Wednesday, February 26, 2014


 I "NEEDED" to find a copy of  Godfrey Hodgson's  The Gentleman From New York : Daniel Patrick Moynihan.  My usual sources turned up dry so I resorted to buying a copy, in hardback, on line. 

The price is whatever the seller declares. That the book is worth that price is incalculable to a buyer until he reads it, by then it is too late.  If the price line crosses the willingness to pay line books change hands.   My copy of Mr. Hodgson's book cost 14 cents plus $3.85 shipping.   Sight unseen, I feel I've gotten my money's worth, but I'll always wonder why they bothered.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Liz Day

 In an effort to restore the dignity of the Kansas brand, the neanderthals funding the knuckle draggers sitting in the Kansas legislature, have called a truce in their anti-cultural wars in order to declare today, LIZ DAY, in honor of my granddaughter, Kansas's newest 14 year old.  Schools throughout the state have been cancelled and parades ordered. She still has play practice though.

 Liz chose today's photo, taken at Equality House, home to Planting Peace, which is located directly across from the professional hate group Westboro Baptist Church.  There is a lot of spunk in this one.

I received a phone call recently.  "Grandpa, may a friend and I stay at your house for 2 nights in July?  We want to come to Mayberry for a concert."

If you would immediately say yes, you're either a grandmother or naive. I am neither.

"Is your friend a girl?" I queried.

GRANDPA! How many boys want to see Fall out Boy and Paramore?

"The smart ones dear."

Their beds are made, the tickets booked, mayest hear the merry din.

Happy Birthday Darling Liz.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Our buddies

We were blessed with the opportunity to spend a day with our buddies over the weekend.  The oldest, in kindergarten, has Downs Syndrome and has very little speech capability.  His brothers are now 5 and Joe the chick magnet's 3rd birthday is coming soon.

Each of us should be grateful evolution realized early that most children are better off with young(ish) parents.  My age would not be ideal.  I have neither the stamina to keep up with 3 year olds nor the attention span to watch Max and Ruby 25 times without committing a capital crime. God bless mothers.

If you have ever spent time with Down's kids you know they are sweet, but their inability to communicate frustrates the daylights out of them.  We all demand to be heard.  It's a human requirement, being heard, listened to and understood validates our existence. It is how we define our individual selves.  Young children who cannot make their most basic wants known can be terrors.

Technology has been a god-send for these kids.  Some Nobel awaiting genius created the "talker".

The talker comes equipped with a number of push button pictographs, that when pushed will vocalize the answer to any number of FAQs.  With the push of a button mom and child hear that he wants orange juice, not apple. The red shirt, not the blue. COOKIE COOKIE COOKIE.  Intuitively, kids know how to operate electronics and within an hour, learning he could communicate changed his life. You could see his stress fall, and confidence rise.

"Our" kids still play hide and seek with us, each of  us taking turns hiding or counting.  For the first time, the eldest could be counter with his talker sounding out 1,2,3 (it was hysterical) he was so proud of himself. Who knew Stephen Hawking sounds like a 6 year old?


Sunday, February 23, 2014

marine flag raising

Mount Suribachi  US National Archives Photo and caption
On February 23, 1945, during the battle for Iwo JimaU.S. Marines raised a flag atop Mount Suribachi. It was taken down, and a second flag was raised. Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal captured this second flag-raising. Now part of U.S. Navy records, it is one of the most famous war photographs in U.S. history.
Despite capturing Mount Suribachi in the early days of the battle, it would take US forces until the end of March and thousands of casualties before they captured the heavily fortified island.

The second flag raising on mount Suribachi

The second flag raised

Semper Fi


Saturday, February 22, 2014

third circle of hell

I'm too old, too slow, too everything to play professional sports so I had to consider other ways to destroy my body before my dotage. While weighing my options one of hell's minions delivered the keys to the door of the third circle of hell, behind which an ergometer, a rowing machine perhaps better known as an ERG, the safer alternative was hiding.

Try it you'll like it. I recommend a daily dose. Call it therapy. I have for the past week with a monster trainer.  During my first attempt, which lasted all of a minute thirty, I wished to die.  My entire body ached, which really set me off.  I knew I was in better shape than that.  Day by day my time and speed  improve, I'm can now machine row 2 miles in 18 minutes. I still wish to die when I stop, but it will be a faster more pleasant death now. The ERG is the first and only exercise regime in my life that I've truly enjoyed for an entire week. I love the personal challenge of me against me.

