Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I'll be home with a book, but....

Have a fun New Year's Eve, yall .... and a great new year!


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Waiting [Update]

I've written before about my friend in Israel.

A few days ago, she and a group trying to get humanitarian aid into Gaza were stuck waiting for a way in. They had supplies, including things like medicines that needed refrigeration, things that could not wait.

The blockade was lifted on Friday. Last we heard from her in email, she said: "I will be at the border here, on one side or the other, for another few days, and then I am going home. I have a couple articles to write, and a sick cat to take care of."

Then the airstrikes started.

It's not unusual for us to hear nothing from her for weeks at a time. No idea if she was actually inside Gaza, or where she was, when the rockets started falling, but if any readers are inclined toward prayers, positive energy, or anything like that, I'm sure hoping she and her group are OK. The internet is a weird, weird thing. You find yourself caring about people you never met.



In my inbox this morning (Tuesday, 12/30):

"Hello to all,

I am still at the border as things have gotten rather complicated. The humanitarian aid is being allowed in sporadically and there are complex and often confrontational negotiations involved, and that is one thing I am fairly good at."


So her group isn't in yet. I had pictured the aid groups as swarming in immediately when the ban was lifted, but it seems that it doesn't work that way. Still keeping my fingers crossed, for her work's success and for safety.

You guys are very very cool. And wow, so is she.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Christmas Wish

May the people with whom you are spending your holiday be less annoying than the people with whom I am spending my holiday.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

A conversation

Me: What's your favorite color?

Larry: Right here (points to a lovely shade of blue in a CT scan of the skull of Tutankhamen, in the current issue of Science Illustrated).

Me: Oh yeah, cobalt blue!

L: Why do you want to know?

Me: Catherine posted this husband quiz on her blog.

L: Oh. Well, let me know how I do.

Me: How you do...?

L: On the test.

Me: Oh, it's not a test of you, it's a test of me, to see how well I know you. And other general stuff, like how we met and things like that. Most of which I already answered in my post about our anniversary.

L: Like the fact that I proposed in a swamp.

Me: Hmm. It didn't ask where you proposed. I'll tell her she should add that.


I did know his love for cobalt blue. Really I did. See, he has a lot of favorite colors, depending on the item in question. Orange for cats. Crimson for the BMW Z-4 he wants. In clothing choices, he's been in a charcoal-gray phase for awhile.

The "swamp" is the wetland/tidal marsh we now live next to, though he first mentioned marriage over on the state park side of it, on the marsh walk. I like to call it proposing in a swamp.

Thing I love most about him: His compassion for any person or creature who's hurting.

His favorite music: Depending on the occasion: modern rock; '40's standards; classical trumpet; classical violin; Tchaikovsky.

His favorite food: most soups. Cream of mushroom especially.

A nickname for me? He wouldn't dare!

His age? Yes he will read this, so I wouldn't dare! 8~)

Monday, December 15, 2008

God laughs when you make a plan

I didn't dress for tree planting, and i obviously didn't provide myself with a hat or a hairband. We weren't going to do any yard work. All we were gonna do was sit out on a warm, though cloudy, afternoon and take a short teatime break.

Then, since the weather was amenable, Larry set out to do something he really had to do, something he'd warned me had to be done; cut down this tree.

It's the natural child of the local Live Oaks, and decided to plant itself right by the wall, where, as it grew, it would break the wall down. Two others did the same thing, but they were small and easy to move to better locations. This one had grown too big to transplant.

Well, I mean, no tree is too big to transplant if you have the digging and transporting ability.... OK, I have this tree problem. I'm no gardener, but I can't resist a tree. Three Charlie-Brown-type evergreens are planted at various spots around the house.

So another Christmas gift from Larry to me is to help me try to save this one. It was one Big Dig, to extract and to plant. While I started to dig it a new home, Larry managed the amazing feat of getting it out of the ground with 80-90% of its roots. We resettled it several yards away, both of us at work at the new site now, digging trenches going out 3-4 feet in several directions to accomodate the roots.

We'll keep an eye on it and help it through the transition.

I guess this favorite pair of jeans will be yard-work clothes from now on.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Christmas nostalgia

When I was in grade school, we made red and green construction paper chains at Christmastime, only a few feet long, to take home and hang on the tree.

Meanwhile Larry's family did a bigger version. His mom would set the kids to work making long chains to hang from the ceiling, corner-to-corner, with a red paper bell at the center. They'd add more rooms, and more chains over the years, till the house was festooned with them. They quit doing it in the '60's as the kids hit their teens.

This year, he came up with the idea to revive the tradition. He made a set for his parents and mailed it to them, a delightful box of nostalgia which made a big hit. Then we made our own. It's a good de-stressor activity for little patches of time between items on the to-do list. Throughout the day we'd each stop by the kitchen table periodically and add some links.

Finding those fold-out tissue paper bells was a real challenge. It seems like they used to show up everywhere ... until we wanted some! Consider this a plug for, where they carry every color, in every size, have nice prices, and fast, accurate delivery!

Total cost, with construction paper and bell - under $15.

