Friday, February 23, 2018

THE CAREGIVER




Now I know why it’s best that women have their babies while they’re young. You’ve got to be young and resilient to be able to function all day after having to get up and attend to a baby’s needs so many times during the night. And all after having gone through the birth process not too long before that. I once asked my mother how she managed four children, one with special needs, and an invalid husband, injured during World War II. Her answer: “I was young.” Oh, yes, now I get it. You’ve got to be young. I am 75, no longer young.

About a month ago, Frank twisted and fell and suffered a compression fracture of one of his vertebrae. Seeing as how he wasn’t in tiptop shape, after two small strokes and at the age of 86, he did need a lot of tending once he was home from the hospital.

Tending to dressing him, tending to his back brace that keeps moving up, tending to going to get whatever it was he needed – I’ve been walking my legs off. Above all, the hardest thing is tending to helping him in and out of bed all night when he has to “use the facilities.” For a while there, that was every hour or two. It’s getting better in that respect. He no longer has to wear the brace all night, so he is more comfortable, and most nights he’s awakening only twice. My sleep has been affected because I am alert to whatever noises he makes that will indicate to me to whatever he needs. I often know he wants to go to the bathroom before he does.

It was the same last night, but - yay team! – this morning he got up and out of bed alone. He’d said he thought he could do it on his own, and he proved himself to be correct. For a while there, we’d been going two steps forward and one step back. Now it seems like every day is another step forward.

You do whatever needs to be done, and I’ve been caregiving since Frank had his first stroke, but never with this intensity. Friends have told me to watch out for my own well-being during this time of extra effort. They say that too many caregivers succumb before their spouses. I can see the truth in that, because there have been a few times when I was so tired and frustrated that just wanted to sit down and go on strike – and maybe utter a few choice words. Whew!

My thoughts go out to both young mothers and old caregivers. Hang in here, and take care of yourself.




Saturday, February 17, 2018

“O TEMPORA, O MORES!”


               
    
Even as far back as the last century BCE, Cicero had those words to say about the morals and corruption of his age. Morals were lax and corruption was rampant. Every age has had its problems, every age had its elders looking back on what they perceived to be better times, safer times, much more moral times, and looking forward to change.

There have been great scandals, religious, political, and secular, in all ages.  Starting in the last century, with the increased popularity of history books and novels, television, and movies, we became increasingly aware of the changes in what society deems to be taboo on the smaller, social stage.
For example, a small one, up until the Roaring Twenties, a lady was considered “fast” if she showed her ankles. Bosoms were either covered or revealed at various times throughout the ages. A few centuries ago in society, if a lady shared more than three dances with a gentleman, it was expected that they were to marry. But that wasn’t as bad as being caught kissing: the marriage had to take place as soon as possible, lest the lady be “ruined” and she and her family bear the shame. (No shame fell to the gentleman or his family.) When it was first introduced, the waltz was looked upon with horror. In Victorian times, even such words as “arms” and “legs” were considered as disgusting. They were referred to as “limbs.”

The movies are excellent sources for chronicling how our morals and social mores have changed, especially in the last hundred years. Picture the 1934 picture It Happened One Night. Remember when Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert had to share a motel room (all movie bedrooms then had twin beds) and they hung a sheet, the “Walls of Jericho,” between the beds, for propriety’s sake? Then fast forward to 1967 and The Graduate. The Hollywood movie moral code had relaxed somewhat. We saw Ben and Mrs. Robinson together in bed – she, obviously, though not blatantly, naked. Their affair was a bit racy for the times, but acceptable.



In the years of the great movies, the movie stars were up to just a much “hanky-panky” as ever before and ever since. In the centuries prior to the movie era, such goings-on were just not mentioned, and were usually managed discretely. Come the movie era and the tabloids, and the wider circulation of news, the Hollywood powers-that-be made sure the press kept mum about offs-screen affairs that would affect the box office receipts if the general public ever got wind of what was going on. The Kathrine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy romance was a prime example of this, and in the racy atmosphere of Hollywood there were quite a few. In that era some great movies were made, and off-screen relationships were kept private. For the most part, the Hollywood community went along with it. Today, there’s still a racy atmosphere in Hollywood, and anywhere else celebrities, royals, and other newsworthy people are found. The press is no longer suppressible as it was in the days of Hepburn and Tracy or, as it was in England, when Edward VIII courted Wallis Simpson. There are always those in the know (Nudge. Nudge. Wink! Wink!) but they’re not telling.



Now, with hardly a gasp, news and photos of romantic relationships of many kinds pop up in all but the most serious news media. In the entertainment aspect of the news, “The Press” is no longer just the press – it is “The Paparazzi,” “the paps.” They’re ready to pounce for an exposé, armed with their microphones, their long lenses, and their “burning questions.” The general public now takes most of it in stride.

Today we have a good laugh at some, but not all, of what was considered socially unacceptable in years gone by. Education and exposure are changing our views and attitudes; changing our minds.



Today, and I do mean currently, we’ve opened the nasty can of worms that is sexual harassment. Was it ever “socially acceptable”? Never - though it was too often condoned and rarely brought into the light of day. The victims endured it in silence, lest they suffer whatever consequences their tormentors could dish out. Well, the sun is shining now on that nasty pastime, bringing hidden situations to light, and making the “perps" accountable for the morals and corruption of our own age

“The times they are a changin’ and all for the better.


