Friday, December 29, 2017


Sharpen your pencils - it's puzzle time.

Ah, another one that didn't make the cut at the magazine. I do love being able to use the leftovers. 

Puzzles, brain teasers, have been intriguing mankind for centuries. From the Labyrinth that held the Minotaur to the word square puzzles found in Pompeii, to the modern Rubik’s Cube, puzzles take many forms. Pencil and paper puzzles are probably the most popular.

The Maze at Hampton Court.
They say if you keep on hand on the wall as you go through,
you'll eventually make your way out, but I didn't want to
venture in when we were there years ago.
Crossword puzzles have been around now for over one hundred years. Many people do them every day, many tackle only the Sunday puzzles like those in The New York Times, The Washington Post or The Los Angeles Times.

Some people would call it cheating, but when you don’t know the answer to the clue, look it up. You’d be cheating yourself if you passed up an opportunity to learn something. If you are electronically inclined, you can do the puzzles right on your PC or tablet, or do a printout from there and consult Google or Wikipedia for the answers. You can even research the history of crossword puzzles on Wikipedia. If you like to keep such things print based and hand-done, keep an atlas and dictionary handy. Let your motto be “When in doubt, check it out.”

Even if you are pretty well read and well-rounded information-wise, you may not be familiar with the answers to such clues as “Gyllenhall of Brokeback Mountain” or a “New Mexico State athlete.” So if you can’t get them by filling in the answers you do know, consult your handy-dandy references. Finishing a crossword puzzle with no errors and no spaces left blank is like giving yourself a present.

Variety is the spice of life, they say, and it also keeps senior brains in tip-top shape. Research suggests that our brains become accustomed to the ways of the various types of puzzles we do. It is a good idea to switch from crosswords to acrostics to word searches, and on more mathematical to things like Sudoku. And, of course, switch back again. There are dozens of puzzle magazines in print: magazines that feature just one type of puzzle, and magazines that include many types of puzzles between their covers.

If you are connected to the internet, the puzzle world really opens out. Free puzzles can be found at sites like,, and For about $40 a year, about 11 cents a day, you can get a subscription to the on-line puzzles from The New York Times. Their selection includes crosswords that get more and more difficult as the week goes on, acrostics, variety puzzles, Sudoku, Set!, and KenKen, and their puzzle archive goes back for years.

Don’t just sit there contemplating your navel, contemplate a new puzzle.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017


My parents on their wedding day - 1939

I always remember my mother's birthday: the day after Christmas. I once blogged about it in a little post called The Feast of Stephen. Mom would have been 100 today.
I do know that we, her children, liked to make her birthday as special as we could, especially when we came to know that when she was younger, her birthday was often brushed aside. "Oh Dorothy, you just had Christmas yesterday, you don't need anything else." Maybe not, but a cake would have been nice.
One year when I was in college, my gifting funds were low. I had money in my budget to buy her two nice things, but I knew she wanted another in Will and Ariel Durant's series, The Story of Civilization. One book, over budget, what to do? I got the book for her. I wrapped half in pink paper, the other half in red. White ribbon. She was please, and I so was I.

Again - Happy Birthday Mom, if ever you are wherever you are.

Friday, December 22, 2017


Ah, yes - another double-duty piece written for the magazine and eminently bloggable. And what would I do without Google Images? I do love this one below - Santa and all the Arctic animals - even my favorite, the sea otter.

With the worldwide spread of languages and customs through exploration, trade, and missionary work, enhanced by today’s fast communications, a good part of the world acknowledges Christmas. Those in and from the European countries and the Americas observe it as a religious holiday. Elsewhere, it is often celebrated as a day of good will and gift giving. One of the modern, ubiquitous symbols of Christmas is Santa Claus, the evolved St. Nicholas.

Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, and the rest of the squad pull Santa Claus’ sleigh as he makes his rounds on Christmas Eve here in America. Contrary to NORAD and their popular Santa Tracker,, available in many languages, or Google’s, in circling the world with presents for good boys and girls, Santa doesn’t always travel by sleigh. We have it on good authority that in Australia, because he couldn’t fit in a kangaroo’s pouch, Santa rides a camel. In Russia, he handles the reins of a troika, in Holland he rides a white horse, in Norway he might get around on snow shoes, and here in Sun City Carolina Lakes he’s been seen on a Segway.

Santa doesn’t always wear a plush, red suit and tasseled hat with white fur trim. In Mexico he might wear a big, red sombrero, in England he is often seen in green. Over his indoor clothes, in some countries he wears a long, hooded, usually-red robe. The gift-bringer in some countries isn’t always a jolly, saintly man. In Italy, the goodies are brought by La Bafana, the holiday witch dressed in black, brown, or grey peasant garb. Wee, gnome-like and likewise-dressed Julenissen or Jultomten do the honors in many Scandinavian homes. Santa is little known in Spain on Christmas – the Three Wise Men deliver gifts there on the day of the Epiphany.

