Wednesday, December 30, 2015


Love those eyebrows!

Today is the 150th Birthday of Rudyard Kipling, the writer of poems, short stories, and novels loved around the world. I love Kipling’s works. Jungle Books, Gunga Din, Boots. They’re not just for kids, as many people believe. I enjoy them to this day. I was thrilled to visit his home, Bateman’s, in England. I guess you could say he is one of my favorite poets and writers. I read of his birthday this morning on The Writer’s Almanac, one of my best sources for writing ideas. As usual, they ended the piece with a quote. This one really made sense to me:

      "If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten."

True, true, true!  I’ve been saying for years that I’ve learned more history from my adult reading than I ever did in school. (Well, let’s hope so! When you stop learning you might as well curl up and die.) And it is soooo much more interesting. I’ve written about this before – here – but this week it really strikes home. 

We spent our Christmas holiday up in New York with some special people who bought our house when we moved south. I had left books for their future reading – about 12’ worth – and this trip I brought all the books back south with me. The house is being remodeled, and that shelf will hold other things.
I spent a lot of yesterday sorting out the books, deciding what ones to keep, and just delighting in seeing them again. The majority of them are historical novels – Middle Ages, Renaissance, and so on. Europe, India, America, and do on – with some Brit mysteries too, of course.
Many of the books, such as Dorothy Dunnett’s The Lymond Chronicles, a series of six historical novels set in the mid 1500’s, are some of the sources of my historical education. All are a source of some little tidbit of information that I’ve tucked into the grab bag of my memory.  One never knows when one will need to know that a sovereign is a pound, or a crown is 5 shillings, or that a flock of crows is a murder.

Try a historical novel, history in the form of a story – you’ll learn a lot, and enjoy it all too.

Friday, December 25, 2015


I am going to be non-PC and wish every one of you a very Merry Christmas. I know, I know, it is politically correct to say Happy Holidays, but today is Christmas. It is also the birthday of a dear friend of mine who happens to be Jewish. She and that Jewish kid from Bethlehem share the same birthday.     

Years ago, our family had wonderful next-door neighbors. They were Jewish. He was an excellent doctor, one of the best in town. One year, the year I remember because of what he said, a Christian patient sent him a card with a nativity scene on it. Someone at the gathering saw the card and was very surprised to see it there.  “Not at all,” said our neighbor, “after all, they were a good Jewish family.”

See that? There’s PC, politically correct, and then there’s PC, properly Christian, Christ-like, and he, that good Jewish man, had love for all.

I wish you all love and peace this day.

Friday, December 18, 2015


MADCAP PRINCESS RUNS AMOK. That was the headline in the newspaper just before I woke up. Dreams are funny things. I don’t have young things to dream about any more. I can sometimes consciously know where a dream comes from.

But in the case of the titled dream I haven’t a clue – especially now, days later, when I’m finally getting to the notes I wrote in my night book. Do you have a night book?  Maurice Sendak had a Night Kitchen, I have a night book. I keep it on a bookshelf handy to my groping hand in the dark. By it, I have a pen with a LED in the tip. They call it a Marine Navigation Light Pen. Sounds impressive!

Pen lit, book in hand, I can jot down the absolutely excellent thoughts that come into my alleged mind in my waking periods.  From many of these thoughts I have fleshed out ideas for pieces I’m doing for the community magazine. Other entries become blog like this one.  
Many times I just want to jot down things I need to remember for the next day. Sometimes I have no clue about what I wrote until I open the journal in the morning. That isn’t surprising, is it?

And just now, as I usually do, I went through Google Images to find a princess crown or some other appropriate illustration, and I found this:

In 1926 there was a Madcap Princess. Who knew?!

Sunday, December 13, 2015


Well I’ll be dipped if I can find an on-line reference to it, but I distinctly remember most of a jingle that, on the early days of television, regularly played on, I believe it was NYC Channel 5 – the DuMont station. DuMont was always supportive of minorities, and they regularly aired public service messages like the one about Sidney S. Snigglegrass. It was sung to a lively tune:

Sidney S. Snigglegrass, Jr. was told
Of a magical lamp with a genii of old.
When he rubbed on the lamp
Came a great flash of fire,
And the genii appeared saying:
“What’s your desire?”

