Wednesday, May 30, 2007

“FIRE and ICE” …by Robert Frost, (1874 - 1963)

"Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire,

I hold with those who favor fire,

But, if I had to perish twice,

I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.”

I’ve always been moved by this poem and doesn’t it seem to be particularly evocative of our world today?

I understand this as Robert Frost telling us that too much of anything is a bad thing. Desire left unchecked becomes fire and can consume us quickly. Hate, on the other hand, is a much slower killer. It turns us into unfeeling human beings with hearts of ice and we can look forward to death by freezing.

The greed and the lust for power and superiority that we are experiencing in today’s world is exactly what I feel when I read these lines. It seems to be telling me that we’d better learn to live with one another and to share our lives and our resources or we are doomed to pay the consequences. or ice ? It matters little...they all suffice.


Sunday, May 27, 2007


I was at a conference recently and the featured speaker opened his talk by saying: “I’m sure of what I am going to say. I am not so sure what you will hear!” and he went on to give this example:

A State Trooper stopped a man driving a pickup truck that was filled with penguins. He said, “You can’t be driving these birds around town. Take them to the Zoo immediately.” The next day the officer was amazed to see the same driver with his truck filled, once again, with the penguins. The only difference was that this time all the birds were wearing little sun glasses. The Trooper stopped the truck driver and angrily said, “I thought I told you to take these birds to the Zoo.” “I did,” replied the driver, “and today we’re going to the beach !!”

Isn’t that a great story? It made me really look at the fact that so many of us can read, hear or see the same thing and yet perceive it in a completely different way.. I guess it is based on our backgrounds, our innate prejudices and, sometimes, just plain stupidity. No wonder there is such a disconnect between humans.

Keeping an open mind is something that I’ve been cultivating over the past 18 years. These years have been spent in Alcoholics Anonymous and, believe me, that is the place to test your patience and tolerance. A sense of humor and some very wise members kept me on track. I am so glad they did because I wouldn’t have missed this journey for the world.

I always had high expectations and it wasn’t until I saw life through a different pair of glasses that I came to realize that I was cheating myself. “Cease expecting and you have all things” says Buddha. How crystal clear that is to me today. By taking the expectations out of my daily life I find that I receive much more than I would have settled for on my own. I no longer fight life. I accept things as they are and if I don’t condone or approve of them I leave them alone. (Who am I to change the universe to MY specifications?)

So my new outlook on life (tried and tested over the past 18 years) is simplicity personified. I make plans, but I don’t predict the outcome. I accept people, places and things as they are and I realize that the only person I can change is ME !

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

1957, WABC & Howard Cosell

1957 was an exciting time for me. I had been hired by WABC radio to write promotional material and every day was a new adventure.

I was living in Tudor City, which was located near the United Nations on 42nd Street. My place of business was on the opposite side of town at West 86th Street. This was a bit of a hike but I actually walked it many mornings. I would be dressed “to the nines” but wearing sneakers and carrying my “stilettos” in a shoulder bag! I would start out very early and loved to stop and buy breakfast at one of the open-air carts that dotted the streets. This would consist of two eggs on toast and a few sliced tomatoes.

The days at work were long and very tiring and I seldom walked home. Often I would share a cab with others who lived on the East side, or were taking a train home to the suburbs from Grand Central Station. One of the regulars who did this was a young man named Howard Cosell.

Howard worked on the “broadcasting” floor of our building so I never ran into him except on our rides to the East side. His demeanor was always extremely proper and I had no reason to believe that he would become one of the most controversial figures in the world of sports reporting.

The thing I remember most about Howard Cosell was his quiet and compelling voice. The nasal sound was there but I never heard the excited and almost-manic quality that were to become his particular trademark. I remember seeing the Woody Allen movie “Bananas” years later and being shocked at Howard’s part in it.

Howard loved music and especially opera. He never tired of telling us about the shows that he and his wife had seen. He would outline the plots of the operas and when and where they had been performed. He was a born teacher and we were avid students.

Howard Cosell was a sportscaster like no other. He has been revered and despised but he has never been forgotten. Rich Little still mimics his distinctive manner and voice and he is immediately recognized by an audience that never knew him in real life.