In some European countries, especially the Low Countries of Holland and Belgium, and in Austria and Germany, he is dressed as the Fourth Century Greek Bishop he was. St. Nicholas, St Nicholas of Myra, patron saint of pawnbrokers, prostitutes, and sailors, among others (they all knew a good man when they saw one) was born during the Byzantine era in what is now Turkey. From his habit of giving secret gifts, it became the custom during the Middle Ages to give gifts to children on his feast day, December 6. In some northern European countries, St. Nicholas still comes, often in a big, festive parade, on his feast day. Gradually, though the centuries, the gift-giving moved its way on up to Christmas and the Epiphany.

Santa Claus in his various guises leaves gifts and goodies in wooden shoes, boots, in fancy stockings, or just plain, old socks. Any footwear will do. It may have started when children began to leave treats for Santa and the reindeer – things like a glass of eggnog and a few carrots. Today’s range of stocking-stuffers runs the gamut from the sublime to the ridiculous, from the inexpensive to Neiman-Marcus excess.

What will be in your stocking this year – candy or coal?

As the song says: "Lord won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz."
a nice, shiny, red  AMG in my stocking!

St. Nicholas has become Saint Nick, Sinter Claus, Sinterklaas, Santa Claus, or just Santa. England calls him Father Christmas, France has Père Noël, and in Russia he’s Ded Moros or Grandfather Frost. His names are legion, and they all signify the spirit of love and giving. To answer most of your questions about Christmas worldwide, spend some time at

Friday, December 15, 2017


Which one of us hasn’t had the pleasure of going to a December performance of The Nutcracker? Were you dancing in it, or were you there to see your child or grandchild, or a neighbor’s child? Or were you just there to see one of the most beloved presentations in the western world?

My oldest granddaughter, Kate, as Clara 

December, Christmas time to be exact, is the month in which the ballet’s story takes place. December, 125 years ago in December 1892, to be exact, saw the first performance of the ballet at the Mariinski Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia. Evidently, Czar Alexander III loved it, but the critics hated it. What did they know?

A lot of creativity went into that first production. It was choreographed by the noted Marius Petipa, the “Father of Russian Ballet,” many of whose works are still staged today. It was adapted for the ballet by Alexandre Dumas Père, he of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, and was based on the story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by the prolific Prussian author, composer, and artist, E.T.A. Hoffman. The music, later made into the popular suite we often hear now, was composed by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

In a nutshell, the story takes place on Christmas Eve, and the heroine, Clara, dreams that the nutcracker she was given that evening has come to life and is battling the mice who are about to eat the gingerbread soldiers.
After the Nutcracker defeats the Mouse King, he comes to life as the Prince he is, and he and Clara travel through the falling snowflakes to his kingdom. There, in the Land of Sweets, the chocolate, the coffee, the tea, and the flowers, among several others, dance for them. The Sugar Plum Fairy and her consort end the night with their dance.  

From the opening night to this one, choreographers, including Georg Balanchine and Michael Baryshnikov, have brought their own versions to the ballet stage. There have been two movie of The Nutcracker ballet, and several other movie productions have included some of the music. There are dozens of recordings of the musical suite, and many of the eight individual pieces in it are included in various other collections, especially those of Christmas music. In 1940, all eight pieces were famously animated in Walt Disney’s Fantasia.

There will be a commemorative performance of The Nutcracker this December 18, at the Mariinski Theater. You can scout for tickets and read more about the ballet and the theater at (The ‘en’ means the site is in English.) Don't you wish you could be there? I do.

Friday, December 8, 2017


Many of us have traveled extensively, some of us throughout our own vast country, others to more distant, foreign places. Every once in a while, we’ll see a piece on TV about somewhere we’ve been, and the enjoyment is ours to experience again. “Hey, we were there – right there!”  We’ll recall our rapt gazing up at Mt. Rushmore, or the Eiffel Tower, or the Taj Mahal. We’ll recall our transpacific tour by ship, a riverboat cruise down the Rhine, rafting on the Colorado, or a gondola ride in Venice. We recall wandering around a maze of streets trying to find the garage where we’d parked our car. When they say travel is broadening, they really mean it: it expands our horizons in so many ways.

It must be a wonderful experience for astronauts who’ve been there, to see the moon in videos, TV, maybe in the movies. The Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt were riding around on the moon, the last human travelers there, forty-five years ago, in December 1972. Don’t you wish you’d been there? On the moon, it’s easy to remember where you parked.

Friday, December 1, 2017


Here's another piece I wrote for our community magazine. The December issue was packed, so we chose to save this article for January. Along with it will be printed another article called "Invaders." That article is about the foreign animals and plants that have been mistakenly introduced or deliberately dumped into the Everglades ecosystem, threatening the native species. I'll run that article next month. Meanwhile...

The grackle sings of his Everglades home.
Seventy years ago this month, in a ceremony led by Harry Truman, Florida’s Everglades National Park was dedicated. One of our largest national parks, it is one of the few parks established for its great bio-diversity, rather than its scenic wonders. That same year, 1947, journalist and environmentalist Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, recognizing that great and important bio-diversity, published her definitive work, The Everglades: River of Grass, from which the area got its nickname.

