Monday, September 1, 2014


I went back to England via Miss Marple, Midsomer Murders, Foyle's War and a couple other Detective Chief Inspectors' adventures. My computer never cooled off from the instant streaming of the delightfully benign mayhem that underscores these British whodunnits.

One episode even took me to a llama farm in Wales. That brought back memories of my visit to Ruth Ruck in Carneddi some time around 1989.

Ruth was one of the first Anglo Saxons to own a camelid and her book, Along Came a Llama, set off a llama rage in the United Kingdom. The visit to Ruth, and other owners, was in aid of a feature story I was writing about the comparatively new phenomenon of camelid ownership for fun and profit.

Foyle, on the other hand, took me through the entirety of WWII and, oddly, the last episodes left me sharing almost the same sensations of being at the same sixes and sevens as the participants felt - the bombed, the bombers, the soldiers and the civilians. It was reminiscent of the wrap parties we used to have when our theater group ended a run. 

Time, tide and distance, I think, permit this ridiculous parallel. 

At any rate....I am all set for things to go back to normal. All my favorite news people (essentially Stewart and Colbert) should be back at the old stand tomorrow. And, soon, the weather will change and so will the color of the landscape.

Autumn arrives......and I persist. Pretty jolly, what?


Saturday, February 1, 2014

A Hair-raising Tale

Originally published March 7, 1985
The Village Times
Serving Three Villages, East Setauket, NY

One of the gratifying things about having nearly grown children is that their daily showers are on their agendas, not mine.

Lassoing one or the other for a bath and a shampoo and pleading for clean jeans and a sweater not stiff with vintage jelly are now just memories.

But, I keep forgetting nature abhors a vacuum. Now that I have real clean kids, there are new things to plague me.

I never really resent children borrowing things and not returning them. I know life is full of more important things to do. What I do resent is borrowing unborrowable things. Things that get used up and are gone forever.

Like shampoo.

Last night, I washed my hair in Woolite. It made me very cross....and frizzy.

I started to have a temper tantrum and then I reminded myself of my teen years....and my mother's tribulations.

At that age I only washed my hair when it was congealed. In pre-hair spray and mousse days everyone knew you couldn't do anything with clean hair. We probably never ran out of shampoo.

What did obsess me, however, were combs. I was forever combing my hair....probably because it was so dirty it kept parting on my ear, and I certainly wouldn't allow anyone to see my ear. It stuck out. The other one did, too.

It upset my mother that there was never a comb in the house. When I lost mine, naturally, I "borrowed" hers. Once she bought me a package containing a dozen combs. It may have lasted a week.

One night I came home from cheering practice and found my mother sitting in the kitchen with a rather tight-lipped expression. "Where is my comb?" she wanted to know. "Why do you ask? I hedged.

"Because I had an appointment in Manhattan today and, since I had to take the train, I thought it would be nice to comb my hair."

Well, it turned out she couldn't...... because I had taken the last comb. 

Unable to find so much as a hairbrush in the house, my mother finally combed her hair with a fork and boarded the train.

I guess I don't have it so tough. If I run out of Woolite, there's always lemon-fresh Joy.


Water With Personality

Jo Ann Law McGrath

From the Stone Soup Collection
The Long Island Advance, 1979


We have well water.

If you don't, you may miss the colorful implications of that statement.

It means we have orange sinks, tubs and toilets. It means that my dishes, tableware and cooking utensils have fascinating watermarks that vaguely resemble the patterns left on a sandy beach by a receding high tide.

It means that after boiling spaghetti for nine minutes it comes out of the pot a strange shade of mauve that clashes with my marinara sauce.

Our water has lots of body. It also has an unmistakeable odor that I once considered fragrant. As a city-bound youngster, trips to the country were pleasurable and the smell and taste of rural water always had happy associations for me.

The smell of OUR water is so strong that it should have the capacity to make me delirious with joy. But it's such a STEADY heady thing that it has lost some of its charm.

A couple of years ago, we decided anything as benign as water perhaps shouldn't smell so evil, so we had it tested. It was deemed perfectly potable but, just as we had suspected, it contained enough minerals for us to start a mining operation. Unfortunately, the only thing we mine is rust.

As a result, we have an unwilling one-millionth interest in a company that makes a dandy little product called Zud.

Zud is designed to removed rust. It also removes my nail polish and, if applied with enthusiasm, my nails, as well.

It's a minor pun unless and until we discover that our minerals come to us through the courtesy of man-made objects left at the landfill and pluming their way toward our well, we'll live with our water.

The option is to have water than smells like chlorine. "They" tell us that chlorine is perfectly safe, and it probably is. But "they" also say that Tang is a good thing to drink and, according to the astronauts, it probably is.

But Tang is what we run through the dishwasher to remove the rust we can't reach. Somehow, it never occurs to me to drink it.