Friday, April 21, 2017


I love penguins. I always did like them, but they became special favorites when my mother made herself a gorgeous wool, portrait-collar dress. The sides and back were black, the front panel and collar were white. She called it her penguin dress. After that, I bought her a penguin or two – a sculpture, which I still have, and a Steff penguin called Peggy among them – and I’ve always been alert to things ‘penguin’.


by William Jay Smith

I think it must be very nice
To stroll about upon the ice,
Night and day, day and night,
Wearing only black and white,
Always in your Sunday best—
Black tailcoat and pearl-white vest.
To stroll about so pleasantly
Beside the cold and silent sea
Would really suit me to a T!
I think it must be very nice
To stroll with Penguins on the ice.

Friday, April 14, 2017


Rock Cakes - this is the first photo to come up in Google Images,
and they look perfect to me. 

How many times has it happened to you: you hear something out of the ordinary in your daily life, and then you hear it again, even the same day? I had that happen twice today.

First case in point. This morning I read in the N.Y. Times email Morning Briefing about the child-molestation scandal at Choat Rosemary Hall. O.K., a cover up, etc. Tsk, Tsk. Later, I was proofreading the May issue of our community magazine. One of our astute writers had written piece on President John F. Kennedy who was born 100 years ago in May, 1917, and went to prep school at, yes, Choat. How often would Choat come up in the daily scheme of things?

Then, Frank was reading one of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot mysteries. He stopped and asked me "what are rock cakes?" I told him. Being an Anglophile, I know about such culinary delights. Then I started reading a Kindle version of Rise, by Karina Bliss. What were they having for tea? Yes, rock cakes. Another quirky coincidence. 

I love when this happens!  

Friday, April 7, 2017


This is another article I submitted to our community magazine. Caldwell died just thirty years ago this month. That would mean I was 44 then, but I really had little knowledge of him and hadn't, as far as I remember, read any of his work. Delving into his life and work has been quite interesting. 

Did you ever hear anyone describe a place as being “right out of an Erskine Caldwell novel?” In the musical classic The Music Man, one of the busy-body ladies is describing Marian the Librarian – “She advocates dirty books: Chaucer, Rabelais, Balzac!” If the show had been set in the middle of the 1900’s, the lady might have added Erskine Caldwell.  

Caldwell’s output, which included about fifty novels, dozens of short stories, non-fiction, and editing, was, along with his travels, far reaching. With his second wife of four, the photographer Margaret Bourke-White, he collaborated on three photo documentaries, including Have You Seen Their Facesa pictorial about the troubles in the rural South. 

The two most well-known of his works, Tobacco Road and God’s Little Acreboth of which were made into movies, are set in that poor, rural south. Caldwell, who died 30 years ago this month, wrote about the social problems, the racism and the poverty, in works that won great critical acclaimHe said: "I could not become accustomed to the sight of children's stomachs bloated from hunger and seeing the ill and aged too weak to walk to the fields to search for something to eat. In the evenings I wrote about what I had seen during the day, but nothing I put down on paper succeeded in conveying the full meaning of poverty and hopelessness and degradation as I had observed it." 

Born in Georgia in 1903, Caldwell’s parents were a Presbyterian minister whose Scots-Irish ancestors were here before the American Revolution, and his schoolteacher wife who was descended from English aristocracy and landed Virginia gentry. Ira Caldwell’s itinerant ministry took them all over the rural south during his son’s formative years. The writer’s maxim is “write what you know,” and Caldwell came to know and champion the rural poor. He wrote of the working men, the farmers and share-croppers, the factory workers. He wrote vivid descriptions of their lives and their living conditions.  

While his works were getting critical acclaim, they were condemned elsewhere for their profanity and explicit sexuality. God’s Little Acre, published in 1933, was banned, where else, in Boston. The Georgia Literary Commission recommended that anyone reading it be jailed. The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice had him arrested and tried. He was exonerated. Caldwell’s fellow southern writers, among them Margaret Mitchell and William Faulkner, condemned him for painting such an awful picture of their beloved South. All that was about 85 years ago, and times and social mores have certainly changed - or have they?

