All posts by swurster

MINING MARILYN’S MYSTERY “OLDIES” – DAVID MCCALLUM

Mining Marilyn Brooks’ popular blog, Marilyn’s Mystery Reads, for some of her past reviews, yielded another gem, this one from a more recent past and featuring none other than Illya Kuryakin!  

A NOTE FROM EDITOR SUE (Who Couldn’t Resist…)

Yes, it’s THAT David McCallum, “Dr. Ducky” on the popular TV show, NCIS.  But I’ve never actually got into NCIS–I was a Man from U.N.C.L.E. fanatic.   For me, it was all about Illya Kuryakin.  So smart.  So smooth. So…totally cool.  

Many years later, as an adult drama teacher in New York, I was traipsing the hallway connecting The Chapin School’s two buildings. A gathering of the parents of students accepted for the following year was in progress in the multi-purpose room, but one father seemed to be significantly more interested in the Lower School art work that covered the hallway.   He was crouched in front of an array of 3D pieces featuring fantastic flowers. As I approached, the man stood up and turned.   And I stopped–one foot frozen, I believe, in the air.  “Oh, my God…Illya Kuryakin…” I burbled.  “I wore black turtlenecks for years because of you…”  Oh, my God–I couldn’t believe it had fallen out of my mouth.  But, luckily,  McCallum laughed, graciously….just as graciously as he gave of his time to drama and speech events for the next many years.   A very gracious man indeed.

I had no idea he had begun writing mysteries and look forward to this treat.  And if you haven’t discovered it either, I suspect you will too. Thank you, Marilyn!

ONCE A CROOKED MAN by David McCallum: Book Review

Once a Crooked Man is a terrific read.  Starting with an overheard conversation outside the Fiery Dragon Chinese restaurant in New York City, traveling to South America and London and back again to Manhattan with corpses everywhere, David McCallum will have you hooked all the way.

It all begins when Carter Allinson II stops by a Starbucks in New York City and shares a table with a beautiful young woman.  Fiona Walker comes from a wealthy family, and shortly after their meeting the couple become engaged and Carter is welcomed into Fiona’s father’s investment firm.  As a college student Carter had supported himself by a little drug dealing, but with his upcoming wedding he wants to leave that behind him.

Not so fast, says gangster Sal Bruschetti, head of the organization that has been supplying Carter.  You don’t need to be doing any more minor-league dealing, but we need you for another reason.  We’ll be investing money with your father-in-law’s firm, and you’ll be handling all the investments in legitimate ways.  Otherwise, we’ll let the Walkers know about your history.  Carter doesn’t see that he has a choice in the matter, and so begins the long-term relationship between Carter and the three Bruschetti brothers.

None of this has anything to do with Harry Murphy, a fairly successful actor who works in television, on Broadway, and does voiceovers for commercials.  He’s on a Manhattan street when he has an immediate need for a bathroom.  Spotting the Fiery Dragon, he walks in on the Bruschettis in the midst of a “business” talk.  They order him out, but his need is so great that he decides to use the alley outside the building to relieve himself.  Thus he can’t help overhearing their conversation concerning a man in London that the trio is going to have killed.

The plot of Once a Crooked Man is a great one.  Ever impetuous, when Harry learns what the brothers have planned he decides to fly to England and warn the victim.  Once there, there’s no controlling the events that follow.  But Harry is a resourceful man with many talents.  Sometimes he’s a step ahead of the Bruschettis, sometimes a step behind, but he’s always in the midst of the action.

All the characters in this novel are terrific.  I was constantly surprised by the twists and turns the book took because of the things the individuals said and the ways they responded to events.  Carter, Harry, the British detective Lizzie Carswell, and Sal, Enzo, and Max Bruschetti are wonderfully drawn.  The plot goes from one cliffhanger to another, keeping the reader totally engaged up to the last page.

You may remember David McCallum from his many roles, starting with The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and continuing to the present in NCIS.  Now he is an author as well.  Let’s hope for many more books from this talented man.

You can read about David McCallum at various sites on the web.

Click (on the green) to check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads  where Marilyn posts new reviews every Saturday.  And be sure to leave a comment in the box below so we know you’re out there and reading!

Our MYSTERY MAVEN Marilyn Brooks

I’ve always been a reader and, starting with Nancy Drew (my favorite, of course), I became a mystery fan.  I think I find mysteries so satisfying because there’s a definite plot to follow, a storyline that has to make sense to be successful.  And, of course, there’s always the fun of trying to guess the ending!

