Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Sometimes I am such a slob!  Last night I got lasagna sauce on my oldest, most favorite scarf.  I’ve had it for over fifty years, and it is a large silk square map of the London Underground.  Frank had seen it many times over the years, but it never struck him as being significant until son Joe, a frequent London visitor, said it was probably worth a bit of money. (Who cares? My heirs can sell it – I want to wear it now.)  So – I’d quickly treated the sauce stains so they wouldn’t set and I washed the scarf this morning. On my way into the bathroom to hang the damp scarp over the towel rack, Frank said “Where did you get that scarf?”  And therein lies an interesting tale.

When my sister was a senior in high school she did a bit of light housekeeping for a young, chic, single co-worker of our Mom’s. This gal was getting married and had amassed quite a wardrobe.  Come the time when the honeymoon was over and they began living in this posh home on Old Brookville, New York, the new husband decided he didn’t like any of this gal’s trousseau.  He told her to give it all away. And that’s what she did: she gave it all to Karen.  Both of them were tall and slim and the clothes fit my sister to a T. I was many inches shorter and, as I am still, on the chunky side, so I got some of the things that didn’t have sizes.  Things like an absolutely fabulous red fox fur hat that I wore skiing for years - this was back in 1960, before all the fur foofaraw; a wonderful, huge wicker pocketbook with leather lid and handle; and The Scarf.  I just love the scarf.

But can you imagine the situation? He took her out and re-dressed her from top to toe - well, to the ankles:her shoes were acceptable. It’s the stuff that Silhouette romances are made of – gorgeous gal, handsome guy, lots of money - except that they didn’t live happily ever after.  She shoulda known something was a bit off kilter.  Two lovely children later they were divorced. 

Friday, April 26, 2013


While perusing an article in Slate, Is Minimalism Really Sustainable?, I remembered an idea I had years ago.  The premise was this: You are going on a rocket ship to somewhere. You will be provided with whatever you need in the way of food and clothing. You may bring along only ten items and those must fit in the backpack provided.

I thought about this for days. I got me thinking seriously about what was important to me. What would I have brought? Books, of course, but which ones? This was before the advent of eBooks, but even then I was sure that, should I have any time to read in my busy, interesting new life, they’d have a way for me to read. But still I wanted a few of my favorite books in the bag.  I did include a picture or two of my family – at that time I had no one picture of all of us. Oh yes, the little figurine I’d purchased with some of my first babysitting money – I still have it all these years later, and it’s still on my list. Sometimes, to this day, I remember and try to come up with a new set of nine more things. I say ‘try’ because I’m stuck at just two or three.

I’ve always loved historic fiction, especially that set in medieval times. The characters in much of what I read, unless they were royalty and had trunks full of stuff, had few possessions. If disaster struck and they lost everything they lost little – or it seemed that way in the books: the folks just kept on keepin’ on. Many folks had just the clothes on their backs – with maybe an extra tunic or dress for festive days – and what could fit in a purse or scrip.  Folks had little to pass on to their children.

Our parents passed on just a few precious things to us, and we’ll have those things and even more to pass on in turn to our children. Our stuff has accumulated over the years, and the kids are acquiring stuff even as I write, so eventually their stuff will have stuff.

I believe, given the funds, I become a minimalist. While I do have some very nice possessions, I look around and know that I could very easily do without most of them.  Then I think that rather than becoming a minimalist I am just getting lazier: fewer possessions mean less to take care of.

Being a minimalist these days - or at least what I'd like to call mimimalism for myself - requires a healthy bank balance. Had I oodles of cash I could get myself to a ritzy retirement home where they’d clean for me, straighten up my space, do my laundry, and serve lovely meals in the main dining room, leaving me to read to my heart’s content.  Perhaps, not wanting too much scheduled for the mornings, I’d rustle up breakfast for myself when I deign to arise and face the world.  Maybe I’d go for a snack in the afternoon.

There’s a new retirement ‘home’ opening a few miles north of us – I think I’ll check it out.

