Tuesday, December 31, 2013

I Confess

The year is almost over —  out with the old, in with the new.  So before the clock ticks down here are the topics for posts I THOUGHT I'd write about and didn't.  They just stayed "drafts."  Some had titles some did not.  In no particular order, here are the posts that didn't get written:
  • I'd heard the columnist/commentator (in the truest sense of the word) David Brooks say that at some point in our future, my future, minorities in the United States will become the majority.  I wanted to write about —  how had demographics changed?
  • The Freemasons are the oldest and largest fraternity my father wasn't a joiner —  my father was a Mason, in fact a Grand Mason.  He wanted to be buried with his Masonic objects.  There is a story to be told.
  • A final post on television, My All-Time Favorite Series – Our World, profiling Battlestar Gallactica (2004), Homeland, and I hadn't gotten the third.
  • Being your own medical advocate because my dear colleague and friend Dr. Meg Korpi —  who has been battling cancer this past year has reminded me —  (as I well knew over the 27 months of Robin's cancer, but it's almost been a year since her passing, so I needed reminding) you must be your own medical advocate.  Meg is a believer, a wife, an aunt, a researcher, an educator, a comfort in the world and a dear friend, human being, advocate, beautiful shining light AND a fighter.  May she win this fight in 2014.
  • A look at some of the worst television we feed on as a culture and then cause the growth of more shows on
    such as — 

America's Worst Tattoos

My Crazy Obsession

Extreme Cougar Wives

My Teen Is Pregnant and So Am I

Here Comes Honey Boo Boo

  • Once there was a time BEFORE everything we ate was chemically treated.  Now, it's true that you can try to avoid chemicals by eating organic and local, but you still can’t avoid what’s coming down from the sky. As our friend  and third-generation-Iowan-farmer  Aaron says, “Water knows no state lines.”  We need to wake up.
  • I wish I knew what was fair.   I wish I could magically figure out the give and take that's mandatory — if you're going to be successful in a relationship.  I think it's really hard to always make choices that match the ebb and flow of two people who are each in their own orbit of life and yet coexisting as a couple.
  • Decades ago I did what I did this year left my full-time job to go freelance.  Back then I was young, single and fancy-free.
  • And a set of random quotes that intrigued me:

"Have your fear, don't become your fear" Rev Ed Bacon

"I love myself exactly as I am." Deepak Chopra

Truth trumps loyalty   Rushworth Kidder

"Regrets are mistakes you don't learn from..."  Analeigh contestant on ANTM 

"A love so profound that it allows us to forgive."

Can I live what I know?

  "Look for the wealth in your life...Ben Stein aug 4 on CBS Sunday Morning

"You're making a mistake."

"I'm used to them by now."  the newsroom, first episode

"You put that all together really fast." Maggie

"It's not an original story..." Mackenzie

"She's like a sophomore poli-sci major from Sarah Lawrence"

"Don't go to the well, there's no water there."  Trudi to Peter on Mad Men

and my favorite

“Children begin by loving their parents. After a time, they judge them. Rarely, if ever, do they forgive them” Oscar Wilde

Well, maybe these drafts get tossed out with "the old,"  but, when you can,  comment  on which draft I should save! 


Monday, December 23, 2013

Wishing You Every Good Thing

Dear Friends, Dear Readers,

I'm taking a break, enjoying the holidays and the turn of another year and the love of family and friends. And I hope you are doing the same wherever you may be.

If you're wishing for something to read, search the archives or the labels and find something to read about my life in publishing, about the things I collect, about the importance of character and family, or about the loss that's inevitable in all our lives.  I have my favorites, but I always wonder which post is a favorite of yours?

In the meantime, wishing you and yours every good thing... 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Facing the New Year

Clearly I've been having a problem writing.

I know why.  Partly it's the holidays and all they demand.  Partly it's a year since my sister-in-law's brain cancer took over and ended her life.  Partly it's the looming of another year gone by and another year when I've not achieved what my contemporaries (in fact a few years younger) Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates have achieved.  Yes, that's aiming a bit high but even a smidgen of their success would be huge.

It's the time of year for reflection, regrets, reassessment, and rejuvenation.

