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Vivian Surratt Stokes-Williams (January 27, 1945 - August 29, 2020)

One of my many memories about my mother is her oil painting.  When I was four and five years old, I'd frequently sit on the floor near her easel while she worked, chatting about the day and taking in the decidedly pleasant aroma of the paints, linseed oil, and so forth.  Probably part of the reason why I enjoy using oils in my own hobby activities now and again.Ol' Mom slipped away fairly quickly last week once my sister took her to the hospital last Tuesday evening although she was aware enough during the latter part of the week to converse with doctors and give definite answers to difficult questions.  She was transferred to a hospice in Pinehurst, North Carolina Saturday afternoon, just five minutes from her house there.  She died a short time later just after my sister arrived with a few of Mom's things from home.  None of this has been unexpected since Mom shared her diagnosis in July given the various cancers in her system and their advanced state.  Ou…

Self-Presentation in the Time of Covid-19. . .

The proverbial overflowing hamper of dirty laundry, which seems to be the look many men of various ages strive for actively in 2020.  I maintain they just don't know any better.
Whether you are lucky enough to be able to work from home via online applications like Zoom, Teams, Monday.com, etc., or you are back in the office wearing a mask and social distancing, do everything in your power to avoid looking like an overstuffed lawn & leaf bag with legs.  How you present yourself to the world counts, guys.
Business casual does not mean turning up for work in anything resembling pajamas, t-shirts with ironic sayings, sweatpants, cargo shorts, or anything with wrinkles, rips, tears, food, or grease stains.  Unless you intend to resemble a terminally 30-year old cafe barista with a five-day growth forever working your way part-time through some kind of indeterminate masters degree program that people still don't understand even after hearing you explain it five times in as many da…

Monday Musing. . .

Friday evening, The Grand Duchess and I enjoyed the change in temperature by sitting out on the screened back porch until quite late in the evening talking about this and that.  Covid-19, its effect on U.S. society, our government's woeful lack of response to the ongoing public crisis, our state's response, our university's response, the general quality of the students, what the scholarship of teaching and learning can or should do to reach the mean while maintaining a fairly high level or academic rigor, etc.  While I could not articulate it very well at the time, the following thought has gradually clarified itself during the last few days.  So, here goes.  We can clamor all we want for the coveted "change," but perhaps we should take a more grass roots approach that's a bit closer to home?  Maybe, just maybe, if we want a change in outcomes, whatever the issue under scrutiny might be, we ought to be much more willing to examine, reevaluate, and change thin…

Mid-August Style. . .

Not my photograph, but it conveys the subject of today's post. When I was out for my usual evening walk post-bedtime for The Young Master on Thursday, I saw overhead not one but three separate V's of Canada Geese!  The time was just after 9m, and they were flying into the stunning peach sunset in the west-southwest.  We always start to see such large flocks about this time each summer once again, presumably starting to make their trek south after summering and having new families here in mid-Michigan or points further north.  All told, I'd estimate the total number of geese in the three formations to be about 120 or so.  Fowl (ahem) tempered birds, but beautiful to observe in flight.-- Heinz-Ulrich


Sunday Jazz Style: 'Audrey' by Dave Brubeck

What are your personal habits like?

Are you guilty of this particular charming habit?  Back before social distancing and working from home, the number of people I noticed daily who could not seem to keep their digits out of their nostrils in public was truly stomach churning.  When did everyone start behaving like ill-bred toddlers in a sandbox?

Um, men?  We can be the most handsome, most physically fit, best dressed, highly educated, and most accomplished raconteurs around.  But you know what?  We're only as pleasant as our personal habits.  The kind of things you do when you're alone, or when you think no one is watching.  Personal habits might include everything from the condition in which you leave the bathroom following a shave and shower -- or after, ahem, using the facilities -- to making sure dirty clothing makes it into the hamper immediately upon removal, to how you behave at the table during mealtimes, to the state of your entryway and living space, to. . .  Fill in the bank. 

The point is, it maters n…

Let's Dress Up Again!

Mid-Summer Lawn & Garden Style. . .

Not without its problem spots due to tree roots, thin soil, and possibly 35-year old construction debris, but the front lawn looks pretty good in this photograph.  The large bed below the two trees at the upper left needs something done about it, but that will need to wait until cool weather.  I need to locate the paving stones around its edge and get the grass and ground cover off of them.

The rear lawn looks equally inviting although it too has quite a few problem spots that some professionally administered top dressing might help, but that will have to wait until next spring or possibly later.  Not sure if I want to undertake that particular task myself.


Still, the circular bed in the front lawn looks pretty good here.  The transplanted ornamental grass, which used to live around the mailbox, has taken to its new spot, the Marigolds are still blooming, and it shouldn't be too much longer before the Black-eyed Susans begin to flower.  We need to limit our plantings to things that …

4th of July Style. . .

A summery selection of old Laurence Fellows  illustrations to put you in the mood for dressing a cut or two above the usual sad average as you fire up the grill on this Independence Day here in the United States.  And while it's doubtful that most will don a summer weight suit or odd jacket and pants combo, remember that clothing does convey a lot about the person wearing it, whether we like it or not, and so maybe a collared short-sleeved shirt, non-frayed shorts, and fairly clean athletic shoes (at the very least) might be in order regardless of whatever form your celebration takes. 

As for yours truly, we're staying home this weekend.  I'll make a batch of my mother's mustard potato salad plus a chilled dessert, and grill bratwursts late in the day for dinner.  The Young Master and I will set off a few small firecrackers at dusk.  And all while clad in my very typical madras shirt, khaki shorts, and well-worn leather docksiders.  July 4th is pretty low key around To…

Where can you find decent help in 2020???

