my Steve Allen encounter

You no doubt remember the great comedian Steve Allen. He was brilliant and I miss him. Terry and I had the opportunity see him when we were living in Mountain View and he was at the comedy club in next-door Sunnyvale. It was a small, intimate space, which was nice.

Steve AllenSteve was a master of improv, and he engaged the audience. In that show he took questions from the audience. After getting the first question he said, “And what do you do for a living, sir?” The audience member said, “I’m a technical writer.” Given that I was a technical writer in those days as well, I applauded. Steve looked over in my direction. The stage lights were on and the house lights were off, so he couldn’t see me. But he looked over in my direction and said, “Why would someone applaud at the mere mention of the words ‘technical writer?'”

The Steve made phrase “mere mention” a thread throughout the rest of the show. So I was a contributor to that night’s performance.

That’s my Steve Allen encounter.

photo credit: Alan Light. cropped. Creative Commons License.

My Kitchen Year

mykitchenyearMy Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life
by Ruth Reichl
Random House (September 29, 2015), 352 pages
Kindle edition $14.99, Amazon hardcover $19.99
ebook borrowed from the Santa Clara County Library System

Ruth Reichl had been editor of Gourmet magazine for ten years when publisher Condé Nast suddenly decided to shut the magazine down. The shutdown was so sudden that the December issue, already sent to the printer, would not be published.

Reichl’s life suddenly changed. While the rest of her staff was out of work, she still had a book tour to complete for a recently published Gourmet title and a television show on which to put the finishing touches. After that she was at loose ends.

The irony of having been the editor of a food magazine was that she had very little time to cook. She writes:

quoteIt had been so long since I’d had time to really cook. For years I’d been sticking to familiar foods, rushing home from work to throw quick meals together for my family. Now I began roaming New York, exploring ethnic neighborhoods. On weekends I went upstate to our country house and haunted farmers’ markets, coming home laden with unfamiliar ingredients.

My Kitchen Year chronicles the emotional roller coaster of Reichl’s year following the closure of Gourmet. She interweaves accounts of her feelings and activities with recipes she made during that year. I very much enjoyed reading her story. The recipes didn’t grab me so much.

It’s a good thing I borrowed the book from the library rather than buying it.

the rules are strict

Pastor Kathleen said goodbye to us on 11 September. She had announced her retirement earlier in the summer, so we all knew that the day was coming. Attendance was high for the 10:30 service and the congregation was sad. Kathleen departed from the standard Pentecost green in favor of Advent blue. The parament on the lectern was the Alpha Omega symbol. Just as at the end of the three-part “All Good Things” that brought Star Trek: The Next Generation to a close, there was a conclusion and all was wrapped up. We had closure.

alpha omegaThat was a good thing, because in the Episcopal Church the rule is strict. The departing priest is not allowed to have contact with members of her former parish. There is good reason for this. It is important that we as a parish look forward and not back. We have a profile to write, a search committee to form, and a new rector to call. An interim priest who specializes in assisting congregations in this process will join us in due time.

I was never a high-maintenance parishioner. But I knew if I had a question, needed assistance, or just wanted to share something I could send Kathleen an email and I would get a prompt and helpful response. But no more. Kathleen knows the rules and would not respond to my email were I to send her one.

I will miss Pastor Kathleen. We all will. But the process is clear and the process tells us to move forward.

Sacred Music Friday: When the Morning Stars Together

The St. Olaf Choir and congregation sing the hymn “When the Morning Stars Together.” Words by Albert F. Bayly, arranged by John Ferguson. Anton Armstrong conductor.

Poet of the Appetites

poetoftheappetitesPoet of the Appetites: The Lives and Loves of M.F.K. Fisher
by Joan Reardon
528 pages
North Point Press, October 27, 2004
Amazon paperback $45.00, Hardcover – out of print

I was casting about for my next book to read when I noticed this one sitting on my shelf. It was a hardcover remainder that I had purchased more than ten years ago. It had somehow made the arbitrary and capricious cut of books that actually found their was here to Hemet in our move of last year.

You are probably familiar with the writer M.F.K. Fisher. She had many decades of success writing books and articles about food and travel. She was born Mary Frances Kennedy and her first husband was named Al Fisher. She first used the moniker M.F.K. Fisher when she published her first article in the Southern California auto club magazine and didn’t want her father, the editor of the local newspaper in Whittier, to know the article was hers. That attempt failed, but the pen name remained, even through two additional marriages.

The life the author lived is different from the life she portrayed in her writing. Biographer Joan Reardon tells us early in the first chapter:

quoteMary Frances also gradually realized that writing, like cooking, was not so much about the facts as it was about creating a certain kind of control over reality and power over the one who consumed. Whether it was at the stove or at the typewriter, spicing up a dish—blackberries on a bland pudding, extra curry in a stew—and embroidering a story would become her signature.

This theme is pervasive throughout the book. She went through three marriages, multiple affairs, missed deadlines, abandoned projects, and carrying the burden of keeping the family together at various times in her life. The reality is at odds, Reardon tells us, with the persona in her writing of the epicure living the good life.

The book, at 528 pages, is heavily documented and intricately detailed. Sometimes too detailed. Reardon, however, is a skilled writer and she moves the narrative forward at a brisk pace in spite of the detail. She engaged my attention and kept me turning the pages.

If you’ve ever wanted to know about the life of  M.F.K. Fisher this book will tell you just about as much as there is to know about her.

Lon Simmons

I miss baseball broadcaster Lon Simmons. He retired some years ago and died in April 2015.

Lon SimmonsFor many years he was the partner of Giants broadcaster Ross Hodges. In the years I knew him he was partner to Oakland Athletics broadcaster Bill King. Sadly, a new ownership group failed to renew his contract. In the last few years of his career he was a part-time broadcaster for the Giants again. He retired when he realized he was no longer quick enough to keep up with the play-by-play.

What I loved most about him was his dry wit:

“If you’re keeping score, that was a 6-4-3 double play. Even if you’re not keeping score that was a 6-4-3 double play.”

I loved Lon Simmons.

Dante’s Divine Comedy

divinecomedyDante’s Divine Comedy
William R. Cook, Ph.D. and Ronald B. Herzman, Ph.D.
The Great Courses
Audio download $34.95 when on sale
If the course is not on sale, check back – the sale price will come around again

This is a fascinating course. William Cook and Ronald B. Herzman are first-class lecturers. I very much enjoyed their course on St. Augustine’s Confessions. They are equally effective in discussing The Divine Comedy.

I have to admit never having read Dante. My three-volume Penguin Classics set disappeared somewhere along the way. I’m still not sure that I’ll carve out the time to read the work, but at least this course has given me a lot of insight into The Divine Comedy.

Cook and Herzman offer a lot of insight into this great work. They discuss how Dante meets both famous figures and figures involved in the local political strife of his time. He meets both historical and fictional characters, and he meets both Christians and Pagans. They discuss the intricate structure of the work, and that parallel structure between the books.

They point out that many people read only The Inferno and think that they have gained all Dante wants to say. They make clear that you need to also read Purgatorio and Paradiso to fully grasp Dante’s vision.

This is a marvelous introduction to the Divine Comedy.