Reflection: What did I gain this year?   What did I lose?

Regrets:  Looking back what would I have done differently?

Reassessment: Moving forward what needs to change to make me and those I love happy? 

Rejuvenation:  What can I celebrate in terms of my accomplishments and how can I challenge myself to fill my soul and make my body healthy?

Am I willing to put in the time and energy to answer these questions?

Can I answer those questions?

Can you?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Every Picture Tells A Story — Don't It?

Amongst all the trees in my living room  51 of them to be exact  one wall is devoted to people  all of them close to me but none of them known to me.  I'd like to introduce you to a few of them...just one grouping of my people.

This little girl was the first to join my "family." She's standing anxiously alone in an airport with some luggage marked Canadian Pacific AIrlines (now defunct).  The wooden frame this photo is set within is delicately carved along the sides. The back is signed "Dawson '74." 

Next to join my troupe is what I think of as a mass-produced hotel art. I've always called her "Lydia."  She's very Deco and there was a similar image of a vase of flowers which I didn't purchase, having spent the royal sum of $4 for Lydia.  At the time, an $8 investment was more than I could spare for a want and not a need.  I do regret that at times.

The magnificent horn player at right is a Mirage Editions 1981 poster done by John Martinez who is famous for doing New Orleans Jazz Festival posters.  I asked my cousin Ara what instrument this guy was playing and he seemed to think it was a zurna (a conical oboe) which didn't mean much to me but was an instrument from Anatolia which encompassed the birthplace of my grandparents.  No wonder I was drawn to this image.  [I hope you will forgive the shadows and reflections in these images that cloud their actual beauty.  While I am an excellent collector, I'm no photographer.]

On the right, this grim gentleman is "Uncle Gene," a member of The Wedding Party series painted by Nan Gressman.  Part oil painting, part collage  with his newspaper shirt, pasted paper collar and tie  no one understood what I saw in this gruff portrait of an old man.  All I can say is that the blue background of this canvas is scattered with bits of tobacco embedded in the paint  and for some reason, his stern face, pronounced cheekbone, and the thought of him puffing on a pipe filled with cherry tobacco made me want to bring him home.  And bring him home I did  despite his sorry expression.

Talk about grim  these two  these two, I don't know.  I was in a local thrift store sorting through the framed pictures (always looking for wonderful frames) when I came across these two old souls.  I tried leaving them behind, said I didn't need to spend $3 on these sorry souls, even if the metal frame was old with intricate engraved designs.  The quintessential Old-World couple who immigrated to America without a sou, centesimo, quid, pfennig or penny in their pockets.  These folks look miserable!  But — but  they could be Italian, Lithuanian, Albanian, or  Armenian  what's your guess?

This work is far crisper and more toward grays and charcoals than I've been able to capture.

And that brings me to the image at top of this grouping: Untitled (Launching No. 2) by Tom Gregg.  I was single.  I had lots of discretionary income.  I loved art.  It was my first trip to Block Island and there in the Sea Breeze Gallery was a stark black and white image of two boys kneeling expectantly in the dusk (or dawn), about to launch their boat.  It reminded me of those old Polaroids with the scalloped edges.  The gallery owner told me the artist was a student at The Rhode Island School of Design.  A student!  I bought and framed his work just as I imagined.  In spite of the dark and the hush  these two boys  I sensed their hopefulness and dreams.  

Glad someone in this family is looking forward and not back. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Clock With Contempt For Time

Growing up in our kitchen there was a clock.  Everyone had a kitchen clock.  It was simple, it looked like chrome, it kept time.  

This clock, my mother's kitchen clock, would  for no reason at all  start going backwards.

See for yourself.


My mother hated that clock, felt frustrated with that clock, swore she'd get rid of that clock if it was the last thing she did. But to me it was amazing. I LOVED THAT CLOCK and begged her to keep it.

"Mommy, mommy, please!  This is a GREAT clock!  What clock did you ever see that goes backwards?  Mommy!  It's a clock that doesn't care about time!!  It's like no other clock in the world."

She just shook her head with a disgusted look on her face, unplugged it then plugged it back in (which often made it reverse direction) and left the kitchen.  And one day  when I came home from college for a holiday  the clock was gone.

