The Haimish Line

August 30, 2011

David Books, an op ed writer for the NY Times, posted an article with the above title on Aug 30, 2011.  Check it out.  Our prayer is that we’re south of the Haimish Line here at Simply Bed & Bread.

I don’t know…maybe it’s that mix of aromas in the early morning, of coffee and cinnamon, or maybe it’s the vintage embroidered pillow case on the bed in Emily’s Room–you know, those pillow cases that all of the new brides got for wedding presents in the 40’s and 50’s–(which I happen to love, by the way!)    I don’t know exactly why people make the comments they do about being here, in the coziness, in the home-i-ness, in the comfortable-ness, but they do.  And today when I read the article, I learned what the word might be that they seemed to be saying to us:  it was haimish.  Cool.  Very cool indeed.

“The Voice of Society”

August 25, 2011

Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend is David’s favorite book.  He’s been wanting me to read it for a while, and so I’ve just finished it.  I can see why he loves it, and I’m glad to have read it, too.  It’s nice sharing these kinds of things together.

To introduce some key characters:

Mr and Mrs Veneering were bran-new people in a bran-new house in a bran-new quarter of London.  Everything about the Veneerings was spick and span new.  All their furniture was new, all their friends were new, all their servants were new, their plate was new, their carriage was new, their harness was new, their horses were new, their pictures were new, they themselves were new…

There was an innocent piece of dinner-furniture that went upon easy castors and was kept over a livery stable-yard in Duke Street, Saint James’s, when not in use, to whom the Veneerings were a source of blind confusion.  The name of this article was Twemlow.  Being first cousin to Lord Snigsworth, he was in frequent requisition, and at many houses might be said to represent the dining table in its normal state.  Mr and Mrs Veneering, for example, arranging a dinner, habitually started with Twemlow, and then put leaves in him, or added guests to him…

…charming old Lady Tippins on Veneering’s right; with an immense, obtuse drab oblong face, like a face in a tablespoon, and a dyed Long Walk up on top of her head, as a convenient public approach to the bunch of false hair behind, pleased to patronize Mrs Veneering opposite, who is pleased to be patronized….

Since the book has 800 pages, it has enough room to cover just about any theme you might think of, and it does.  He delves into characters richly, but I love the way he nabs their hearts at the outset by the names he gives them.  Headstone never has a chance with a name like that.  I also love the way the good guys get the good stuff and the bad guys get the grief.  (And there’s plenty of stuff in between, and oh, horror, isn’t every English Lit teacher reading this now bowing his head under the weight of this simplistic summary of one of the finest British writers ever, but this is a blog post, after all.)

I also love the way Dickens makes the whole story come round, how all the characters fit, and how he cuts to the heart of the sublime:

The Veneerings have been, as usual, indefatigably dealing dinner cards to Society….

‘Tormentor!”…’You know what I mean, and you trifle with my impatience.  Tell me something…about the married pair.  You were at the wedding.’

‘How was the bride dressed?’…

…retorts Lady Tippins….’…such a ridiculous affair is condemned by the voice of Society. My dear Mrs Veneering, do let us resolve ourselves into a Committee of the whole House on the subject.’

(‘Now I wonder,’ thinks Mortimer, amused, ‘whether you are the Voice of Society!’)

What does Brewer say?

Brewer says what Boots says.

Good gracious!  My Twemlow forgotten!  My dearest!  My own!  What is his vote?

Twemlow has the air of being ill at ease, as he takes his hand from his forehead and replies.

‘I am disposed to think,’ says he, ‘that this is a question of the feelings of a gentleman.’

‘A gentleman can have no feelings who contracts such a marriage,’ flushes Podsnap.

‘Pardon me, sir.’ says Twemlow, rather less mildly than usual.  ‘I don’t agree with you.  If this gentleman’s feelings of gratitude, of respect, of admiration, and affection, induced him (as I presume they did) to marry this lady…’

‘Ths lady!’ echoes Podsnap.

‘Sir,’ returns Twemlow, with his wristbands bristling a little, ‘you repeat the word; I repeat the word.  This lady……if such feelings on the part of this gentleman induced this gentleman to marry this lady, I think he is the greater gentleman for the action, and makes her the greater lady.  I beg to say, that when I use the word, ..I use it in the sense in which the degree may be attained by any man.  The feelings of a gentleman I hold sacred….’

