Friday, September 21, 2012


One of my three earliest memories is of being on a train. Kennedy was killed in November 1963; we took the train to New York City the following month, and in January 1964 my my little sister was born.

I remember my mother crying when Kennedy was shot. For years, I held the memory of our house and that moment very clear in my mind, but once I actually spoke about it and described the event, the clarity was gone.

I remember my sister coming home from the hospital in a big bassinet and her accoutrements taking up the whole back seat of our car. I sat with my legs pulled up, scrunched in the corner near the window, wondering about this teeny tiny baby who later became my very best friend.

My first ride on a train was a bit scary ... the gaps between the cars were huge and I was upset over having lost a toy that turned up later left at home.

I am on a train now, many years later, headed for Lynchburg, Virginia, to discuss my family history with my mother and her cousin.

In the early 1980s I visited my grandmother in Franklin, Tennessee, and attended a Cousins Luncheon, as she called it. I was in my early 20s and the guests were much older, some of them in their 80s. I collected all of their documentation and information the best I could. Over the years, my ability to research has accelerated tremendously. No longer do I have to write letters to court houses, pay people to pull and copy records, and then wait several weeks for them to confirm that X married X in the small town of X. One small piece of information that I can now save to my desktop in a split second. I can reconstruct towns and neighborhoods late at night, in my pajamas, when all of the libraries are closed.

I am now considered my family's historian. I am proud of that role, even if I am overwhelmed by the amount of information I have and the disorganized manner in which I file it.

I don't have any children. It just happened that way but if I can leave behind my family's story, I will have done something significant with my life and something that honors all of those who came before me and those who are here with me now. We are a great story even if we are an ordinary one.

Ultimately, we are nothing more than a memory and a few lines in a historical document hidden away in a dusty basement or stored away on some forgotten file that can no longer be opened. I hope to preserve as many memories as I can for as long as possible.

Friday, August 24, 2012

All Windows Open (2012)

"All Windows Open" is a recently published book that includes a namesake novella and a collection of short stories each running about 10 pages long. To summarize the group would be to say that they all deal with longing, lust, and desire, sometimes fulfilled, often times not.

The novella is dual narrated by lovesick Chrissie and the widow Magda who knows everyone's secrets, both those spoken and those surmised. The author Hariklia Heristanidis has created a genuine neighborhood of people who interact in a tightly knit, sometimes oppressive, but always caring fashion. To say anything more about the plot would be to spoil the surprises and humor that follow.

My biggest compliment is that the story is thoughtful and well considered. Random events and comments come full circle and build character or have meaning later in the story.

The book arrived in the mail late last night and I finished all of the stories this morning with coffee. A very good read and a highly recommended book.

To find on Amazon: All Windows Open: and Other Stories

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

I Am Gabriella (1955)

From the book cover: Karen hadn't seen her cousin in years, and when they finally met in Paris, she sensed something was wrong. This wasn't the girl she had known as a child. And then she (the cousin) disappeared ...

In an isolated chateau with a strange old woman and an evil-faced man, Karen found the missing girl. But she (the missing girl) kept insisting, I am Gabriella! I am Gabriella!"

Karen's cousin's name was Maxine. Who was this girl with Maxine's face? And why was she so afraid to admit her true identity? Was it because the man who had murdered to keep them apart as children had returned ... intent to kill again to keep the truth from coming out?

Okay ...

Written in the 1950s by an author of romantic suspense and advertised as a gothic, this book is actually a detective story along the lines of Tommy and Tuppence or Nick and Nora Charles. Anne Maybury's Nick and Karen Arnold actually work together to solve the mystery of the missing girl. There's an old house and some intrigue, but not much else is happening in this story other than a lot of cigarette smoking.

This detective duo is a great departure from the usual set up where the young bride is concerned that her husband might be trying to murder her, although marital distrust is what we have come to expect and love about this genre.

Hmmm ...

I am not sure what the cover summary means when it refers to the person who murdered to keep the girls apart as children? Whatever event orphaned the two girls as children and brought them together as cousins later on played no part in the overall story and was never even suggested as a potential reason for the identity conflict. We can just file this away as cover text "poorly written and completely irrelevant to the story."

To find this book on Amazon: I Am Gabriella.

Everyday Life in Early America (1989)

I've been reading non-fiction for a change, and chose this book in an attempt to further my family history knowledge. (More about that in a different post.)

David Freeman Hawke's "Everyday Life in Early America" gets high marks for readability but I'm left merely with an impression of the times and no hard solid facts or information.

