Friday, March 30, 2012


...on the heels of my curmudgeonly essay on caring not who makes the nations laws, today I am up in arms over the cost of airline tickets. Something should be done!
A dear relation of ours decided just last week to fly up and pay us a visit. Direct flight from Ft. Lauderdale to Charlotte? Oh, somewhere in the neighborhood of $800. Had she booked for forty-five days ahead, the same flight would have cost just under $300.  She did get a flight for about $325, but has a three-hour layover in Atlanta.  It’s good she has needlework to do, a book to read, and her ever-present laptop.
I know that it is the same for railroad fares, but not to the same degree of markup: $343 vs. $216, though not many would want to do this trip by railroad – it takes about thirty-two hours! I haven’t checked the bus schedules, but I imagine they are much the same. It is to the customer’s advantage if they can plan ahead, and to the carriers’ advantage if they can’t.  No wonder the cost of doing business is going up – the airline fares are outrageous for business people who must travel at the ‘last minute’.

               Just thought I’d rant on about this. Who does makes the laws?


I’m told that humorist S.J. Perelman often gleaned his topics from articles or ads he’d read, taking off on the subject. One of his essays begins: "I guess I'm just an old mad scientist at bottom. Give me an underground laboratory, half a dozen atom-smashers, and a beautiful girl in a diaphanous veil waiting to be turned into a chimpanzee, and I care not who writes the nation's laws.”
I’ll never be able to equal that inimitable style, but Perelman’s opening prompts me to do a piece of my own. Which part of that sentence do you suppose struck the note? Yep!: “I care not who writes the nation’s laws.”  Not to sound unpatriotic – I am a flag waver of the first order – but I really do “care not”. 

I’m sitting out here in retirement land viewing things from a seven decade perspective, and one thing I’ve learned is that elections and the hoopla leading up to them are strictly for the political enthusiasts among us. And as for our outdated system of primaries, caucuses, and conventions, I’d rather not start on that vast topic. My head is not stuck up there where the sun don’t shine: I do vote in the primaries, I do vote on election day, and I do take a modicum of interest in the passing political scene. It’s the intense media manipulation and speculation that jars me. One would think that some of these pundits had crystal balls as integral parts of their nether anatomy. 
I realize that the Presidency is “a dirty job but someone’s gotta do it”, and there have been smarter and wiser folks than I who have wondered why there is such a fierce and sometimes dirty competition to get to the White House next. The job is thankless, perilous, and relatively low paying.  And while we’re describing the job, let’s also add powerless.  All the pre-election promises mean nothing more than maybes – maybe the candidate, if elected, will be able to get his pet programs off and running.  Chances are slim because the power a President holds, with the exception, perhaps, of getting us into wars we’d be better off avoiding, is often no more than the celebrity power to awe.  Legislative proposals, vetoes, approvals: few of them are truly monumental or irreversible.

Chinese civilization is so old that they’ve been there, done that, and have a saying to prove it. “The heavens are high and the Emperor is far away.” I care not who writes the nations laws – or who is President – because it is all far away. It comes closer every four years and, love it or hate it, I’m made to think more about it. But what goes on in the ant hill that is Washington D.C., or any in any other legislative center, is truly far away and out of mind, and, happily unaware of all that, my own life goes on.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

              "What matters in life is not what happens to you
                        but what you remember and how you remember it.  
                                   Gabriel García Márquez

Here it is March 27, and the dogwoods are already in full bloom. This is always my favorite time of the year - not just spring, but dogwood time.  The big trees are lacey with all their shades of green.  Too soon they'll settle into their almost uniform leaf green.

With spring coming so early this year, I was thinking that the summer would be a scorcher.  I checked with the Old Farmer's Almanac and it predicts cooler than normal temperatures from May through October. Early spring and a cool summer - sounds great to me!

Friday, March 23, 2012


There is no doubt that the change of seasons – from summer to winter, from winter to summer – are both eagerly awaited by everyone. Some people prefer the crispness, the new chill in the air, and, of course, the warm colors of fall.  This year the spring has sprung early and with a vengeance, and I’m already into sandals and cropped pants. I love the spring. The lacy, pastel colors run riot on the dogwoods, the redbuds, Bradford pears, apples, plums, and, of course, the cloud of blossoms on cherry trees. There’s new warmth in the air and grass is greening.

