Saturday, December 31, 2016


I’ve got a file full of reflection jpgs. I love being able to flip the pix onto their sides and cropping them down to just the mirror image. I get some unusual pictures, but none as unusual as the first one I ever took. What better time to post this piece than the end of the year – we’re looking back and looking forward, these pictures look sideways too. Sorta…  

This might not look too interesting this way. It's just a picture I took from the
train going from Kristianand to Stavanger in Norway.
The year was 1981

When I was putting the photo in my scrapbook, I happened to flip it on its side
do you see what I see up there at the top?  Ugly fellow. 

So this picture put me on the lookout, all these years, for great reflection pictures.  I've seen several good ones, but none that I could save until these last years when I could keep them on my PC. Here are a few more: 

Another monster - this one from the camera of Jacqueline Donnelly.
She regularly posts wonderful pictures and stories
of her regular nature treks in her
blog Saratoga Woods and Waterways (SWW)

A Colorado specter from Jeff Howe -
it's fun when a reflection has 'eyes'


interesting - another from SWW

and another from Jacqueline Donnelly, this of the Hudson River bank - 

Lots of things to think you see in this one

on and on...

Turn this sideways, and you'll realize that
this is Japan. Credit unknown.

and these two, just because I like them:

Rakotzbrucke Bridge, Kromlau, Germany
Picture from Designmilk, via Atlas Obscura

and this one I took in 1982 - I like it just because it was a wonderful place to be - at Peter Freebody's boatyard along the Thames in Maidenhead, England

Sunday, December 25, 2016

HAPPY HOLIDAYS... everyone - Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and, to one special pal of mine who was born on this day many, many years ago and is still young at heart, I wish a very Happy Birthday.

Enjoy the day everyone. Here's a toast to a happy, healthy, busy year ahead, with not too much craziness on the political front.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


The winter solstice, today, when the sun begins to shine for a longer time each day, was celebrated in almost all of the cultures of the northern hemisphere. Think of the many megalithic monuments that serve as calendars to insure the correct date of the solstice, and think of all the observation and study that went into the precise building of them. Inquiring minds wanted to know. Picture a tree growing from the base of the pagan celebrations of the winter solstice. The rites of the celebrations were many and varied and usually lasted for days. Today’s winter celebrations are branches of that same tree. They are all holidays - festivals or celebrations - rather than holy days or solemn commemorations.

It is generally agreed that Christ was born when the shepherds were abiding in the fields, watching their flocks at night, so it would have been almost any time of the year except winter.  Most likely it was the spring, but the proselytizers, the spin-doctors of the early Christian era, in an effort to attract pagans to their way of worship and thinking, cleverly placed the celebrations of their major and most attractive events to coincide with those of the solar calendar. The spring equinox became Easter, and the winter solstice Christmas.

The winter event was celebrated as Saturnalia in Rome, Yule by the Germanic people, as Lenaea, the Festival of Wild Women, in Greece, and under many other names by people such as the Druids, the Buddhists, and the natives of our own southwest. Until the more modern spin doctors of the eighteenth century elevated it again and made it more lucrative, Christmas was celebrated as a very minor holiday; Easter was the major holy day. In some places, such as Cromwell’s Puritan England of the 1700’s, the celebration of Christmas was banned. Many Christian sects still do not celebrate it.

There is more real history associated with Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, than with Christmas. Starting on 25 Kislev, a date on the Hebrew calendar, Hanukkah, in its modern spelling, is an eight day festival commemorating an event in 165 BCE. On that day, the Maccabees drove the army of Antiochus IV, king of the Syrians, from the Temple in Jerusalem. In celebration, they rededicated the Temple and lit the eternal flame. They had only one day’s supply of consecrated oil, but it lasted for the eight days it took to prepare and consecrate a new supply. This miracle became a good reason for a winter celebration, and, minor though it was then, it was a good antidote to the Greek festival celebrating Zeus. Yes, it too was a minor holiday, but in the last century it came into prominence perhaps as another antidote - this time to all the Christmas hoopla.

Most winter symbols transcend religion. Greens, especially evergreens as boughs or wreaths in the north, were always a part of the solstice celebrations. Many rural homes shared their living space with the livestock.  In many homes the windows were for light, not air, so in northern climates the unglazed windows were covered over in winter. It was customary, probably downright necessary, to bring fresh-cut evergreens into the homes to freshen the air during the winter months. Candles too are part of the winter celebrations. Whether the eight on a menorah or the multitude on a Christmas tree, real candles or electric, they represent the light and joy of the season. 

However you celebrate the coming of Winter, I wish you and your family a meaningful and happy Christmas and Hanukkah – and in many of our homes it is both.

Saturday, December 17, 2016


Here we go again - I forgot to post this yesterday. This is another piece I wrote for our community magazine.  It was published this month, along with an article and pictures on a Dickens Village collector.

Not Dickens, but a dapper Washington Irving

Yes, what the Dickens.* Many believe Charles Dickens to be the first author to celebrate Christmas in literature. Not so. Dickens credited Washington Irving. Washington Irving, who, in turn, credited another source, was born in Manhattan in 1783, the same week the American Revolution ended. We know him best for his two most famous stories, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle. What is not well known about Irving is that one of his collections, The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., the collection written around 1820 that contained The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, also contained five Christmas stories. These stories, later published separately and called Old Christmas Sketches, were the later inspiration for the Christmas festivities portrayed by Dickens in his 1843 novel A Christmas Carol. Earlier, in 1812, when revising A History of New York, Irving inserted a tale about a dream he’d had about Saint Nicholas soaring over the treetops in a flying sled. Sound a bit familiar? The dream idea, it’s said, can be found in that of Ebenezer Scrooge, and the flying wagon in “a sleigh full of toys and St. Nicholas too.”

