Friday, August 18, 2017

THE SMALL BUT POWERFUL MUSTARD SEED




These are the “dog days” of summer, so named because the Dog Star, Sirius, rises with the sun each morning. These are the days of indolence, days when whole countries, like France, go on holiday. These are the days of sun tans, swimming pools, beaches, back yards, and barbecue. It is no wonder that the “powers that be” designated the first day of August as National Mustard Day. At this time of year, mustard is purchased by the gallon.

The pungent, peppery-flavored mustard plant grows over much of the world in warm and temperate climes. Many of the world’s cultures have ways to prepare and eat the mustard’s leaves and stems, but the truly powerful part of the plant is its seed.

Every good cook keeps Coleman's
dry mustard on hand.


It’s no great stretch of the imagination to picture one of our ancestors who had made something tasty out of other seeds, nuts being included in that group, thinking up some way to use the fiery little mustard seeds. She ground them up, mixed them with something on hand, and added them to the meal to add some zip. In really warm climates, hot, inexpensive condiments made from herbs like mustard could cover up the taste of meats that were not too fresh, shall we say.

this image is from Wikipedia


The ancient, original condiment we now call mustard was probably made basically as it is today: ground mustard seed in a liquid carrier. The permutations of mustard vary around the world. There are several regional types of mustard seed, basically, several colors: white, yellow, brown or black. The seeds are powdered, cracked, ground, smashed, mashed, and otherwise chewed up, and then combined with a carrier of one of several types of vinegar, or wine, beer, even Jack Daniels. To this mixture you can add spices and herbs, horseradish, honey, hot peppers, or whatever you think might enhance and differentiate the flavor of the mustard.

Mustard, a condiment in itself, is often an addition to other condiments and dressings. In some dressings such as honey-mustard, it is added as an emulsifier to keep the oil and vinegar mixed. It is often used in marinades, and, because of its many varieties, can be the really secret ingredient in barbecue sauces, especially here in the Carolinas. Mustard has found its way onto and into pretzels, into salads, even into stroganoffs and soups.

Heinz, French's, even store brands of
yellow mustard are the nation's favorite


Many modern mustard aficionados, preferring the more esoteric blends, turn up their noses at good old American yellow mustard. Ah, but the numbers have the last laugh because that good old American yellow mustard, which gets it color from turmeric, the mustard of the ball parks, barbecues, and many street-food vendors, tops them all in sales in this country.

With several types of mustard seeds, many ways to open them, several different carriers, and innumerable other ingredients to stir in to the mix, the end results number in the hundreds, even thousands. At state fairs and food fests, the competition can get fierce for the best mustard, whether homemade or commercially prepared. Entrants can only hope that their preparations come up to the judges’ expectations, that they “cut the mustard.”



Friday, August 11, 2017

THE SALUTE



This is Watkins Glen, August 1978. Frank and I were regulars at the 6-Hour, Trans-Am, and Can-Am races at The Glen. This was a weekend for us to stay at the Hilton in Corning, enjoy some wonderful meals and perhaps a summer-theater offering, and explore the museums there. That was back in the days when there were great buys to be had at the Corning Glass store. All these years later, I still have the Pyrex ware I bought.

This man and his son were always at The Glen too. Many’s the time the boy had on his Cub Scout uniform, and he always paid respect to the national anthems that were being played: ours and O Canada.

I brought a copy of the picture along with me the next year, but the father and son duo weren’t there. I often wonder what they were doing that August weekend.



Friday, August 4, 2017

ECLIPSE

This piece was written for and published in the August issue of our community magazine. Heaven forbid I don't use it again. It's just a lighter (pun intended?) look at the eclipse that will cross our path here in the Carolinas. Right where we live, we'll see the eclipse at 98.7% totality - that will be close enough for me. I'm trying to decide what seeing the eclipse will do for me. Not being a scientist, it won't mean much more than being able to say I saw it. That and $2.20 will get me a round-trip, reduced Senior fare ride on the Charlotte LYNX light rail.



It’s been said that if you knew it all you’d go crazy.

Just think of all there is to know – everything from the exact amount of pi,* to the last time your neighbor went to the bathroom; the bloom time of each and every daffodil, to the time of the next eclipse; from the function of the microorganisms in your body, to what’s in the center of a black hole. Questions abound about the esoteric, the ecclesiastic, the extraterrestrial, and the down-to-earth. There is just too much to know.