I don’t know if he changed as he became famous. Somehow, I doubt it. I prefer to believe that he was a man with strong opinions and loves and that he couldn’t attempt to please all the people all the time. He probably didn’t care to either.

Howard is many things to many people...but to me he will always be the gentleman who insisted on paying the cab-fare.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

1973.…James Cagney, the Country Gentleman

In 1999 the American Film Institution ranked James Cagney as 8th among the greatest male stars of all time. Even the young people today recognize his name, although his films were most prevalent in the 30’s through the 60’s.

He has often been misquoted but his raspy voice with high pitched inflections will always be his outstanding feature. The mimics of today still delight in hitching up their shoulders and squawking out the words; “You dirty rat…” (a line that Cagney says he never uttered, by the way !)

In 1961 James Cagney bought an 800 acre farm in Dutchess County, NY. It was in the same township where my husband, 3 children and I settled three years later. Although the farm was just over the hill from our house we never saw the famous man. He loved the country and would stay there whenever possible but he was also a private person and kept very much to himself.

Off and on, over the years, I would hear tales about the great “Jimmy Gagney” and his love of the country life, antiques and his farm pets. He was now in his mid 70’s and spent almost all of his time at the Dutchess County property. He even agreed to let the Millbrook High School dedicate their yearbook to him in the year that my oldest son graduated from there...1976. He was good to the county and everyone that met him was duly impressed. I, however, had never even spied him from afar.

One Spring day in 1974 I was grocery shopping at our little local store. My arms were full and, as I approached the door, I saw a small, hefty man holding it open for me. He was slightly hunched and had a plaid felt hat with brim covering his balding head. It was tilted to give it a rakish look, and as I turned to say, “Thank you”, he tipped it toward me and said, “The pleasure is mine, little missy.”

There was no mistaking that voice ! James Cagney was my doorman and his twinkling eyes told me that he knew it was a thrill for me. Even in his 70’s he was a captivating presence and you could tell that, as much as he loved his anonymity, he was still the consummate showman.

In 1981 he ended a 20 year retirement by co-starring in the movie, “Ragtime”. That was to be the last of his long career and he spent his remaining years at his beloved farm in Dutchess County until his death in 1986.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The MUSIC ROOM…a Child’s Escape

When I was ten years old our family lived in a 13 room, 3 story Victorian house in Wellesley, Massachusetts. The home was nowhere near as elaborate as it sounds. Seven of us lived four older sisters and my parents, and we actually rented out two rooms (made into a very small apartment) to a local schoolteacher to make ends meet. It was a very “lived-in” abode with hand-me-down furniture and an air of hectic fun and chaos. This was true of all the rooms with the exception of one.

We called it the “Music Room” and it was my favorite, especially in the wintertime, when the doors were closed tight (to save on heating) and the room became my private, if somewhat chilly, land of make believe.

I used to sneak into the shivery half-darkness...a braided and scrubbed ten-year old hugging my arms tightly around me. I never turned on the lights. no matter how dark the winter’s day, and I would always sit in the same place...perched high in the exact middle of an austere Victorian loveseat.

Like the afternoon shadows my eyes would seek out the objects in the room. The piano dominated the area, covering half the wall and wide enough to carry a Tiffany lamp, 3 stacks of sheet music, a violin and a clarinet atop it’s paisley shawl. It was the most ornate piano I have ever seen, each piece of wood carved and set into the gigantic black body. Even the legs were knobbed and curled into immense pedestals sturdy enough to carry the weight.

The rest of the objects in the room vied with the piano...the marble table tops turning pink from the reflection of the peach colored wallpaper, the leather book covers, the frosted light globe hanging by a “gold” chain and, best of all…two Victorian side chairs, my little “fat ladies” stuffed into flowered brocade, the dark scrolled wood curving into shoulders, short arms jutting at either side and the legs planted firmly apart on the floor.

When I was in the “Music Room” the everyday hustle and bustle of the rest of the house disappeared. I became a grand lady, a princess, at peace in my serene and elegant world. I would give a slight nod to the imaginary recital was about to begin !

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

BILL WILSON … born & bred in East Dorset, Vermont

Bill Wilson (1885-1971), the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, was born (aptly enough) in a room behind the bar of this lovely old Hotel in East Dorset, Vermont. After 2 years he moved to Rutland, Vt. until the divorce of his parents.