Having been interested and involved in the Everglades and its future since the 1920’s, and wanting to see it become a national park, Douglas wrote: “There are no other Everglades in the world… They are unique…in the simplicity, the diversity, the related harmony of the forms of life they enclose. The miracle of light pours over the green and brown expanse of saw grass and water, shining and slow-moving below, the grass and water that is the meaning and the central fact of the Everglades of Florida.”

The Everglades system is one of storage and supply. It begins in the slightly higher, northern part of the state as streams, rivers, and lakes interact and drain. The water flows south, through the limestone formations that make up much of the state, to Lake Okeechobee. Generally, from there on further south, the water flows on the surface.

In the post-WWII housing boom, Florida was recognized as having one of the best climates in the country. The vast, almost untouched Everglades, though largely inhospitable, were enticing to real estate and agricultural developers. Even before the postwar era, few questioned the draining of the swamps for reclamation of land for agriculture. Drainage canals were dug in south Florida as early as 1882. Eventually, in the later quarter of the last century, it became increasingly evident that the unchecked development was having a damaging effect on the ecological balance of the region: an alarming decline in the water quality, an alarming increase in flooding as well as drought, and declines in several commercial areas, especially commercial fishing. Remedial measures are now being taken to bring the area back as close as possible to its pristine state.

Everglades National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site and an International Biosphere Reserve, lies in the southernmost section of the state, at the end of the Everglades system. It is home to hundreds of types of animals, birds, and plants, and is the refuge of endangered species including four species of sea turtle, the beautiful Florida panther, the unlovely West Indian manatee, and the ominous American crocodile.

Spatterdock, another native 

There are several Visitor Centers within the park, and several access points by road and water. In various places throughout park visits can paddle, pedal, or hoof it – on guided tours or on their own. Camping facilities are available both in the “Frontcountry,” near Homestead, with RVs and tents, and in the “Backcountry.” Though some are available on foot, most of these backcountry sites can be reached only by water. (These are the sites where you might want to stay if you are on a days-long canoe or kayak trip.) There are boat concessions available for coastal and bay tours, and airboat tours, exciting and not to be missed, within the River of Grass.

Begin your research at And if you go in the wetter, summer months, do not forget to pack the bug spray

Thursday, November 23, 2017


We set aside this day each year to give special thanks for all we have: our health, our homes, our friends, our family. I give thanks for my readers too. You make blogging a delight.

The other day, I read that the author Don DeLillo wrote: "Writing is a concentrated form of thinking, I don't know what I think about certain subjects, even today, until I sit down and try to write about them." Yes!
A subject will be suggested to me or will pop into mind, and I'm off to learn about it and write an essay. I love to learn and I love to sit down and write about the interesting things I discover. I give thanks for that, and I hope my interest and enthusiasm never wane.

Friday, November 17, 2017


One recent morning, as it happens every once I a while, I was standing and thinking just how much I loved my home and being here in it. Not to pat myself on the back or toot my own horn, but I like what we have as furnishings - the furniture Frank has made, the artwork and treasures we’ve collected or been given over the years, and the way it’s decorated.

I pride myself on being a minimalist. There’s room to spread out in our closets, dresser drawers, pantry, and fridge shelves. I’ve not family pictures all over the place nor too many tchotchkes to dust. But on a lark one morning, I went around and counted all the things we have hanging on the walls. There the minimalism ends. Total count, and a lot of nail holes, 232! (26 of them are needleworks made for us by someone we dearly love.) Sounds like it might be a mishmash, but it all pleases us no end.

Our house is just a suburban box on a relatively small lot, like hundreds of others in this community of “active adults.” We’ve been here ten years, and wouldn’t want to move. We’ll just age in place and enjoy all the lovely things that make our home ours.

Thursday, November 16, 2017


This morning on The Writer’s Almanac I read a quote from an author, Andrea Barrett, whose birthday is also today: “I want to tell stories about the thing I observe.” Simple as that, simple is that. It struck a note. Born on the same date, I believe she and I share an affinity for passing on what we find. I want to write my essays about the things I learn and, sometimes, the things I learn about myself. Even at the ripe old age of seventy-five, I’m still learning.

The blogger Corey Amaro posts to her Tongue in Cheek every day. Every day.  Some days, like today, she’ll post just an interesting picture. I think I might do that now from time to time. 

Saturday, November 11, 2017


Here's another article I wrote for our community magazine's current issue. I've read many complete mystery series, and none have pleased me more than those of Donna Leon and Louise Penny. I recommend them highly.

Ah, oui! Poirot en Paris

Many mystery and suspense writers invest quite a bit of time and pages in fleshing out their characters. Once established in the minds of their regular readers, they can dispense with a lot of background details. From the beginnings of these types of fiction, many of the main characters have become household names: Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Brother Cadfael, Jason Bourne, George Smiley, Kinsey Millhone, and, of course, James Bond – the list goes on. Readers become great fans of these characters, and most of them have found their way into the big-screen and TV movies.