It’s no wonder that in the spring a tourist’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC.  This year will mark the 100th Anniversary of the first planting of the cherry trees.  On March 27, 1912, Helen Taft, the president’s wife, and Vicountess Chinda, the wife of the Japanese Ambassador, planted the first two of the over three thousand trees that would surround the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park. The cuttings they planted were scions from the famous trees that grow in Tokyo along the banks of the Arakawa River. 

Peter Max's poster for this year's festival

Over the years there has been a reciprocal replenishment of the cherry trees.  After World War II, cuttings were taken from the Washington trees to replace those destroyed by Allied bombs in Tokyo. Later, Tokyo sent cuttings back to replace some of the trees that had died in Washington; then Washington sent cuttings to replace trees lost in a flood.  Today the cherry trees flourish all over Washington.

In 1915, the United States sent scions of flowering dogwood trees to the people of Japan, and there was a reenactment of the 1912 events. This became the beginnings of the Cherry Blossom Festival, though it wasn’t ‘official’ until 1935. The festival was suspended during the war, but resumed in 1947.  Today the festival is held over a two week period, with hundreds of thousands of tourists in attendance.  Mother Nature and the festival organizers don’t always work hand-in-hand.  In some years the trees blossom earlier or later than the planned festival dates. Peak blossom performance, however, has almost become secondary to the cultural: exhibits, music and dance, fashion shows, and food fests; the sporting: a kite flying fest, bike races and a ten-mile run; and the ceremonial events: the crowning of a festival queen, a parade, and lots of fireworks.

Cherry Blossom Festival fireworks in
Hamburg, Germany
Sakura is the Japanese word for cherry blossom.*  The word is known at Cherry Blossom Festivals all over the world, from Brooklyn to Hamburg, to Tokyo, of course.  Be on the lookout for a festival during your spring travels.

A tree grows in Brooklyn -
Of course - it's a cherry!

*My favorite version of the Japanese folk song, Sakura – actually, the first version I ever heard, so no wonder – is this one by Harry Belafonte.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

and speaking of things British...

... I just found another picture to add to my female curmudgeon collection:

Of course you remember:
The lemon look was never better expressed than by these two great British actresses, Maggie Smith and Margaret Rutherford.  Now I have two lovelies to add emphasis to my curmudgeonly essays. 

I just thought I'd bring you all up to date on this.  Happy Thursday 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Speaking of anthems, as I was in my last blog, it’s a shame we can’t use America – better known as My Country, ‘Tis of Thee (and wouldn’t you know, God is in the lyrics there too, and some folks just might object. Nuts!) The British are already using the tune – not ‘officially’ mind you, but it might as well be. 

Just as most folks do these days, I googled God Save the Queen just to see what was what. Whew! There’s a lot of info out there, more than I needed to know, including these lyrics from the second stanza:

Lord, our God, arise,
Scatter her enemies,
And make them fall.
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On Thee our hopes we fix,
God save us all.

 I hate to sound irreverent, but that one could be the anthem of any of our Presidential hopefuls these days: “Confound their politics, frustrate their knavish tricks.” Oh, those tricky knaves! 

All of the above aside, the real focus of my essay is Queen Elizabeth II, now celebrating sixty years on the throne.  To paraphrase Kermit-the-Frog: It ain’t easy being queen.  Although she used it for the year 1992, I’m sure she’s had many another “annus horribilis”. Still she soldiers on. 

I had an uncle who, during World War II, was stationed in England, and sent me many books from there. My favorite was one about a princess who found a little dragon and could keep him only if he didn’t use his fire. Well, one day these robbers came into her room and the dragon used his fire to chase them away and then he knew he couldn’t stay, and then… well, I do digress, and you can guess the rest of the story.  But with that book and many others I got accustomed to kings and queens and princesses.  They were part of life. I was still 10 years old when Elizabeth’s coronation took place, so naturally I sent her a letter.  She was the Queen. I know my Mom sent the letter, but I’ve always wondered where it wound up. At 10 I was still sorting out a few things like why I lived near Jamaica, New York, but there was also a far-away island called Jamaica, and didn’t everyone have a President and a Queen?  Finding out about Jamaica started a life-long love of geography, but it took me a while to get the President/Queen realities straightened out in my mind. You’d guess of course that England was the first country I visited when I could travel by myself.  I am an Anglophile and a Reginaphile too. (Is there such a word? Well I am it.)


