Friday, June 15, 2018

WHAT AM I?

I always like this picture of me. I was my "official" portrait taken
when I was made an officer at the bank where I worked.
Looking at some of the pictures I have of me, I decided to trot this one out for this post.

Recently, I subscribed to emails from Prime Woman, a website that is “redefining the ageless generation.” I’ve read some interesting articles there. One recent week they ran the article “Finding Purpose After Retirement: Who Do You Think You Are?” Topics like this are new and somewhat strange to me.
First: finding purpose after retirement. I was very fortunate to be able to retire over thirty-five years ago. (I’m 75, do the math.) Never once in all those years did I ask myself about my purpose. Then they asked “Who do you think you are?” I’ve never thought about that one either. Maybe it was time I did.

The article suggested that you take a piece of paper and in five minutes write down the words or phrases that complete the sentence “I am_______.” Geeze Loueeeze, what am I? Who am I?

What I wrote:  I am…
…lazy, therefore sometimes anal about keeping things tidy
…an introvert, though many wouldn’t think it
…a giver of things, not time
…happy
…inventive
…very self-centered
…fairly smart

Later I looked again at Prime Woman’s various lists, and thought about mine. I recognized that I never included the word “stressed” though at this point I am. I suppose that what others would call stress, I take in stride. And, unlike some other women, I never included what I did. I am, among other things, a blogger, a community magazine writer and editor, a retired banker, and a housekeeper. (Housekeeper: the name of a Girl Scout badge I earned in fifth grade.) I am Laura Lee Johnston – I am me.




Saturday, June 9, 2018

THINGS I HATE


The Pleasures of Hating

I hate Mozart. Hate him with that healthy
pleasure one feels when exasperation has

crescendoed, when lungs, heart, throat,
and voice explode at once: I hate that! —

there’s bliss in this, rapture. My shrink
tried to disabuse me, convinced I use Amadeus

as a prop: Think further; your father perhaps?
I won’t go back, think of the shrink

with a powdered wig, pinched lips, mole:
a transference, he’d say, a relapse: so be it.

I hate broccoli, chain saws, patchouli, bra-
clasps that draw dents in your back, roadblocks,

men in black kneesocks, sandals and shorts —
love hating that. Loathe stickers on tomatoes,

jerky, deconstruction, nazis, doilies. I delight
in detesting. And love loving so much after that.

_ooOoo_



Well I’m with the poet on a lot of the things she loves to hate. In opening that morning’s now defunct The Writer’s Almanac, the word “Mozart” caught my eye. I can’t say I hate Mozart, but most of what I call his “twiddley music” annoys me and could give me the jitters. It isn’t melodic, lyrical or smooth. I can’t hum it to myself as I can “Finlandia.” 

But I digress…

…things I hate:
·         Yes – those tickers on tomatoes, and peaches, and apples, and pears too
·         Yes also to deconstruction. Who cares what the author or composer meant? Shut up and enjoy the work.
·         Doilies? Does anyone use doilies these days?
·         People who don’t read to the end of anything - email, article, book, announcement – and then go off halfcocked, ranting and raving about something they’d have known if they’d have read the whole thing – ah, well!
·         And also – old people who think they can do or say anything they want, just because they’re old
·         Vegetables like kale and broccolini that have become diet darlings – and isn’t there a new diet darling each week?
·         Wearing anything that looks like it was made out of an American flag
·         Celebrity singers at sports events who murder our national anthem - our anthem should be sung belted out by the whole crowd.
·         Cable TV stations that repeat the same old programs ad nauseum – I’m not sure how they justify their existence to the FCC, but I’m sure they stay in business to rake in the advertising dollars.

My list might go on forever – ad nauseum – but that’s enough for now. If you are so inclined, you can click on “Curmudgeon” on my list of Topic of Interest, over there on the right.

The poet and I think the same way: I love loving so much after that.



Saturday, June 2, 2018

A BUCKET LIST FOR MY NEXT LIFE




O.K. – I’m 75 and not in the best shape. There are so many more things to do on this earth than there were when I was fit and forty or fifty years younger. One recent day, it struck me that I am particularly jealous of kayakers. I never envied the Inuit their kayaks, but I would very much love to have a new kayak large enough to stow my gear for a meander down an interesting river. Moreover, I would very much love to be able to get into and out of a kayak – my legs and knees are no longer very cooperative. I have canoed in my lifetime, when I was younger and much more spry, and I enjoyed it tremendously, but the enclosure of a kayak somehow has more appeal for me.

