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Sunday, July 29, 2018

Inner Grace

How can you tell if you have inner grace?

What are its signs?

Oh, I get it. It's one of those things

that you're better off not thinking of.

Striving for it gets you nowhere.

Peering inward to see if it's there

reveals little.


Everyone wants it—don't they?—

but I think you can recognize it

only in others.

She has inner grace.

You have it.

But the statement doesn't work

when translated

into the first person singular.

The best we can hope for is, say,


Perhaps serenity.

Maybe non-fractious relations with others

(with relations, for example).

For the rest, just let it go.

Don't think about it.

Hope that someone notices and will say,

after the fact,

Y'know, I always felt she had an inner grace.

That's your validation,

though you may have to be dead

to receive it.



Copyright © 2018 Ann Tudor
Food blog:

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Hot, Hotter, Hottest

This heat. This heat. You'd think a child of the Midwest would understand it. Would welcome, even, the opportunity to re-experience the discomforts of childhood.


On hot, humid days like this, the five of us children (long before the sixth was born) would wander along the short, untraveled asphalt road beside our house. At the edges of the road, where the tar was thinnest, it would blister into black bubbles that we popped with our toes. Could we have popped them with our fingers? Or a stick? In my mind it is eternally our toes that do the popping, and the soles of our summer feet were black with tar. This was before I was six, for when I was six we moved to the house on Wilson Street where we lived (always renting, never buying) until after I had married and moved to—talk about heat—the Southern U.S.


 When I was a teenager I enrolled in the 4-H Club for its summer workshops that taught farm boys how to raise livestock and farm girls how to cook and sew. The programs were open to the town kids as well (there were no "cities" in our county), since the same futures (farming and "homemaking") were in the cards for most townies as well.


Each year the projects became more difficult, with the idea that during five years of 4-H you would progress from muffins to biscuits and on to three-layer cakes. The boys would start with a shoe-box of baby chicks and in five years would be raising calves for the market. What the organizers failed to take into consideration in their programming—or maybe they knew it all along—was adolescent laziness. How many projects were handed over to the mothers the day before, say, that finished garment was due?


For my final year of 4-H sewing I made a slim lilac linen dress, sleeveless, with a mandarin collar. Instead of a back zipper or a front closure, the pattern I chose called for a row of one-inch buttons that ran from the left armpit to the hem. Probably a dozen buttons in all. It was not the best pattern for many reasons, but I'm sure I picked it out myself, probably against my smart mother's wise advice. Buttonholes were, of course, to be hand-made. You slit the fabric precisely (twelve times) and covered the raw edges using the aptly named buttonhole stitch. Twelve times. Twelve times faultlessly.


I have no idea how many buttonholes I actually completed on my own. Two, maybe? But the deadline was near. My mother, a skilled seamstress who dressed her three daughters until we went off to college, was torn between the horror of watching my clumsiness, my grubby fingers (it was hot, remember, summertime in Indiana), my lack of patience and my waning interest in the task—torn between that horror and the shaming possibility of cheating by helping me out. Faced with hand-finishing ten more buttonholes in one evening, I was all for the cheating.


The buttonholes got finished and the dress was submitted. I doubt very much whether I was sufficiently grateful for Eileen's work. It would take a lot of gratitude to compensate for the hours (on deadline, remember?) she spent finishing those stupid buttonholes.


On the other hand, who knows how much truth there is to this version of the story? It's how I remember it, but as you age, memories become nothing but anecdotes carved in granite; the actual memories are gone. So maybe I finished all twelve of those buttonholes by myself and my present self-flagellation is pointless.


What I do remember fully is how we dressed in the summer heat. This was the late 40s and early 50s. Dresses were what we wore, of course, not pants, for school and for all kinds of public gatherings (church, bridal or baby showers, parties). Stylish crinolines poufed out our full skirts, which fell from tight bodices.


