Kittie Howard

Saturday, December 19, 2015

A Christmas Shop in Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg, Austria's Old Town slept peacefully as we wandered its cobblestone streets. Colorful displays filled windows in meticulously maintained, centuries-old wooden buildings. Summer flowers spilled over flower boxes, as if to tickle our heads when we stopped to admire a window display. We were two of the expected one million tourists who would visit Salzburg this past summer.

Because of the sheer volume we'd thought to by-pass Salzburg, as we'd done on previous trips to Austria. After all, we'd reasoned, we'd explored Salzburg Back in the Day, before "The Sound of Music" had become a serious draw, when Mozart's birthplace was little more than a visit to the composer's house, then snapping Kodak pictures of the sleepy town's castle on the hill.

But we didn't. Months earlier we'd made reservations at a B&B tucked away at the end of a village lane with a convenient bus stop for the 45-minute ride into Salzburg. After a full breakfast, we boarded the bus and, as the miles slipped away, Austria's quiet countryside morphed into an international city with a traffic ring around it to ease the congestion. Fortunately, our bus stop was near the heart of the Old Town and an easy walk to the main square, where we got a cup of coffee and watched the city awaken, probably much as it has for centuries.

Merchants opened shops. Delivery vans appeared with perishable items for thirsty and hungry tourists. Not to be out done, bakeries filled ovens with delights that tempted my full tummy. The sound of horse-drawn carriages, the clippty-clop on cobblestone streets, was music to the ears.

Coffee finished, we decided to browse the shops, including stopping here at The Christmas Store, where I took the photo in the header. It's such a special stop while in Salzburg, Rick Steves highlights it in his travel program on Salzburg.

It was a magical stop. The Little Girl inside me sparkled, eyes aglow at the glittering displays of Christmas decorations, with one room leading to another as the shop deepened.

One of the clerks said they sell 100,000 egg ornaments a month, all from regulated, European Union sanctioned hatcheries and hand-painted in Austria. (The more exquisite the painting, the higher the cost.)

Upon our return to the B&B, the proprietor told us that, yes, the decorations had a "touristy" appeal, but the custom of decorated egg shells was real. Like her friends in the village, her family had its collection of eggshells with yolks elders had removed (there's a process) and kids had decorated for the Christmas tree. When one of her daughters entered the room, she sparkled as she described the first egg the daughter had painted.

From our house to yours, we hope the joy and hope of the holidays make you sparkle . . . and may all of life's blessings be yours in the New Year!

Happy New Year! May 2016 be the best ever!

Monday, November 30, 2015

What a Difference a Year Makes!

Large red bows anchor the fireplace mantle. In-between are three groupings of red apples and lemons, all tucked among sprigs of pine laced with small lights. We put up the Christmas tree, with a red bow on top, in the study yesterday. A much smaller tree, with another red bow, centers the kitchen table. Outside, wreaths (with red bows, natch!) and lights are on the lamp posts and front door.

It's nice, sitting here in the living room, feeling the quiet of small lights.

Last year at this time, this place was a mess. But walls have been painted -- Revere Pewter in the powder room, cut 50% for the upstairs spare bedroom; International Khaki on one wall in the study, its deeper khaki mate in Mr. H's man cave; Svelte Sage in the dining room, cut 65% in the living room; a historic gold (with sage undertones) in parts of the kitchen; and matched white paint elsewhere, including the garage.

We did most of the painting ourselves, including squeezing 17 tubes of caulking as we went along. Appliances and the gas fireplace logs have been replaced. Roller shutters on back doors are in. A fan was installed on the porch ceiling when the lamp posts were installed.

And so it went -- from replacing faucets and overhead lighting and blinds -- to having trees cut down and replanting, putting in flower beds and a rose arbor -- yes, so it went, for a year it seemed to be one project after another. But it finally came together -- and under budget as we did so much ourselves. The house that was a mess turned into a home.

We're settled, not in a castle, but in a home that's our castle, not a fortress -- the spare bedroom is often occupied; people drop by; we chat with neighbors who, like us, chuckle at the constant drip! drip! drip! of pine straw.

But within the projects and goals found among those in our lives here and elsewhere and in both of our families, it's been a good year. Nieces and nephews have accomplished much and continue to work toward goals. Parents are pleased with these firm footings (as they should be!) and reaching out to do things that were put on hold.

It's not that those in my world are unaware of world events and those at home, in the States. They are, very much so.

It's not that they are unconcerned. They are, very much so.

But the prevailing philosophy is, nothing positive gets accomplished if one falls prey to fear.

My grandmother used to say, depending upon the situation:

1. Don't worry so much; you'll get wrinkles;

2. Never believe the one who talks the loudest. He (or she, depending) will make you worry about his/her problems . . . then you've really got a problem;

3. If you've got time to worry, you've got time to mop my floor. (hands mop to worrier)

After mopping more than a few floors, I can honestly say it's difficult to mop and worry at the same time.