So – on that day when I that jealousy struck me, I decided that I would start a bucket list for my next life. Kayaking would be at the top of the list. Truth be known, remembering this life would be at the top of the list, but we can’t have everything.

My list – a work in progress:

Get a kayak and meander on a river

Take a ride, 10 feet up, on an elephant

Go whale watching

Learn to SCUBA dive

See Petra, the Taj Mahal, Abu Simbel, and Uluru-Ayres Rock, Machu Picchu


            …I’m still thinking.

Friday, May 25, 2018

A CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK...

                                                                       ...of chocolate.

Another one of the articles that was fun to research. This week, I made a big batch of chocolate chip cookies for Frank. I packed a bit of extra nutrition in them by substituting a cup of quick-cook oatmeal for a cup of the flour, and adding chopped pecans. Here in the South you must add pecans wherever you can. I freeze the dough balls and bake the cookies a dozen at a time. If I baked 'em all at once, I'd eat 'em all at once.

These are what we use toady as chips for our cookies
(I prefer the Hershey Special Dark myself.)

They’re out there, but very hard to find: those without a sweet tooth, those who never, ever savored a chocolate chip cookie. Breathes there a man with soul so dead, who never to himself has said “this chocolate chip cookie is as American as baseball and apple pie.”

It is American. The exact date on which the first chocolate chip cookie was baked is not precisely known, but it was somewhere early in 1938, some 80 years ago, that the idea of them came to Ruth Graves Wakefield. At the time, she owned the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts – thus their original name: Toll House Cookies. The chefs at the inn were very creative, so much so that they produced the classic cookbook Toll House Tried and True Recipes. The 1977 edition is still available. People were eager to follow the recipes of this very fine establishment. Evidently, the Massachusetts boys serving during World War II got the cookies in care packages from home, and shared them with their buddies. The joy of them spread like cookie dough in a hot oven.

The first chips were just that: chips off the chocolate on hand for the chefs at the inn, and technically, if it’s called a Toll House cookie, it is pristine: just the basic original recipe cookie dough with chips of chocolate.

These are more like the chips of chocolate used at the Toll House Inn

They say that if you change at least three ingredients in a recipe you can consider it yours. There have been so many changes to the original Toll House Cookies recipe that today’s recipes are anybody’s. Even the recipe on a Nestlé’s “morsels” departs from the original, substituting butter or margarine for the original shortening. The recipes today are as many and varied as those for spaghetti sauce or the many other foods that have become fixtures on American tables.

Chips are no longer chips: they’re extruded drops. And they are no longer just chocolate: they can also be semi-sweet, bitter-sweet, white chocolate, butterscotch, peanut butter, cinnamon, even mint. And chips can be regular size, chunks, or minis. To the dough you can beat in oatmeal, cocoa, walnut, pecans, hazelnuts, macadamias, raisins, dried cranberries, toffee, tiny marshmallows, and what? The beat goes on. Are they still chocolate chip cookies?  Probably yes, if there is still some chocolate in them.



The original drop cookie of about 2½ to 3 inches in diameter has grown. Some big, fat five-inchers are pikers. Chocolate chip cookies can be found in pita, plate, and pizza-size portions. We Americans like to make everything bigger, but Cookie Monster might consider some of those larger versions to be monstrosities, both size-wise and taste-wise.

National Chocolate Chip Day is celebrate every year on May 15. National Cookie Day is December 4 (time to start baking for the holidays) and, put them together and you get National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day on August 4. You might want to find other reasons (your Mother-in-law’s birthday, your neighbor’s new car) to celebrate with chocolate chip cookies. It is the American thing to do.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

THE BEEB




Lordie, lordie, I just love the BBC. Without having to buy a subscription to read more than a few articles each month, as with the New York Times or the Washington Post, I can read and learn to my heart’s and my mind’s content.
Just this morning I copied their list of 100 Stories that Shaped the World, read about why doctors are dismissing pain, and, just when I thought I’d never know this, learned the secret of how Michael Jackson did that incredible dance move.
It occurred to me that this is probably the most valuable link I have in the array of sites I’ve bookmarked to check each day. I just thought I'd let you know.