Matt and Bob White of Hubert White on the Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis.  The firm has sold menswear to the more discerning since 1916.  Highly knowledgeable, very pleasant sales staff in my experience.

I cannot recall the last time I have encountered a genuinely helpful retail salesperson (for a litany of reasons).  It is rare to stumble across someone who is actually trained to assist rather than virtually untrained, knows his or her stock, or who does not attempt a hard sell.  As the saying goes, you can't find good help anymore, and that has certainly applied to retail clothing stores for many years.  Once in a while, however, there are places that stand out when it comes to true customer service.  In late 2003 or early '04, not long after grad school and in my first teaching job at a small area college, which has since closed, I visited Hubert White (men's clothier) on Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis for a couple of new neckties and some other accessories to …

Menagerie Elementary Summer School Is in Session!

Mr. Young Master helping his students settle in on the first day of school by describing for them what the summer session will look like.


And Mr. Young Master's class.  A real menagerie before he called class to order.

Sartorially, not much going on here at Totleigh-in-the-Wold.  Summers are pretty quiet here attire-wise.  However, The Young Master and I do toss on decent looking, casual though collared shirts of one sort or another daily when we dress each morning along with with (my) chino, Bermuda, or Madras shorts and (his) jeans. 

The Young Master sports a recent acquisition above, one of a number of new polo shirts his mother, The Grand Duchess, purchased for him last month given his rapid growth since January.  Children grow like weeds as the saying goes. 

As for me, otherwise known as 'Bad Dad' around these parts, I'm wearing a new seersucker number this morning, a Father's Day gift yesterday, with tiny navy, light blue, red, teal, and white checks.  On the b…

Black Short Style. . .

French Press Style. . .

'Dad Rat,' as The Young Master calls him, joined us at the breakfast table this morning.  He is very particular about his coffee for a rodent.


A lovely, sunny, cool morning here in Mid-Michigan.  The emerald green grass is freshly cut in long, straight diagonal rows, the flower beds are freshly edged, the Marigolds and Begonias are in full bloom.  The reconfiguration of formerly face to face courses for teaching in an asynchronous online environment is underway.  Ahhhh.  Right now, it's almost possible to forget the ugliness of the world and the rudderless ship on which we have passage.
-- Heinz-Ulrich

Peace amid the Chaos, Discord, and Ongoing Flood of Misinformation. . .

For about ten hours Saturday, it was possible to forget about our complete and utter lack of leadership -- amid the ongoing loss of lives and related, unresolved social issues boiling over -- through physical labor outside.
-- Heinz-Ulrich




Frontyard Style. . .

The center bed with our well ventilation pipe and a few Black-eyed Susans that I was able to salvage.


The last three late afternoons and early evenings before sunset have been spent giving some much overdue TLC to three garden beds in front of Totliegh-in-the-Wold.  Backbreaking is something of an understatment, but the end results are worth it.  A two inch bed of mulch will follow tomorrow  plus a few deer-resistant perennials before moving onto other beds that need some weeding and revamping.  Whew!
Heinz-Ulrich

The bed beneath the small tree with a rather nicely rendered tree-ring if I do say so myself.  Roots close to the surface prevented a nice, crisp edge, so I improvised with some unused bricks to set the bed off from the surrounding lawn.


And the bed beneath a big, old Oak.  Again, roots close to the surface of the ground made edging difficult, but I did what I could.  Mulch for all three areas tomorrow (Sunday).  The bed around the mailbox will get a similar treatment in a day o…

Cluttered. . . Style?

It's amazing how the interiors of so many adults' homes resemble that of a particularly sloppy teenager.

Work-related Zoom and Teams meetings in the time of Covid-19 the last ten weeks or so have provided interesting, albeit unwanted, insight into how an awful lot of families apparently live their daily lives.  In a word, clutter seems to be the rule rather than the exception.  But a cluttered living space has adverse effects contrary to what a lot of people might claim.

Now, before you protest and point out that we are not living in 'normal' circumstances, hold on a second.  Living amid mess is not a recent phenomenon by any means, but something I began to notice about 20 years ago when The Grand Duchess and I, not yet married, or parents, and still relatively carefree young academics, began to accept a lot of dinner and party invitations from work colleagues for Friday and Saturday evenings. 

Almost always, I kid you not, the living spaces of most of the homes, to whi…

Where Is Our Reason and Common Sense?

A few well-dressed men of a bygone age listening to the latest news broadcast.  Possibly from the BBC's Home Service about events in Spain?


What has happened to reason and common sense in the Time of Corona?  Where is our sense of decency?  Did we ever truly exhibit either, or were they simply nice ideals?  It seems that now, more than ever, we could all do with more of the three as well as a healthy dose of focus, calm, self-control, and cooperation.  More thinking about the good of others and the whole rather than simply just ourselves.  What is it about times of crisis that cause some of us to think, act, and speak in the most unpleasant of ways?
-- Heinz-Ulrich

Friday Zoom Meeting Style. . .

As above in my basement office, a.k.a. Zum Stollenkeller. . .

Thought I'd use the two-hour meeting as an excuse to dress a bit more professionally than the usual corduroy jeans and Rugby jerseys of the last nine weeks or so since MSU sent all of us home and courses went remote through to the end of the semester at the start of the month. 
It's amazing how much I come back again and again and again to a navy blazer, olive chinos, and penny loafers.  Easily the most versatile pieces in what is, admittedly, an overly extensive professional wardrobe at this point, which ain't necessarily a bad thing in my book.  That much easier to stave off the pilled company fleeces in earth tones with corporate logos emblazoned across the chest.As far as today's attire goes, this time everything is worn with one of my brand spanking new Mercer button-downs.  This one is The James Bond small Tattersall by the way.  Comfortable fit, lovely collar roll, more than long enough to remain tucke…