Friday, February 24, 2017


Here's another little essay with a bit of interesting history.

On February 20, we marked the 225th anniversary of President George Washington’s signing of the Postal Service Act in 1792, establishing the United States Post Office, the foundations of which were established in July 1775. Today we call it the Postal Service. Coincidentally, in August of this year we will mark the 490th anniversary of the sending of the first known letter from this side of the pond, Newfoundland to be exact, to England, from Master John Rut, mariner, to Henry III. Though there were various methods and offices to handle the mails, including having Benjamin Franklin, working from England, act as Postmaster General, not much speeded up the mail in the 265 years between those two events. There’s not much more to be found on line to say who carried the letter to Henry VIII or even how long it took to get to him, but postal service has improved over the years. It improved, certainly, with newer and faster methods of transportation and organization, but these days it’s showing definite signs of decline and disuse.

At the website, you will find this:
  “The United States Postal Service is an independent establishment of the Executive Branch of the Government of the United States and operates in a business-like way. Its mission statement can be found in Section 101(a) of Title 39 of the U.S. Code, also known as the Postal Reorganization Act: The Postal Service shall have as its basic function the obligation to provide postal services to bind the Nation together through the personal, educational, literary, and business correspondence of the people. It shall provide prompt, reliable, and efficient services to patrons in all areas and shall render postal services to all communities.”

Those are lofty ideals, but it seems to us these days that the Postal Service carries only catalogs, annual reports, fast food fliers, and miscellaneous junk mail. On line we can get email, ecards, online billing, banking, and bank statements. Just as our use of cash is declining because of the almost universal use of debit and credit cards, so too, one day there will probably be little need for a government postal service. Carriers like United Parcel Service have trucks and personnel on the roads every day, and are already picking up mail deliveries. In the name of conservation of our natural resources, perhaps our laws will one day outlaw paper catalogs and reports. Even today, most of the information in them is easily obtained on line. These days it isn’t really essential that our regular postal carriers deliver to us each day – even three times a week could suffice – but carry on they do.

Unless it is stolen or mislabeled, very little mail is undelivered these days. We Americans are fortunate in our postal service. But if you are a postal employee in far off places that consist of dozens of nameless inhabited islands or vast tracks of land, finding the proper recipient can be a trial. Now, a new London-based company has developed what3words. (see them at ) The system divides up the planet into 3x3 meter squares, roughly 10 ft. by 10ft, identifying it with a unique string of three words. For The New York Times office in Manhattan, it’s “zest.ropes.along.” For the Tonga Post headquarters, it’s “international.bashfully.placidity.” Identifiers will also come in French, German, Russian, Spanish, and many other languages. If the sender knows the recipient’s three-word address, the local postal office can deliver. (And agencies like the Red Cross will be using it to pinpoint areas in need of disaster aid.)

Did you know that what you thought was the motto of the U.S. Postal Service isn’t their official motto at all? You know the one: “Neither snow nor rain no heat nor gloom of night…” This quotation from Herodotus, this apt tribute to the postal workers, especially the wonderful ones we have delivering the mail here in SCCL, was a chance selection. It was made in 1914 by one of the architects involved, to be inscribed over the entrance to the new 8th Avenue Post Office building in New York City. The motto’s great visibility in one of the busiest areas of the city insured its connection with the postal workers from then on. 

Saturday, February 18, 2017


Breakfast as we Americans know it today might not be the same if not for J. Harvey Kellogg, born 165 years ago this month. Kellogg was not the first to have the dry cereal idea: the Native Americans introduced their breakfast of popcorn to the English colonists in the 1600s.

The Michigan-born John Harvey Kellogg was an M.D., a surgeon a well as a nutritionist, educated at New York University. Along with his younger brother, Will Keith Kellogg, a businessman and industrialist, he ran the Battle Creek Sanitarium. The sanitarium, owned by the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, was a place for patients to regain good health while learning, according to the church’s tenets, to exercise, eat, and eliminate properly.

One of the beliefs at the sanatorium was that bland foods would lower the libido. A regular staple of the breakfast meal, part of a strict vegetarian diet, was boiled grains. The story goes that one morning the wheat grains were badly overcooked. What to do? In the spirit of “waste not, want not,” the brothers decided to dry and roll out the cooked wheat to make a dough. What they got wasn’t a dough, but flakes – wheat flakes. The patients liked it. That led to making flakes of corn, and thus corn flakes, were born. Kellogg’s has become synonymous with corn flakes.

Actually, the first to market corn flakes was C. W. Post. Post had been a patient at the sanitarium, and he ‘acquired’ the process and began to make and market flaked corn as Post Toasties. A year later, Will decided to do the same, and with his brother John, founded the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company, later known as just Kellogg’s.