But it's also easier to worry than to mop, to which my grandmother said when one took the easy way out: That's a problem of your own making.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Happy Birthday, Marines, and Connection to Tun Tavern

(Source: National Museum of the Marine Corps)

November 10, 1775 is the official birthday of the United States Marine Corps. When the War for Independence (also, Revolutionary War, 1775-1783) ignited, the Second Continental Congress gave the order to "raise two battalions of Marines" for the armed conflict between Great Britain and 13 of its North American colonies.

Legend has it, Samuel Nicholas, former Quaker and, later, the Marine Corps' first commandant, executed the order at the Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The tavern's manager, Robert Mullan, was the "chief Marine Recruiter." The first Continental Marine Company was comprised of 100 Rhode Islanders and commanded by Captain Nicholas.

Although some historians say the actual tavern where the historic event occurred was the nearby Conestoga Wagon tavern, owned by the Nicholas family, legend prevails and Tun Tavern is officially recognized as the birthplace of the Marine Corps. Among other events, the tavern, later adding a restaurant, "Peggy Mullan's Red Hot Beef Steak Sandwich," hosted a meeting of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and the Continental Congress.

Tun Tavern stood at a location now occupied by Interstate-95, where it passes Penn's Landing, a waterfront area along the Delaware River, and Tun Alley, at the intersection of King (later called Water) Street. Although the original tavern burned down in 1781 and much of the area's historic flavor has been lost to subsequent development, a commemorative marker on the east side of Front Street indicates the site.

I am location specific for two reasons: (1) Wrapped in tradition from the day they enter the Corps, Marines know the Tun Tavern's location, often quoting it to each other on this historic day and (2) when my husband, a former Marine, and I visited the commemorative marker's site, it was a personally scared moment for him to feel the Corps' beginning and be as one in spirit with past and present Marines. It can't be overstated that this feeling of oneness is at the heart of the Marine Corps.

As such, wherever Marines serve, they celebrate the Corps' birthday and their unity as one in remembering the past and serving the future with various tributes, from quiet gatherings in remote locations to gala balls on bases and elsewhere.

Part of this observance involves the cutting of a birthday cake, with the oldest Marine present passing a slice to the youngest Marine present. Everyone then partakes of the cake, symbolizing the unity birthday's unity. Even when my husband was in Vietnam, the Corps found a way for combat Marines to have a slice of birthday cake, more accurately, pieces of cake that survived being dropped from a helicopter.

 The National Museum of the Marine Corps, located almost directly off I-95 in Triangle, Virginia, and about a half-hour south of Washington, D. C., has a Tun Tavern-themed restaurant for visitors. Approximately 500,000 visit the museum yearly. Built entirely from donations and maintained by volunteers, admission is free.

True to its linguistic heritage, tun from the Old English for a barrel or keg of beer, the museum's tavern serves beer (and other alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages), but also included on its menu is non-alcoholic bread pudding, a staple from Colonial times popular with Marines that's served in many of its mess halls and dining facilities. (Note: Along with interactive exhibits for kids, the museum has a kid-friendly place for families to eat.)

So, having shared in the cake ceremony at an earlier event, now, 240 years after the birth of the Marine Corps, my husband is either at the computer or using his iPad or on his iPhone, sharing birthday greetings with Marines of all ranks and ages, what Marines do on this special day. Tradition triumphs, even in a technological age.

And with Veterans' Day being celebrated tomorrow, a salute and a thank you to those past and present who've served our nation with honor, dedication and sacrifice, including my husband (USMC) in Vietnam, First Gulf War and Somalia; my father (Army) in World War II; and my grandfather (Army) in World War I.

Today's Tun Tavern at the National Museum of the Marine Corps. As much as things change, they stay the same. (Source: National Museum  of the Marine Corp)

Interior of National Museum of the Marine Corps (Source: Wikipedia)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Tegernsee, Germany

First, our thoughts and prayers are with families in the Carolinas who suffered -- and continue to suffer -- from the tragic deaths and the ravages and lingering effects of the unrelenting rain that pounded the area, especially in South Carolina. It seemed like there was no end to the rain. What a nightmare for so many.

* * * * *
Late August we returned from our summer vacation. After living inside one gorgeous European postcard after another for two months, though, we were ready to sleep in our own bed (ahhhh!), exactly how we felt after gorgeous postcard trips in our own country: Arcadia National Park, Yosemite National Park, the Dakota Badlands, the Grand Canyon, Vermont's Green Mountains and small towns, Louisiana's bayous and marshes, sections of Mississippi's Natchez Trace and Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway, and the magnificent drive from Ft. Smith, Arkansas to the Mississippi River Bridge at Memphis, come to mind this groggy morning. (Hmm, can't leave out Georgia's tiny, northwestern "hook" . . . oh, so much out there!)

As such, planes, boats, trains, metros/buses and Mr. H's driving (1,200 miles) covered a lot of territory this summer and without incident, thankfully.

When not in transit from A to B, we walked a lot, easily averaging seven miles a day. Those miles added up, creating a problem with one shoe. So, we drove to Tegernsee, Germany, across the border from our hamlet in Austria, in search of a new pair of serious walking shoes.