Two newer characters that can be added to this list, movies included, are Guido Brunetti and Armand Gamache. There are now twenty-six Brunetti novels since the series began in 1992, and thirteen Gamache novels since 2005.

I had Brunetti in my head long before the series started,
and he doesn't look like this - and never as scruffy.

Donn Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti plies his trade in Venice, “La Serenissima.” From the first novel, Death at La Fenice, the opera house, to the most recent, Earthly Remains, published in April 2017, readers know that Brunetti will investigate a murder or two and, usually, some connected nefarious doings in and around the city. He’ll have the help of some on-going, memorable colleagues and characters at the Questura, the police headquarters, and he’ll invariably head home for lunch. Your mouth will water as you read what wonderful things the family is having for lunch. The dishes are so memorable that Leon gathered the recipes into A Taste of Venice: At Table with Brunetti, otherwise known as “Brunetti’s Cookbook.”

The solving of the crimes and the discovery of the several interconnected mysterious situations make for intriguing reading. While reading the books, and they can be read in almost any order, you might want to send for the handy, plastic-coated “Streetwise Venice” map from Amazon, to help you follow Brunetti around the city on foot and by water. Next time you visit there, you can book a tour of “Brunetti’s Venice.”

This is close to the Gamache in my head.

Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is headquartered at la Sûreté du Québec. While Brunetti’s only problem at headquarters is an inept, social-climbing superior, Gamache, while looking into his many cases, is also combating a few back-stabbing, scheming colleagues. His personal and professional problems are a backdrop to the case at hand. Though he travels a bit through Quebec and Montreal, most of his cases take place in and around Three Pines, a very small, mythical hamlet in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. After reading just the first novel in the series, and it is best to read them in order, most readers want to pack up and move to Three Pines. In 2015, St. Martin’s Press, Louise Penny’s publisher, printed a map of Three Pines, and several lucky readers were able to acquire one. Though, like me, they found it to be almost like the map in their heads, it was a case of “almost but not quite.” Like the personalities and quirks of the dozen or so recurring characters, the personality and quirks of Three Pines etch themselves into memory. The first book in the series is Still Life, the most recent, out this past August, is Glass Houses.

Louise Penny's publisher, St. Martin's Press, published a map of Three Pines.
I was lucky enough to receive one. 

You can always tell how widely anticipated are the novels of these two award-winning writers, by the great discounts that mount up at Amazon in preorders in advance of their next publications. The discount usually gets up to at least a third off the publisher’s cover price. Be warned though, you might be up all night: they are not “hard boiled”, neither are they your “cozy” mysteries, but the books are really “page-turners.” 

You may want to read my blog on "The Maps in Our Heads" here
or "Mapping an Authoris Landscape" here.

Friday, November 3, 2017


This article was published in this month's issue of our community magazine as part of the series "Do you remember...?" It tickles me that the latest group to form here at Sun City Carolina Lakes is the Stickball Club. 

“All grown-ups were once children – although few of them remember it.”
So wrote Antoine Saint-Exupéry, author of the classic The Little Prince, in the dedication of the book, published after his death in 1943.

Many of us seniors are at the point in our lives where we are remembering that we were once children, and we’re enjoying and relishing the memories. Not only are they wonderful topics for conversations among folks of our own age, they’re wonderful stories to pass along to our grandchildren. We can also pass on to them the stories of when their parents were children. (When their parents were young, such stories my not have been thought a wise to pass on at that particular time, or they didn’t want to hear about “when I was young,” or we simply forgot them for the moment.)

The time has come (the walrus said) for us to remember some the things of our childhood - the things you don’t often see these days. In this age of electronic babysitters, from TVs to tablets, it is often a delight to us to remember what kept us amused, passed the time, helped us learn, and made us a part of our neighborhood. We met with our friends after school, or played games like Red Light-Green Light, Red Rover or Hide and Seek in the street after supper on a summer evening when the boys and girls could get together. We were never bored, were we?

Boys’ games were usually played with some kind of ball, and varied, according by names and rules, from place to place. Guys, did you ever play stickball? A broom stick, a pinky, and a car-free street with a handy manhole cover for home base were all that you needed. You can still get a spaldeen, a pink Spalding High Bounce ball. Amazon has them for a “mere” $5.95.

It’s very rare these days, but you might still see girls at jump rope, or double-dutch (and why was it called “Dutch?”), or playing Jacks or the many versions of Hopscotch or Potsy. Are the memories flooding in? Stickball was mainly for the boys, but girls used the pinkies to play games like A My Name is Alice. Did you ever get through the alphabet on that one?

Remember when “heavy metal” meant those great steel roller skates? Do you still have your skate key?

Add to the list: Ringolevio, tag, buck-buck, hide and seek – the names for these games may vary, depending on where you lived as a child. Do you still have your marbles (no, not those marbles) even one or two?

