Friday, January 31, 2014


Yesterday, my dear Canadian friend emailed me about a video she thought I’d like. Like doesn’t begin to cover it. The video is of a TED Talk – Andrew Solomon: Love, no matter what.  I emailed right back to her, and as I wrote I thought that the letter might be the base for a good blog.
Here’s the blurb that describes the video: What is it like to raise a child who's different from you in some fundamental way (like a prodigy, or a differently abled kid, or a criminal)?  In this quietly moving talk, writer Andrew Solomon shares what he learned from talking to dozens of parents -- asking them: What's the line between unconditional love and unconditional acceptance?   I urge you to view it – and think about its message.

My email with a tweak or two: Where do I begin to write about Andrew Solomon? Thank you for giving me the link– what a powerful talk. Through it all I was fascinated at how he could keep the train of thought - so logical, so flowing. “Did he memorize all that?” was just my running undercurrent as I listened and absorbed it.

I guess he meant it to shock, but as he began I was just appalled at what he was saying about homosexuals. How could a man in this day and age stand up and say that? And then he told us it was a quote from 1966. Whew! O.K. – upward and onward! 

His description of vertical and horizontal identities – those vertical we get passed down from our parents and family, those we get horizontally from our peer groups - Wow!  What a concept – he opens up so many avenues of thought. I had to stop ‘thinking’ and resume listening.

My wonderful, talented nephew is gay, thus the homosexuality theme struck home, but so did the Down syndrome topic: my youngest sister was born with it. She died when she was six, I was sixteen, because she’d swallowed a part of a toy that lodged in her intestine. Later on in years we often thought how she would have fared as an adult – but it was a moot point.  What struck me again was the attitude people had towards these DS children. One day in the early 60’s when I was a teller, starting out on my banking career, I waited on a regular customer of ours who had a little girl with DS. (It’s nice to use the DS designation today – then we just called them mongoloids.) So – after I’d waited on this lady the next customer stepped to my window.  The first words out of her mouth were “If I had a child like that I’d kill it.”  I had all I could do to hold on to my teller machine and not pick it up and throw it at her. It’s a moment that is vivid in my mind.

We’ve ‘come a long way’ in these last fifty years or so, and we’ve a long way ahead. I know that sentiments like that woman’s are still being thought, but at least they’re less prevalent and are less frequently voiced – about a DS person or any other “not us” individual.

The theme of love and acceptance – that’s what life is all about,
 that’s the basis of the Golden Rule.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


This is a time-lapse photo of fireflies, taken by the Japanese amateur photographer Tsuneaki Hiramatsu. You can see more of his photos in this month's issue of Smithsonian or at their on-line magazine.
I love fireflies. What kid - girl or boy - doesn't love to capture them, just for a while, in a jar and watch their fascinating light?  What adult doesn't want to do the same thing? Frank and I did it in our meadow and woods when we lived in rural upstate New York. We had a hard time of it though because the fireflies seemed to get scarcer and scarcer each year.
Butterflies are enchantment on wings in the sunshine.
fireflies are enchantment for an early summer evening.

Monday, January 27, 2014


This past Saturday I came upon The Allure of the Map in the New Yorker on line.  The writer is, as I am, fascinated by the maps that accompany many wonderful works of fiction. He includes Middle Earth, Earth Sea, and Treasure Island. I do know these and many more.

Treasure Island

While such maps are wonderful, the ones I really like to see included in a book are the ones for smaller areas:

Cadfael's Shrewsbury

Towns, like the maps of York that Candace Robb included in her Owen Archer series, or Brother Cadfael's Shrewsbury Abbey and its environs, or  Miss Marple’s St. Mary Mead...

St. Mary Mead
...and,especially, floor plans. Like those sometimes included in Agatha Christie mysteries and such, to let you know how the house was laid out.  These two help me orient myself within the story. And let me know who was where when the butler did it.

First floor map from Agatha Christie's
And Then There Were None

The handiest of these maps are printed as the endpapers so I don’t have to thumb back through to find a page - just flip to the front or back cover and voila!

from Dark Fire - London  c.1541

These two are from C.J. Sansom’s series featuring the lawyer Matthew Shardlake.  Historical fiction at its best.

Endpapers from Sovereign
I do wish Tenniel had done a map of Wonderland.

Friday, January 24, 2014


The mind is a wonderful thing, and it’s strange the things people remember.

I remember...