Wednesday, April 5, 2017


At the Store

Clumps of daffodils along the storefront
bend low this morning, late snow
pushing their bright heads down.
The flag snaps and tugs at the pole
beside the door.
The old freezer, full of Maine blueberries
and breaded scallops, mumbles along.
A box of fresh bananas on the floor,
luminous and exotic…
I take what I need from the narrow aisles.
Cousins arrive like themes and variations.
Ansel leans on the counter,
remembering other late spring snows,
the blue snow of ‘32:
Yes, it was, it was blue.
Forrest comes and goes quickly
with a length of stovepipe, telling
about the neighbors’ chimney fire.
The store is a bandstand. All our voices
sound from it, making the same motley
American music Ives heard;
this piece starting quietly,
with the repeated clink of a flagpole
pulley in the doorway of a country store.

I am not a fan of free verse poems that seem to be sentences broken down and stacked phrase upon phrase, or chunk upon chunk. They tell no story, paint no pictures. This poem, as with much of Jane Kenyon’s poems, paints a picture, sets a mood, and tells a story – a in the space of a few lines. It is lyrical.

Thursday, March 30, 2017


Image copyrig(This was in this morning's BBC news email. It just struck a silly chord in me. Read the last sentence. Do you know where Syracuse, New York is in relation to Dallas or Albuquerque?)

(This article struck a silly chord in me when I read it on this morning's BBC new email. Note the last sentence. Do you know where Syracuse, New York is in relation to Dallas and Albuquerque?)
                                                               - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
A pilot died on Wednesday during a flight from Dallas to Albuquerque, New Mexico, American Airlines have confirmed.
The Boeing 737-800 was two miles from landing when the captain declared a medical emergency, an Albuquerque airport spokesman confirmed.
"They landed without incident, taxied to the gate and were met by medical personnel," he told the Albuquerque Journal.
None of the passengers was injured.
American Airlines confirmed the pilot's identity as first officer William "Mike" Grubbs.
US media quoted airline spokeswoman Polly Tracey as saying: "We're taking care of first officer Grubbs' family and colleagues and our thoughts and prayers are with them during this time."
In 2015, an American Airlines pilot died in a medical emergency on an overnight flight from Phoenix to Boston.
The flight was safely diverted by the co-pilot to Syracuse, New York.


The lower 48’s current fascination with anything Alaskan probably started in 1990, with the first episode of Northern Exposure set in the fictional town of Cicely. Now there are shows from the sublime The Last Alaskans to the ridiculous Alaskan Bush People. Reality shows like Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch and Alaska: The Last Frontier, or National Geographic’s Alaska State Troopers, to name just a few of dozens, have carried on to the point where many folks are more familiar with the map of Alaska than the one of their home state.

On March 30, 1867, 150 years ago, under the administration of President Andrew Johnson, the United States agreed to buy the Alaska territory from Russia. Secretary of State William H. Seward negotiated for what seemed like an astronomical cost for what was thought to be useless land. At the same time, when such arguments held little weight with the big governments involved, the native Alaskans, including the Tlingit and Aleuts, argued that the land wasn’t the Russian’s to sell. In August of the next year, after a lot of wrangling in Congress, a check for $7,200,000.00 was given to the Russian Minister to the United States, one Eduard de Stoecki.  Alaska was called “Seward’s Folly” and “Seward’s Icebox” and other less polite names. The price worked out to about two cents per acre, and like such deals as the purchase of the Louisiana territory or the Danish Virgin Islands, “Seward’s Folly” proved to be a wise investment.

The Russians, then ruled by Peter the Great, first went east to Alaska in the mid-1700s. They used the name Alaska, an Aleut word we now use to name the entire state, for just the long Aleutian peninsula and chain of islands that curve westward toward Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula. They had little idea of the vast oil and mineral resources there. Having depleted their own resources of it, they were primarily interested in that great essential in frigid northern countries: fur. They even went as far as the Farallon Islands off the California coast, west of San Francisco, establishing outposts and stations for the harvest of fur seals, sea otters, and other animals. For the Russians, the territory, mostly populated on the coasts, was hard to reach and hard to defend, and eventually they were happy to sell it.