December in SC

I wish I could prove that I took these pictures about an hour ago. But I did! I'm about as surprised as anyone. This is strange, even for coastal SC. We've had several frosts, and I had not seen a butterfly in 3-4 days. And today, there he/she was, meandering around and posing for a series of photos. How this marvel of a critter has lived through these freezing nights, I can't imagine, but I hope he (she?) made many many babies.

The sun directly on him makes him look white here,

but backlit by sunlight, he's a thing of great beauty. These yellow sulphur butterflies are common in fall -- I've always thought of them as the "September butterflies," though they're around much earlier ... and later!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

A Christmas Season Saturday

Home Depot - I love you.

Our Christmas present to ourselves is a water filtration system. I remain unapologetic about drinking bottled water but it gets expensive, so we can cut down on that -- and on hauling the heavy flats of bottles, and on Recycle bulk -- by having a working system. That's meant several trips to The Depot.

I've tolerated Larry's love for the place in the past. I have to occupy myself while he examines boxes of nails or valves or doomaflahchies, but he endures my examining every book on bookstore sale tables, and every purse in the Kohl's accessories department, so it's the least I can do.

But the Depot has won me over. Because they are not (at the moment) playing Christmas music! Yesterday we were there and, while Christmas decor is all over the place, the muzak was everyday pop. OK, I thought, I need to check it out on Saturday. But nope, they weren't playing holiday yuck today either!

My gratitude is boundless.

Next: a gripe. You will have a very very hard time convincing me that Chinese imports do a [BLEEPBLASTED] THING for the consumer. Why is a little girl's Made in China coat priced like this, and how exactly is the potential consumer benefitting? Speak not of shareholders nor of management - tell me why this quickly outgrown coat should cost working mom or dad, even if their jobs are intact, 80 dollars? And this, though it was the higher priced item (and no, not highest), was only $10 above the lower. Except for much lighter windbreakers, no truly warm girl's coat had a tag of less than $70.

Another note on the economy is the state of our shopping mall. A major tear-out of old walls and ceilings took place in 2007. Stores closed to make way for renovation work. A lovely mural of the future new and improved Inlet Square Mall was posted. Then the money ran out. The work stopped. Exposed wires and ductwork have hung there for a year. Old decorative tile was jackhammered up and has left raw concrete patches everywhere. And that was before the current financial meltdown.

I don't want our mall to expire, but it's happening to others, and with so much empty space, its financial viability is precarious. If it goes, all of us Inlet-ers have a longer drive in awful traffic to Myrtle Beach, for JC Penney, or for K-mart, both Inlet Square anchors. Our K-mart is a lifeline for local necessity shopping. Even Wal-Mart, though closer, is an unpleasant drive, plus I really hate shopping there.
On to happier thoughts - the filtration system is running! This took major plumbing work on Larry's part -- this is only the upstairs part; he had to work on basement water lines, too -- but he's built a car and a house from scratch at various times in his life, and....'s installed! It has to flush through a couple times, but we may have filtered water by tomorrow afternoon.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Domestic tranquility

So while Larry was helping me mop up the kitchen counter and floor

(Note to self: To add water to the stock pot on the stove, carry the water across the kitchen in a heavy glass measuring cup with a handle. Do not use a Dark Knight plastic cup from the convenience store)

we had the following conversation:

ME: I wish somebody would invent cooking for total incompetents.

L: You're not at all incompetent. You're a great cook. You make wonderful things.

ME: Yeah, I know that, but I can never do it without some big infuriating event happening, and going ballistic.

L: You're not incompetent. You just say you are because you hate it and that means you don't have to do it.

ME: That's a very insightful statement.


Understand, the whole "I have to do it" thing is not imposed on me by Larry or anybody else. I impose it on myself. My share of the cooking -- and he does a major amount of the domestic work around here -- could be accomplished with the small but reliable repertoire I've assembled over the years precisely to fit my abilities, with very little opportunity for disaster. One-dish meals, slow cooker stuff.

But I feel the need sometimes to push my limits and do the things I'm no good at. Why? Bleep knows. Boredom with the same 5 dishes. Bursts of Pioneer Woman Who Wastes Nothing fervor. Lingering Donna Reed Show-era damage. Or just that I hate to admit defeat. I like to think that I can do anything I put my mind to.

I'm an intelligent person. I can make a multilevel meal with a variety of tasks and timing.

Or: I can quit buying overpriced, prepared [cookies, piecrusts, whatever] and make them myself!

Or: I can make soup on the real stovetop -- all i have to do is remember to turn the heat down to "simmer" after it boils.

Yep. That's all.

Monitoring something drives me up a wall. (This also applies to recipes that cheerfully instruct me to "stir constantly until thickening occurs, 20-30 minutes." I. will. go. slowly. mad.) The boredom will either make me completely crack up, or drive me to pick up a magazine or, God forbid, a book, go online, even do laundry, just to keep my brain from shorting out and then, yep, it's time for the Brillo [TM] to get the blackened crud off the pot.

There are such things as kitchen timers. We have the technology. I have a real problem with being beeped and buzzed at. I hate being beeped or buzzed at. I hate ruining the product of all my chopping and measuring labor even more than I hate the beeper that prevents it, so my failure to set the timer is pure denial.