 

 

JULY CHEF’S CORNER WITH JOHN RUDY: CREAMY ORANGE CHICKEN

CREAMY ORANGE CHICKEN

I love Mandarin Oranges and had recently had an Orange Chicken dish at a Chinese restaurant that was overcooked and not to my standards.  So I made this.  Like all entrée dishes,  a wide variability in the amounts of any ingredient is possible, and you should doctor things to your taste.  More sauce, less sauce, etc.  Make sure that you use Chinese rice, and not something like Uncle Ben’s, or you can use noodles or potatoes.

Some notes about the chicken: Dark meat is more forgiving and tends not to overcook.  I have used chicken breasts but make sure that they are not cut too thin, or they can dry out.  I prefer boneless/skinless thighs.  (If you choose bone-in, you’ll need 2 lbs.)

A note on the onion: I like them ¼ inch thick, but others like them as thin as possible.  Do what you wish.

A note on thickening: the standard approach is to add flour to cold liquid and then mix it in.  I like my cold liquid to be orange liqueur or, alternatively, orange juice

1  1/2 lb     Chicken, thighs1/4 cup                                                                       1/4 cup      Cornstarch (or flour) to coat                                                                                          Flour for thickening                                                                                                              Peanut Oil plus butter (50/50)                                                        1/2 cup      Whipping cream (or save calories with regular cream)            1                  Onion, large, sliced                                                                                         1 lb             Mushrooms, fresh, sliced                                                                            1-2 cans   Mandarin oranges (save the sugary liquid)                                                            Broccoli or thin-sliced carrots                                                                                      Sticky rice or noodles                                                                                                          Salt and pepper to taste                                                                                   1tbs       Hot cayenne pepper (optional).  I like it spicy.

 

  1. Coat the chicken with cornstarch/salt/pepper (shake in a bag).
  2. Heat the oil/butter very hot in a wok or fry pan, and fry the chicken.  This will take about 5 minutes and chicken should be turned.  If there is a lot of chicken do it by turns.  Don’t overcook the chicken.  Don’t make the pieces too large or too small.
  3. Remove chicken to a side dish.
  4. Remove all but a few tbs. of the oil, and cook the onion. You may need to add some water to keep it from burning.  Optionally, sprinkle the onion with the hot Cayenne pepper (flakes or powder)
  5. Cut the carrots very thin or use a peeler and add in sliced mushrooms.  Mushrooms can add a lot of liquid.  Add at the very end, and it will take maybe 1-2 minutes to cook.  Add in the orange slices (without their syrup).
  6. Add 1 tbs flour to the ¼ cup cold Mandarin-juice (or orange juice or orange liquor) and stir well.
  7. Add the cream and quickly bring to a boil so that you can add the flour to thicken
  8. Return the chicken to the wok or pan briefly.
  9. Serve over sticky rice (about ¾ cup per person) or noodles.

Enjoy!

BOLLI MATTERS food and tech feature writer John Rudy

 

John says that it was his mother who inspired his love of cooking and baking at an early age.  (She cooked vegetables in boil-able packages.)

NEW AMERICAN POLITICAL REALITIES SERIES: “13TH”

NEW AMERICAN POLITICAL REALITIES:  “13TH” 
Summary by Bill Thedford with Responses Collected by Lydia Bogar
This week, the Social Change Working Group presented a well-attended 2-day program on the 13th amendment of the U.S.  Constitution.  This amendment, dated 1865, abolished slavery for all but criminals.  Avi Bernstein opened the session on Wednesday 7/12 with Ava Duvernay’s acclaimed film “13th” from Netflix.  The film exposed the expansion of criminal prosecution as a means to disproportionately subjugate the black population to coal mining, field labor, “chain gangs” and other low cost labor.  After the film, Professor Smith collected questions from the attendees as a basis for Thursday’s talk.
On Thursday,  Avi introduced Professor Doug Smith who presented examples of State and Federal criminal laws as well as court rulings leading to the incarceration of poor and predominately African American people.  These laws effectively utilized this criminal exception in Amendment 13 to provide cheap labor and business opportunities (e.g., to independent prison operators and even corporations).  The discussion on the second day expanded the scope of the talk to include the role of police in this process.  The process was widened by Nixon’s war on crime and drugs and has expanded or continued through all succeeding administrations.  It was observed that the number of African Americans in Federal and State prisons today exceeds the number of slaves in the U.S. before the Amendment was added to the Constitution.
No solutions were proposed, but the potential value of home release programs and volunteer youth mentoring were discussed.  In addition, Michael Burns, a member of the Social Change Working Group, has created a bibliography of materials on the issue which can be accessed by clicking here:  BIBLIOGRAPHY.   The group has also compiled a list of action opportunities which BOLLI members might choose to explore.  Click here:  ACTION.
Michael Burns and Doug Smith with Avi Bernstein (photo by Bill Thedford)
*
What BOLLI members say about 13th…

