This Old (Milk)House

Handy:  hand•y [han-dee]
adjective, hand•i•er, hand•i•est
1. within easy reach; conveniently available; accessible: The aspirins are handy.
2. convenient or useful: A typewriter is a handy thing to have in the house.
3. skillful with the hands;  deft; dexterous: a handy person.
4. easily maneuvered: a handy ship.

None of these really describes me. Of the many words that might be used to describe me, handy wouldn’t be anywhere near the top of the list. It’s not so much that I can’t be, but overcoming the inertia, intimidation, and…. well, fear, that I’ll really screw something up means I don’t try very often.

We moved into our current home fourteen years ago. It’s an old New England farmhouse dressed up with some Victorian details, but I wouldn’t really call it a Victorian. In fact, the farm it once served as the house for was established two hundred fifty years ago. This house has only been here 150 to 175 years or so, and, along with the ell, a 1960s or 1970s attached garage, and two outbuildings, is all that’s left of a prosperous two or three hundred acre dairy farm. One of the outbuildings, which would have been on the other end of this former connected farm, is the milk house.

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The Complete Sherlock Holmes?

The summer between seventh and eighth grade I took a copy of The Complete Sherlock Holmes from the middle school library and read all four original novels and fifty-six short stories. Play ball? Go swimming? Nah. I read “A Study in Scarlet” to “His Last Bow.” Don’t think I got a sunburn the whole summer, losing myself in the mists and fog of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century London. I’ve been a fan ever since.

In the 1980’s and early 1990’s Granada Television featured Jeremy Brett as the legendary consulting detective, and two actors as his faithful companion, Dr. John Watson (played at different times by David Burke and Edward Hardwicke – Hardwicke was my favorite). Brett wanted his Holmes to be the best the world had ever seen and has certainly been that for me. When PBS’s Masterpiece announced a contemporary adaptation I was skeptical. Hopeful and curious, but skeptical.

Last weekend we watched the first episode of “Sherlock” called “A Study in Pink,” with Benedict Cumberbatch (what a great name!) and Martin Freeman (“The Office” (UK) and “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”). I was completely taken by it and have watched it two or three more times online since. It’s clearly a somewhat loose adaptation, but I thought the parallels were very good and that Cumberbatch’s Holmes was terrific. I especially liked the use of text messages in place of the notes and telegrams Holmes would sent Watson in the original stories, their flat at 221B Baker Street, and the use of modern but still distinctive London taxicabs.

I wanted to reread “A Study in Scarlet” to make a more complete comparison of old and new but, much to my chagrin, I didn’t actually have a print copy (the volume I read when I was twelve long since returned to the middle school library). But I’m ready to watch another installment tonight and see if they can keep the spirit of the world’s most famous consulting detective alive and relevant more than a hundred years after the stories first appeared. Whether Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes measures up to Brett’s, only time will tell, but I think there’s room for an engaging, updated, yet still faithful to the spirit of the original version where you won’t have to choose – you can have both!


New-BeginningJewish people around the world mark the end of the High Holy Days tonight with the conclusion of Yom Kippur at sundown.  Though it seems odd – be patient; hopefully the connection will become clear –  tonight seems an appropriate time to revisit something I first read about six weeks ago.

In Divine Intimacy, a collection of Christian meditations on the interior life written by a Carmelite, Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, more than fifty years ago I ran across a phrase that has stayed with me since reading it back in August:

I have had enough of being the plaything of vain, deceitful things.

(see entry at for the whole article)

The rest of the entry expresses a hope in forgiveness to make a new start.  Like I said, this has been stuck in my head, just kind of bouncing around for the last few weeks.  I think of all the ways I allow myself to be distracted, to be a little too enamored of some things, and way too enamored of still others.  It would be easy to be discouraged, to despair, even, of ever being able to change if it were not for the possibility of starting again.  But I am reminded, and remind myself that every day is a new day, every moment a new moment, the new day and the new moment offering a new chance.

