Random musings


For decades, my mother has been nagging me to read Celia Garth, by Gwen Bristow.  The book was published in 1959, making it just about the same age I am.  I’m not sure why I never got around to reading it, but now I could kick myself for not having read it when Mom first mentioned it.  In short, I loved it.

We meet Celia herself right away.  She is a 20-year-old orphan who is working as an apprentice seamstress for the best dressmaker in Charleston, South Carolina.  The year is 1779, and the American Revolution has been going on for several years.  Celia really doesn’t care one way or the other about the war; all she cares about is having some excitement in her life.  But circumstances draw her in, and soon she cares very, very much about the war and the participants.   She gets engaged to a rebel captain, she becomes a spy for the rebel cause and, along the way, she and the people she cares about face real danger and real sorrow.   As has been said, “War is Hell,” and young Celia learns this first hand.

Real historical figures play important roles in the story; we get to meet Francis Marion (the “Swamp Fox”), and we learn about the King’s commanders Cornwallis, Clinton, Tarleton, etc.

At first, I found Celia a little annoying, but I guess a lot of 20-year-olds are, and she did grow on me.  I loved the supporting characters as much as Celia does, and felt her joy and her pain as her world went all topsy-turvy around her.  Celia grows up because of her experiences, and I am glad I got to go along for the ride.  I cannot recommend this book enough for anyone who likes a good historical novel with lots of romance and action.  It’s just wonderful and it’s a book I can see myself reading again over the years.

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OK, now for the reason I’ve been away so long.  I took the plunge and became a homeowner.  Neither side used a realtor, so I got a crash course in home buying and it consumed so much of my time and emotional energy (and cash!) that I didn’t have enough to spare for reading, stitching, movie-going, blogging, etc.  But now I’m settled in and am getting used to living on my own again.  No parents, no dogs, no “partners-in-crime” just across the street or down the block.  It’s very quiet, but I am remembering how much I like quiet when I’m not at work (odd for a City Mouse, but true).   In my 100+ year-old NYC apartment building, the walls were so thin that I could practically hear my neighbors boiling water (and we all heard things we wish we hadn’t!).  But this is a 7-year-old building made out of cinder block, so I hardly know I even have neighbors now.  I still need a ton of stuff — book cases, living room couch, coffee table, etc.   I had “issues” with the washing machine, and the ice maker that I bought in December to go with the refrigerator  I bought at the same time was just delivered and installed this morning.  The guest room still has a lot of boxes, but the living room and dining room are looking good.  My handyman will be back next weekend to help out with some stuff I can’t do myself, and the “official” housewarming is in 2 weeks.  It’s a small townhouse, and all but 2 of the 20-something invitees have said they’ll be here.  Yikes!

Anyway, so now you know “The Rest of the Story.”

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I just got back from a vacation to Los Angeles.  We had a family function out there and I was very, very happy to go.  But, when I first made my reservations, gas was averaging around $4 per gallon, and the airlines wanted far more money than I was willing (and able) to pay.  So, I decided to use some of my saved-up miles.  I had around 60,000 of them in my account, so I planned on using 25,000 of them on round-trip coach seats.

Alas, it was not to be.  My dates were not flexible in the slightest so, when I realized that there were no steerage, er, coach seats available, I found myself making the reservation for first class tickets at 50,000 miles for a round trip.  Ouch.

Anyway, the last (and only) time I flew in first or business class was in 1998, when I was upgraded on the red eye home from San Francisco because they needed my coach seat for someone else.  It was a lovely experience featuring wider seats, better food and the opportunity for an actual nap (normally, I cannot sleep on planes).  But my flight to LA this year was so much better.  The plane I was on is, apparently, used regularly for international travel, and it was the nicest flight I have ever been on.  The seat was in a sort of pod, and it had the ability to flatten out to 180 degrees so the passenger can take a real nap.  We were delayed in Florida by thunderstorms for over an hour, so I got to watch 2 movies on the flight AND take a 2-hour nap.  The food was very good and, even though I slept through the chocolate chip cookies, the flight attendant made sure I got some before we deplaned.  It was a truly memorable flight.  If I’d had the money to pay for this flight, I’d have paid for it in a heartbeat.