Then, years later when I was finally getting married (as my Gramma would remind me) at my engagement shower I opened the last box (another from my mom) and there, nestled in pink tissue paper, was the CLOCK!  Though she was still shaking her head in disbelief that anyone could want this clock, she'd saved it for me and now it was all mine.

A clock that went backwards. How great was that?  It felt as if that clock had a personality and it was feisty.  Irreverent.  Able to go against its very purpose and show it had a mind of its own.  How often does that happen?

Our first real home, a townhouse, was the place I got to hang my beloved clock.  Upon closer inspection I realized it was only painted silver  so I repainted it to match the trim in my new kitchen, a muted teal.  I plugged it in, and then, rather anxiously, waited for the time it would go backwards, hoping for my clock to reverse direction and slowly tick, tick, tick the seconds the wrong way.  Thankfully it did. And there that clock kept time and in two houses more.  Whenever it felt like it, it went backwards.  Oddly enough, that made me happy.  And it still does.
On this Thanksgiving weekend, I am thankful to my daughter for showing her technologically-challenged mother how to embed a video!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Miss Ruby's Retirement

On the Occasion of Ruby's Retirement

I typed the text because it wasn't readable in my shot.

Well Miss Ruby, the big day is here
An event you've cherished all through the year
But when you start setting your lamp on fire,
We all think it's time for you to retire.

You've brightened our mornings with a cheery Hello,
Except when the weather threatens to snow.
And without the least hesitation
You told us all of your operation.

Through the years you have given your all
Driven some of your bosses right up the wall.
But we'll all miss your thoughtful ways,
and wish you were back in the coming days.

Ah yes, when the debits and credits don't settle
It will surely test our mettle.
And when all those reports are overdue
We will simply blame it on you.

Oh Miss Ruby if you'd only been here,
We could have dumped it on your desk to clear.
And you'd have grinned and straightened your back
And gotten it done before your mid-morning snack.

We'll miss all the flowers you'd always bring
The lovely bouquets at the first sign of Spring.
But we know that this is a SPECIAL DAY
And then there'll be no tars as we sincerely say —  

Now you can travel and garden and cook
And once in a while read a good book.
All of your friends send you love and best wishes
But please help Kermit sometime with the dishes!

Now let us be clear: I do not know Miss Ruby.  
I know nothing about her but now, I guess I know a bit about her.

She was hard-working, well-respected.
Her job had to do with numbers.  She loved flowers.
Her colleagues relied on her.  She stood her ground.
She had health issues.  She deserved her retirement.    
Apparently, she didn't care for doing dishes.

I was searching for a particular sized frame when I found this one, with its faded testament.  I wasn't crazy about the walnut but that could be changed.  The size was almost exactly right.  The green dot price tag said $2.00.  I took it home.

But when I started to dismantle the frame, I had to stop.  I felt bad.  I felt bad for Miss Ruby.  Here I was, ready to discard the culminating document of her professional life.  I  read through the lovingly hand-drawn now-faint calligraphy, tenderly composed, and delicately embellished.  How sad this honor to her ended up on my living room floor.

Who was Ruby?  Where did she work?  When did she retire?  What did she do after her party?  Why was this affectionate tribute left in a thrift store?  Was she still alive?  Would I ever know the answers to any of my questions?

It took a couple of days for me to grieve Miss Ruby's loss.  The loss that comes when one leaves one's home for a place with greater care.  The loss that comes when one leaves this world for the next. Whatever the transition, Miss Ruby no longer needed this written celebration from her colleagues.

I spray-painted the frame in a black matte finish and had my wonderful framers insert this silk-screened individual page  one-twelfth from a talented artist's rendition of the calendar.  I only bought this one page (for a dollar or two) because  for some reason  it spoke to me.  I love the way John (tiny signature-with-no-last-name upper-right of the "R" in November) made his letters with a comb-effect and the way he fashioned the zeroes.  Of all the other single pages of his calendar, only this one spoke to me  even though I have no associations with combs or November.

I love the way it came out.