That's Tante Fini all the way to the right with the other telephone operators.
…my mother saying that the family loved it that their Aunt Josephine, Tante Fine, was living with them, and I do remember her too. (I learned to call her Tante Fini - feenee) She and my grandmother were a team. Every so often my grandfather would come home and announce “Gussie, we’re moving,” and Grandma and Tante Fini would have to hustle. These were the gals who tended the house, who regularly scrubbed down the walls, bottomed out every room, had a regular schedule of what was to be done every day, and cooked wonderful meals.

Nothing was slap-dash. Everyone had their place at table – complete with their own napkin ring – and everyone had their assigned chores.  My mother’s most hated chore was to clean the French leaded windows, lots of little diamond-shaped panes - on the porch in the Richmond Hill house. (I see from the recent picture in the family history that these have been “remuddled”.) After that Mom loved large panes of glass, especially the windows in of one my own houses because they had the muntins between the two large panes of class.

I’m not sure if Tante Fine ever had a sweetheart – she never married. She came here from Germany around 1923 after her mother died. She was a highly skilled telephone operator, one of the first in Germany, and speaking both German and English, would have been hired here in an instant. But she chose to partner with my Grandmother to raise a family of eight children, every one of whom loved her to bits.

Tante Fini and her mother, my great grandmother,
in the early 1920's

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


This was a recent entry in the always interesting Grammarphobia blog:

The “cur” in “curmudgeon”

December 6th, 2013
Q: What is the origin of the word “curmudgeon”?
A: Nobody knows, but that hasn’t stopped a lot of word detectives from speculating about it. And some of the speculations are less speculative than others. Here’s the story.
When the word “curmudgeon” first showed up in English in the late 1500s, it referred to a grasping, avaricious man.
But the online Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged describes that sense as archaic, and it says the word now means “a crusty, ill-tempered, or difficult and often elderly person.”


Yes, that would be me. I must say that I’m not "often elderly", I’m elderly, by age, each and every day. (I do sometimes wonder though at the definition of ‘elderly’: is it, as it would be in France, an ‘âge certain’ or a ‘certain âge’? There is a difference! One is one’s number of years. One is one’s outlook after that number of years.)

I can’t be a curmudgeon 24/7. Most days will find me feeling and thinking elderly and exasperated, with that “cur” in curmudgeon just growling about what’s going on in my world and the world in general. But then most days will also find me feeling young at heart - even at my âge certain’ I can appreciate a great looking specimen of a man -  not ill-tempered or difficult, and happy as a lark. It’s a matter of being very young in outlook too. Bien sur!



Monday, January 20, 2014

of ravens and chocolate milk

Yesterday morning I was advised on The Writer’s Almanac that it was the birthday of Edgar Allen Poe, and they included an excerpt from The Raven – you know: “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary.” Every day the Writer’s almanac includes a bit of poetry before they tell you what’s what and who’s who that day. *

I read the poem each day, and lately I’ve been thinking about what to me is good and what is rather bad poetry. Some days their choice of poetry just leaves me as blank as the verse selection that just seems to my sensibilities to be a run-on sentence. I could be a poet if I made up a lengthy sentence and broke it up into several pieces stacked one on top of the other. Blank verse, for me, has to paint a picture, evoke a mood – much of it doesn’t.  But when they select a poem like The Raven? Now that’s poetry.  The meter, the rhyme schemes, the picture it paints and the pain it inflicts – couldn’t be better. It has so much going for it that I could almost say it’s delicious. 

My recent thinking about poetry has once again made me aware of the great poetry hidden as song lyrics. I was listening to some Cole Porter? None better – Night and Day, So In Love. Really think about their lyrics. Sing them to yourself. Think about the lyrics from any Broadway show: poetry set to music. Think about Moonlight in Vermont – and it doesn’t even rhyme!

Also, to forge ahead, yesterday was the birthday of Robert E. Lee. I know I wrote about this before, but it ‘gets’ me again each time I hear his name. When I was a little kid my grandmother, who was born in West “By God” Virginia, told me that the folks in the south would love me because my name was Lee.  Now why wouldya tell a kid something like that? I know I wasn’t at all excited about the prospect, but the incident stuck with me. Evidently my grandmother was full of such nonsense. I do know that my father was really annoyed when he found out that chocolate milk didn’t come from brown cows. I got clued in on that one real early in life.

