Friday, August 26, 2011


Andy Warhol's version of our Birthday Boy

Ah, yes, August 28th. Can’t you just hear the cheers? Can’t you just see the fireworks?  You are, of course, very aware of whose birthday we celebrate today, aren’t you?  You really don’t know?  Why it’s Johann Wolfgang von Goethe!  I’m sure you just forgot that momentarily.  Goethe, we rarely use his full name, born in 1749, was what they call a polymath.  He wrote works in drama, poetry, literature, science, theology, and philosophy. This guy was interested in everything at a time when, such as it was with da Vinci, it was still possible to know a lot about a lot of things. Not too many of us can go through life without hearing a reference to Goethe’s most famous work: Faust.

What I want to bring to your notice is a line of his, a thought for the day that can be of use to us all: “One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.” I keep a small collection of ‘pithy’ sayings, and that one is one of the best. Written in the eighteenth century, it can easily be interpreted for today’s mode of living. I don’t interpret it for today to mean that you have to do all those things, but do break out of your quotidian routine to do something inspiring, or educational (look up ‘quotidian’), charitable, or just plain fun.  

Part of my own quotidian routine is to check several of my favorite websites for thoughts or poems of the day. I do prefer rhyming poems over free verse, some of which read more like a novel than a poem. Thoughts, especially when you catch them at an early hour, can get right into the flavor of your day.  From ‘Anonymous’ to named sources, from ancient times to modern, valuable thoughts abound.  Here are some of my favorites:

“The wise man achieves balance by reducing his needs to the level of his possessions.” Anonymous (but sometimes attributed to Aristotle)

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”  William Morris

“A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.”   Douglas Adams

“A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.”   Dwight D. Eisenhower

“Don’t believe everything you think.”   Anonymous

“Do not be too moral.  You may cheat yourself of much of life.  Be not simply good; be good for something.”   Henry David Thoreau

“The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.”   Bertrand Russell

“When people show you who they are, believe them.”   Maya Angelou

“Function in disaster, finish in style.”   Lucy Madeira

E. B. White said: “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” Get your daily fix, a daily thought, and try to do both: improve and enjoy the world.   

Friday, August 19, 2011


When I was a kid my Mom gave me a small allowance. The kicker was that I couldn’t spend it all and had to give her back a certain amount of it at the end of the week or she’d deduct that from my next allowance, and I’d still have to save the same amount for the following week.  It made a fairly wise spender out of me, I can tell you that!  I can also tell you that, unknown to me, she banked those savings.  One day she handed me a small, brown savings passbook (I can still remember the color) with a tidy amount in it.  I’m not sure why I got the passbook when I did; the occasion has been superseded in my memory by the fact that I had undreamed-of savings in my hands. I do remember wanting to have some of it to take to the five and ten.
The Spalding Pinky
I loved the five and ten cent store.  I wasn’t given any treats there like the slice of bologna from the butcher or the cookie from the baker, but the treat was in all the different stuff to be seen there – everything from candy to cake pans, with great things in between.  Pinky balls, roller skates (and skate keys – I lost mine several times!), hankies, underwear, crepe paper, kitchen utensils, school supplies, or cosmetics – today we have specialty stores for most of this stuff, but then you could get it all at the five and ten – F.W. Woolworth’s to be sure. 

There was no one smell in the store – nothing like going into the bakery or drug store – but many smells: toiletries and soaps, rubber toys, pop corn, and the aromas wafting from the lunch counter.  We never had anything to eat at the lunch counter, though I wanted to.  I’d have liked to sit on one of those swivel stools and go round and round.  But in those times Mom was really watching the budget so we ate at home.

We moved a few times during my childhood, and I recall the ‘early’ five and tens, but the last was the most fun.  As with most stores of that day, the floor was wood.  It had buckled down one aisle, and it was fun to try to walk the whole way on the hump, or walk with one foot on each side of it – sort of like walking along a street with one foot on a curb and one in the gutter.

Many things we got at the five and ten are scarce today, and going to a dollar store (I call a lot of that stuff junk) or Walmart is just not the same. I will say that the closest match to the five and ten experience is going to the Vermont Country Store up in Weston, Vermont.  They bill themselves as being "purveyors of practical and hard-to-find products." They’ve got all sorts of things I haven’t seen in years: Glass Wax, Tangee lipstick (the first lipstick I was allowed to use), hair nets, Garibaldi biscuits, and lots of penny candy. They’ve even got the bumpy wood floors.

Today the Vermont Country Store
 stocks many of the same items that
were available at this Woolworth's
Before we moved to SCCL we lived only about an hour away from Weston, so a trip up there was one of our usual jaunts.  If you’re ever up that way you should make it a point to visit the Vermont Country Store and some of the other nice shops in the town.  And you can have a great lunch there too.  The Ortons, owners of the Vermont Country Store, have made the house next door into the Bryant House Restaurant.  Try the ham and cheddar melt or my favorite, the Monte Cristo, and an apricot sour.  The lunch counter at Woolworth’s was never like this – some things get better, I’m delighted to say.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


National Sewing Month is September, but every month was sewing month at my house when I was growing up. My mother sewed for us and for the house, and her sewing machine was rarely idle.

From play clothes to wedding gowns, my mother could whip up something from the oddest things. My sister and I once had skirts made of kitchen curtain fabric. The flowered-border ones were all right, but my favorite was an all over chicken-wire print with hens and chicks running around the bottom. Many of our costumes came from whatever was at hand, but some of the most colorful ones were sewn from crepe paper. You don’t see too much of that these days. In my mind's eye I can see a big display of crepe paper at the 5 & 10 cent store. Ah, the 5 & 10's - remember those?