I don't need to subject myself to that frikkin' thing! I'll just check back in a few minutes
..... Famous last words, and a guarantee that I'll have to make a mad dash to add water before it boils away.

But a timer isn't much help for for things that need to be watched constantly or frequently, not just checked on.

This invariably leads to an event that, in turn, causes the whole "warm cozy home with delicious aromas wafting from the kitchen" scenario to collapse. Larry is instead subjected to:

"I HATE &$%#ing COOKING!"

...and has to decide whether to come closer and see if I need help, or whether this would be a good time to go downstairs and find an hour-or-longer task to do.

The whole mess is now in the slow cooker where it shoulda been all along.

Poor Larry. He didn't get Donna Reed. He didn't even get Lily Munster.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Stupid butterflies

We've had several frosts during the past week, so I was amazed to see a bunch of butterflies today. They were there, I swear it. I tried repeatedly to photograph one. It's a conspiracy. They vanish while my shutter is lagging. I was Required to stop chasing butterflies and perform a Scooter-scratching, and while I was thus preoccupied a butterfly circled my head and took off by the time I'd picked the camera back up! Little bleepers.

But all the components of yesterday's drawing are really out and about as November wanes, and the others were more cooperative:

I had to give up on the butterflies but maybe you'll settle for ladybugs. 4 of them at various spots on the porch walls, but this was the only semi-clear shot.

All photos were taken this afternoon.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

For these, and all Thy mercies

Thankful today.

Ple-e-ease blacken our Friday!

Nice big newspaper arrived this holiday morning.

Only they forgot to include .... the actual newspaper. This is all ads, except for the pre-printed "Neighbors" feature section.

I guess we'll get some news today, when they redeliver.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Track the tool bag!

Among my iGoogle gadgets, I have the one that tracks satellites. You can pick the one you want to track, and get an active map of where it is whenever you log on.

Today a new tracking option appeared -- The Tool Bag!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tough times, new methods

You'll need to click these scans, to really see them!

I've tried to strike a balance between shrinking the files to manageable size and still making them large enough to be readable, but the original magazines are huge and the pix are just plain BIG.

I had a grandiose idea a couple years ago, about doing a whole website about comic strip ads. Small though my vintage magazine collection is, there are plenty of the ads and they always make me smile. Once I had a scanner, I looked into the matter of rights and discovered that ads are a whole different ballgame from other creative works. If we win the lottery, I might take my newfound leisure time and really get serious about it, but meanwhile I've obviously given in to my desire to share a few of them here.

My vintage magazine collection is small and haphazard. The dates are unevenly distributed, with big gaps. And at least for now, I'm just posting for fun and have done no research about any of this. So they in NO way provide "proof" of anything about the history of ads, but interesting observations stand out.

Ads in the style of a comic strip really don't exist until the Depression is well underway. The biggest stack I've got is 1920's magazines, and there's not a comic strip ad in any of them.

Modern ad methods are starting to appear. I love both of these: the graceful lines and the use of white space in the Lifebuoy ad (McCalls, Aug. 1926); and in the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce ad (Time, Sept 10, 1928), the energetic, stylized, rather jagged images that make me a little antsy, as an evocation of the "impatient age" should. Cartoon drawings abound, but not strips with word balloons that tell a story.

In the early 1930's, comic-strip ads appear and then they really seem to proliferate. Through the '30's (and '40's) there are several in every magazine. My Deep Thought Of The Day is that tougher competition for customers spurs innovative advertising methods. Advertising may be an industry that's valued more than ever during hard times, and primed by the economic-stress pump.

The earliest in my collection, come from Woman's Home Companion, November 1931. Two comic strips ads nearly identical in format and page placement. Not really terribly interesting as ads go, but the form was new and different!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

A veteran's story [updated]

When we lived in New Jersey, ten years ago, Larry and I started a witers' group, and one of our members was WWII veteran David Wetherill. Dave was a wonderful man and a major asset to the group.

For this upcoming Veterans' Day, Larry has contacted David's widow and received permission to publish in his Ring of Life blog a true story that Dave wrote for his outfit's newsletter, about his quest to find out what had happened to the pilot who didn't make it home when they were shot down. It moved us deeply and you guys might like it too. You can find Part One (of 2) here, along with more about Dave. Larry will post the rest tomorrow and I will link that in an update.

And by the way, Dave and Jean's daughter is the youth novelist Susan Shaw.


And as promised, Part 2 of Dave's story, Poppy Field Found, is now up.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Shelter From The Storm

In memoriam a troubled soul, 1952-2008. One of his favorite songs. He never found it in this life and I pray he's found it now.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

All I can say is ...

...I hope she won.

"Competent" and "efficient" are very very important.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Heart gets weary

If you live in the south you fight the god damned Civil War and fight it and fight it and fight it. There's no rest for this war. And you are always on a side, because your race is assumed to correlate exactly with your stand unless you actively proclaim otherwise.

My slave-owning South Carolina ancestor came to SC with very little, started a lumber and shipbuilding business in the 1830's and began to accumulate his fortune. In 1861, a northern journalist made a tour through the Carolinas and devotes a few pages of the resulting book to him, among many others. It's still in reprint editions. I was amazed to discover that there's even a Kindle edition! It identifies G3 Grandfather only as "Captain B--" but every family member knows who it refers to and a copy of the book can be found in every senior family member's house.