Many Russians married the native people, and they have thousands of descendants. Attesting to their legacy, Russian names identify many places and families. In areas off the beaten tourist path, some people still speak in a Russian dialect, and in certain coastal areas they still adhere to the Russian Orthodox religion. Prime examples of Russian architecture are the onion-domed cathedrals, churches, and chapels, many of which are on the National Register of Historic Places. Located in Sitka, Juneau, Anchorage and hamlets like Ninilchik, they are reminders of the century or more that the Russians occupied the territory.

Alaska, at over 663,000 square miles, is the biggest state in the union. It boasts a lot of impressive statistics. Being the largest, it boasts the longest coastline, the most lakes, the largest oil field, and the smallest population density. Three of its islands were the only places in North America occupied by the Japanese during World War II. North America’s highest mountain, Denali, once known as Mt. McKinley, is in the Alaska Range, north of Anchorage. And of course, Alaska has more Bald Eagles than any other place in the world.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017


Here's a little essay that didn't make it into print. I love little red wagons - I do wonder where ours went to - and I was delighted to write this.

The last Wednesday in March, March 29 this year, is now designated as National Little Red Wagon Day.

In 1936, Ogden Nash wrote this as the first stanza of his poem about Custard the Dragon:
       Belinda lived in a little white house, 
       With a little black kitten and a little gray mouse, 
       And a little yellow dog and a little red wagon, 
       And a realio, trulio, little pet dragon. 

Every family owned at least one little red wagon, probably a Radio Flyer. What began with a craftsman’s sideline of making wooden wagons in 1917 Chicago, became the ubiquitous red wagon, now made of steel, still available today. Kids use them to ferry their pets and other treasures from place to place, boaters and campers use them to tote their gear, interior decorators use them to add that bit of ‘je ne sais quoi’ to an eclectic room, and parents trip over them all the time.

Red wagons never die. Unless they were left to rust away, they can be handed down through the generations. Vintage Radio Flyers available on eBay, and there are even various replacement parts, ‘used’ and new, available on line. Many seniors remember the really great ‘big’ toys like Erector sets, Lionel trains, Lincoln Logs or Tinker Toys, Buddy L trucks and cars, Steiff toys, and dolls and doll houses of all shapes and sizes. All were built to last if given the proper care. Any fan of Antiques Roadshow knows how valuable they can be. They would surely outlast most of the plastic toys that so quickly come and go these days. Things like roller skates (do you still have your skate key?) and baseball gloves were made to last.

Celebrate your own Little Red Wagon, your Radio Flyer, or other treasured toys you still have – or still remember. If you haven’t already done so, pass them down in your family, or be sure to reminisce about your enjoyment of them the next time you have a family get-together.  

Tuesday, March 28, 2017


My camera can't do justice to the color of these strawberries. They are a deep, dark, shining red. Blood red, almost.   

At this morning's magazine content meeting, one of the gals reminded us that the strawberries are ready at The Ivy Place.  It's just down the road a bit from our community. That was exactly where I headed when the meeting was over. 

You know how you can't wait to get home and dig into the loaf of fresh bread you just bought? The aroma is overwhelming. It was the same with the strawberries - I could not wait to get home, the aroma was sooooo divine.

I chose a 5-pound basket. It had more in it than what is shown in the picture, but Frank and I had to have a few samples. Absolutely, positively delicious.

After I post this blog I'll go have a few more strawberries, and then I'll do up the rest with sugar and lemon to have for the next few days. They won't last too long, I can assure you.