Saturday, February 10, 2018

AND THE WINNER IS....

In the last few months, I've been doing more of my weekly shopping at a nearby Walmart Neighborhood Market. I've always been a coupon clipper, and having double coupons at the local Harris Teeter, along with a lot of their discounts and BOGOs, I thought I was doing fairly well there. Dream on.
In these last months, I've not had the impressive coupon and discount totals I usually did, saving up to 35% a year on my groceries, but my overall spending is down. Nevermind the savings, what am I spending? What's the bottom line? There are one or two rare items that I can't find at my Walmart - those great Wickels and Red Oval Crackers to name the ones I'll get at Teeter, or at Publix when I want to spend $50 to use their $10 coupon off a gas card.

So - I've been trying the Walmart Great Value versions of name brand or Teeter store brand foods. I've yet to find any of the WM store brand items that I'd never buy again. Most are very good - after all, unlike the A&P that did make many of their own Ann Page foods, Walmart contracts with big producers to make their Great Vale items. One item I'd yet to try was their tuna. We like solid albacore in water. Some of the brand name tuna I'd opened lately was disappointing, to say the least. This morning I had an eye-opener.
I needed to prepare tuna salad for more than two servings, so I opened a can of Chicken of the Sea "Solid White Albacore Tuna in Water." Then I opened the next can below, a can of Great Value "Solid White Albacore Tuna in Water." The difference was so startling, I had to take pictures. Do you believe this?


And here they are dumped out of the cans. (I didn't dare dump the loose stuff on the cutting board.)


The Chicken of the Sea smelled a wee bit fishy, the Great Value tuna smelled like the sea. When mixed with mayonnaise, salt and pepper, and some dried onion flakes, they made a nice salad, but ...

Which tuna would you rather have? I do some dinners with tuna. My New Age Tuna Noodle Casserole For Two and my Papas Aliñas will be the better for this really solid tuna.

So  the winner is Walmart, and my budget is grateful.



Saturday, February 3, 2018

WINTER OLYMPICS – VERSION TWENTY-THREE


As my oldest granddaughter once said: "Here my are!" I've not posted for a few weeks because I've been otherwise occupied with Frank's everyday needs. Back on February 20th, he fell and suffered a compression fracture of his L1 vertebra: piercing pangs of pain. So I've become his gofer and  bathroom assistant. Though I've lost a bit of sleep because of nighttime potty trips, it all keeps me busy, I've lost several pounds (a nice side effect) and I'm doing the exercises along with him. It's good for me. 
I passed up posting several of my essays. Frankly, some of them are really a little to "dry."  Here's one that I enjoyed researching for the magazine.  The Olympics couldn't come at a better time for a house-bound man like Frank. We've always enjoyed watching the games - summer and winter - and this year will be no exception.



On October 24 last year, the Olympic torch was lit in Greece. It was on its way, over 5,000 miles, to light the flame in South Korea at the opening ceremonies of the XXIII Winter Games on February 9. There were 16 different events at the first Winter Games were held in Chamonix, France, and there will be 102 in Pyeongchang. Some of the games to be held couldn’t even have been imagined in 1924.



The Chamonix games consisted of several events in figure skating, speed skating, Nordic skiing, bobsleigh, ice hockey, and curling. Though many people are unfamiliar with the sport of curling, it was an Olympic demonstration sport in the first games, and was given official status in 1998.
Today’s games include all of those, plus Alpine skiing, freestyle skiing, snowboarding, luge, and skeleton. As with the speed skating events where there are now short track and longer distance events, figure skating, where they no longer have to do compulsory figures, and Nordic skiing have also lengthened their event lists.



Both the Winter and Summer Olympics have had their controversies: arguments over commercialism and corporate sponsorship, doping, bribery, and cost overruns for host cities. Good and bad, happy and sad, news-wise, the Winter Olympics have fared better, usually taking a back seat to the summer events. We remember 1968 summer games in Mexico City for the fists raised in protest on the podium, and for the Fosbury Flop. 1972 in Munich brought the lethal hostage crisis, but it also gave Mark Spitz his record-breaking seven gold medals. At the 1976 games in Montreal, Nadia Comăneci scored the first perfect 10.0, but those games also brought protests against apartheid.



Sixteen countries participated in those first Winter Olympics. Over the years, Norway, which won the most medals in those games, has also won the most medals: 329. You might expect that, because so many of the events are, after all, Nordic. They practically invented skis. The United States comes in second with 282. In those first Winter Olympics, Charles Jewtraw, from New York State, won the gold in the men’s 500 meter speed skating, the first gold of the games.

Come February, we’re midway in the ice hockey and basketball seasons. The Super Bowl is usually in the books, the baseball season is yet to come, and auto racing of any kind is on winter break, as are many other popular outdoor sports. At this relatively quiet time of the year the Winter Olympics, televised since the games in Squaw Valley, have given us some very memorable moments.