Well, there’s one thing there that might prove to be interesting: the time of the next eclipse. In addition to the time, it is always helpful to know where the show is going on. Every eclipse can’t be seen everywhere, but this August we South Carolinians are in luck. All North Americans will be able to see at least a partial eclipse, but a very short ride south of Sun City Carolina Lakes will take us to the path of totality.

The last path of solar totality that included any part of the United States, mostly the north-westernmost states, was back in 1979. Where were we 38 years ago? The next two will be in 2024 and 2044, and they, and many of us seniors, won’t be within hundreds of miles from here.
The small town of Hopkinsville, Kentucky, is calculated to be the place to view absolute totality on August 21. The locals there will benefit outrageously from this free, passing natural phenomenon. Scientists, and gawkers and folks who just must be a part of such events, have commandeered and booked solid every available room, campsite, and RV spot for miles around. They’ll take hours and even days to get there to witness a totality show that will last for 2 minutes and 40 seconds, give or take a nanosecond or two.

From the first bite out of the sun to the last, the partial eclipse, the one that can be seen from here will last almost three hours, starting at just after 2:15 p.m. The total eclipse can be seen if you travel just south of here, say to somewhere along I-77 south of Exit 41, to just south of where I-77 and I-26 meet. You might want to drive down and pull off the highway anywhere down here. Better yet, totality will be seen in the many small urban parks in Columbia and Greenville, at the Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens, at Congaree National Park, in Manchester State Forest, and further afield in places like the South Carolina Botanical Garden at Clemson, or the Nantahala National Forest. 



Don’t think that you’ll be the only ones smart enough to pick your preferred viewing spot. Pack a picnic lunch and get there early. Check the eclipse path on line and check the times for your chosen spot. Above all, be sure to be equipped with the proper eye protection for viewing. On-line sources like Amazon have them already.


*which we now know to be infinite – but perhaps knowable




Friday, July 28, 2017

EAST OR WEST

I-90 - Eastern Montana - 1994
A great load of hay - that was a lucky sign.
Our trip there was wonderful.

"Just a long, flat highway with nothing at stake between us"

“East or West, home is best.” I’ve remembered that line since I was child. It is one of the maxims the nuns in school would bestow on us every once in a while. I came upon this wonderful poem in June at The Writer’s Almanac. The poem spoke to me of two places I love but have never lived in. I’ve been to Vermont, close to my upstate New York home, more times that I could ever count. I’ve been to Montana, home of one of my very special people, only once. Both the green, treed Vermont and the golden brown, vast Big Sky openness of Montana speak to me of home – I could happily live in either place. Maybe in my next life…

I titled this one "Vermont Cow"

"spring's sky-blue gown"


Habitats
You can take Vermont,
the edge of the woods in tears
even with spring’s sky-blue gown
as you prowl through those trees
bird whistle on a lanyard and compass
tucked in your camouflage pants.
I want Montana for myself,
some little-known hot spring,
glimpse of wild horses running,
notebooks, novels, no plans
as the sky rolls out its
dazzling welcome mat.
Just a long flat highway with nothing
at stake between us.
Someday we’ll signal one another—
you with the call of a partridge,
me with the song of a meadowlark.



Friday, July 21, 2017

CLYDESDALES

This week's post is one I wrote as a sidebar to a magazine article. I think that the big draft horses are beautiful. I cherish the memories of seeing several teams of them on their way to a farm show up in Vermont, and also when the big team from Reminisce magazine, on a country-wide tour, came by on U.S. Rt. 20, just a mile away from our house in New York.  We couldn't not be there.



Summertime - and I remember the only times I ever enjoyed a cold beer was at a beach house I shared out on Long Island’s north shore with a large group of great people. Exhilarated, exhausted, and really sweaty after a great game of beach volleyball, there was nothing like a cold beer from the keg of Bud that one of the guys had brought in.

Think of beer on draft, think of work and horsepower, think of horses, think of powerful draft horses, and you’ll always think of the iconic Budweiser team of Clydesdales, the “Ambassadors of Excellence.” The Bud ads that featured them were always a hit. They are truly magnificent animals. (Budweiser must have switched ad agencies, because their current ads are screamin’ terrible.)

Throughout Europe, where breeds of draft, or draught or dray, horses became individualized from earliest times, there was a need for strong work and farm animals. The largest of the draft horses, Shire horses are from England. Percherons, descendants of war horses, are from France. The eponymous Belgians, and several breeds from other countries, are joined by the Clydesdales from Scotland.