‘I should like to know,’ sneers Podsnap, ‘whether your noble relation would be of your opinion.’

‘Mr Podsnap,’ retorts Twemlow, ‘permit me.  He might be, or he might not be.  I cannot say.  But, I could not allow even him to dictate to me on a point of great delicacy, on which I feel very strongly.’

Somehow, a canopy of wet blanket seems to descend upon the company, and Lady Tippins was never known to turn so very greedy or so very cross  Mortimer Lighwood alone brightens.  He has been asking himself…., ‘I wonder whether you are the Voice!’  But he does not ask himself the question after Twemlow has spoken, and he glances in Twemlow’s direction as if he were garateful.  When the company disperse–by which time Mr and Mrs Veneering have had quite as much as they want of the honour, and the guests have had quite as much as they want of the other honour–Mortimer sees Twemlow home, shakes hands with him cordially at parting, and fares …gaily.

And so I say, “Hah!”  (Hee, hee).  You tell ’em, Dickens!






No Podsnaps Here Yet!!!

August 15, 2011

Mr Podsnap was well to do, and stood very high in Mr Podsnap’s opinion.  Beginning with a good inheritance, he had married a good inheritance, and had thriven exceedingly in the Marine Insurance way, and was quite satisfied.  He never couild make out why everybody was not quite satisfied, and he felt conscious that he set a brilliant social example in being particularly well satisfied with most things, and, above all other things, with himself.

Thus happily acquainted with his own merit and importance, Mr Podsnap settled that whatever he put behind him he put out of existence.  There was a dignified conclusiveness–not to add a grand convenience–in this way of getting rid of disagreeables which had done much towards establishing Mr Podsnap in his lofty place in Mr Podsnap’s satisfaction.  ‘I don’t want to know about it; I don’t choose to discuss it; I don’t admit it!’  Mr Podsnap had even acqired a peculiar flourish of his right arm in often clearing the world of the most difficult problems, by sweeping them behind him (and consequently sheer away) with those words and a flushed face.  For they affronted him.

Mr Podsnap’s world was not a very large world, morally; no, not even geographically:  seeing that although his business was sustained upon commerce with other countries, he considered other countries, with that important reservation, a mistake, and of their manners and customs would conclusively observe, ‘Not English!’ when PRESTO!  With a flourish of the arm, and a flush of the face, they were swept away.  Elsewhere, the world got up at eight, shaved close at a quarter-past, breakfasted at nine, went to the City at ten, came home at half-past five, and dined at seven….Nothing else To Be–anywhere!  (pp 124-5, Our Mutual Friend, Dickens).

People often ask me if we have stories about guests who are, well, unsavory, or unsettling, or unsatisfactory in any way, and after a year and a half, I still say, “No.”  There’s a fast food chain (I think it’s a fast food chain) whose slogan when searching for new employees, is on their sign that hangs  in their windows:  “Only happy people need apply.”  And it would seem that we’ve hung a similar sign out front.  We haven’t, but we have had only gracious, appreciative, non-Podsnappian guests.  Really!  And sometimes, you even find that you’re “entertaining angels unawares.”

Our “pirate” and “wench” guests looked especially tired to me.  And well they should’ve because not only did each of them have full time jobs, but they were vendors at special event weekends who traveled often on their “days off.”  Added to that,  it was almost 10 PM this past Friday when they arrived, which was when I noticed her very sleepy eyes.  At the end of Saturday’s schedule, they said that they had “done OK,” but they were rained out on Sunday–bad news and good news, since the rain meant that they’d be able to sleep in!  Yay!  Breakfast wasn’t actually done till almost 11–something I love, since it’s wonderful to be able to send people away rested and well, just full.  But this time, some of their fulness rubbed off onto us.  David learned that she cared for her mother who has Alzheimer’s “in her spare time.”  They had been so grateful for the little things–the pirate placemats, the pirate boot-shaped cookies hidden in the little wooden chest I’d put out for them, and the homemade cinnamon buns.  But I was also grateful I’d been able to do it, especially since they weren’t Podsnappian pirates at all, but angels in disguise.

Ah….Presto! Pesto!

August 8, 2011

Aaah….the aroma of fresh basil is wafting into the living room as I type and it is won-der-ful….

