Wednesday, June 29, 2011



I don’t think I’m quite there yet, not quite ready to fill Andy Rooney’s shoes, but as I get older I feel more and more curmudgeonly. Some of the topics flying around SCCL lately just bring out the curmudgeon in me.

Wrong and Right
Have you ever heard this one: “Dogs are like string: every yo-yo wants one”?  We’ve got a few yo-yo’s around here, that’s for sure.  Most folks will say “oh, you don’t like dogs” or “you don’t understand”.  
Wrong: I like dogs. I’ve got four wonderful grand-dogs. I know something about the canine family, and I especially admire large, working dogs. (I do sometimes wonder at the sight of tall, hefty men out walking their miniature dogs. I want to yell “get a real dog” at them, but I suppose a little dog, however yappy they are, can be loved as much and mean as much as a large one.)   
We had several dogs when I was growing up. One memorable dog was a juvenile Great Dane that my uncle brought to us when we first moved to the countrified wilds of Nassau County, Long Island, from the civilized, citified sanity of Queens, New York. He thought we needed a dog for protection. After a week or two, my Mother decided she’d risk life and limb and the security of the family, rather than to have to feed that dog. I learned about the economic impact of dogs, and pets in general, at an early age. I love dogs - just for other people. I do not want to have to spend retirement funds to feed them, vet them, kennel them when we travel, or walk them on a schedule that’s theirs, not mine, much less scoop their poop. Other people are welcome to do it, just not me. But I do like dogs. 

Right: I don’t understand. Here’s where the ‘yo-yo’ comes in: I don’t understand some of the dog owners here at Sun City Carolina Lakes who have so little respect for their fellow homeowners that they don’t curb their dogs and/or don’t clean up after them. They’d have a fit if another dog walker left a load on their property.
I could not believe it when we were told of folks who dump their doo-bags (to be distinguished from doo-rags) down the drainage grates in our streets. For Pete’s sake, the drainage grates are not sewers. The water ends up in our own little Carolina Lakes.
And another thing: I don’t understand the people who think the SCCL HOA is there to provide their personal supply of doo-bags. (I also don’t understand why the HOA pays for these bags in the first place. A nice little addition among many other deletions?) The HOA puts the bags out and they disappear before you can say scoopy-doo. How cheap can these folks get? I realize that some people are just built this way, but I wish they weren’t. Well – I could go on, but…

This is just one of the things that regularly strike me as being fodder for a good grump session. I find that with age I haven’t gained more wisdom: I’m just viewing things with a more cynical eye, with a little more skepticism, and with a lot more disbelief. I read or see something that strikes an off-key note, and it all sets me grumbling and complaining. I hope to be writing more about such things. It will take a while more for me to become a full blown curmudgeon, but I’m working on it - it’s such fun.

Sunday, June 26, 2011


...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.   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.  We all know that good sleep is essential to our health and well-being and that our ability to sleep changes as we age.  Health problems can plague us and keep us awake at night. They say that you should establish regular, calming routines to lull yourself to sleep.  I say “Nonsense! It’s time to shake it up, not wake it up.”

You may be able to think up your own routine-shaking changes; meanwhile 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
Flush your worries before you turn off the bathroom light or they’ll 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 been 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 have to.  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 I was little I usually had to take a nap, especially if were doing something special that night. My Mother always told me that I didn’t have to sleep but did have to rest.  Nine times out of ten I’d fall right to sleep.  Don’t worry about sleeping – get it off your mind: just rest.  Try some of the sleep routine-shaking changes above.  They might just work for you.

Monday, June 20, 2011


Do you know Roy G. Biv? You might remember him from high school General Science class. He’s the mnemonic we learned in order to remember the colors of the rainbow: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet. “My heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow in the sky”, said Wordsworth – so says everyone, of course.  We all thrill watch of that awesome sight.  We all love colors. In these days of digital photography, high definition TV, and the internet, color almost explodes around us. It has become very important in our homes, gardens, and workplaces.  

Color is very significant to all of us, and we react intuitively to it. In western culture there is almost universal agreement on certain colors evoking specific states of mind. Red is, of course rage – we “see red”, and it is associated with blood and sin: The Scarlet Letter comes to mind. Someone is said to be “green with envy” or “yellow bellied” – not very nice associations. A whole school of music is devoted to the Blues. Have you ever heard of someone being in a “brown study”? He’s in deep thought or even daydreaming.

Then there is the ominous “black as death.” Curiously though, where westerners choose black as the color of mourning, white is the color chosen in the Orient. Easterners intuitive sense and use of colors is usually quite different than those of the west. Purple is the color of royalty in the west, yellow in the east.  Europeans don’t use colors to represent the directions, but the south, just one of the four directions, is seen as yellow by the Maya, red by the Chinese, and white by Native Americans. 