I suppose that one year from now I’ll read again about these two birthdays and perhaps I’ll come up with another essay of passing fancy. One never knows.


*by chance, today’s poem at The Writer’s Almanac, The Song of Wandering Angus by William Butler Yeats, is also a rhyming, evocative classic. It speaks of “The silver apples of the moon, The golden apples of the sun.” Just thought I’d let you know, and perhaps prompt you to read it.

Friday, January 17, 2014


Here's an appropriate reposting from three years ago - let's hear it for hugging!

and on a cold day, what better guys to hug than polar bears.
Any day is a good day for a hug, but on a cold, late January day, a good, warm hug is more than welcome.  Thus, January 21st is National Hug Day.  We’re talking ‘official’ now: my research tells me that the day is officially recognized by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. A hug is one of the best things known to mankind.  Ecologically speaking, its warmth is a renewable source of energy. Psychologically speaking it is a marvelous mood and morale booster.  Physically speaking, we just love the feel of a good, strong hug.
One of my favorite authors was the late Anne McCaffrey, and I’ve read just about everything she wrote.  Unbeknown to me, I waited on her when I was a bank teller back in the early 60’s.  One day I was telling a fellow employee about one of the books I was reading, and she told me that the author was a good customer of ours and had just moved to Ireland.  Every once in a while I think about the opportunities I missed to tell her how much I loved her stories.  She wrote under her maiden name, so I never realize I’d waited on her. In The Ship Who Searched, a book she co-authored with Mercedes Lackey in 1992, I learned about wonderful Zen Hugs.  These hugs are a relatively little-known phenomenon and should be more widely distributed. 
We are very fond of hugging in our family, and we are very big senders of Zen Hugs. Zen Hugs are “the hugs that you would get, if we were there, if we could hug you, but we aren't, and we can't.”  ‘Zen Hugs’ and ‘I Love You’ end every phone call, every email, and, abbreviated to ZH, every text message.  Every birthday card and every little Post-it gets the Zen Hug finishing touch.  Sometimes we just call them ‘Zenners’.  As holidays or family ‘state occasions’ come due, we anticipate visits from far away family members by counting the ‘sleeps’ until we get ‘real’ hugs. Meanwhile, the Zen variety are just as heartfelt and welcomed.
I think Zen Hugs are wonderful things to explain to children.  They don’t understand the Zen part, and they don’t have to, but they understand hugs and they like the idea that they can get special hugs over the phone. They like to send them too. Zen Hugs are great to send to college students. They are a special tie to home.  Zen Hugs are thoughtful, inexpensive gifts that mean you really love the recipient. 
For your family living close by, you really should give consideration to giving lots more hugs, especially at this chilly time of year. Why not just stop by for a quick hug? For anyone you love who is further afield, why not start to cultivate Zen Hugs? But beware: they can be habit-forming. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014



Pain, Vin, et Fromage. Assez dit!

                                    (and I am unanimous in this!)

  Picture from the always wonderful Corey Amaro –Tongue in Cheek – 12-19-12

Monday, January 13, 2014


Hello!  I know - it's been a while since I posted a recipe for soup.  Here's a reposting from Latelife Recipes.  It's always soup season, and here's a quick recipe to try. It makes more than just servings for two - unless you're really hungry - but the leftover portion will freeze very well.

in 3 Tbsp of butter, sauté until onions are translucent:
           1 medium onion, chopped
           1 large carrot, chopped
           1 rib of celery, chopped

Add :   3 cups of chicken stock or the equivalent, bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes or until the carrots are tender enough to be puréed.  Remove the pot from the heat and purée the soup with an immersion blender.

Add and mix well:
            1 15 oz. can of pumpkin
            1 pinch of ground sage
            1 pinch of dried oregano
            1 tsp. minced garlic
            salt and pepper to taste

Placed pot back on the heat and bring back to a simmer before serving.

Along with some nice, crusty bread, serve the soup with a swirl of heavy cream, or a portion of Five-cheese shreds (Italian or Mexican mixed shredded cheese) or other any other shredded cheese you like, or perhaps some crumbled bacon on top.  Maybe some chopped chives or scallions.  You can be creative with the toppings. 

This recipe should make 5 to 6 cups.   

