Monday, January 30, 2012

Wishing for Fishes

Thought for the day:  Why are you trying so hard to fit in when you were born to stand out? [Oliver James]

Have you ever felt like you didn't quite belong? Like you were on the outside looking in?

Meet Cowboy. Many mornings when I open our front door, there he is, just lying on our welcome mat. He immediately sits up and peers in at me. Looks pitiful, and dare I say ... hopeful?

Matter of fact, he spends a good bit of time lying or sitting on our front porch. Looking in. Looking pitiful. Or in our back yard, following us around or gazing into the house from out there. He could be running around the neighborhood, doing whatever it is outside cats are supposed do all day, but instead, he bides his time ... wastes his time ... looking in our windows. Wishing he were inside. Hoping his luck will change.

If wishes were horses, all beggars would ride; it wishes were fishes, we'd all have some fried.

He isn't our cat. Cowboy belongs to a neighbor, but I guess you could say he's our collateral pet, just like the other critters who come to our place for a handout. We don't mind him hanging around, but there's something heart-breaking about the sight of him looking in our window so often.

Somehow, his expression looks ...  familiar ...

I'm pretty sure I know how he feels. I've been excluded a time or two.

And I've seen people with that same wistful expression, people who bide their time ... waste their time ... pining to be someone or somewhere they aren't. Essentially, they're wasting their lives on wishes for fishes instead of eating what they have right in front of them, or reaching for the doggone fishing rod.

Does Cowboy tug at your heartstrings, too?

Sometimes Cowboy and Dot look at each other through the window.

Sometimes he and Dash watch each other.

Cowboy wants to come inside so badly. We can see it in his face when he stares in the front door. We can see it in his face when he stares in our back sliding glass doors. We can see it when he tries to slip inside when we open the door, and when he rolls on the ground in front of us, doing his tricks and trying to please.

He wants to be part of the in crowd.

I suspect wanting to belong is a fairly universal feeling. There are at least two songs entitled On the Outside Looking In, and that's also the title of Michael Reagan's book. Then there's the book and movie The Outsiders. And let's not forget the 1962 song by the Sensations called Let Me In. Don't remember that one? Here, take a listen:

                                                                      And so it seems,

                                                  when we're on the OUTSIDE, we want IN.


                                             And when we're on the INSIDE, we want OUT.

Is happiness always just on the other side of that closed door? Is there someone guarding that door,  keeping you on the outside, like in Fats Domino's 1961 song, I Hear You Knocking (But You Can't Come In)?

When we're different from everybody else, we wanta be the same, and when we're too much like everybody else, we yearn to be different. Ya know what? Inside yourself or outside, you never have to change what you see, only the way you see it.  [Thaddeus Golas]  We yam what we yam. And we yam pretty damned good.

Okay, so maybe you never felt like part of the in crowd. 

So what? Be a standout.

Outside may very well be the new in place. There's lots of us out  here.

 I was always looking outside myself for strength and confidence, but it comes from within. It is there all the time.  [Anna Freud]

                                  Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Minutemen and Magic Mushrooms

Thought for the day:  Massachusetts may be known by some as the baked bean state, but contrary to popular belief, the state's motto is NOT , "Who fahted?" 

I'm not saying this just because of the Boston Tea Party; Massachusetts is thoroughly steeped in the early history of our country. For example, the statue shown at left, located in Minute Man National Historical Park, commemorates the Revolutionary War Battle of Lexington and Concord. From the early days of the Massachusetts settlement, all able-bodied men between the ages of sixteen and sixty had to serve in  the militia, which was a part-time citizen army, and I guess you could say the minutemen were like the Special Forces of their day. Drawn from the ranks of the general militia, these dedicated volunteers trained much more extensively, were expected to keep their arms and equipment with them at all times, and had to always be prepared to march at a minute's notice.

Just a quick handful of tidbits before we look at some pictures: Boston Common became America's first public park in 1634, and in 1636, Harvard became the first North American college. In 1789, William Hill Brown published The Power Of Sympathy in Worcester -- the book regarded as the first American novel. Birth control pills were invented at Clark University in Worcester, and the first Dunkin Donuts opened its doors in Quincy. (I suppose prior to the pill being invented, a donut held between the knees would do the trick.)