The leaves for the first batch are in the blender, waiting for the olive oil, nuts, garlic, salt and pepper.  I’ll add the cheese as I use it, since I’ll be popping most of this into the freezer (in ice cube trays) for a rainy day.  Since the basil was ready and the temperature threatens to soar to nearly 100 today, with about that much humidity, I couldn’t think of a better time for it!  So…. soon…..presto!  Pesto!

Svetlana, Grisha and Debbie

August 7, 2011

2 years ago, when I went to Ukraine for the first time, I met Svetlana at Lydesian Orphanage, the institution for special needs orphans of all ages, and as soon as our van drove away after those first visits, I wanted to return.  Most of my life has been spent working with little children, but I had never worked with the special needs population before, and I was unprepared for my response to those residents:  an eagerness to soak in the spontaneous affection that they naturally poured onto all visitors.  I imagined somehow squirreling Svetlana away in my suitcase so that I could see her smile forever.  I pictured us walking the streets of Chestertown–she with her gorilla-like gait and me trying to match it, and I also could “see” Grisha’s eyes widen as I moved his bed from inside of our house to the outside, if somehow I could transport his bed from Lydesian to our little town on the eastern shore of MD in the United States.  But reality being what it is, that just didn’t seem possible.  I began to dream of begging the Ukrainian officials to let me camp out there in Lydesian for a couple of weeks sometime, thinking that maybe this would be nice.

Part of my dream came true a couple of weeks ago because I did get to go back to Lydesian.  It wasn’t for 2 weeks, but rather only for just under 2 hours, but again, I was surprised at my response.  I didn’t cry this time as we drove away.  I had seen Svetlana (and yes, she did seem to remember me, but as they say, I bet she smiles that way to all the gals) and I had talked to Grisha and to my other buddies and I met some new friends too but this time, things seemed different.  I saw kind, warm workers who genuinely seemed to be pleased to be there, and as Dan, our leader (and a pediatrician), said, “If they didn’t receive affection regularly, they wouldn’t know how to receive it from us.”  And he was right, of course.  I knew that was true.  So I thought, “They’re OK; they really are.”

I can’t remember if we were still in Ukraine, or on the plane coming back home, or just when the thought came to me that Debbie could come to our house and work here at the B&B for a few hours each week, but I knew that that was what I wanted to have happen.  I couldn’t have Svetlana or Grisha here, but Debbie lived in Chesertown–in the same house that I used to visit when I was in  high school, since she is the sister of Lynn, one of my best friends from high school!  (And it had only been about a month that had passed since Lynn had asked me that very thing!)  Of course!  A way to have a piece of Ukraine right here at home!  An opportunity to soak in Debbie’s smile 3 days / week!  So I called Lynn today, asking her if Debbie could work here on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 2 – 3 each of those days, and she said, “YES!”  She was thrilled and we are thrilled!  Debbie doesn’t yet know the news, but she will be thrilled too!  I told Lynn that I had a job title for her:  B&B Aide.  The job description will be fluid, since we’ll have to figure it out together, but I can hardly wait!

Be watching for our new “Staff” section on our website:  coming in the fall!  Because of Debbie’s hours, you may not get to actually see her here, but hopefully, you’ll see patches of that smile of her’s still stuck in nooks, crannies and corners, and you’ll somehow catch pieces of those patches during your stay.  Feel free to scoop it up to take it home with you.  Another hidden, hmm–just-can’t-put-my-finger-on-it amenity at Simply Bed & Bread.

Summer Sisters

August 6, 2011

  Our camp in Ukraine was for children from at-risk families.  We didn’t know their stories; we only knew that the reasons for their status were varied, from financial needs to different kinds of abuse, including alcohol, etc.  Most of the children looked like any other normal children, without showing any external signs of difficulties–except for these 2 little girls who were sisters.   Natasha and Irya (*names changed) were almost always together, either seated or standing side by side, while holding hands.  They would whisper often to one another, with Natasha, the 10 year old, frequently instructing her little sister about what to do or where to go.  They would be found at the periphery of the scheduled activity until asked to join, which they were always eager to do.  They loved the crafts and were cutting foam shapes for a collage in the picture above.

They sat at my table for meals.  There were no assigned seats, but the random chairs chosen on the first day were the ones we always occupied, so Natasha sat next to me, with Irya at the end.  Always quiet and hungry, they cleaned their plates during each meal, with Natasha actually licking her remaining mashed potatoes from her plate once and using her bread to sop up left-over juices at another.