The way home was, however, a totally different story.  I spent 5 hours in a seat that was not much wider than that in coach.  The food was ordinary (the menu said “breakfast quesadilla,” yet I was served Rice Krispies), the flight attendants bordered on surly (not quite as surly as your average coach flight attendants, but definitely worse than the flight attendants from the flight out to LA) and the only movie available was “The Lorax.”  The seat itself was better than what one gets in coach, to be sure, but overall, if I’d paid full price for this flight I would not have been happy that it cost the same as the first one.

As for the movies available to me on the way to LA, it was a tough choice.  I ended up watching 2 — The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Midnight in Paris.  I thoroughly enjoyed both of them.  Best Exotic Marigold Hotel had a lot to live up to since I cannot imagine a movie with Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Celia Imrie and Penelope Wilton being anything but wonderful.  Yes, I did guess some of the plot twists, but I still loved it.  When it comes out on DVD, I will definitely watch it again.

Midnight in Paris was terrific.  I admit I was leery about a movie starring Owen Wilson, but I really did like the movie.  I loved Woody Allen’s early work, but his more recent movies have left me cold.  But Midnight in Paris was just wonderful.  The premise, that a 21st-century American man travels back in time to 1920s Paris, could have been weird, but this was not.  We get to meet Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Picasso, Dalí, Toulouse-Lautrec, etc., etc., etc.  Yes, some suspension of disbelief is required, but I had no trouble accepting the story as presented.  It’s already on my Netflix queue and I am genuinely looking forward to seeing it again.

I first saw this movie via DVD a couple of years ago and I loved it.  Being that this is Memorial Day weekend here in the US, it’s been on the various HBO channels and I made time to watch it again.  I freely admit that I sobbed off and on during the entire film.

Taking Chance is the true story of Lt. Colonel Mike Strobl, a Marine who worked at the Pentagon (he has since retired), and who wrote the screenplay for Taking Chance.  One day, he was reading the casualty list and saw the name of Pfc Chance Phelps, a 19-year-old Marine who died in Anbar Province.  Phelps died protecting his colleagues and was posthumously promoted to lance corporal.  Strobl asked his superiors if he could escort Phelps’ remains to his hometown in Wyoming, and permission was granted, even though men in Strobl’s position did not usually perform this task.

The movie is the story of Strobl’s trip from Virginia to Wyoming to take Chance Phelps home to his parents.  It is gut-wrenching, it is powerful and it is beautiful.  I cannot recommend it highly enough, on Memorial Day, Veterans’ Day or any other day.  It’s an outstanding movie, and all Americans should see it.

Here are a couple of links that will add to one’s knowledge of the real events that inspired the movie:

And, last but certainly not least, to all of the men and women who have put their lives on the line to protect and defend the rest of us, I say “thank you.”

Or, more accurately, I don’t think we’re in New York anymore.

I was out taking a walk at lunch the other day, and I happened to pass by the local courthouse.  There’s some construction going on right now, but the plaza is still a place where people congregate.  There are tables where workers gather for lunch, while others cut across the plaza to get somewhere else.  The complex takes up 2 blocks in the East/West direction, so there is plenty of open space.  Anyway, while I was cutting across the plaza to head south towards the bank, I passed by this little guy:

Taking a stroll

In New York, you don’t see beautiful birds like this taking a stroll about town. The only wildlife I’m accustomed to is rats, squirrels (rats with good P.R.), mice, sparrows and pigeons (rats with wings), so I have no idea what kind of bird this is.  I think he may be a heron or an egret, but I’ll have to do some research to find out for sure. Regardless, I think it’s kind of cool.

Speaking of birds, sandhill cranes are tall, gray-ish birds that take walks around my neighborhood.  I’ve passed them on the sidewalk, and they don’t scare easily.  I don’t have any pictures of them handy, but here’s one I found online.  They are monogamous, and I’ve seen entire families (Mom, Dad and 2 “colts”) out for a stroll on a lazy Florida afternoon.  I’ve seen traffic stop in all directions while a family is crossing the street.   It’s almost as if they know they’re a protected species and they can get away with anything because of it.

