Betsy Devine: Funny ha-ha and/or funny peculiar

Making trouble today for a better tomorrow…

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Entries Tagged as 'Life, the universe, and everything'

Remembering Leda Carpenter (1877–1954)

November 23rd, 2015 · Comments Off on Remembering Leda Carpenter (1877–1954)

We spent every childhood summer with my “aunts,” who were in fact no relation to any of us. Aunt Martha and Aunt Harriet were the surviving two of three unmarried career women who had adopted my mother when she was just 18 months old. Aunt Martha and Aunt Harriet spent most of each year in New York City (36 Gramercy Park,) but they returned every summer to the house where Aunt Martha (and later my mother) grew up.

Leda Carpenter (we children called her “Matante” with no clue that was not her name but Canadian-French for “my aunt”) was another summer constant for Devine children. Matante spent her days in the kitchen, although she too had her own bedroom upstairs, in the back of the house. Matante did all the cooking, day after day after day — fresh doughnuts for breakfast and sturdy thick soups at lunch time. Dinners were of course what everyone ate for dinner in my childhood memory… a big slab of meat with potatoes (baked, mashed, or roasted) plus a small pile of some kind of vegetable engulfed by yellow pools of melting butter.

Aunt Harriet and Aunt Martha were sweet ladies of leisure, always ready to read a story or play chess or Mah Jongg with children (children ALWAYS would win.) Matante was not sweet, she was tart. Although happy to see us when we visited her kitchen, she kept the most interesting things there off-limits to children’s fingers. I remember she had a big jar full of chocolate chips that I really wanted to get my hands on. Naively, I asked her how she would know if somebody just happened to eat some when she was not looking.

She fixed me with her fierce bright eyes and said, “I count them, every morning, and every night!” This was all the persuasion I needed to leave them alone!

Leda was in fact my mother’s real aunt. Leda was the reason the leisurely wealthy ladies adopted my mother, brought her up in comfort, and sent her to Smith College when she was old enough. But Leda came from a much darker childhood than my mother knew. On Leda’s 12th birthday, her school attendance ended, because a child 12 years old could get a job in the textile mill, 12 hours a day, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Of Leda’s earning, her mother let her keep two nickels a week, one for the collection plate at Sunday Mass, and the other to save up for buying presents at Christmas. Daily lunch was one slice of bread, and if Leda was very, very lucky, there might even be a piece of salt pork spread over her bread.

I was reminded of Leda today, when I went looking through all my old recipe collections for a scalloped oyster dish that my mother especially liked. Please don’t be too shocked by the recipe that follows! It is not exactly health food, but it is delicious.

Leda Carpenter’s scalloped oyster casserole

Preheat oven to 350, grease casserole dish

1/2 pint of shucked oysters
1/2 cup of milk or cream
1 cup coarse cracker crumbs (saltines or oyster crackers)
1/4 c butter
1/8 tsp salt

Drain oysters into milk. Melt butter and mix with crumbs.

Put a thin layer of crumbs into casserole dish. Add layers of oysters, crumbs, oysters, and crumbs, so top layer is buttered crumbs.

Pour salted milk mixture over everything. Bake 35 minutes.

Scalloped oysters were a popular 19th century dish (Abraham Lincoln loved them.) Apparently they are also a popular holiday food in the southern US. But this particular recipe makes a very small casserole. I remember that my mother would sometimes make this as a treat when I visited her. A party recipe would need to be quite a few times as large. I am guessing that my mother’s memory of this recipe was also of a small special treat that Matante would make just for the two of them, in the long winter months when the elegant aunts were all away in New York City. But I really don’t know.

Memories remind us how many people we knew that now we would like, when it is much too late, to have known a lot better. Memories remind us, “Pay attention today. All our yesterdays vanish so much too fast.”

Tags: Heroes and funny folks · Life, the universe, and everything · My Back Pages · Sister Age · Wide wonderful world

“I don’t know where I’m going to be on July 11”

June 30th, 2015 · Comments Off on “I don’t know where I’m going to be on July 11”

When I was a little girl, a sentence like this would have made no sense to anyone in my family. We all knew exactly where we were going to be, just about every day–waking up in our own bedrooms in our own house with our own family all around us.

My sister and brothers and I also knew, just about any day in the future, what we would be doing. Each day moved through a series of stylized programs almost as predictable as (later on in my childhood) a TV schedule. Getting up. Getting clean. Getting dressed. Getting breakfast (mostly bacon plus eggs in various shapes.) A lot of this “getting” by children and my father was the result of “giving” and “doing” by my mother, something we never thought about then, when it was happening.

Today, Frank and I live in such a different world. We’re not little children, or parents of little children, so our lives are full of enormously varied choices, many quite appealing. Our friendship groups link us to time zones around the world, so Skype meetings get scheduled via with friends in China online at 11 p.m., friends in Boston online at 11 a.m., while here in Sweden we’re in the middle at 5 p.m.

We just spent a month living in a hotel in Sweden, where having a private meal by ourselves requires more work than just going out to a restaurant. Our summer is going to be similarly peculiar, because Frank has a new book coming out July 14 (A Beautiful Question, wonderful book if I say so myself.)

The quote that gave me a title from this blogpost is from a friend who is similarly location-challenged… but who DOES know where he will be on July 9, viz. “On July 9, I’ll be stuck in JFK airport for 5 hours, so that would be a good time for a Skype conversation.” How astounded my childhood self would have been by such dislocations!