The Captain was apparently an exceptionally kind master. He was both pro-slavery and a Unionist. The book quotes him as he argues with a secessionist:

"Who will do the work in your new Empire -- I do not mean the agricultural labor; you will depend for that, of course, on the blacks -- but who will run your manufactories and do your mechanical labor? The Southern gentleman would feel degraded by such occupation; and if you put the black to any work requiring intelligence, you must let him think, and when he THINKS he is free!"
My cousins have taken to renting and shooting off a bleepin' cannon on Confed'rate Holy Days. They vote for Republicans. We avoid some topics. And you might notice that in this entry I'm working to avoid searchable terms. Lily-livered, I know.

But there's a logic to people like Captain B's descendants feeling wistful about the mythical magnolia-scented Compassionate Conserv- I mean Confed'racy.

What I will never ever understand is why so many other white southerners share it.

The elite few mega-planters were happy to keep the poor whites poor and ignorant. Another big-time planter quoted in the book says: "To be candid, their presence is of use in keeping the blacks in subordination, and they are worth all they cost me because I control their votes."

The author asks him: "Build a free school at every crossroads and teach the poor whites, and what would become of slavery? If these people were on par with New England farmers, would it last an hour?"

And the planter agrees it would not: "The few cannot rule when the many know their rights. If the poor whites realized that slavery kept them poor, would they not vote it down?" and adds of schools, "Thank God they will not be there in this generation."

Slave ownership and resulting prosperity were within reach of the working farmer, early in the 19th century. G3 Grandpa got into it when it was still possible with hard work to become a "self-made man" building a slave labor force. Then as cotton plantations became the 19th century equivalent of today's sprawling mega-farms, that dream became accessible only to the wealthy. The cost of slaves skyrocketed out of most peoples' reach. Rich planters could cost effectively support a work force of hundreds of slaves, supporting the babies, the sick and the old in order to have the laborers, and did so by simple economy of provisions. A certain amount of good food and shelter kept laborers healthy enough to produce labor, but extras cut into profit.

They also hired out their slaves to others who paid the owner and still had to provision the hirelings. Small-scale farmers would have been better off paying wage labor than either paying over $1000 for one slave or hiring at whatever rate the owner charged. One guy who had to hire labor for a turpentine-gathering concern says to the author, "For my part, I'd like to see the n-----s free":

"White folks would be better off. You see, I have to feed and clothe my n-----s and pay a hundred and twenty and a hundred and fifty a year for 'em, and if the n-----s war free, they'd work for about half that."

As with many big social changes, perception lagged behind reality. The poor who had little but white pride still thought they could aspire to the same economic status as the rich guys. After all, the cotton-culture change in the economy was so recent that they knew wealthy plantation-owners who'd started out as poor as they, and thought it was still possible. Under those circumstances, the poor tend to fight for the rich folks' agenda, and share the dream of a "way of life."So it's understandable for the time.

What I don't get is their descendants romanticizing it now. Now. Today, when we supposedly know not only how vile slavery is in theory but how it kept everybody but the elite down.

I marched against the Confed'rate battle flag's presence on the SC state house in September 1994. What Captain B would have thought of this, I can't say. The book's ardent abolitionist author tells us that "Being obnoxious to the Secession leaders for his well-known Union sentiments, he was onerously assessed by them for contributions for carrying on the war," and adds that he had 5 of his ships seized by the Union. Each side penalized him for ties to the other. Two of his sons fought in gray and one died. I'm probably overidentifying, based on that sad and weary look he has in the photo, to think he felt as I do, that both sides were horrendously stupid, and none of it need have happened.

Thankfully the other son, G2 Grandpa, survived capture by the Yankees or I wouldn't be here to march and blog, and risk outraging some readers. Blacks are expected to oppose the battle flag, but I'm sure some flag-proponents would, maybe aggressively, think me a traitor to my own people. The roadside jeering when we marched was quite unsettling.

I admit I was unprepared for the strictly racial lines the issue seemed to take. Honest, I thought the march would be majority black but not that I would be one of only 5 (if I recall correctly) white people in it. I really thought it was more of a liberal/conservative divide. Boy did I learn different. When the New York Times reported on the march it identified the two sides of the flag issue as "white" and "black." Mind-bogglingly true.

Is ardor for one's Confed'rate heritage really racism covered over with blather about states' rights and economics and the Constitution? If the descendants of those whose opportunity was ruined by the slavery-based system are still calling the Confed'racy their heritage, can it be anything else?

Yet so many of my cannon-shootin' neighbors and relations are no such thing.

I have SC roots back to the bloody 17th century, I'm one of them, and I don't understand either them or the whole Confed'rate Heritage phenomenon. I do know, however, that root causes really can get lost in history.

O gawd here comes another of my Meaningful Analogies.

In elementary school we made Christmas ornaments one year, by blowing up balloons and wrapping a filigree of string around them. Then we coated the web of string with spray starch. Once the starch dried, we popped the balloons and pulled them out, leaving a lacy open sphere. Mine collapsed anyway, either portending my departure from my heritage, or proving I'm just lousy at crafts.

