Wednesday, December 26, 2012


"Well, I wouldn't say that I was in the great class, but I had a great time while I was trying to be great."

"The President is always abused. If he isn't, he isn't doing anything."

"I remember when I first came to Washington. For the first six months you wonder how the hell you ever got here. For the next six months you wonder how the hell the rest of them ever got here." 

"I never did give anybody hell.  I just told the truth and they thought it was hell." 
U.S. President No. 33, 
who joined the ranks of the dear 
departed 40 years ago today.

          Wasn't Harry a pistol?  I was sitting at my folks' dining room table when we heard the news that he'd died. For years, Harry Truman lived just a few blocks from us. In fact, years later, I'd write Mr. Truman into Just For You to Knowmy historical novel, set here in Independence. 
        And now Harry was gone, at age 88. The age that Geo. H.W. Bush is now, in intensive care, in a Houston, TX hospital. One foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel, poor soul.  A good and decent public servant all in all and when he goes, as will we all, it'll be the end of a rich chapter in the history of our country. As it surely was when Harry died, that genuine, true-blue husband and citizen. Farmer. Piano-player. Valiant soldier. Overcomer. Politician. Dapper dresser. Lover of history. By golly, those of you  who chance to come across this, do give yourself the pleasure of reading David McCullough's HST bio,  a swift-going, juicy doorstop of a book.  
         And too, poor old heartsick, wonderful/horrible Lyndon B. Johnson, died just a few weeks later, on the 22nd of January. There's another story and a long one, too. More about LBJ later - and baybee - do check out Robt. Caro's books about that ol' powermonger. 
          For now, look back over your shoulder four decades and give a thought to the life of sturdy, thoughtful Harry Truman. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Isaac Newton, who'd be 370 years old this Christmas Day. 

         "I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people."  Isaac Newton

So. An all too appropriate quotation for us here in this bittersweet season of the year, from this genius, who knew plenty of wonder and sorrow in his 17th century world and did his best to explain it.

Be merry, m'dears.  


Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Trees

        So, 'twas grey and chilly all day yesterday, the eve of the day said to be the world's Last Day. And given all the sorrow of this past week, flowers and teddy bears piled outside an elementary school in New England; pictures of small fizzy children with all of their lives ahead of them; pictures of dedicated educators.  I was thinking that, after all, we humans might as well call it a day. If we couldn't look after one another any better than that.  But then again, I guess it's always been so: Goodness and glory reside side by side with pissyness, rage and nightmare in the human heart. In this cockeyed caravan.  Wasn't it, after all, a horrifying anomaly? Didn't those educators spend their vary last seconds on their own very Last Days, with acts of heroism? But still... I'm haunted by those pictures. How is it that this blessed nation is so violent?  
         So, with the setting of the sun and the glowering dark, we had  rain. hail. thunder. Scared my dog, Mimi. "Hold me,' she said w/ her trembles and her buggy eyes, front paws on my leg, begging for a cuddle, to save her from the monsters. So, the two of us, me and my 4-legged hot water bottle, cozied under the blankets and quilts. I can't speak for Mimi, but I listened to the sleet rattling against the windows of this old house. I thought about those bereft parents back east and the monsters. About people who defiantly insist that high-powered weapons and an endless bounty of ammo must be available to the citizenry, lest our God-given freedoms, proclaimed for posterity by our nation's Founders, be denied.
 And in the morning, the world was still here, all white and glittering.  
         So, let me here give thanks for this day, now that it, too, is just about over, this here First Day of Winter.  For an old-timey pot of beans on the stove. Soaked, boiled, simmered with chicken broth, an onion, a chopped up yellow bell pepper, nice & mild, lots of garlic, salt, pepper, sage & thyme, a chopped up tiny tin of Spam, a bit o' red pepper for heat.  
     Around me, outside in the cold dark neighborhood, kids are sleeping in their beds. Some of the neighbors have festooned their houses with light and glamour. There are Christmas trees in the windows. Not in mine, though.  Such things aren't as interesting to me as all my scheming, painting, and typing, hunkering over my computer up here in my studio. How will I celebrate the holiday?   I'll reread the chapter in LH on the P where Mr. Edwards meets Santa Claus. I'll watch The Bishop's Wife again and love David Niven and Cary Grant.  Gift-wise, I'll bake gingerbread for the neighbors.  And I spent the last 3 days researching & compiling all of the genealogical hoohah I've collected, put it all into 7 or 8 generations of my mom & dad's lines, into a family chart. then I went out today, stepping ginger around the ice, & got copies made for the sibs & such.  Talked w/ my mom's 90 year old cousin, a former schoolteacher who remembered when Uncle Jimmy Wolfe was born. (March 27, 1923, up in northern Colorado, where once the buffalo grazed and thundered.) Stirring it was to read about my sharpshooting 18th Century ancestor, Captain John Harness, forced to do battle  with fierce native warriors, forced to do battle with all of the settlers moving into their lands, known to the foreigners as 'Virginia.'  About Rebecca Amelia Brown, b. 1842, a Pennsylvania Quaker/Underground Railroader. About little Emma Wolfe, sent west on an orphan train after her mama died and her at-his-wits-end dad couldn't take care of his kids, one of 'em being my redheaded grandpa, who sailed off to the Western Front to take part in the Great War, that vicious, useless, muddy, deadly, deafening, ridiculous war, so grainy and quaint-looking in the photographs, then came home to marry his dark haired sweetheart, Eulah Brown of Cameron, MO. 'Girly' he called her in his letters.  
About Alden Harness, b. 1862, when another war was tearing up the Missouri countryside.  Oh well, anyway, he stayed around in MO long enough to sire my other grandpa, then took off to western parts unknown.  
       And anyway, darkly satisfying it was,  typing, cutting, and pasting family trees, decorated with choirs of ancestors.  Mailing 'em off, lest the memories be lost, to the present generation, going through this present season of bright and dark.  Christmas trees, huh?   