Do you ever take your grandchildren out to a field to fly a kite? You might want to teach them how to make their own kite. There are, of course, how-to guides in the web for making kites and lots of other great things. One excellent resource, for many things both senior- and grandparent-related, is the American Grandparents Association at Another fun website is There you’ll find lists of both old and new games, and you might have an “aha moment” when you see the name of one long forgotten from childhood.

Friday, October 27, 2017


Well, they said it couldn’t be done: The Russian Revolution of 1917 in under 900 words, 900 words being the limit of what would constitute a good anniversary article for our community magazine. Well, of course it can’t. It can’t be that short and go into any detail at all, at all. But, answering the challenge from the wags at the magazine, I came up with the following piece in under 700 words. Adding more words would have just been gilding the lily. It may bore you, but it is, I think, a good “nutshell article,” designed to give you just the basics. Will you remember it? Probably not, but what the heck!

Russia - This map was a good one to pick because it appealed to me on several levels: right size for the blog, nice colors, shows the time zones, shows some of the territory gained over the years, and shows Persia.  

Russia is the largest country on earth, over six million six hundred square miles, and covers eleven time zones of the twenty-four time zones. The population is approximately 150 million, roughly half that of the United States. Its history and statistics are remarkable and impressive.

For over 900 years, since the establishment of the first cohesive territorial state, the people we now call the Russians, an amalgam or groups that included the Huns, Vikings and Varangians, Slavs, Khazars from Turkey, and traders and raiders from places like Greece, have been warring and acquiring more territory. Many have tried to conquer the Russians, but none succeeded. Many of those who tried were just absorbed into the populace and their lands added to the expanse of the conquerors’.

For all of those over 900 years, the general populace, those not of the ruling or merchant classes, were serfs. It was the social norm for the times up until serfdom began to decline in the late Middle Ages. The revolutions that began with the French Revolution were uprisings against the excesses of the upper classes and the privation of the masses: millions spent on palaces and playthings, little spent to improve the lives of the lesser mortals. The Russian Revolution was much the same.

The trigger for revolution was Russia’s engagement in the Russo-Japanese War that began in 1904. Having to do with rivalry and claims on both sides, the old adversaries had been belligerents for many years past. Over much of the same period, the late 1800’s, the Socialist movement had begun in Russia. There was unrest and uprisings, and in 1881, Tsar Alexander II was killed by revolutionaries. During the last decades of the nineteenth century, various reform measures had been introduced in answer to the uprisings, but none were very effective because few promises were kept. The astounding monetary losses in the Russo-Japanese War, as Tsar Nicholas II kept on pouring funds into the losing effort, resulted in further general privation. Again, there were reforms promised made, and some were kept, but they were too little, too late, and often revoked. The revolution that had been simmering began to build up steam.

In those later decades of the eighteenth century, Russia, its royalty closely related to the European monarchs, entered into mutual aid alliances with several countries. Though, given the impoverished state of the country, it should have remained neutral, those alliances obliged Russia to enter into the First World War. It plunged in with depleted and misappropriated funds, poor equipment, high casualties, and misguided strategy. It won a battle or two, and the allies won the war that ended in November 1918, but it was a loss as far as Russia’s people were concerned.

In late 1917, the losses provided the final momentum for the Marxists to push toward the major uprising: the October Revolution. The Tsar had abdicated earlier in the year, and an unsuccessful provisional government was formed. The Russian Revolution immediately led to the five-year Russian Civil War begun in November 1917. That war was between the anti-communist White Army, the monarchists and capitalists who were destined to be completely ousted, and the Red Army. You’d need a PhD, a score card, and a great deal of time to unravel and understand the intertwining strands of the Marxist groups, subgroups, and factions of the era.

For a blink of time in early 2018, Russia was declared a democratic federal republic. It couldn’t last. In January 1918, the All-Russian Central Executive Committee was formed. The majority were Bolsheviks, followed by the Social Revolutionaries. In essence, it was the beginning of the stand of Marxist-Leninist communism. Were the “serfs” better off then? Are they now?

Skipping over a lot of the dates and details, the Russian Revolution can be reduced to under 700 words, but this nutshell merely skims the surface. Those who do really have the time and the interest in this interesting milestone in our world’s history, can begin on line, looking up The Russian Revolution. That simple search will lead to all the little tributaries that met in the river that became the Russian Revolution and flowed on from there for decades after.

(Article word count: 698)

Friday, October 20, 2017


…Anthony Trollope and otherwise. I woke up the other morning, having just had a dream about working in a shipping office. I made a saucy remark to one of the clerks, and he smiled and fondly quipped “trollop.” I woke up wondering if the word trollop had anything to do with the writer. I know his name, but I’ve read little more than excerpts of his work.

Checking the handy-dandy Wikipedia, I realized that the author’s name is customarily spelled with an added ‘e’, though the Norse origins of the name allow for varied spellings. Trollope comes from trolls. Trollop derives, in its last permutations of another type of troll, then to trull, or lady of the evening. All of which is either very interesting to you, or will bore you to tears.

All this is by way of explaining to you how I come up with some of my essay subjects. 