Friday, March 24, 2017


“Due to the size of the equipment, the gate will be removed along with a small section of fence. Heavy gauge safety fencing will be installed during this period of time and, for safety purposes, it is asked that all residents and personnel outside of the contractors refrain from accessing the pool deck during this time… …We will keep you posted as timelines and other updates are received…”

The above two sentences were part of an email sent yesterday to our association homeowners by the community management. It made me give a mental tsk, tsk. It brought out the curmudgeon in me, ready to write a blog post. When I copied and pasted he sentences to a blank Word .doc, the first thing the grammar and usage check didn’t like was “period of time.” That one hadn’t bothered me. What did make me cringe were those last lines. The writer should have kept it simple (K.I.S.S.) and written “we ask everyone but the contractors to keep out of the pool area until further notice.”

When presented with contrived, stilted writing, and we seem to get more and more of it lately, my mind begins to skim the text, noting what I need to know, eager to get to the end and find the X to delete the whole thing. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017


Hallelujah! Alright already.

It was on this day in 1743, that George Frideric Handel’s oratorio "Messiah" had its London premiere. During the famous Hallelujah Chorus, King George II was so moved by the music that he involuntarily rose from his seat. The audience, out of respect for the king, also stood up. Ever since, it has been a tradition that the audience rises during the singing of the Hallelujah Chorus.

That is from today’s The Writer’s Almanac. I’ve never been to a performance of the Messiah, though I’ve heard it many times.  And many more times than that, I’ve heard the “Hallelujah Chorus.” If I’m alone in the house, I sing at the top of my lungs.

I’ve seen the whole performance on television, and I never knew why the audience, or congregation in that instance, all rose for the chorus. Now I know.

I brought to mind a little bit of family lore I absorbed as a “little pitcher with big ears.”  My grandmother was relating how, during the years of World War II, my grandfather refused to stand with everyone else in the audience when a patriotic song – perhaps “God Bless America” – was played in the theater before a movie. He refused to stand because the song they were playing was not our national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner.” My grandmother thought about it, said “Oh!” and sat down.

It’s interesting how a bit of information will set my mental cogs to turn and come up with some distantly related memory or topic.

Happy Thursday!  - or, remembering my Steinbeck: Sweet Thursday. (See how those cogs turn?)

Did you ever hear the Hallelujah Chorus sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir?
Powerful. Gives you chills.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


In recent years, kale has become the darling of the food world. You’d think it was a new vegetable like the broccolini that’s been around for just over ten years. No. Kale has been around since Hector was a pup – at least it seems that way to me. I’ve never known life without kale, and I’ve never known many who liked it. My mother liked it, my sister liked it, I absolutely hated it. Still do. Well, maybe I’ll eat some fresh in a tangy salad, but if you were me and had been raised on overcooked vegetables that you absolutely had to eat, come hell or high water, you wouldn’t touch the stuff. I think my sister was from another planet.

What prompted me to write about kale is a recipe for “Potato Kale Breakfast Hash” in a recent shelter magazine. Frozen kale and hash browns, are to be cooked up, with all the expected additions, and served with fried eggs on top. Gross and disgusting. The ruination of the hash and the eggs.

My mother’s cooking forte was soup. She made wonderful soups of many varieties. I do remember her pea soup. She must have loved that pea soup color, because most green vegetables she cooked were done to match. I didn’t know that asparagus and string beans should be bright green, and I didn’t know I could love them so much. From dining out, I came to realize that vegetables were more palatable if they weren’t cooked to death. I eventually learned to steam anything but root veggies just until I could smell the aroma. Done!

We are exhorted to expand our food horizons and think up new ways to eat. I think I’ll leave my horizons just where they are.

Saturday, March 18, 2017


It's COOL inside? Oh, really?

In our teens we all bought girdles
with rubber knobs to hold up our stockings.
We wiggled into them, our “foundations.”
So many things look absurd from a distance
that people still take seriously,
like whether there’s a Heaven for pets.
What ever happened to my girdle?
One day I peeled it off for the last time
and all hell broke loose.

