Friday, June 28, 2013

A DRIVE ON THE INTERSTATE

As with maps of the London Underground, it looks much more
simple than it really is.
I remember when I got my senior driver’s license I was just delighted. I felt grown up, I suppose, and I felt trusted and responsible. It was 1959 and, coincidentally, there was a Soviet National Exhibition in New York City. I wandered around the exhibits – shiny Sputnik and all – picking up bits of literature and handouts here and there. I looked at it all, the exhibits and literature, and to me, even then, it all seemed so dated, cheesy, so poorly done. 

Then I had one of what my brother calls “Kodak moments”, the memorable little bits of life that deeply etch their significance on your brain. I thought about my new license that allowed me to drive, with just that license and my Mom’s car’s registration for identification, all across the thousands of miles of America if I wanted to go and if I Mom let me have the car, of course.
It's 1974 and there I am in my '69 Saab. I drove -
and drove that car for over fifteen years.
I do love to drive.


I doubted that in most other countries, especially in the Soviet Union, there were many my age who could say the same thing. I knew that citizens of many countries had to carry their I.D. papers at all times; I knew that freedom for them was just a word in a dictionary. I remember feeling a bit of sorrow for the Russians because they gave such a poor showing at the exhibition and had so little compared to what I had.

Enough of that memory – but it did come back to me when I read that tomorrow is the anniversary of President Eisenhower’s 1956 signing of the Federal Highway Act that established our Interstate Highway System – now the Eisenhower Interstate System.*  We weren’t all back roads and the Lincoln Highway before that: the Pennsylvania Turnpike and The New York State Thruway, the two I knew of, were already built, and there were many ‘local’ roads like Northern State Parkway or The Wilbur Cross Parkway.  My aunt and uncle lived off of that one.

Though there are some strange sections of the interstates – like the confusing “inner” and “outer” rings of I-485 here in Charlotte; and I-85 right here is going from east to west, crossing the north-south I-77 – I do like the logic of the system: north-south routes are odd numbers like I-95 on the east coast and I-5 on the west.  You’ll note that the numbers get higher from west to east. (On the U.S. Routes the numbers get higher from east to west: US Rt. 1 on the east coast, 101 on the west.)
Imagine that Charlotte is in the center of this system -
except that the 485 Inner-Outer routes go
the other way. It isn't easy for most folks to remember.

East-west Interstate routes start with I-10 from Florida to California, and I-90 from Massachusetts to Washington – going higher from south to north. (The numbers of the U.S. routes going east to west get higher as they go south.)
Before we moved to the Carolinas we lived only a few miles off of US 20.  Many times on our drives west on the more northern Interstates we crossed US 20. We thought it would be a great trip – given plenty of time – to drive that route all the way across the country. It wouldn’t be quick but it would be interesting.
Folks thought we were kidding when we gave them directions to our new home - yes, take Exit 61 off of I-485 Outer on to Johnston Road - how convenient!


This is our exit - do come and visit!


*You might like to read this interesting entry in The Writer’s Almanac.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE


 
I might not be the center of the universe, not that I have the need to know exactly where that is, but I’ve several people dear to me who are the center of my universe.
As part of the preface to the video for June 6th, APOD readers were asked to point out the slight inaccuracies in the video, like the supposed inaccuracy of the omission of Uranus, and there were many Comments.  Someone who was obviously not from this country criticized the Americans who commented on the video or pointed out the inaccuracies in it: “Basically they are simply unable to watch without interfering,” he said. And isn’t that what he did?
 
Well….. the vast majority of us who do see the video will be momentarily mind boggled, Uranus or not.  It’s a neat video to show most children over age five, and for those who do think they are the center of the universe it will put things in their proper perspective.

 

 

 

 

Friday, June 21, 2013

ENCODING OUR LIVES - ZIP CODES REACH FIFTY



 
Our lives have been reduced to codes, the new shorthand for who we are or where we’re going. Zip Codes are fifty on July 1st. They have become so important that our insurance rates, even before our claims or driving history is taken into account, are initially determined by them. When our own Indian Land got its own Zip Code to distinguish us from Fort Mill our auto insurance rates jumped:new area, unknown history, let’s raise their rates just in case.  I know that back in the 60’s Zip Codes greatly speeded up mail delivery, but with the mailbag-load of junk the carriers have to deliver today nothing will speed up their appointed rounds.  (I’ve already commented on this here.)