At those 1960 Olympics, American David Jenkins won the gold medal in men’s figure skating and Carol Heiss won the women’s gold. Since then, we’ve watched the likes of Peggy Fleming, Scott Hamilton and Dorothy Hamill do the same. Another memorable skating moment was watching England’s Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean bring the ice dancing competition out of its staid traditions into the modern era with their stunning interpretation of a bolero.

Torvill and Dean

In skiing, we’ve watched the likes of the Mahre brothers, Phil and Steve, Bode Miller, Picabo Street, and Lindsey Vonn wipe out or win big on the slopes. In speed skating the names Eric Hayden and Apolo Ohno strike a familiar note, as do those of Bonnie Blair and Leah Poulos. The biggest and best winter memory for most of us is the “Miracle on Ice.”
In Lake Placid, in 1980, the teams played rounds in two groups. Our American team, consisting mostly of collegiate players, beat some of the historically best teams in the game, and topped their group with Sweden second. The final round robin games were played against the Soviet Union, a team of most professional players who had won the gold medal in the last four games, and the team from Finland. Never even slated to get out of the preliminary rounds, our American team beat the Soviets and then the Finns to take the gold. Goal! “Do you believe in miracles?”
Many of us remember seeing the final game live – but we didn’t. Because of complaints that the game would be held in the wee hours of the European morning, the game was held in the afternoon, and was played on tape delay here in the states. Live or on tape, the excitement was the same.



Will these 2018 games hold the same excitement and offer the same memories? We hope so. NBC will be televising everything live – no more tape delay just to entice you in prime time. Here on the east coast we are 13 hours behind South Korea – in effect, their morning will be our evening. Anyone particularly interested in any one sport may have to adjust their personal schedules to accommodate watching their favorites compete.
    
U.S.A.!! – U.S.A.!!






Friday, January 19, 2018

THE FATHER OF THE FAIRY TALE - CHARLES PERRAULT


That’s Charles Perrault, not CBS’ “On the Road” Charles Kuralt, though both were story-tellers. On first reading the names, you might rhyme them. Not even close!  Perrault’ is pronounced in the French way, and you know what that means: ‘pehr-OH’

So why should you know the name Charles Perrault? This man, born 390 years ago this month, wrote some of the fairy tales we love to this day. He is considered the Father of the Fairy Tale.

Grandfatherly-looking gentleman -
and that has to be a wig he's wearing.
During his fairly long life, Perrault was, by training, a lawyer, working in the government as one of the officials charged with royal buildings, among them, le Château de Versailles. Indeed, he wrote the guide to the labyrinth and its fountains. Promoting literature and the arts, he also wrote poems, treatises, and commemorative pieces. He was part of the ongoing and often violent debate called “Ancients and Moderns,” that argued the relative merits of ancient Greek and Roman literature versus those of the contemporary writers. During this Age of Reason, at the height of French literature, the times of Louis XIV, the late years of the Renaissance, Perrault wrote for the modernists.

Be that as it may, after an interesting life and having just lost his government post, at the age of 67 he published his collection of fairy tales named “Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals.” Of course you know “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty.” What child of the Disney era doesn’t? “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Puss in Boots,” and “Blue Beard” are his creations too.

The infamous Bluebeard -
a cautionary tale, if there ever was one

Perrault’s collection was subtitled “Contes de ma mère l’Oye” in French, or in English, “Tales of Mother Goose.” This is cited as being the beginning of “Mother Goose” collections. When the tales were first translated into English, the editors added more stories and nursery rhymes. In the long printing history of “Mother Goose” recipe for the mix of these two has varied from publication to publication.

Fairy tales and fables, stories and poems, had certainly been around before Perraul’s time. They were usually meant as life lessons for children, and every parent had cautionary tales to pass on to the next generation. Perrault recognized the need to flesh out simple folk-tales, creating what then were fairly grim stories. For example, “Little Red Riding Hood” was meant to warn young ladies not to listen to strangers lest, like the heroine, they wind up as the wolf’s dinner. In the original version, that’s exactly what happened. “All the better to eat you with, my dear.” And no woodsman came to her rescue, as he does in more modern versions of the story. 

You know who these two are.

And speaking of grim, the brothers Grimm are often credited with writing tales like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, but Perrault wrote them down over a century before. Getting the tales into print solidified them, so to speak, and preserved them for a population that was increasingly literate and less in the habit of telling folk tales as an evening’s entertainment.

Cinderella - and not your Disney version.
There are many more illustrated versions of the story.
This is by Gustav Doré.

 Today, in this age of almost universal literacy, we’ve books and electronic devices to provide the lessons. We usually read to our little ones, rather than pass down or make up stories, and consider as quaint the stories from Perrault, the brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, even Aesop. Quaint or not, lessons are universal – we just dress them in modern clothes.



Wednesday, January 17, 2018

ARE YOU ANXIOUS?

He makes a lot of folks anxious, doesn't he?

Anxious

Excited

Eager

Over a year ago, my Canadian friend wrote this is her New Year’s email:

Well, it’s 2017, and now we’ll see how your fearless leader makes out as the new President of the United States.  He makes me very, very anxious, that man does, and I’m not even a U.S. citizen!  I hope and pray for the best.  These times are like that so-called Chinese curse:  May you live in “interesting” times.