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Snow Day

John Steinbeck, author of many things, but my all-time favorite is Travels With Charley: In Search of America and baby, if you haven't read it, absolutely put it on your list
Oh my gosh, we've at last had SNOW! I got not one but 2 invitations to take part in a snowball fight w/ the neighborhood kids, but, I assured them, I'm a pacifist/noncombatant.  And today's the anniversary of the day, in 1823, when poor old Dr. Samuel Mudd was born. And the anniversary of John Steinbeck's death day, in 1968.  Sigh...

Monday, December 17, 2012

17 December

So, m'dears, we've come through a painful and sorrowful weekend from which I escaped into a Downton Abbey marathon on PBS. That and drawing, painting a piece for my proposed Laura Ingalls Wilder calendar, for 2014, should our world be around that long.  For now, I invite you to check out my monthly post on a splendid group blog, I.N.K. This link, Interesting Nonfiction for Kids  will take you to, which grew out of the blog, where you will find such remarkable authors as Jim Murphy, Vicki Cobb, and Deborah Heiligman.

John Greenleaf Whittier, whose bow tie is wonderful

As for today's birthday dudes & dudettes, I'll just note the English chemist, Humphry Davy, b. 17 Dec. 1778, and Victorian poet, John Greenleaf Whittier, b. this day in 1807. Considering recent happenings, here's an apt quote of his: 
    "For all sad words of tongue and pen,
     The saddest are these, 'It might have been.'

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The 16 December Door in the Sky

Man oh man oh man, ponder, just look at the souls 
who came into the world through the door marked 16 December, the anniversary, 
by the way of the Boston Tea Party, on the bitter cold December night in 1773.

"Music is the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life...Only the pure in heart can make a good soup."
          magnificent, splendid, tormented  
        Ludwig van Beethoven, b. 16 Dec. 1770

"In nine cases out of ten, a woman had better show more affection than she feels..."There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort..."A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of."      adorable novelist, Jane Austen, b. 16 Dec. 1775

"My importance to the world is relatively small.  On the other hand, my importance to myself is tremendous. I am all I have to work with, to play with, to suffer and to enjoy.  It is not the eyes of others that I am wary of, but of my own. I do not intend to let myself down more than I can possibly help."  
             composer, playwright, song & dance man, bon vivant,              
             Noel Coward, b. 16 Dec. 1899

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; it's the only thing that ever has..."We have nowhere else to go...this is all we have."
         anthropologist, author, 
          Margaret Mead, b. 16 Dec. 1901