When the English arrived in America, the goal of the crown was to supplement the economic needs of a home country even if the land and settler's needs didn not support it. After an initial attempt (as would seem natural) to replicate the world they left behind, the settlers adjusted their buildings, diet, and practices to fit a new environment and emerged as Americans.

While this book was a breeze to read, it's not memorable and I'm not sure I really learned anything significant. More interesting and useful was "The Planters of Colonial Virginia" to be discussed next.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

My Balcony Garden

Almost ripe.
Salsa anyone?
Yes, I'm a farmer.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Literature in the 1930s

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather (American)

Peril at End House by Agatha Christie (British)

The Siamese Twin Mystery by Ellery Queen (American)

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald (American)
Appointment in Samarra by John O'Hara (American)

The Saint in New York by Leslie Charteris (British)

Absalom, Abalom! by William Faulkner (American)
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (American)

Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen (Danish)
Nancy Drew: The Whispering Statue

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (British)

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (American)
Khufu's Wisdom by Naguib Mahfouz (Egyptian)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Ride a White Dolphin (1971)

From the book cover: Leonie Thorburn is asked by her handsome, seemingly devoted husband to stay with his aunt in Venice while he is on a mysterious business assignment. Once in the magnificent city, Leonie finds herself the victim of several strange accidents, near-misses whose seriousness only she understands. A blessed old church becomes a trap; a celebration on the Grand Canal a scene of terror; a rendezvous with her husband, an encounter with death.

I love these books, mostly because they remind me of my childhood in the 1970s when they were immensely popular and my mom, aunt, and I read them constantly. We called them gothic novels, with Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca being the proto-type, not knowing anything about the deeper, more literary, roots of the genre by the same name.

Ride a White Dolphin is more accurately categorized as a romantic suspense, where readers can expect a central love story, a happy ending, and some, if not all, of the following:
  • An old house with a long history and secret passageways;
  • A narrator who is ordinary and insignificant (a la Jane Eyre);
  • A secretive husband whose trust is called into question;
  • An alternative male who provides support and friendship;
  • A sophisticated female who is in competition for the husband and has superior beauty and status.
Anne Maybury considered her novels atmospheric and that characteristic alone is precisely what makes her books, a quick diversion, still readable today. Dolphin is set in Venice. The author has an artistic appreciation for the visual world and the talent to weave a feeling of place into her text.

Dolphin is also interesting from a historical perspective. In the 1970s, as women's liberation took root, these books were being produced en mass for female readers. Leonie says the following:

"I had known for a long time before I left college the kind of work I wanted to do. The huge chemical and scientific industries drew me like a magnet."

Yes, Leonie works but she quits her job when her husband's position takes them from London to Venice. She is upset that she was not consulted prior to his having agreed to their relocation. She be-moans the fact that her job history is being damaged by her frequent starts and stops of positions, a common problem for women and complaints about which were coming to the forefront when the book was published.

During the rest of the novel, though, Leonie has zero interest in anything remotely scientific. She buys fashion magazines, takes painting lessons, and tries to hold on to her man. Everyone treats her like a child and she resents it.

Leonie is described as being much younger than her husband but at age 25 with her mate nearing 30, the gap is not that great. Rorke is clearly more mature, often dismissive, and frequently condescending. Leonie is small and not taken seriously. I wonder if the narrator's personality changes as Anne Maybury writes during the mid-to-late 1970s? Something to consider and find out.

And I'll bet, as the reading public began to reject female weakness, the genre faded away, not because the books were overlooked but because the convention no longer worked. 

The majority of these "gothic novels" are no longer in print and are available only through second-hand book shops but there's quite a following and appreciation for the genre. To find on Amazon: Ride a White Dolphin

Caution: You're About to Be Prolerized!

This book is about the life of Sam Proler, a self-made millionaire who earned his income through junk and the invention of the Prolerizer, a contraption that reduces steel to small moveable pieces.

"Invented in the late 1950s ... the Prolerizer redefined the entire metals recycling process. Its ability to transform very large metal objects into small balls of steel marked the beginning of a recycling revolution. The Prolerizer was able to pulverize objects as large as pickup trucks or commercial refrigerators, making it standard equipment for any medium- to large-sized yard."

Sam was born in a cold-water flat, the son of Lithuanian immigrants. As a youth, he moved to from Lancaster, Pennsylvania to Houston, Texas and the rest is junk-metal history.

Why did I read this book? Sam Proler's dad is my great-grandmother's brother. I don't know Sam personally but I have a better understanding of my past as a result of his book. Family members describe him as young at heart, generous with his money, and a loving father. My only disappointment is that he didn't treat his brothers with a little more respect in his memoirs.