Oatmeal, farina, and such had always been available, but the dry cereal was less expensive and quicker to get to the breakfast table. After the advent of the corn flake, grains that were popped, pulled, puffed, or made into tiny o’s were healthier replacements for the eggs and meat, and maybe kippers if you were British, often eaten for breakfast.

For most people, on most days, breakfast, dried or frozen, now comes in a box. Dried cereal, sugared or not, is beginning to make way for new forms of ready breakfast foods that can be cooked quickly. Pop Tarts and Eggos aside, and both have been around for over fifty years, the selections have expanded to include things like breakfast burritos, filled croissants, stuffed hash browns, French toast sticks, and even steak and eggs. Corporate test kitchens are working overtime. Breakfast is an important meal, and it is becoming easier and easier to eat well while on the go.

Both John Harvey Kellogg and his brother Will died at the age of 91. They must have been eating right for all those years.

The All-American artist, Norman Rockwell, did
illustrations for the All-American breakfast.

Thursday, February 16, 2017


In the ages of man, especially in the years BCE, scientists have discovered many truths. Prior to previous beliefs, we now believe, we now know for sure, that the earth is round, that it is not the center of the universe, that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, that everything is made up of atoms and molecules, that living things carry their biological heritage in their DNA, that planes can fly and so can bees, and what goes up must come down. We thank Galileo, Newton, Crick, and so many others who used what we now call “scientific methods” for discovering these things.

We’ve come to trust the truths, confirmed again and again, that scientific methods uncover for us. Why doesn’t President Trump? Why does he doubt global warming and man’s part in it? Why does he question verified truths of various kinds? Doesn’t he believe the world is round?


Wednesday, February 15, 2017


No pencils please! We do it in ink.

I see that today is the 75th Anniversary of the New York Times Crossword Puzzle. It took them about 28 years to get on the bandwagon.
I posted this blog in December of 2013, and since that time I have begun to do the Wednesday NYT puzzle, they're getting trickier.  I still forego the Monday and Tuesday versions. And when my red ink pens ran out, I took to doing the puzzle in whatever color was at hand. I think the crosswords help keep my brain in some semblance of order.

Tomorrow is the 100th anniversary of the modern crossword puzzle. I was made aware of this last year when Slate made spoof predictions on which other publications would do articles on the anniversaries coming up in 2013.

I’ve been doing the Sunday crossword for untold years – well, ever since I could buy my own Sunday Times.  Before that time the Sunday crossword was always ‘owned’ by my mother. She and her brother were great fans.

We got the Times only on Sunday. If there were crosswords in our daily paper I don’t recall Mom doing them. She was strictly a Sunday Times fan. On serendipitous occasions I would come upon a daily Times, perhaps left behind in a Long Island Rail Road car, and over the years I came to ignore them if they were the Monday to Wednesday variety – usually too easy.

And what’s too hard? Any day’s puzzle from The Times of London – those folks went off on a tangent that my mind could never follow.

Some people would call it cheating, but when I don’t know the answer to the clue I look it up. I’d be cheating myself if I passed up an opportunity to learn something. “When in doubt check it out” is my motto.  A neighbor and I, from where we once lived, agreed that this was a good way to way to learn something new. I still keep an atlas and dictionary right by my chair – but there’s a laptop there too, so Google and Wikipedia have become my best resources.  I’m pretty well read, but I know absolutely nothing about
“Gyllenhall of Brokeback Mountain” or a “New Mexico State athlete.” So if I can’t get them by filling in the answers I do know, I consult my handy-dandy online references. 

To me, one of the great benefits of the internet is having access to the New York Times crossword puzzle.  Now I print out the Thursday through Sunday puzzles. The service costs about $40 a year, and it is well worth it to me, especially since delivery of just the Sunday paper here in South Carolina would cost over $200. Saves on paper too. Another new motto of mine: “Save a tree, read the news on line.”

My uncle did the puzzle in ink.  I remember him peering over his eye glasses at me and commenting that it was the only fair way to do it.  So, to be fair, I do it in ink too – red ink, so that I really see those mistakes. When I do finish one with no errors it’s like I’ve given myself a Christmas present.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017


We can understand the basic differences in the meanings of the title words. On some special days we celebrate: think of occasions like Christmas, Hanukah, Thanksgiving, or the Fourth of July. We commemorate, rather than celebrate, on Veterans Day or Memorial Day. The more solemn days like Yom Kippur or Easter are observances. It’s really not too clear if we celebrate or observe Halloween, but that’s another story and it depends on the age of the people you poll.

