The Suitcase Lady


September 17, 2019, 10:04 pm


How’s this for an oxymoron. The other day I heard these words coming out of my mouth directed at my husband. “Hey, we have to hurry up if we want to do nothing!”

I make absolutely no excuses for the absurdity of this statement.  It encapsulates the present tenor of life in America. Time and events go at warp speed. Even simple tasks have become complex or convoluted.

Here’s an example. I go to check out a book at the library. The self-checkout machine fails to recognize my library card. After three attempts, I go to the next identical machine. It loves my card instantly, but tells me I’ve checked out a book that I’ve never seen in my life. All sorts of my time will be wasted finding a staff person to sort out the mess. Multiply this little episode by all similar occurrences in a week, and my nonsensical sentence isn’t so nonsensical.

When the weekend arrives and all the tasks and work involved with daily living are done, my husband and I try to claim a few unstructured  hours free from all obligations, both electronic and otherwise. That’s a challenge…..if we don’t hurry up, we won’t get to do nothing.

Almost all kindergartens in America have a time set aside each day for “free play”. The children get to choose from a wide variety of activities; painting, block building, reading, puzzles and more. It is the child’s choice to play alone or with friends.

Grown-ups need free play time as well….even though it’s a trick to wrest that time from the fast flow of contemporary life. I agree with these words of the brilliant American physicist, Richard Feynman: “Play is hard to maintain as you get older. You get less playful. You shouldn’t, of course.”

Nothing to do but enjoy the coffee

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September 10, 2019, 5:15 pm


Amid the litany of horrors that is the daily newspaper, a delightful bit of news occasionally erupts. An item last week is surely one of these. It concerns a rooster and what roosters do best…vocalize.

This particular rooster is named Maurice, and he lives on the French island of Oleron. Like all roosters, he greets the dawn every morning with a cock-a-doodle-do, or rather his cocorico, the French word for a cock’s crow. This is what got him afoul of his neighbors, two urban dwellers who have a vacation home next door.

The neighbors complained to Maurice’s owner, Corrine Fesseau, that his vocalizations were “abnormal racket” disturbing their sleep. Being a good neighbor, Madame Fesseau tried draping his coop at night with a black cloth. Maurice was not to be fooled: he still knew when dawn was arriving and acted accordingly. Next, his owner tried sound-proofing his coop with egg boxes. Not satisfied with these efforts, the neighbors sued.

When news of the lawsuit broke, the French public rallied. There recently had been a spate of similar cases with noise complaints concerning cackling geese and ducks, cicadas, mating frogs in a pond and church bells. Maurice, apparently, was the final straw.

140,000 people signed a “Save Maurice” petition. T shirts were printed with Maurice’s portrait and the words, “Let Him Sing”. The battle of urban vs rural and permanent resident and holiday visitor had begun. And it dragged on for two years.

Before the trial, a court official stayed at the complainant’s house for three nights to access the severity of the noise. He reported that the rooster only crowed intermittently between 6:30 and 7:00 AM and was merely audible if the windows were closed.

Last Thursday was Maurice’s big day in court. He showed up in person (chicken) and was exonerated. In addition, the judge awarded him $1,100 in damages. Julian Papineau, Maurice’s lawyer, declared, “This is affirmation that people of bad faith don’t always win, and that we have to accept nature’s sounds”.

Tres Bon!

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September 3, 2019, 9:31 pm


The only better summer thing than sitting on the front porch is sitting on the back porch. At our house, the front porch is called “the lakeside” and the back porch is called “the roadside”.

We love to eat all our summer meals outside on those porches barring severe thunderstorms or tornado warnings. Breakfast is always on the lakeside even though we are never eating early enough to catch the sunrise. Dinner is on the roadside for two reasons: it is 10 degrees warmer than the lakeside porch in the evening and the sunset show is not to be missed. Life does not get better than summer dining al fresco.

But the summer days are waning, the clues are all around us. The tall silver grass along our driveway is sporting its white plumes, the last of the daylilies are blooming, the goldenrod is in its glory, the meadow grasses are slowly fading from green to amber and our purple martins have long gone.

The most reliable indicator of summer’s coming demise, however, is my husband. He is most emphatically not a “pumpkin spice-fall is the best season” kind of guy. Noting each new indicator of fall, he acts as if doomsday is upon us. My efforts to remain upbeat, noting the beauties of fall, do nothing to lift his spirits.