So here you are. You're wearing a bra, a full-length nylon slip, a dress with a tight-fitting bodice and a full swing-y skirt held out by a scratchy, highly starched crinoline of tiered stiff muslin. You are wearing stockings (hosiery) that will be ruined above the knee by the rubbing of the starched crinoline. The stockings are held up by a garter belt or, more likely, are attached to the four rubber-and-metal fasteners dangling from your girdle, which is rubbery and not made for breathing in any sense of the word.


You are wearing dressy shoes. And just before you leave the house, you slip onto your already sweating hands a pair of thick white cotton gloves, which you will of course wash immediately once you get home so they will dry in time for your next outing. For true elegance you might prefer to wear your lacy white crocheted gloves, which will leave patterned indentations on your hands when you remove them.


The weather, just so you know, is in the high 90s, and the humidity is such that after you take a shower (in our house a bath, since we had no shower) you might as well save yourself the effort of drying off, because you won't be able to tell the difference between wet-from-the-bath and wet-from-the-weather.


I try to remain aware of the cultural requirements of my past as I complain crankily about this summer's heat waves in Toronto. Even when I am dressed for an outing, my clothing does not include a girdle, stockings, or white gloves--for which I am most grateful.



Copyright © 2018 Ann Tudor
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Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Mucus Factory

For 48 hours my sinuses were a mucus factory. Had they been part of the Great Leap Forward in China (or was that the USSR?), they would have been awarded a gold star for efficiency.


I blew my nose every three minutes, quite productively, if you will excuse my saying so. In fact, I ask you to excuse this whole essay. Lady-like it is not. And yes, this very phrase is part of where I am going: "It is not."


In our house, Eileen, my mother, was a stickler for respectability. Being Irish, she knew the distinction between lace-curtain Irish and shanty Irish, and it was clear that of the two she preferred the former. Certain words were forbidden to us because of perceived vulgarity. One of these was "liar." We were forbidden to call each other liars—even when the evidence was clear that one of those three brothers was not telling the truth. Was prevaricating, in fact. Which in my book made him a liar. But I couldn't call him a liar without getting into even bigger trouble myself.


"Fool" was another one. I have been told that a passage in the New Testament cautions us against calling anyone a fool. By extension, I assume it also means don't aim critical words at others. But our Eileen settled for a literal interpretation: we could call each other stupid, or an idiot, or a moron—but not a fool.


With regard to respectability and decorum, one of Eileen's forbidden words was snot. Now, I understand her aversion. Snot has to be one of the ugliest words in the language—both the word itself and what it describes. Well, tell six raucous, word-happy kids that they can't use the word snot, and immediately the contraction "isn't" leaves the room. In its place is the other contraction: "It's not!" "Eileen, he said snot!" "No, I didn't, I said 'It's not!'" Dozens of times a week we would flout her rule, all while remaining within the bounds of good grammar. What thorns we were in her side.


To return to my own over-productive mucus membranes, as I lay on my sick-bed (sat, actually, since I had to remain upright or the mucus--it's not snot, surely--would drip down the back of my throat and make me cough), as I say, I sat in bed as the symptoms flew by: now a fever! Now chills! But never a respite from the mucus factory's production.


I often refer to my husband as a hoarder—mainly because I like to call a spade a spade. But during the course of that cold I forgave him his hoarding instincts because we never came close to running out of tissues. Every three minutes I filled another one. And then another. Thanks to his foresight, an empty tissue box was immediately replaced by a full one.


I have a friend who has tissue issues, seeing them as an assault on trees. In her house she provides handkerchiefs for those who might otherwise reach for a tissue. That's all well and good. But I remember the days of handkerchiefs, those days before tissues were available. I remember the importance of carrying a clean one, and I remember washing and ironing them. Let me tell you that when one is attacked by a vicious virus, one is overjoyed to be able to throw away the evidence, bagful after bagful.


Which leads me to the very strange fact that in Toronto's recycling program tissues are collected as compost, not as paper. The compost the city collects is piled high and composted for a year or two before it is distributed to city gardeners. Are you comfortable knowing that my week's worth of exceedingly germ-y tissues are now in the city's compost pile?