BETSEY ANSIN:   “A Riveting, pounding film that forcefully presents the generations long dehumanization and punishment of black men, and their families.  Carried some scenes with me all day and will convincingly talk it up! Would show this to my grandchildren over the age of 10.

CRIS ARONSON:  My eldest son is an educator teaching in an ethnically diverse primary school. HIs students include those of Asian, African American, Latino and European backgrounds as well as those born and raised in the US.   When Mal first joined the school district, he was looked upon with trepidation to say the least.  Why? Because he is racially mixed (most people saw Black), sports an earring and is extremely fit.  Parents weren’t certain they wanted this man teaching their children or being an integral part of the school.  That was 19 years ago.  For the past 10 years, he has been the most requested teacher in the school, receiving numerous district and State awards and is given more gifts at the end of each academic year than most children get for Chanukah or Christmas!

My point: once people have the opportunity to get to know someone on a personal level (especially true of “the Other”), prejudices based on superficial ifrst impressions and stereotypes can give way to honest knowledge and appreciation of that individual.

AVI BERNSTEIN:  This is the first time that I have seen this inspirational,  beautifully constructed film. The big question is what we do next and how.

ABBY PINARD:  Nothing in it  came as a surprise, but the film connects the dots to powerful and painful effect. Should be required viewing … I’m not an educator, so I wouldn’t presume to recommend for younger kids but at least high school.

SUE WURSTER:   So powerful…and so disheartening.  Our general lack of knowledge about so much of this makes me feel  even more determined to push for significant change in our teaching of our own history in our schools.

LYDIA BOGAR:Touring restored plantations in the South Carolina, I presumed that slavery was a closed book. Reading Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy and watching this film has awakened me to the nightmare and reality of Black Lives Matter.  I am horrified and need to know more.

The remaining events in this series, New American Political Realities, are scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, July 19 and 20, from 10:30-12, when the focus will be on “The Politics of Supreme Court Nominations.”

Please be sure to leave additional comments and/or questions below–whether you were in attendance or not!

 

MEET MEMBER LOIS BIENER: A PERFECT BLEND OF SCIENCE AND ART

                    MEET MEMBER LOIS BIENER:  A PERFECT BLEND                  OF SCIENCE AND ART

BOLLI Member Lois Down Under with Kangaroo!

 

When Lois Biener decided that it was time to cut her work schedule to half-time, she began to feel a bit nervous about how she would fill her days when the time comes to retire fully.  Having heard about BOLLI from her neighbors Sally Fleschner and Don Kendall, she decided to explore the offerings at 60 Turner Street for herself.

So, in the spring of 2015, Lois enrolled in Naomi Schmidt’s five-week science fiction course and was quickly hooked.  “It was a group of such interesting, vital people,” she said, “including former teachers, lawyers, doctors, and not just one but two physicists!”

Lois’ work has included teaching social psychology for a number of years, but she has also spent a good deal of her professional life doing social science research.  In the Survey Research Center at U. Mass. Boston, she has focused, in particular, on tobacco-related issues.  Her interest in tobacco control interventions as well as electronic cigarettes keeps her involved in the research.

Outside her scientific work life, Lois has focused on developing her artistic side.  She sings with the Commonwealth Chorale (along with BOLLI members Bob Keller and Phil Radoff).  But perhaps her most challenging artistic venture has been her dive into pottery.

Lois has been taking pottery classes at Mudflat Pottery School in Somerville for some time now.  After five “beginner wheel classes,” she says she’s still developing her basic skills.  “One of my classmates has been at it for twelve years now,” she reports.  “It’s a little daunting.”  Recently, though, she finally had a pottery breakthrough and can now successfully throw a bowl or a cylinder.  Now, she is focused on hand building as well.

