Friday, May 29, 2009

The Washburn-Norlands Living History Center

In 2002 I spent a month traveling the back roads of Maine. One of the first places that I visited was The Norlands Living Health Center in Livermore.

Arriving before opening time I just soaked in the beautiful setting. The imposing Victorian farmhouse was connected to two smaller buildings and the huge barn. I almost expected Mrs. Washburn to welcome me in. I also spied a one room school house, a lovely white church and an imposing Gothic style building made of granite that I later learned was a library!

Although I was the only participant for the tour I saw other people and learned that they were the “live in” family of that week. The Center is a non-profit living museum dedicated to the preservation of 18th and 19th century rural Maine heritage. They host family groups who dress, toil, cook and live in the manner of that day.

As Callie (the docent) and I started our tour I spied a young girl hanging clothes out to dry. She must have been very hot in her long skirt and button-up shoes, but she waved happily to us

The Washburn family boasts of seven sons who excelled in government as well as industry. Two were state governors and one was the founder of the Washburn-Crosby Gold Medal Flour Company. Their life style was frugal, as was typical of that period and of Maine, but there was a definite feeling of strength and dignity in every room.

All of the buildings were fascinating and quite different. The kitchen was housed in one of the extensions of the main house and the aroma of chicken and corn muffins was enticing. Here I met more of the “live-in” over a wood stove.
The men of the family we found in the barn grooming the animals and mucking out the stalls.

The last building on the tour was the 1828 Norlands Universalist Church. This is an addition to the property since the time of the Washburns. It is a simple, yet elegant, building, and is in sharp contrast to the interior. I was amazed to find a decorative painted ceiling and elaborate panels and arches that were actually a superb example of trompe l’oeil (“fool the eye”)...illusions created with paint.

However, my eye was not fooled when I exited the church. This was no illusion. I was viewing the real thing...exactly as it must have been back in the 18th and 19th centuries. I felt refreshed and quite privileged to have paid that era a visit...if only in my imagination.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Does this make sense to you?

I live in a very small town in North Carolina. We have a Main Street, a post office, a hardware store, a drugstore, a Piggly Wiggly and, of course, the ever present Dollar General. As a matter of fact there are at least 10 Dollar General stores in our County.

Now I have to admit that our County is rather large but that’s a lot of Dollar Generals. Then we also have a Dollar Tree, which is my favorite. They actually stick to the “one dollar per item” (which is not true of most of these other discount places, including Dollar General) and their quality isn’t bad for the price.

Now, picture this. About three months ago I noticed a new building being constructed in our small town. I couldn’t imagine what it might be because it would seem that our needs are met and the larger stores such as Walmart, Belk’s, Lowe’s, etc. are just a short drive away…all of them in our County.

For the longest time there was no hint as to what this new business would bring to our community. The location was very central, next door to the grocery chain and almost directly across from the Dollar General.

Imagine my surprise when they finally installed the store’s name above the entrance. It is none other than a brand new FAMILY DOLLAR !!

Does that make any sense at all? I know that these things are thoroughly researched before a location is chosen but I can’t, for the life of me, see how these two businesses will survive. On the few times that I’ve been in the Dollar General I’ve never had to buck a crowd. Were do they think the customers are coming from?

It is also interesting to realize that all of this is occurring during the recession which we are all experiencing. Oh, well, someone thinks it will work…and we’ll see

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

RITA’s “GAP YEAR PROJECT” …an awesome idea !

Some of you may remember the blog that I wrote about meeting the author of “Female Nomad”, Rita Golden Gelman. In 2005 my daughter, her husband and I spent three hours with Rita over a leisurely lunch at the Omega Institute in Dutchess County, NY.

It was a wonderful experience and we all came away with a feeling of respect and awe for this amazing woman. She is totally dedicated to “living at large in the world” and her inspirational journey is a testament to the fact that we can all live together in peace.

Now Rita is enlarging her dreams and hopes to provide global learning for teens. In a nutshell she is advocating to have High School seniors take a year off before college to visit other world-wide life styles.