Friday, October 13, 2017


Heads up all you friggatriskaidekaphobia and paraskevidekatriaphobics: it's Friday the Thirteenth, and this is an article I did up for a community magazine article and for a blog in 2012. Researching the number 13 was an interesting job. At the time I did the research I didn't recognize that there was a movie Friday the Thirteenth, made in 1980. Who knew? 

Triskaidekaphobia means fear of the number 13.  It is from the Greek: tris means 3, kai means ‘and’, deka means 10, and phobia means ‘fear’. The word was coined 100 years ago in 1911.  Frigga was the Norse goddess for whom Friday was named, so add her name to the front and it becomes fear of Friday the Thirteenth. I won’t begin to decipher the meaning of that second word; it suffices to say it means the same thing. 

In western culture, the number 13 is widely associated with bad luck. No one wants to live on 13th Avenue, or have an apartment on the 13th floor.  Hotels also eliminate the 13th floor, but the floor is really there, isn’t it?  It’s just been renumbered.  Out of sight, out of mind, I suppose. For ages the number thirteen was just one of many and had no special significance.

The superstition surrounding 13 seems to have arisen in in medieval times.  It is said that folks became aware that there were thirteen at the Last Supper, and thereafter tried to avoid thirteen - not only at a table but everywhere else.  Norsemen may tell you that when the mischievous Loki crashed the party at Valhalla to which Odin had invited eleven of his closest friends, all Niflheim (that’s Norse for hell) broke loose, resulting in the death of the beloved Baldur. Another case of thirteen at the table.

Fear of Friday the Thirteenth, that paraskevidekatriaphobia, is a newer, just as irrational fear.  Some point to the fact the Jacques de Molay and many of his fellow Knights Templar were arrested for heresy on Friday, October 13, 1307, but many other significant events, good or bad, could have taken place on other Fridays the Thirteenth.  It really seems to be a combination of fear of 13 and the fact that many people wouldn’t care to start anything on Friday.  Actually, neither would I. Not that it really matters, but starting a job on a Friday seems strange: Monday, with the whole work week ahead, seems more logical.  Folks don’t usually want to get married, start a business venture, move, start a trip, or even give birth on a Friday.  “Friday’s child is full of woe.” 

There are probably a baker’s dozen of reasons to admire the number thirteen: a baker’s dozen cookies, or loaves or biscuits, fits nicely on a baking tray.  Thirteen is a prime number, divisible only by 1 and itself.  It is also a Wilson prime and a Fibonacci number, but that’s more mathematics than we need to know right now.  There were thirteen original colonies in our United States, and thirteen stars and stripes on the flag. We’ve added a star as each state was admitted to the union, but we’d be down to pinstripes if we hadn’t kept just the original six white and seven red.

There are thirteen players on a rugby team and thirteen cards in a suit. At thirteen you become a teenager and can watch all those PG-13 movies.  Wilt Chamberlain, Shaquille O’Neal, and Dan Marino wore number 13. Alex Rodriguez, A-Rod, wore it for the Yankees. Well, that’s not quite a baker’s dozen reasons, but you get the idea.

And by the way, it might come in handy to know that for some obscure reason the first Friday the Thirteenth of the year is also observed as Blame Someone Else Day.
     Don’t look at me: I didn’t think of it.

P.S. In searching the net for pictures to go with my essay, I came upon this electronic version of an old American Express ad I cut from a magazine and stored in one of my scrap books years ago. Something about it just struck a chord in me, and I thought I'd add it here for you to see too.

That's the jockey Willie Shoemaker, 4 feet 11.5 inches tall, leaning on our No.13, Wilt the Stilt, at 7 feet, 1 inch. 

Friday, October 6, 2017


I am in the midst of writing a piece on Charles Perrault for an upcoming issue of our community magazine. It will commemorate the anniversary of Perrault’s birth. (I’ll post the finished piece to this blog on January 12, 2018, his 390th birthday.) In telling the story of this Father of the Fairy Tale, I wrote the following:

“Parents no longer tell fairy tales to entertain and enlighten their children. In this age of almost universal literacy, we’ve books and electronic devices to provide the lessons. We read to our little ones, rather than make up stories.”

That reminded me that I was a lucky child, in that I had a father who did tell me stories at bedtime. I don’t remember them exactly. There were quite a number of them, but I’ve always remembered that they were about the adventures of two children whose names were Inge and Christopher. Is it any wonder that those two names have always been special to me? I picture him sitting beside me on my bed - my earliest childhood memory. I couldn’t have a better one. 

Friday, September 29, 2017


I always thought that my reading was not well rounded because, like some of the more literary characters in the books I did read, I never could remember anything witty or apropos to throw into a conversation. I’ve never amassed a repertoire of pithy sayings from, say, the Odyssey or Finnegan’s Wake, even from Catcher in the Rye. Only recently has it occurred to me that the writers fleshing out those literary savants they’d created had time and references to make their characters widely or aptly read. The ones I admired for their bon mots were just characters – not real folks. And if there are, and there probably are, such folks floating around in the real world – and I’d guess they’d be closer to the academic world than I am – they are few and far between. Yes, most folks know a few lines or sayings from Shakespeare or the Bible, but most don’t know that they know them, if you know what I mean.