Some of Lois’ “Beginner” Pottery

 

In addition to doing course work at BOLLI, singing, and throwing pots, Lois relishes the time she spends with her 37-year-old daughter and 3-year-old grandson Noah, who is now talking.  She and her husband have also begun to travel more extensively.  They visit England fairly often, and, this past year, took a trip to Costa Rica.  They are now planning to go to Portugal this winter.

So, Lois has found BOLLI to be a terrific experience.  Highlights, she reports, have been the science fiction course; the cotton course, “which was an eye-opening, great introduction to global capitalism and the place of slavery in that story;” as well as the course on the plays of Tony Kushner.  She also enjoyed judging junior high school students in their Boston Debate League contest at Brandeis during her first year at BOLLI.  “How about a BOLLI team?” she asks.

Clearly, BOLLI has helped ease any tension she may have had about retirement!

BOLL Matters editor Sue Wurster

There’s nothing I like more than getting to know the people around me even better!  I hope you’ll leave a comment for Lois in the box below.  It means a lot to each of our profiled members to hear from others.   (And I’d love to hear from you about YOU!)

JULY’S SENIOR MOMENT WITH LIZ DAVID: OUR 60TH ANNIVERSARY

OUR 60TH ANNIVERSARY:  THE ARC OF OUR LIVES

Liz and Barry – Our 60th Anniversary

 

IN THE BEGINNING

At Cynthia Richmond’s sweet sixteen party, I was wearing a form-fitting aqua top and a cinched-waist taffeta skirt.  Barry was wearing what must have been the teenage boys’ uniform of the day, but what stood out was his Elvis pompadour.  It was not love at first sight, but it was attraction

We never would have met if Barry’s family hadn’t moved to Newton as he entered his junior year in high school.  He says he spotted me in the tunnels we walked through to get from one building to another at Newton High.  After Cynthia’s party, we dated, we broke up, and we dated some more.  We went to the Senior Prom with different partners.  We got together again, and when Barry was attending Northeastern in the 5 year work/study program, we became engaged.  I was 19, and he was 20.  We decided to get married when he finished his 4th year.   His parents, though, had other plans!  As a result, we waited another year.  I graduated from the Chandler School for Women as a secretary, and we were married on June 23rd 1957 after he graduated.

Barry decided to go on to graduate school and enrolled in the MBA program at Cornell.  During those two years, my secretarial skills came in handy–I worked at the Chevrolet dealership in Ithaca.  Dewey, the handyman at the dealership, often had to pick me up at graduate student housing on the hill due to the “mountains” of snow that fell during the winter months.  Those were challenging but good times.  We were a young couple among other young couples who had little money but lots of energy and enthusiasm.

After graduating from Cornell, Barry fulfilled his 6-month obligation to the National Guard at Fort Sam Houston in Texas where he trained as a medic and came out thinking he could cure anything from a scratch to the bubonic plague!   I stayed home, living with my Mother and working, except when he came home on leave when we stayed with his parents.  Not ideal, but it worked.

THE MIDDLE

After completing his military obligation, we moved to Shaker Heights, a tony suburb of Cleveland, Ohio where Barry began his professional career working for U.S. Steel.  We rented a not-so-tony apartment in a two-family house owned by Mrs. Parisi.  We were fortunate that she took us under her wing, and she was thrilled when I became pregnant with our first child, Jonathan.

We decided to settle down and buy a bungalow in Northfield, Ohio. The deal was that we had to finish the house; we—or, I should say, mostly Barry–painted it inside and out, laid floors, and planted the lawn. It was a gray house with black shutters and a yellow door.  I still love that color combination!  The neighborhood was just right for a young couple.

FAST FORWARD

After moving back to Massachusetts to be closer to family, we rented for a while before buying a house in Waban.  We had 2 more kids, Larry and Marc; moved to Wayland; had 2 more kids, Ted and Betsy; moved to Sudbury and invited my ailing Mother to live with us in what I thought was going to be our spare guest room.  She lived with us for 7 years, eventually moving to a nursing home.

Along the way, we bought a 2nd home overlooking the ocean in Manomet, South Plymouth. Barry bought a sundial that he mounted on the deck railing. It was inscribed with the saying, “Grow Old Along With Me The Best Is Yet To Be.”  As the children grew and were no longer able to spend much time there, we sold the house and bought another, all-season home, in the Ellisville section of South Plymouth with the idea that, possibly, we’d retire there. The sundial travelled with us.