I suppose Social Security numbers were really the first ‘codes’ to affect our lives.  The information that goes along with our Social Security numbers is critical and vulnerable.  I think there is supposed to be a method to the SSA coding, but it seems nebulous to me.  Perhaps the newer numbers are more representative, I only know that my sister and my brother and I got our cards within a few years of each other in the same state, and our numbers are radically different.  I also know that my Mother and my uncle’s numbers – obtained many years apart and in two different states, were off by just the two last digits. Go figure.

This shorthand for who we are and where we’re going, this endeavor to speed us through life, now includes our DNA codes, of course, Social Security numbers, Zip Codes, airport and station codes, UPC codes, and log-in user names and passwords. I’m sure I’ve missed some. I hope we never have to use CodeRED.   LOL, we’ve got acronyms coming out of our ears and emoticons galore.  Every walk of life, every profession, has its own shorthand lexicon to abbreviate and supplement our language.  

Fairly soon we’ll have more electronic encodings – and their acronymic names – for all the patterns of our selves:  irises, retinas, voices, fingerprints, and whatever else they come up with to identify us as individuals. Driver’s licenses and passports may become a thing of the past. Papers alone won’t identify us: we will be scanned and we will stand for ourselves; some great database in the sky will know all about us.  Not to mention the current flap about our government monitoring our various modes of communication, it all sounds sort of Big Brother-ish, doesn’t it?



 

 

 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

THE CONSPICUOUS AMONG US


It’s the conspicuous among us who make us believe we should be doing what they are doing: searching for their roots, or wearing orange this season, or learning everything we can about clothes, d├ęcor, wine, coffee, chocolate, cheese or the food or flavor of the month. These are people who threw away their edit button. Bloggers telling us a bit about their lives and interests is, well, interesting - very! - especially when they show us their own clever projects and photos -  but those beating us over the head with their proselytizing is another thing.

In the interest of saving time I’ve had to become a bit more selective about the blogs I follow.  When I first started blogging – writing and reading – I was like a kid in a candy store – gimme, gimme, gimme – and I delighted in it all. Now I’ve had it with many cobbled-together blogs.  The bloggers may once have had a lot to say, and they probably have strong followings, but the blog output of many of them has shrunk to a few lines strung together with a few appropriate, always quite lovely photos - almost invariably not their own - published perhaps when the fancy strikes them.  Perhaps they’re now famous and are putting out their own luscious books.  Perhaps they’re now too busy to blog but want to keep their site alive.  Perhaps I’ll drop them from my daily list because it’s not worth even the little time it takes to go to the blog and be disappointed again.
 
Not too many people read my Latelife Musings blog, so I’m grateful and delighted with those who do, especially the ones with their own great blogs who take the time out to read mine. I’m sure my complaint will go unnoticed by the blog-cobblers, but I just had to get it said. 

 

Friday, June 14, 2013

SERENDIPITY REVISITED

Here's a post from last May.  Happy Flag Day - I'm off to do some errands.


THE (LOST BUT SOMETIMES FOUND) ART OF SERENDIPITY            


 
Ah, serendipity. All by itself, the word strikes a pleasant note. We use it to mean the knack of making desirable discoveries by accident. Webster’s tells the first use of this word was by Horace Walpole (1717-92). In a letter to the American educator Horace Mann, Walpole said he formed it from the Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip, whose heroes "were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of." Serendip is an old name for Ceylon, now Sri Lanka.

Serendipity can’t be described as just dumb luck. The real secret to it is to be on the alert and ready for opportunities to do something different.  My husband and I have had many serendipitous experiences in our travels.  One fine May afternoon, way back when, after our first pub lunch and a lovely jaunt around southern England visiting Bodiam Castle, Battle (the Battle being the Battle of Hastings) and Rye, we got back to our base in Tenterden, Kent. We wandered off the High Street to the railroad station, part of the Kent and East Sussex Railway. We were admiring a lovely old train when we were approached by a charming man who asked us if we would like an adventure. Later we learned that the restoration and preservation of the light railway and its rolling stock was an entirely volunteer effort, and that part of their fund raising effort was to serve dinner in an authentically restored Pullman car. Here’s the serendipitous part: someone had had to cancel several bookings he’d made for dinner on the Wealden Pullman, and there were a few reservations on offer. We jumped at the chance.