It's absurdly naive to think that racial identity isn't a key element in the Confed'rate heritage thing, but I know non-racist southerners, educated, friends of diversity, who cling to it. I can only think that once the arguments about states' rights and economic suppression got wrapped around the Confed'rate nostalgia, time and education could remove -- in some of us -- the racial identity component and leave the structure of legal arguments intact. That may well be the exception and not the rule.

It's difficult to determine whether a battle-flag waver is: a racist; not a racist; or infected with racism so subtle he/she isn't aware of it. The feelings are complex, built of layers and layers, old stories, old dreams of people who died 100 years ago, the grandparent you loved or feared, or both, teacher and playmates and preachers, and the person who was kind or cruel or scary to you at some forgotten moment when you were 5.

But unless the Confed'rate Heritage people really are all descended from the elite of the plantation era, then it still looks to me like descendants of 18th century French peasants pining for life under Louis XVI.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Work clothes

In 1995 I quit my library job under disagreeable circumstances, and burned a couple bridges as I left. This was during my divorce and once I moved to Wilmington, NC, I went in search of support groups and counseling, and found an absolutely delightful counselor, a Methodist minister with a weird sense of humor.

In one session I complained about one of the more trivial annoyances in my old job, the wardrobe thing. For some reason, my boss had decided that we should dress like corporate execs. Kind of. We were expected to wear a jacket over every slack-or-skirt ensemble. I've never before or since set foot in a library in which librarians dressed like the cast of Law & Order.

I thought this was absurd, but I dutifully put together a tasteful working wardrobe with jackets. In the final report that the boss wrote up on me, she wasn't content to accuse me of insubordination and similar offenses, but had to throw in a bizarre statement that I refused to dress as ordered. Considering that I'd done exactly as ordered and, in this case, had the credit card balance to prove it, I was still fuming about this as well as about other matters, some months later in the shrink's office in Wilmington.

My counselor said simply, "Why don't you send them to her?"

I gave him a confused look.

"After all," he explained, "you bought them for her. Why not send them to her?"

How I wished I'd thought of it, but it delighted me. With glee I did exactly that. I just happened to have the perfect box, one from the library's book supplier -- anyone who worked there had a garage full of Baker & Taylor boxes -- and I neatly folded most of my ensembles with their coordinated jackets, placed my 10-year county service pin on the lapel of the top one, and shipped them without explanatory enclosure or return address to my former boss. At work.

This apparently caused something of a stir. There was no doubt that I was the sender; my clothes were recognizable. I only wanted to make sure nobody could easily send it back as "refused." So the boss and some of her underlings went through the box, but found no note or explanation. A short while later a friend of mine, with whom they all knew I was still in touch, got pulled aside on a library visit and asked, sotto voce, "What do you know about the clothes??" He feigned utter confusion, then happlily told me about it.

All that for a post about cleaning out my closet. When I mailed off the Mystery Clothes box in 1995, I kept a few items I really liked, but their fashion day is too long past. The short version is that the towering plastic closet shelf was close to collapsing, and has led to a complete closet dismantling and a general cleanout of stuff I'll never wear again.

Flowery droopy skirts and long, boxy 1990 blazers. Gone.

Pleated slacks with tapered ankles - gone.

Lacy collars, 1980's L. L. Bean dress, Wednesday Addams dress? Time to go.

Elaine dress...? Well, I loved my Seinfeld dress-like-Elaine era. I confess, it stays.

I love my dumb baggy Forenza pants and there's a very nice poor girl's version of the black Princess-Di-Dancing-With-Travolta formal that I just can't part with. Most qualify more as "costumes" than as clothes now, but that's OK. They say the '80's are becoming a theme for costume parties.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Enough with the present tense

The oddest things annoy me. One is this [insert creative phrases that would ruin my cuss-o-meter score here] trend of writing novels in the present tense :

She opens the letter. The handwriting looks familiar but she cannot place it. It is unsigned. "What's that?" asks Floyd. He puts down his gun and looks over her shoulder.

I used to love Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta mysteries. But sometime in the past few years she quit writing normal and started the whole walk-through thing.

(Well, OK, I also got sick of Scarpetta pining for Benton Wesley or Wesley Benton, or whatever her dreary mopey boyfriend's name is. Even emotionally-anesthetized psychiatrist Alex Delaware and his emotionally-unavailable eternal girlfriend Robin are functional compared to that pair. But I probably would've stayed with the series just because the plots are often interesting. I still read Kellerman's novels and no matter how much Robin irritates me, Kellerman never present-tenses his books.)

Present tense has ruined for me other books that I ordinarily would love. I like historical mysteries, lapped up Instance of the Fingerpost, which dragged for some people, heard about Crimson Petal and the White and couldn't wait to read it. Then I saw it was a walk-through. I put it back and moved on.