Friday, May 18, 2018

RIVETED FOR 145 YEARS



Ah yes, another of the essays I wrote for our community magazine. This was an interesting topic to research. I did know the Nimes connection, but not the Genoa connection. I vaguely remember when my brother got a pair of what we then called dungarees - and that word is from the Hindi in India. He called them donkey pants. I remember my own first pair of blue jeans. I bought the for myself when I was in my late twenties, in the late 60's. Before that, I'd never have even thought to get them. 
Have you seen the latest trend in jeans? I'll tack on pictures at the bottom.

From France - the History of Jeans
What do the city of Nimes, France, and Genoa, Italy, have to do with the denim jeans you might have in your wardrobe? Historically, both cities were involved in the weaving of cloth. The cotton denim in your pants gets its name from serge de Nimes. There are many versions of the story of how the French fabric, serge de Nimes, made of silk and wool as long ago as the sixteenth century, became the cotton fabric known today.

And why do we call them jeans? Jean, in the sense of clothing, is said to be, among other thigs, a corruption of the word Genoa. The French word for Genoa is Gênes. The Genoese, masters of the sea, were also known for sturdy fabrics, many of them similar to today’s corduroy. Jean became a generic term for sturdy cloth and clothes, including the work clothes often worn by navy men.

Drawing for Patent 139,121
And what is the significance of this month? It was 145 years ago this month, in 1873, that Levi Strauss, businessman, and Jacob Davis, tailor, were granted U.S. Patent 139,121, “Improvement in Fastening Pocket-openings,” for work pants strengthened with metal rivets. The applicant was Levi Strauss & Co., and the inventor was Jacob W. Davis. Strauss, a wholesale dry goods merchant born in Germany, brought in goods, jean fabric among them, from his family’s company in New York. Opening his San Francisco company in 1853, he made and sold necessities, including tents and trousers, for the miners during the Gold Rush.

Jacob Davis, a Russian immigrant based in Reno, Nevada, had been making work pants from the jean cloth supplied by Strauss. Becoming aware of the need to reinforce the stress points where the trousers often ripped, even after being reinforced with more cloth, Davis invented a method of inserting copper rivets at these points. Not having funds of his own, he went to Strauss for the money to patent them. The rest was, as they say, is history.


Stressed beyond imagination, these will stress your budget: 

they cost a small fortune - $1,290 - really!
whywouldya!

The stress points in question were the corners of the pockets and the bottom of the button fly. “Waist overalls,” different from over-all overalls, were always popular with miners, cowboys, and other working men. The original riveted trousers were made from several sturdy fabrics with which Strauss and Davis, who managed the production of work pants and other clothing, experimented. Eventually, they settled on a blue denim made by an American manufacturer.



By the 1920’s Levi’s waist overalls were the country’s best-selling blue jeans. Their popularity grew after World War II: American G.I.s popularized them, movie stars wore them, kids wore them, bikers wore them, hippies wore them, and ladies began to wear them with the zipper in the front instead of the side. Overseas in 70’s and 80’s, American blue jeans fetched exorbitant prices. Strauss blue jeans became so popular that the word Levi’s, like Kleenex and Vaseline, became a generic term.

denim made in India

Denim is no longer the blue-collar working man’s fabric, and blue jeans are no longer their basic blue. They come in a range from white to black, and the blues range from pale ice to dark indigo, their original color. No longer stiff as a board after washing, jeans are pre-softened for us and are often distressed, embroidered and bejeweled, and even artistically ripped in strategic places. We often question why people would happily pay up to hundreds of dollars for ripped and shredded jeans, when it is obvious that they are the very last ones who should wear them. Such rips and shreds, available for mere money, should be the badge of honor earned by hard work. Hard work was what necessitated sturdy jeans in the first place.

The very latest in jeans 

Coming...


...and going!
- again, whywouldya?
·      



Friday, May 11, 2018

HEAVEN HELP US



Every year, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York holds a benefit gala for itself. It’s a red-carpet fashion event, worthy of the Oscars and Emmys. Many take the year’s theme and run with it, and the outfits run from the ridiculous worn by a few of the more daring and darling celebrities, to the sublime and elegant worn by most.

Brooke Shields - Sublime


(I wanted to get a few facts straight, so I googled “mma gala.” I got info, but it was for the IMFA MMA GALA, held by the people who do the mixed martial arts. There’s a good connection there, and probably a pithy comment or two, but my brain can’t deal with it right at this moment.)

