Thursday, August 28, 2008


I have a tendency to brood - my Scottish blood, no doubt. And I have been brooding about Hurricane Gustav. It doesn't help that the news media feel a necessity to hype things up. I know why. There are a fair number of people who simply do not know how to take care of themselves - or are too lazy to take care of themselves. This was a factor in making Katrina the worst disaster the country ever saw. I wonder if it was really the worst disaster, but that's what they say. Since Katrina, the news people must direct all their announcements to this category of people in a desperate attempt to make them take the approaching storm seriously. In the process, they drive those of us who are responsible into a panic - especially if you're responsible and broody, too.

I've filled my van with gas, got prescriptions refilled, and ascertained that we have a good supply of candles and matches. Jerry has checked all the flashlights, battery operated radios, etc. and is presently out buying extra batteries. He has given the generators a test run and filled gas containers and his truck. He has picked up or secured things in the yard that could turn into flying missiles.

This morning I did the typical storm shopping. I bought jugs of drinking water and plenty of canned goods which would stave off hunger for several days without cooking. We've always been able to cook on our gas range even in a storm, but I'm thinking extreme scenarios. If the house was destroyed but we weren't, maybe we could huddle in the debris and eat beans out of a can.

I saw one of my former piano students at the store. She is now grown with a family of her own. I asked if she's getting ready for the storm. She laughed and said, "I'm doing the things that can be done, but I'm not worried about it. If it comes, it comes and if it doesn't, it doesn't. There's not a thing I can do about it." Bless her heart. She cheered me up. That's what I love about Cajuns. They don't brood!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Feeling Like Alice

Just like Alice in Wonderland fell down a rabbit hole, I seem to have fallen into World War II without trying. It's a long story. Last week end I arranged to meet Suzanne at the coffee shop at Barnes & Noble so we could walk to the nearby theater and see "Mamma Mia." I had a talk with myself before I went in Barnes & Noble. My reasonable self said,

"Your only reason for going in this store is to meet Suzanne. Look neither to the right nor to the left as you walk to the coffee shop. You do NOT need to buy a book."

My "bookish" self reluctantly agreed. I don't know what happened after that. When I "came to," I had a book in my hand that had the curious title, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. The cover design featured an envelope that had obviously been addressed with a fountain pen, and the envelope was complete with postage stamps and post mark.

As I flipped through the book, I saw that the entire novel is a collection of letters written by the characters. Well, that did it. Being a lover of fountain pens and all things postal, how could I resist? Then too, how would I survive without ever knowing what in the world The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society was? Needless to say, I bought the book and it accompanied me and Suzanne to the theater.

I was vaguely aware that Guernsey was English, but I didn't know that it was an island in the English Channel and that it was occupied by Germany during World War II. I made good grades in history, but somehow we never got around to this. I'm getting acquainted with the members of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society and what life was like during the occupation. There is sadness to this story. You can't be occupied for five years by an enemy army and not have sadness, but the courage and good humor outweigh the sadness.

My second encounter with World War II started six weeks ago, but I didn't know it. That's when I ordered the movie, 84 Charing Cross Road, from Netflix. I subscribe to the basic no-frills Netflix program. They send me one movie at a time. When I send it back, they send me another one. Since I'm more addicted to reading and writing than watching movies, this is all I can handle. And sometimes it's more than I can handle.

84 Charing Cross Road resided on my desk for weeks. I couldn't seem to find time to watch it. Why had I ordered it? Because it was about a New York writer who corresponded for years with an English seller of used books. Let's face it. I have a fettish for books and all elements of letter writing. In spite of this, the constant presence of 84 Charing Cross Road on my desk began to annoy me. I felt like a kid with homework.

Last night I decided to watch the darn movie and get it over with. Helene Hanff (Ann Bancroft), in New York, started her correspondence with Frank Doel (Anthony Hopkins), in London, in 1949 and continued it for twenty years. She was obsessed with books, out-of-print ones in particular. Frank Doel answered all her inquiries for obscure books and dedicated himself to locating them for her. Through these letters Helene learns about the deprivation that still existed in post-war England. Again, there is sadness, but the movie is full of funny incidents as the outspoken, humorous Helen relates to the staid and proper Frank Doel.

I was born in 1946 and grew up hearing about World War II. I don't usually seek out books or literature about the war, but I've been highjacked twice in the last six weeks and I think I am all the better for it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Unconventional Stamp Collecting

I love postage stamps. They're little works of art. Since I use my fountain pens to correspond with people all over the world, I often find interesting stamps on the envelopes that land in my mail box.

I get frustrated with the usual albums made specifically for stamp collecting. There are lots of pictures of stamps where you're supposed to mount the real stamps that match the pictures. But I seldom have the stamps that are pictured so I have to mount my stamps in the blank spaces. I've decided to be unconventional and make use of a blank journal that I bought a few years ago.

This journal is perfect! The paper is acid-free and fountain pen friendly. The cover is a lovely collage of postage stamps and fountain pens. My plan is to soak the stamps off the envelope paper and mount them with stamp hinges on the journal pages. Beside each stamp I can make a notation, giving the date and telling whose letter the stamp came on. If there is something of unusual interest in the letter, maybe I'll make a note of that, too.

I've started with some stamps that I found in a box of my mother's papers. My mother was a prolific writer, and although she passed away almost nine years ago, I'm just now going through the boxes of letters, creative writing, and journals that she left.

