A Change Of Gear #thoughts

A solemn reminder …


It’s a happy week, this lead up to No.1 son’s nuptials on Saturday. There’s lots to do, what with the reception happening at home. I’ve a lot of jobs to do and while I do them I listen to the radio. It’s full of the constantly moving story that is Afghanistan.The BBC interviewed one Afghan who twice since 14th August has been told he and his family can join one of the escape flights and twice told his application has been rejected. WTF. These stories are heart wrenching because we all can’t really believe the Taliban will be any better than before. As I listened my mind drifted back 4 years to a holiday in Cambodia. On our last day we visited one of the notorious Killing Fields. This is what I wrote then…

We travelled to Cheong Ek, the Genocidal Centre based at one of…

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Only Lived and Died

I haven’t been blogging much of late because I’ve taken it upon myself to transcribe a thirty page, hand-written history of my grandfather’s family tree that dates back to 1590. It was written between 1910 and 1925 by a lady named Daisy Jameson who was my great uncle’s wife until the dirty dog left her for another woman. Of course, this bit of sordid family history was never mentioned while my mother was alive. And so I had to figure out it myself. Hum, why is Daisy buried in Chicopee Mass but Henry is buried in Virginia and who’s this Marie Ange woman buried in the same plot as great uncle Henry? That kind of thing. Thank goodness for google and funeral registries.

Anyway, it’s easy to understand why the document is just a collection of births, marriages and deaths (taken from church records) and snippets from letters and bits of family lore passed down through the generations. After old Henry dumped her, Daisy probably wanted nothing more to do with the Jamesons! Making sense of this document is further complicated by the huge number of offspring on both sides who lived to adulthood and propagated like rabbits. Especially in the coastal seaports of Maine and the town of Chicopee Massachusetts. It’s depressing to know that I am not a rare bird from an unusual family but just a chickadee from Chicopee. But, although they might have been just common folk, they did live through some interesting times: The Siege of Derry, voyages to America, battles with the Indians and French, injuries during the Civil War, etc, etc. And so I’m peppering the narrative with accounts of what it must have been like to live during those times. Then I can seal the document away and forget about it.

So I will be blogging less than usual but here are some pictures of a winery near Santa Rosa, beautiful even in the smoke. And my attempt at an artistic peach.

Down the rabbit hole once again

Today, by way of a church liturgy from 1945, I bring you this puzzle: What do these three things have in common?

  • The so-called Romance of the Worms*
  • A commune comprised of runaway slaves, abolitionists, and utopians
  • Theodor Geisel

Here’s a clue: It involves a “mania” that swept the USA in the 1830s driving the price of a certain tree up to astronomical heights.

*newspaper article written about the “mania”

A house on a street in Springfield Mass named after the tree (although the tree in the photo is probably not the type of tree in question)

Here is the document that inspired my trip down the rabbit’s hole.

I found this liturgy in a bible that belonged to my mother’s cousin. She died childless and, because her care had been turned over to the state, they sold everything not reeking of cigarette smoke. Except her bible. That was sent to my mother.

My first thought was “What was Cousin Gloria doing in Florence Mass?” Not that it was any of my business but let’s be honest. Writers are busybodies who are constantly sticking their noses in where they don’t belong and following clues to mysteries that are probably only mysteries in our overripe imaginations. It’s a writer’s curse. Anyway, my mother and her cousin were polar opposites. The only thing they had in common was they both attended UMass in Amherst and guess what? Amherst and Florence are sister cities. So I had unearthed a fascinating fact: In December of 1945, a young woman named Gloria attended services at a church near her college. Big deal. However, when I found out what the village was famous for, well, I was intrigued.