Katy Perry - Ridiculous
(if for no other reason than she couldn't sit in that rig)

 
This year’s theme was “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination” to celebrate the museum’s exhibit of religious artwork, papal vestments on loan from the Vatican, and haute couture outfits from designers like Chanel, Balenciaga, Yves Saint Laurent...

...and Balmain on Jennifer Lopez 

Not that I’d ever have the occasion to wear it, but I do love seeing pictures of elegant haute couture. I wrote a blog about Evening Gowns, the Nuns, and My Mom. I can’t help but wonder what the nuns would have thought of some of the more outré ensembles at the MMA gala.

Rianna - Ridiculous


When events like this take place, I am always eager to go through the slides and comment, as I’ve done in the past. I’ve blogged about The Tasty and The Tasteless at these events. This gala was another example of the tasty and the tasteless.

Tasteless.  I rest my case.

One of my pet peeves is people wearing clothing that looks like it was made out of our flag. Another is the wearing of religious symbols as decorative jewelry. To me a cross or medal or other religious symbol, worn hanging around the neck as has been traditional for centuries, is the only acceptable way to let the world know what you are. These two pet peeves are concerned more with respect than with dignity, but some of the outfits at the gala were less than dignified. Some of the celebrities and their designers let their Catholic Imagination run amok.

Madonna! Marone! Definitely a miss mass mess.
(and check that gal's left arm - is that tat a temp?)

Google Metropolitan Museum of Art Gala 2018 to see all the crosses and losses, halos and JLos and other astonishing outfits.



There had to be something nun-such in there.
nun today, nun tomorrow.
Later:

Read an article about all this in the New York Times from May 20th.












Saturday, May 5, 2018

THE WEEK THAT WAS

Busy chickens at Hancock Shaker Village

It's been a busy week here at what we call Asgard South. One of the people most dear to us came for her annual birthday visit - this year for Frank's 87th birthday. We always delight in whatever time we can spend with her. I had some extra meetings this week, and a luncheon with a magazine colleague. I do like to brainstorm with her.

I tell you though, my sense of what day is which was completely awry. On Wednesday night I started to put out the trash and recyclables - no, they go out on Thursday night. On Thursday night I took my Friday-night cholesterol pill. (Those are working, by the way. My cholesterol count it down to 170 and the other numbers are nicely where they should be.) And on Friday I forgot to write a post for my blog. Perhaps I'm a bit muddled. After all, I've had some busy days.

Welcome to May and warm days and cool nights. Camelot weather.

Friday, April 27, 2018

TRENDING NOW


One of the latest additions to my favorite shelter site, Houzz is “Trending Now: 10 Dream Baths That Have it All.”  Ah yes – huge bathrooms with walk-in showers and multiple shower heads, enormous soaking tubs, the latest patterns in tile floors and walls, and views guaranteed to send you to a Nirvana-like state of mind. Plenty of storage, sometimes lots of veined marble, exotic plants, heated towel racks, heated floors, and mirrors galore. And always, always, big, fluffy white towels.
Like any piece in any shelter magazine or website, the homes and décor shown far a far cry from what’s possible for most of us homeowners, especially us senior citizens. Oh, once I might have loved a huge soaking tub – the huger the better, all the better to accommodate my not insignificant embonpoint. Today, I’m happy to have a shower with proper grab bars and a handy place to sit if I need to, or rest my leg on so I can wash my nether parts. With my generally stiff self, and poor legs and knees, there is no way now that I’ll be able to get in or out of a tub.
All of the trendy bathroom things are very nice, and were I in a position to do so, I’d not turn up my nose at any of them with one exception: big, white, fluffy towels. Big? Alright, nice. Fluffy? Well, how do they dry? But White? Get real! White towels are for the desperate homeowner following her realtor’s over-the-top run down of what sells a house. White is for people who never, ever lift a finger, never wear makeup, never do garden work, house work, or work on their car, and never sweat at all.  Well...

This whole Trending Now thing is absurd, even more so on the television news broadcasts. You’re supposed to pay close attention so that you remain “in the know” about what’s important in the not-so-important, superficial world around us. I am quite “in the know” in my own sphere, and have no need to be trendy.
Speaking of useless filler, I’m convinced that the TV station people lie awake at night thinking of how to fill an hour or two of what’s called News. One of my favorite useless things is the Storm Trackers they send out in bad weather. I’d like to know who is driving in their own car while watching the Storm Tracker. And what about the traffic reports? Radio? Good idea, but on TV? Do some commuters have their spouses watch the traffic report and all them on their cell phone to report in? Well, enough of that for today.