So this journal that I'm starting will be a combination scrapbook and stamp album. And, since I'm using the approved stamp-collecting hinges, it will be easy to remove a stamp to sell if I ever find out one of them is worth ka-zillion dollars. I like to cover all the bases.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Looking Back

I'm taking a Bible study course with a small group of ladies. We're studying the Book of Daniel. There's quite a bit of homework so I'm glad we're meeting every three weeks instead of weekly. Since civil leaders play a role in shaping culture today just as they did in Babylon in Daniel's time, the workbook suggests that we list the presidents who have served during our lifetime and write a brief statement describing how culture has changed in our lifetime. The workbook allows three lines for this statement.

You know you're getting old when you have to put a lot of thought into listing all the presidents you remember. I listed most of them without help. But there were two or three gaps that I couldn't fill and had to resort to Google for help. Here's the list:

Harry Truman (1945-53) Since I was born in 1946, I don't remember much about Mr. Truman, but I do remember my parents discussing him from time to time. When you're an only child, you hang around the adults a lot.

Dwight Eisenhower (1953-61) We got our first television when I was seven years old. I remember that we watched the convention where Eisenhower was nominated for president. The big thing I remember is that mother said when he was nominated that she was as afraid of Eisenhower in the White House as she would have been of Truman on the battlefield. She didn't change her mind when Eisenhower sent federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, to force the local citizens to integrate their schools. There were racial injustices that needed to be corrected, but sending federal troops to oppose citizens of a sovereign state was a shocking thing.

John F. Kennedy (1961-63) I was sitting in Latin class in high school when the principal came on the intercom and announced that Kennedy had been assassinated. Two or three students cheered and got a lecture from the teacher which they richly deserved. Our household didn't support Kennedy, but it was frightening to think that our president had been murdered.

Lyndon Johnson (1963-69) He changed the course of our nation with his "Great Society." I wish presidents weren't so worried about their legacies. Sometimes I think they get up in the morning thinking, "I must come up with an idea that will be my legacy - even if it's a bad idea."

Richard Nixon (1969-74) In spite of Nixon's many shortcomings, I remember feeling compassion for him when he gave his farewell speech, ending his presidency in disgrace.

Gerald Ford (1974-77) I'll swear I don't remember much about Gerald Ford's presidency. Wonder why? I was busy raising kids, that's why!

Jimmy Carter (1977-81) He should have been a preacher, not a president.

Ronald Reagan (1981-89) I can't say enough good about Ronald Reagan. He entertained me in great movies when I was a kid, and he made me proud to be an American when he was president. It seemed like we barely survived Carter's lackluster presidency, and when Reagan took office, I had the feeling that we had a captain at the helm. And I wasn't disappointed. I was folding clothes when Reagan walked out on Gorbachev in Reykjavik, Iceland. I was putting shellac on the laundry room door when he was shot. Some things you just don't forget.

George H. W. Bush (1989-93) George H. W. made me nervous with his talk about "a new world order."

William J. Clinton (1993-2001) If nothing else, his was a titillating presidency. When he questioned the meaning of the word "is" during his impeachment hearings, I thought the world had gone mad. And I'm not sure I was wrong. To think that the most powerful leader on the face of the planet would question the meaning of "is"!

George W. Bush (2001 - ) The jury is still out on G.W. God knows he's not perfect, but I think history may be kinder to him than a lot of people think.

Well, that's the list. As for a brief statement about how culture has changed in my lifetime - that will take a lot more than three lines!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Monday Morning

There's something special about Mondays, even when you're retired. A new week is like a blank slate. Monday is a good day to do something you've never done before - like start a blog. Blogging is a phenomenon I don't quite understand. What makes us want to babble on about our lives to people we don't know? Maybe I'll discover the answer as I blog. Maybe understanding only comes in the act of doing.

I just started a new novel - The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. I've never read any of Henry James' writings before, but I've read about him. Somewhere I read that his novels are slow-moving. I can see why. A great deal of time is spent inside the heads of the characters. But I like that. I like to know what people are thinking.

The party barge project is coming along. Proud Mary, as she was unofficially dubbed at the last family gathering, is still in dry dock. The new carpet and the new seats have been installed. One of the seats doubles as an ice chest. Jerry, never lacking in ingenuity, has rigged it up so that the ice chest can be drained through a hole in the deck. The next hurdle is the upholstered cushions that cover the gas tank and motor. Do we tackle the reupholstering job ourselves or hire it out? I think we'll get a few estimates and then decide.

When Proud Mary sails (or - to be more accurate - guzzles gas), I plan to make myself comfortable on the new seats, sip a cool drink, and read or write while Jerry fishes. I won't have to take a dictionary with me because I just bought one of those nifty little electronic dictionaries. I'm already addicted to this little gizmo and keep it handy whenever I'm reading.

Spiders are taking over the barn. We've got to call an exterminator before we fill the barn up with new hay for the winter. My thoughts about spiders . . .

I really don’t want to harm you.
I’ve heard about Charlotte’s Web.
But the stalls are no place to gather your wealth.
The barn wasn’t built for you.
It’s home to three gaiting horses;
and although they never complain,
I’m annoyed by you, your family and friends,
all cozy in lacy homes.
You’re a creature of God, I’m told;
but I wonder - really, I do!
If the devil himself has sent you here,
to invade this wholesome barn.
So my broom sweeps away your empire.
I’m sorry you toiled so to build it.
Go! to the trees, the woods, and the fields.
I won’t pursue you there.
You won’t miss the lowly barn flies –
A wealth of mosquitos you’ll find.
And the sun will make your fair webs
glitter and gleam like diamonds.
Judith B. Landry - 2007