I hope Miss Ruby would approve.
As the last recipient of the thanks honoring Miss Ruby, let me share my thanks for each of you...wishing all my readers a very Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Hanukkah!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Most Important Word?

" 'Freedom' is the most important word in the entire dictionary. You know about it when you lose it and then you have a completely different idea and perspective of the whole thing," said Arturo Sandoval, recent recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and Cuban jazz trumpeter who yearned for freedom from an early age. 

My father loved listening to Arturo Sandoval.  Though Middle Eastern music was his favorite, followed by the Mills Brothers and some other smoothies of the forties, late in life he discovered Sandoval and played his CDs.

Since the award, Sandoval was widely quoted about this "most important word" both in the title of the award and in the entire dictionary, and it got me to thinking.  What is the most important word to me?

Freedom is without a doubt a tremendous choice but it made me wonder, what about "love"?  Is freedom as meaningful when you're without love?  Is love enough to sustain someone when they lack freedom?  

If you ask someone in organizational development they'll say the most important word is "we" and others would say it's "why?" because it propels us.

So weigh in out there...what's the most important word to you?
HOW TO COMMENT: If you click on Comments, there should be a box to start typing...type your comment, then select and copy it in case something goes wrong! next you have a choice for Comment as: in the drop down, if you choose Name/URL, you can type just your name or initials or whatever (you don't need a URL).  Then you can choose to Preview or Publish...if you preview you can proof/edit.  When you hit Publish you need to scroll down to see the verification screen which has those wavy letters you type in..then you submit and VOILA!  

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Silk and Satin Crazy Quilt

In the 1970s, my boyfriend Andy was a good soul who was fun-loving and always looking for the next laugh while at the same time, being a worrywart  like me! So we planned this eight-day car trip driving straight through upstate New York and almost to Canada and then, just shy of the Canadian border, back down on the Vermont side to end in Connecticut to have Thanksgiving with his family. There were a great many memories from that trip   one picturesque town after another — Rhinebeck, Red Hook, Claverack, Malta, Mechanicsville, and (the mysterious sounding) Ausable Chasm.  Like me, Andy loved going in and out of every little antique shop, stopping at every yard sale, sifting through the contents of any barn with a hand-painted sign outside that said SALE.

Even though it was fraught with "incidents" (I have told you, I'm a tough customer) there were many wonderful things that I gathered along that trip, all the pieces I found during that car ride from town to town, place to place, while we drove along, playing at being married.  Filling the trunk of the car with one find after the next  including a metal shoe last similar to the one pictured here.  My grandfather was a shoemaker and the shoe would be put on the last upside down so the shoemaker could nail the nails in the sole. I had a metal last but this one was white and a child-sized last, so I was thrilled to uncover it.

It was in one of those barns that I found a pair of framed 19th century French magazine illustrations (similar to this one except they were in ornate gold frames) that I bought for my sister.  Along with that (in the attic of the barn) I also found a silk woven black & white portrait of Napoleon to add to Donna's enormous collection of all things Bonaparte.  I considered these three pieces the absolute best gifts for my sister and I couldn't wait to give them to her.  Years later when she had her things appraised, the framed pair of illustrations were valued at $500 and so was the Napoleon  a great return on the $60 I'd spent.  That night my sister called me and asked if I wanted them back!  (Sadly, years later the piece was re-appraised and the silk portrait turned out to be machine-made and was devalued.)

We'd bought a lot, time was running out and I was feeling we'd both spent more than we should.  Whenever I went on a trip like this, I'd record every penny spent in a little, tiny spiral notebook and then add it all up at the end to know what was expended.  So I knew we'd spent our money and we hadn't started back yet. Little things were starting to grate on either of us, I was starting to feel slightly uncomfortable about the upcoming holiday meeting all of Andy's family, being inspected as the possible daughter-in-law, knowing I'd bristle at having to be polite and inquiring and perhaps more than I'd want to be after this vacation.