Why am I calling present-tense novels "walk-throughs"?. Because I think I have diagnosed the origin of this virus which is now running rampant through publishing. It's rooted -- just my opinion -- in gaming. Originally, in Dungeons & Dragons player manuals, then in guides for video gamers which include blow-by-blow "walk-throughs." Present-tense fiction is not a new invention, but it has mushroomed in the past few years, or so it seems to me. Something's up. I diagnose it as an attempt to sell fiction to gamers.

I never got into video games much, though I did find Need For Speed hysterically funny. But Larry did for awhile and I therefore have read enough game walk-throughs to see the similarity :

Enter the cave. Straight ahead, you see a door. Do not open it! Dick Cheney will shoot you! Look right. You see a freezer. Open the freezer and remove banded bundles of cash. Turn around and walk toward the curtained doorway in the far wall. Six trolls come through the curtain. Quickly throw blocks of frozen cash at them and escape up the silver ladder to your left.

Publishers may be seeking novels that they think may appeal to the gaming population. That's -- I grudgingly admit -- smart. Cultivating a market that's still going to have both pulses and disposable income in 40-50 years is smart business, and might even get more young people reading books.

Anyway, dislike of present tense fiction may be a peculiarity of my own, but it irritates the bejeezus out of me, and here it came again this week. I was ordering something for Larry and had a choice between paying postage, or adding another book to get the over-$25 free shipping. Yeah, I know, like I need more books. Well, anyway, I ran across Away, by Amy Bloom. It looked tailor-made for my taste; female protagonist on a journey through 1920's America. Raunchy, some reviewers warn, but I like dirty books I don't object to explicit passages when a novel has literary merit. Then I checked the text. Present tense.

Why this annoys me so much is kind of a mystery to me. 30 years ago Ordinary People really grabbed me, and that as-it-happens structure worked like a charm. But something changed. Now I want to be told what happened after it happens. First versus third person? Don't care, like 'em both. But the tense matters.

Do I like "knowing" that the events I'm reading about, fictitious though they are, are over before the author tells me about them? Do I find some feeling of security in that?

That's not it though. I can enjoy following an as-it-happens story if it's written in past tense. There must be a literary term for that. What I mean is, each passage is written as though it just happened, but as though the next one hasn't yet. Like this:

Chapter 4

Elizabeth walked into my office and threw a pie at me today.

Chapter 5,

This morning Bingley told me that it was Elizabeth's parking space that I stole yesterday.

It really is the present tense itself that bugs me.

I'm going to order Away and give it a chance, but I still wish more reviewers would mention this tense thing while they're earnestly telling us what to expect if we buy this book. Not all books have enough searchable text to reveal it. Sheesh, doesn't everybody understand that if it's important to me then it's just plain important?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Making do in 1934

Here's one you really need to click for a larger view.

Magazines were BIG back then!

Magazine ad in the comic strip style, from Pictorial Review, August 1934, acknowledging higher prices for goods as a result of FDR's Recovery Program. Interesting use of "Okeh" instead of "Okay"!

Here's a full close-up of the magazine's advice centered at the page bottom:

Thursday, October 09, 2008

October 9, 1978, or: If It's Monday, This Must Be Stonehenge

It's rare that I'm able to document the date on which I took a picture, but in this case I had a trip diary!

(And I owe my ability to post the picture in this quality -- I took it with your basic '70's Instamatic -- to Larry who was able to make me a digital image from the original negative.)


EXPANSION posted 10/10/08:

The trip was a wonder to take, for one as provincial as I was, but very typical-tourist to tell about. Mom and I went. She'd been crossing the state of NC every week, trying to help her parents manage at home after her dad's stroke. I was between college and library school, and was due for a vacation after a year on the job answering phones at the local art museum. My brother was a senior in high school, plenty involved in his own, mostly environmentalist, activities, my grandparents were doing OK. It was a now-or-never opportunity that we had to jam into 2 weeks.

That Salisbury day trip was the most memorable single day for three reasons. One was Stonehenge, with a wonderful, druidically gloomy sky overhead (the photos are pinking-out - I need to preserve them). Recent discoveries indicate that Stonehenge wasn't really so gloomy, but I still loved the mood the stormy clouds imparted.

Second and third things that made 10/9 special were both in Salisbury Cathedral, where I got to see an official copy of the Magna Carta, and the oldest working clock in the world. That was cool!

Other highlights: Tower of London, where I was touched by Lady Jane Grey's name carved probably by her equally young (though rather whiny) husband, Guildford Dudley, while they were imprisoned for treason : a mournful little "IANE" in the stone wall. I'd played her in a one-act play during high school, and look the part too, so she always kind of intrigued me.

This rosary bead, in the British Museum, blew me away, huge for a "bead" (that photo may be enlarged a bit from life, but not a lot!) yet carved in such detail that the delicacy of the carving was breathtaking.

Harrod's. Plays. I noticed at the time that almost all the plays were of British origin but there were few musicals on and most were US imports.

We attended magnificent Sunday services in Westminster Abbey, and i remember the graves along the cloister, especially a group of monks who died of the plague in 1349. We also had trouble finding a place to eat lunch! So many places were closed on Sundays, which I found odd for a major city. Wonder if it's still that way. We ended up in, I'm not making this up, The Tennessee Pancake House.