Said Sidney: “It’s my desire that every man of foreign descent 
                       be sent 
                         back to where he came from.”

And bam! The oceans were jammed,
Boats and barges appeared,
And thousands and thousands
Of folks lined the piers.

And on it went, until Sidney, holding his magical lamp, was the only one left on the pier. I’m surprised that Sidney himself wasn’t whisked away. I can’t dredge any more of the song out of my memory banks, and I couldn’t find it on Google.

What it said then, and what it means now, should be a lesson to Donald (The Mouth) Trump: this nation was built, and is still building, by people of foreign descent. What’s your background Donald? Many races, many colors, many creeds, along with the people who lived here to begin with: we’re not quite yet the “melting pot” we’d like to be. There are still distinct lumps in the soup, but we’re stirring like crazy and it should be a delicious mix when it’s done. We can’t go along with any loud mouth who declares that the borders should be closed and the nation fenced in.  

And I am unanimous in this. 

Friday, December 11, 2015


Ah, yes, Frank Sinatra - my very favorite singer of all time. I wrote this piece for this month's issue of our community magazine, but seeing as how most of you don't live here, I wanted to get it into my blog.        

Does the address 415 Monroe Street, Hoboken, NJ, seem familiar? Hoboken? Right across the East River from New York, New York? At that address, on December 12th, one hundred years ago this month, Hoboken’s most famous son, one Francis Albert Sinatra, was born.

Is there anyone reading this article who doesn’t recognize the name or face of Frank Sinatra? His music spans generations, from those who were the “Bobbysoxers”, on through to the “Gen-Xers” and today’s “Millennials”. His vintage vinyl recordings are collectors’ items, and there is a brisk business today in Sinatra CDs and downloaded music.

There are many biographies, memoirs, and critical books about Frank Sinatra. Even without reading any of them, people know the outline of his life: his birth to Italian immigrant parents, his luck in landing a job with Harry James and the great bands thereafter, his early mid-life crisis around 1950, when his marriage and his life seemed to fall apart, and his redemption and Academy Award for his role as Angelo Maggio in From here to Eternity. His career was reborn, and in later years he went on to outstanding success in several fields, not the least of which were his savvy business investments.

Sinatra was the singer’s singer. His timing, phrasing, and enunciation were what sold a song. You understood every word. He had a great instinct for choosing the right song, the right arrangement, and the right band or orchestra to back him. Luciano Pavarotti might be the only serious contender who comes to mind as having Sinatra’s equivalent cultural impact, and the two, admirers of each other, got along well. Both were “larger than life”, flamboyant entertainers who knew how to engage and enthrall an audience.

Except for little bits and pieces like the fact that is favorite color was orange, there’s probably nothing new any article on him could tell us. But it’s good to be celebrating his centennial, just as it’s always good to hear a Sinatra song by chance. We stop, listen, smile, and the day just got better. He sang the best of songwriters from Irving Berlin to Jimmy Webb. The titles sing in our minds just reading the names of some of his hits: Angel Eyes, Strangers in the Night, That’s Life, Gone With the Wind, Witchcraft, All or Nothing at All, Blues in the Night, You Go to My Head, Time After Time, Fly Me to the Moon, I’ll ever Smile Again, The World We Knew, Ebb Tide. Most appreciated by those of us from the “Silent Generation” and the “Baby Boomers”: It Was a Very Good Year

“Old Blue Eyes” began life in a cold water flat on the east coast, known only to his family. He died 82 years later in Los Angeles, known to the world.


1 – First of Billboard Magazine’s Number-one Singles: I’ll Never Smile Again, 1940
2 – Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor in From Here to Eternity in 1953, and the 
      Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1970
3 - His children: Nancy, Frank Jr., and Tina
4 - His wives: Nancy Barbato, Ava Gardner, Mia Farrow, and Barbara Marx
5 - Members of the Rat Pack: Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis, Jr., 
         and Joey Bishop
11 - Grammy Awards
42 - The denomination of the “Sinatra” U.S. Postage Stamp issued in 1980
57 - Movies he was in from 1944 to 1988
61 - Record albums – not including countless single titles that number around 1,000.
100+ Nominations and awards, documentaries, cameos, radio and television shows and concerts, all too numerous to mention