On Monday of our camp week (we arrived late Sunday afternoon and left on Thursday), at lunchtime, I noticed some small thing that was just a normal, everyday thing, and I responded to help with a light touch with my hand on Natasha’s back.  She recoiled.  I immediately realized the depth of their need — and of their hurt — so I deliberately kept my distance after that.  If I needed to pass by the girls back at the cabins, or during craft time, or at any in-between times, my steps formed an arc around them, rather than a straight pass.  I smiled each time, but I kept the space between us.

I guess it was Tuesday when the accident at the table in the dining room occurred, and I found myself undone, as more evidence of their wounding surfaced.  The plates were just being served and passed to each of us at the table.  I don’t know how an accident like this was even possible, since little Irya never moved and kept her cautious hands in her lap, watching for her sister’s hands to move first, but things happen simply because they’re children and Irya’s plate was somehow knocked off of the table, crashing to the floor, scattering food and breaking instantly.  Irya burst into tears, and crumpled into hysterical sobbing.  Each of us tried to comfort her, reasssuring her that it was OK, and the dining hall worker brought her another plate, but it took a while for her to be all right enough to eat.  Meanwhile, I myself lost it.  It didn’t take much to imagine a scene that the poor child must’ve experienced at her own home in a similar setting, and the heavy symbolism sank into me, leaving me a puddle of tears too.  I noticed Natasha stealing glimpses of me, registering nothing on her face, but watching, just the same.  15 year old Kaitlyn (from our team) took me outside of the dining hall for me to “get myself back together,” and we prayed for the girls–and for me to stop crying.

All of the other children formed early, easy relationships with our American teens (on our team) and by the end of the week, more crafts, nail painting and hair braiding became the natural glue that would stick them together in their memories forever.  But it wasn’t until Wednesday that Natasha and Irya came away from the edges of the activities.

It was on Wednesday afternoon when the girls were standing pressed against the cabin, that I saw both of them watching Charlotte French braid another  older girl’s hair.  I was right there, aware of the girls, and I whispered to Charlotte that I thought they’d let her do their hair, too.  So when she finished Zena’s, she asked them if they wanted to be next, using motions to express her willingness.  It was a turning point.  After their own personal hair sessions with Charlotte, with their long French braids trailing down their backs, they were Charlotte’s:  they held her hands; they sat next to her at the campfire; they hugged her after s’mores, and they blended with the group like old pros.

During the whole week, I would see Natasha looking at me, never registering anything on her face, but watching just the same.   I, too, was soaking them in — enjoying the interactions among our girls and them, and delighting in their interest in each camp activity.  I had one last opportunity on Thursday when most of us were on the bus, waiting while a few of the other children waited for the drivers of a van to take them in the opposite direction from our bus route.  Natasha and Irya were among the small group being driven in the van, and while they were waiting, Anya (our lovely 22 year old Ukrainian translator and Bethany social worker) had her arms resting loosely and naturally on each of the girls’ shoulders, as though that were an every day occurrence for all of them.  They were in my direct line of vision, since I was just inside the bus door and they were standing about 10 yards away on the ground outside.  Again, I was letting the scene sink down inside of me, and while I was looking, Natasha waved toward the bus.  I wondered who she saw, so I turned my head to look, and found that it was me!  But by the time I realized it, she had looked away and I missed my chance to wave back.  They didn’t move from their spots, though, and after a few more minutes, the van arrived.  Natasha looked once more back at me, and this time, our eyes met.  She waved again and I waved back.  She nudged her sister to “make” her wave at me, too, and then they boarded to return home.  Jesus saw the tears that came as I saw them step inside that van, and I knew He would see their’s too.

Summer Shopping in Ukraine

August 1, 2011

The grocery store in Vinnystia, Ukraine:  all groceries, including alcohol, sold.  Bags are checked into lockers before entering, then retrieved after purchases are completed.

This store could be in the United States, since it was modern and in a mall in the city.  It is in direct contrast to other kinds of shopping opportunities throughout the countryside, including fresh veggies sold randomly by the side of the road, open air markets and tiny buildings spattered here and there housing wares of all kinds.

Location, Location, Location.

You might notice the WAC Administration Building cupola out of the corner of your eye as you walk onto Simply Bed & Bread's brick path, since our house is just a stone's throw away from the college. Or it might be the ...
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