So the ride south headed to Connecticut I was fussing about something I'd seen and left behind.  It was in a town south of Plattsburgh, maybe in Keeseville or Willsboro, but it was in a sweet shop on the first floor of someone's home where I'd found my child's shoe last.  There I'd seen and lovingly admired a magnificent crazy quilt.  I'd gotten into quilts in the early 70s and while I did have bear's claw, log cabin, sunshine and shadow, and Emma Randolph's wedding ring quilt, I had nothing as glorious as this quilt, made of silks and satins.  I couldn't get over the intricacies of this handmade quilt and the love that went into the hours and hours of stitching it required.  Who could envision such a puzzle of patterns?  Still it was $75 and too much to spend.  I rationalized that silk was a brittle fabric and this quilt had already been patched in a few places where the silk had worn away.  But now that we were driving further and further away, I couldn't stop thinking about it and talking about it.  

Crossing over into Connecticut with me still talking, Andy swerves the car off the road and to a screeching halt.

"That's it.  That's IT.  Not one more word about that quilt.  We're going back." he stated loudly and emphatically.

"WHAT?" I said looking at him like he was crazy.  "We can't go back  it's like two or three hundred miles away!  And then we have to come back!  Andy, we can't go back!"

"WE ARE GOING BACK AND GETTING THAT GODDAMNED QUILT!"  He was mad.  He was smokin' mad and it was all I could do to get him to stop from immediately driving in the opposite direction.  

I thought about my behavior and felt bad.  Tried to convince him we shouldn't got back, I'd get over it.

"NO you won't.  You'll just always remember this trip as the time you left that great quilt behind.  I'm NOT going to listen to that story my whole life.  We are GOING BACK RIGHT NOW."

"Well geez Andy, just let me call and make sure it's still there, that the place is open  it's the day before Thanksgiving, maybe they went away!" I implored him worrying that we'd drive all that way and find no one home.  Fortunately I had their card as I kept the cards from every place we'd been, in case I ever wanted to go back.  We went to a place where there was a pay phone and I made the call.  A man answered the phone.

"Well, she's not here right now.  The missus went up to Plattsburgh to see the sister but she'll be back and we'll be here.  I don't recall the quilt you're talkin' about, but no one's been here buyin' anything."

Three hours later (during the mostly silent drive) after fretting over the road map finally we pulled in to the place and I jumped out of the car, rang the bell and gratefully went inside as soon as she opened the door.

"Well hey there! I thought it might be you when my husband told me you someone called!  I thought it must be that cute little couple from New York!  Now what is it that you came back for sweetheart?" she said sweetly, in her checked dress covered in a white apron as the smell of her Thanksgiving preparations filtered through the room.

For all the incredible things I discovered on that car trip, none was more treasured than the silk and satin crazy quilt that Andy graciously bought for me and long after our lives went in separate directions, still hangs in my home to this day.


I wanted you to see the details, the beauty and variety of the stitches and the unique markings that define this quilt.  I tried to position these better but I guess they just have a mind of their own...guess they're just crazy.
Here are her initials S-A-F or is P?
Here is her ribbon: Life Member of the 

Washington County Agricultural Society 1910

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Other Side of My Father

There was something of the prankster in my father.  He wasn't fun-loving like my Uncle John but he did love to play a joke on someone.  Two pranks that have always stood out in my mind.
Not my mom's jewelry but it could be.

My mother was upstairs in her bedroom getting ready to go out with her friends  whom we all called "Aunt Alice" or "Auntie Arax" or Aunt so-and-so whether they were actual relatives or not.  When I was little, I loved watching my mother get dressed because her art deco dressing table had four drawers filled with wonders  one with gloves and more gloves  ivory kid gloves with a tiny pearl button that closed the glove at the wrist or black lace gloves that went to one's elbows; handkerchiefs and scarves in every size, color and shape   gauzy rose, emerald green sateen, or beautifully patterned turquoise,red and gold silk.  I loved to stick my hands in that drawer and feel the coolness of the fabrics, pull them out, spread them on her bedspread while she perched on an ottoman in front of the big round mirror and pulled out box after box filled with her costume jewelry and tried on various combinations of clip-on earrings and necklaces.  She'd organized her jewelry by color or type  all the pearl or green or silver ones together so when she'd picked out her outfit she could seek out just the right accessories to dress up her outfit.  My mother had a great eye, was a GREAT shopper and despite her limited budget always looked incredibly fashionable.