I’ve never been much of a bird person, but Florida birds just fascinate me.  There’s a pond in back of our house, and the dogs go wild every time a bird stands on the bank stretching out his wings to dry them.  We also get alligators, turtles (I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve had to hit the brakes to avoid a turtle), bobcats, panthers and rabbits.

It would appear that there is more to wildlife than just scavengers.  Who knew?

Pitchers and catchers are busy reporting to camps all over Florida and Arizona.

Lots has happened during the off-season — Bobby Valentine is now managing the Red Sox, Robin Ventura is managing the White Sox, Manny Ramirez has re-activated himself and will try to make the A’s roster, Brian Cashman’s wife is divorcing him because of a string of dalliances, and The Kid, Gary Carter, died from brain cancer at the age of 57.

I admired the way Carter played the game. I respected the way he lived his life, and I loved how he helped my favorite team win a World Series.  He wasn’t one of my all-time favorite Mets, but I am very, very saddened by his death. I was at his first game as a Met, when he won the game with a home run in extra innings.  His enthusiasm was infectious, and I never understood the way people ripped into him for loving life as much as he did.  He was sincere in his love for God, his family and his profession.  He played the game the right way, and a lot of today’s prima donna players could learn a lot from him.  He was way too young to go, and he will be missed.

Rest in peace Gary.

Downton Abbey paper dolls!

I cannot take credit for finding these.  A fellow denizen of the Republic of Pemberley called my attention to them.  I have two words: Bloody.  Brilliant.

Something else that is brilliant is Vulture’s episode-by-episode synopsis of the series.  Check it out — it’s not quite as funny as the one from the Telegraph, but it’s still highly entertaining.  Here is their take on the Christmas special.  I only need to add one thing — the author of DA is not “Sir Fellowes,” he’s “LORD Fellowes.”  One never uses “Sir” with a surname.  NEVER.  These people need to be added to the ever-growing list of writers who desperately need to check out Debrett’s.  The information is out there — USE IT.

But I digress.  Anyone in North America who has wanted to watch DA has now seen it in its entirety.  Even I, who have problems with the way PBS treats the material, could not resist watching it last night (despite the fact that I own the Region 2 DVDs), and Matthew’s proposal was as beautiful as I’d remembered. *sigh*

My friend Baboo was in town to play baseball with a group called “Play at the Plate.”  This offered me the opportunity to visit Pirate City, which houses the Florida headquarters of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.  I had passed by on more occasions than I can count, and have seen it transform from a scary-looking dump to a world-class operation worthy of being the headquarters of a major-league ball club. The weather was so much more pleasant than it was at Port St. Lucie last month, and a fine time was had by all, players and spectators alike.  And, speaking of Port St. Lucie, there were a lot of Mets fans at the tournament; there were 8 teams, and it looked as if each team had at least one man dressed in the blue-and-orange.

Here is the main entrance to the Pirate City complex:

The complex pays homage to 100+ years of Pirate history.  Pretty much everything is named for a famous Pirate.  Such as

Pie Traynor Field:

and Willie Stargell Field

and Roberto Clemente Field

and Honus Wagner Field

and Bill Mazeroski Field

My personal favorite was, of course the Ralph Kiner batting cage.  Here’s the sign:

and here is the best picture of the interior that I could get:

When I saw this, I thought that maybe they’d gone a bit overboard on the Pirates décor:

It’s a faucet in the ladies’ room next to the fields.

As for the games themselves, Baboo played for the appropriately named Pirates. The Pirates ended up being the oldest team in the entire tournament, and they finished smack in the middle — 4th of 8.

In case you don’t believe me that he is indeed called Baboo, here he is in his custom-made Mets BP jersey:

And here he is, on the mound in his Pirates gear:

As always, just click on the pictures to enlarge them.

After the tournament ended, every one went their separate ways, and I ended the day at my neighbors’ house watching the Super Bowl.  They are Patriots fans (as were most of the guests), and I was pulling for the Giants (there were a grand total of 3 guests who were rooting for the G-men).  But it was a great game, regardless of who you were rooting for.  We were all on the edge of our respective seats for the entire time.  This was one Super Bowl where the ads were not better than the game.

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