went to London about 5 years back, I packed the sweater, thinking it might be a good thing for a chilly British evening (and, of course, it goes with anything). I did end up wearing it on the evening we visited the Aqua Shard, a restaurant on the 34th and 35th floor of The Shard, the tallest building in the U.K.   The group I was with had a few drinks and were coming down in the elevator when a young man (probably in his early 30s) noticed my sweater, or “jumper” as they say across the pond.  He gushed over my sweater, made sure everyone in the elevator noticed it and eventually put his arms around me and asked if I wanted to join his little group.  Obviously there was some alcohol involved.  I said no and at the end of the elevator ride, his group and mine went our separate ways.

I’ve told this story to a few folks over the years but last week, when someone asked me about it, they were horrified about the fact that I was “assaulted” (their word) on a work trip. Had I reported it in London?  Did I report it at work once I got home?  I feel strongly about the MeToo movement but I don’t believe that every time one person touches another, it is “assault”.  I was in a large group of people in the elevator, some of whom were with me, the young man was not aggressive, his hug did not include any kind of groping and importantly, when we got to the ground floor, he didn’t make any attempt to force me to go with his group.  I didn’t feel a moment of anxiety and I actually laughed at the time – not out of nervousness, but because I genuinely found the whole scenario funny.

So I still think of this sweater fondly as my “London jumper” as it reminds me of an amusing experience on a nice trip.

Does any of your clothing have a backstory?

Baboon Podcasts

Husband commented the other day that he thought the Baboons should make podcasts because we have so many  things to talk about and say to one another. It is an interesting idea. I don’t listen to podcasts. I probably would listen if I had a longer commute, but it takes me less than 5 minutes to get to work, and when I am at home I decompress by listening to music. I know that the topic has come up on the Trail before, and that  Baboons listen to them.

What podcasts do you listen to?  What sort of podcasts can you imagine Baboons creating?

Stuck!!

I know we’ve had “kindness of strangers” stories before, but here is another.

Took Guinevere to her doggie class Monday night.  The school is built on a hill and there are two parking areas, one up top that we’ve been warned is occasionally ticketed and the one that goes down the hill in the back.  I have always parked down the hill.

It was only about an inch of snow and I wasn’t very worried until I got down to the bottom of the hill and turned around to get into my favorite parking spot and slid a bit.  So I thought maybe I should park up top, just in case.  Now, you should know , I don’t have great tires, but I don’t have a great need for them, living on a well-plowed county road and surrounded by other well-plowed thoroughfares (50th, Crosstown, 35W, 100).  But this was one of those times when I needed better tires;  I could not get back up the hill.

There is a spot off the parking lot, behind a bank of garages and I thought “I’ll zip in there and when I come out I can get a little speed to get me up the hill”.  If I had really looked at the area I was about to enter, I would not have done this. It clearly hadn’t been plowed since the LAST snow – once I was back there, I could not get out.  And to add insult to injury, for some reason I did not have any gloves in my pocket.

In between the two halves of the class I tried shoveling out and did get the car moved closer to the parking lot, but then got stuck again.  When I went back inside and started to call AAA, Terry (one of the instructors) said “Let’s go take a look.”  He and John (who I had never met) came out, attached a big strap to the back of my car and basically pulled me out of the snow and all the way to the top of the driveway backwards.  I was able to park up top and finish doggie class!

I have a thank you card design in mind and I think I will deliver them with zucchini bread next Monday night.

What the last kindness you’ve received (or given)?