Interesting times indeed. The year has been very interesting indeed, and that man still makes a good majority of us anxious. That’s “anxious” use in the true sense of the word: there’s a definite sense of anxiety.

I’d really like to smack the first person who used the word “anxious” in place of the word “eager,” and got that definition accepted into common usage. In my handy, dandy Random House College Dictionary dated 1984, there is no such usage.



Saturday, January 13, 2018

THE FATHER OF PINYIN



Every once in a while, Google celebrates a person I’ve never heard of. Today is one of those days – they celebrate the 112th birthday of Zhou Youguang, the Chinese “economist, banker, linguist, sinologist, publisher and supercentenarian, known as the “father of Pinyin.” (I had to look up that supercentenarian – it means he lived over 100 years – he lived exactly 111 years, to be exact.) This man was a polymath, as one can guess from the range of his expertise, and he lived through some very turbulent times.

Google gives this brief definition of Pinyin, taken from Wikipedia. (And what would the curious mind do without those two?) The definition also gives the various ways to pronounce pinyin, which means “spell sound.” There’s the reason for my interest: pronunciation, actually, pronunciation versus spelling.

Pinyin
Language writing system
Hanyu Pinyin, often abbreviated to pinyin, is the official romanization system for Standard Chinese in mainland China and to some extent in Taiwan. It is often used to teach Standard Chinese, which is normally written using Chinese characters. Wikipedia
Yale Romanization: Pingyām [developed in the 1940's to help G.I.s communicate with their Chinese counterparts]
Bopomofoㄆㄧㄣ ㄣ   [a phonetic script]
Wade–Giles: P‘in-yin [the old pronunciation system used in the west]
Jyutping: Ping jam   [Cantonese pronunciation]
Hokkien POJ: peng-im/pheng-im [pronunciation in most of China's southeast]

I’ve always wondered why the Latinized spelling of Chinese words, at least the spellings we use today, too often doesn’t match the sound of the word. The western world used the Wade-Giles pronunciations up until the late 1970s. In 1955, the Chinese government set about revising their language to increase literacy. They charged Youguang with the task of revising the way the language is represented using the Latin alphabet. They changed Peking, the Wade-Giles spelling and pronunciation, to Beijing. O.K. they could do that.




Beijing is pronounced bei (bay) jing – spot on
Guangzhou is pronounced guang zhow – close
Feng Shui is pronounced fung schway – not close at all

So, that I what I learned in the hour or so since I turned on my PC this morning. I’m still wondering why some spellings aren’t closer to their pronunciation, but now I know that pronunciations vary within China, as they do here in America, and I know who gets the blame: Zhou Youguang. I can still learn a lot in my old age.





Thursday, January 11, 2018

OUR COLORS ARE RUNNING

This post is about flags, not the expression on his face.

They broke in to yesterday afternoon's TV programs on the "broadcast" channels to televise the press conference of our President and Norway's Prime Minister, Erna Solberg. I was involved in something else, so I wasn't paying too much attention.

I looked up and first recognized the Norwegian flag. I never fail to spot that flag, even if it is only one in a U.N. type flag array. (In this household we are very partial to anything Norwegian.) So I listened for a while. I had no idea of the question that had just been asked of him, but the man was going on about Hillary Clinton. What in the world could she have to do with our relations with Norway? Nothing. He just threw her into the mix, three times in fact, as I later learned. He'll take any opportunity to bolster himself. Don't get me started on what I think of that man.

But I digress... One thing that struck me, flag-spotter that I am, was the relative states of those red, white, and blue flags. The colors of the Norwegian flag are crisp and clean. The colors of the American flag are running. That white is getting a bit pink. It's time to replace a few things at the White House.



Friday, January 5, 2018

MCMLXVIII - 1968 – FIFTY YEARS GONE BY

Historians mark 1968 as one of the most important years in the last century of our country’s history. Good things were happening, but the year was rife with hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, plane crashes and sea craft sinking, racial demonstrations, student unrest, bombings, shoot-outs, and world-wide protests against many ills. Some of my readers might be too young to remember the major events of the year, but many were in their adult years, and they well remember, if not the specific date and year, then the incident itself.

1968 started off, history wise, in January, with the Pueblo Incident. The North Koreans captured the U.S. Navy’s lightly armed intelligence ship, the USS Pueblo, in what they said were their waters, and what the U.S. maintained were international waters. The crew was detained and tortured. It took almost a year to resolve the problem and bring the men home by that Christmas. The North Koreans, still a problem, still have the ship.

In that same month, in a customary time of truce during the Lunar New Year, the North Vietnamese launched the Tet Offensive. After the incident, public support of the war began to wane, and historians see this bloody battle as the beginning of the end of the Vietnam War. The My Lai incident took place in March, and the war raged on.

While those two incidents touched many of us, they happened overseas. In the next few months, history hit right at home. We all remember where we were in 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and we likely remember where we were in April and June of 1968, when the Reverend Martin Luther King and then-Senator and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy were also gunned down. Their assassins were found and convicted, but as with JFK’s shooting, the conspiracy theories are still with us.