Her blogsite states: “What is Global Learning? ….it is a national movement whose mission is to promote world peace by encouraging and enabling new High School graduates to live in other countries before they begin the next phase of their lives. We will achieve our mission by educating the public about the benefits of international experiences, informing people of existing programs, and making the opportunity available to everyone.”

Although Rita has been working on this idea for years The “Gap Year Project” is still in it’s infancy and she is inviting all of us to join in. You can find all the details on her website. The first exciting step is slated to take place June 20th in Washington, D.C. It will be an all-day brainstorming session to clarify the goals and how they can be reached.

The “Gap Year Project” is an uplifting and positive ray of sunshine in these troubled times. I look forward to being part of this and hope that some of you will jump in also.

Friday, May 15, 2009


This two generation picture was taken in West Brattleboro, Vt. in 1940. My Mother and Dad were enjoying a rare moment alone with my maternal grandparents.

Our family, by this time, consisted of 5 little girls, of which I was the youngest, and it was rare indeed for us to be separated from Mother & Dad. We were living in Plainfield, NJ at that time but we were able to get to Vermont on a few special occasions. This was quite an ordeal because we didn’t own a car and had to make the journey by train.

My grandparents home was not large and usually my parents would stay there and we five would be parceled out to friends and relatives. We were with our cousins when this picture was taken. They lived nearby in a large farm-type colonial located in the center of West Brattleboro.

I remember that big white house and, in particular, the bedroom where I was to stay for this particular trip. I had been assigned to the lower bunk of a two-tier bed and it was here that I left my little suitcase and my other treasures. I knew they would be safe there.

To be honest I don’t remember much about that trip except for what happened the first night that I slept in that room. Being the youngest of the clan I’m sure that I was the first to be put to bed. I’m also sure I rebelled and I probably tried my darndest to stay awake...but sleep overtook me and I drifted off.

The next thing I remember was being attacked by a wild animal. The room was black as pitch and my screams just made the unknown attacker more frenzied. I was flailing my arms and trying to protect my head when my cousin finally turned on the light. She was shaking me and trying to figure out why I was screaming. As I started to calm down I noticed a large cat sitting on the foot of my bed. He seemed to have a sly, “gotcha”, smirk on his feline face and I realized that this was my “wild animal”.

Of course my cousin explained it all. The "innocent" cat sleeping with her and then jumping down from the top bunk and landing squarely on me, scaring me out of my wits.

Did I buy that? Not on your life...that cat was out to get me and his big Cheshire smile proved it!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Our “dump meal” … a fun and festive night !

The picture above is the closest I could find to what actually came to pass a few weeks ago. A good friend had invited my daughter, son-in-law & myself to her house for dinner.

I was especially pleased because I know what an excellent cook she is and I wanted to share that with my children. The only problem was that when we got there we couldn’t smell a thing cooking ... nor was the table set for dinner. I started to worry that we’d misinterpreted her invitation.

Her husband kept disappearing and then I noticed that my daughter and our hostess were in the dining room doing strange things! They had a big roll of heavy duty aluminum foil and they were rolling it out on top of a layer of blankets and towels that had been draped over the table. There were no settings (not a fork or knife in sight) but individual portions of condiments (butter, cocktail sauce, tarter sauce and mustard) were being ladled out at each person’s place.

The light started to dawn when her husband poked his head in the room and asked for help carrying in the huge steamer. He had been on the porch steaming a delicious dinner of vegetables, kielbasi and shrimp. As soon as we were all seated he and my son-in-law carried the huge pot in and, literally, dumped the contents in the center of the table.

What fun! We all just dug in with our hands and rolled our corn cob chunks in butter, slathered our Kielbasi with mustard, dunked the shrimp in cocktail sauce or just ate them plain. And the steamed veggies were cooked to perfection. I still don’t know how he got everything to come out so perfectly. I think it has to do with the order that you steam everything.