Then, at the age of 11, Bill and his sister, Dorothy, returned to East Dorset to live with their maternal grandparents, the Griffiths, in the small white house next door to the Hotel while Bill’s mother studied to be a doctor in Boston.

In one of Bill’s memoirs he writes about East Dorset: “When I was a child , I acquired some of the traits that had a lot to do with my insatiable craving for alcohol. I was brought up in a little town in Vermont, under the shadow of Mount Aeolus. An early recollection was that of looking up at this vast and mysterious mountain, wondering what it meant and whether I could ever climb that high. But I was presently distracted by my aunt who, as a fourth-birthday present, made me a plate of fudge. For the next thirty-five years I pursued the fudge of life and quite forgot about the mountain.” *

I always loved that reading and I was anxious to visit East Dorset and to see the two homesteads for myself. I did this in 2003 and I was not disappointed. The Wilson House has been restored and is open as a guesthouse and retreat. Local groups hold several AA and Al-anon meetings in the house each week and seminars are held throughout the year.

I was particularly taken with the warmth that emanated from the rooms. They were all furnished as they would have been during Bill’s young lifetime there. The bar was gone but replaced by a huge room with a stone fireplace and with walls and ceiling hung with memorabilia, photos and old license plates.

My main objective, however, was to stand behind the “Griffith” house and to look up at the mountain that Bill had gazed upon. I chuckled to myself when I did. This rolling hill was nothing like the “vast and mysterious” mountain that he wrote about, but, that was how it appeared to him as a child.

In his lifetime Bill Wilson did prove that he could overcome the “fudge” of life and he was able to climb to the heights that he dreamed of that day. As I stood there I couldn’t help but pay silent homage to that small boy who would one day become the man that so many of us lovingly refer to as “Bill W.”

* “AA Comes of Age” pp 52-53

Friday, May 11, 2007


Pictured here are two porches with concrete floors. They are front entryways that I painted for customers of my business called “Snowflakes, Custom Designs”.

The first design was the easiest, simply being a random copy of a slate floor. The other was not that difficult but it took a lot of measuring and mapping out of the pattern to scale. Both floors have stood up well under weather conditions and it has been more than 4 years since I painted them.

The main thing that is required before you paint your design is a good clean surface. The ideal would be a newly poured floor because the paint actually seeps into the concrete then and you only need two sealer coats to finish the job. This is not usually the case however and you need to carefully prepare the floor before you start.

First of all the concrete MUST BE DRY and thoroughly clean. If there is any grease or oil you can sprinkle cat litter on it and let that absorb as much as possible. Then scrub with “Goof Off” and rinse. After this you will need to wash the floor again with TSP and rinse thoroughly.

I would wait at least three days for the floor to dry, especially if it’s an indoor floor. Now you are ready to get creative. If you’ve designed a symmetrical floor you will have to draw it out first. The faux slate floor was very easy. I painted the floor a solid color first, using a color that would show through as the grout between the stones. Then I took three shades of off-blue and simply designed as I went along. I used only one brush and would wipe it on a cloth before dipping it into the next blue paint...the residue from the one color bleeding into the other as I went along. This kept it from looking too pristine.

The final step is to let the paint dry thoroughly...usually a week or two...and then give it two coats of a good concrete sealer. There are so many products on the market now that I can’t recommend one in particular. Just ask your paint dealer.

Your “new” floor should last a good long time, depending on the traffic it gets and the condition it was in when you started. The most that you will probably have to do in the future is a little touch be sure to label and keep the paints that you used.


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Power of SMELL….my first memory

I have tried very hard to recall my early days but I honestly don’t know what I can actually remember as opposed to those things that were retold so many times in my family that they seem to be MY memories.

I am not able to go back much further than when I was 6 or 7 years old. The years before that seem to be lost to me...except for this amazing experience. I have heard that the primary sense is that of smell...and I can attest to that. When I was very young the whole gang of us went to Brattleboro, Vt. to visit my mother’s family. I know this is true because we have pictures to prove it and it is also recorded in my Aunt Emma’s diaries. I must have been 3 or 4 at the time and I have no conscious memory of that visit.