Some highlights:

Thanks to Wikipedia, an aerial photo of Tegernsee. The town's about 30 miles north of Munich, the capital of the German state of Baveria, and about 20 miles from the Austrian state of Tyrol (Tirol).
Today, Tegernsee's primarily a spa center and tourist destination popular with Germans, Austrians, and the Dutch. Because of the many wars in Europe, history buffs know there is much to explore in the wider area. However, a footnote caught my eye: On May 3, 1945, a wounded German officer, Major Hannibal von Luttichau, first persuaded the German SS to vacate their entrenchments and then persuaded approaching American soldiers not to attach Tegernsee. Thus, the old town remains much as it was deeper in history.

A Benedictine abbey built in 746 hugs the lake. (Wikipedia)

Taken from the car -- the sign welcomes visitors to a very small town en route to Tegernsee. Gruss Gott -- Greetings to God -- is a centuries-old greeting commonly heard in Bavaria and Tyrol (Tirol). Predominately Lutheran or Catholic, it's a devoutly Christian region.

But the Bavarian regional flag also hints at something else . . .

Ye ole beer hall . . . hoffbrau haus . . . especially appealing on a hot July day . . . when one can sit outside and enjoy . . . 

a beer . . . the house brew . . . 

and a soft pretzel . . . there were three in the basket . . . Mr. H. didn't want one so, ahem, I ate all three, burp! LOOOVE those things . . .

swirled in a bit of mustard . . . YUM!

Mr. H. ordered wurst and German potato salad . . . the latter is to him as  pretzels are to me . . .

I ordered radi, a white radish with a spicy "bite" common to the area that comes thinly sliced . . .  sometimes called the "Munchen radi," it goes great with beer. (I had a small beer; Mr. H. drank water because he would be driving later.)

Afterwards, we walked along the lake for about an hour . . . 

eventually stopping for -- you guessed it, apple strudel . . . and lingered over a cup of coffee . . . people were out . . . bicyclists filled bike lanes . . . ducks begged for food at the lake's shore . . . birds chirped . . . a beautiful day we didn't want to end . . . but we also had a mission: those shoes. So, we returned to the car . . . 

and headed into town . . .

to this shop . . . where nothing on sale was in my size, but a pair of Nike's worked . . . same price as in the States, even with the tax . . . so very happy to have new "wheels" . . .

we returned to the country road that linked Tegernsee . . .

and our Austrian hotel . . .

and our room . . .
with its gorgeous view during the day . . .

and at night. From Arkansas to Austria, the sound of music caresses one's soul.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Venice Charms

Originally a settlement on Italy's mainland, Venice's inhabitants relocated to a series of man-made islands in the nearby marshy Adriatic Sea in order to escape plundering bandits. By the late 13th century, Venice had grown into a major commercial and sea power.

Although we're staying in Lido de Jesolo, across the Bay of Venice from the city, last week we were part of the huge influx of tourists who visit this remarkable city with stone buildings that rise out of the sea, as if by magic when viewed from the distance. After a convenient bus ride to the ferry port and a relaxing, air conditioned 45-minute ferry ride, we approached Venice.

As with other visits, my heart thumped with excitement. Venice is eternal. Venice is beauty. Venice is romance. Venice is imagination.

Some highlights:

Our ferry docked feet from the Metropole, one of the most expensive hotels in Venice. Well-heeled tourists arrive by private taxi and dock at the hotel's private landing behind the hotel. If you saw "Casino Royale," one of the scenes was at the landing. But the real reason I mention this hotel is because it was once Europe's first orphanage. During Venice's lively history, mistresses of the city's elite would leave their babies on the doorstep for the nuns to care for. Those girls who had beautiful voices filled choirs. Others learned lacemaking, their handiwork sold on Burano, one of Venice's islands (that is especially beautiful in the morning). Vivaldi, who wrote the opera "The Four Seasons," worshiped in the orphanage's church. Several years ago, one of the Metropole's receptionists showed Mr. H. and me the circular stone stairway that had led to the balcony where the choir sang. Now cordoned off for safety reasons, seeing well-trodden steps was an awesome experience.

San Marco's (St. Mark's) church in the piazza. The exterior pressure washing finally completed, the church is magnificent! The doge's palace is to the far right. Musicians play in the evening across from the church.

Venice spreads out from San Marco's. This canal runs from the Grand Canal, in the far distance. There are no cars, etc. in Venice. However a causeway does link Venice with Italy's mainland, with a parking lot for those who own cars.

Wikipedia's photo of the Grand Canal and the Rialto (shopping area) is much better than mine.  One year we took a water taxi to the Riato's back entrance (fish market) and continued onward to the Rialto Bridge, eventually returning to San Marco's. Signs with arrows help the tourist return.

Along the way, so many shops. This linen shop caught my wistful eye.
The latest fall fashions on display. 

Except for the piazzas, passageways are narrow throughout Venice. Everything comes in by boat. 