When we were full to exploding our hostess merely rolled up the foil and took it all to the kitchen!! Then we were back to “normal” stuff like coffee and the rhubarb/strawberry pie that my daughter had made, topped with vanilla ice cream and eaten in the dull old civilized way with a fork and spoon.

If we’d had any idea of what to expect for dinner we might have brought a different dessert … a “dump cake” perhaps.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


I am really enjoying the old movies that I order from Netflix. Recently I watched the 1954 movie “I’ll Cry Tomorrow”. It stars Susan Hayward. She was one of my favorites back in my impressionable teen years but I’d missed this one.

It is the story of Lillian Roth, a child movie star of the 20’s. She was very successful but her career was hampered by her addiction to alcohol and she spent the latter years of the 1930’s out of the limelight and spiraling deeper into alcoholism. She finally “hit bottom” in 1946 and sought out AA.

Anyone who has read my blog knows that I have enjoyed the past 19 years as a sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous. It has been a huge influence in my life and I was intrigued to watch how (or if) it would work for Lillian. After all, this was 1946 and AA had only been in existence for eleven years.

Sure enough, after contemplating suicide, Lillian finally drags herself to an AA meeting. It was very interesting to see how the members detoxed her. Nowadays this is seldom done except in a hospital or a rehab. I am always fascinated by the really old members of AA who actually remember using small doses of alcohol to taper off a person so they won’t die from DT’s.

Also of interest were the scenes of the actual AA meetings. They were very similar to those that we hold today. What was different was that a man, Burt McGuire, became her sponsor. I can only speak for our area of the country, but here it’s considered best for a woman to have a female sponsor.

Lillian ended up marrying Burt and he became her agent. That is where the movie ended but the rest of her life is just as compelling. In 1953, after much soul searching and against Burt‘s advice, she appeared on an episode of the TV series “This Is Your Life” with Ralph Edwards. In response to relating her story of alcoholism she received more than forty thousand letters.

This is always a tricky thing for us in AA. You would think that a story like hers would be a good way to advertise AA but we advocate attraction rather than promotion. Our 11th Tradition states, in part…”we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.” The problem is that so often when a celebrity claims sobriety through AA he or she relapses and there goes the credibility of the program. Burt had tried to explain this to her but she opted to do the TV show anyway.

After 18 years of sobriety Lillian relapsed in 1964 and her sober days and her marriage were over. She spent the final 15 years of her life with 3 dogs and a woman companion. The inscription on her marker in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Westchester County, NY reads: “As bad as it was it was good”.

I can only shake my head and think how much better it could have been if she’d stayed sober !

Saturday, May 02, 2009

My last mural … Sept. 2008

I’ve written before about my little business called “Snowflakes, Custom Designs”. I started it in the 1990’s to augment my income. Basically it was painting furniture and accessories to match a client’s décor. I had a lot of furniture in my house that I had decoratively hand painted, (as well as murals, floors and faux wall finishes), so I used those as samples.

I decided on the “Snowflakes“ theme based on the fact that all pieces would be one of a kind and “no two were alike”. I have never thought of myself as a "real" artist but I do have a good sense of design and that is about 80% of the finished product in this medium.

My business never brought in a huge amount of money but it’s been fun and has allowed me to travel a bit on the proceeds ... both of those being big pluses.

In September of last year a good friend asked me if I would be interested in painting a mural at her office. I took it as a compliment but I really hesitated before I made my decision. It’s one thing to paint a mural in the privacy of my home. I can take my time, leave a mess if I want to, and just close the door on the whole thing if I’m not in the mood. (These are not endearing attributes when applied to a hired professional !)

I am in fairly good physical condition for a 76 year old but working on a 5 x 6’ wall mural can be back breaking at any age. I finally decided to do it and the result is the mural that you see pictured above. The clients were happy and that’s what matters in the long run.

However, the whole experience has taught me a big lesson and I’ve decided to make it my “swan song” as far as commercial wall murals go. There are times in one’s life when it’s best to give in to our limitations.

Now I am free to concentrate on new outlets ... but one thing is sure ... whatever it is it will include a paint brush !