Raised on a farm near St. Louis, and based there and in New Hampshire and Colorado, several teams of Clydesdales are on the move across the country, promoting Budweiser for most of the year. Ten gelded, matched, bay-colored horses make up a team, and eight at a time are hitched to the big, red beer wagon. The sight of the wagon and horses coming down the pike, or even in a television ad, is enough to stir the soul of any animal lover or beer lover, and bring on a great smile.



P.S. Did you know that a Dalmatian often accompanies the Budweiser Clydesdales? Their heritage is as guard dogs, and they were used by draymen and firemen to protect the valuable horses from theft.


I went looking in Google Images for Budweiser Dalmatian pictures.  
It was really hard to pick just one or two. 




Friday, July 14, 2017

THE MIDNIGHT MOCKINGBIRD

You know, of course, that I didn't take this picture.
 (What would I do without Google Images for most of my illustrations?)
I was happy to find a picture of this bird in mid-song.


Good grief, I am going to throw a boot (never a book!) at that bird! Does he think he is a nightingale? He’s a mockingbird, and one who should be doing his mocking thing in the daylight, not in the dark.

For several nights now I’ve awakened to the sound of a mockingbird perched somewhere in the nearby trees or on the fence. I often wake a time or two at night, usually for a bathroom call. These last few nights that bird has been singing his heart out in the darkness. Loud too. 

I remember one of our neighbors, long ago on Long Island. Charlie swore he was going to kill that mockingbird. Me? I never ever heard it. At that time I was young and slept through the night, come what may. Older now, of course, older by over thirty years, irregular sounds wake me right up. 

This morning, I found it was as loud as it was because the window has been open for days behind the closed drapes. Who closed those drapes? I did. I never remembered or noticed the open window, and the air conditioning has been on in the house. Ah, well. I hope that tonight the bird has given up and gone to sleep like all good birds. His ‘song’ is definitely not melodious. 



Friday, July 7, 2017

THE MAPS IN OUR HEADS

Again, this is an article I wrote for our community magazine. It was published in the July issue, and I have had a few compliments on it. It was a bit of a challenge to write - to remember all the places I passed in my city neighborhood in Richmond Hill, New York, and to find the words to describe the sounds and smells. I did leave out the ice cream parlor - Adele's. Adele's was the closest store to where I lived, and though I have fond memories, especially of their creating a chocolate-covered ice pop in whatever three flavors struck my fancy that day, I completely forgot to put it on my tour. Shows you how the senior mind works - or doesn't work, as the case may be.

Googled "ice cream parlor" and found this picture that reminds me of Adele's,
though for some reason I remember it being darker.


The map of Sun City Carolina Lakes is a curvy one. Many of us raised in the rectangular grids of the cities of the north find ourselves mystified as to the compass direction of our friends’ homes: “Well, they live over there somewhere.”

Louise Penny, in her latest novel, A Great Reckoning, writes about a cartographer who made exceptionally beautiful maps, especially local ones, and “recognized the connection people have to where they live. That it isn’t just the land: our history, our cuisine, our stories and our songs spring from where we live.”    

Searching for an illustration of some kind to show a beautiful map, I came upon this.
That's what the maps in our heads do - they come to life.


Most of us maintain a connection to where we’ve lived, especially during our school days, and in our memories we have maps that we take with us for life. They don’t necessarily match those of MapQuest or Google Earth. We keep our own maps of the route to school, the playing fields and parks, to a friend’s house, to the shops and train station, or to Grandma’s house. We can walk there in our memories and smell the aromas, stop off for a brief look-see, and hear the sounds along the way. The sound of a lawn mower and the perfume of lilacs or honeysuckle in a neighbor’s suburban yard are sweet memories. We walk past the Italian restaurant with sauce simmering and dishes clinking, past the bakery with the fresh-baked bread, on to savor the smell from the grills at the burger or bar-b-q place and the sound of the juke box. A sniff as we pass the open door of the hardware store gives us the tang of construction nails and the stink of garden fertilizer. Our memories smell the nose-crinkling, boozy breath of the liquor and beer soaked into the carpet at the corner bar. We hear the clang of metal on metal at the local garage, and hear the screech of breaks on wheels as we pass the train station. The smell of cloth and the hiss of steam at the cleaners, and the clove and Vitamin B-aroma of the pharmacy are immediately recognizable.