This is the poem today on The Writer’s Almanac, and it gave me my chuckle for the morning. Before anything else, I had to google Connie Wanek. She’s ten years younger than I, but she’s “been there” and she just knows stuff. I’m not a fan of free verse, but her work appeals to me. I like this gal.
Girdles, oh, yes, we had to wear them, whether we needed them or not. And gradually I did need one. I vividly and acutely remember the girdles the poet describes. You might not believe this, but up to just a year ago I had two of what we called “two-way stretch” pull-on garments, without the rubber knobs, among my souvenirs. In the last decades we took to wearing panty hose, and recently, many women go without stockings at all. Just last year, along with a few full and half-slips I’d not worn in years, my unworn girdles finally went into the donations bag. Such garments, and even stronger ones, are still worn today, so I have no doubt some gal could use them. Me? I now live in comfort and clothing a size bigger. 

That last stanza of hers had me not too fondly remembering a time when I did peel off my girdle. It was on a warm September day, forty-some-odd years ago, and it was my wedding day. I had to get out of that girdle and I did, and then came the picture taking. Only later, in those days of film cameras when the pictures took time to be developed, did I realize that my stomach stood out as though I was a bit in the family way. I wasn’t!
All these years I've had a love/hate relationship with my favorite wedding picture. It's me and Frank and his children, along with my tummy, all lined up out on the lawn. Oh! I just had an idea: I am going to open that picture I scanned it in years ago - and crop off our bottom halves. I can do that in this day of digital photography.

Now that's better - but now I think I could have worn
 a better bra! I do wish I'd left on the jacket with the dress.
Geeeeze Loueeeeeze!


Friday, March 17, 2017


...ay, there’s the rub – the rub for us seniors, that is.* Very rarely can we say we slept like a baby because we usually sleep like a senior. Many or most nights we have a hard time getting to sleep and staying asleep.

Some studies say that a third of Americans don’t get enough sleep, others say it’s about 49%. Wherever you look they’re throwing numbers at the problem. Our well-being and our ability to sleep change as we age. We all know that good sleep is essential to our health, but how much we need is an individual thing. An exact amount of sleep may not really matter. Sleep studies now show that it is normal for seniors to awaken for up to an hour during the night. Even that time varies from person to person.

The National Sleep Foundation celebrates National Sleep Week each year in March. (or: - The Better Sleep Council designates May as Better Sleep Month.) It might be the ideal time to change your bedtime routines. Here are some you may want to try. As someone’s Mama might have said: “It couldn’t hurt.”

Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing

Before you turn off the bathroom light, flush your worries so they don’t come in to bed with you. Don’t worry about the kids and grandkids. Lying awake to worry on their behalf won’t make any difference in the long run. Try not to think about health problems: worrying about them isn’t an accepted medical treatment. Don’t make any major decisions while you’re trying to get to sleep. Make decisions just after waking up when your brain is fresh.

The mind’s eye is a useful tool. Don’t just lie there: think of something. Try reading an interesting article before bedtime. Read a bit from magazines like Smithsonian, National Geographic, Popular Mechanics, or whatever publication caters to your interests. Think about any recent book you’ve read or movie you’ve seen: what happened after The End?  Revisit great places you’ve visited or rerun great times you’ve had with family or friends. Start the plot outline for a book you could write. (You might want to keep a pad and lighted pen on your night stand.) As you prepare for bed be planning the topic for your train of thought – let the train take you away into sleep.

Don’t Knock it if You Haven’t Tried It

Eat two slices of bread before bed – before you brush your teeth, of course. Just bread, no butter or jam, but maybe a teaspoon or two of honey which is said to be a sleeping aid.

Sleep in the buff.  Nightgowns and PJ’s can be constricting and lumpy, and you have to fight with them when you turn over, and you get aggravated and…! Try a night without them.

Keep cool. Turn down the thermostat at night in the warm weather. Which comes first: your sleep and your health or the electric bill? Keep cool in winter too.

Move the alarm clock. Turn its face away from you so that you don’t watch the clock and agonize over all the time you think you’ve been awake. Ignorance is bliss.

Get rid of your old-faithful easy chair. If you’re one of those who fall asleep in front of the TV in your comfy chair, you’re robbing yourself of proper sleep in bed. Rearrange your living room if you necessary. If TV bores you to sleep, why watch it? If you’re falling asleep, go to bed. You might want to change your regular bedtime to an earlier hour.  