Meanwhile, the children grew to adulthood and, over time, along with their spouses, gave us 7 glorious grandchildren.

PRESENT

So, here we are in our large home in Sudbury, having sold the Ellisville home.  We decided that being closer to family trumped moving to the South Shore.  The sundial is now mounted on a wall that borders our driveway.

Barry, the love of my life, and I are in good health.  We are active and engaged in numerous activities. We are having the off and on continuous discussion with ourselves, family, and friends about what our next steps should be when it comes to living situations and care as we age. We made a deposit on a continuous care community in nearby Concord.

When I am not looking in the mirror, sometimes I forget my age, 81. There are other signs—like not running anymore.  I walk. I work out regularly but not as obsessively. Occasionally, it takes me a while longer to remember a name or recall a word. On the other hand, my spiritual dimension has taken a front seat, deeply and joyously.

So, I’ve been thinking about the sundial Barry bought years ago, the one with the saying on it that sustained me for quite some time. GROW OLD ALONG WITH ME–THE BEST IS YET TO BE, it says.

The Sundial (photo by Barry)

And now, I’m wondering.  Is the best still yet to be?  Maybe we should think about another line–

THE BEST OF TIMES IS NOW–IT’S ALL WE HAVE!

“Senior Moments” feature writers Eleanor Jaffe and Liz David

Eleanor and Liz provide monthly items focused on topics of interest shared by all of us–the transitions, issues, celebrations, and more–about this important stage of our lives.

BOLLI SENDS A SPECIAL BIRTHDAY WISH TO JOE COHEN, 100

A TOAST TO JOSEPH COHEN ON HIS 100th BIRTHDAY

By Harris Traiger

Joe Cohen (Photo by Harris Traiger)

 

I first met Joe Cohen in a BOLLI Photography class in which he was a new member. He had been a skilled photographer for many years, and during one particular class, the SGL, Art Sharenow asked Joe to talk about his specialty, portrait photography.  Joe talked about many of the techniques of portrait photography and showed the class examples of the work he had done over many years. In following semesters, Joe became an SGL as well as a BOLLI student.

Joe studied photography at the New School for Social Research in New York, working with a number of photographers including Philipe Hallsman, who is known for his many Life magazine covers.  Joe also taught courses in photography at CW Post, Queensboro Community College, Queens College, Hofstra, and numerous adult education programs.  His talent is certainly clear in these family photos provided by his daughter Beth.

Joe’s Wife Sonia

 

His Mother Bahia

 

His Father Aaron and Niece Susan

 

Daughter Beth

 

Friend Anjali

 

When teaching, Joe’s approach was always kind, positive and generous. We would present our latest photos in class and, from Joe, learned many of the finer points of composition.  Joe’s critiques were always thoughtful, leaving each of us  with good feelings about how to improve.  At the end of a session, Joe would comment that “this is a class of artists.”

Joe Cohen was born in New York City to Jewish Syrian parents in a household where Arabic was the spoken language. Following the death of his wife, Joe relocated to Cambridge to be near his daughter who lives in Watertown. Beth is a performing violinist who is on the faculty of Tufts University and the Berklee School of Music.

In addition to photography and his family, Joe’s other love is poetry. He meets monthly with a poetry group and has given poetry readings at a number of venues. Joe published a collection of his poems, “A Full Life,” in 2005, and his second collection, “A New Path,” has just been published by Ibbetson Street.   Click here for a short review of “A New Path” from the Globe.

One of Joe’s poems, entitled “South to North Africa,”  is a moving recollection of his time with the US Army in North Africa prior to the invasion of Sicily during World War II. He recalls his meeting and befriending a young Arab street orphan in Morocco, their relationship during those very difficult times, and the sadness of their separation when he left.

 

SOUTH TO NORTH AFRICA

By Joseph Cohen

                                        After eighteen stormy days at sea,                                                                              Casablanca’s warmth permeated                                          my eager but seasick body.

                                         Exotic scents of orange trees and                                                                              rosewater pastries flavored the air.                                                                                      Street-wise kids swarmed                                                                               around, offering to bring us coffee or girls,                                                                    asking for cigarettes or bonbons                                                 in exchange.