But it's a short boat ride for the famed Murano glass from the nearby island of Murano.  Because Venice was so densely populated, fire was a constant threat centuries ago, especially from the furnaces where artisans made the blown glass. And also because these glass blowers were like rock stars in their day, the Venetians decided that it was easier to protect themselves from fires and keep these artisans under closer watch if the entire operation moved to Murano. Artisans who divulged glass-blowing secrets had to escape Murano quickly or else suffer the severe consequences. Although they don't show very well, the clowns in the photo are extremely intricate, with attention to the smallest detail and brutally expensive. A bit of caution: Although there are many affordable Murano glass souvenirs, always labeled as such,  the Chinese have flooded the market with very cheap imitations (wine corks, letter openers and the like) that initially look good but often crack later.
Amid all the shops, these actors in the theatre district  handed out flyers advertising a play during a festival the following weekend.

Of course, Venice wouldn't be Venice without a gondola ride. This is one of the passenger loading areas.

And one of its many canals.

Nor would Venice be Venice without a nice coffee and a treat  while the gondolas glide by . . . ahhhh!

Next stop: Vienna, Austria. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Welcome to Amsterdam!

Our Royal Dutch Airline KLM overnight flight from Washington, D. C. to Amsterdam was on approach to Schiphol Airport. A massive windmill farm filled a section of the North Sea below. Morning breezes effortlessly turned their sleek white blades as the Netherlands' shoreline came into view, a view that soon revealed another of the country's reclamation projects. A portion of the North Sea had been diked off. Pumps drained the trapped water to create new land that would enlarge the airport's runway capabilities in the immediate view and create more farmland in the larger view, much like the patchwork of green fields and and irrigation canals that came into view as the plane circled somewhat in preparation for landing.

The Netherlands, about the size of Maryland, is a compact country with strict zoning ordinances, where even the semblance of wasted space, say, near an intersection of highways, is turned into a park, however small, with leafy trees, flowers and benches. We knew from previous visits to the Netherlands, but especially from a visit five years ago when we rented a car and toured the country for a week, that most of the Netherlands consisted of farms and quaint villages. Although it surprises many, the Netherlands is the world's second largest agricultural exporter, with the United States as the largest exporter.

As the jet's wheels hit one of Amsterdam's elongated runways made possible by a previous reclamation project and we rumbled toward the terminal, Mr. H. remarked, a certain amount of awe in the former military man's voice, "Schiphol's huge now, at least twice the size of Dulles (the Washington, D. C. international airport)." And, so, five years since our last visit -- but this time on foot, with a multi-day bus/rail pass for longer city trips -- we began our five-day exploration of Amsterdam, a city we love, a city that 2,400,000 call home.

Some highlights:

The Netherlands's constituion mandates that Amsterdam is the capital of the constitutional monarchy, but the actual seat of government is in The Hague (Den Haag), where the World Court is also located (a gorgeous building we visited some years ago.) Approximately 800,000 live in Amsterdam central, with about 2,400,000 in the larger metropolitan area, making it one of the most densely populated cities in the world. But because of the city center's horseshoe-shaped layout, the many canals, and the city's amazing transportation infrastructure, we never felt lost in a sea of humanity. We were only a couple of miles from the city center, with nary a pedestrian around, when I took the above photo. We'd paused to listen to the birds chirp, Nature's iTunes.

During a walk along another canal, the driver of this electric car (so marked on the door) parked near a boat as cyclists rode by. It's impossible to overstate the Dutch's forward approach to environmental measures.

I love street vendors, and Amsterdam has a lot, ranging from displays of old books, to paintings, to  jewelry to odds and ends. However, don't be deceived. They are strictly regulated.

Flower shops abound. I thought prices were very reasonable. When we returned, about an hour later, these bouquets of flowers had been sold. In Rotterdam, the Netherland's second largest city -- and a major port, much as Amsterdam is a financial hub -- there's a massive covered area where thousands (!) of tulips, in a jaw-dropping panoply of color, await overnight shipment to all parts of the world, another reason why Schiphol is so huge. KLM's cargo jets work the time zones so that tulips arrive fresh daily. Of all the tours I've been on during our travels, that unbelievably gorgeous and utterly huge collection of tulips remains a definite highlight.

Before leaving North Carolina, a neighbor asked if Europeans understood English.  The answer is unequivocally yes in the Netherlands. Very aware the Dutch language doesn't travel far, the government embarked upon teaching English in its schools decades ago. Although it's possible to encounter those of a certain age in the countryside who aren't fluent, it's almost impossible to encounter anyone younger than, say, 40, who isn't fluent in English. (Most Dutch also speak German.) 

This pelican in the Royal Zoo roamed rather freely, more intent on peace and quiet away from a nearby squabble among his feathered family than my camera. The pelican is also Louisiana's state bird. (Even though I have a love/hate relationship with zoos for obvious reasons, I couldn't help but wonder if he'd like to return to the marshes/bayous and alligators. Probably not, I finally concluded.)

Outdoor cafes seemed to be on every corner and always filled. We stopped here for a beer and a snack. Okay, I'll fess up, my snack of choice was Dutch fries dipped in a mayonnaise sauce. But even with the city rail pass, we averaged seven miles a day walking, so I justified the calories. Before various states legalized pot, Amsterdam's "brown" coffeehouses or pot houses were extremely popular with Americans, with long lines waiting to get in (but excluding yours truly as I've never been interested in that stuff . . . not being judgmental, it's just not for me). But not so much now as the novelty has worn off. However, counter image, Amsterdam has seriously tough laws for those who do hard drugs. Like passing on the right in Germany/Austria, just don't do it!