Friday, January 10, 2014


Once in a blue moon when I’m engrossed in a good book I come upon something that really stays with me – something like Zen Hugs from Anne McCaffrey’s The Ship Who Searched. Zen Hugs are “the hugs that you would get, if we were there, if we could hug you, but we aren't, and we can't.”  Zen hugs became my tradition when writing to family and friends.  I have several “treasures” like this in my mental archives, some in my computer archives too, pithy sayings from people such as John Steinbeck, Maya Angelou, Douglas Adams, and Andy Rooney.
One of the strongest passage to catch my attention was this one from Trevanian’s Shibumi:   “It was not their irritating assumption of equality that annoyed Nicholai so much as their cultural confusion. The Americans seemed to confuse standard of living with quality of life, equal opportunity with institutionalized mediocrity, bravery with courage, machismo with manhood, liberty with freedom, wordiness with articulation, fun with pleasure – in short, all of the misconceptions common in those who assume that justice implies equality for all, rather than equality for equals.”


It’s a hard point of view, but that’s us, that’s us Americans.
Right? Think about it.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014


The mind is a wonderful thing, and it’s strange the things people remember.

I remember...

That's Peter all the way to the left
 …my mother telling me that once when he was little, my Uncle Peter, who lived to the age of 86, was run over by a car. They took him to the hospital and didn’t have much hope for him.  On his rounds in the ward, a doctor, not my uncle’s, heard his loud, labored breathing and questioned one of the nurses who told him the little boy was dying. Evidently, from what else she told him, he knew just what to do: he went in grabbed each side of my uncle’s chest and pushed in. That did it – the ribs sprang back out and he could breathe properly again.  Amazing!

Monday, January 6, 2014


...the quick way!

Frank’s been after me to make Chicken Parmesan. The queen of that recipe is daughter Alice – hers is delicious, and quite ‘involved’.  I was not about to make the sauce from scratch, so I thought of a quickie way to get the Italian flavor on top of some chicken breast fillets.

While I preheated my handy-dandy toaster oven to 400°, I did up my regular ‘recipe’ of chicken fillets breaded with panko crumbs, then fried in butter and a bit of oil.

Meanwhile I mixed about half a cup of grated Parmesan and Romano in with a 14 oz. can of petite diced tomatoes Italian style, the kind with basil, garlic and oregano already in there - instant Italian!

I laid out the chicken in the oven pan, poured on the tomato mix, and sprinkled on some shredded mozzarella. In for about 15 minutes, and hey presto! – it passes for great Chicken Parmesan.

Friday, January 3, 2014


I was always a bit on the artistic side as a kid – I loved to draw – but I got shot down one Christmas by my father’s brother, a know-it-all if there ever was one. To this day I don’t like him (wherever he wound up in the afterlife). I drew what I thought was a nice poinsettia – I was in 5th grade and the teacher had set us an example on the black board to copy for Christmas decoration or card. My uncle proceeded to critique it in the meanest way. It was one of those “this is for your own good” lectures. Well, after that I didn’t draw for quite a while – well into my 20’s – I think I was afraid to. I did other things like collages and montages, and pretty good seasonal decorations, but no more pictures.
Then I was at a street art show and I bought a work I dubbed as being from the Splosh School of painting. Perfect colors for my living room. I took a good look at it: it was one 6” wide brown brush streak headed north, one wide brown streak to the northeast, and one streak eastward, with big carmine splosh at their juncture. Hey! I can do that!
I had saved my pastels all those years, but I invested in some basic acrylics and oils. The oils were not my medium – impatient thing that I am I needed the whole thing to dry overnight – but I took to the acrylics toot sweet. Except for the paintings I did for my office and later sold to the bank when I retired, I’ve done pictures only for my own self or as gifts. I thank those folks who over the years have said I should sell my stuff, but I’ll pass on all that hassle.  I made my living in banking and the artwork was for my own amusement and amazement, and a bit of home décor. For a time I even had copyrighted a set of pictures that spelled out what they were. For example, the turtle was made up of the letters t, u, r, t, l, and e. There was a horse, an elephant, mice, a giraffe that made me laugh, and many others. They were all fun to create. I did up several sets of pictures for children’s rooms and for Make-it plates. There are still some of those in service.

This is the original Turtle from over 40 years ago.  The colors are faded
now - they once matched the frame - but you get the idea.
I often think about taking up the brushes again, but I’m having too
 good a time writing these essays.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


 I wish you champagne...

Taittenger Millésime - my favorite
was a 1986 vintage

and roses,

and happiness and good health in this year 2014.

Holey socks! Don't spill it! That's wasteful!