When we were little we usually had to take a nap, especially if we were doing something special that night. Mom always told us that we didn’t have to sleep but did have to rest. Nine times out of ten we’d fall right to sleep. Don’t worry about sleeping – get worry off your mind: just rest. Try some of the sleep routine-shaking changes above. They might just work for you.

* This is another of the essays I've recently submitted to the community magazine, so when I am referring to us seniors its because we are a community of seniors. I originally posted this on the bog back in June 2011. It still holds true.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017


Are they serious? On this morning's installment of the daily email from Simplemost, they offered up this essential information: These Are the Most Popular Disney Channel Original Movies in Every State. 

Someone rally believed we needed to know this information. Someone paid someone else, or several someones, to canvass the population for this information. Someone organized the data, and someone prepared the map graphics. Folks, this is the scientific process at its lowest ebb.

Add these useless facts to the recent rash of "alternative facts" and we've got a truly informed population here in America.

"And I am unanimous in this"

Friday, March 10, 2017


This is Stephen. This was 1965, and he, my oldest nephew, was exploring in his Grandmother’s back yard. I just happened to have my camera in hand. It could be any little boy on any given day, and the picture has always been one of my favorites.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017


Today is International Women's Day, and this is an article I wrote for the March issue of our community magazine. I know that some of my readers live in Sun City Carolina Lakes, and may have already read this piece. It may be worth reading again, especially the bit where some men once considered us to be no more than defective, soulless beasts. That just frosts my soul. I really do think that the religiously celibate men who came up with this piece of doctrine were "depraved on acounta the were deprived." What were they thinking?!

March is Women’s History Month - and a fine history we do have. In years past though, we have had to put up with too many stereotypes. In the seventh century, the Council of Nantes argued that women were “soulless beasts”, defectives (defectives? Now, I ask you!) who could be treated as such by men, their natural masters.” Whew!
Over the centuries there have been rare, prominent women whose achievements - scientific, artistic, patriotic, or oven notorious -  have given them a permanent place in history. (Who hasn’t heard of Lucrezia Borgia?) It is only in the last century or so that women have started to reassert themselves beyond the realm of farm, hearth and home, and to shed some of the sentimentality and stereotypes assigned to ‘the soft sex’, ‘the weaker sex’.  
We women are no longer solely the sole keepers of hearth and home, not good enough to vote, much less run for office, and not capable of anything above simple home mathematics, much less rocket science. You name it, we could always do it. Only now, when we want to go beyond our female-specific and stereotypic pursuits, are we allowed the opportunity.
Gone are the days when a woman was told “bring in your husband” before she could transact bank business or buy a car; never mind buying a home or starting a business of her own. Gone are the days when hospital whites were worn by nurses and doctors went around with stethoscopes around their necks. Even better, gone are the days when a gal in scrubs is assumed to be a nurse, or a man in scrubs a doctor. The world can no longer ass-u-me. Now are the days when all stereotypes, all assumptions must be banished.
Lady cops, woman judges, female executives, or woman soldiers should be labels no longer: they’re just cops, judges, executives, or soldiers doing a pre-defined job. (Truthfully though, we still don’t understand why a gal would want to be a wrestler.) There are no more ‘old maid school teachers’, much less ‘old maids’, unless you’re playing that card game. The spinsters, battle axes, and buxom broads, and the little woman, the missus, my old lady, and all the other stereotyped gals have left the building.

But there are still thorns on the rose. An old cigarette ad, aimed at the newly ‘liberated women’ of the late 60’s, used the slogan “You’ve come a long way baby,” yet, as Helen Reddy sang: “I’m still an embryo with a long, long way to go.” We senior women have it fairly easy of late, but younger women, especially those in the work force, still have to put up with stereotypes, sexist labels, and discrimination. Lisa Abeyta, writing in The Huffington Post, has said:
“Until there is more gender balance among leading roles in entertainment, government and corporate leadership, our sons and daughters will continue to believe the stereotypes perpetuated in the news, media, and their everyday lives.”