Anne Frank's house, a must-see stop for anyone visiting Amsterdam. The BBC is presently working on a documentary about Anne Frank, as told through the memories of one of her surviving friends. The horrors of what happened during World War II -- or any war -- can't be forgotten.

An outdoor bronze display of Rembrandt's "Night Watch" (beneath the painter's statue) that was magnificent, almost as magnificent as seeing the painting in the Rijksmuseum. Consistently rated one of the finest museums in the world, the Rijksmuseum also contains 400,000 volumes of books/manuscripts climatically housed in tunnels beneath the building as there isn't enough space in this already huge complex for everything. Truly, the day's visit was an artistic feast of Dutch history. Mr. H. particularly loved the boats and military uniforms through the ages. 

But as one feast ends, another begins. Yours truly at Schiphol.  Next stop: Venice.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Off to Europe!

Our two suitcases are packed (one each) as we finalize last minute stuff before our early morning departure tomorrow for D.C. and Saturday flight to Europe.

I'm not saying exactly where just yet as the Big Plan ***drum roll*** is to post from our various stops. Since my new computer breezes along, it should be a lot easier than struggling as I did with the old one. (What a mess that was, sheesh!)

And, you're right, Alex, I'm loving my iPhone! Have learned to shut the phone part off, go about my way, and catch up later. But we do have international plans for the trip. Life's good!

Hope to check back in soonest!

Happy Summer, Everyone!

Monday, June 22, 2015

"The Princess and the Pea"

The Confederate flag and a pea: What's the segue? Read on . . .

With Danish writer Hans Christian Anderson's book of fairy tales in one hand, I opened the door to the living room. This hot August afternoon I wanted to be in the quietest and coolest room in the house to re-read a fairy tale.

Of the book's many fairy tales, "The Princess and the Pea" had caused a fifth grader to do some serious thinking, but not about the story's handsome prince. I was too young for that.

No, it was this business about sleeping on 20 mattress piled high above a pea and waking up bruised and sore, what happened in the story that proved a rain-drenched maiden was a real princess, not an impostor trying to snare the prince.

Even though none of the book's fairy tales had had a princess with freckled cheeks, I dismissed that as a minor technicality. Hans Christian Anderson was from Denmark (I'd checked the map), a long way from South Louisiana, and couldn't possibly have known about Southern princesses: belles with peach-dripping voices, delicate manners, a certain frailty, and a determined focus that usually won the  day.

Being a Southern princess-in-training was another ignored technicality. To my way of thinking, a princess was a princess, thus opening the way to conduct an experiment: sleeping on a mattress with a pea between the mattress and the box springs.

After re-reading the fairy tale, to make sure I had it right, I closed the book as I stood up and moved toward the piano, where I'd hidden a pea shelled that morning behind the metronome. Seizing the moment -- it wasn't often the house was this quiet -- I slipped into my bedroom, pulled up the bedspread and top sheet, then lifted the mattress with one hand as I reached to position the pea where my back would be while I slept.

Just as I'd positioned the green pea, my mother entered the room. "What are you doing?" she asked, causing me to jump as I jerked my hand out and the mattress and bedding fell down.

"Nothing," I murmured, eyes down, following that princess training rule perfectly. "Just looking for something."

After a long pause that ended with a perfectly executed turning sweep, my mother said, "Make sure you straighten those pillows on your bed."

That done, afternoon eventually turned into evening, then bedtime. Positioning myself just as the fairy tale princess had on the fairy tale's cover page, I was almost too excited about my experiment to fall asleep, but eventually did, with my fingers laced together above the sheets.

When morning's sunlight danced on my face, I stretched, only to cry out as I grabbed my shoulder. The aches and pains worsened when I stood. Tears fell when I reached for my robe on the nearby chair.

At that point, my mother, with her built-in radar for disaster, entered the room. "What's wrong?"

Not knowing what else to do, I dissolved into tears, explaining between sobs I ached because I'd slept on a pea, not exactly a sane thing to say to anyone. But that's what I believed.

In the long morning that followed, my mother stripped the bed to soak the white sheets in Clorox to remove green pea stains prior to washing the sheets. As best that could be determined by my attorney father (who first had to determine if I knew the difference between real life and a fairy tale), during the gymnastics of placing the pea beneath the mattress, my jerked hand and the swoosh of the mattress and bedding falling into place had caused the pea to roll forward,  eventually out of the bedding and onto the floor and hide, as peas do, until I stepped on it before getting into bed.

But even worse than pea-stained sheets, the doctor had to come -- what doctors did Back Then for people who had money to pay them -- and examine my shoulder. Because I'd slept in an unnatural position all night, a muscle had frozen. He gave me a shot near the muscle to relax it. That hurt, really   hurt, almost as much as my siblings teasing me for a week. But I sucked it in. What else could I do? I had been stupid.

So what's the point of a childhood story from another era that seems like yesterday?

It's this: Just as my pea belonged in a bowl with the other peas shelled that morning, the Confederate flag belongs in a museum with other Civil War memorabilia.