"The true measure of a man is not his intelligence or how high he rises in this freak establishment.  No, the true measure of a man is this: how quickly can he respond to the needs of others and how much of himself he can give..."Don't try to solve serious matters in the middle of the night."    Amen to that.
       author, Philip K. Dick, b. 16 Dec. 1928

"Depression is rage spread thin [oh my gosh, I love that and how, how true]..."A child educated only at school is an uneducated child..."Only the dead have seen the end of war..."To delight in war is a merit in the soldier, a dangerous quality in the captain, and a positive crime in the statesman."  [I'm thinking of you, cannot help but think of you, GWB, your VP, and the thousands who departed this world by way of Iraq. CH]

  "Our knowledge is a torch of smoky pine that lights the pathway but one step ahead."
            poet, professor, philosopher, George Santayana, b. 16 Dec. 1863, the day the Confederacy named Gen. Joe Johnston as commander of the Army of Tennessee.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

In Their Own Right

"If you practice an art, be proud of it and make it proud of you.  
It may break your heart, but it will fill your heart before it breaks it; it will make you a person in your own right."  
                    Maxwell Anderson 15 Dec, 1888 ~ 28 Feb, 1959

     So, this splendid Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, of Key Largo and Anne of the Thousand Days, among many others, began his bumptious life on this day in history, but I suppose what I like best about him is the above quote, now copied into my little book. Because I'll be pondering today how one would make one's art proud. Heaven knows, my art + luck and labor made 'me a person in my own right,' thanks be to all that's holy. Would that more people - no make that everyone - would that everyone have his or her art and the disposition to find pride and personhood there.

Betty Smith 15 Dec 1896 ~ 17 Jan, 1972

      Anyway, M.A. [oh - you know what else he wrote? he adapted a novel by Wm. March into the fabulous, creepy play > turned into a movie The Bad Seed] shared a birthday w/ another author, one who wrote one of the greatest, most life-filled, satisfactory novels ever written. That'd be A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. She came into her hardscrabble world, into noisy, crowded Brooklyn, NY, in 1896, when future-writer Maxwell was off somewhere celebrating his 8th birthday; about 3 years after Charles Duryea [b. 15 Dec, 1861] and his brother, Frank, first road-tested their "motor wagon," the 1st gasoline-powered automobile.  And this trio of December babies sure leave me wondering what that young man in Connecticut would have, could have done with his life, what his victims might have gone on to do with theirs, if only he'd been blessed with an art, with health, with whatever combination of nature/nurture hoohah that leads to decent personhood in his own right.

Friday, December 14, 2012

the day.

        So, I've been out and about. Meeting friends. Driving to a school, a repository of oldsters. Obsessed, here at home, w/ a painting. So I neglected to write, never got around to writing about the notable souls who came into the world on the 12th of December, Frank Sinatra, for instance, that sturdy, angel-gifted & golden-voiced, troubled survivor of anti-Italian loathing here in America in the early 20th century. And bespectacled abolitionist Wm. Lloyd Garrison (in 1805). 
     Or those who were born on December 13. A lost friend. Poor, clever & charming, high-maintenance Mary Todd Lincoln, with her bottomless grief. She shared a birthday w/ Sergeant Alvin York; did you know that? That back-country fellow whose conscience and strength was tested in the vile, dreadful, and [worst of all needless 'Great War.'
    But today, the 14th of December, marks the day that a lovely niece of mine was born, 22 years ago, the child of my little sister. I spent part of it, taking paintings down from my walls, carrying them to a local gallery. Hoping that people would see them and think 'one of our neighbors draws pretty pictures.' And it marks the day that many a little sister and brother were blasted out of this world by yet another troubled young man. 
    What good, what fancied wrong was redeemed - what satisfaction did he gain from those vile murders? 
    And somewhere, above, below, & beyond this wondrous, horrid world, I have to believe that his immortal knowing will be confronted with the depth of what he has done.
    Once upon a time, that murderer was a beautiful baby boy. And here, at Christmastime, we're left to ponder and grieve.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

11 December

Star-Stalker Annie Jump Cannon

So, I'm needing to head out in the next little bit to talk to what I reckon will be a very small audience [I wouldn't show up either if I hadn't promised I would. It about takes blasting caps to get me out of the house, I swear] at my neighborhood's old folks' home, about illustrating my version of The Night Before Christmas [23 years ago - can you believe it? me neither]. ThirtySomething was still on network TV. Anyway, today's the anniversary of the birth [in 1863] of astronomer Annie Jump Cannon, who had a terrific name, one I'd never heard until I wrote & illustrated Remember the Ladies.  