Science doesn’t know when we first gained it, or even when we lost it, but some say we still have the ability to see auras in other people. The colors seen as auras differ in meaning from both the eastern and western associations, with the exception of the colors gold and pink.  A golden yellow aura or halo, seen in paintings and icons and other depictions of holy people, signifies spiritual achievement, joy, and even a great intellectual ability.  Pink is pink everywhere you go: a happy, balanced state of being, being “in the pink.”  

Throughout history, in so many different ways, it became important to “show your colors”. From times when very few if any of the people were literate, various color systems, used along with significant symbols, were devised to let them know who was who and what was what.  It is so interesting a subject that the theory and study of how cultures communicate with color, signs, and symbols has developed into a formal field of academic study. Heraldry and symbolism told a tale. Colors and crests, plaids and patterns distinguished one side from the other in combat. Today’s street gangs know the importance of colors. Liturgical colors used on vestments reminded the people of the upcoming events to be celebrated.  Standard symbols on great stained glass windows told stories to people who couldn’t read.  

Say “show your colors” to an American and they’ll think of red, white and blue.  Is it any wonder that we are partial to flags showing these same colors? Think of the flags of England, France, Norway, or Holland. I really like the flag of Nepal – it’s red, white, and blue, but it isn’t flag shape.  And how ‘bout that Lone Star flag of Texas? The designers of the Olympic flag diplomatically joined five rings, symbols of unity, one for each continent, and colored blue, yellow, black, green, and red.  At least one of those colors appears on every national flag.      

My earliest, favorite, happiest association with color, and perhaps yours too, was with a box of crayons – Crayola, naturally.  Just the smell of a box of crayons today brings back all sorts of memories, especially the times when my first grade teacher chose me to help give out the crayons for art period. I am still the proud owner of my own 48 count box of Crayolas. I say “my own” because I keep another, well used box of crayons for my grandchildren.  Heaven forbid they touch my box! 

Monday, June 6, 2011


This is the original of an article edited and posted in Living @ Sun City Carolina Lakes. Audubon's is a name we all recogize, but most of us know little about his life. I'm pleased that I was asked to write the article.
The first picture is mine - not Audubon's, of course.


When she was born in 1970, my goddaughter’s grandparents gave her a lifetime membership in the Audubon Society.  Along with the membership came a beautiful, large Audubon print – not one of the originals, of course, but a good one never the less.  It was probably the first time I saw an Audubon print, and I’ve admired them ever since. 

There is something very appealing about the way Audubon depicted the birds, and later the animals, of North America.  Previously, it was the custom of naturalist painters, who dismissed his work as inferior, to depict the subject animal with very little to distract from its pure presentation. They were as lifeless as stuffed specimens in a museum drawer.  Audubon enlivened his pictures by including the subjects and their natural habitat as well. Not just siting subjects, but subjects in motion:  Peregrine Falcons tearing into a goose with feathers flying, or a Louisiana Heron preening its feathers.  They became pictures to collect, pictures to study, pictures to enhance a home.         

John James Audubon was born in what is now Haiti in 1785, and was raised in France.  He was evidently an accomplished, handsome young man, riding, dancing, and playing the violin.  He was interested in his natural surroundings, especially the birds, and began drawing what he saw and collected. Sent to America when he was eighteen to oversee one of his father’s interests, he lived the life of a woodsman and naturalist as well as that of a businessman. Over the years he continued collecting and recording his findings, traveling widely through the north-eastern and middle-eastern states. He was the first person in North America to band birds.  He tied yarn to the legs of Eastern Phoebes to see if they returned to their nests each year.

Though sometimes very successful in business, his own ventures finally failed when he was in his early thirties.  He developed an idea he’d had for a while, and began to work on what would become The Birds of America. He traveled through territory new to him, particularly Alabama, Florida and Mississippi, recording the birds and habitats there.   As he began to do the drawings and paintings, attempting to complete one subject a day, he had to hire hunters to collect specimens for him.  At one point he learned a new painting technique and redid all his previous work.  Along the way he discovered twenty-five new species and 12 sub species, and recorded for us some birds, such as the Carolina Parakeet and the Passenger Pigeon, that are now extinct.

After having the work rejected here, on good advice he took it to England in 1826. It was an immediate success.  The English took to anything relating to wild America. By subscription, lectures, and other means, he raised enough money to begin publishing the series.  Though later issues would be printed on smaller paper, the originals were printed on paper about 29 by 40 inches, showing all the birds life size.  Around 200 sets of 435 plates each were produced until the last print came out in 1838.  Printing the plates and having them hand-colored was extremely expensive. The prints were sent out, five plates at a time, unbound and without text to avoid having to furnish free sets to the public libraries in England. The text, Ornithological Biography, was published separately in Scotland in five volumes, the last of which came out in 1839.

In December of 2010, Sotheby’s sold a complete set of The Birds of America for a record $11.5 million, including the commission.  I know Audubon could have used a piece of that pie.