Irving had his own inspiration from the notes he made while traveling in England and Europe for two years in the very early 1800’s. During one holiday he stayed at Aston Hall in Birmingham, England. Surely it was then he came upon The Vindication of Christmas, written in 1652, telling of the festivities and customs of the era. Irving’s Old Christmas Sketches idealized the traditions and made them popular among the new Americans who then revived many of the customs that had been forgotten over the previous two centuries. Though now part of the holidays, and introduced from Germany to England by Prince Albert in 1841, the Christmas tree didn’t make an appearance in A Christmas Carol. That work though, published the same year as the first printed Christmas card in England, did revive many other lost customs there too.

Imagine having to have a place to store all this, and having to set it all up,
and then take it all down? It's a labor of love that I wouldn't love to do.

On both sides of the Atlantic, Dickens’ works were much more widespread and popular than Irving’s. Basically, this is the reason we talk today about a Dickensian Christmas, or collect “Dickens Village” figurines. In December, we wonder as we wander through many a city or town’s creation of a Dickens Village of shops, crafts, foods and beverages. Alas, none of them are named for the American, Washington Irving.

*From The Merry Wives of Windsor, Act III, Scene II,   by William Shakespeare 

Friday, December 9, 2016


I'd never seen such a range or recycling bins.
I'm glad we aren't required to have all these in our homes. 

I had to laugh at my own thoughts this morning – I tossed a used paper towel into the trash and wondered what garbologists of the future will think of what else I’d thrown out.

I know they’ll know my name and where I lived because of the section I tore out of an unsolicited form I was sent to apply for life insurance, a credit card, cable service, or some other thing I didn’t want in the first place. I recycled the rest of the form. I’m a conscientious recycler, but every once in a while I’ll toss out something that really could have been recycled. I have a momentary pang of guilt, but just momentary. And sometimes I hear someone in the future going “tsk, tsk.” But then I tell myself that they’ll find just this one thing in there and will know from the absence of any other recyclables that I was basically a good person. Yeah, right? It beats me why I sometimes think of what the future will think of me – I’ll be dead, why do I care?! It's a waste of time and brain power.

Do any of you remember this picture?

I’ve had this picture in my head for years. I named it “Our Lady of the Toilet Seat.” Perhaps that really was her title. I vaguely remember the story, so I googled “woman with a toilet seat on her head,” and came up with the picture and an entry from Mentor’s Reader.  The Picture comes from David Macaulay’s Motel of the Mysteries. I remember reading the book, but not owning it. (We did own and have passed on down many of his wonderful books like The Way things Work, Cathedral, City, Castle, and our favorite, which we still have, Mill.*) I recall that the folks in the fictitious future didn’t know what to make of the toilet seat. I wonder what other things might pose a question for garbologists.

I say garbologists, but in fact, garbologists study today’s waste system, it’s the poor archaeologists of the future who will be dissecting and studying the trash we bury today. By then it will be routine, and I’m sure that today’s archaeologists are delighted that they don’t have to study modern garbage dumps. Modern middens usually don’t interest them. Give ‘em a random pot shard, a bronze artifact, even an old bottle, and they are content.

*As an aside, and just by coincidence, in double-checking the titles of the many Macaulay books we’ve owned, I discovered that in 2015 he published his work called Toilet: How it Works

Friday, December 2, 2016


                …and salutations!             


Here's one just out in our community magazine, held over from last year. I did use it in a blog last November, so I am cheating today. I must admit that I still like real cards - to receive and send. I make my own greeting cards, using photos like the one above that I've taken throughout the year. I enjoy planning and using just the right photo for each occasion.

Handwritten, hand-decorated greetings date back for ages. The ancient Chinese sent New Year’s greetings. Each year they had a different animal theme to work with. From medieval times on, handwritten cards like Valentines were sent in many European countries. By the Renaissance era, cards were available from the printing presses. During Victorian times the Christmas card became popular. The Victorians positively excelled at the greeting card, and inexpensive postage stamps help spread the holiday cheer. From the first British printed Christmas card in 1834 to the first electronic card in 1994, billions of printed cards wended their way around the neighborhood and around the world.

Gifts, a cake and candles aside, how do you like friends and family to help celebrate your birthday: a greeting card, a phone call, a surprise visit from a hired entertainer, or an e-mail or e-card? How do you like to send and receive December holiday greetings? Do you delight in amassing and displaying dozens of cards? Of course you delight in receiving some of the now-popular photo holiday cards, especially if they are of your grandchildren. Do you like to make and send your own creations, or send store-bought cards? Have you saved a tree and opted to email your greetings?

Even Hallmark - “When you care enough to send the very best” - has joined the ranks of Blue Mountain, American Greetings, Jacqui Lawson, and others in the field of e-cards. Yes, Hallmark. It was bound to happen. Most people, though they still prefer snail mail greetings, don’t mind e-greetings, knowing that the sender still cared enough to think of them. 
Some have opted out of the holiday mailings, but if you haven’t, whichever you choose to send, hand-made or boxed cards or annual letter, 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. If you make your own cards, the summer months spent indoors in air conditioning are the ideal time to begin creating. Begin working on your holiday letter as the newsworthy events occur. Start addressing the cards and finish the holiday letter just after Thanksgiving. Sounds easy and, when you start early and stick to it, it is.