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.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

30 Days Until the Day

So, I admit it: I've romantic notions about history. I grew up gazing at pictures of sleigh rides, corseted ladies in foofy finery, reading about Christmases, cozy & convivial, so different from the harried life I knew. The life I know. I love my ideas of the past. Many, many hours I have spent, painting the people and places of the past. Decorated square miles of bleached white cardboard with Victorian scenes of Christmas. [this LINK will take you to my possibly-out-of-print version of C.C. Moore's The Night Before Christmas.] But will I put up a Christmas tree? Will my family gather here in my lovingly decorated house? Gosh, no. I'm a solitary old poop. I'll be alone here, with a furnace instead of a smoking, inadequate fireplace, in my soft old jeans and sweatshirts - no corset, no crinolines -  with my little dog and my dreams of the past. Reality tends to 'harsh my mellow,' an apt & lovely phrase someone used. Seeing all the Halloween dreck removed from the stores to be replaced by truckloads of tacky Christmas dreck harshes my mellow and makes me tired. Makes me think I've got to be sending cards - but once I get down to it, as I write each one, I know my mellow will be restored, thinking of the individuals who'll find handwritten envelopes in their mailboxes amidst the bills and the postal dreck that weighs down weary mailmen.
      But I love knowing that Andrew Carnegie and the fierce 'hatchetator' Carry Amelia Nation came into the world on this day. I love knowing that soon I'll be clicking Publish and getting back to the manuscript I've got in the works: 300 odd historical factoids for a Weird But True book for the Nat'l Geographic. Did you know that 5,000 years ago their lived a Persian priestess who held the gaze of her followers with her artificial golden eyeball? Me neither, but we do now! And would I love to know what she really looked like? What her life was like? Yes indeed, but .... I be thinking it's preferable to live here and now and just imagine her and her fierce, blind golden gaze.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

SO, 'twas seven years ago this week, on the day after Thanksgiving as a matter of fact, that I discovered this house and decided to move back to the neighborhood where I lived when I was a girl. So last night I measured out 2 cups of flour, 2/3 of a cup of Crisco - the butter-yellow kind - and 2 teaspoons of salt for 2 pie crusts. Floured the tea cloth on my kitchen table, rolled them out, fitted them into the pans. Stirred up the makings for 2 pumpkin pies just as my mom did over in the next block 50 - fifty! - years ago. Half a century ago.
        Nothing like a slice of cold pumpkin pie for breakfast for taking some of the sting out of missing one's very own personal mom.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

So, what's been happening?
I went to see the movie about Mr. Lincoln. Loved it. Loved the performances. Loved the costumes. Loved the history. Loved it. Felt guilty, like a disappointed voyeur, being denied Ford's Theatre at the end.

Took a lot of time writing a blogpost. 

Lost my temper before I even got into the movie theater. Got over it.

Went up to the graveyard to clean off the headstones over my folks. My little brother, who had the loveliest, liquid brown eyes, framed with the longest lashes. Marveled how it is that twenty years have passed since poor Mom got her ticket punched. Is she deader now than she was two decades ago, I wonder? Higher up, further into the Kingdom of Heaven?

Drove over to KC way too early in the morning along the way I used to drive over to Hallmark so many years ago, but now it was to talk to a group of Missouri teachers about historical literacy & nonfiction books. Talked with the young lady working at the pay parking lot. Same job I used to have even more years ago.

Updated my website.  Fussed with the portfolio page.

Worked on finding weird historical factoids. Did you know that Hannibal of ancient Carthage used to snake-bomb his enemies w/ clay pots full of poisonous snakes? That the youngest combat of WWII was 12-year-old Calvin Graham of Houston, TX? Okay, not weird, but very cool.

Read a delightful book, Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day.  Again.

Did a drawing for a friend. Mailed it.

And, oh my goodness,
Robert F. Kennedy would have 87 today.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

the satisfaction of the actual satis factual

So, why are true books called nonfiction? because 'faction' was taken?
and why isn't fiction called nonfactual?
Anyway, if you're reading this, bless your heart - and head, for that matter...
Below are a few links well worth the checking out and why do I think so and particularly now? Because very early tomorrow morning I'm off to Kansas City to talk to a roomful of educators, who likely get up very early every single danged day, about nonfiction books for young readers.  Some of those I've done. A lot of others I like a lot, for their beauty, for the author's way w/ words, for a new window into lost worlds. all of the above...

•  nonfiction authors resource:

•   David McCullough on 5 lessons every high school student should learn:

•   Greg Timmons' terrific blogpost on interact: Teacher's Center
       Historical Literacy and Active Learning:

• Anne Goudvis's and Stephanie Harvey's brilliant essay, Teaching for Historical Literacy:

• Barbara Kerley's snappy, informative post re: the Common Core: