Sunday, June 28, 2009


I have been collecting books by Dickens for many years and I have quite an extensive array of them. This is not to say that I’ve read them all. Basically I love his writing but some of them, such as “Bleak House”, are just too convoluted for me. (As an aside, I think the reason that I enjoy the writing of John Irving so much…”Cider House Rules”, “The World According to Garp”, etc…. is that he has a distinctive Dickens’ bent.)

Many of Dickens’ characters have become household names… Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim, Oliver Twist … to name just a few. However, the actual list of characters is immense and only a Dickens’ scholar could name them all. To the best of my knowledge there are 34 works by Dickens in print, as well as miscellaneous papers, plays and poems.

I have 84 books in my collection so you can tell that I have multiple copies of some of them, such as “A Christmas Carol“. Many of my books have come from friends and relatives, as well as those that I’ve found in old book stores. I have a 1st edition of “The Old Curiosity Shop” that I cherish. It was left to me by my friend Douglas when he passed away three years ago.

Of course it stands to reason that I would also be given Dickens’ mementos, such as book ends, plates, and figurines. Among those things is this classic game from Milton Bradley. It consists of 36 cards with delightful pictures from 6 of Dickens’ most famous works. The challenge is to match the picture with the work.

I am under no illusion that Dickens was an endearing person…(read “The Crafty Entrepreneur” that I wrote last year)…but his writings have survived the test of time and he remains one of the most highly quoted authors ever….and one of my favorites.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


I wish I could say that this painting is an original by me but it’s actually a copy of one that I saw in an old magazine. I loved the colors, the subject and the design so I decided to use it in my living room.

The magazine didn’t give credit to the artist so I couldn’t ask for permission to reproduce it. I’m hoping that since I am not using it commercially that it will be OK. Also, I couldn’t photograph the picture straight on since I kept getting glare spots when I did.

What I thought might be of interest to some of you was how I transposed it to my wall. I actually used the old grid trick. I folded the original picture until it formed 24 small squares. Then it was easy to enlarge it to scale and then fill in the individual squares.

After I painted the picture directly on the wall I used a decorative molding to frame it and I was done.

As my blogger friend Phillip wrote to me: “It is interesting to paint on walls and furniture. The Canadian primitive artist, Maude Lewis painted all the surfaces of her shack she lived in. It has been preserved as a work of art.”

I had never heard of Maude Lewis and was fascinated by her story. I know that my “little shack” will never be preserved as a work of art but it’s lots of fun and it keeps me out of trouble !!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

This train bound for....??

As most of you “regulars” know I live in a very small town in North Carolina. Our Seaboard Street has a post office, a library, a combination hardware and “5 & Dime” store plus a few unoccupied buildings. They are all on one side of the street. The other side of the street looks over the single train track that cuts through our town and is heavily wooded, as you can see in the picture.

I guess the trains have to be scheduled very carefully since there is only one track. Basically we get 3 or 4 freight trains per day and a passenger one that whips through late at night. You can never miss that one. The train whistle pierces the air announcing its arrival long before it hits our town. I love that sound!

A few days ago I was down at the Hardware store picking up some potting soil. Max, the owner, and I were outside chatting when an old CSX freight train chugged into sight. I thought it was going slower than normal but then realized that it was actually going to stop.

“What’s going on?” I asked Max, as we watched the conductor hop down from the train and scale the small hill that led to the street. “Oh, I reckon it’s lunch time”, said Max.

Sure enough, the train conductor was jogging across the street and soon disappeared around the corner. According to Max he was on his way to the “Subway” eatery located in the BP Service Station one street away. “He does this once or twice a week”, said Max ”…been going on for years.”

I was still trying to take this all in when the man reappeared carrying a large bag with the “Subway” logo on it. He had a big grin on his face and was thoroughly enjoying himself. “Top of the morning to you, Max” he called.

He then disappeared over the edge of the bank and a few seconds later we saw him board the train. As the idling engine gained speed he stuck his head out and gave us a last wave. “Now there goes a man who loves his job” I thought and the sheer audacity of his actions made me laugh.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

My “I Hate to Exercise” Exercises

For the past 70-some years I’ve tried to pass myself off as an active, “sporty” type of person. If the truth be known my favorite “activity” is reading a good book while curled up in an overstuffed arm chair.

When I retired in 2001 I realized that I would have to face this problem head on. I could very easily see myself turning into a fat couch potato. There were 2 things that I had never done well & they were: 1) sticking to a healthy eating pattern and 2) keeping a regular exercise regimen. My intentions were always good but the follow-through was atrocious.