This looks a lot nicer than what I remember of the
corner bar in our neighborhood.

The beautiful thing about on-line maps today is that not only can we get directions and plot a route, we can also get a bird’s eye view of almost anywhere. We can take armchair visits to places we wish we’d have visited – Venice anyone? – and we can hover over the neighborhoods where we grew up or where we raised our families. We can see the changes. We can even get familiar with the streets in our own SCCL community.

You are where?

But you don’t need to go on line to visit the maps in your head. Take a break, get comfortable. Close your eyes and think about all the different things that happened there. Where are you? Let your mind roam outward from your daily self and think of the things – mundane or marvelous, but only the good things – that happened there. Keep the neighborhood around you for the rest of the day.





Sunday, July 2, 2017

TANGY THREE BEAN SALAD


Though it has been summer for quite a while here in the Carolinas, the Fourth of July holiday really brings out the summer recipes. Yesterday I got into the spirit of things and made potato salad, from the old standard recipe on the Hellmann’s mayonnaise jar, and a great three bean salad. I’ve no idea where I got the three bean recipe, but I’ve been using it for so long that I no longer need to refer to the printed version. I was going to make the wonderful summer succotash recipe from Marian Morash of the old Victory Garden show, but it’s just the two of us for this holiday. If I’d made all those salads, I think we’d have been fed up in no time flat.
I wanted to share this recipe on my blog, so I took a few pictures as I made it. It's really an easy recipe.



INGREDIENTS:

1 can each - chick peas, dark red kidney beans, and cut green beans 
2 small onions, diced
1 large carrot – peeled and sliced thin

1 Cup vinegar
1 Cup vegetable oil
½ Cup sugar
2 Tbsp. sweet paprika
2 tsp. salt

METHOD:

Drain and rinse the chick peas and kidney beans.  Drain and reserve the liquid from the string beans.

Prepare the onions and carrots. Put them in a pot with the vinegar, oil, sugar, paprika, and salt. Bring this all to a boil, let it cook for a minute, and then turn it off.
Pour the hot liquid and veggies over the beans. Add any of the reserved green bean liquid to completely cover the veggies and beans. Let this cool and then refrigerate it.  Makes 8 to 9 cups.  Keeps for a long time.

NOTES:

Avoid the use of olive oil because it will solidify in the fridge. If you do use it you’ll have to let the salad sit a while out of the fridge before serving.

Use more carrots if you like. Just make sure they ‘cook’ a bit so that they are not too crunchy.

You can reduce the oil by replacing all or some of it with water. Less calories that way.

You can use fresh green beans, just cut them up and add them to the vinegar/oil liquid to cook off some of the crunch.

Try a teaspoon of celery seed added in to the salad.


Friday, June 30, 2017

WHY DID I COME IN HERE?




Those whose job it is to think up things to celebrate have designated July 2 as I Forgot Day. Why? It’s really not a thing we need to remember.

Remembering the important things is not hard for us seniors to do. We’ve been calendar-trained. Paper or electronic, we use our calendars to remind of community and church meetings, doctor’s appointments, parties, birthdays, anniversaries, and such. Much of our “to do” schedules, like taking out the trash, are imbedded in our brains. Unless we are the totally disorganized and perennially late types, “I forgot” is really no excuse to miss any of life’s important moments, and at this point in our lives we look forward to being around for each and every event.

What happens to us seniors more and more noticeably it seems, are the “my mind’s a blank” moments.

My Mind is a Blank Moment Type A -
“Who was that tall movie star who was in, oh, you remember, the one about the showdown at high noon.” “Good grief, it’s on the tip of my tongue.” “Ah, I almost had it.” “Geeeze loueeeeese.”

My Mind is a Blank Moment Type B –
“Now where did I put that receipt?” “Where are the car keys?” “How did we let this milk go bad?”

My Mind is a Blank moment Type C –
“Why did I come in here?” “What did I just think of for the shopping list?” “Why did I come in here?”



This last type is the most annoying. Recent studies are coming to the conclusion that just walking through a door can cause memory lapses. The scene changes and we instantaneously forget what was on our mind. The only cure is to go back to where we were, look around, let our subconscious relate to what we see, remember what it is we wanted, and then put that thought into the active part of our brains until we can get to where we can write it down or accomplish what we originally thought to do.