  • The town started taking shape in the 1830s when a local entrepreneur planted 25 acres of … you’ve probably guessed by now … mulberry trees in a meadow north of Springfield Mass. And the reason: “The Great Mulberry Mania” which griped parts of the country and drove the price of these trees up to astronomical levels. Why? Because silk worms like mulberry trees. Why not challenge the Asian market on silk goods?
    • Okay … I’ve acted on stupider ideas. But this fellow knew someone who’d invented a way of spinning silk thread that was smooth enough to use on a sewing machine so, hey. Not so stupid right?
  • Apparently the entrepreneur and the silk thread spinner were chugging along successfully when in 1843, David Ruggles, described as “an African American printer,” came to town to practice hydro therapy. Turns out he was actually one of the first conductors for the Underground Railroad and had put his life at risk by writing and publishing anti-slavery articles in NYC papers.
  • Now, here’s where it gets interested. The silk thread spinner soon became involved with the abolitionist movement and in 1845 Sojourner Truth moved to town. Together the three helped form a utopian commune where all people regardless of color, would have equal rights and opportunities, even women.

Eventually the silk industry in the US ran its course. Silk worms are finicky creatures, taking care of them is extremely labor intensive and mulberry trees only have the life span of an average human. The commune also dissipated however, you can still take a guided tour of their grounds via the David Ruggles Center for History and Education in Florence.

Of course all of this has little to do with Theodor Geisel Seuss, aka, Dr. Seuss. Except, of course, the mulberry tree.

From Bing images

Anyway … that was my trip down the rabbit hole this week. Oh, I forgot about the fictional superhero quartet of anthropomorphic turtle brothers who also call Florence home from time to time. Can you guess their names?

The Bummer Speeds Up

tin hats

“He woke up most days before dawn. Two sleeping dog faces near his head. The three bodies formed a breathing blanket that stretched over the mountains and the snow and up to the northern climes. The fire was down to coals and the room was icy. He could see the red glow reflect off the breath of the dogs. He could see his own face in the coals. It looked troubled, like most faces burning in a fire.

Usually, he felt good enough at the beginning of the day, but after a few hours the depression set in and the interconnections of life on Earth weighed down upon him. He would often think of his wife and daughter. Dead was not a very difficult word for him to say. It never had been. The two women had found pleasure in the small things of life, even as humanity had become…

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I don’t think the mad dog will care

There are many scenes in To Kill a Mockingbird that are disturbing but the first time I saw the movie (I was probably around fourteen) the scene that really upset me was when Atticus shoots the rabid dog. I didn’t understand why the dog couldn’t just be captured and nursed back to health. My father explained that there is no cure for rabies. That an animal with rabies cannot be controlled and will mostly likely die a horrible death and that if he bit or even scratched one of the townsfolk, they would most likely also die a horrible death. So even though the dog couldn’t help his illness and didn’t deserve to be shot, the community had to be protected.

When I hear people saying they are not getting vaccinated and they are not wearing a mask and they are not socially distancing, I remember that scene. The corona virus is like a mad dog roaming the streets. You can protect yourself from getting it and infecting other people … or:

  • You can go out in the street and tell that mad dog you don’t believe he’s really rabid.
  • You can say to the mad dog, “God gave you the rabies because you were a bad dog but God will protect me.”
  • You can tell the mad dog he’s infringing on your constitutional right to run free without a vaccination.

Either way I don’t think the mad dog will care.

And to those who say: “It hasn’t been tested enough.” Well that’s kind of like saying: “Even though the Titanic is sinking, those life boats haven’t been fully tested in ice water. I’m going to wait on the deck and listen to the band play until I’m sure.”

Now before you lambast me for being a nincompoop, let me tell you that I have had covid although at the time (January 2020), I thought it was just a killer flu. The first night I spiked such a high fever that the queen size bed I was sleeping on was soaked right through to the mattress. Despite anti-histamines and nose sprays and Vicks Vaporub, I struggled to breath. Then, when the newspapers started to list the symptoms, I began to wonder. Especially when, come summer, I had no feeling in my feet and had lost all sense of balance.

If this post sounds a little angry, it is. You can be like Atticus Finch and protect your community by getting vaccinated or you can try negotiating with the mad dog and put yourself and others at risk.

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”

Atticus Finch to Scout

Reasons to get rid of old diaries

Holy Cow, it’s sizzling out here in the West, as in “fry an egg on the pavement” hot! The cat is curled up in a ball, the birds are hiding in the trees and nary a car passes our house. And so I’m reading and throwing out journals I kept from 1976 to 2003. I’ve seen what happens when you die. The kids come into your house and toss everything they deem of no value and I’m positive the thoughts of a mother they consider a boring drip with a meaningless life will have no value whatsoever.