I must admit that my feelings are much like his. The poet James Russell Lowell asks, “What is so rare as a day in June?” To both of us, the answer is obvious…July and August.

Adieu to summer and all your glories. We will be counting the days until your return.

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August 27, 2019, 9:21 pm


One of my favorite rooms in our house is the fish room. There is not a goldfish bowl in sight. We call it by that name because this tiny room houses our collection of art from around the world with fish as the subject matter.

I also love this room because it did not come with the house. The fish room is entirely recycled. After living in our self-designed home a short while, we decided that entering the house from the garage directly into the basement was not too ambient. We decided to build a small entrance hall, and my extremely handy husband created it out of bits and pieces of wallboard left over from the construction of our home’s other walls. No one would ever guess it’s a patchwork of pieces.

It’s hard not to come into the fish room and not smile. Fish are swimming from the ceiling, hanging from the walls and filling the shelves of a fifty year old teak bookcase.

There’s a great piece of irony here as well. When we built the fish room we had one cat who lived upstairs. But as the years have gone by, we’ve helped out our neighborhood’s homeless cats. The rest of the basement has become the rescue cats’ very classy two story (to a cat) apartment complete with an outdoor catio. So the fish room is now also a cat room.

One of our cats whose name is Shrimp has chosen the second shelf of the fish room’s bookcase as his own special spot. He even sleeps there, nestled into the fish.

The fish in the fish room had a real treat a few weeks ago: I flooded their room. I put two pillows in the washer in the room directly above them and turned the washer on the high setting. The washer overflowed spectacularly and caused a deluge down below testing my husband’s wallboard skills to the maximum. Now, after some hard work on his part, you would never know I had turned our fish room into an aquarium.

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August 20, 2019, 9:52 pm


Caterpillars don’t usually have birthday parties….but there is one exception. THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR, a creation of the beloved children’s book author, Eric Carle, is marking its fiftieth birthday this year. Children and young-at-heart adults around the world have been having parties in celebration of the book’s fifty years in print.

If Mr.Carle’s original idea for the book had materialized, parties probably would not be happening. A WEEK WITH WILLI THE WORM does not have the charisma of a caterpillar with a voracious appetite. Fortunately for all of us, Ann Beneduce, Carle’s editor, gently suggested he turn his green worm into a caterpillar. Wise advice, as THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR has sold over 50 million copies and been translated into 62 languages. In addition, Eric Carle went on to create over 70 other picture books for young people.

Now 90 years old and living in Key West, Florida, Eric Carle’s early life was shaped by an incredible twist of fate. He was born in Syracuse, New York, to German immigrant parents. He writes, “I remember kindergarten there. I remember a large sun-filled room with large sheets of paper, fat brushes and colorful paint. I went to school a happy little boy.”

But then his mother got homesick, and the family moved back to Stuttgart when Eric was six years old. It was 1935 and they returned to experience all the horrors of the rise of Nazism and World War II. He was beaten by his teachers in a dark, cheerless school, his family went hungry and his father spent years in a Russian prisoner-of-war camp. Eric had only one compelling wish from 1st grade on: to get back to America.

After graduating from art school in Germany, he earned enough money to come home to America in 1953. He quickly found a job at the  New York Times. Ironically, he was drafted into the U.S. Army five months later. Because of his German language skills, Eric Carle was sent right back to Germany. His entire enlistment was spent there. Returning home a second time, he worked as an art director in ad agencies for many years.

When Eric Carle was 40 years old, his friend Bill Martin Jr., asked him to illustrate his book, BROWN BEAR, BROWN BEAR, WHAT DO YOU SEE? As Eric Carle explains, “The happy days of my kindergarten came to mind as I created those large and colorful animals for that book.” From then on his artistic and literary career has had one focus…creating children’s books.

On the occasion of his caterpillar’s 50th birthday, Mr. Carle was asked why he thought his story is so popular. He replied, “I believe most children can identify with the helpless, small insignificant caterpillar and they rejoice when it turns into a beautiful butterfly. It is an affirmation to all children. It says: ‘I, too, can unfold my wings and fly into the world.’ I think it’s this message of hope.”

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