Wishing  friends a happy (Jewish) new year (L’Shana Tova!) and thinking about the days of Yom Kippur and erev Yom Kippur, the days on which one asks forgiveness of God and, before that, forgiveness  of each other kept this meditation fresh in my mind.  After living with it for a while I feel like I have finally been able to put it into context – to forgive and be forgiven, to get up and start again.

Summer 2009, Part 4

Two-thirds of what constitutes summer, at least in this part of the country, has come and gone, much of it shrouded in clouds and rain.  June and July were both far rainier than usual, causing events to be cancelled or shortened.  Attendance at parks, beaches, and events is down yet we, and I suspect others, have been trying to make the most of what little good weather we have been having.

Today was our middle daughter’s family birthday celebration.  She turned seventeen earlier this week – last Monday, as a matter of fact – though with so much else going on it went less noticed than it should.  The weather held off long enough to enjoy sitting out under the trees with four (soon to be five) generations of family from one side or the other.  This evening it’s back into the fog, drizzle, and a cool northeasterly breeze.  It’s a little like a vacation in England, only without the airfare and driving on the left.

This morning I awoke with the words to “Eat This Bread, ” a Taizé chant, in my head.  Coincidentally, one of the readings for today’s mass included a passage from the Gospel of John, chapter 6, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”  A coincidence but, still, it has stuck with me through the day.  On a related note, I have managed to find – either new or used – copies of the fourth, fifth, and seventh volumes of the journals of Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, spiritual writer, and activist of whom I have written before.  Now (I think) out of print, it is becoming harder to find these journals, with the sixth hardest to come by – and where it can be found it goes for much more than the original price.  I suppose this may have something to do with the sixth volume including Merton’s account of, among other things, his affair with a young nurse.  Too bad, because I think people who obsess over this episode miss the larger point of Merton’s life – not his monasticism, not gloating over the “failure” to abide by his vows, but of learning what it means to be authentically human.

Anyway, if summer’s going to be this dismal, I might as well read.

From the Bookshelf – June 2009

Thunderbolt KidNow I can legitimately claim to have read three of Bill Bryson’s books, having finished reading The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid over the weekend.  It had been a while since I read A Walk in the Woods and In A Sunburned Country, so I was happy to re-engage with Bryson’s witty descriptions of the ordinary…. and not so ordinary.

Excerpts of the book appear here (courtesy of NPR, where there is also an interview) and here (courtesy of Campaign for the American Reader).

While happy to be  in the company of Bill Bryson’s writing again, writing that  Scott Simons described as combining “exquisite detail and inspired exaggeration,” and another reviewer as being similar to Jean Shepherd‘s, I found myself tiring of it toward the end.  Even so, Thunderbolt Kid is fun and an interesting look inside one person’s experience of growing up in mid-century America.

Next up:  I Am America and So Can You! by Stephen Colbert.

Open House


From today’s open house at Whitehorse Gear in Center Conway, New Hampshire.  This is the second real “motorcycle gathering” I’ve been to – not to be confused with a “biker” event (two very different things – not judging, just saying).  Good deals (Riding in the Zone and Roadshow), good company, good food and, at least while there, good weather.

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(Almost) Back from the (Almost) Dead


So the kid got her driver’s license a few weeks ago.  And to think we thought it would be easier.  It is, at times.  But, more often than not, it means I end up without.  Even though our daughter hasn’t yet learned to drive a manual, my wife has.  Buying another car to solve this particular problem isn’t really an option (at least I would prefer to think not).  Instead, I spent about a hundred dollars on a new battery for our old Volvo station wagon.

The family car thrice removed (succeeded by the Audi wagon, M-B wagon, and Ford Escape) only has about 169,000 miles on it (just broken in, really, from a time when Volvos were really Volvos, not Fords with a funny accent) and some minor body damage on the driver’s side, and hasn’t been run in the last five years, but is still basically sound.  Took only two tries to start it after spending an extended nap in the barn.  Now if only I can get it refreshed, registered, and inspected, we may have a safe car for someone else to use.

Of course, the someone else will probably be me, since our daughter has told us, “If you think I’m going to drive THAT, you’re CRAZY!” (with apologies to Robert Munsch).  At least my commute is only six miles, and I have another vehicle I can use for official business.