I found the picture above, taken this week’s visit to the Cathedral at Leicester, in The Telegraph.  The Queen looks overwhelmed by all the flowers.  Perhaps if she’d ditch the hand bag she could have dealt with another one or two posies.  And – the ubiquitous question – just what is she carrying in that purse – the weight of the world? From some of the other pictures it looked like almost everyone had a bouquet for her.  What do they do with all of them afterwards?   

I’ve always perked up and listened to any mention of the Queen and her family.  They’ve all had their ups and downs, but it looks like these current years will be anni mirabili – happy years for the Queen. She certainly looks happy when she’s out and about with the Duchess of Cambridge – better known to us as Kate. Elizabeth II – QEII - has set sail on her Diamond Jubilee tour of the country. The countdown’s starting: she’s only got about three and a half years to go to surpass Queen Victoria’s sixty-three plus years in the same job.  I’m sure she’ll make it. 

I do love all her hats. She always looks
like she just stepped out of a bandbox.

Friday, March 16, 2012


The Star Spangled Banner was made our national anthem just over eighty years ago in March 1931.  1931 was the year the Empire State Building was completed and the year my husband was born.  Two out of three of those have weathered well – one, the anthem, has not. 
I’ve always found it hard to sing.  It starts out in a fairly comfortable range, but then “the rockets’ red glare” takes the range sky high. Years ago everyone sang it at the start of sporting events. Today some rock group or rap singer or some sponsor’s wife does the rendition. Many flub the lines. The younger generation’s singers just have to jazz it up and add notes that were never in the score. The singing wives, who really are fine in the church choir, should never be encouraged to get up and sing alone. This is our national anthem, for pity’s sake, let’s not abuse it.

A notoriously bad version - Oh, yeah!
Hard to sing or not, it would be less painful to the ears if everyone sang as they once did. Just think of the money NASCAR or other sports organizers could save if they’d just have everyone sing it in one rousing chorus – flags waving, jets roaring by overhead.  Sounds good to me.  But then I realize that having all these stars around entices fans to get to the track or to watch the race on TV.  With a sigh I say “Oh well, the almighty dollar wins again.”

Whenever the subject comes up it’s for sure folks will agree that our anthem is hard to sing, and most will suggest we’d be better off with a rousing rendition of Irving Berlin’s God Bless America.  Don’t hold your breath kiddies!  Though it has become popular to play it at many sporting events, especially in the National Hockey League, (after all, there is no law that says a national anthem has to be played) the politically correct in this country wouldn’t have an anthem that contained the word “God”.* I don’t know how these same folks handle their greenbacks though, what with “In God We Trust” on all our currency.  Perhaps they rely totally on electronic banking.

This Land is Your Land, Woody Guthrie’s great song, might come under consideration, especially if we stuck to just the first two verses. “This land is your land, this land is my land, from California to the New York Island” – it covers the whole nation.  But in the original version, after the first few verses it begins to sound like the protest song it is. Guthrie wrote it in 1940 as a rebuttal to Berlin’s God Bless America, which he thought unrealistic.  God Bless America does get my vote though. Anthem lyrics aren’t necessarily realistic, but they should be patriotic, extolling us as we can be our very ‘finest hour’.  Realistic lyrics would have to be changed on a regular basis according to the state of the union, and would read like the front page of a major national newspaper.

There’s a lot to be said for America the Beautiful – but God is in the lyrics there too, wouldn’tcha know.  And it’s a song that’s usually played slowly and with a bit more, shall we say, reverence than our current anthem, making it a poor choice at sporting event s.  Yes, “God” is in the lyrics of The Star Spangled Banner: “and this be our motto: ‘In God is our Trust.’”  Rarely do we sing on down to that fourth stanza to note it. At the time our anthem was chosen the movement toward political correctness was not even on the horizon. I wish Congress had stuck with Hail, Columbia. Maybe they can bring that one back.

You can go on line and come up with many differing opinions on the current song and its suggested replacements – I just thought I’d add my own thoughts to the mix.