HOWEVER...many years later I became aware of a very strange seemed to be a combination of three odors, the pungent smell of new sawn lumber, the slightly gamey smell of lamb being roasted in the oven and the almost sickly sweet smell of maple syrup bubbling on the stove. I was immediately transported to the kitchen of my grandparents in Brattleboro. The sensation was so strong that I felt like I could reach out and touch them...and I actually remembered being there. It was a swift but powerful memory and then it receded almost as quickly as it came.

The interesting thing is that Grandpa was a carpenter and had a wood-working shop and lathe in a large room off of the kitchen. They also had a “sugaring-off” business and would tap the maple trees and boil the sap into syrup on the wood stove in the kitchen...the smell of lamb being roasted?? Perhaps that was the special meal being prepared for our visit.

Whatever it was, I have only smelled that combination three times in my 74 years and each time it has pulled me back to that warm and loving kitchen of my childhood.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

ERNEST and his Dead Tree Memorial Garden

In 1980 I was living in North Carolina with my husband. Our three children were “out of the nest” and I was working in our local hospital’s Emergency Room. The Hospice program was in it’s infancy and I decided to give it a try. I took the training program and became a care-giver working on a team with a nurse and one other non-medical person.

Most of the Hospice patients had very short life spans so it was difficult to get a real close relationship. However, there was one exception, in my case, and that was Ernest. He lasted for six months and we became fast friends. He was a 74 year old black man who lived just 6 miles north of me, so it was easy to keep in touch and we did so almost daily.

Ernest, and his wife of over 50 years, lived in a small cement block house that he had built years before. It was primitive but very snug with a simple front porch. The house was situated to the rear of the property and overlooked the land that had been in Ernest’s family for centuries. His many acres of open fields were rented by nearby farmers to plant tobacco and cotton.

The most unusual thing, however, was his “memorial garden”. It was an acre of lawn in front of his house that was carefully manicured and with 8 or 9 dead tree trunks that had been artistically placed.

These were not random trees, but ones that they had picked because of their interesting shapes. All the bark had been removed and the bare trunks were then sanded and polished with oil. The final effect was, indeed, a “garden of memorial statuary”, somewhat resembling sentries on guard.

Ernest explained it to me one day as we sat rocking on his front porch. It seems that his grandfather had loved the gnarled and stark-looking dead trees on his farm. When he died and they couldn’t afford a memorial stone, they thought to cut down one of his beloved trees and to use that. It soon became a tradition.

Ernest told me the story of each of the “statues” and who was commemorated there. He said they were re-sanded and oiled yearly and that was what gave them their lovely patinas. The two small trunks with intertwining branches were in memory of his twins who had died 48 years earlier.

That was over 25 years ago and I’ve lost touch with the family but I pray that that beloved patch of land remains. I’ve seen many elaborate and costly memorials...but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one that exuded such peace and serenity.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

August, 2002... My NEW ENGLAND project

I have always had a fondness and interest in the Folk Arts of the 18th & 19th centuries. These were objects crafted by our ancestors. They had produced them for necessity but also created beauty, which resulted in a style that is uniquely American...the “art of the common man”.

I had seen many of these objects in books and in large museums, but it occurred to me that I would have a much more intimate relation to these works of art if I were to find them in their original locations. I combined this idea with another love of mine...cruising back country roads and remote areas in my car...and decided to write a vacation/travel book.

My research was extensive. Personnel from Historic Societies, museums and tourism offices were more than willing to help me. I sifted through reams of paper work, rejected and accepted a myriad of ideas and suggestions and finally came up with my travel plan.

I spent the month of August, 2002, in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine , recording my discoveries. I was able to map out a route and the reader and I go on a trek that shuns the highways in favor of the seldom used but picturesque byways. We go in search of our American heritage and we, literally, step back in time.

I was very excited about this. I was convinced that others felt, as I did, that a vacation on the back roads of New England was a far better cathartic to the stress of “technology overload” than all the self-help books on the shelf.

When I came home from that month’s travels I felt reborn in a way that I had not experienced in years and I enthusiastically produced a “1st draft”. I then proceeded to submit it to publishers...and to submit it...and to submit infinitum. There was not a glimmer of interest and I finally gave up on the idea.

This book will never come to fruition but my wonderful memories of that journey will last a lifetime.