Big Mama Thornton
    AND it's the birthday [in1926, when my dad was 4 yrs old] of rhythm and blues recording artist, knockout-voiced Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton. Click HERE to hear her belt out Hound Dog. Baybee.  

Monday, December 10, 2012

10 December

       So, okay, yes, I know that John Milton was an important English writer, but I haven't read anything he wrote since I was in college. What does he have to do with my life? Nothing of which I'm aware, but I know these words of his are true: 
        "The mind is its own place and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven."  
         Yesterday was the anniversary of his birth, back in what would be a completely alien world, the English world of 1608. And 9 December marked the birthdays of computer wizard/U.S. Naval officer Grace Hopper, the sad hobo clown Emmett Kelly, and Margaret Hamilton, who played the W. Witch of the W. in the 1939 W. of Oz. Did you know that she came into the world at the time/space intersection of 9 Dec 1902/Cleveland, Ohio?  Me neither. And look at her wonderful face. Doesn't Ms. Hamilton look like someone you would have wanted to know? 
Margaret Hamilton

        Now today, Monday, the 10th of December marks the anniversary of the birth, in 1907, in England, of one of my favorite writers. That'd be Rumer Godden.  One of the most delightful children's books I ever read was penned by Rumer Godden, who wrote many a handsome book for grownups (In This House of Brede, for one. Black Narcissus, for another. Both made into swellegant, thoughtful films.)  That'd be Miss Happiness and Miss Flower.  What's it about? A lonely girl, drawn out of her homesickness by her empathy for "two little Japanese dolls, only about five inches high. Their faces and hands were made of white plaster, their bodies of rag, which meant they could bow most beautifully - and Japanese people bow a great deal..."

 Gosh, I cannot recommend it enough. 
         Happy birthday, Rumer Godden, even though you've been dead for years. Thanks for the books, still very much alive.


Saturday, December 8, 2012

“All human beings should try to learn before they die what they are running from, and to, and why.”                        
                                                                                 James Thurber

 So, sure, it's the anniversary of the birth of witty writer & cartoonist James Thurber in 1894. The doomed Mary, Queen of Scots was born on this day in 1542. Lost, countless years since legions of souls came into the world through the door marked 8th of December. 
 25 years since my sweet Bassett Hound, my first dog, Ruby was born. And 32 years since my kid brother Tim called me to say that John Lennon had been murdered. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Day That Will Live in Infamy, Among Other Things

So, consider this: Every date on the calendar grid is the square-shaped tip of a time iceberg, of meaning.  All those anniversaries. For sure, December 7 is no exception. For one thing, one of my earliest memories is being 5 years old, going into the bedroom one evening and picking up my new baby brother Timothy, startling the grownups by carrying him into the front room. On this day in 1990, the wife of that same kid brother gave birth to a baby girl. 

There are probably still plenty of people who think that Franklin D. Roosevelt knew that the Japanese were going to attack the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor,  Hawaii on that fateful Sunday morning. Do I think so? No, but history is chockablock with mysteries. The dead take many a secret to the grave. 

Ms. Fay Bainter – Is that a great face or what?
And it's the anniversary of the birth of writer Willa Cather, in 1873. Of the singer/songwriter Harry Chapin, who'd be 70 today. Of the wonderful actress of the old silver screen, Fay Bainter (1891). Of singer/trumpeter and voice of Jungle Book's orangutan king, Louis Prima (1910). 
   Apart from all that, it's a chilly grey day here, but not a proper December day because it's not COLD. It's not SNOWY, which is wonderful because don't you hate the notion that once you step outside into the beautiful, sparkling icy snow, you face the risk of slipping and changing your life, maybe forever? 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Moms Know Best

So guess what: Shovelful of Sunshine, written by Stacie Vaughn Hutton, w/ my illustrations, has won the GOLD, is the recipient of a Mom's Choice Award, "among the best in family-friendly media, products, and services.