And I learned never ever to get caught in a rain shower in Trafalgar Square without cleated shoes, because the thick layer of pigeon droppings turns into a slick more treacherous than standard mud.

Mom was an English and creative writing major, I was an aspiring writer and we did not go to Stratford-Upon-Avon! It was closed. Well, I mean, you know, not closed, but off-season, no events, tour days didn't work with our very tight schedule. "We'll just do that next time," we said, 30 years ago.

It was a fast, richly experienced couple weeks. I may eventually post more pictures but the quality is very low, and Larry, would have to spend a day working on them for me (my scanner won’t do negatives), so....eventually. And eventually I'll get one of those wonderful CoolPix thingies too.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Don't let the calendar regulate your activities!

Great example of the classic comic strip style ad. From Better Homes and Gardens magazine, April, 1937. This really is the complete ad. And two interesting things jump out at me: the product itself is not shown; nor is the pharmaceutical company named.

Bayer owns the brand now but other ads at Mum (a website full of "OMG I remember that!" moments for us females) reveal it was then offered by the General Drug Company, first as a pain reliever, then as a remedy for hiccups!

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Um ... Question!

It's not the most important Palin issue out there, but on this last night of Banned Books Week, it's worth looking at, since it's full of -- to me -- unanswered questions.

Did Sarah Palin ever ban a book? No, never. Did Palin ever even target a book and try to ban it? Why no! Certainly not!

Wait though! Just one more question ...

Did Palin fully intend to override proper book-challenge procedure, to the extent of firing a librarian who openly stated that she would prove an obstacle to such an action?

I strongly believe that Palin, or anybody, must be held innocent until proven guilty. I feel almost as strongly that heroes should get credit where it's due, and it is clear to me that the Wasilla librarian deserves credit for a bold stand. And the people of Wasilla do too, for standing up for that librarian. Democracy rocks.

I won't pretend to have all the answers, but these questions won't lie down:

Palin claims that quizzing the librarian in a town council meeting about how books could be banned was "rhetorical," and a "professional question being asked in regards to library policy." Was it?

Palin had discussed book banning with Emmons before this. Palin had also sat in council meetings as a councilwoman the year before that, when a book was challenged. She was actually quite familiar with the procedure.

Next question: Did Palin had every intention of stepping outside ethical, if not legal, boundaries as mayor and bypassing that procedure?

As mentioned above, Palin knew the book challenge procedure already. That fact, taken alone, does not mean that Palin was issuing a challenge to Emmons in the meeting. Palin had been elected with the support of local conservatives including the very conservative Assembly of God, whose members were behind the challenges to Go Ask Alice and other books. She'd naturally want to go on record with attention to their issues, which is only politics, not a step out of bounds.

But as a former librarian, I was initially baffled by Emmons' somewhat belligerent reply. I was ... um ... not known for my diplomatic skills but even I know there's a script you follow. If the council meeting was merely an on-record demonstration for the public, Emmons would have been equally savvy about that, and would normally just take her own opportunity to demonstrate that she and her staff would be responsive to patrons' concerns.

She'd say, "Of course materials may be challenged, we have a procedure that ensures all the questions are addressed, we are always willing to hear and carefully consider the concerns of community." Describe what it entails. Go home and eat all the Frusen Glädjé.

A rookie might have gotten defensive, maybe, but Emmons had been Wasilla's Librarian for 7 years, had dealt with many a local elected official, had fielded book challenges before. She was president of the state library association. She knew the political game. Why, I wondered, was Emmons so undiplomatic as to bring the drama out into the open? It only makes her look like the aggressor, it only works against her, doesn't it?

Not necessarily.

If the much-interviewed citizen, Anne Kilkenny, can be trusted to report accurately (and I accept that this is not a given, but others' actions support her version), Palin asked how she could get books banned. Via personal fiat. Emmons answered the question Palin asked.

If actual mayoral book-ban efforts were on the way, Emmons would want that out in the open before the fact. She'd have no reason to talk tough, other than the knowledge that Palin was serious about banning books and wasn't just making an "I tried!" show for her conservative constituents.

See, if you get fired, and then you say, "It's because I opposed an injustice," people get skeptical. They think, "Yeah, everybody's a victim. We don't know the real story." But if the specific nature of the conflict was public before the firing, then the reasons you're giving look a lot less like Disgruntled Employee.

Is that why Palin fired Emmons?

Go ahead, tell me that Palin fired Emmons over Other Issues. Loyalty to the administration may have been the stated reason, and in Wasilla any department head might technically work at "the pleasure of the mayor."

But a librarian serves the public directly. Other government offices certainly deal directly with the public, but they are doing it to further the town's (county's, etc.) agenda: they process business licenses, gather taxes, enforce laws. Libraries are for the people's use and pleasure, with a direct mission that makes what the individual wants or needs the end product. There's not much a library does that either supports or opposes a mayoral agenda. Well, I mean, unless that mayor wants approval-rights over the books purchased. Emmons was duty bound to protect the Constitutional rights of her readers.

Emmons had also demonstrated that she understood those rights to include questioning the propriety of a book. She was, in fact, pushing for a review board to hear book-challenges, a method that would give the citizenry, including the Assembly of God congregants, more power in book challenges than the previous method gave them.