It was at this time that a good friend suggested Tai Chi and she and I attended a few classes. I didn’t stick with it but I was very impressed with the warm-up movements. These are 18 exercises that are designed to relax and tone all the major joints in the body. I realized that I had finally found an exercise regimen that I could stick to. During the last 8 years I have had an operation and been sick a few times but I have always kept up with my exercise plan.

It takes me about 10 minutes each morning, and, although they are deceptively simple, these basic exercises have proved to be remarkably beneficial. From a standing position I rotate my neck (right, then left), raise and lower my shoulders, shake my hands, “paint the wall”, “circle the moon“...front and back, “play the accordion”, “swim breast-stroke on land”, circle hips, right & left, touch toes, bend backward, bend side to side, “look back at the moon”, bend legs & circle knees, circle ankles, “sit” on an imaginary chair, rise on toes and finally lift the knees.

Simple, huh? Well, it is for me and now I can’t imagine starting my day without this regimen. On the few occasions that I do miss I can tell it by early afternoon. My back starts to ache and I don’t have my usual energy level...and all of this just because I didn’t devote a few minutes of my precious time to doing what’s good for me!

I’ve checked with physical therapists and they all agree that a “soft” exercise plan like this would be good for anyone, even if you are recovering from an injury or out of shape in general. Any good Tai Chi book will describe the exercises in detail, usually done 12 times per sequence, and you’ll be on your way.

GOOD LUCK and believe me, if I can do it you can too!

Monday, June 08, 2009


I was thrilled to find this great hard-cover crossword puzzle book at a yard sale recently. It isn’t used at all and has 400 puzzles from the Sunday NY Times. It was a bargain at 50 cents and will give me literally hours and hours of fun.

A strange thing happened when I settled down to work on the first puzzle though. I realized that there were no clues having to do with computers, cell phones, etc. There were some that referenced TV but most of the actors and the shows were ones that hadn’t been on the air for years.

The kicker came when I had a 6 letter word and the clue was “a college in East Orange, NJ”. I knew at once that it had to be “Upsala” because I had actually gone there for the first two years of my college education…transferring to Boston University in my Junior year. The thing that puzzled me (no pun intended) was that Upsala has been closed for years.

Then it occurred to me ...these were indeed authentic NY Times puzzles but from a much earlier era. Sure enough, I found that these were published over 40 years ago. It is amazing how much has changed.

It occurred to me that a young person today would be hard pressed to know what some of the clues were about. For instance, one clue read “with 79 across an old ‘Laugh In’ phrase” and the answer (which I actually could remember after I’d put in a few other words) was “look it up in your Funk and Wagnalls”. Is there anybody reading this that remembers that?

The interesting thing to me is that I actually seem to be doing better with these puzzles than I do with the current ones. It’s a relief not to have to have clues about computer language and hi-tech electronics. Just working on these puzzles is transporting me back to the easier, slower pace of years gone by and I’m enjoying it immensely.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


When I joined Alcoholics Anonymous in 1989 I had no idea what to expect. Like so many of our members on their first visit to AA I was petrified that someone would recognize me. A kindly person was quick to point out that whoever was in the room had the same problem that I did and that put it all in perspective for me.

I came to love the anonymity of the program. It not only protected me, to an extent, but it meant that, for the first time in my life, I learned to truly listen to what a person shared. I was no longer influenced by their status in the work place or how much or little they were worth monetarily. Doctors, lawyers and ditch diggers all melded into one and it was their words that caught my attention.

Of course after you become an established member of an AA community you get beyond a first-name basis. You gravitate toward those that “speak” to your particular problems and it is then that you get to know the people more intimately.

I was very surprised to find that many of the members in the rooms that I frequented were high-profile members of our community. One man in particular seemed to have a very good grasp of the program and I learned that he was a well known and successful architect in our area.

John was a very active AA member but he passed away when I was just 3 or 4 years sober so I never really got to know him. However, he had donated two large original art works which are framed and on display on the walls of our local AA club and I think of him often when I am there.

An enterprising member copied them and has made them into get well cards. The pine branches in the shape of AA mirror the area in which we live, which is the Sandhills of North Carolina. The other card is a wonderful example of organized design and features the most influential words of “The Serenity Prayer”.

John may be gone but his artwork reminds us daily of the gifts that this amazing program has in store for us … if we just stick together and “keep the plug in the jog”…(his words.)