For more info, go to Proler Steel International, or to find on amazon: Caution: You're About To Be Prolerized

The Mystery of the Blue Train (1928)

From the Harper Collins website:

"When the luxurious Blue Train arrives at Nice, a guard attempts to wake serene Ruth Kettering from her slumbers. But she will never wake again -- for a heavy blow has killed her, disfiguring her features almost beyond recognition. What is more, her precious rubies are missing."

Yes! What a great setting for a little elegance and intrigue, but all I got was "oh, blah, who cares."

One reason for my less-than-favorable review is that "The Mystery of the Blue Train" is told in the third person and I much prefer Hastings as the narrator.

The Sherlock Holmes/side kick relationship works well with Hercule Poirot. It's a pleasure to read all of the small games Captain Hastings plays with the great detective, trying to prove himself as an equal.

On the bright side, however, I love the melodramatic book cover and am happy to post it here for my "books read" record.

To find on amazon: The Mystery of the Blue Train: A Hercule Poirot Mystery (Hercule Poirot Mysteries)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Peril at End House (1932)

From the Harper Collins website:

"Nick Buckley was an unusual name for a pretty young woman. But then she had led an unusual life. First, on a treacherous Cornish hillside, the brakes on her car failed. Then on a coastal path, a falling boulder missed her by inches. Later, an oil painting fell and almost crushed her in bed."

The Times Literary Supplement says "the actual solution is quite unusually ingenious." SPOILER ALERT! And they are right! The murderer is Nick herself, the very same person Poiret is trying to protect! And, naturally, she isn't trying to kill herself but someone with her same name in order to gain their inheritance.

I guessed it ... well in advance and believe Agatha Christie wants us to arrive at the solution long before it becomes officially known, making the conclusion that much more satisfying to her readers.

How does she do it? In this novel, it was an over-exaggeration of drama. Nick reacted just a little too much over the top and I said to myself, that doesn't sit right. Place that along side Christie's references to plays and theatre, and it's the only solution. Nick must be acting a part ... and so she was.

Great fun to read. You can also view the made-for-TV version in seven parts on youtube. Visually very satisfying.

To find on amazon: Peril at End House: A Hercule Poirot Mystery (Hercule Poirot Mysteries)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Art Nouveau Building Front

I found a new blog yesterday and through it this photo. Beautifully creative, IMO.

What do you think? Do you like it?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Design Is A Job (2012)

Hello .... and how are ya? I just finished reading "Design is a Job" by Mike Monteiro, #7 in a series called "A Book Apart." If I had to sum it up in just a few words, I'd say the book is about a few basic truths, all centered around the idea of R-E-S-P-E-C-T, including perhaps a side message about the value of lunch. So, here goes ...

1. Respect your clients. You need them. Without them, you don't have work. Help your client communicate their needs and do not mock them ... but if you do - mock them - make sure you are out the door, down the hall, in your car, and over the bridge before you do. Makes sense.

2. Respect yourself, your time, and your process. Stick with it. Go with your gut. If someone isn't going to be a good fit for you or your company, refer them to someone else. Determine who's making the decisions and include them in the conversation at the beginning. Get comfortable talking about money. Make sure it's there. Know how it's controlled. Invoice often and at concrete milestones. Have a good lawyer who will stand behind your well-written contract and pull you out of the fire if necessary.

3. Respect other designers. Swallow your pride if you are an in-house designer and an outside source is brought in to do your work. OK, this coming from the perspective of the author who is big enough, well-known enough, and respected enough to have his book's foreword written by Erik Spiekermann, but it's a good point. Who understands what you do better than someone else doing the same thing? and why not help your brother succeed? We should all act like bus drivers and protect our own (read the book if you want to understand that reference).

In addition, Mike respects his lawyer, his kid, probably Aretha Franklin, everyone in accounts payable, his business partner, and his baby mama, who probably isn't his love partner, but apparently not vice presidents. Go figure.

Mike's got a smart-ass style of writing. It took me a good 25 pages to warm up to him but when I did, I found myself laughing out loud. "Design is a Job" is applicable to anyone in business and, bottom line, when you finish the book you feel good about about yourself.

To find on amazon: Design Is a Job

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Orange Line: Court House (Farmers Market)

An orange line treat: the Arlington Farmers Market. I've been going every Saturday morning since early February and this is the first new-to-me crop: Brussels sprouts!