This picture from the net reminds me of
my Mom's machine.

I distinctly remember, although it must be over sixty years ago, when my mother disappeared into her bedroom each evening after supper. We didn’t know we were getting new Madam Alexander dolls for Christmas, and my mother was working on wardrobes for them. Most of the outfits were miniatures of what she had sewn for us, sewn from the leftover material. She made dresses and pajamas and plastic rain coats. She crocheted sweaters and hats and shoes. She swore she’d never tackle such a job again! 

This pix is from almost 50 years ago.  Alas, the
 train isn't spread out for you to see

I think her masterpiece was my sister’s wedding gown. At that time both my mother and sister were working at Columbia Ribbon & Carbon in Glen Cove, New York. One of the items they manufactured was typewriter ribbons. Ribbon silk came to the factory as 14 inch-wide fabric. It was inked and then slit into the correct size and wound on to the spools.  The creamy white silk was lovely, and my Mother was given enough to make both my sister’s gown and my maid-of-honor dress. Mom joined the panels with wide lace for my sister’s gown, gradually increasing the length of the back panels until they formed a small, graceful train. She joined the panels on my dress with narrow, pink-embroidered tape. I still have some of that tape, and I cherish it.

The Christening outfit I made in 1989

My mother taught me how to knit and my sister how to crochet. I don’t know why, but neither of us learned the other craft. My sister always crocheted ‘backwards’ because, as a leftie, she mirrored what my right-handed mother was doing. My sister and I continued on sewing in our mother’s tradition making everything from curtains to Halloween costumes.

My hands are quite stiff and arthritic these last few years, so I rarely sew any more. A bit of mending, or perhaps whipping up a new pillow cover or two, is about all I’ll do. My last big job was the drapes for our new house here at SCCL. They’re not as fancy as some I’ve made over the years, but I’m pleased with them. The most tedious thing I ever made was a pair of 18 foot-long drapes for my daughter-in-law’s two-story living room. Yards and yards of fabric and lining. I thought that job would never end, but the curtains and drapes for her new house were a labor of love. 

What I consider my own masterpiece, another labor of love, was the Christening outfit for my first grandchild. I was doing the embroidery on it even as she was being born over twenty years ago. There is a dress, a slip, a coat and a hat - and not an uncovered or raw seam in the whole set. After each child wore it I embroidered their name and birth date on the dress. Now the outfit has been worn by my first great-grandchild, and the tradition continues.


Saturday, August 6, 2011


In my mind’s eye I’m young – thirty something – until I look in my mirror.  But my mind’s nose knows no age - it looks in my memory, not in my mirror. Nostalgia comes in many forms. I’ll hear a tune from the Sixties and I’m swept back many decades, perhaps to the place when I first heard that tune   I’ll go through one of my many picture albums and start remembering when – and wishing I was there. A stray memory can bring up an aroma; a stray aroma can also bring back memories

I made whole-wheat multi-grain bread today.  The aroma in the house is just wonderful.  It reminds me of going with my Mom to the local bakery when I was a kid.  You’ve heard of ‘comfort food’, how ‘bout ‘comfort smells’? I love the cinnamon of apple pie or coffee cake, the tang of spaghetti sauce (easy on the garlic!), beefy charcoal-broiled burgers, and Thanksgiving turkey.  What’s on your comfort smell list? I’m betting it will have a lot to do with cooking.

I remember the delicious aromas - hot dogs, corn-on-the-cob, and cotton candy - from Coney Island, and the smell of getting there on the subway.  When we lived near Albany, New York, my husband and I went to the New York State Museum in the opening weeks of the New York City exhibit.  I hadn’t been on the subway in years, but stepping into that old A-Train car brought back the memory of so many subway rides.  I was delighted that the car still had that unique, perhaps electrical, smell.   Several years later when we took visitors to the exhibit the smell had been washed away – I suppose from the building’s air conditioning.  What a disappointment!  I may never again get to sniff that smell first hand, yet the smell is in my head, filed away in its proper cubby hole.

Do you remember the smell of an old-time drug store?  In my adult years I found out that it was from B-vitamins.  And now I know the smell in the dentist’s office was cloves – oil of cloves was used as an antiseptic and a tooth pain reliever. I’ve got the smell of school tucked away in my memory, lots of chalk dust in the air, and the smell of Crayola crayons carries me back over sixty years.  I’ve got Channel No.5 tucked away too: that was my Mother’s perfume.  

Many candle and household products companies have made a bundle on the smell of clean laundry, among other comfort scents.  I remember my Mom bringing in the laundry on a freezing day.  The sheets and clothes would be stiff from the cold, and the smell would be of fresh, fresh air.

There are ‘today’ smells of which I’m not particularly fond: gasoline, tire rubber, Bowater paper mill in the early morning, the smell of the fitness center at the Lake House. Even the smell of the chlorine in the pool makes my nose wrinkle when I first walk in.  There are some nasty smells we all recognize, and perhaps they’ve got memories associated with them, but I don’t need to dwell on them here.  No – I’ll close this trip down my olfactory memory lane with a suggestion for your own trip: go shake out and sniff some baby powder.  I’m sure your mind’s nose will bring up some lovely memories.

The candle companies can reproduce some wonderful aromas for the mind's nose