St. Valentine’s Day should fall under the category of observances. It is really just the observance of the day of the death of the saint now associated with romantic love. St. Valentine was a martyred, third century Roman who was often confused with other saintly Valentines who lived during the early centuries Anno Domini. Not much is known about any of them, but the saint who died on February 14 was singled out in the fourteenth century by one Geoffrey Chaucer. He used him in a work of fiction, Parlement of Foules, (Fowls), writing about the fictitious traditional celebration of St. Valentine’s Day as a day for lovers.
What started as fiction almost seven centuries ago has become a fact, and a lucrative, commercial one to boot. On a cold February day, one could wish that Chaucer had selected an otherwise-obscure saint who was born in the spring – maybe a day in May. You know the line from Tennyson: “In the spring, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.”  Yes, the spring would be more conducive to romance: flowers are in bloom, the birds are singing their mating songs, and every other living thing is tuned in to the beautiful weather. Birds do it, bees do it.

Christmas tinsel is hardly swept away when the stores explode with red and pink, gearing up for Valentine’s Day. Greeting cards run the gamut from packets of little cards meant for school kids to exchange (remember that?) to over-large, velvet-tufted expressions of undying love. And don’t forget the stickers. Kids love them.

There is an ever-expanding range of choices for gifts for our sweethearts, as well as an ever-expanding effort to get us to buy, buy, buy, lest we disappoint our significant other. Flowers and the traditional heart-shaped box of chocolates, and, of course, the Whitman Sampler (the caramels are mine!) have been joined by teddy bears, pajamas, and other personalized gifts. Jewelry has always been popular, and the more glitter the better. We hope money is no object. 
For us Seniors, it may all be getting to be a bit too much. We’ve heard of the couples who take themselves to the card store where each selects a card for their spouse, presents it to them, and has them read it. They exchange a hug and a kiss, and then put the cards back in the racks. Fun and inexpensive, and no tchotchke to find a home for.

The lasting legacies of the romance of Valentine’s Day are those born in mid-November, as I was.  We are all Valentine Babies.

Friday, February 10, 2017


Well, I mean,  good grief and holey socks, where did “well, I mean” spring from? On a racing news program a few days ago, an interviewer asked a race car driver what it meant to miss out on the championship. The driver began with “Well, I mean, …”  It wasn’t the first time I’d heard someone begin their answer with “Well, I mean…” He hadn’t yet said anything that needed further explanation or qualification. I’ve even heard one or two start off with “Yes, no, well I mean…” Why do so many interviewees start their reply as though they’d already given an answer?

Not every interviewee on the planet starts off with this strange qualification, but there are enough of them to notice a trend, and to have it really annoy me. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017


In a boatyard in Rapallo in 1998

in other words: eeny, meeny, miney, moe!

(It's pronounced  ahm ba ra ba, chi chi, coco, and it is fun to say!)
Eeny, meeny, miney, moe - what will you do with your day today?

Choices, choices - make good choices!

Originally, I posted this bit in July of 2014.  Just a while ago though, I surprised my younger granddaughters with this Eeny Meeny ditty that I learned long ago:

   Eeny – meeny – titsee -  teeny
   Ooo -  gah – gagh go lini
   Atch – patchi – goo go latchi
   Out goes Y – O – U!

Friday, February 3, 2017


The Cheapeake

If you want to know about a place, read a James Michener book: he did all the research for you. Among other places, in superbly crafted fiction, nonfiction, and masterful blends of both, his books can take you to

        The Caribbean
        The Chesapeake
To quote Dr. Seuss, another favorite author of mine, “Oh, the places you’ll go!”

Today is the 110th anniversary of Michener’s birth. I will celebrate appropriately by re-reading one of his many books – Hawaii, my favorite.
            Or do I like Chesapeake best?

Wednesday, February 1, 2017


Wood Street, Waltham Forest, London

Crimplene ladies sing dis song. Doo dah! Doo dah! With apologies to Stephen Foster, I can just see these to ladies breaking into song, and dancing their hearts out when they spotted Philipp Ebeling* and his camera.

The picture speaks to me of a completely different life than my own. These two ladies, curled and coiffed, properly wearing crimplene frocks and nylon tights, with their handbags and carriers, were probably on their way to the local Tesco, then on to the cafĂ© for a cuppa. It’s London. It’s England. And, though I first thought this a picture from the fifties, from the looks of the cars on the street, it’s now.

I live in what is euphemistically called an “active adult community.” We’re all over 55, and some of us are ten, twenty, even thirty years older than that minimum. While a few of us do sport canes, or walkers when we’ve just had our knees replaced, not one of us would dress the way these two ladies do. We dress more like our daughters than our grandmothers.

Different places, different customs, different expectations. Interesting.

*You can see more of Ebeling’s extraordinary work here. The picture above is from his London Ends collection.