For the most part, the journals are filled with the frustrations of an artsy-fartsy, hippie-dippie woman raising children in a status-hungry suburb. It’s sort of a Stranger in a Strange Land scenario. Eventually she starts to drink during the day, gets addicted to soap operas, takes up macrame and bitches and whines a lot. On top of all that, the journals are filled with the names of neighbors who came and went. If I don’t remember those people, my kids certainly aren’t going to.

I was apparently into calligraphy at one time.

Every now and then I do run into a keeper. This one from November 2, 1999:

Tonight Joel was into role playing as a way to spice up our love life. Our conversation went like this:

Joel: “I’m seventeen and my parents are out for the night and I don’t know when they’ll return. So we …”

Jan: “Wait a minute, when you were seventeen, I was ten. I didn’t have boobs when I was ten and no body hair to speak of. I don’t even think I knew what sex was.”

Joel: “Okay. I’m the pilot of a jumbo jet flying at thirty thousand feet and you’re a stewardess. So I put the plane on auto pilot and we do it in the bathroom.”

Jan: “Are you kidding me? You’re going to leave the plane on autopilot at 30 thousand feet when you know I’m scared to death of flying?”

The third one was the funniest: “I’m the Fire Marshall and the building is on fire and we get all hot (excuse the pun) and do it on the 16th floor as the building is burning down.”

Where do men come out with these fantasies? When I laughed off all three, he suggested a fourth: “I’m a doctor and I need to give you a shot on your bare bottom.”

I hate shots. Enough said.

My normal hand-writing/printing

And then came the bagpipes!

I didn’t know what to expect from our small town Fourth of July parade as the decision to hold it was made only about a month ago. I thought maybe a couple of special interests groups would get it together. I certainly didn’t expect almost a dozen musical groups, some marching and the others on the back of flatbed trucks! I guess they all couldn’t wait to get out and celebrate. The town council requested everyone wear a mask and socially distance but guess what folks? That did not happen.

It began with the Fire Department.

Lights and sirens on!

And then came the Bagpipes

This shot makes it look like the little girl has a tail!

And the football team.

Generally they toss candy but today they just strutted their stuff. Gosh they look young, don’t they?
This little guy (gal?) wasn’t in the parade although he should have been!

Here are a few other snaps. Wish I could post videos of the music but good old WordPress is giving me fits today.

To all my friends in the US … Happy Fourth!

when the world seems cold as concrete

tin hats

(song lyric)

I can see it there in the sweep of stars

In a press of waves, in a line of cars

In the grain of wood beneath my beer on the bar

In the eyes of the girls with their hands on their hips

And four-letter words sleeping on the pillows of their lips

I can hear it there in the tousling weeds

In the window fan’s electric breeze

In the pots and pans in the kitchen sink

And it makes me wanna get another drink

From the gaunt-faced girl with the neon nails, behind the bar

I can feel it there just like a favourite pen

Like a boomerang comin back again

In a midnight choir singin round a fire

In a perfect song on the radio

And it puts me in the mood for a tail-gate party at a Grateful Dead show

I can taste it there…

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There’s no phone in the basement and other babysitting woes

The other day an aunt of mine posted a meme on Facebook that read:

You’re sixteen and it’s a Friday night.

What does it mean to you?

Her answer was: “Date Night!”

Apparently I was an ultra nerdy teenager because my immediate response was: “Babysitting.”

Not counting the many times I watched (for free) my ungrateful and obstinate siblings, I became a “professional” when I was just eleven years old. My first gig was for an older couple across the street who had a baby girl. I never knew if she was a late in life baby or a grandchild whose parents, for whatever reason, couldn’t raise her. I wasn’t permitted to ask about such things. Anyway, both of the parents worked at the casinos – one worked nights and the other days, meaning they didn’t need a babysitter most of the time. However sometimes they would both need to work a swing shift – generally during the busy hours of 8 PM to 1 AM, I would arrive after the baby had been put to sleep. All I needed to do was to be there. If the baby woke up and actually needed attention, I phoned my folks … HELP! If they weren’t home, I knew all the neighbors. Still … eleven years old!!! I can’t imagine anyone leaving an infant in the hands of an eleven year old these days. In fact, it’s illegal in most states.