Apparently there are real rowers who ride these machines for sport.  Undoubtedly fueled by boys and beer, the World Indoor Rowing Championships were held last weekend.  Competitive rowers, boys and girls of all ages, attempt to cover the water equivalent of 2000 meters as quickly as possible.

Of the 27 boys in my weight and age group today I'd finish 98th, only 20 seconds behind last place. Not bad for a rookie.


Friday, February 21, 2014

Nerve Center

This little gadget is the nerve center for our family, it's Mrs. T's cell phone, the one that replaced her bag phone when it was taken away by the digital cell phone police. You may recall I washed it one day without harming it. It's on its original billing plan too.

Over time the percentage time spent talking has dwindled while messaging has increased.  To my mind a ten second phone call is more efficient than the mandatory 15 texts necessary to clarify anything, but since I do not have a cell phone I don't getta vote.

Monday the messaging capability went away, leaving a member of our household in a panic.  Naturally, one assumes the worst, and fully expecting she'd have to pop for a new phone, we visited the cell phone company store Thursday afternoon.  It took the clerk a moment to remember how to deal with her phone, but once he figured things out, he asked "are you getting a low memory error?"

Why yes, we are.

"Let me show you how to delete old messages...."  -This to a woman with 16,000 new emails.

Within minutes we were out the door, problem solved, old phone better than new, good for another 10 years, all on the original plan.  Thank you Sprintman.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

mr rogers neighborhood

Two stories, the second unapologetically piggish.

On February 19, 1968 was the first US national broadcast of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.  Prior to 1968, the program bounced from being a locally produced in Pittsburgh, to the CBC in Toronto, then to NBC and back to Pittsburgh where NET the forerunner of PBS and later PBS broadcast 895 episodes of the show until August 2001.

I admit to despising Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, but as Joni Mitchell wrote "you don't know what you've got 'till its gone".  As my children grew older and the quality of children's programming plummeted I came to realize what others already knew, Fred Rogers was a gem, and genuinely decent human being, whose life ministry was caring for and about children.   

 These are some of my favorite Fred Rogers quotes:

“The thing I remember best about successful people I've met all through the years is their obvious delight in what they're doing and it seems to have very little to do with worldly success. They just love what they're doing, and they love it in front of others.” 

“When we treat children's play as seriously as it deserves, we are helping them feel the joy that's to be found in the creative spirit. It's the things we play with and the people who help us play that make a great difference in our lives.” 

"When I was very young, most of my childhood heroes wore capes, flew through the air, or picked up buildings with one arm. They were spectacular and got a lot of attention. But as I grew, my heroes changed, so that now I can honestly say that anyone who does anything to help a child is a hero to me."

"Forgiveness is a strange thing. It can sometimes be easier to forgive our enemies than our friends. It can be hardest of all to forgive people we love. Like all of life's important coping skills, the ability to forgive and the capacity to let go of resentments most likely take root very early in our lives."

"Most of us, I believe, admire strength. It's something we tend to respect in others, desire for ourselves, and wish for our children. Sometimes, though, I wonder if we confuse strength and other words--like aggression and even violence. Real strength is neither male nor female; but is, quite simply, one of the finest characteristics that any human being can possess."

"Solitude is different from loneliness, and it doesn't have to be a lonely kind of thing."

"Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now."

2.  Pig Alert

1.  Monday, Mayberry was covered with snow, the kind that melts a bit during the day and refreezes hard at night.  Tuesday the gods smiled granting sunny skies and temps in the low 60's ( 18C) which melted the snow.  To savor the day the dogs and I went out for lunch.  Returning home, a motorcycle passed us piloted by a young (aren't they all?) woman dressed only in shorts and a tee shirt.  It's been 5 months since a woman appeared on the public byways of Mayberry so attired, she had to have been freezing, but even had she been Alice the Goon I would have been smitten.  She was my first robin of spring.  Hope floats eternal.


Monday, February 17, 2014

The Style Guide

Do you ever consider how your favorite magazines and newspapers get their voice? Each is unique, the New York Times doesn't read like the Los Angeles Times, or the Telegraph.  The Economist reads like no other newspaper on Earth.  Vogue doesn't sound like Allure, although they cover the same ground.  They read the way they do because of their style guides.