Yes, my fanciful experiment provided a story to tell on the stoop, but I also disrupted a household and caused unnecessary worry and expense. When conflicted, the greater moral always gives way to the lesser moral. I was wrong. And when I got it through my head -- fully understood -- that I'd been wrong, I apologized to my parents.

It's a step in the right direction -- getting it through some people's heads -- that South Carolina's elected officials will discuss what to do about the Confederate flag's status. It's a discussion that should spread throughout the South.

More importantly, these discussions should lead to positive actions, not only to remove the flag from state buildings and state flags, but that the South's secession and subsequent actions resulted in "A Failed Experiment in Nationalism," what is written above the back steps of Confederate States of America president Jefferson Davis' home in Mississippi. And if one doesn't know what nationalism is, well, the problem deepens. And part of why, at war's end 150 years ago, General Robert E. Lee advised against flying the flag.

But just as a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, I say to South Carolina's legislature, "Tear down that Confederate flag. It's oppressive. It fosters hatred. It's about race. And you know it."

"We are one Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." We are the United States of America.

My condolences to the families and friends of those massacred in Charleston.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

"Kermit" Takes a Hop

"Kermit," the tree frog named after the famed Muppet, decided to remain on our back porch and feast upon the insects that neared his perch, the light fixture we'd had installed on the side wall. Although the rosemary, basil, mint, and citronella plants mosquitoes hate had kept the tormentors at bay, Kermit not only decimated those who'd managed to get through the defenses but had added flies and other morsels to his dining pleasure.

Life was good!

Mr. H., whom mosquitoes love, could sit outside in peace, no longer bitten or buzzed by the little drones. As such, many a delightful evening passed as glorious sunsets crowned sun-drenched days.

The evening respite also calmed hectic days filled with gardening in the morning, before temperatures soared, and household projects in the afternoon. Although the interior looked fresh and no longer reflected the mess the renters had made, projects remained.

After completing a kitchen project, I poured a glass of iced tea and headed for the porch, only to stop dead in my tracks.

A black snake had slithered up the far wall and waited, within inches of snacking on Kermit.

As I raced though the kitchen, I plopped the glass of tea on the counter, then slammed the garage door open for the broom, raced back to the porch, opened the door near the light fixture, stepped back and banged the wall with the broom.

In the nano second before the snake lunged, Kermit hopped through the opening, onto the hall floor.

Not sure if the snake had a poisonous colorful marking on its head, I banged the door frame with the long broom, shut the door and stepped back as the snake coiled around the light fixture.

I then called 911. No false bravado here. I don't like snakes!

The patrolman who came uncoiled the snake with a long, somewhat curved metal prong. He said it was a non-poisonous Garter snake and repositioned the reptile in the thicket at the very far side of the house, as removed from Kermit as possible.

In an established, tree-filled, sometimes wooded, residential area that hugged water on one side and wrapped two 18-hole golf courses on the other side, everyone had a snake story, now including Kermit.

Problem was, I couldn't find Kermit to congratulate him on his daring escape. After placing bowls of water in strategic locations, I decided to close off that part of the house and wait until evening, hoping his nocturnal instincts would kick in.

When Mr. H. called from the Chapel Hill area that afternoon, I didn't tell him about the little frog who'd charmed his way into our hearts. Actually, there wasn't time. Well, okay, there was. I thought it wiser to focus on the positive. Kermit would be found.

And there really was much to talk about. Mr. H.'s nephew had graduated, with honors in Economics, from the University of North Carolina, had turned down a job in Durham for a job in Nashville and had been accepted into Vanderbilt's evening program for a combined M.B.A. (Masters of Business Administration) and J. D. (law) degree.

That evening, much to my delight, Kermit returned. When I neared the sink in the bathroom, I saw a green blob by the faucet. But excitement quickly turned to worry. Kermit had shriveled up, a tiny shadow of his former self.

After covering him with a hand towel (he was too weak to jump), I carried him outside, to the wall opposite where the snake had been. To my relief, he clung to the wall. He also tolerated a few fingertip splashes of water from the bowl of water on the floor before hopping further up the wall.

By morning, Kermit had regained some of his weight and snoozed behind the MiracleGro box in the corner, behind the chair where I always sat.

He refused to venture beyond this wall until after I'd scrubbed down where the snake had been.

No doubt about it, Kermit was a Phi Beta Froga.

But, as Mr. H.'s nephew had transitioned from one phase of life, prepared as possible for the next, so had Kermit.

He left the porch about a week later.

Kermit turned out to be Clementine after all.

When Mr. H. returned from Chapel Hill, he saw another, much smaller frog next to "Kermit" on the porch's pillar. Since we now realized the male frog was smaller, we knew what was coming.

That evening we avoided the porch so Kermit and Clementine could have a peaceful honeymoon.

By morning, Kermit was gone. For a few days Clementine hugged the wall, near a dark goo covering a mass of eggs, then disappeared.

Several days later, the dark mass flattened. Whether tadpoles had dropped into the bowl of water below and survived remains one of those questions Mother Nature will answer later, hopefully when another Kermit appears and the glorious cycle of life renews itself.