Palin saw Emmons' strong local support and never pulled any book-bannings, which is one reason I've thought all along -- despite her fumbles during early Q&A's in her VP race -- that she's a very smart woman.

But having Palin for a boss sure sounds like one Dilbertian nightmare to me.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Where I draw the line

Despite my long dry spell in posting here, I actually have several entries in the works. I'll get them into adequate shape for posting bit by bit.

But first priority is to get out of the way something I really kind of don't want to say, but feel I have to.

It's difficult to argue with this man, after what he's given for this country. Nobody has earned the right to his opinion of the Iraq war more than this guy has, both by the sacrifice he's made and just by being there in person, which I certainly can't claim. Some of the people I admire most differ with me about it, and I do admire this young veteran. History will pronounce the final verdict on this war.

I support his, or anyone's right to think it's a necessary war.

But when he says that if you call the war a mistake, THEN you disrespect the soldiers, it crosses the line into something not even he has the right to say. Why? Because he's not disagreeing with me, he's telling me what I think -- and disagreeing with it -- and nobody gets to do that.

I will not Make Nice about this. I have high tolerance for being disagreed with, but a very low tolerance for being told what I think. I have an even lower tolerance for the venerable tactic of false correlation: If you believe X, then you are required to believe Y.

I think I can see where it comes from. There's this completely bogus idea floating around, that to oppose the war means that one holds the soldiers to be stupid. Or -- and this is outwardly "nicer" but more condescending -- that they're valiant and admirable, but naïve.

No. Nobody close to a veteran sees it that way, and that's a lot of us. You can't really be close to a combat veteran without coming to some level of understanding about the sacred trust they keep. Those soldiers, sailors and Marines are holding up their end of a trust on which the defense of a nation depends.

I happen to believe that the leaders, whose own sacred duty, as the other end of that trust, is to send people to war only in a just and necessary cause, have violated it. I happen to think that intentionally costing people their lives for dishonorable motives is despicable beyond words.

Again, history will tell whether this is such a case, but even those who think the war may be a mistake can have tremendous respect for these soldiers, for their sacrificial support of that sacred trust, a self-sacrifice that transcends the particulars of this or any war.

I think the young veteran in the video is a hero and that he personifies the best things about this country.

I believe that keeping a sacred trust is never a mistake. I believe the war is a mistake. He has every right to disagree with me, but not to tell me that I can't hold those beliefs simultaneously.

Larry (in the foxhole) in training before shipping out to Vietnam. 1968.

Used by permission.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


An email from a friend wondering how we fared during the storm awoke me to the fact that not everyone knows we're OK! Thoughtless of me to leave anyone hanging. We're fine. The damage was north, around the state border and up, and we got just a hard rain. My heart goes out to those from the Caribbean to Galveston.

The first storm prep of the season is the hardest. Now some of that work is done and won't need to be done again. The timing of that batch of storms was deeply lousy, and getting through others would be a little less difficult. If nothing else, our inland friend Leila says we can bring our 3 cats to her place if need be. Whew.

So while storm season is still with us for a couple more months, we're relaxing a little for the moment. Scooter finds all storms to be an extreme inconvenience, and to be evidence of Poor Management on the part of his slacker Hoomans. Now that we've had a few sunny days, his daily rounds are less interfered-with, so he has decided we're doing an acceptable job.

Thursday, September 04, 2008


The chores.

The stores.

We have to be ready both for going and for staying. A bad direct hit means finding shelter for us and 3 cats -- and maybe for a long time if there's damage or destruction. An indirect hit or a category 2 or 1 means .... ain't goin' nowhere. We rode out a cat 1 in 2004 and it was pretty mild.

Either way, and it took Larry to think of this, the trees around the house needed major cutbacks. It's a toss-up. They can provide cushioning from flying obejcts, but the limbs themselves, without breaking loose, can simply whip the windows hard and break them.

Plenty of water,

food that doesn't need cooking,

batteries. Stored in the pantry along with all the other junk that's in there. It's a nice little interior windowless space and we can nail it shut.

Plastic tubs for valuables. It's not enough to just stash things in them. We'll seal them.

Cat supplies.

Fresh air.
The yard as we hope it will still be when all this is done.

Town Square.

Our favorite coffee shop, Appalachian Java, just off the town square of Burnsville, NC. Up in the mountains. Where I wish we lived right now.

In a couple months we'll look back at all this and ....

Sunday, August 31, 2008

No comment

"McCain said in an interview with NBC that it was possible he would make his acceptance speech not from the convention podium but via satellite from the Gulf Coast region."

Thursday, August 28, 2008

I think it's supposed to be funnier!

Half the fun of this one is following the chain of blogs that led me to it:

First ronniecat's friend Xtreme English discovers this funny blog called Whoopee.

Then ronniecat passes it on to us.

Now Antonia, the Whoopee blogger, discovers Yearbook Yourself.

Trouble is that the picture you create is supposed to be goofier and much less like reality than this! Isn't it? Not only is one of them rather like my senior pic, but it's the one they use for the same year - 1972.

In fact, i wore glasses regularly then too, but took them off for the real photo back in '72.