In October of 1968, perhaps reacting to and empowered by the assassinations and by protests and demonstrations across our country, the gold and bronze medalists at the Summer Olympics in Mexico City, in a silent protest against racial bias in the U.S., raised black-gloved fists during the playing of the “Star Spangled Banner.” We scarcely remember their sport or their names but, sadly, we can’t be unaware that such racial bias continues today.
 
In 1968, the world in continued on, as it usually does, with its basic schedule of events. There were games and awards, elections, inventions, and debuts and introductions, weddings and funerals. Among them were some of the good things:

·         The Winter Olympics were held in Grenoble, France, where Norway won the most medals
·          “60 Minutes” debuted, and is still airing, minus Mike Wallace and Andy Rooney, on CBS
·         “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In debuted on NBC” (Sock it to who?)
·         “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” debuted on network TV
·         Boeing introduce the first 747, the jumbo jet that could carry 374 passengers
·         Oscars for the best movie of 1968 went to Oliver! And Katharine Hepburn, in The Lion in Winter, and Barbra Streisand (“Hello, gorgeous.”) in Funny Girl, tied for Best Actress
·         The Beatles produced the two-record “White Album” 
·         It was the year of Super Bowl II – the Green Bay Packers beat the Oakland Raiders,
·         And the year the Detroit Tigers, down 3-1, came back to beat the St. Louis Cardinals 4-3 in the World Series
·         Richard Nixon was nominated as the Republican candidate, and Hubert Humphrey as Democratic candidate for President
·         Jacqueline Kennedy married Aristotle Onassis
·         “The Mother of All Demos” demonstrated the first computer mouse, and almost all of the other basic elements, both hardware and software, of the modern, personal computing we use today
·         The Gold Standard was repealed
·         The Standard and Poor’s 500 Index closed over 100 for the first time (It’s now way over 2500 and rising.)

And in December, the crew of Apollo 8, Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders became the first humans to travel around the moon. This very successful mission was a wonderful close to a year that had seen too many tragic events. In his book, A Man on the Moon, about the Apollo Program, Andrew Chaikin relates that after they returned home, the astronauts got hundreds of telegrams and letters, one of which was particularly meaningful. The telegram said “You saved 1968.”




                                                       “Ob-la-di  Ob-la-dah, life goes on”




Friday, December 29, 2017

NEVER A CROSS WORD – ALWAYS A PUZZLE

Sharpen your pencils - it's puzzle time.

Ah, another one that didn't make the cut at the magazine. I do love being able to use the leftovers. 

Puzzles, brain teasers, have been intriguing mankind for centuries. From the Labyrinth that held the Minotaur to the word square puzzles found in Pompeii, to the modern Rubik’s Cube, puzzles take many forms. Pencil and paper puzzles are probably the most popular.

The Maze at Hampton Court.
They say if you keep on hand on the wall as you go through,
you'll eventually make your way out, but I didn't want to
venture in when we were there years ago.
Crossword puzzles have been around now for over one hundred years. Many people do them every day, many tackle only the Sunday puzzles like those in The New York Times, The Washington Post or The Los Angeles Times.

Some people would call it cheating, but when you don’t know the answer to the clue, look it up. You’d be cheating yourself if you passed up an opportunity to learn something. If you are electronically inclined, you can do the puzzles right on your PC or tablet, or do a printout from there and consult Google or Wikipedia for the answers. You can even research the history of crossword puzzles on Wikipedia. If you like to keep such things print based and hand-done, keep an atlas and dictionary handy. Let your motto be “When in doubt, check it out.”

Even if you are pretty well read and well-rounded information-wise, you may not be familiar with the answers to such clues as “Gyllenhall of Brokeback Mountain” or a “New Mexico State athlete.” So if you can’t get them by filling in the answers you do know, consult your handy-dandy references. Finishing a crossword puzzle with no errors and no spaces left blank is like giving yourself a present.



Variety is the spice of life, they say, and it also keeps senior brains in tip-top shape. Research suggests that our brains become accustomed to the ways of the various types of puzzles we do. It is a good idea to switch from crosswords to acrostics to word searches, and on more mathematical to things like Sudoku. And, of course, switch back again. There are dozens of puzzle magazines in print: magazines that feature just one type of puzzle, and magazines that include many types of puzzles between their covers.

If you are connected to the internet, the puzzle world really opens out. Free puzzles can be found at sites like pennydellpuzzles.com, games.washingtonpost.com, and thejigsawpuzzles.com. For about $40 a year, about 11 cents a day, you can get a subscription to the on-line puzzles from The New York Times. Their selection includes crosswords that get more and more difficult as the week goes on, acrostics, variety puzzles, Sudoku, Set!, and KenKen, and their puzzle archive goes back for years.



Don’t just sit there contemplating your navel, contemplate a new puzzle.