St. Nicholas Day

So, "on December 6, 1809, the public was offered a chance to buy copies of A History of New York, by Diedrich Knickerbocker, a mysterious old gent they'd read about in the newspaper. Folks so delighted in his comical retelling of the colonial past and the way he poked fun at modern politicians that the book was an instant success – for Washington Irving, of course.
   He made up [Mr. Knickerbocker] the author, wrote the book, and made sure that it came out on the feast day of Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas), who was much loved by NY's Dutch colonists.  The good saint had always been pictured as a tall, thin bishop riding a white horse - that is, until W.I., in his book, gave us a stout, jolly St. Nick, who 'rode over the tops of the trees, in that self-same wagon wherein he brings his yearly presents to children.'"
    The above is a passage from my picture book bio of bon vivant, diplomat Washington Irving, published a few years back by the Nat'l Geographic Society, quoted here in honor of my book, of course, AND this being St. Nicholas Day, and my wanting to point out that Clement Clarke Moore got his notion of jolly St. Nick from Wash Irving, America's first international celebrity author, who also wrote the spooky Legend of Sleepy Hollow; who, by the way, almost singlehandedly popularized the notion of a traditional, wassail-slurping, mistletoe-smooching, sleigh-riding, Yule-log-flickering, Merrie Olde English Christmas

    And, by the by, consider this list of a few notable individuals who entered the world's stage on the 6th of December: the great French magician Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin (1805 - did you know that the great Houdini took that stage name in honor of Robert-Houdin? Well he did.)),  character actress Agnes Moorehead  (1900), Prohibition-era gangster, Lester Joseph Gillis, a.k.a. "Baby Face" Nelson, and journalist/literary critic/poet, Joyce Kilmer (1886), whose parents named their little boy 'Joyce.' Should you happen to click onto the Wikipedia link you'll discover that this man, mostly remembered these days, if at all, for having written a lovely little poem about trees, was a member of NY's "Fighting 69th" Infantry Regiment.  Sergeant Kilmer was 31 years old when he was killed in WWI, in the summer of 1918 at the Second Battle of the Marne. Just for you to know.  
Sgt. Alfred Joyce Kilmer

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

December Babies

So, phooey, I completely let yesterday go by w/o writing anything here. I was running errands. Delivering books to Scandinavia Place, the swellegant store up on the Independence Square where I'm having a signing on Saturday, 8 Dec. 11 ~ 2 PM. Drawing. I was completely captivated by the audio book [The Winter of the World, the 2nd in Ken Follett's Century Trilogy - oh my gosh: a Dickensian novelization of the history of the 20th century. I can't recommend it enough.]  I was listening to while I was drawing and driving around, then a little more driving around when I forgot one of the things I was supposed to do. Sheesh. 

Lillian Russell (1860? ~1922)
Anyway, yesterday was the birthday anniversary of lovely Lillian Russell.  Do pay a visit to this little link, see how beautiful she was, listen to her big hit, recorded a century ago, crackling out of a vanished past. 
The poet Rainer Maria Rilke, too. 1875. And brilliant writer, historian Thomas Carlyle. 1795. Write these words of his into your little book: 
     "Every day that is born into the world comes like a burst of music and rings the whole day through, and you make of it a dance, a dirge, or a life march, as you will."

     And today, Wednesday, 5 December, marks the 126th anniversary of the birth of Laura and Almanzo's Prairie Rose, hardheaded writer, traveler, journalist, editor, Rose Wilder Lane.  [It's the birthday today, too, of the "Sage of Kinderhook," U.S. President No. 8, Martin Van Buren (1782) and vainglorious Gen. George Armstrong Custer. (1839, b. on the 9th birthday of poet Christina Rossetti). Just for you to know. Jeeze, what a character Custer was. Did you ever see the PBS documentary about him and his "last stand"? Well worth checking out.] 
Rose Wilder Lane 1886 ~ 1968
     On Rose Wilder's 15th birthday, brilliant, ambitious, animator, film producer  Walter Elias "Walt" Disney was born. Reading this quote of his sure reminded me of J. K. Rowling's conception of Harry Potter: "Mickey Mouse popped out of my mind onto a drawing pad ...on a train ride from Manhattan to Hollywood at a time when business fortunes ...were at lowest ebb and disaster seemed right around the corner."
      Oh well. All these December babies have finished their work. I haven't and it won't get done if I keep sitting here typing about dead people.
   "Blessed is he who has found his work; let him ask no other blessedness."  Thos. Carlyle, birthday dude.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Man Who Painted the Man on the Dollar