While we know we’ll eventually remember Gary Cooper, and we know we’ll eventually find the car keys, the blanks in Type C are likely to remain blanks. We can avoid going from room to room, of course, or we can walk round with a pad and pencil hung around our necks, or, because it probably wasn’t an earth-shaking thought to begin with, we can chalk it up to another Senior Moment and, like the Budweiser chameleons, just “let it go, Louie.”







Friday, June 23, 2017

93 BILLION LIGHT YEARS

This is the Westerlund I Star Cluster, a mere 15,000 light years away.
In it, there is a star so big that if it were in our solar
system it would reach out past the orbit of Jupiter.
See APOD  for more info.

Recent articles have reported that astronomers have now calculated the size of the universe. The long but interesting articles relate how scientists came to their current conclusion that the diameter of the universe is 93 billion light years. (Not miles: light years. A light year is the distance light travels in a year, or about 6 trillion miles. Do the math?) Those of us who remember a bit of high school geometry will realize that nothing was said about the circumference or the area of the universe. 93 billion is a big enough number, especially if it is multiplied by 6 trillion. That comes to a number in the sextillions. When they use the word 'astronomical' they really mean it. Only astronomers can think in that kind of numbers.

Just think on this: it was once believed that our own Milky Way galaxy, which over time has been estimated at various sizes, had the Earth at its center. Our galaxy is now known to be about 100,000 light years across – give or take a few light years - and we are out in its edges. The Andromeda Galaxy, the closest galaxy to ours, it is only 2.54 million light years away.



For those of us who regularly deal in miles or kilometers, or even the length of a city block or a football field, light years are almost mythical. To bring it down to earthly size, I suppose the Earth is not the seed in the watermelon or the flea on the dog, it’s probably not even like the proverbial grain of sand on a coral beach. No, I’d guess we’re more like an atom of carbon in that grain of sand.

In the days before World War II, Winston Churchill was preoccupied with the question of whether we are alone in the universe. In a 1939 essay recently discovered at the Churchill Museum in Missouri, Churchill, a great advocate of science, argued that humans aren’t all that special: “I, for one, am not so immensely impressed by the success we are making of our civilization here that I am prepared to think we are the only spot in this immense universe which contains living, thinking creatures.”

Makes you start thinking about the bigger picture - about all the now seemingly insignificant problems besetting our planet, and the relatively insignificant beliefs we hold. Start thinking about all the beings who most assuredly populate the countless worlds between us and the edge of the known, ever expanding universe. How do they live, what are their problems, who are their gods? Thoughts like this shouldn’t keep you up at night. Maybe, if you pursue them in depth, they'll put you to sleep.







Friday, June 16, 2017

THE POSTAL SERVICE COMES OF AGE

 Back in February, we marked the 225th anniversary of President George Washington’s signing of the Postal Service Act in 1792, establishing the United States Post Office. Today we call it the Postal Service. Coincidentally, in August of this year we will mark the 490th anniversary of the sending of the first known letter from this side of the pond, Newfoundland to be exact, to England, from Master John Rut, mariner, to Henry VIII. Though there were various methods and offices to handle the mails, including having Benjamin Franklin, working from England, act as Postmaster General, not much speeded up the mail in the 265 years between those two events. There’s not much more to be found on line to say who carried the letter to Henry VIII or even how long it took to get to him, but postal service has improved over the years. It improved, certainly, with newer and faster methods of transportation and organization, but these days it’s showing definite signs of decline and disuse.

At the website about.usps.com, you will find this:
  “The United States Postal Service is an independent establishment of the Executive Branch of the Government of the United States and operates in a business-like way. Its mission statement can be found in Section 101(a) of Title 39 of the U.S. Code, also known as the Postal Reorganization Act: The Postal Service shall have as its basic function the obligation to provide postal services to bind the Nation together through the personal, educational, literary, and business correspondence of the people. It shall provide prompt, reliable, and efficient services to patrons in all areas and shall render postal services to all communities.”



Those are lofty ideals, but it seems to us these days that the Postal Service carries only catalogs, annual reports, fast food fliers, and miscellaneous junk mail. On line, we can get email, ecards, online billing, banking, and bank statements. Just as our use of cash is declining because of the almost universal use of debit and credit cards, so too, one day there will probably be little need for a government postal service. Carriers like United Parcel Service have trucks and personnel on the roads every day, and are already picking up mail deliveries. In the name of conservation of our natural resources, perhaps our laws will one day outlaw paper catalogs and reports. Even today, most of the information in them is easily obtained on line. These days it isn’t really essential that our regular postal carriers deliver to us each day – even three times a week could suffice – but carry on they do.