My very maximialistic desk.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Business cards these days are ubiquitous as fast food. Vista Print will print up 250 for you for just $10.00 – sometimes less.  When we moved south I took them up on their offer: new house, new phones, nice cards, why not?
My regular readers know that I buy books.  Most of what I buy are used books. A recent purchase came with two business cards as bookmarks – bookmarks? I wonder.  One was a gal from the Desert Research Institute of the University of Nevada in Reno. The other was a guy from the Department of Water Resources in Boise, Idaho.  I could make up a scenario about a gal and a guy meeting, but then a third person had their cards in the book.  Where did that person meet the other two? I say that it had to be a convention – but one was in personnel, the other was an ecologist. They are related in that a desert needs water? – maybe. What sort of gathering would bring in those two people?  I can’t jump to conclusions because where will never be evidence enough for me to conclude anything from just two business cards. ‘Tis a puzzlement, and one that tickles my mind.

Friday, April 19, 2013


Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking - I’ve never addressed more than fifteen people and that was at a club meeting - early this morning I found myself dreaming that I was speaking at a high school graduation. When I woke up I remembered a lot of that short but vivid dream; remembered enough that I said to myself: “Self, you ought to write this down.”

I remembered we were sitting in a stretch limo, and I was introducing one Superintendent of Schools to another – I don’t even know any Superintendents of Schools!  I was wearing a white, knee length outfit – pleated skirt and navy trimmed sailor-boy top – and though I’ve had an outfit like that, mine was in pink crepe. And I suddenly realized that I had on knee high stockings and everyone would see the tops when I got up on the stage, so I was scrambling to get them off, but then my feet felt icky in my shoes. The high school was in Pennsylvania – I went to high school in New York.  I was up on stage, talking to the audience and trying to get them seated, explaining that there would be a delay in everything because the backstage clock was ten minutes behind the one in the auditorium.  And then I woke up. I wonder where that dream came from. I didn’t read before bed last night, so this dream segued right into the essay I’d already written:

I love to dream.  I usually have great dreams, but they seem to depend on what I read just before bed. I’m not much of a movie-goer, but when I’ve seen a movie that evening it too, of course, influences my dreams. I learned early on never to watch a horror movie – they make for nightmares – as do horror novels. Stephen King is a great writer, but I can’t read any more of his stuff.  The Shining stayed with me for days.
Several evenings I’ve played a game or two of Solitaire on my laptop and I dreamt cards! Not any Alice in Wonderland dream of card games, no, I’m just piling one correct card upon another, boring, boring, red queen on black king, black six on red seven. No good, no good! If I’ve had no chance to read that day my dreams seem to fall back on one of several ‘themes’ I’ve reencountered over the years.
A little bit of self-psychoanalysis here?  Do I love to read because I love to dream?  Maybe. I’ve been surrounded by books all my life. While I do read
non-fiction, I try not to read it last thing before I go to bed.
I’ve read all of authors such as Robertson Davies, Dorothy Dunnett, Diana Gabaldon, Robert Heinlein, P.D. James, Anne McCaffrey, Nora Roberts, and John Steinbeck (in alphabetical order because I like them all).  I’ve read some, not all, of many others.  I estimate that I read 200 to 250, and maybe more books every year.  They contribute to wonderful dreams.
During one teenage summer vacation of about ten weeks – I think it was the summer between my sophomore and junior years, I know it was before I had a summer job - I set out to keep track of the number of books I read: the total was 54. All were classics from the family library.  The longest: War and Peace!  The shortest: oooh, I don’t remember – but I read lots of Twain, the Bronte sisters, some poetry, Lust for Life, some Dickens – I really didn’t care for Dickens – and many more.  It was that summer that I began to notice that my reading found itself reiterated, usually very strangely, in my dreams.  I’ve been a fiction junkie ever since.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


