“Second Summer”

What do you call the sunny, warm dry New England weather after the first hard frost in late October or early November? I have always called it Indian summer and it has always evoked warm feelings about the season. This week we are experiencing a perfect example as you can see by the thermometer on the left(warm for November 3) and the dead sunflower on the right(remnant of a hard frost.) In fact it has been so warm the last few nights that Charlie had to take the storm window back off our bedroom window and reinstall the screen. Once he did that our sleep improved immensely.

Being the language nerd that you may know me to be, I tried to trace the etymology of the phrase “Indian summer.” There are many speculations about it but no consensus. Despite this, the American Meteorological people have stopped using the phrase, believing it offensive, and have substituted the earlier name “second summer.” It saddened me to see that among the possible reasons for the name, the weather reporters have decided that it must be offensive, gravitating to explanations that reinforce negative stereotypes.

Heaven knows there are many relics in American usage that are racist, including many names for geographic features of the landscape. I have no trouble giving such places kinder names. But when I think of Indian summer I think of Indian corn on the table with Indian pudding for dessert. All three bring me warmth and joy. I am happy to change all three labels if counseled by someone who actually knows they are offensive. Until then, I will smile each fall when we are visited by that warm spell after the killing frost. Whatever it is called.

“Pumpkin or Squash?”

When I was five I learned a riddle which made adults laugh. “How do you turn a pumpkin into a squash?” “Throw it up in the air and it will come down squash all right.” I really didn’t understand the joke, but I repeated it frequently enjoying the laughter.

In addition to being a banner year for apples, squash and pumpkins have been abundant this fall. Above from top clockwise: sugar pumpkin, butternut squash, butterkin squash and acorn squash. The butterkin is a cross of a pumpkin and butternut squash. I don’t know why it gets to keep the name squash. It could be a squashkin. I guess it doesn’t sound as marketable. Butterkin sounds rather endearing. Missing is the recently eaten spaghetti squash, so called because when cooked its inside comes out in strands.

While there are many ways to cook them, I have been using the air fryer for them recently. I cook the whole spaghetti squash, with a few fork holes for steam to release, in the fryer, turning it half way through. Once cooked and cooled the insides come out easily. The butternut, peeled, cut into little chunks with a little maple syrup added, roasts to perfection in the air fryer. The acorn works after being cut in half. I have yet to tackle either the pumpkin or butterkin. The regular oven will probably be best.

Living here and getting the CSA(community supported agriculture) has introduced me to a variety of new squash and pumpkins. And I finally understand the riddle. Sadly my grandchildren are old enough to groan when I ask it.

“A Was Once An Apple Pie”

If you have followed my blog for a while, you may remember that I bake four pies a year. Midsummer it is blueberry/peach. Thanksgiving it is pumpkin and mincemeat. But the fall highlight is the apple pie. Apples thrive in New England and we are able to buy varieties rarely seen in supermarkets. Above the filling contains Cortland, Pink Lady, Paula Red and Baldwin. They all came from the weekly produce bag we receive as part of our CSA(community supported agriculture)share. Apples are so abundant this fall that I may also make an apple crisp.

Apple pies take the longest to prepare of the four. The apples must be cored, peeled and sliced. Peaches dipped in hot water slip their skins more easily. I use pumpkin and mincemeat from jars, so they are the quickest. But knowing that I would be at it for a while, I turned on my music loud, sharpened my paring knife and went at it. Three pounds of apples filled the one above.

And as for music, thanks to modern technology, my Apple Ipad now plays “Elizabeth’s Station,” put together using some algorithm from my own collection stored there. Usually they get it right, introducing me to many artists I would never hear otherwise.

Cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon(just a bit)and those apple varieties make me wish blogs included a widget for “smell-a-vision.” Your imagination will have to suffice.

“Would You Find Out?”

I just finished a recent(2022) novel, The Measure by Nikki Erlick based on an intriguing premise. One evening every citizen on earth twenty-two or older receives a box with a piece of string in it. The string’s length tells the recipient how long their life will be. Some people look inside the box; others don’t. I found the premise more interesting than the novel, though it is entertaining. But it began a reflection of my own.