Unless it is stolen or mislabeled, very little mail is undelivered these days. We Americans are fortunate in our postal service. But if you are a postal employee in far off places that consist of dozens of nameless inhabited islands or vast tracks of land, finding the proper recipient can be a trial. Now, a new London-based company has developed what3words. (see them at what3words.com/about) The system divides up the planet into 3x3 meter squares, roughly 10 ft. by 10ft, identifying it with a unique string of three words. For The New York Times office in Manhattan, it’s “zest.ropes.along.” For the Tonga Post headquarters, it’s “international.bashfully.placidity.” * Identifiers will also come in French, German, Russian, Spanish, and many other languages. If the sender knows the recipient’s three-word address, the local postal office can deliver. (And agencies like the Red Cross will be using it to pinpoint areas in need of disaster aid.)



*This writer lives at “wonderfully.homepage.dazzles,” or in that general vicinity, but don’t address any snail mail to me there. Our intrepid mail carrier isn’t yet ready to handle those three-word addresses.

Friday, June 9, 2017

THE QUEEN AT 91

 
The Queen and her Corgis

These last years have been quite eventful for Queen Elizabeth. In September 2015, QE II sailed on, outlasting Queen Victoria reign of 63 years, 26 days. Last year, she celebrated birthday 90. This past February, she celebrated her Sapphire Jubilee: 65 years on the throne. This coming November, she and Prince Phillip will celebrate 70 years of marriage. How many get to have a Platinum Anniversary?
According to Wikipedia, she now stands in 48th place among the longest reigning monarchs of the world. Those reigning longer: all men. The longest reigning, I see, was Sobhuza of Swaziland, who reigned for almost 83 years. He must have been exhausted!

Egad!


This year, Her Majesty, Elizabeth II, was ninety-one. I always remember her birthday. Always. Why? Because it is also my sister’s birthday: April 21. When I discovered that fact, I was delighted, especially since from an early age, oh, about ten or eleven, I thought the Queen was our Queen. After all, what’s a country without a President and a Queen? I thought that was the way it worked: one male for the business stuff, one female for the ceremony stuff. Remember, I was only ten or so.

If you were a Queen, and your birthday was in April, and that was a rainy month in your England, wouldn’t you want to really celebrate in month with a “higher probability of fine weather?” England’s monarchs have been doing this since the middle of the 1700’s. Come a fine Saturday in June, June 10 this year, the Queen will first inspect her troops. She once did this, wearing full military uniform, from horseback. Now she rides in a carriage, and you can be sure her handbag is close by.* She will join the parade down The Mall on home to Buckingham Palace, there will be the Trooping of the Colour near St. James Park, and it will all end with a flyover by the Royal Air Force.  (Excuse me, they call it a “fly-past”)

Were's her handbag?

I am an Anglophile, and an Elizabethophile. (Or should that just be an Elizabethan?) I love all the colour and pomp and ceremony. Not everyone does. There are those who say the monarchy is obsolete and the cost to the nation is too great. While these sentiments are ever-present, they swell back into the forefront of the news any time there is a grand event, like the birthday celebrations, or a wedding, or a coronation. In actuality, the royal family foot a lot of their own bills, and the public, to the tune of less than $1 per person per year, foot the bills for things security, international entertaining, and a laundry list of other things. Many think the tourism jobs and dollars brought in far offset the cost of the monarchy. Many anti-monarchists would like to have a republic with an elected head, a Supreme Court, and a written constitution, none of which they now have. They feel that the Queen should have the distinction of being Great Britain’s last monarch. But around 80% of the British population approve of the monarchy, and we can’t foresee that it will be abolished in the near future.

Meanwhile, sail on QE II.

Ah, there it is. Mia has it.

*Like the question “What does a Scotsman wear under his kilt?” the other burning question from the British Isles is “What does the Queen carry in her handbag?” She usually carries a comb, mirror and lipstick, a £5 or £10 note for any collection plate that might come her way, her eye glasses, and maybe some mints. Like many women, she may carry personal trinkets given to her by family members. Though we don’t know if it is in there at all times, the Queen does have a mobile phone to keep in touch with her many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She carries no passport or personal identification – she doesn’t own them or need them. So, less than you might think, because her ladies-in-waiting do carry things like clean gloves and a sewing kit and safety pins for emergencies, but more than just a penny to spend in the loo.