* * * * *
Computer updates: I now have a new Apple laptop, loaded with goodies, all discounted nicely as it's last year's model. Apparently the only real difference between last year and this year is that this year's pad doesn't click. Never mind. The WiFi mouse eliminates the need for a port. But I'm seriously careful about the computer's re-charge port. I fried the mouse port on the old computer by yanking it out too hard.

So far, I'm loving my new Apple. It's much lighter, does more stuff and is easier for a computer dinosaur like me to operate. That said, getting to this point was a technological hole that took time and money to get out of.

Another new toy is my first iPhone. But the jury's still out on this one. People really do expect immediate replies to texts. Sheesh! I think one has to be careful technology doesn't turn into a mental heroin.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Introducing "Kermit"

Kermit (Hyla cinema) lives on my back porch. We met while I was hosing down the porch. What's that green blob? I thought, diverting the hose in time.

Two weeks later, I can't decide if Kermit adopted us or we adopted him. He's learned not to perch on the door frame leading into the kitchen; we've learned to rattle the door prior to opening it in case he's forgotten.

With an emerging personality and a dedication to devouring mosquitoes and other insects attracted to porches, Kermit is actually a green tree frog common to much of the coastal United States, from East Texas to southern Delaware. In what has turned out to be an increasingly complicated, but pleasantly addictive sphere of interest simplified by Google, various groups of green tree frogs exist. Seeing a small green frog doesn't necessarily mean the diminutive amphibian is Kermit's sibling.

So, let's ignore extensive Google searches and stick with Kermit, so named in homage to Jim Henson's famous Muppet. Approximately 2.5 inches (6 cm) long, with bulging eyes, skinny legs, large toe pads, and a light yellow stripe along the sides, my Kermit appears to be fully grown.

Except that this morning's Googling raised the distinct possibility Kermit is really Clementine.

Male tree frogs are smaller than females and have wrinkled necks because of the vocal sac to call females. Kermit -- er, Clementine -- possesses a flawless neck a model like Cindy Crawford would envy. After a meeting of the family politburo (Mr. H. and Yours Truly), the decision reached meant Kermit remained Kermit. It wasn't a unanimous decision, even if there was logic to Mr. H's argument: Whoever heard of a frog called Clementine?

What swayed me resulted from Googling the name Kermit. Thanks to Wikipedia, this is what I learned: Kermit is a male name found mainly in the U. S. It's a variant spelling of Kermonde, a surname on the Isle of Man, a self-governing British dependency located in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Ireland. Kermonde is a Manx language variant of MacDiarmata, an an Irish language variation of MacDermond. U. S. President Teddy Roosevelt named a son Kermit for a Manx ancestor.

The last native Manx speaker died in 1974. Thanks to significant recordings and attention paid to grammatical structure and other linguistic necessities prior to 1974, a language once considered extinct enjoys a slow recovery. Seventy-one students now attend a school where instructors conduct classes in the Manx language. Through this on-going process since the 1980s, two Isle of Man residents are now considered native speakers, as they grew up speaking Manx in the home.

So, in homage to Jim Henson's Kermit and to those who work to save an endangered language, Kermit remains Kermit.

* * * * *

After struggling with computer issues far too long, Mr. H. and I are going to the Apple store in Durham on Tuesday. It's a two and a half hour drive. The port where my mouse connects is the main culprit. I damaged one of the prongs inside, probably by yanking the cord. (No, not switching to a pad!) The secondary problem is this laptop is almost six years old, definitely a dinosaur with other issues in today's fast-moving technological culture. The other problem, of course, resulted from an unhinged schedule while this computer was in and out of local geeks' care. Simply put, one gardening project led to another and I, umm, played hooky.

The photo of the flowers in the above header is of my garden in Virginia last year. (The white spot is a rock from the quarry to restrain erosion.) My North Carolina garden is seriously bigger and on the edge of looking like the garden I'd imagined. (Oh, I hope so!) However, the garden also attracted Kermit and other critters I'll introduce as time passes. I'm learning so much on this porch, sitting here, watching the world go by.


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

An Amazing Edit!

Prior to our North Carolina move, I smoothed out the draft for the next book in the Remy Broussard series. A week later, I returned to the manuscript and wasn't happy with it. The excitement I'd felt at having gotten it right disappeared into furrowed brows. Something was wrong, but I couldn't put my finger on it. The elusive it, that all-inclusive, third person, singular pronoun, had reared its squishy head.

Time passed.

Like a shimmering bowl of Jello that turns into a gooey mess when one attempts to hold the gelatin, it eluded me.

More time passed. But that was okay because the up-coming move meant I had better things to do than worry about it, which I continued to do, of course, deep-down, where I thought the now-personified it wouldn't dare to go.


Fortunately, life intervened.

I ran into Lynn at the mall, seriously. My forty-something, somewhat recently divorced friend was on her lunch break and had to get back to work. I was headed downstairs to catch the Metro when we rounded the same corner. After laughing about how we'd bumped into each other, we decided to have lunch the following week and get caught up.

As much as I tried to leave it at home, the interloper tagged along. "Send me a copy of your manuscript, and I'll have a look," Lynn offered.