Tuesday, December 26, 2017

HAPPY 100TH BIRTHDAY

My parents on their wedding day - 1939

I always remember my mother's birthday: the day after Christmas. I once blogged about it in a little post called The Feast of Stephen. Mom would have been 100 today.
I do know that we, her children, liked to make her birthday as special as we could, especially when we came to know that when she was younger, her birthday was often brushed aside. "Oh Dorothy, you just had Christmas yesterday, you don't need anything else." Maybe not, but a cake would have been nice.
One year when I was in college, my gifting funds were low. I had money in my budget to buy her two nice things, but I knew she wanted another in Will and Ariel Durant's series, The Story of Civilization. One book, over budget, what to do? I got the book for her. I wrapped half in pink paper, the other half in red. White ribbon. She was please, and I so was I.


Again - Happy Birthday Mom, if ever you are wherever you are.




Friday, December 22, 2017

SAINT NICHOLAS AROUND THE WORLD

Ah, yes - another double-duty piece written for the magazine and eminently bloggable. And what would I do without Google Images? I do love this one below - Santa and all the Arctic animals - even my favorite, the sea otter.



With the worldwide spread of languages and customs through exploration, trade, and missionary work, enhanced by today’s fast communications, a good part of the world acknowledges Christmas. Those in and from the European countries and the Americas observe it as a religious holiday. Elsewhere, it is often celebrated as a day of good will and gift giving. One of the modern, ubiquitous symbols of Christmas is Santa Claus, the evolved St. Nicholas.



Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, and the rest of the squad pull Santa Claus’ sleigh as he makes his rounds on Christmas Eve here in America. Contrary to NORAD and their popular Santa Tracker, noradsanta.org, available in many languages, or Google’s santatracker.google.com, in circling the world with presents for good boys and girls, Santa doesn’t always travel by sleigh. We have it on good authority that in Australia, because he couldn’t fit in a kangaroo’s pouch, Santa rides a camel. In Russia, he handles the reins of a troika, in Holland he rides a white horse, in Norway he might get around on snow shoes, and here in Sun City Carolina Lakes he’s been seen on a Segway.



Santa doesn’t always wear a plush, red suit and tasseled hat with white fur trim. In Mexico he might wear a big, red sombrero, in England he is often seen in green. Over his indoor clothes, in some countries he wears a long, hooded, usually-red robe. The gift-bringer in some countries isn’t always a jolly, saintly man. In Italy, the goodies are brought by La Bafana, the holiday witch dressed in black, brown, or grey peasant garb. Wee, gnome-like and likewise-dressed Julenissen or Jultomten do the honors in many Scandinavian homes. Santa is little known in Spain on Christmas – the Three Wise Men deliver gifts there on the day of the Epiphany.



In some European countries, especially the Low Countries of Holland and Belgium, and in Austria and Germany, he is dressed as the Fourth Century Greek Bishop he was. St. Nicholas, St Nicholas of Myra, patron saint of pawnbrokers, prostitutes, and sailors, among others (they all knew a good man when they saw one) was born during the Byzantine era in what is now Turkey. From his habit of giving secret gifts, it became the custom during the Middle Ages to give gifts to children on his feast day, December 6. In some northern European countries, St. Nicholas still comes, often in a big, festive parade, on his feast day. Gradually, though the centuries, the gift-giving moved its way on up to Christmas and the Epiphany.



Santa Claus in his various guises leaves gifts and goodies in wooden shoes, boots, in fancy stockings, or just plain, old socks. Any footwear will do. It may have started when children began to leave treats for Santa and the reindeer – things like a glass of eggnog and a few carrots. Today’s range of stocking-stuffers runs the gamut from the sublime to the ridiculous, from the inexpensive to Neiman-Marcus excess.

What will be in your stocking this year – candy or coal?

As the song says: "Lord won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz."
a nice, shiny, red  AMG in my stocking!


St. Nicholas has become Saint Nick, Sinter Claus, Sinterklaas, Santa Claus, or just Santa. England calls him Father Christmas, France has Père Noël, and in Russia he’s Ded Moros or Grandfather Frost. His names are legion, and they all signify the spirit of love and giving. To answer most of your questions about Christmas worldwide, spend some time at whychristmas.com




Friday, December 15, 2017

THE NUTCRACKER

Which one of us hasn’t had the pleasure of going to a December performance of The Nutcracker? Were you dancing in it, or were you there to see your child or grandchild, or a neighbor’s child? Or were you just there to see one of the most beloved presentations in the western world?

My oldest granddaughter, Kate, as Clara 

December, Christmas time to be exact, is the month in which the ballet’s story takes place. December, 125 years ago in December 1892, to be exact, saw the first performance of the ballet at the Mariinski Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia. Evidently, Czar Alexander III loved it, but the critics hated it. What did they know?

A lot of creativity went into that first production. It was choreographed by the noted Marius Petipa, the “Father of Russian Ballet,” many of whose works are still staged today. It was adapted for the ballet by Alexandre Dumas Père, he of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, and was based on the story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by the prolific Prussian author, composer, and artist, E.T.A. Hoffman. The music, later made into the popular suite we often hear now, was composed by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

In a nutshell, the story takes place on Christmas Eve, and the heroine, Clara, dreams that the nutcracker she was given that evening has come to life and is battling the mice who are about to eat the gingerbread soldiers.
After the Nutcracker defeats the Mouse King, he comes to life as the Prince he is, and he and Clara travel through the falling snowflakes to his kingdom. There, in the Land of Sweets, the chocolate, the coffee, the tea, and the flowers, among several others, dance for them. The Sugar Plum Fairy and her consort end the night with their dance.  