Our grown-up rootlessness, our freedom to travel and adventure, is both sweet and bitter. It is sweet because our freedom comes not only from financial and personal privilege, but also from a sense that whenever Frank and I are somewhere together, we’re safe inside “family.” (This wouldn’t work, of course, if we weren’t confident that a few weeks will bring us back into connection with actual family back home.)

It is bitter because for us both, the “home” where we set our roots back in our childhoods… those homes are gone. The jolly family dinners that seemed so eternal as they repeated year after year… the houses of grandparents, aunts, uncles, multiple feisty cousins, almost as familiar as our own childhood bedrooms… if we could even find those houses now, strangers live there.

So, I also don’t know where I’ll be on July 11. Sometimes, I’m not even really sure where I am right this very moment.

Tags: everythingismiscellaneous · Go go go · Life, the universe, and everything · My Back Pages · Sweden · Travel · Wide wonderful world

Like Entourage, but with robins

April 24th, 2007 · Comments Off on Like Entourage, but with robins




Building a Nest

Originally uploaded by m00nbugg.

I went out to clean the pond this morning and really annoyed some male robins who’d been hanging out there.

I’ve seen these guys before, just romping around in the shallows, splashing themselves and, on occasion, each other.

I wonder if they’re a batch of last summer’s nestmates…they seem so contented to be spending time together.

I wonder if they have a robin-sized yellow Hummer concealed maybe underneath the azaleas…

Tags: Life, the universe, and everything

Spacetime and springtime on the kitchen counter

March 30th, 2007 · Comments Off on Spacetime and springtime on the kitchen counter




Spacetime and springtime on the kitchen counter

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine.

Frank got home late last night from Texas–McMurry University gave him a really neat present, a wooden box with a compass and watch inside it. Or, as Frank explained it to me “Space and time.”

Where should I photograph this cool little toy? As it happened, on the counter next to our sink one of many small grocery-store spring plants was in fresh bloom. Then I decided the stoneware casserole with a dragon on top of it would make another good addition to the photo.

Ahh, multitasking. Can you see from this photo why Linda Stone thinks it’s not such a good idea?

Tags: Frank Wilczek · Life, the universe, and everything

Abandonware hope, all ye who enter here!

July 23rd, 2005 · Comments Off on Abandonware hope, all ye who enter here!

Assuming that all ye who enter love old Mac games, like

  • Mouse Stampede (like Centipede but with little tiny mice)
  • Oregon Trail
  • The Secret of Monkey Island

Bonus linkage:
Photos from the Harvard Bookstore’s Harry Potter party.

Thanks to Amity for today’s URLs, and may a good summertime keep being had by all!


Tags: Life, the universe, and everything

When you really, really don’t want any crashes…

July 21st, 2005 · Comments Off on When you really, really don’t want any crashes…

When computers get their own drivers’s licenses–which OS would you like to see behind the wheel?

Team Banzai’s autonomous car uses 3 Mac Minis, fully loaded with OS X. Microsoft has fine slogans (“Where do you want to go today?”) but I hope I’m not sharing Route 95 anytime soon with a car whose “driver” could be zombie-jacked by a Windows spam-spewer in Russia.


Props to Niek for the link and a better title than mine: “Mini, you can drive my car.”


Tags: Life, the universe, and everything

SuperMario World in a Flash mashup with physics

July 13th, 2005 · Comments Off on SuperMario World in a Flash mashup with physics

ERROR (mariophysics) Super nerd nirvana accessible through your browser.

Thanks to Cory at BoingBoing for the link.


Tags: Life, the universe, and everything

Comet kaboom just in time for Fourth of July

July 4th, 2005 · Comments Off on Comet kaboom just in time for Fourth of July

Kudos to NASA! (Hey guys, why not hire me to do your graphics?)


Tags: Life, the universe, and everything

Gollum and Johnny Depp, or time to remix two of my favorite graphics

June 15th, 2005 · Comments Off on Gollum and Johnny Depp, or time to remix two of my favorite graphics

Gollum: Gollum blinks, looking even more evil. + Pirati: Johnny Depp based his portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow on legendary bad boy Keith Richards, and on legendary cartoon skunk Pepe Le Pew. = ????
Via the new King Kong blog, Andy Serkis has jumped out of his Gollum suit and hopes to direct Johnny Depp in his next movie.

Gollum directing a movie–imagination boggles, yesss, my preciousss, it absolutely boggles.


Tags: Life, the universe, and everything

Getting in touch with his roots, and vice versa

June 12th, 2005 · Comments Off on Getting in touch with his roots, and vice versa

PolishFrank: Frank Wilczek reads Przeglad with article about his Nobel Prize.

Frank’s Polish grandmother, aka Grandma Wilczek, compressed a powerful primal force somewhere in her 5-foot-tall frame. Her wedding portrait, lugging an armful of lilies as long as her arm, dominates one corner of our diningroom.

At 19, in Poland’s disastrous post-World-War-I years, she fled her home town, Galician Babice. On Long Island, she met Frank’s Polish grandfather–a six-foot-tall blacksmith from Warsaw, who gave us all the last name that means “little wolf.”

I’ve enjoyed watching Frank get in touch with his Polish roots (and vice versa), but today’s
PIASA party takes the cake (or at least it takes the chrusciki and/or paczki).

“PIASA” stands for “Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences of America,” emigre scholars who maintain a wonderful archive of Polish lore here in NYC.

A good time was had by all–and I flickred some photos.


Tags: Life, the universe, and everything