A friend in college lost her mother to Huntington’s disease. Here it is often referred to as the illness that took singer/writer/activist Woody Guthrie. This fatal neurological illness gradually destroys the brain in an cascade of devastating symptoms. The disease typically shows up in middle age. Although it is hereditary, a person may not know they carry the gene for the disease until they have already had children. My friend devoted her life to a study of the gene resulting in, among other things, a test to determine a carrier. Out of an abundance of caution she chose to be childless since the odds of passing on the gene are 50/50. She also chose to forgo the test. She chose to live with the uncertainty that brought.

Sometimes people are given a diagnosis that suggests a future length of life. Still, it is much less certain than either the Huntington’s test or the piece of string in The Measure. I put myself in the place of the characters in the novel and the situation of my friend. I have decided I would neither look at the string nor take the test. I prefer living each day as it comes, trusting the end is out of my control.

What would you do?

“Taking Off the Mask?”

Here in Connecticut Covid rates are again on the rise. Wastewater in our part of the country shows increased infections. Hospitals are beginning to see a slight rise in patients, the highest since February. But since so many people are testing and treating at home it is difficult to get a true reading of the risk right now. Our county is listed a “medium,” whatever that means. Meanwhile people are going about their lives, a vast majority without masks. And each week I learn of another person who has caught Covid. This has produced tug of war in me with my “I want to be safe” conflicting with my “I want to fit in.”

Sunday we decided to take off our masks in Mass for the first time in two years. It allowed the priest to make more than eye contact for a change. We like being expressive as we listen. As we settled into our pew a mother and her two adolescent sons took the seat directly behind us. And all three began to sniffle. And blow their noses. And cough. And cough. And cough. We had no idea what ailed them. We decided to switch seats though we had already had a viral bath.

Covid has given friends my age long lasting side effects. I really don’t want to catch it. A mask reduces, though not eliminates, my risk. The mask will stay on in public. I will continue to look like a duck with a long white bill. Quack!

“But Wait There’s More”

I just finished the newly released third book in the Thursday murder club series by Richard Osman. I ended it wondering why I had not enjoyed it as much as the first two. Was it the book or me? For one, the mystery centers around money laundering. The only money laundering I understand is when freshly washed and dried paper money appears in the dryer after someone has forgotten to empty their pockets. So perhaps it was the topic.

However, it may also be that it is difficult to create the same novelty in a series of books after the first one. This certainly applies to many writers as they try, reasonably enough, to recreate the success, particularly financial, of a best seller. In the case of mystery series, of which there are a multitude, this requires both an intriguing plot and a focus on character development. As a child I was content that Nancy Drew stayed the same throughout numerous “Clue” books, but I am less happy with stock characters now. I occasionally appreciate a series such as that of Janet Evanovitch numbered ones with their steady group of Stephanie, Joe and Ranger, but I want more most of the time.

At the moment the writer who seems best able to carry out both intriguing plots and growth in characters is Louise Penny, a Canadian author who sets her novels in a small town in eastern Quebec. While the novels stand alone, they benefit from being read in order. Penny gives attention to character as much as plot, and starting at the first allows the reader to really get to know each person.

How are your experiences with mystery series? Have you found any that are worth reading?

“Who Knew?”

The theme for my 70’s seems to be continuing to find out that I don’t know many things that I thought I knew. I guess I am old enough that I no longer feel the need of my younger years to know everything. Humility comes with age for sure (well, with some prominent political figures excepted.)

Collective Illusions: Conformity, Complicity and the Science of Why We Make Bad Decisions by Todd Rose, 2022, recently made me reconsider much of what I thought I knew about other peoples’ views. While the book and its research base are centered in the United States, the general principles he explores would likely apply in other countries.

His nonprofit research arm Populace (https://populace.org) details in length his process and its results. In essence he is interested in the discrepancy between what people believe and what they think other people believe. He poses two questions to each interviewee about current issues. For instance he would first ask if the person in concerned with climate change. Then he would ask how many other people the person thinks care about climate change. He finds that people vastly underestimate how many others share their viewpoints. He finds much more consensus around the United States on major issues than it appears, particularly in social media.