"What a business is this of a portrait painter!
You bring him a potato and expect he will paint you a peach."
Gilbert Stuart (1755 ~ 1828)
    SO, just a few months after young Geo Washington survived a deadly dust-up in the French & Indian War, when many thousands of Portuguese were still recovering and mourning the deaths of as many as 90,000 of their countrymen in a huge, whacking earthquake in Lisbon on 1 November, it was on this day, 3 December in 1755, that Rhode Islander Gilbert Stuart was born.
Imagine sitting in your best clothes and holding very still as that man with those observant, beady eyes studies you and draws and paints exactly what they see. That's what Washington did, in his second and last term, his noble decision, another instance of making his mark on untrodden ground. It's said that the 63-year-old President was about as uncomfortable as we would be so 41-year-old Stuart got him talking about horses. [This LINK tells more about the painter and the president.] 
    Alas, "when I painted him," Gilbert wrote later on, "he had just had a set of false teeth inserted, which accounts for the constrained expression so noticeable about the mouth and lower part of the face."
Can you even IMAGINE these in your own personal mouth???
     Me, having weathered several harrowing visits to the dentist over the years, I'm thinking POOR BABY! 18th Century Dentistry = YIKES! The man managed to win his country's war for independence largely out of sheer, steadfast endurance and just-by-God-don't-LOSE strategy; he gets his weak, squawling infant of a nation through its initial, noble, lick-and-a-promise efforts at self-governance and all of this whilst suffering the worst, unrelenting toothaches and the most hellish, purgatorial dentures. Anyway, this is what Gilbert Stuart came up with:

And was Martha Washington happy with this portrait of her hubby? Don't think so.  And I don't know that I am either, but then again, there's no photography. It's part of the painter's job to show the world what in the heck people really look like. Washington was his century's most significant person and plenty of people living then knew it. They wanted pictures of him; certainly Gilbert Stuart kept his nest feathered for years, painting copies and good for him, no foolin'. Well I know the struggle of keeping a freelance operation afloat, but - maybe this is just me, old greeting card illustrator that I am -  wouldn't you think that Stuart could have carefully observed this man and his mouth and cut them both some slack? 
      Anyway, next time you happen to handle a single, a buck, a greenback, check out the tiny engraving of the portrait done by today's birthday dude and ponder him - and his remarkable client.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

"I, John Brown am now quite certain that the crimes of
this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood."

Yup, old John Brown (golly, I say 'old' but he was only a couple of years younger than I am now), was right about that at least: It was going to take an ocean of blood to settle America's nasty addiction to slavery. But is racism purged from 'this guilty land'? Oh well, he shed his share of it before he was led to the gallows back in 1859, before that fierce old buster exited this mean old world on this day in history. 
It's the deathday of brilliant, TV innovator Desi Arnaz, too. He left a very different America on 2 Dec. 1886. Get a load of him HERE. 
On the other hand, who came into the world on this day in history? The terrific character actor, Ray Walston, in 1914, the year the Great War broke out in Europe, for one; and glorious singer, Maria Callas, for another, in 1923, plus legions of those whose lives are lost to us. 
      And I got to go to the movies today. Isn't it wonderful, sitting in the dark with strangers, light, color, music, words, and story spilling equally over one and all?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

and now it's December

        So, being a romantic, who grew up with historic fiction (the above image so reminds me of the winter scenes in Farmer Boy and Little House in the Big Woods  and heaven knows, I've certainly painted more than a few winter sleigh rides.), this was always my idea of December. But here in Independence, MO, today it's more like a damp, grey morning in April, which is glorious, but I can't help wondering, after the seething cauldron of a summer we've so recently survived, what does this suggest for the health of our planet? Is there menace in this loveliness?  Perhaps. So I reckon I'll continue to recycle. Switch off the lights when I leave the room. Go for a walk and savor this lovely spring day in December. Which happens to be, incidentally, the 251st anniversary of the day Anna Maria Grosholtz was born to her widowed mother, in 1761, in Strasbourg, France, a town I passed through back in 1977, I think, when I first went to Europe, with my long gone friend, Phyllis Dove.
Mme. Tussaud
       Anna Maria G. came to be better known as Madame Marie Tussaud, famed for the wax death masks and figures she created back in the hellish days of the French Revolution, in which her own living head was nearly cut off. Some of the works she created are still to be seen in London, where she lived until she died when she was 88, having seen much that she would just as soon have forgotten. Mme. Tussaud shares a birthday, by the way, w/ the complex comic, Woody Allen; and the great Bette Midler, one of the best entertainers ever. Lemme tell you one of my happier memories is seeing her in concert in Kansas City in the 1970s. Slender, young Barry Manilow, her pianist, walked out onto the stage, a long chiffon scarf drifting & floating out behind him.
And the last man I ever was silly enough to marry is having a birthday today, his 71st, that is if he's not dead or something. Oh yeah, and the great detective writer, creator of sleuth Nero Wolfe, Rex Stout came into the world on this day in 1886. Here's something he said with which I totally agree: 
 "I still can't decide which is more fun – reading or writing."