As perhaps you remember from your high school Strunk and White "The Elements of Style" a style guide is a writer's road map to good usage.   Each news source, as well as many professional organizations and corporations codify how they will express themselves in print.  The intent is to disguise the author's voice so that the publication speaks with one voice.  

If you enjoy words, many style guides are on-line and make a great read.  My favorite, perhaps due to the newspaper being my favorite read is the Economist Style Guide.  The first paragraph from the Introduction explains their philosophy.

"The first requirement of The Economist is that it should be readily understandable. Clarity of writing usually follows clarity of thought. So think what you want to say, then say it as simply as possible. Keep in mind George Orwell's six elementary rules ("Politics and the English Language", 1946):
  1. Never use a Metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do (see Short words).
  3. If it is possible to cut out a word, always cut it out (see Unnecessary words).
  4. Never use the Passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a Jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous (see Iconoclasm)."
A newcomer is BuzzFeed.   "Our perspective reflects that of the internet at large, which is why we hope other sites and organizations across the web will find these guidelines useful. This style guide will be updated regularly to ensure it remains relevant and responds accordingly to changes in language and common, casual usage."

The Buzzfeed style guide is wonderfully inconsistent, and covers territory adults rarely dwell but still it is an enjoyable read and your children may be impressed what you've learned. regularly publishes a list of useful on-line guides.  Their criteria for a useful guide is, is it "sensible".  Their list of the top English language style guides is here. They all make for fun reading.


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Short and Sweet

I get the strangest email at times often from loved ones.  Today's missive invited me to read the mutterings of  someone Tweeting under the handle @Veryshortstory.  I have no idea how to use Twitter.  I've never tried it,and until today I've never read a tweet although that didn't keep me from making fun of Twitter once upon a time.

I'll share:

Vern put on his tap shoes. He danced, having just finished his memoir. Suddenly, he stopped, wondering if he should include the dancing.


I watched my brothers grow up from the woods behind our house, hoping they would not make the same mistake of beating our father at chess.

I expanded our foreign policy to include the animal kingdom, but they were unwilling to accept capitalism as a way of life, so the war began. -@Veryshortstory

It's amazing how much can be said in so few words.  Enjoy.


Friday, February 14, 2014

St. Valentines Day

As I have become older I've become more sanguine about St. Valentines Day.  Once, to my mind, it was simply a Hallmark holiday, now in my own way I have come to embrace it, but in more a Sammy Cahn "the second time around" sort of way than a teenage romcom.

I embrace it because it is good to take a day to remind each other that:

It's also good to remember that St. Valentine's day isn't only for couples, it is for memories too. Awful things may have happened to really great people in our lives, and while we miss them we wouldn't have missed the ride for the world.

 O Canada by Joyce Wieland*

For St. Valentines Day 2014 instead of  puppy love wishes I thank you for being here and wish you happiness, peace, contentment and freedom from bigotry.  Give your loved ones a hug for me.

*  To make this print, Wieland put on greasy lipstick and pressed her lips onto a clean lithography stone, forming the syllables of the Canadian national anthem. The piece plays with ideas of feminism and nationalism. The “O” in the title is repeated in the shape of the lips, suggesting both fervent patriotism and a kind of eroticism. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

founding of stl

People have lived in Mayberry for millennia. The confluence of two mighty rivers was a natural meeting and trading place for the native peoples.  Centuries before the Vikings visited North America, on the eastern shore of the Mississippi was an Indian city with a population greater than London. All that remains today is a burial mound.

In the late 1600's Mayberry and its environs were in the French controlled Illinois territory.  French forts and trading posts brought the first white settlers to our area. Life was good until the end of the French and Indian war in 1763.

France lost their war with the British and with it their North American territory east of the Mississippi River.  French Illinois overnight became British and the locals could either switch sides or switch sides of the river.  What the French government failed to mention was that in 1762, to keep the Louisiana Territory (territory west of the Mississippi) out of British hands, the French king gave Louisiana to his cousin the king of Spain.  The French who moved west to avoid becoming British became Spanish.  Luckily for them, Spain's only concern was New Orleans.