*They’re after the Pledge of Allegiance too. Read this recent article from the UPI.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


                    The wise man achieves balance by reducing his needs to the level of his possessions.
                                                                                                 ... attributed to Aristotle

Friday, March 9, 2012


The Writer’s Almanac tells me today is the birthday of writer Vita Sackville-West, born one hundred and twenty years ago at Knoll House in Kent, England. I began reading several of her works, which I enjoy tremendously, after I visited her home and gardens, Sissinghurst, also in Kent.  It was a home in which I felt very comfortable, in which I could easily picture myself living – just take away all these tatty tourists and I’ll move right in.
As to her birthplace, Knoll, I remember four things about it: the 365 rooms (not that I visited them all), the ingenious Knoll sofa, endless staircases, and the bone-chilling cold in the sunny month of May.  The tatty tourists can have that one.  Maybe if they all rustle around and do a dance they can warm up the place.

The Almanac also tells me she wrote: "It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment?"  It must have been lovely to be able to have the leisure to see that those days didn’t slip emptily by.  I’m sure she had other things to do, places to go, people to see, but I’m also sure she had household help. I don’t. I do have a nice chunk of leisure now that I’m retired, but the household chores are still mine to do.  The laundry is tumbling away even as I write this.  Every once in a while my schedule goes haywire and I’ve got to write a list of things to do, but usually I manage a properly apportioned rota of day-to-day chores that affords me lots of time to write – and read.  Right now life is mah-velous!

Oh – yes!  Happy Birthday Vita.


March 12th this year marks the centennial of the founding of the Girls Scouts in America.  Organized by Juliette Low on her return from meeting Lord Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts, it was first called the Girl Guides of America.  What started with eighteen girls now has a membership of over two million scouts.
Vintage uniforms
I’ve little association with scouting these days, except for buying my Thin Mints each year, so I had to do a bit of on-line research.  My, how scouting has changed – and all for the better. Brownies, Girl Scouts and Senior Scouts  - I was a Girl Scout and a Mariner Scout – have expanded so that younger girls can join as Daisies and older girls can stay on as Ambassadors. 
I must say that I am less than pleased with the change in the Girl Scout oath.  As I recall it, it was (and you can correct me on this!) “On my honor, I will try to do my duty to God and my country, to help other people at all times, and to obey the Girl Scout laws.”  In researching to try to verify this I found numerous variation between then and now. Now they’ve got a differently worded “promise” – no more oath! - along with laws I never heard of, a slogan and a motto, “Be Prepared,” that they lifted from the Boy Scouts. I don’t remember a motto, do you?  Well, all this is beside the point because today’s scouts won’t know the difference.

Girl Scout headquarters was first in Savannah, then Washington, D.C., and then, finally, moved to New York City in 1916.  In 1956, new land for a bigger headquarters was purchased on Third Avenue, and in November 1957 the new building was dedicated – and that’s where my bit of history took place. Several troops from the area – New York, New Jersey and Connecticut – were asked to select representatives to take part in the opening ceremonies.  I was chosen from my Mariner Scout Troop.  What an honor.  My role, as I remember it, was to carry in the flame, represented by a miniature cauldron filled with smoking dry ice, for the new “hearth”. 

My first (and last!) Photo Op
We had to travel into the city for practice several times, and one afternoon we were entertained at tea at the home of Irving Berlin.  I do remember a beautiful apartment and, of course, the grand piano. The Berlins were great supporters of scouting.  Did you know that the royalties from Berlin’s God Bless America go to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts? He set up a foundation to take care of it all.

Moving right along, after the ceremonies, some of us scouts went into the new shop.  I bought two embroidered Mariner Scout patches.  On the way out of the shop we ran into and started chatting with the Governor of New York, Averill Harriman, and I gave him one on my patches.  Some handy photographer saw a photo op in that, (did they call them photo ops back then?) and set up a picture with me giving him the patch. It was my 15 minutes of fame. The picture Averill Harriman and me, and a bevy of other scouts, appeared the next day on the front page of the second section of the New York Times. Averill Harriman always made the news.  I was thrilled! One of my teachers got a copy of the picture from the Times and sent it to the governor’s office in Albany and had it signed.  I did keep a photocopy of the picture, but I long ago I did one of those swaps from Yankee magazine and traded the original picture and my Girl Scout badges and pins for a neat-o horse collar and bell.  I’ve still got that hanging in my kitchen.