From the opening night to this one, choreographers, including Georg Balanchine and Michael Baryshnikov, have brought their own versions to the ballet stage. There have been two movie of The Nutcracker ballet, and several other movie productions have included some of the music. There are dozens of recordings of the musical suite, and many of the eight individual pieces in it are included in various other collections, especially those of Christmas music. In 1940, all eight pieces were famously animated in Walt Disney’s Fantasia.



There will be a commemorative performance of The Nutcracker this December 18, at the Mariinski Theater. You can scout for tickets and read more about the ballet and the theater at mariinsky.ru/en. (The ‘en’ means the site is in English.) Don't you wish you could be there? I do.
 


Friday, December 8, 2017

THE ULTIMATE TRAVEL EXPERIENCE



Many of us have traveled extensively, some of us throughout our own vast country, others to more distant, foreign places. Every once in a while, we’ll see a piece on TV about somewhere we’ve been, and the enjoyment is ours to experience again. “Hey, we were there – right there!”  We’ll recall our rapt gazing up at Mt. Rushmore, or the Eiffel Tower, or the Taj Mahal. We’ll recall our transpacific tour by ship, a riverboat cruise down the Rhine, rafting on the Colorado, or a gondola ride in Venice. We recall wandering around a maze of streets trying to find the garage where we’d parked our car. When they say travel is broadening, they really mean it: it expands our horizons in so many ways.

It must be a wonderful experience for astronauts who’ve been there, to see the moon in videos, TV, maybe in the movies. The Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt were riding around on the moon, the last human travelers there, forty-five years ago, in December 1972. Don’t you wish you’d been there? On the moon, it’s easy to remember where you parked.


Friday, December 1, 2017

THE EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK AT SEVENTY

Here's another piece I wrote for our community magazine. The December issue was packed, so we chose to save this article for January. Along with it will be printed another article called "Invaders." That article is about the foreign animals and plants that have been mistakenly introduced or deliberately dumped into the Everglades ecosystem, threatening the native species. I'll run that article next month. Meanwhile...

The grackle sings of his Everglades home.
Seventy years ago this month, in a ceremony led by Harry Truman, Florida’s Everglades National Park was dedicated. One of our largest national parks, it is one of the few parks established for its great bio-diversity, rather than its scenic wonders. That same year, 1947, journalist and environmentalist Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, recognizing that great and important bio-diversity, published her definitive work, The Everglades: River of Grass, from which the area got its nickname.

Having been interested and involved in the Everglades and its future since the 1920’s, and wanting to see it become a national park, Douglas wrote: “There are no other Everglades in the world… They are unique…in the simplicity, the diversity, the related harmony of the forms of life they enclose. The miracle of light pours over the green and brown expanse of saw grass and water, shining and slow-moving below, the grass and water that is the meaning and the central fact of the Everglades of Florida.”

The Everglades system is one of storage and supply. It begins in the slightly higher, northern part of the state as streams, rivers, and lakes interact and drain. The water flows south, through the limestone formations that make up much of the state, to Lake Okeechobee. Generally, from there on further south, the water flows on the surface.

In the post-WWII housing boom, Florida was recognized as having one of the best climates in the country. The vast, almost untouched Everglades, though largely inhospitable, were enticing to real estate and agricultural developers. Even before the postwar era, few questioned the draining of the swamps for reclamation of land for agriculture. Drainage canals were dug in south Florida as early as 1882. Eventually, in the later quarter of the last century, it became increasingly evident that the unchecked development was having a damaging effect on the ecological balance of the region: an alarming decline in the water quality, an alarming increase in flooding as well as drought, and declines in several commercial areas, especially commercial fishing. Remedial measures are now being taken to bring the area back as close as possible to its pristine state.

Everglades National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site and an International Biosphere Reserve, lies in the southernmost section of the state, at the end of the Everglades system. It is home to hundreds of types of animals, birds, and plants, and is the refuge of endangered species including four species of sea turtle, the beautiful Florida panther, the unlovely West Indian manatee, and the ominous American crocodile.

Spatterdock, another native 

There are several Visitor Centers within the park, and several access points by road and water. In various places throughout park visits can paddle, pedal, or hoof it – on guided tours or on their own. Camping facilities are available both in the “Frontcountry,” near Homestead, with RVs and tents, and in the “Backcountry.” Though some are available on foot, most of these backcountry sites can be reached only by water. (These are the sites where you might want to stay if you are on a days-long canoe or kayak trip.) There are boat concessions available for coastal and bay tours, and airboat tours, exciting and not to be missed, within the River of Grass.

Begin your research at nps.gov/ever/index. And if you go in the wetter, summer months, do not forget to pack the bug spray



Thursday, November 23, 2017

GIVING THANKS


We set aside this day each year to give special thanks for all we have: our health, our homes, our friends, our family. I give thanks for my readers too. You make blogging a delight.

The other day, I read that the author Don DeLillo wrote: "Writing is a concentrated form of thinking, I don't know what I think about certain subjects, even today, until I sit down and try to write about them." Yes!
A subject will be suggested to me or will pop into mind, and I'm off to learn about it and write an essay. I love to learn and I love to sit down and write about the interesting things I discover. I give thanks for that, and I hope my interest and enthusiasm never wane.