On February 14, 1764 a French trader and his 13 year old step son decided to build a trading post on the west side of the Mississippi, on high ground slightly south of the confluence of the Missouri River.  He named the site in honor of the patron saint of his king, St. Louis. Tomorrow is our 250th birthday.


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

keeper of the kennel

Along with Lincoln's birthday, today is the anniversary of Chinese Emperor Hsuan T'ung's 1912 abdication, ending the Manchu dynasty, leading to the creation the Republic of China.  His aunt, the Grand Dowager Tzu His had been the defacto ruler of China.  Fearing loss of power, Tzu His arranged the untimely deaths of the leading Emperor candidates leaving the way open for the 3 year old to rule China upon her death.

Although largely an unpleasant woman, many dog fanciers have much to be grateful to the Dowager for.  She was a dog lover.  Her passion was Shih Tzu, the Chinese Lion Dog.  ALL, as in every, Shih Tzu in China belong to her, and she kept them for herself. The Dowager kept meticulous breeding records and if any pup did not conform to her standard of the breed, it was immediately dispatched.  It is likely towards the end of her life a nonconforming puppy or two may have escaped, but no one inside China would ever be seen with a Shih Tzu.

Today, every Shih Tzu is a direct descendant of one of her 7 breeding pairs.  After her death, former palace eunuchs would occasionally gift a visiting diplomat with a puppy, but never a  breeding pair.  It wasn't until the Japanese invasion that the surviving dogs were transferred out of China, 8 to England and 3 to Norway.  By the Communist revolution the breed was extinct in its homeland.


Monday, February 10, 2014

Squirrel Dogs

Having dogs is not much different than having adolescents around the manse.  They eat, sleep and won't listen.  Fortunately dogs, not having opposable thumbs, never ask for money or car keys.

In our neighborhood are half a dozen Lion Dogs, all, save ours, prissy, well groomed grandma dogs while our wild beasts masquerade as sweet dogs.  Neighbors now cross the street when they see us coming.  It doesn't help that we keep odd hours.  Letting dogs out at 2am is not endearing.

Our monsters are hunter gatherers.  They chase everything, especially squirrels.  When you are a Shih Tzu chasing squirrels is about the best fun you can have. Lion Dogs tilt their heads almost 90 degrees, so looking up trees while squirrels taunt them is a great game.    Comparatively, chasing deer is work.

After years of trying, Charley finally captured a squirrel yesterday.  She was like a cat with a mouse, so proud of herself, head high, tail up, until I made her release it.  Every time she has been out since she runs to where she let the squirrel go hoping it has returned to play. It hasn't and Charley hasn't talked to me since.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

brendan behan's birthday

I was reminded of the Irish poet and storyteller, today's birthday boy, Brendan Behan last week while reading my grandfather's census reports.  Beginning with the 1930 census when asked, grandfather wrote that he was born in the Irish Free State, which in fact wasn't true as it didn't exist while he lived in Ireland, but it did announce to the world that he wasn't from the hated British section of the country.  Behan, born on this day in 1923 saw himself as an republican, and IRA fighter, a rable rouser.  Later he became more famous for his wit and love of drink than his writing, which eventually became self parodying.  He was a funny guy however.  Today I'll share several of his more famous quips.

“It's not that the Irish are cynical. It's rather that they have a wonderful lack of respect for everything and everybody.”     The world is a better place for that

“I am a drinker with writing problems.” 

“I saw a sign that said 'Drink Canada Dry'. So I did.” 

“Critics are like eunuchs in a harem; they know how its done, they've seen it done every day, but they're unable to do it themselves. 

All publicity is good, except an obituary notice. 

What the hell difference does it make, left or right? There were good men lost on both sides.” 

Éirinn go Brách


Thursday, February 6, 2014

The last word about the tree.

I have completed my search.  Standing on the shoulders of giants I have hit dead ends in Irish rural churchyards and have no one to ask. It has been a fascinating adventure.

Mrs. T asked what have I learned (what's the big picture) on my adventure?  Most likely, I won't know that answer for a long time and the take aways are certainly not unique to me, they are universal which is why does such a booming business.

I don't much cotton to the notion that the big life decisions are made for the "greater good".  That husband and wife suffer so the children will have a better life doesn't hold for me.  Adults do what they need to do. How awful must daily life be for an illiterate Irish farmer to decide to pack up his wife and 6 children, leave kith and kin and move to America on the hope/dream/expectation that life there will be better? That individual glimmer of hope is the genuine story of American greatness.  That is also a continuing saga, lived by countless families, world wide, every day, and if you live in North America (unless you are black) somewhere in time, it's your story too.