Few of the books I’ve read lent themselves to memorable catchy phrases,* but now that we are into the second century of the cinema, there are plenty of times I can quote appropriately from the movies. Frankly my dear, one could go on and on with quotes from Gone with the Wind, Dirty Harry, The Godfather, Casablanca, Star Wars, Love Story, even Blazing Saddles – though that’s more of a sound bite than a quote.                

“Round up the usual suspects.”

*With the exception of one book: Shibumi by Trevanian. I wrote about it here.

Friday, September 22, 2017


Last week, my husband wanted a cloth to use to polish something. He asked what I had that would do the job, and I joked “I’ll look in the rag bag.”  The rag bag? Well, I really don’t have one. I keep a few odd, old socks for jobs like this, but I don’t have an actual rag bag like my mother’s. It hung just inside the door down to the cellar, and all of us knew where it was when she wanted a rag. In these days of Swiffers, microfiber cloths, and shammys, rag bags are obsolete. Oh, and “shammy” reminds me that there was always a leather chamois, ready to use, by the rag bag.

Rag bags are among the things that have left the building. Taking a mental inventory of my mother’s home, I note the potato ricer and the masher, and the orange juice squeezer and the meat grinder. They can still be found, even purchased brand new, but most gals these days use an electric appliances to do the job. Speaking of electric mixers, who uses an egg beater these days? You can buy them, but unless you’re off the grid why would you want one? Me, if I’m going to beat eggs, I use a whisk.

One of my earliest memories is of my mom using a washboard. I can not, in my wildest dreams, imagine using a washboard on my sheets. Just handling all that wet fabric must have really burned up the calories and built up the arm muscles. I remember her first little washing machine, with its hose hooked up to the kitchen sink. Cute little thing – I remember it as being about the size of a three-drawer file cabinet, with a wringer on top. No more wingers either – progress is wonderful. Until the mid-fifties when we moved to a house that had a washer-dryer, mom always hung the laundry out to dry. I can still remember her wrestling the sheets into the apartment window on a freezing cold day. I don’t need one of those fancy aroma candles because I still have the scent in my head.

What else? My mind is still wandering through the house. A rug beater. Mom would throw the throw rugs over the wash line and bet them dustless. Just thinking about some of the chores she did gives me the groans. According to the time – day, week, month, and on – she had a regular job to do. Every week, I mean every week, she cleaned out the refrigerator. Me, I whisper “clean” into the fridge and call it a day.

You can go online and find all the things that are perhaps not gone for good, but gone from regular use: rotary dial phones, even land lines, clothes pins, coffee percolators, baby carriages, record players, typewriters. I won’t go on. 

Friday, September 15, 2017


Here's one I wrote that appeared in this month's issue of our community magazine. It was extremely interesting to research, and it brought back memories of the Jewish neighbors in my childhood, and all the things I'd learned and forgotten over the years.

Even though they may not celebrate them, many people are aware of Passover and Chanukah because they coincide with other religious observances in spring and winter. Where the Christian observances are usually Gregorian calendar-related, Christmas on December 25, always falling on the same date, most others, including Easter, Passover, and Chanukah are celebrated according to a lunar calendar.

Also falling according to a lunar calendar, each year in the fall, Jews around the world celebrate the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This year, Rosh Hashanah begins the Hebrew year 5778 at sundown on Wednesday, September 20. It will last through sundown on Friday, September 22, though some observe it for only one day. The New Year is celebrated at this time, in the Jewish month of Tishrei, according to the tradition that this was when God created the heavens and the earth and the Book of Life was written.

Rosh Hashanah is a formal, solemn observance during which work is prohibited. After religious services, a festive meal is served. Many people begin afresh with new clothes for the occasion, and use their finest table linens, dishes, crystal, and flatware. Only the best foods are served, including the traditional round, braided challah, and apple slices dipped in honey. The ancient Jews, who knew a lot about what could affect our health and well-being, knew that apples had healing properties - “an apple a day.” Along with them, the honey signifies the sweetness of life and the hope for a sweet year ahead.

The days of Rosh Hashanah are spent in prayer and anticipation of a new year, and are followed, in the days leading up to Yom Kippur, by a time of self-examination and repentance. As observed and manifested in the various confessional rites of many of the world’s religions, there is introspection, assumption of responsibility, shame and regret, and asking of forgiveness, leading to a promise to atone.

In Leviticus 23:27-28, we read: “the tenth day of the seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be a sacred occasion for you. You shall practice self-denial. And you shall do no work that same day because it is the Day of Atonement.”  The strong words associated with this observance: introspection, repentance, shame, regret, responsibility, self-denial, and atonement, indicate the great importance of Judaism’s holiest, most solemn day, Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur begins with fasting, after a traditional meal before sundown, when services begin on the eve (erev) before, and ends at sundown the next day. Kol Nidre, meaning “all vows” is both the title of a song or chant, and the name given to the first part of the Yom Kippur services. The presentation of the Torah scrolls is part of the traditional customs and rituals for the observance that also include prayer, preferably in congregation, solemn music, and the wearing of white as a symbol of atonement and purification.