Returning to our B & B to change into proper dinner attire, our host congratulated us on our fortune, admitting that he’d not yet had his own name come up on the waiting list. The bookings for this popular excursion, then run only on warm-weather Saturdays, were next to impossible to get. We understood why as the trip and the dinner progressed. Rolling serenely along through the countryside, seated at a table for two, we enjoyed a delicious four-course meal, served to perfection by perfectly uniformed volunteer waiters, complete with aperitifs and wines, port and cigars. We passed on the cigars. It certainly was just by accident that we turned up at the railway station at the right time, and I don’t think it took too much sagacity to take the chance for a different dining experience: we had to have diner no matter what. The picture I took of Frank, seated across the table, shows a smile of absolute delight and contentment. 

Serendipity was disembarking last from a cruise ship in Bergen, Norway, but finding ourselves first to be shown to a waiting taxi. Serendipity was arriving at the ornately Victorian Papplewick Pumping Station in Nottinghamshire on one of the few days in the year when they bring James Watt’s huge beam engines up to full, working steam.  It was deciding to go to a bullfight in St. Remy-de-Provence, and finding ourselves at a wonderful, elaborately-costumed ceremony on what turned out to be the re-opening day of the refurbished arena.

Of course we’ve missed what might have been serendipitous moments by being there too late: “you should have been here last week,” or too early: “can you stay until next week when…comes to town?” But we never dwell on what we might have been. After all, it isn’t as though we were sitting idly, twiddling our thumbs and waiting for things to happen. No, we’ve been very serendipitous in that respect.

 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

WHAT DO YOU THINK THIS IS?


One June 7th, I copied this exactly from A Femme d’Une Certain Age, one of the blogs on my daily rounds:
What Do You Think This Is?
 
 When I first saw it, I thought it was a vacuum cleaner, then I thought it was some tricked-out hair or skin or body steam machine. It is none of those things.

It's an iron. But, as you can see it's clearly more than an iron. It appears to be a complete dry cleaning pressing machine of some sort. It won the Grand Prize for innovative design at the 2013 Paris Fair.

It comes with lots of accessories, is called "Lift Pinky Pop" and is made by Lauraster. The price you may be wondering? A mere 499 Euros. Remember it's not just an iron, it is also all about design and that changes everything when you're toiling away, nest-ce pas?

 

What caught my attention was the bright pink and the LAURAstar.  Laura, that’s me! And I surely am a star – in my own little universe that is. Needless to say, I had to know more about this item. And at first I too thought it was a vacuum cleaner – I’ve got them on my mind since I recently bought a new one. But no, it’s a handy, dandy clothes care contraption. Yahoo has an advert video for it, and googling it will bring up TMI, if you’re inclined to do more research.  Whywouldya? It would take me eons of dry cleaning and ironing to justify its cost: 499 Euros? Oh, that’s about 655 US Dollars. It is available only in Europe, so western hemisphere appliance junkies will have to wait.

Friday, June 7, 2013

REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS LOST


A la recherche du temps perdu - Proust's Remembrance of Things Past,
or Times Lost, whichever way you might want to translate the title,
is a bit longer than my humble blog effort.
Do you, as I do, think about certain items you’ve lost or lost track of during your life?  Every once in a while I think of things I had over my seventy years,  fondly remembering of some of them, or really wishing I had some
others right now.
My daughters came to me by marriage, and they were already fifteen. But I have seven granddaughters, and I often wish I’d had my dolls to pass on to them. My sister and I “lost” our dolls via an overzealous Mother who decided, because we were then into our teens, that my sister and I didn’t need those dolls any more. She up and gave them to a local orphanage. I can still recall the tirade I went on because I was not pleased at all. And ooooh was she mad that I was mad! We weren’t even consulted: she just took them and gave them away. Many, many years later she thought to make it up to me by buying me one of the first Baby Beans dolls, and she told me that’s why she got the doll. By then it was all part of the past, and it didn’t make up for the loss of my beautiful Madam Alexander doll with the clothes my Mom had made, or my Amosandra doll, to name just my two favorites. I do still have the Baby Beans, as well as several other dolls I’ve accumulated in my adult years, but I still miss my childhood dolls.