This was a virulent virus. On the Monday night I took a Sudafed to dry up the mucus factory temporarily so I could get some sleep. It's been a long time since I took a Sudafed. Either I've forgotten, or they've changed the formula. But it is now a mucus-dryer AND a stimulant. I took one tablet at eight in the evening and was wide awake (and sitting up, remember) for the whole night. I spent the next day, Tuesday, still sitting in bed in a haze of pain (overstuffed sinuses and nasal passages) and fatigue. I couldn't sleep for long because I would wake myself by coughing or sneezing. But I did sleep a little, overwhelmed by boredom. Next day, headache. Fuzzy and weak vision. Cotton brain. Where did this wicked virus come from?


And then it went away—not as quickly as it came, but I'm not going to complain. I began sleeping all night, the mucus factory closed down, and gradually my energy returned. It's not over (it isn't over) till it's over—but right now I'll settle for almost-over.

Copyright © 2018 Ann Tudor
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Sunday, July 8, 2018

The Old and the New

I know little about Henry David Thoreau beyond the most basic biographical information (not ever having read Walden, though I admire it immensely in my ignorance). Despite my admiration, I take offense at these words of his that I recently came across: "What old people say you cannot do, you try and find that you can. Old deeds for old people, and new deeds for new."


Now wait just a cotton-pickin' minute, Mr. Thoreau. I am overly sensitive to the "o" word; I'll admit that freely. And I will also point out that things have changed since your day. There was once a time when the forward momentum was a gentle stroll instead of today's NASCAR race. There was a need, perhaps, to remind the "old" to stand back and allow new ideas to flourish.


But today's society, in its unholy haste to be first with the new, has thrown the baby (old knowledge) out with the bathwater. If it isn't new, we say, it isn't worth having/knowing/learning. Our children are so focused on obtaining the latest app and the latest version of whatever is being hyped that they don't have time to reflect on what might have been. This is literally true. They don't have time. All of their time is spoken for. Ding: answer this text. Ding: answer this text. Ding: answer this text.


So what are they missing that they might be able to learn from Thoreau's "old people"? Just right off the top of my head I can give you a short list: how to listen. How to notice. How to sit still for more than 30 seconds. How to breathe. How to see the murder of crows making its morning flight from eastern roost to feeding grounds in the west. (We made our own flight this morning from bedroom wing to kitchen wing to find our own feeding grounds.)


I'll stop my list there without going into the particulars of various crafts (how to knit, how to darn, how to cook, how to build a canoe, how to build a fire, make a chair, pluck a goose). To find out about skills that are on the edge of dying, the young have only to consult the old who, some might say, are also on that edge.


Let's try for a balance between the old and the new. In today's word we need to tie the old to the new like an anchor, to slow it to a more human rate of progress.


Copyright © 2018 Ann Tudor
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Sunday, July 1, 2018

Barking Dog; a fable

Barking Dog came by his name honestly. Some called him Fido, but anyone within hearing range of his property called him Barking Dog.


He said—he told anyone who asked—that he was a good guard dog. He said no intruders would ever get into his family's house becaue he scared them off. Critics pointed out that he didn't distinguish between friends and foes. He just barked at anything that moved. But he knew who he was: a guard dog.


Early on in his career as self-appointed watchdog, his barking would alert the family members, who rushed to the door to see what frightening event might be taking place. When they reached the door they saw that the mailman had just visited, or little Johnny was standing on the porch to see if his friend Larry could come out to play.


One day they gave a party and Barking Dog greeted each guest with non-stop barking. That was the turning point. The family had to admit that Barking Dog had no discernment and could not be counted on as a watchdog. They began to ignore his incessant warnings, vainly yelling "shut up!" whenever he began to bark.


So the night the burglars came, when Barking Dog did his level best to warn the family, no one even bothered to get out of bed to investigate. The burglars cleaned the house out, taking all the valuables they could carry—while Barking Dog barked his head off.


Moral: All watchdogs should be told the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf.


Copyright © 2018 Ann Tudor
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