        Either one is a perfect way to spend a December day in Spring.

Friday, November 30, 2012

A Pretty Auspicious, Writerly Door in the Sky

So, WOW: Look at this gallery of electric individuals, writers all, only one of whom I've had the pleasure [even when Veda calls me on my hair brained, albeit enthusiastic schemes] to actually know, face to face, but ponder on this - each of them came into this world through the celestial door marked 30 November. Mr. Parks, one hundred years ago today, as a matter of fact, to do, to write, to picture so much here in this here vale of tears & laughter. 

Ms. Montgomery, bless her for creating Anne [w/ an 'e'] of GGs, entered the world's stage in 1874, as did Sir Winston - Oh now, there's a scene I'd like to have witnessed, those two souls fixing to go down the chute, step from behind the starry curtain, get on the busses, one bound for an English mansion [and a beautiful, headstrong American mother/aristocratic, brilliant jerk of a father], the other headed for Prince Edward Island. 

Rev. Swift had been here & gone by then. Came into this hard old world (his especially so, considering England's ever-nasty dealings with Ireland)  30 Nov 1667 & exited the stage in 1745.

And of course, Sam. Mark Twain. Would have been celebrating his –what? 39th birthday that day. Jeepers. What a day! Let's all have tea, wine, and little cakes – whilst dipping into books by this birthday sextet.

Gordon Roger Alexander Buchanan Parks
"Enthusiasm is the electricity of life."
Lucy Maud Montgomery
"Tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it."
yet, anyway...
Samuel Langhorne Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain
"Apparently there is nothing that cannot happen today."

Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill
"You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something in your life."

Jonathan Swift
"Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others."

Veda Boyd Jones
"I want to see this world with an artist's eye."

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Bronson, Louisa, and Jack

"Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead."

"I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship."

                               Louisa May Alcott, b. this day in 1832.
hardworking Louisa May Alcott

"To keep the heart unwrinkled, to be hopeful, kindly, cheerful, reverent - that is to triumph over old age."

"A government for protecting business only is but a carcass and soon fails by its own corruption & decay."

                Amos Bronson Alcott, Louisa's dad, b. this day in 1799
improvident, idealistic Bronson Alcott

So, this famous daughter and her father, known for their words and their conflicted relationship, share a birthday with another wordsmith, one whose books, whose Narnia, gave me far more pleasure than those dense, wordy works of Louisa. Sorry, but it's true. I admire her, but the works of Clive Staples 'C.S.' Lewis are a heckuva lot more fun. [don't even want to fool with the works of Louisa's dad. it's incurious, unforgiving, and bullheaded of me, but I'm still mad at him for being such a head-in-the-clouds lousy provider for his wife and daughters, who struggled so hard to keep things together.  Anyway, "Jack" Lewis came into the world of Victoria's England on 29 Nov, 1898. He left it, not so very incidentally, through the celestial door marked 22 Nov in the year 1963. So imagine Jack Lewis and President Jack Kennedy side by side in Heaven Orientation.
"You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream."  C.S. Lewis

What I Meant to Say!

SO,  shoot, in my blogpost yesterday,  I noted it was the birthday of swellegant actress Gloria Grahame & her great line from 'It's a Wonderful LIfe' – then tied it back to a very cool Weird But True book I'm writing for the Geographic, but it would like I was dissing my new book unless you knew GG meant she looked AWESOME in THIS terrific scene! 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Helen Magill, Ph.D.