Friday, June 2, 2017

ALICE IN WONDERLAND ON BROADWAY


Seventy years ago, when I was just 4, so I don’t really remember it at all, my mother took me to see the Broadway production of Alice in Wonderland. I remember her telling me in later years that I had seen the great actress Eva Le Gallienne, as the White Queen, but it meant little to me then. Today I know that Miss Le Gallienne co-wrote and starred in the play that combined the two Alice books, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and that on and off, she brought the production back to Broadway for a few performances. I can’t find a definite/probable date for our going to the show.

1947

Since then I’ve seen all manner of Alice adaptations. The Disney version sticks in my memory for the songs (I’m Late, I’m Late, and A Very Merry Unbirthday from the scene I loved the most – the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.) The 1933 movie version, which I’ve seen only once, I remember for all the wonderful Hollywood personalities as the book’s characters. I especially loved and remember Gary Cooper as the lugubrious (I love that word!) White Knight. I will have to see if I can find a video of that.

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch


But, book lover that I am, my favourite Alices are Tenniel illustrated editions of either book - and don’t I wish I had first editions!  The Tenniel drawings are how all the Alice characters look in my mind. There is no other Jabberwock, there is (are) no other Tweedledum and Tweedledee, there is no other Alice. 




Friday, May 26, 2017

THE WEATHER CHANNEL AT 35

Ah, yes. Here's an article printed in our community magazine this month. The weather is endlessly fascinating to me, not only its apparent quirks and the way it is the ubiquitous topic of casual chitchat, but the way we humans have such a great effect on it. Not that our esteemed president agrees, but, hey...  
  
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In the late 40’s, cable TV began as a service to bring broadcast content to mountain and rural areas of Arkansas, Oregon and Pennsylvania. A few clever people raised their antennas to great heights and brought the signals down to their TVs. One enterprising appliance dealer, John Watson of Allentown, Pennsylvania, realized he wouldn’t sell any TV sets if the townspeople couldn’t get the signals. Knowing about those high antennas, he put up one of his own on a nearby mountain, and ran a cable down to the town and in to homes where, for an installation fee and a monthly charge, the residents could watch the three broadcast channels, the affiliates of ABC, CBS, and NBC.

The idea spread country-wide, and gradually, cable network operators offered more and more “stations” or “channels.”  Many of us from the bigger cities and their suburbs had little awareness of the cable networks. One cable channel we heard about though, and wished we had, was The Weather Channel. Customarily, in the early days of television, we watched the local weather as a short spot, usually on around 6:20 p.m., on our favorite broadcast channel. Many of us remember Tex Antoine’s “Uncle Wethbee” on WNBC in New York City. As time went on and weather technology advanced, the forecasts became less hit-and-miss, and we could catch the weather on the morning shows, perhaps a lunchtime news report, and always on the dinner hour news.

Tex Antoine and "Uncle Wethbee"


Thinking that many folks would like to know the weather at any time of the day, or all day long, John Coleman, meteorologist and forecaster for ABC’s “Good Morning America,” had the idea for a channel to provide such information. In May of 1982, 35 years ago, The Weather Channel made its first transmission. While many believed it would be short-lived, the channel is still going strong providing forecasts and regularly running documentaries and other weather-related content. It maintains a website for local, national, and worldwide forecasting information.

Several of the channel’s expert reporters are very well known. When raging snow storms or hurricanes strike, viewers look to Jim Cantore, and Bryan Norcross, among others, for the latest conditions. Viewers can’t believe that the reporters, and the unsung, unseen camera crew, would be out there braving winds and rain and snow as they do.

Jim Cantore, intrepid 30-year veteran of The Weather Channel,
out in the thick of things with, of course, his crew.
Did you think he was out there alone?

One “innovation” of The Weather Channel was the naming of winter storms. In times past we heard, in retrospect, of storms names like “The Great Blizzard of 1947” or the 1993 “Storm of the Century.” Just over four years ago, The Weather Channel started naming every wave of severe winter weather that threatened significant areas of the country. The official governmental meteorological offices do not look favorably on this naming, and it is doubtful that it serves any use beyond being a publicity gimmick for the channel.