What happens when you hire an older woman to be your babysitter!

Most of my jobs came from my mother. She had no problem pimping me out to anyone desperate for a cheap sitter. Today there are babysitting agencies. Before you hire a babysitter, you can check out her resume, her profile and even read her reviews. Back then it was Mrs. Brown asking Mrs. White for the number of a “girl.” Then Mr. Brown would be send to retrieve the girl while Mrs. Brown prepared the list of do’s and don’ts (no candy before bed, no television until homework’s complete, etc.) most of which would be ignored. After the children were in bed, the “girl” would get on the phone with her friends and eat every potato chip in the house. Woe to the Mrs. Browns of the world who failed to stock up on junk food before a sitter’s visit. Word spread quickly of no snack houses! As did word of lousy tippers, smelly houses or creepy husbands.

Besides babies waking up and needing real care, I only had a few frightening things happen while sitting. Once a hollow-faced man appeared in the window next to the front door. I screamed and he ran away. When I called the parents, they told me it was just Jim, the neighborhood crazy guy, and he was harmless. And then they laughed. Apparently they thought terrorized fourteen year old babysitters were a real riot!

Another time the telephone rang and I answered thinking it might be the parents. A male voice said “I’m in your basement and I’m going to come up and kill you!” I was about to run out of the house with the kids when the ten-year-old said. “There’s no phone in the basement.” Then he laughed and told me what a “stupidhead” I was.

However, for the most part it was boring and so I’ve never understood why so many movies have been made about babysitters. Take Adventures in Babysitting (1987), the sitter and her charges are chased up the side of a high-rise in Chicago by mafia thugs, save a runaway teen from a rat-infested bus terminal, and crash a fraternity party … to name just a few of their adventures. Then they had to race back to the suburbs before the parents arrived home. Of course, the parents were clueless and didn’t suspect a thing.

I imagine if I was a teenage babysitter today my review would read: Panics easily, eats you out of house and home, and bores the children to death.

Discomboobalated in WP Land

I’ve been trying to resolve a very serious issue with WordPress for the past two weeks. It’s not as though I’m new to blogging or even HTML. I’ve been working with computers since the first personal desktops were sold and developing web pages since the mid ’90s. I may not be as on top of the technology as I once was, but I can tell when I’m getting the old “did you check to make sure your machine was plugged in?” treatment.

First they told me it was the theme I was using. It had been retired or some such nonsense. Retired? Does that mean there’s a retirement home for old WordPress themes down in Florida?

So I changed my theme which is always such a joy. You have to engage with them (kind of like a blind date) to find out if you’re compatible. And I don’t know if it’s a good idea to change your theme. What do you think? Does it irritate you when a blogger you like to frequent changes their theme?


Next I was informed I’d eaten way too many cookies and caches and my computer was constipated. There are two issues I have with deleting cookies and caches on a regular basis:

  • This has been an issue since the first cookie was baked. Browser based applications should have figured out how to handle them without user intervention by now. You’d think, right?
  • Deleting all your cookies and caches means re-authenticating on most of the sites you frequent. Lovely if you’ve got a photographic memory and can recall all your many credentials. I do not.


Next they suggested that I upgrade to the Business Plan at $250 a year. I’m glad I didn’t fall for that one!

Finally … after a few shitteries from yours truly, they admitted the issue was the browser I was using. I guess they rolled out a new version of WordPress without testing it on Safari. Okay, to give them the benefit of a doubt, without enough version testing on Safari.

Anyway … IT DID WORK. Although I sure hope Firefox and Safari play nice together on my machine.

After finally fixing the problem, I began to wonder if the WP help desk guys told me a little white lie about my dear old theme. But apparently they hadn’t. It’s nowhere to be found. Alas, whatever your name was Dear Old Theme, I wish you a happy retirement.

[Still figuring out how to add images in this new browser]