                                               Drawing myself up with the                                                                                          dignity of an Imam, I chanted                                                                                           in Arabic that they brought                                                                                                    shame on themselves,                                                                                               with such words and actions.                                                                                       Silently, they bent their heads                                                in disgrace.

                                       With a dark mood hanging heavily,                                                                                      a newcomer ran to me with                                                                                             the usual cries reserved for                                                                                               the foreign men in khaki.                                                                                            The leader of the dock urchins                                                                               smacked him a powerful blow, saying,                                                                  “Be quiet, we do not beg from one of us.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Clearing a manure-soaked pasture,                                                                             we set up tents, preparing to stay.                                                                                Blue-eyed, ragged, Mustapha sat                                                                                 by my pup tent smiling radiantly.                                                                     He adopted this Arabic-speaking American,                                                                          offering always to be of help.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    When not running errands,                                                                                                he was a fixture in front                                                                                             of my canvas home in the field.                                                                             Of a Sunday, my little Moroccan friend                                                                            and I went to dine on the town.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             French colonialism turned ugly                                                                              when refusing to serve an Arab child.                                                                     Naturally, we walked out until he said,                                                                                       “Yousef, I am hungry.”                                                                                     We compromised and ate in the kitchen                                                                where Arab waiters fed him a king’s feast.                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Soon, orders had us preparing to leave                                                                   by convoy through the Atlas Mountains                                         to invade Italy from Algiers.

                                     Early one morning, drivers were gunning                                                   engines, girlfriends waved goodbye to soldier lovers                                                            while Mustapha stood by me,                                                                                            with tears streaking down                                                                      his unwashed face, crying “Allah Maahak ya Yousef,”                         May God be with you, oh Joseph.

                                                For me it was a tender moment                                                                                  in the war.  For him, a role model                                                                                          and father figure was lost.                                                         Sadly, he would return to the streets.

Algerian Children (photo by Joe)

 

During World War II, Joe fought in North Africa, Italy and France. In the summer of 2016, he was awarded the French Legion of Honor in a ceremony at the residence of the French Consul in Cambridge for his army service in France during the war.

Medal of Honor Recipient Joe

 

Those of us who have been privileged to know Joe feel that his being a part of the BOLLI community has brought honor to Brandeis and BOLLI–we are happy to now honor Joseph Cohen in return.

Joe will turn one hundred years old on July 13, 2017–which, by the way, is officially JOSEPH A. COHEN DAY (Click here for more information)  in Cambridge.  Happy Birthday, Joe–from all of us!

 

Writer Harris Traiger

A familiar face at  Turner Street, Harris has been an active BOLLI member for several years.  His photography has been on display in our classrooms and has been featured in issues of The Banner and The BOLLI Journal as well.

THE SCREENING ROOM: CONFESSIONS OF A BBC BINGE WATCHER

CONFESSIONS OF A BBC BINGE WATCHER:  CALL THE MIDWIFE

By Sue Wurster

Years ago, I was having lunch with actor friend John Newton at my local corner diner in NYC.  It was one of those places which tends to be stuffed with at least three too many tables, and on this particular occasion, every seat was filled.

John had just landed a role on the then popular soap opera, The Doctors, and was bemoaning his fate.  “I have to confess,” he said.  “I hate being a doctor.”  And when I asked why, he replied, “Well, I can never pronounce the diseases, and all of my patients die.”

There was a distinct gurgling sound from our right as a woman  struggled to down the gulp of coffee she had taken before John’s admission.  And there was an even clearer harrumph from our left. Glowering looks galore–and an elbow to John’s right ear as a tall, thin man in a three-piece suit maneuvered his way out.

I have to confess as well.  I have never liked medical shows.  I know, I know.  That makes me probably one of the only inveterate couch potatoes in the universe who did not get into the likes of Dr. Kildare, Marcus Welby, ER, or Gray’s Anatomy.  As a naturally squeamish being, I spent just way too much of their air-time with my hands over my eyes.  So, how on earth did I end up watching this season’s Call the Midwife on PBS?  I’m still not sure–but I think it may have been a simple case of mistiming.  I was headed for Masterpiece Theatre and got there an hour early.