He stresses that the loudest voices on line on any issues are generally the far outliers on each end of the spectrum. Because they make the most noise it is easy to assume they are the majority. And of course the trolls, bots and menacing people on line work to silence opposing voices. Most of our voices are stilled as it turns out.

Both the web site and the book are worth an in depth look. While I still hesitate to post my political opinions, I am trying to be braver at least articulating them when I have the chance. I, like too many, have ceded the floor to the loudest. Surrendering to bullies is a poor life strategy that many of us have adopted. I hope for a clear way forward, now knowing so many of my preconceptions of other Americans are wrong.

“The Best Laid Plans”

I think that one of the universal truths about writing a blog is that every time a blogger says they are back writing, life interferes! In my case my husband got rebound Covid. Another car pool driver got Covid. High school started and required the last person(me) standing to drive. The plumbing had a glitch. Crickets invaded the house (one lucky, multitudes not.) The painters started painting the outside of our old home. This meant that at any moment a face was peering into the one window I thought I could freely walk in front of unclad. None of this supported the calm frame of mind I use to write.

Anyway I hesitate to say that I am back. I will say with confidence that I am posting today. I think I won’t tempt fate by predicting anything about tomorrow.

Hopefully yours…

“My American History:1962 version”

I have been reflecting on how history was taught to me. Writing about that will clarify further my responses to my recent history readings.

In 1962 I sat in assigned seats with about 25 other high school sophomores, a text similar to the one above in front of me before Mrs. L. with the same text open before her. We would have read several pages for our daily 55 minute class. She would talk over the same material. She didn’t expand on it, question it, or lead any discussion about it. She simply paraphrased the text. Every so often she would test us on our readings. The tests were usually multiple choice(The Missouri Compromise was about a. oxen, b. marriage,c. admitting new states to the Union,d. water rights.) I flew through the course, earning an “easy A” and assuming that I now knew American history.

EXCEPT–events that would prove to be seen as historic were taking place all around me. A Catholic had been elected President(he wasn’t killed until the following winter.) The Supreme Court had ordered that schools be racially integrated. Several years earlier troops had been brought into one state to enable “Negro” children to enter a high school. In May of the previous year our “advisors” to Viet Nam had increased. I learned all this from the Evening News with Walter Cronkite. I talked about these things with my friends.

But at Lincoln High’s American History class none of it was ever mentioned. In fact we only made it as far as the Great Depression before our school year ended. Mrs. L. bemoaned that “once again she hadn’t taught us about World War II.” Of course many of our fathers had already experienced it. But they weren’t talking either.

“Questioning What I Know”

It has seemed impossible to avoid confronting rampant ignorance about the United States constantly being spouted on-line by whoever is taking the time to post. I have often felt smugly comfortable that I knew U.S. history fairly well. But some time ago, I began to question what I actually did know. I picked up the book above, The Accidental President by A.J. Baime, and began to read about the first four months of President Harry Truman’s presidency from April through August 1945.

But first a clarifying point that might help you know me a little better. In high school, “English” class freely mixed authors from various places. In other words I read American writers in “English” class. When I arrived a totally clueless college freshman in 1960, I enrolled in English 10, the introductory course at Harvard at the time. An astute reader can predict what happened. I read Chaucer to Eliot(remember Eliot was still fairly “modern” in 1960.) Not an American author anywhere. To read them I would have had to take English 70. And I hadn’t. Accordingly I had to learn a great deal of English, not American, history.

My English major continued apace, as I read the War Poets, 19th Century English novels and so on. My reading of English history went along with the literature. I learned about monarchs, laws, enclosures, Prime Ministers, struggles with Ireland, political parties and so on. The same astute reader will now understand a problem about my knowledge of United States history.

The only time I formally studied American history was in 1962/1963 when I was 15. Keep that in mind as I begin to share my readings in the next several posts.