Amosandra - someone else's, not mine, alas
There are a few books I miss. I miss my dragon book.  I’ve searched all over – on line or any time I was in a second-hand book store – but I’ve never found it. I don’t even remember the title of the book, but I can see the cover and the pictures in my mind’s eye. It was a story about a princess who found a baby dragon.  She was allowed to keep it as long as it didn’t use its fire.  Well, one night robbers came to the castle and the dragon used its fire to protect the princess.  Knowing it had done what was forbidden, it took itself away from the castle – and the rest of the story is how they found the dragon again.  I loved that story. I know the book was from England, so I’ve even searched there.  One day I’ll find it and I’ll probably break down in tears.  

When I was the same age as in the dragon book time, we had Christmas records, old 78’s, that were my favorites. (To this day the carols have to be sung that way, in that tempo, or they’re just wrong!) Over the years the records got chipped and cracked.  They are no longer playable, even if I had a record player, but I still have them. Yeah, I know, I’m a nut!  But one day, browsing in the CD’s in a store in the mall I came upon a re-recording of the original Robert Shaw Chorale album, Joy to the World. Well I just stood in that store, getting stares from some of the other customers, the tears just running down my face and my throat all choked up. Chokes me up now as I write just to think about that moment and how much I love that recording.  So – to end this paragraph – that is why I know I’d cry if I ever found my dragon book.





Let’s see, what else is on my list of remembered things past?  The Dutch wooden shoes I wore as a child. My Dad brought them home after the war. I had a pair to wear and a decorative pair. Gone. I outgrew the pair to wear, and the decorative pair went to that great closet in the sky. I bought ‘a pair to wear’ in Amsterdam, but I think you have to get accustomed to them from childhood – the new ones just hurt my instep after a while.
I miss three or four of my favorite dresses, none were very fancy or formal, wishing I’d just kept them in my closet to look at and just ‘have’. I’ve a turquoise silk shell and jacket that I’ve outgrown – I am, after all, a sometimes growing child! - I keep just because I love its color.
In the lost book category I’d also put B.F. Skinner’s Walden Two.  Yes, I know you can still find it, and yes, I have a copy, but losing the first two copies of the book taught me a lesson: don’t loan out your books.  Book plates do not insure you’ll ever get it back. I had to devise a system of reminders for myself to get my books back.  Over the years, trying to be gracious, I’ve loaned out other books. If I’m not really persistent in remembering to ask for them back I can kiss the books goodbye.  Unlike the dragon book, which might have gone the way of many childhood possessions, I’m not upset with the later losses because they were my own fault. How true: “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.”





Tuesday, June 4, 2013

CHAINSE




Needless to say, back in medieval times brassieres were
not yet invented for wearing under one's chainse,
nor did most of the ladies wear eye makeup like this.  But hey...
 
A few weeks ago I went to a lovely get-together.  Over fifty gals in our neighborhood had lunch at the Carolina Lakes Golf Club.  Lunch was great though a bit noisy, as it usually is if there is another function going on.  We were in the midst of a book club lunch and a rather large golf outing.  The course is, I’m told, though I’ve never played it, a really tough one. (I’ve always said I’d learn how to play golf when I could play at Pebble Beach! – never gonna happen, so it’s a safe thing to say.)

But the point of all this was the very interesting after lunch speaker, Bree Broderick. She’s a Mom and a chef and a lot of other things, but she is especially interested in medieval and Renaissance dress. Her talk was so interesting to me, especially since those are my favorite periods for historic fiction. I suppose the stories I read are geared to modern sensibilities. Bree, who specializes in women’s dress, said usually those gals had one chemise or chainse, an undergarment, and they wore it forever: I mean to work, to eat, to sleep, to very occasionally bathe.  Most folks didn’t have two of them, one had to do. O.K. are you thinking what I’m thinking? Must have smelled just divine in those ages.

Want to make one for yourself? Easy peasy!
more here - if you speak French, though
measurements are measurments in any language.
And just in case you are interested, here's a
glossary of medieval clothing terms.
Very interesting!