However it happened, I was soon hooked, and I found myself looking forward to each new episode in a way I hadn’t looked forward since, oh, probably Downton Abbey.  And, upon the season’s close, I ended up hitting Netflix for more.  So, what makes this one work for a squeamish viewer (who still turns away during most of the actual birthing parts)?  The characters, the setting,  the writing…

So, if you have not partaken of this particular BBC gem, it’s well worth your time to do so.  Based upon the memoirs of nurse Jennifer Worth (who, sadly, died shortly before the first episode aired), this family drama is set in Post-WW2 London’s impoverished Poplar district.  Nurse Jenny Lee arrives at Nonnatus House, a nursing convent in the district, to take on a job as midwife.  A host of truly engaging and endearing characters, played by an outstanding cast, provides multi-layered interest and appeal.

Sister Monica Joan, for example–played by Judy Parfitt (Jewel in the Crown, Pride & Prejudice, Girl with a Pearl Earring to name just a few credits)–is a brilliant, and compassionate yet eccentric older sister beset with bouts of dementia.  The equally quirky Camilla “Chummy” Fortescue-Cholmondeley-Browne–played by actress/comedian Miranda Hart (perhaps best-known for her semi-autobiographical series, Miranda) –is a gawky, uncertain midwife who has just finished her training and finds her niche, leading her to defy the expectations of her aristocratic family.   Beyond the lives and loves of the inhabitants of Nonnatus House, we are immersed in Poplar of the late 1950s and 60s–with all of the social issues that such an environment hosts.

And the writing, of course, is top-notch.  From the voice-over narration of “older Jenny” (provided by Vanessa Redgrave, which may, in itself, have been what pulled me in) to the ensuing dialogue, the language is both rich and real.   When dealing with the complex issues that accompany poverty and the altering of social structures and values in changing times, there is no cloying or preaching note.

It’s a wonderful ride, this series–well worth a good binge!

BOLL Matters editor Sue Wurster

A confirmed snow day couch potato, Sue has an affinity for the British approach to both film and TV.  

 

 

JULY TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY: MOOCS

MASSIVE OPEN ON-LINE COURSES (MOOCS)

For centuries, people traveled to school to take courses from professors.  About 30 years ago, though, some companies started taping courses and selling the results as VCRs.  They were relatively expensive (hundreds of dollars for a course), but they required significantly less money than attending a university.  Some had homework, but most did not.  There were no tests, and you could listen to the recordings whenever you wished, or listen to them multiple times.  Some years ago, VCRs were replaced by CDs and then by DVDs.

About 5 years ago, the paradigm changed once again.  Now, courses are recorded and provided through the internet, usually with quizzes and tests.  I have taken a dozen courses on CD or DVD through The Teaching Company and another dozen as MOOCs.  Quality is somewhat variable, but the companies selling these products are quite discriminating, and, as a result, the quality is excellent.  I have obtained The Teaching Company courses through my local library, and because the libraries are linked, nearly all of the courses are available.

  1.  Of course there are also a lot of courses on DVD from The Teaching Company’s “Great Courses” series, and the library has (or has access to) all of them–500 at this time. http://www.thegreatcourses.com/

  1. There are also many MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) available–more than 3000.  The first course I knew of was on Artificial Intelligence given by Stanford which was made available through Coursera. Over 100,000 people signed up for it. (I have heard that only 5-10% finished the course–but that is still over 5000 people.)  I have taken technical courses like MIT’s course on Genetics (from edX, the Science of Cooking from Harvard, and two courses on the Civil War.  Visit the following sites to see what they have available.

https://www.coursera.org/

https://www.edx.org/

https://www.udacity.com

A longer list can be found at https://beebom.com/sites-like-coursera/

“Tech Talk” feature writer, John Rudy

A long-time computer expert and guide,  John provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide questions or comments for John on any computer/tech topic.

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402)

JUNE CHEF’S CORNER WITH JOHN RUDY: SLOW-COOKER STROGANOFF/GOULASH

SLOW-COOKER STROGANOFF/GOULASH

Many years ago, when we were first married, we bought (like all our friends) a crock pot.  The theory was that we would set it up before going to work, and a meal would be ready when we got home.  After a number of abortive attempts and lousy meals, we gave up.  Eventually, we gave away that primitive pot.

Then, last year, we were at my daughter’s, and she made this wonderful meal in her high technology slow-cooker.  It was great, and nothing like our decades-earlier attempts.  So we went out and bought one and have made many dishes.  The key now is adjustable temperature as in our Hamilton Beach Stay or Go.