Wordsworth believed that poetry "takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility"
Thursday, February 28, 2013 was a very interesting day for me. I’ve several websites I check each morning, and The Writer’s Almanac entry set the tone for my day.
The poem for that day, one in free verse, which to me means it doesn’t rhyme and has no meter, was Breakfast, by Joyce Sutphen. An o.k. poem, quite a bit toward the prose side of writing, but evoking a pleasant scene.  I thought a bit about it and decided it made for a nice memory.
The single birthday entry for the day was that of novelist Colum McCann. I’d never come across any of his writings.  What struck me was this bit: He has had a happy life, he says, the kind that doesn't make for an interesting story. He said, "For me, the logical conclusion is that I have to write outside my life."  All day long that Thursday I thought about how my own happy life was the same – the kind that doesn’t make for interesting writing. Yet in that poem about breakfast with her father, Sutphen took the memory of a brief moment in an ordinary morning from a happy but probably otherwise, for many, uninteresting life, and made a web-worthy poem. Uninteresting lives don’t make for interesting novels, but they’ve got lots of poem potential.
I wish I was a poet. I’ve many interesting bits that might come out well as poetry if I just write them out as a sentence and then rearrange it into a few stanzas. It’s something to think about. Could I do that?
Then – two days later on March 2, came this poem, The Key, by Jane Hirshfield. It too is about a morning, but very different, still free verse, but not just a slice of life.  I’m torn as to which of the two I like best. --- I’m still torn, and I’m writing this on March 10th.  I’ll post it when I’ve got an opening.

Friday, April 12, 2013


I wish I had a pocket doctor, one I could bring out any time I had a concern.  Wikipedia and Web MD are not satisfactory – they can’t conduct a conversation.  And most discussion boards can be useless if they don’t hit on your exact symptoms and concerns. Many times you can become too agitated over what you read – you need a doctor to set your thinking on the right path.

Besides which, medicos really don’t like it when you bring your own ideas into the consultation room.  If you do consult the net just keep quiet about it until the right time comes up – don’t go in saying “Doctor, I’m sure I have a bad case of bungafatitis.”
I did that once, eons ago.  When I sat down with the doctor he asked “What seems to be the problem?” and I said “My gall bladder is acting up.”  Said he: “I’ll be the judge of that”, or words to that effect.  Well, excuse me! I had an honest reason to believe it was – and it was! – my gall bladder acting up. All the women on my mother’s side of the family were afflicted with wonky gall bladders, and many were the times I was present during a discussion and rehashing of symptom, operations, and recuperations.  I must say, my own operation and recuperation weren’t too bad. Having had that operation back in the late seventies, I’ve got a nice, long scar to show for it.  Battle scar, I say! Today there are just three little holes where they go in and pluck that sucker out arthroscopically.  Medical progress is surely wonderful.

I don’t mind that I had a bit more of an ordeal way back when. I’m so pleased that now, when a I’m in my 70’s and will really need advanced medical help one of these days, that medical sciences have made the strides they have.
I’m also glad that I live where I live. Medical help abounds here around Charlotte. My own general practitioner is part of the Carolinas Health Care System that has opened offices almost literally “right across the street” from our community.
But I do wish I had my doctor in my pocket.  When I do see him there is so little time to do more than go over what is already in the data base for me. (Why the nurse and doctor have to check this every time is beyond me. Don’t they trust me when I say there’s been no change? What a waste of time having to go through each and every vitamin and supplement on the list, to go over shots I’ve not had because I can’t have them, or the medicines I’m taking.  But then -  going off on a tangent of thought and trying to be diplomatic about it all -  the nurse’s checking this gives the doctor time with whatever patient he’s seeing right then.) If I go with a list of questions I invariably leave out a few.  So if the doc were in my pocket I could pull him out and go over those questions as they arose – never mind getting them on a list.  This is pie-in-the-sky wishing. It will never happen – but wouldn’t it be nice?
Who? Well, not this doctor, but of them all he was my favorite!
I think it was the scarf that did it.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013


If you are a birder, if you are looking for the ultimate in ‘eye candy’, be sure to go to go to YouTube and see Fast Forward Through a 264 Species Birding Day.  Last week, my regular email of enews from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology alerted me to this great presentation compiled to show, in the same order, the 264 species Team Sapsucker, setting out to see as many species of birds as they could, saw in 24 hours. I was delighted with how many species I recognized right away, but they went by so quickly that my brain didn’t have time to spit out the names.