We used to hand these out to folks who bought our cookies.
 They could post them on their doors to warn off other sellers! 
That's a vintage Fifties uniform.
Speaking, as I was, of those Thin Mints, cookie sales start this month. In the 50’s, when I sold them door-to-door, cookies cost 40 cents a box – now it is around $4. The cost is based on the needs of the girls and troops in the area, so I can’t really complain about the increase – what cookies could I get for 40 cents these days?  Not any! Today, very enterprising scouts set up shop outside many local Lowe’s Home Improvement stores, Walmarts, and other places where the flow of shoppers is fairly steady. Be on the lookout for them and support our local Girl Scouts, and wish them Happy Birthday too.


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

            Oscar Wilde said, "Life is never fair. ...
               And perhaps it is a good thing for most of us that it is not."

Friday, March 2, 2012


March: Women’s History Month.  Well of course we have a history - it goes all the way back to Eve, that naughty girl!  We’ve been slightly naughty (well, some of us!) ever since.  It still amazes that me that in the majority of cultures around this world we allowed men to convince us to ditch the matrilineal line of inheritance and descent. Barring a DNA test, unless you are the spitting image of him, you might never be sure of the identity of your father, but you can usually be sure of your mother. 

Today we know about the mitochondrial Eve, who, according to Wikipedia, one of my favorite sources, is “the most recent common matrilineal ancestor from whom we are all descended”.  There are little pieces of her in all of us.  These days, I think there is a little bit of the biblical Eve in many of us too.  We’re not too content to just go along to get along. Inquiring minds want to know, and to test, and to push against what might hold us back.

Boadicea, or, if you prefer: Boudica or Boudigga, was a feisty Celtic woman from the first century.  There is a lot of the ‘it has been said’ about her, and she is a recurring favorite flavor on many of the ‘learning’ channels. It’s probably not her real name, and the spelling is beside the point, but it is what the Romans called her, and it’s a variation on the Celtic name for the Goddess of Victory. Victorious she was for a while, yet in the end she lost it all to the better-equipped Romans.  But lead and fight she did, in a time and place where it was natural for a capable woman to do so.  Can you think of any other historically prominent women from that time until the late Renaissance and Queen Elizabeth I?  Oh, maybe Eleanor of Aquitaine or Isabella D’Este, but just in passing.

In the seventh century, the Council of Nantes argued that women were “soulless beasts”, defectives (defectives! Now, I ask you!) who could be treated as such by men, their natural masters. Whew! It is only in the last century or so that women have started to reassert themselves beyond the realm of farm, hearth and home, and to shed some of the sentimentality assigned to ‘the soft sex’.  Women became teachers, secretaries, authors, even actresses - these and other professions had been open only to men.  New professions such as nursing - thank you Florence Nightingale - came into being, and they, in turn, spawned other professions: the first airline hostesses had to be registered nurses.

Women have had a harder time breaking into the sciences.  Women physicians had a tough, uphill battle just to get their education, much less practice.  Women were thought to lack the mental skills to compete in fields such as astronomy, physics, or chemistry.  Marie Curie, after years of arduous research and many important discoveries, was one of the first to disprove this idea. Just two years after the prize was established, she became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, and she is one of only four people who have been awarded it twice.   Granted, the percentage of women who’ve won the prize still remains relatively low, but we’re working on it.

Over the ages, women were allowed to vote for various things at various times and under various conditions.  In some places they could vote on local issues if they were the head of the household, paid taxes, or owned property outright.  The move toward the unrestricted right to vote or hold political office, usually tied to the literacy rate of a country’s women and to the enlightenment of a country’s men, was quietly led by the Scandinavians. They were closely followed by the United Kingdom and the United States, where the women were a quite bit more vocal about the subject and had a lot more persuading to do. In 1948, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that, among other things, introduced voting rights for women into international law.  Sadly, some countries have yet to get on the bandwagon.

Today we’ve all but finished chipping away at that invisible barrier, the ‘glass ceiling’ that denies many women the positions for which they are eminently qualified in government, banking, and industry. The pay scales may still be a bit askew, but the numbers of successful women are on the rise.  There is an increasing number of women - and men - who are home-makers and hearth-keepers just because they want to be and because they can.  The Feminine Mystique, written almost fifty years ago, uncovered the feminine mistake that made many of us believe that our identities were of value only in relation to our husbands and children.  These days we know better, and young or old, female or male, we can pursue, pretty much without criticism, whatever kind of life makes us happy.

Ladies, let’s give ourselves a round of applause and pat on the back - we really are mah-velous!