While she was getting dressed for a Sunday outing with "the girls,"  my father was downstairs and had commandeered my brother and few of the husbands on the block to move all the furniture out of the living room and dining room  except for the tables and lamps.

When Aunt Alice and the others arrived my mother yelled down, "I'll be ready in five minutes, sit down, make yourselves at home!"

To which my Aunt Alice called up in her soft-spoken and bewildered voice, "But Dotty  there's nowhere to sit..."

"That's ridiculous Alice," my mom called down as she finished putting on the last touches of her make-up  pursing her lips to apply her lipstick  "just push aside whatever's in your way!"

"But Dotty," Aunt Alice's voice quietly persisted, "there's really NO-WHERE to sit."

And at that my mother slammed her drawers closed and clicked down the stairs in her sling-back pumps (that perfectly matched the color of her full-skirted belted dress) to see why Alice and the others couldn't sit down in the living room.

The second she saw all her furniture missing  the couch, chairs, coffee table  she shrieked, "TOM-MEE! You get my furniture back in this living room NOW!" as my father and his accomplices laughed their heads off hiding behind kitchen doors and dining room drapes.
The Erskine's house as it looks today — minus the hedges.You 
can see (by the changed roofline) that the house was expanded.

My father's pranks were not just reserved for my mother.  He played another memorable prank on our next-door neighbor, Mr. Erskine.  Our houses were next door to each other on a dirt road with a strip of 6-foot grass from the gravel to the thick row of hedges fronting our yards and  that encasing our lawns like a thick, brushy green fence.  These hedges were only broken by the asphalt driveways that provided a place to park the family car.  Harry  hard-working, proud, stocky Irishmen  drove a gray bomb of a car that seemed to engulf him once he got behind the wheel.  

Mr. Erskine worked late, came home late and  as our street had only one streetlight  had some issues finding the opening to his driveway as things were pretty dark at our end of the block.  SO Harry Erskine came up with the ingenious idea of lining the beginning of the driveway with large boulders painted white. Now when he pulled onto our street in the dark of night he could find his driveway!  

One night, my father decided that we should move those painted rocks and see what happened.  So the guys lugged those heavy boulders behind those hedges and then later, much later, we hid behind them.  Crouched down in the stillness and black, my cheeks against the grass, peering through the under-branches of the hedges, I felt my heart thumping.  The grown-ups were talking and laughing in anticipation when finally a pair of headlights turned onto the block and slowly moved forward.  I could hear the crunch of the gravel under the tires of the lumbering car as it rolled past the driveway and then continued on, until Harry Erskine realized he'd missed his house.  As the brakes brought the car to a screeching halt, the driver's door opened, Mr. Erskine got out muttering (what I think were) profanities in his Irish accent, and everyone popped up from their hiding places, laughing at the success of the prank. 

As even Harry began smiling at the joke, the whole gaggle of neighbors congratulated my father on the success of his joke. With all the kids tumbling around on the grass among the gang of grown-ups, I felt this comforting sense of warmth and happiness surrounding me.

Now if only they could all come home with me.

It goes to show that memory is faulty/selective/flawed.  Below please find my childhood friend Marilyn's recollection of these two events.  Definitely remember what's she's added to the hedges story but am floored that I fell for the furniture "prank on the prankster"!

I remember some details a little differently.  For some reason, I remember the joke of the furniture move was to be on your father and to get him in trouble with you mother.  I remember it taking practically all of the men in the neighborhood who we knew (Mr. Sperling, Mr. Hans, Mr. Guardiano and others) to make this one happen.  The furniture was already outside in the late afternoon by the time that your father got home.  And then "he faced the music."
For the "hedges" incident, I remember us all being inside the gray Hudson returning from the drive-in movies.  I vaguely remember my father's frustration when he could not find the opening to the driveway.  What I recall is that more hedges were added, in pots, to line the driveway and have it appear as if there was no opening.  Again, it took a cast of neighborhood characters to pull this off.
I also remember several informal get togethers after these antics to laugh again and again and to share the stories.  The summer fold-up chairs would come out and various folks would share the stories over and over.

Thank you Mar for setting the record straight!!