Friday, April 20, 2018

THINK ABOUT IT...


Here's a curmudgeonly article I concocted for the magazine. It was meant to be a companion piece to a article about the pulling down of controversial memorial statues, along with a article about one statue honoree whose contributions, in retrospect, are unpalatable to us today. None of the articles saw print. They were deemed to be a bit too controversial for our community content. 

Recent developments have seen the removal from Central Park of that statue honoree, Dr.J. Marion Sims, the "Father of Gynecology," who is now known to have experimented, without anesthesia, on slave women. The stature was moved to Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. Already exiled to that cemetery in 2012 was the statue memorial to Civic VirtueA cemetery seems like great place for any controversial statues because the residents, including my in-laws in Green-Wood, really won't care, and their visitors are few and far between. 
Now - 

Think about it...

...Is it good – or is it bad - that we live in an age where not only are we aware of past and present injustices, we want to, and have the privilege and the means to, discuss them, dissect them, and deconstruct them? It’s unfortunate that we don’t have a magic wand to right them.

America’s history is, among other things good – and bad – a continuation of the history of the world. Man’s inhumanity to man has been a means of power, profit, and the promulgation of selected ideals and causes since time began.

Very few of us would score well on a test of our aptitude for being a judge, a mediator, or a diplomat. In any given situation, most of us will fall heavily on the side toward which our lifelong-learned biases propel us.

History is rife with injustices. For many reasons, the basic one being lack of widespread and timely communications, past generations knew less, had less to say, and few to say it to. An old Chinese proverb holds that “Heaven is high and the emperor is far away.” And so the local injustices, petty or serious, went on locally, and the emperor’s word, his laws, his injustices, often affected relatively few. We Americans are focused on our own problems, often only casually interested in the injustice going on in the rest of the world. Is that good, or is that bad?

Today we have mass, speedy communications. From the Washington Post in print and online, to Twitter, the word spreads quickly about injustice, perceived or real. Political, social, or economic, it all comes under the heading of human injustice. Every day the rhetoric seems to be more heated.

It is good – or is it bad – that people feel free to comment and criticize from their own personal pulpit and prospective? For example, trivial though it may seem, was it good - or was it bad – that the fashion industry was chastised for not complaining how the Neo-Nazis were dressed at a protest?
Is it good – or is it bad – that there is a movement to remove any statue or monument to those involved in the Civil War?
Is it good – or is it bad – that it has come to the point where our country is up in arms about arms?
Is it good – or is it bad – that our congressional leaders of opposing parties go back and forth with accusations, blame, and partisan posing?
Is it good - or is it bad - that a list of questions like these could go on for pages?

Everyone and anyone is free to voice and justify their opinion about injustice – it’s our right as Americans. More people are voicing and justifying their ideas for solutions, but too few are listening to them with open, educated minds.

Sometimes it’s thought that we really don’t want to wipe out injustice because all we’d have left to discuss would be the wind and the weather and what to have for supper. We’d have no different flags to fly or anthems to sing, no statues to raise or to tear down, no profit to be made. In this age of justification, that’s simplistic, but not far from the truth.

Is that good, or is that bad? Think about it.




Saturday, April 14, 2018

TOO MARVELOUS FOR WORDS


 “You’re much too much, and just too very, very
      To ever be in Webster’s Dictionary.”



As Kleenex has become generic for facial tissue, and Vaseline for petroleum jelly, so too has Webster’s become generic for dictionary. We don’t just say “look it up,” we say “check your Webster’s.” It was on April 14, 1828, that Noah’s Webster’s An American Dictionary of the English Language was published. One hundred and ninety years later, we do have Google for a quick look-see, and spell-check for our electronic writing, but there’s nothing like getting your hands on a hefty Webster’s for a complete definition, pronunciation, and the correct spelling of any word in question.

Born in 1758, Noah Webster graduated as a lawyer from Yale and passed the bar. Unable to find work in the law, he opened his own school. It was the teacher in him that was dissatisfied: generally with the state of education in the new Untied States, and specifically with instruction in the English language. He disapproved of having to use British textbooks in the classroom, and set out to correct the situation. At the age of 25, he published the first of three parts of his A Grammatical Institute of the English Language. That first part was The American Spelling Book, later known as “the Blue Backed Speller,” which is still in print. He later published part two, a grammar, and part three, a reader consisting of American pieces written to promote democracy and responsible conduct.