I demurred. Even though she was "fresh eyes," Lynn was an in-house (salaried) attorney for a major corporation, not an editor, which is what the manuscript needed.

She persisted.

Two days later, I e-mailed Karen with my thanks and the manuscript attached.

She replied two days later from the coast of Spain, where she and Current Boyfriend had impulsively decided to go for a long weekend.

I shrugged both of them off and returned to packing boxes, unable to stuff it into one.

Two weeks later, I opened Lynn's e-mail with a jaundiced eye, rolled my eyes when I read her rushed note about the edited manuscript attached, only to have my eyes pop when I saw what she'd sent: a detailed line-by-line edit, along with comprehensive summaries of story elements, overviews and suggestions.

Lynn had compartmentalized her flighty love life and zeroed in on my manuscript with her considerable legal skills as if she were preparing a brief.

True to what I'd requested, she'd by-passed faint praise -- addictive "love this" comments or exaggerated praise writers love but which can enable insecurities -- for comments about what worked and what didn't work and why. Hallelujah!

What had been eluding me now jumped out at me when I re-read the manuscript: One of my adolescent characters was a bit too young.

Yes, of course, duh!

But a deeper problem lurked. Lynn, from Pennsylvania, had had difficulties believing a Southern woman (a character's mother) could be strong and decisive. "Shouldn't a Southern woman be more submissive to her husband?" she'd commented.

Huh? Not the women I'd grown up with and known in South Louisiana. Or anyone else's mother, for that mater.

Whoa! What the reader believed -- whether perceived or not -- had to be taken into account.

So I asked three women who'd spent little or no time in the South to read my manuscript. One of the three caught the age problem. All three commented that a Southern woman should be more submissive.

When I asked the three to elaborate on their images of Southern women, replies included "downtrodden" and "uneducated." Wow, heavy stuff.

But characters are creations who come to life in an imagined environment in a plausible setting. One of my challenges is to return to my character and develop her more fully. She needs to interact with historical accuracy for the times but in a believable manner so that her actions don't break the reader's esthetic distance.

For the most part, I'm going to grapple with this and other manuscript issues on Facebook.

While this blog will occasionally have posts about writing milestones, the blog's main focus will be on Louisiana stories and points of interest -- what got me into blogging in the first place.

In other words, it's time for a bit of tinkering. If you'd like to join be on FB and share my manuscript's journey -- with in-put greatly appreciated -- I'm here.

My next blog post will be about Pikeville, North Carolina. There's no set date. I'm as erratic and incorrigible as ever. :)

About the A-Z Challenge: I've revealed "Q is for Quebec." Since no one guessed where in the world we're going that begins with "Z", the location will remain a secret (unless someone guesses it correctly later).

In the meantime, let's move on to "X". Can you guess where we're going that begins with "X?"

Postscript: About that exciting Super Bowl game: One second, Mr. H., a serious Patriots fan (and member of the Red Sox Nation), sat slumped in his chair, as sad as sad could be; the next moment, his arms shot up as he shouted "YES," as happy as happy could be. For me, his reaction was a priceless, forever memory.

Monday, January 19, 2015

A-Z Challenge: Traveling with Kittie!

The A-Z Challenge is right around winter's corner. That's a good thing. Actually, two good things: spring's coming -- yay! -- and an idea popped for a Challenge theme: travels.

Specifically, you and I hitting the friendly skies for places around the world that match the alphabet that I've visited. Thanks to a great trip to Quebec, the alphabet opens up for a magic carpet ride.

Yep, I'm excited!

In spite of the awful news that steals headlines, there really is more good in the world than bad. It's time to feel the goodness and hear the laughter that fill most people's hearts. I've met so many along the way, in large cities and small towns and villages, who've brought a smile.

 But, um, can you guess where we're going for Z?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Humanity Strong!

Those with sane minds and peaceful hearts reacted as one to the murders in Paris last week, mindful as well of the massacre in northeastern Nigeria, earlier massacres in Kenya, still reeling from from beheadings of innocents and other acts of horror that have filled the news for far too long and, millions strong, raised theirs voices in unison: "Je suis Charlie."

The French love satire. It goes to the heart of who they are, the products of a deep history that gave a newly independent United States the Statue of Liberty, that gave the world Voltaire.

Francois-Marie Arouet (1694-1778), known by his nom de plume Voltaire, was a French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher famous for his wit and his advocacy of freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and separation of church and state. He wrote more than 20,000 letters and over 2,000 books and pamphlets. As a satirical polemicist, he frequently made use of his works to criticize intolerance and religious dogma. (Wikipedia)

Some of Voltaire's philosophical sayings include:

Opinion has caused more trouble on this little earth than plagues or earthquakes.

Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.

Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too.

The truths of religion are never so well understood as by those who have lost the power of reason.

To the wicked, everything serves as a pretext.

Woe to the makers of literal translations, who by rendering every word weaken the meaning! It is indeed by so doing that we can say the letter kills and the spirit gives life.

It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere.

Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do!

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.

I might disagree with your opinion, but I am willing to give my life for your right to express it.

Voltaire: "Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.." (Photo source: Wikipedia. For more of Voltaire's sayings go here.