Helen Magill White

So, what a fine face hers was, doncha think? When Helen Magill was about 24 years old back in 1877 (she was born on 28 Nov. 1853), she did something that no American woman had ever before been allowed to do: She earned a Ph.D. What did she study? Ancient Greek. She shared a birthday with John Bunyan (1628), the author of The Pilgrim's Progress [From this World to That Which is to Come]; English poet/mystic William Blake (1757), and Gloria Grahame (1923) - who was she? If you've ever seen the great Frank Capra film, It's a Wonderful Life, you know her face if not her name. Her great line? When she's complimented on her dress: "This old thing? Why I just wear this when I don't care how I look!" 
Now, back to work. I've got to find about 50 more strange factoids for the Weird But True book I'm doing for the National Geographic. I am so buzzed about this project! Did you know that Thomas Edison had a movie company? That he made a movie less than one second long? Of a man sneezing? Watch for my Ye Olde Weird But True sometime next year. Wahoo! You can just have fun reading that when you don't care what you read!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Ms. Fanny

Beautiful, brilliant, & brave Fanny Kemble

       So, please, if you're reading this, do check out this link and read about Fanny Kemble, who appears to have been a remarkably gifted and admirable woman. A celebrated British actress, author, and abolitionist who fell in love a dashing, wealthy American slaveholder and married him, but not for long. Her story reads like a romance novel and not w/o tragedy [given the laws of her time, Fanny lost custody of her daughters to the man who proved to be a jerk,] not that I'm given to reading such fare. Give me a murder mystery any day.  Still I think her memoir, Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838~1839, would be WELL worth reading. It's on my list. [according to amazon, you can get the book for free on your Kindle if you have one of these nifty devices: good to have whilst standing in line at the post office] And, by the by, Ms. Fanny was born 203 years ago today, 27 Nov 1809, when Lincoln and Chas. Darwin were each 9 months old, that age when babies are in full flower. 
Ms. Fanny shares a birthday with Caroline Kennedy [1957], just for you to know; Howdy Doody's buddy, Buffalo Bob Smith [b. Robt. Schmidt in 1917], and Jimi Hendrix, who'd be 70 years old today, in a kinder, better world. Neat it would have been to have seen and heard what he might have done in these past 40 years or so, no? As long as I'm wishing, would that I could have, even from afar, seen the woman who wrote these words:

"I want to do everything in the world that can be done."
Frances Anne Kemble Butler )1809 ~ 1893) 

Monday, November 26, 2012


So, peer closely at this sweet, resolute face and imagine this little lady in life [5' tall. auburn hair, a face that'd be transformed by a smile, doncha imagine], this remarkable life which began 180 years ago today, 26 Nov. 1832, in Oswego, NY. Who is she? Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, one of the first generation of females who studied for and earned an M.D. And why is she dressed this way? I ask, rhetorically of course, because her manner of dress was a defining statement, both personal and political. At her time in the world, a woman could and would be arrested for appearing on the public streets wearing any sort of bloomers, pantaloons, or trousers, thus affronting God and decent society for daring to go about dressed as a man - though what sort of a man would run around in such a decidedly feminine getup.... oh well. another story for another day.

And the medal she's wearing? That'd be THE Medal of Honor [the only such decoration awarded to any female before or since - of course, in life the US Congress later decided to rescind hundreds of Civil War MoH's, including Mary's - 'over my dead body!' was her reply] awarded to Dr. Walker for her services tending ill & injured soldiers in the Civil War.
Probably did some spying, too, and served some time as a Union POW in the Confederates' tobacco warehouse-turned-prison down in Richmond, VA.

Anyway, this lady just knocks me out. She was noisily against all sorts of things: Women not being allowed to vote.
Smoking. Corsets. Long, heavy skirts and petticoats.
Laws that confined women in bad marriages and did them out of their property. Really, she was something of a character and a crank and must have driven her relatives nuts, but Mary was, by golly, true to her many convictions. And, not so incidentally, I wrote a book about her, which will be out next spring. And should you be a contemporary woman or girl reading this, having chosen to pull on a pair of slacks or jeans then going freely about your business, think of Mary Edwards Walker, Amelia Bloomer and every other heroine who braved the blow-back and helped to make our freedom and comfort possible.  
Dr. Mary w/her topper,  late in her adventurous life.