Webster continued on as a journalist, essayist, and lecturer, and in an effort to protect his own rights as well those of other authors, he lobbied extensively for stringent and uniform copyright laws. In 1806, he published the Compendious Dictionary of the English Language. It was the minor precursor of An American Dictionary of the English Language that he began in the following year.

The American Dictionary “Americanized” words in British usage, changing words like colour and neighbour to color and neighbor, musick to music, and theatre to theater. For the first time, it separated the i’s from the j’s, and the u’s from the v’s in the alphabet. It included new words like skunk and hickory, gleaned from the Native Americans, and also included words in languages like French and Spanish that had become common in American usage. The dictionary contained about 70,000 words, small in comparison to the over 200,000 words, current and obsolete, included in the Oxford English Dictionary, the OED, but large in comparison to the common vocabulary of the day. Above all, it began the standardization of spelling. Webster argued that standardized spelling would be a big factor in uniting the separate regions of the new United States. We may speak with regional accents, but we read and write without them.

The dictionary and a later edition never sold too well: In 1828, it sold for about $15 to $20, about $400 in today’s currency. That was too high price for the average American to pay. Webster’s estate sold the rights and the unsold copies of the 1841 edition to the publishers G. & C. Merriam Company.


Billing itself as “the world’s most trusted dictionary,” trusted for spelling, definitions, and pronunciation, the dictionary became The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, currently available in editions priced from $1.98 on up. (By comparison, the OED will cost you around $1,100, but do you usually need to know that many words?) In 1982, the company name was changed to Merriam-Webster, Incorporated, and in a twist of fate, it is now owned by a British publisher, the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Will we Americans go back to colour, neighbour, and theatre? Not ruddy likely.

-------
This is another I wrote for the community magazine. I still don't understand some of Webster's spelling choices, but he isn't around for me to interview. 


Friday, April 6, 2018

THE HUMBLE PENCIL


This is a fun piece I did for our community magazine. My posting is a bit late for National Pencil Day - that was March 30th. When I was googling for pictures this morning, I came upon this entry from Graf von Faber-Castell for the "perfect pencil" Perfect that is if you've a mind to spend a mere $10,000.00 for it. Really?  I'll take two.

Prefect: pencil, sharpener, and eraser.
I'd think folks who own this pencil would make no mistakes.


Behold the humble pencil, an item we take for granted until we need one and can’t find one. Behold the humble pencil eraser, another item we take for granted until we need to erase what we just wrote and find we’ve made so many previous mistakes that the eraser is useless.

Just a pencil

 
It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact birthday of the pencil. Man has been using various writing tools for ages, one of them was the stylus, and that was usually made of lead. The people at pencils.com tell us that in 1564, a large deposit of what was thought to be lead was discovered in England. It proved to be graphite, a form of carbon, a mineral that could be processed to form a writing or drawing stick. The first such sticks were wrapped with sheepskin, but soon there came the invention of the wood casing for the graphite. In the late seventeenth century, pencils went into mass production.



Shortly after the discovery of that graphite deposit, there were ideas for holders for replaceable pencil sticks, what we call leads. The earliest known mechanical pencil was found on a ship that sank in 1791. The first refillable mechanical pencil as we know it today was patented in England in 1822. Now there are custom mechanical pencils that sell for hundreds of dollars, not-so-humble solid gold versions that sell for thousands, and the ubiquitous plastic-barreled versions that sell for about five for a dollar. They all write well, they all have erasers. 



It isn’t difficult to pinpoint the exact birthday of the pencil eraser: March 30, 1858. On that day, the clever Hyman Lipman patented the first eraser attached to a pencil. This Philadelphian could be the hero of American school children, but not of European school children: most of their pencils are eraserless. (Pencil tops, caps, or separate blocks, we call them erasers. The British call them rubbers. We wear rubbers or rubber boots, they wear Wellies. But I digress…)



The spread of electronic communication has not diminished the need for pencils. The major pencil manufacturers report that worldwide sales are growing nicely. All this leads us to the fact that the “powers that be,” having an exact date for Lipman’s invention, declared March 30 to be National Pencil Day. Chew on a pencil to celebrate.