I’m pleased to have been able to increase the number on my life list to 185 since we moved to the Carolinas. Seeing 264 in 24 hours seems like the Holy Grail of birding – and it is a record.  The group will try to beat their record this year – I wish them luck, and I wish I could go along with them.

Friday, April 5, 2013


Remembering that Palm Sunday was the next day, The Golden Olden Lady on It Helps Fill the Day, observed I am not religiously observant, in fact, I am contentedly atheist, with humanist leanings and a protestant upbringing, but I am deeply attached to really serious liturgical music, as it's about the best stuff on earth to sing, in my view. So, even if you listen to nothing else like it this Holy Week can I suggest you put five minutes by to try this out for size.”

Being like-minded with the Lady, I was ready to “try this”. The ‘this’ in this case was the opening movement of Bach’s St. John Passion. Serious liturgical music indeed it is, and it came to me via Yahoo. I’d never known that they had such stuff in their repertoire, and, needless to say, I had to play some more pieces like that, then and there. I was like a kid with a new toy – I was there for a long time playing old favorites that day.
Sundays at our house always meant listening to the radio program of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir from Salt Lake City – E. Power Biggs at the organ, of course. Along with the Saturday live broadcasts of the opera from the Met, it was part of our regular family weekend routine. (And in looking up the proper spelling of Mr. Biggs’ name, I discovered that Yahoo had a recording of him playing Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. I’ve got it playing as I type this particular paragraph. Now that I realize the music will play on even if I’m in another window or writing an essay, though I’ve got many CDs, this is so easy: just select something, let it play, and keep on keepin’ on.
But I digress! It’s the choral music I was going to cover today. So: the choral music from Salt Lake City, and an old 78 recording of a cappella Christmas Carols by the Robert Shaw Chorale, and maybe a chorus or two from an opera, were my introduction to group singing and my introduction to harmony. I could always ‘hear’ all the parts. I love to sing and I love to harmonize.  I must amend that ‘sing’ bit by saying I love to sing at the top of my lungs.  For me, nothing gets the work done faster than singing along and harmonizing with a CD of a Broadway show – Maybe South Pacific or Cats - or perhaps Sinatra or Streisand or folk songs from the 60’s. I’m old school. My dear Canadian friend loves old-time Gospel music in three-part harmony – and she isn’t even from the South! Well, she is from southern Canada! But what is it she loves? It’s the harmony. Harmonizing just sounds good in my head. If it’s good enough and close enough it really rings.
I must say that there are three choral things that can make my eyes start to tear and my nose crinkle when I sing along, that make me ‘fill up’ just thinking and writing about them: any group singing the Navy Hymn, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing The Battle Hymn of the Republic,  and any piece from Song of Survival. This last, while not actually sing along at the top of your lungs stuff, is a recording by the Women’s Choir of Haarlem, Holland, of a recreation of orchestral pieces that were sung, or hummed, from memory by women interred in the Dutch East Indies during World War II. Singing, and at first it was popular and folk songs, was what kept them sane, helped them to survive. I like to hum along with them.  As I’ve been composing this paragraph I’ve been finding links to three and listening to some of them. I’m a teary mess! So, enough of that. I did put in the links in case you want to hear for yourself.
Winter is late this year in most parts of the continent - actually in most parts of the northern hemisphere!  That means spring cleaning will be later than usual.  I do recommend that before you lift that dust mop you put on a rousing CD – any of your favorite genres will do – and sing out loud – and harmonize - to your heart’s content. 



Tuesday, April 2, 2013


This morning’s Arts and Letters Daily references, as they do Monday through Saturday, another interesting article. This one, from The Atlantic, is A Brief History of Applause.  Now there’s a topic I’d never have thought of, but it is all quite interesting.

These days applaud is something I’m having to do more verbally than physically.  These old arthritic fingers will no longer straighten up – I can’t easily get my palms to meet to make that distinctive clap.  I’m just happy that I can still type out quick things like this for my blog.

Happy Tuesday everyone – give yourself a round of applause!