I also took away a strong sense of the basic dignity of people.  Image a world free from computers, good transportation networks and decent communications, say the world until the mid 1950's.  It strikes me that a man could change his identity as often as his socks, though most didn't. Families, father to son, mothers to daughters are relatively easily followed for generations. Dates may be fungible but the family unit holds.  Can't find an in law check the cemetery.

People 100+ years ago were tougher than we. Children and mothers died too young.  Life spans were short and brutal. My ancestors left Ireland during the famine, work their way westward building railroads and set down roots 5 years later in eastern Illinois.  In their first 15 years in Illinois their community endured a cholera epidemic, drought, malaria epidemic, small pox, 2 tornados and a city wide fire. Their village survives.  

My mother's family and my father's lived less than 10 miles apart in Cnty Cork, and had to come to America to meet.

I'm probably related to you.

Finally, I suspect we are each missing a big adventure.  A trial by fire, a test,  a challenge, one that doesn't involve life threatening medical treatment.  Mine pales in comparison to grandfather's but I'm planning it.



Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Odds and Ends

I understand why television weathermen get death threats.  If winter doesn't end soon you are likely to read about me doing something unforgivable in your morning papers.  This has been a too long winter, it's beginning to snow (4-7 in. anticipated with more later this week) temps are approaching near zero Fahrenheit and I'm sick of it.  End of rant, thank you for your indulgence. I feel much better.

I am desperately trying to moderate my time spent in front of a computer screen but such interesting stuff is on line. I'm failing miserably, I cannot play outside so I forgive myself.  Today, I'll share some of my favorite recent finds.

I. Cartography: 

I love maps, they explain almost everything, except why.  The University of Chicago Press in cooperation with the University of Wisconsin has published "The History of Cartography".  If your curious enough to be interested, but not enough to travel to your local library you'll find it is available for download here.    I'm finding it a fascinating read.

II.  Armchair Travelers?

I have no explanation other than I was captivated by the photography of Steve McMurray's blog Where the World Meets.  Those who have been here awhile know I have no wanderlust, but I am encouraged knowing that the world is a much wider place than what is in my teeny imagination.  At the top of each page is a link to other photo sets, each more interesting that what came before.

III. Our/Stories 

The University of Texas-Austin has a treasure trove of old photos in the Not Even Past collection Our Stories/Our Histories.  The title derives from a Faulkner quote "The past is never dead. It's not even past".  Who would ever think that strangers wedding photos from long ago could be so moving, or family photos taken at the beach?

What drew me to the site was a link to an Irish Easter Rising digital archive A Rebellion Remembered.  

Enjoy and thanks for stopping by.


Sunday, February 2, 2014

Churching of Women

I've fallen hard into the land of the dead.  My ancestors have taken over my life. Not being a quick learner I have made every novice genealogist error three or more times before I give in and make the same mistake half a dozen times more simply to reinforce my stupidity.  I have even invented new ways to screw up.

My family name is a common English/Irish surname.  The name was a popular choice among former slaves. The extended family pool of people sharing our last name is huge, and my research is imprecise. According to my first draft our family is a mongrel mix of anglo/irish along with a strain of black German immigrants, with the odd Asian tossed in for good measure. It was a surprise to learn my grandparents passed as black. My second draft looks markedly different. What a ride.

One point this exercise has driven home is how much safer childbirth has become over the past 100 years, for both child and mother.  Limbs from my family tree (the parts I can verify) fill cemeteries with children, stillborn or who died within days of birth.  I share the name of an older brother who died days after birth, odd yet true.  Young mothers who died soon after giving birth fill another large expanse. How many bereft young fathers remarried quickly after their wife's death, solely to have someone to mother his children?

Today is Candlemas Day on the Christian calendar. A Hebrew ritual celebration dating from the time of the book of Leviticus, a new mother was considered unclean until forty days after giving birth, after which she is presented to the congregation and blessed as part of a her purification. The Christian churches draw from that purification imagery, marking 40 days after Christmas, the day of Mary, the mother of Jesus's churching. For believers, the collected blessing of her congregation on the new mother is a welcome custom.