The sound of a ram’s horn, the shofar, is heard before and throughout the High Holy Days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur. This last day, this time of atonement, this time of vowing to do better, is brought to a close with a final blast.

Friday, September 8, 2017


I had a lovely chuckle this morning. I read in The Writer’s Almanac that on this day in 1930, 3M began marketing Scotch Tape. Every once in a while, when I’m called upon to use some of my own supply of this ubiquitous tool, I’ll remember my mother telling me how, when she was in her room wrapping Christmas presents, I’d knock on the door and call out “I hear Scotch Tape!”

I was always curious to know what she was doing and how she was doing it. My sister, also curious, went even further: she’d open the wrappings and peek at the packages to try to find out who was getting what. I delight to look with my mind’s eye and see her doing that. Mom always knew. Sometimes we’d swear she had “eyes in the back of her head.”

I do love it when little things that happen bring back such wonderful memories. They certainly set the pace for a happy day.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017


My cousin reminded me that today is National Book Day. (Thanks E!) I thought it appropriate to re-post this one from March 2013. Buy or borrow, books are my delight. All these years later, I've even have given in to the Kindle way of reading, though I still prefer a book in my hands.

I don’t smoke or drink or even chew gum. My vice: I buy books. Many are worthy of any good library, many, some of you might think, are not.  Recent purchases in the former category include Jacques Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present, and the Merriam Webster New Book of Word Histories. The latter? Well, let’s just call them Fiction: Romances, Mysteries, Romance Mysteries – I’ve a long list of favorite authors.
Since 1990 when I stopped lumping in book money with the rest of our entertainment expenditures, I’ve spent just over $14,000.00 on books, many of them used. Egad! That’s a nice chunk of change.  I’m sure the lifetime total would be nicely impressive too, and I delight in every dollar’s worth.
I was reading Theodore Dalrymple’s essay Why second-hand bookshops are just my type, and I came upon the telling of a bibliomaniac whose library was sold after his death for only a third of what he’d paid for the massive collection. I sold off my college text books – about twenty years later - but I can’t imagine selling my books now. I’ve always given them away when I was finished with them. I’ve read many of my books four or five times, but usually when I’ve read a book twice – or have gotten only part way into a real dud – it goes into the bag to be taken to the library for the sale room.  Sell them? I’ve not got the time: I’m reading!
Dalrymple’s essay mourns the passing of second-hand bookshops. I’ve rarely had the pleasure of browsing in a second-hand bookshop.* I do now have the pleasure of browsing in second-hand book sites on line. My favorite is Thrift Books, and Britain’s Awesome Books is pretty well that: awesome.
Really, really esoteric volumes can sometimes be found, used, of course, at Amazon – but then, what can’t you find at Amazon?  I do browse the shelves of the sale room at the library – always going with book lists in hand to be sure I’ve not read that one before, always looking for new treasures. (And library sale rooms are great sources for children’s books. I’ve got on hand new birthday and Christmas books for my granddaughters well into 2016, but used books are great to hand out throughout the year for un-birthdays and such.) 
I don’t know if you’ll think this good or bad, but though I’ve always belonged to the library wherever we lived and occasionally do check out books, I’d really rather own a book than borrow it. If it is mine I can take as long as I want to read it: though I read many books in a week, it gives me the itch to have a time limit on my reading.  If it is mine I am happy to let it just sit in my stack of to-be-read and enjoy its being there.

In one paragraph, talking about the pleasures of finding markings and various papers and bookmarks in used books, Dalrymple says “there is no substitute for being able to hold the physical book in one’s hand.” I agree wholeheartedly – but for another reason on another plane: I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable with an electronic book. A good friend of mine has shown me the wonders of her iPad, and how she can enlarge the type, and how it remembers where she left off, and all the other delights of electronic reading. Not for me. I want to be able to flip back to that remembered reference to a certain character or place – and I remember it was on the left hand page about two inches from the bottom. Yes, there it is. I remembered the ‘landmarks’. Can’t do that with an electronic book. 
This is just a fraction of th books I once owned. I keep them
and all my litle dustables in our bedroom - this way none of it
has to be dusted very often.
I want to hold the book and not have to be too careful not to drop it in the toilet if I’m in a bathroom reading session – though there I usually read magazines. I want to refer every once in a while to the jacket’s cover picture or inside blurb and bio. I want to see my books – especially the ones I’ve kept and reread for years. Just seeing the books on the shelf gives me a fleeting remembrance of the story. I can’t get that feeling with an electronic device.

Books are neat and compact, easier to collect and store and dust (though I rarely do) than say salt and pepper shakers or automobilia. Yes, for many reasons on many levels, I’ll stick to books as my vice of choice.

*but I love pictures of them – so higgledy-piggledy, stacks and stacks.  As the bibliophile’s lament goes: So many books, so little time.