This could be a bunch from my husband's workshop.
All carpenters and woodworkers love pencil stubs


Pencil Trivia

·        Lead pencils are now made using a mixture of clay and graphite.

·        Hyman Lipman’s patent, sold for a small fortune, was later invalidated because it was deemed to be only a combination of two existing items.

·        Henry Thoreau, when he wasn’t writing, made pencils.

·        Though many authors preferred writing in pencil, John Steinbeck used over 300 pencils while writing one of his novels. (Who counted them?)

·        Eraser caps were invented to prolong the use of a pencil after its original eraser was worn away.

·        While colored pigments, chalks, and waxes were used for art work from ancient times, they didn’t appear in pencil form until the early twentieth century.

·        Common pencils can be used as pipe tobacco tampers, back scratchers, bookmarks, chignon holders, chopsticks, drum sticks, even splints. (Handy, aren’t they?)

·        One of the few sports that relies on pencils is golf, and golf pencils are short so that they fit easily in a pocket in the golfer’s pants or bag. They are handy to clean off golf cleats, and they’re eraserless, we suppose, to discourage cheating.






Friday, March 30, 2018

MAXIMALISM AND ME




You've heard of the minimalists, meet a maximalist. Spell check likes minimalist, but not maximalist, though there is such a word. The first definition of maximalist that comes up on Google is “(especially in politics) a person who holds extreme views and is not prepared to compromise.”  Well, that’s not me at all, at all. (Well, maybe sometimes!) But Google goes on to quote Wikipedia and say “In the arts, maximalism, a reaction against minimalism, is an esthetic of excess and redundancy. The philosophy can be summarized as "more is more", contrasting with the minimalist motto "less is more."



Less is more at this house. I’ve been downsizing for years, and I’ve got several cupboard and closet shelves that are empty. Empty can be a great concept. There is one area where more is more: on my walls. On a lark, I took a count of all the items hung on the walls of this house, Current, never final, count: 210 - 52 in the kitchen alone. Frank and I never set out to collect any one thing, we don’t have a lot of dust collectors in this house, but it seems we’ve amassed quite a number of things to decorate our walls. They range from handed-down prints and etchings, to W.W.II postcards, to prints, photos, and souvenirs we’ve collected for ourselves. There are several quilts, and lots of needlework done for us by one very special person.



The website Houzz talks about gallery walls – I have several of them. One nice thing about wall-hung things is that you rarely have to dust them. The other is that just a glance at them, in the same way you’d glance at the title on the spine of a favorite book, can evoke a small wave of memories and delight.






Friday, March 23, 2018

DID SOMEONE SAY IT WAS SPRING?

DID SOMEONE SAY IT WAS SPRING?

Here in northern South Carolina this morning, it was at the freezing mark. Up in the Northeast they are suffering their fourth nor'easter in a month. Though the vernal equinox happened this past week, you couldn't prove it by the weather - it's crazy all over the country. (Yep, Mr Trump, there's no global warming effect.)
I found this poem in April last year, on the now defunct The Writer's Almanac. The cadence of the poem reminded me of that of one of my favorites, Barbara Frietchie, by John Greenleaf Whittier. John Greenleaf Whittier. As a kid, I was intrigued by multi-syllabled triple names like his and Robert Louis Stevenson's, and I loved their poems that danced - as this one does.



Greeting to Spring (Not Without Trepidation)
by Robert Lax

Over the back of the Florida basker,
over the froth of the Firth of Forth,
Up from Tahiti and Madagascar,
Lo, the sun walks north.
The first bright day makes sing the slackers
While leaves explode like firecrackers,
The duck flies forth to greet the spring
And sweetly municipal pigeons sing.
Where the duck quacks, where the bird sings,
We will speak of past things.
Come out with your marbles, come out with your Croup,
The grass is as green as a Girl Scout troop;
In the Mall the stone acoustics stand
Like a listening ear for the Goldman band.
At an outside table, where the sun’s bright glare is,
We will speak of darkened Paris.
Meanwhile, like attendants who hasten the hoofs
Of the ponies who trot in the shadow of roofs,
The sun, in his running, will hasten the plan
Of plants and fishes, beast and man.
We’ll turn our eyes to the sogging ground
And guess if the earth is cracked or round.
Over the plans of the parties at strife,
Over the planes in the waiting north,
Over the average man and his wife,
Lo, the sun walks forth!