This afternoon, I'll reference the Chez Panisse Vegetables cookbook and will let you know how they turn out. And later on today, I've roped Eric into watching Ingredients, a documentary about the slow food movement in America.

My idea of a good weekend.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

High Fashion!

It's been a while since I've posted an inspiration photo. What's so special about this one? The orange and blue, of course. The light coming in through the door and making the room glow and shine and gloss on the floor ... but what's especially important about this photo is the wrecked upholstery on the divan. Cat owners will understand. Let's make their destruction our high fashion! Much easier than replacing all of our furniture every third year of so.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Resolution #3: Santiago de Compostela

This isn't a resolution as much as it's an online commitment, and it's definitely a commitment that will not happen this year.

But, next year, in 2013, I want to walk el camino to Santiago de Compostela and I will probably take the French route since it seems to be the most travelled and best marked.

For some reason, this pilgrimage appealed to me back in grade school and the possibility of following a 1,000-year tradition keeps coming back to me, time and time again.

When I was in Spain years back, I noticed the huge jubilee poster right outside my window (here) and I mentioned my desire to take the trip (here) in one of those tag meme things we do online. I downloaded "Spain ... On the Road Again" with Gwyneth Paltrow and Mario Batali, and there they are in Galicia talking about the walk. I red-boxed (new verb) "The Way" and it was this great hippie thing with good music and personality. I found a Facebook page and a forum. It's got to happen to me. I've reached that age when time doesn't feel open ended and good health can't be taken for granted. One month, northern Spain, with a backpack, a scallop shell, and a destination. 2013. God willing.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Simons

These are the Simons: my great-grandfather Harry with his wife, Rebecca and their two children, Abe and Bernice (my grandmother).

Harry was born in Minsk and emigrated to the United States in 1904. He owned a variety of businesses in New York City's lower east side, a grocery store, a restaurant on Hudson Street and a junk store over at 84 New Chamber Street.

I've been told Rebecca was intelligent, favored the vote, and died during the Spanish influenza epidemic in 1918. Harry married twice more, but I have to think - looking at this photo - that he must have loved his first wife best.

Abe became an electrician, joined the union, and moved from Manhattan to the Bronx. His sister, Bernice, married young, travelled the world, and is profiled here.

The photographer's mark is that of L. Boressoff, an American photographer who advertised in The New York Call, a socialist newspaper that was in operation from 1908 to 1923. His studio, located at 355 Grand Street, was not that far from some of the places I visited here. I am due another trip to the big city. And thanks go to my friend Kevin who restored the photo and brought small tears to my eyes. I love this photo.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Catching Up

Well, it's been a long while since my last post. All of November, December, and January, and now most of February, gone silent. Why the delay? It all started with Eric's and my navigation class. Then it was the holidays and a freelance job that was a bit challenging, and, finally, an overwhelming sense of not knowing how or where to start blogging again.

But here I am (hello) and it seems appropriate that I start with the nav class. It was a great idea. We are interested in the subject matter, but in the effort to learn, we didn't handle the process well.

I chose the teacher. He's local, participated in our Coast Guard-approved safety class, and has more than ten years experience sailing the Caribbean. Perfect! I found the man's website, contacted him via e-mail, and we signed up.

Then all of our good intentions started to fall apart. The instructor wanted to delay starting the class (okay, fine, we have all winter). A third gentleman wanted to join the class (great, that means a reduction in fees). Next, the instructor announced he wanted to finish everything up during the month of November (which meant doubling up classes due to the holidays). The third wheel didn't want to attend classes on the weekend (which meant commuting out to the suburbs during rush hour). Eric and I, agreeable sorts that we are, compromised ourselves into failure. We made it to class; we took in the information, but we were so brain dead and tired as a result, that neither one of us picked up the textbook, our GPS, or a single chart until maybe one hour before the next class and by then we were worthless. The resentment was there and nothing made sense any more. We "participated" all the way up until the "final exam" and then dropped out rather than suffer through another "we just don't have time (whine) to make "whiskey" calculations due to (excuse #1), (excuse #2), and (excuse #3).

Then, that out of the way, it was Thanksgivings, my mother's birthday, Christmas shopping - always supplemented with personal shopping, several visiting pets for the holidays, and an obsession with, the subject of tomorrow's post.

So, today, I give you a photo of Thanksgiving at my sister's house. It was a great celebration this year with more family members than usual and a lot of good music. A little bit late to blog about Thanksgiving, but loads more fun than telling you about how we flunked out of "Sail the Seas" navigation school. :-) See you again tomorrow.