You can double the recipe for company (or left-overs), and it will still fit in the cooker.

It is also important to understand that not all ingredients go in at the beginning.  Adding, say, string beans, and cooking for 6 hours will result in green paste.

1½ lbs       Beef  (a tougher piece of meat with good marbling.                                        I like chuck)

1 Tbs         Worcestershire Sauce

1                  Onion, chopped

1/4 cup    Water

1 can         Cream of mushroom soup (I only use Campbell’s)

4 oz           Cream cheese

8 oz           Noodles  (or alternative starch)

6 oz           Mushrooms (optional)

  1.   Cut meat a bit (not too small).
  2.   Put all EXCEPT the cream cheese into the slow cooker on low for   5 hours. If using mushrooms, cook them separately as they will       generate a lot of water.  Add at the end.
  3.   Add the cream cheese and mix in. It is not necessary that it be         perfectly mixed.
  4.   Serve over noodles, rice, or potato.  My preference is Angel Hair     noodles.
  5.   I like this with carrots, but it is tricky to know when to put them    in so that they cook the right amount for your taste. So it is best  to cook them separately and add them near the end.  I also like    large chunks of onion and I add them half-way through so that  they are still somewhat crisp.

Try this one out and let me know how you like it!  Leave comments in the box below, or email me at john.rudy@alum.mit.edu

BOLLI Matters chef and tech expert John Rudy

 

John says that it was his mother who inspired his love of cooking and baking at an early age.  (She cooked vegetables in boil-able packages.)

JUNE’S BOOK NOOK WITH ABBY PINARD: TWO SEARING BOOKS

Two flawed but searing books about two very different wars…

BIRDSONG

by Sebastian Faulks, 1997

You might want to think twice about reading Birdsong if you are claustrophobic. Also, reading it just before going to sleep might not be conducive to a restful night. You might consider yourself reasonably well educated about World War I — about the brutality of trench warfare and the unimaginable loss of life.  But you haven’t been there, at least not the way Faulks puts you there — in the trenches and especially in the tunnels that snaked under the battlefields, built by both sides, sometimes within feet of each other.

Billed as “a novel of love and war,” the novel of love is mediocre at best. The first hundred-plus pages introducing the protagonist and building up to a torrid love affair are mostly tedious and unnecessary. And the intermittent present-day framing device, in which an educated but oblivious young woman suddenly decides to unearth her family’s history isn’t any better. But most of the book — and certainly the parts that will burn into your brain — are about the war.  It’s almost too painful to read but impossible to put down…the years of carnage, of fear, of filth, the conflict between wanting to live and wanting to die, the inability to even envision a normal life…Faulks’s prose is unadorned and unsparing, as if only by stripping the language down to stark essentials can he convey the unspeakable.

 

REDEPLOYMENT

by Phil Klay, 2014

This award-winning collection of stories about the Iraq war, each told in the first person by someone who survived, compellingly depicts how we wage war in our time. We do it with technology, bureaucracy, and segmentation so narrow that the artilleryman who loaded the gun that destroyed everything in its target zone — six miles away — has been assured that yes, he can now claim to have killed bad guys but he isn’t sure whether to believe it since he sees no evidence. Each narrator has had a different job; in addition to the artilleryman, there’s a chaplain, a foreign service officer, an adjutant, a corpse-disposal specialist and more, some of whom were far from the front lines and never in danger but have learned, on returning home, that people want and expect to hear stories about heroism and bravery.

Phil Klay, himself a former Marine and veteran of the Iraq war, is a fine reporter but maybe — at least based on this first effort — a better reporter than novelist. He vividly portrays the horrors of war and the  tragic destruction of young lives and spirits but although each story has a different narrator, there’s little distinction in voice and little character development beyond the particulars of each man’s (and all the protagonists are men) experience. About half way through, I couldn’t help but feel that all the stories were really being told by a single narrator, a brilliant observer and promising writer named Phil Klay.

“Book Nook” feature writer, Abby Pinard

Abby is a lifelong book nut who retired from a forty-year computer software career in 2007 and ticked an item off her bucket list by going to work in a bookstore. She is a native New Yorker who moved to Boston recently to be among her people:  family and Red Sox fans.  She is a music lover, crossword puzzler, baseball fan, and political junkie who flunked Halloween costumes but can debug her daughter’s wifi.

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