Friday, March 16, 2018

SHELTER SITES


Just as there are shelter magazines like Architectural Digest, Southern Living, and Better Homes and Gardens, there are what I call shelter websites. Depending on the frequency of their emails, or perhaps I’ve bookmarked them, I check at least one every day. My favorite is Houzz, but I get updates from The Spruce, Real Simple, and others. Every once in a while I save an interesting picture or idea from one of them. One never knows from whence inspiration will some, do one?

But lately I’ve been shutting down on these websites. My house is probably in its last decorating scheme. I’m not going out to get a new shade of paint for the walls, or to reupholster my couch. I’m not going to rearrange my living room. So except for being able to admire some beautifully decorated rooms, genuine eye candy, I really don’t need to take up time at my laptop to view such shelter sites. Besides which…

I am an organized person, and I don’t need 10 Ideas for Decluttering Your Kitchen, 10 Tips for Using Leftovers, (I rarely have leftovers) or 10 Hacks for Paring Down Your Wardrobe. That last one – hacks – really annoys the heck out of me. A hack is a hackney, a cab. Or it’s what you do to cut down a tree. Maybe they use hack to cut down a problem, as they do for cutting into someone’s computer. Anyway…

One of the most annoying things to me is the concept of a “retreat.” I’ve blogged about this in years past, and the concept still annoys me. Houzz has oodles of articles on bathroom retreats. Just search for “retreat” on their website, and you’ll find over a thousand of them. I usually get a chuckle visualizing the poor, harried folks who must retreat from their fraught, stressed lives and beat a hasty retreat from it all.

So that’s my rambling for the morning. I had nothing pithy or clever to post on today’s blog, so I thought I’d do a minor rant.

Next time, the curmudgeon in me may take on the subject of the strange hairdos many of the gals are sporting these days. They look like they’ve been in a high wind, or they wound their curlers wrong. Maybe next time…



Saturday, March 10, 2018

THE IDES OF MARCH


Here's another one I wrote for the community magazine. They did publish it, but with a bit of de-personalization. Well, that's o.k. This rhyme is one that has stuck with me for all the year since I first learned it - and that's over sixty years ago. It's amazing how poems or phrases, even advertising jingles, stick in our minds for ages. 



“In March, July, October and May, the ides fall on the fifteenth day.” That little ditty is courtesy of my high school Latin teacher, Mr. Matthews. Later, I was told by one of the magazine editors that the full rhyme is

"In March, July, October, May,
The Ides are on the fifteenth day,
The Nones the seventh; but all besides
Have two days less for Nones and Ides."

In this day and age, we occasionally hear references to the ides of a month. What really are ides? Or, what is ides: the word can be both singular and plural. The ides were one of the Roman ways to keep track of the days of the month. From their name for the first day of any month, kalends, we get our word calendar. The Romans went along with a more ancient way of calculating the days, and that was basically a lunar system. They had “full,” or 31-day months, and “hollow” months that were less than full. That makes some sense. In Latin, the word for full is plenas. The word for hollow is cavas. From the Roman plenas and plenum, and the like, we get our word plenary. From cavas, cavus, and cavum and the like we get our words cavity, and cave.

They used the word nones to designate a day within the month, usually the seventh or fifth day, if the month was full or hollow. (Ecclesiastically, nones are the fifth or seventh canonical hours, usually the ninth hour of the medieval day that started at sunrise.) The nones were nine days before the ides. The ides were the day before the middle of the month. Got that? They didn’t seem to be too interested in the rest of any month, though they did mark their calendars to know on which days certain activities like assemblies or the initiating of law suits were permissible, or which were public holidays. In times before that, the distinction of the phases of the moon and the months and days were certainly important for plowing, planting, and harvesting.

In Shakespeare’s tragedy, Julius Caesar, Caesar is told by a soothsayer to “beware the ides of March.” An ominous and ambiguous warning if there ever was one, but emphatic and fitting for the drama nevertheless. That sayer of sooth should have said “Caesar, your buddies are out to do you in.” There were, of course, other reasons for Caesar’s pals to do him in, but perhaps one of the causes of their discontent that he messed with tradition and moved the New Year celebration from March 15 to January 1.

So now you’ve increased your trove of trivial information – aye, the ‘ides’ have it.