Friday, November 17, 2017

SWEET HOME SWEET



One recent morning, as it happens every once I a while, I was standing and thinking just how much I loved my home and being here in it. Not to pat myself on the back or toot my own horn, but I like what we have as furnishings - the furniture Frank has made, the artwork and treasures we’ve collected or been given over the years, and the way it’s decorated.

I pride myself on being a minimalist. There’s room to spread out in our closets, dresser drawers, pantry, and fridge shelves. I’ve not family pictures all over the place nor too many tchotchkes to dust. But on a lark one morning, I went around and counted all the things we have hanging on the walls. There the minimalism ends. Total count, and a lot of nail holes, 232! (26 of them are needleworks made for us by someone we dearly love.) Sounds like it might be a mishmash, but it all pleases us no end.

Our house is just a suburban box on a relatively small lot, like hundreds of others in this community of “active adults.” We’ve been here ten years, and wouldn’t want to move. We’ll just age in place and enjoy all the lovely things that make our home ours.






Thursday, November 16, 2017

NOVEMBER BIRTHDAYS


This morning on The Writer’s Almanac I read a quote from an author, Andrea Barrett, whose birthday is also today: “I want to tell stories about the thing I observe.” Simple as that, simple is that. It struck a note. Born on the same date, I believe she and I share an affinity for passing on what we find. I want to write my essays about the things I learn and, sometimes, the things I learn about myself. Even at the ripe old age of seventy-five, I’m still learning.

The blogger Corey Amaro posts to her Tongue in Cheek every day. Every day.  Some days, like today, she’ll post just an interesting picture. I think I might do that now from time to time. 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

NEITHER HARD BOILED NOR COZY

Here's another article I wrote for our community magazine's current issue. I've read many complete mystery series, and none have pleased me more than those of Donna Leon and Louise Penny. I recommend them highly.

Ah, oui! Poirot en Paris


Many mystery and suspense writers invest quite a bit of time and pages in fleshing out their characters. Once established in the minds of their regular readers, they can dispense with a lot of background details. From the beginnings of these types of fiction, many of the main characters have become household names: Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Brother Cadfael, Jason Bourne, George Smiley, Kinsey Millhone, and, of course, James Bond – the list goes on. Readers become great fans of these characters, and most of them have found their way into the big-screen and TV movies.

Two newer characters that can be added to this list, movies included, are Guido Brunetti and Armand Gamache. There are now twenty-six Brunetti novels since the series began in 1992, and thirteen Gamache novels since 2005.

I had Brunetti in my head long before the series started,
and he doesn't look like this - and never as scruffy.

Donn Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti plies his trade in Venice, “La Serenissima.” From the first novel, Death at La Fenice, the opera house, to the most recent, Earthly Remains, published in April 2017, readers know that Brunetti will investigate a murder or two and, usually, some connected nefarious doings in and around the city. He’ll have the help of some on-going, memorable colleagues and characters at the Questura, the police headquarters, and he’ll invariably head home for lunch. Your mouth will water as you read what wonderful things the family is having for lunch. The dishes are so memorable that Leon gathered the recipes into A Taste of Venice: At Table with Brunetti, otherwise known as “Brunetti’s Cookbook.”

The solving of the crimes and the discovery of the several interconnected mysterious situations make for intriguing reading. While reading the books, and they can be read in almost any order, you might want to send for the handy, plastic-coated “Streetwise Venice” map from Amazon, to help you follow Brunetti around the city on foot and by water. Next time you visit there, you can book a tour of “Brunetti’s Venice.”

This is close to the Gamache in my head.

Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is headquartered at la Sûreté du Québec. While Brunetti’s only problem at headquarters is an inept, social-climbing superior, Gamache, while looking into his many cases, is also combating a few back-stabbing, scheming colleagues. His personal and professional problems are a backdrop to the case at hand. Though he travels a bit through Quebec and Montreal, most of his cases take place in and around Three Pines, a very small, mythical hamlet in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. After reading just the first novel in the series, and it is best to read them in order, most readers want to pack up and move to Three Pines. In 2015, St. Martin’s Press, Louise Penny’s publisher, printed a map of Three Pines, and several lucky readers were able to acquire one. Though, like me, they found it to be almost like the map in their heads, it was a case of “almost but not quite.” Like the personalities and quirks of the dozen or so recurring characters, the personality and quirks of Three Pines etch themselves into memory. The first book in the series is Still Life, the most recent, out this past August, is Glass Houses.



Louise Penny's publisher, St. Martin's Press, published a map of Three Pines.
I was lucky enough to receive one. 

You can always tell how widely anticipated are the novels of these two award-winning writers, by the great discounts that mount up at Amazon in preorders in advance of their next publications. The discount usually gets up to at least a third off the publisher’s cover price. Be warned though, you might be up all night: they are not “hard boiled”, neither are they your “cozy” mysteries, but the books are really “page-turners.” 


You may want to read my blog on "The Maps in Our Heads" here
or "Mapping an Authoris Landscape" here.