Saturday, December 5, 2015


Today, as I read in the Writer’s Almanac, is the 185th birthday of the Pre-Raphaelite poet Christina Rossetti. She is the author of one a poem that has become a wonderful Christmas carol, and the one that has become my favorite in my old age. Several composers, including Gustav Holst, have set it to music, but my favorite version is by the British composer and conductor John Rutter. You can listen to it here. (It’s the last line of the music that makes this one soar.) And, leaving out the fourth stanza, follow here:

In the bleak midwinter
                         BY CHRISTINA ROSSETTI

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

   Did you hear that last line? I think John Rutter’s music for this piece is excellent. The whole poem speaks of the true story and meaning of this Christmas season that is just starting. Starting my December off with this carol has been a delight.


Friday, December 4, 2015


Looking back on my blog history, I confirmed that I posted this piece, in one dress or another, both in 2011 and 2013. It is time to trot it out again. We all need reminders to keep the holidays sane.

National Stress-Free Holiday Month - is there such a thing as a stress-free December? Many people have begun to simplify the whole process in several ways. Some of these suggestions might work for you.  

Here’s a good topic: Decorations. To do or overdo, that is really up to you. Paring down your possessions throughout the year is the perfect strategy for cutting down on the holiday ornamentation. Pass on some of their favorite ornaments to your children and grandchildren. (They make great holiday gifts.) It can be counterproductive and a great deal of work to use all your decorative pieces just because you always have. Toss out or give away all but the real treasures you look forward to seeing again each year. To pare down even further, consider using more candles that can be used throughout the year, and fresh flowers that are very colorful but don’t require future storage.
Think about lowering your electric bill and eliminating the hassle of storing, sorting and installing outdoor lights and decorations. Select a great wreath for your front door and remember to leave the porch light on every evening until you go to bed.

Of course, the Gifts. If you’re at the base of a very large family tree you might be having a hard time just thinking of suitable gifts for everyone on those branches and twigs. It’s no longer fun when it becomes a chore going out to buy, and then wrap, and perhaps mail the gifts, or when the monetary end of it gets out of hand, especially for those on a fixed income.
Some families stop giving gifts to those married or over twenty-one, those no longer children. Some families pull names for an adult grab bag swap, in others they exchange gifts under a certain dollar amount. In many families they’ve eliminated gifts for all but those in their own households - after all, is it great fun to open them. Instead, they make a charitable contribution in the name of the whole family.

Next: Cards or Letters. Some have opted out of the holiday mailings, but if you haven’t, whichever you choose to send, you can make life easier for yourself by tackling the job early. Right after the holidays, update your card list (be ruthless!), then save money by buying your cards at the January sales. Begin working on your holiday letter as the newsworthy events occur. Start writing the cards and finish the holiday letter just after Thanksgiving. Sounds easy and, when you start early and stick to it, it is.

Last but not least in our hearts: Food!!  Are you still cooking the whole meal from soup to nuts? You are either a glutton for punishment or someone who really, really loves to cook. Let some of the younger generation start to hone their culinary skills. Pass the torch, and then promise to bring along your specialty: the family favorite appetizer, zesty carrots, or praline pumpkin pie. How’s that for stress-free?
Many families are choosing to have their major holiday feast cooked by others. Some have it catered and brought to the house - a great idea, but there is still the clean-up to be done. Others go all out and eat out. Many like to have a festive restaurant meal on the night before their holiday, then rest and recuperate and open some presents the next day. Many must have the main meal on the main day. Either way, you can use Google to search for restaurants in our area that will be open on the various holidays. This is the least work, the least worry all ‘round.

December is a month for all - enjoy all thirty-one days!  You can do it!        

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


A beautiful illustration by Susan Jeffers

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.   
His house is in the village though;   
He will not see me stopping here   
To watch his woods fill up with snow.   

My little horse must think it queer   
To stop without a farmhouse near   
Between the woods and frozen lake   
The darkest evening of the year.   

He gives his harness bells a shake   
To ask if there is some mistake.   
The only other sound’s the sweep   
Of easy wind and downy flake.   

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.

A poem for December, for the month of “the darkest evening of the year.” This poem is why rhyme is so deeply satisfying to me.