The Weather Channel, headquartered in Atlanta, relies on their own technological equipment, as well as information from the National Weather Service, part of NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the Department of Commerce. Weather and reliable forecasts are vital to commerce.



Old saws like the one that start “Red sun in the morning…” or “If it rains before seven…” are still around for our amusement and amazement, but accurate predictions have become essential in our every-day lives.
One of the pioneers of scientific weather forecasting was Robert FitzRoy, Captain of the HMS Beagle on which Darwin sailed, Vice-Admiral in the Royal Navy, second Governor of New Zealand, and one of the first scientists to recognize, in the mid-1800s, that the study of weather patterns of the past could help predict those for the future. Such predictions, which he named “forecasts” were vital for mariners, fishermen, and commerce in general. At first the idea was ridiculed, but gradually it proved its worth, and our great interest in forecasts began.



Thursday, May 25, 2017

600



600 – The first thought that comes to mind when I think of 600 is Alfalfa, marvelous member of Our Gang, reciting The Charge of the Light Brigade. And I remember the firecrackers going off in his pocket – “Canons to the left of me” - bang, bang, bang - “Canons to the right of me” bang, bang, bang. Sitting in front of the TV, waiting for the fireworks, we laughed to kill ourselves each time we saw them go off.  
That’s not how the lines really go, but that’s how I remember them. Years (and years!) ago on TV,  on the local stations, they’d repeat shows so many times that you got to memorize the lines. Because I liked poetry, I always remembered quite a number of lines from the great Tennyson poem. 

Half a league, half a league, 
Half a league onward, 
All in the valley of Death 
   Rode the six hundred. 
‘Forward, the Light Brigade!

Be that as it may, this is my 600th blog post. Blogspot keeps track of these things. My first one was posted back in September of 2011. I don’t post every day – I’m not that prolific a writer, and my days are relatively uninteresting to others – but once or twice a week I come up with something to share.

I do appreciate all of you who’ve stuck with me. Knowing you’re out there pleases me no end, and keeps me writing and posting. Tak.




Friday, May 19, 2017

EDWARD LEAR AND THE LIMERICK

The twelfth day of May each year is Limerick Day. Why? Because it is the birthday of Edward Lear, the poet and artist who perfected the form of this jaunty, sometimes naughty, type of poem. Scholars say that the name “limerick” was given to the form because Irish Soldiers, home from France where they were serving in the 1700’s, brought back to Limerick a song with a chorus that followed the AABBA rhyme scheme such as in this one from an unknown writer:

A bather whose clothing was strewed   A
By winds that left her quite nude A
Saw a man come along B
And unless we are wrong B
You expected this line to be lewd. A

This modern limerick from author Gary Johnson follows that pattern:

There was an old lady of Queens
Who survived on wieners and beans
Wearing Army surplus
Riding the bus
And stealing from vending machines

There’s a set pattern to the usual number of syllables in each of the five lines of the poem, and to the content of the lines. The first two lines set the scene, the second two tell you what happened, and the last line is “the kicker.”  This one, one of the most widely known, is by “Anonymous”

There was a young lady of Niger
Who smiled as she rode on a Tiger;
They came back from the ride
With the lady inside,
And the smile on the face of the Tiger.


This one, also from the prolific “Anonymous,” has a punny ending:

There was an Old Man of Nantucket
Who kept all his cash in a bucket.
His daughter, called Nan,
Ran away with a man,
And as for the bucket, Nantucket.


The Nantucket limerick has spawned many more versions, both funny and lewd. Lear’s limericks were not naughty at all. He created them for children. One of twenty-one children himself, an older sister taught him to draw and paint. He became a drawing teacher, and an illustrator. The London Zoological Society hired him to paint a series of paintings of birds, which he insisted he had to paint from life, not stuffed specimens. Impressed with his work, the Earl of Derby hired him to paint pictures of the animals in his private menagerie. While doing the work and living at Knowsley Hall, the earl’s ancestral home, he befriended the earl’s grandchildren. For them he wrote poems like The Owl and the Pussy Cat, and limericks and other nonsense verse. His limericks are collected in one volume, his Book of Nonsense.



There was an Old Person of Mold,
Who shrank from sensations of cold,
So he purchased some muffs,
Some furs and some fluffs,
And wrapped himself from the cold.




There was an Old Lady whose folly,
Induced her to sit on a holly;
Whereon by a thorn,
Her dress being torn,
She quickly became melancholy.