The Boston Tea Party is reenacted every year on December 16. At left is a picture of the Nathanial Currier lithograph depicting the original rebellion.

The USS Constitution, also known as Old Ironsides, is the oldest fully commissioned vessel in the U.S. Navy. First launched in 1797, it was retired in 1881, and has been overhauled several times since its berthing at Charleston Navy Yard. It was declared a Museum Ship in 1907.

Emily Dickenson's home.

Ralph Waldo Emerson home. (not exactly a starving artist, huh?)

How cool is this? This house is the inspiration for Nathanial Hawthorne's House of Seven Gables. First built in 1668, the house was purchased and restored by Caroline Emmerton in 1908, and has been open to the public since 1910.

This is kinda like the home of the original hippies. In the 1840s, Amos Bronson Alcott founded Fruitlands Farm community, an experiment in communal living in a transcendental Utopian kind of existence. They were vegans, and the idea was to live off the land, and eschew that day's version of conveniences, (i.e. no hot water for bathing) but they found farming too hard, and the winter, too cold. The experiment folded after only seven months, but daughter Louisa May Alcott's book, Transcendental Wild Oats, tells her account of the experience.

Among other things, the Peabody Essex Museum contains 552 original documents pertaining to the 1692 Salem witch trials.

Hingham's Old Ship Church is the oldest church structure in the United States in continuous use as a place of worship, and the only remaining 17th century Puritan meetinghouse.

Robert Goddard, the Father of Rocketry and inventor of the first liquid fueled rocket, was born and spent most of his life in Worcester. Seen in the picture is Goddard with his first rocket, which was launched in nearby Auburn.

I'm as addicted to the newspaper as the next person, but have you ever heard of building a house with it? Talk about the original recycler! Built in Rockport in 1922, other than its wooden frame, floor, and roof, this house is made entirely of newspaper logs. The furniture is even made of newspaper, with the exception of a piano, which is decorated with the small logs. A grandfather clock is made from papers from the capital cities of the forty-eight continental states, and one desk is made of the Christian Science Monitor, while another is made from newspapers chronicling Charles Lindgergh's trans-Atlantic flight. Shown in the picture is the house's sunroom.

Okay, time to see what antiquated laws are still languishing on the books in this fine state. Oh, and a quick reminder: some of you have been baffled by the idiocy of some of the laws listed in past posts. They are OLD laws, some legislated centuries ago. Most are no longer enforced, but for reasons unknown, they haven't been removed from the books, either. I guess our legislators are too busy coming up with NEW laws to worry about the old ones.

  • It's illegal to give beer to hospital patients. (I prefer bourbon or wine, anyway.)
  • Shooting ranges may not set up targets that resemble human beings. 
  • Goatees are illegal, unless you pay a special license fee for the privilege of wearing one. (Think they have to pay more for a full beard?)
  • Taxi drivers are prohibited from making love in the front seat during their shifts. (No biggie. The back seat's much more comfortable.)
  • No gorillas are allowed in the back seat of any car. (Great! While you're getting busy in the back, he can sit up front and serve as look-out.)
  • Children may smoke, but they may not purchase cigarettes. (Of course they can't! Who gives kids that much money for allowance?)
  • Tomatoes may not be used in the production of clam chowder.
  • You may not, at any time, defecate on your neighbor. (I really wanta know the story behind this one!)
  • Quakers and witches are prohibited. (A strange coupling.)
  • Bullets may not be used as currency.
  • In Boston, it's illegal to play the fiddle. (Maybe it's okay if ya call it a violin?)
  • And two people may not kiss in front of a church. (Try a threesome. That oughta get 'em.)
  • It's illegal to eat peanuts in church. (Take popcorn. Or fried chicken.)
  • No baths on Sundays. (Gives never on a Sunday a whole new spin.)
  • It's only legal to duel to the death on a Sunday if the governor is present. (Better not get bloody, either, what with that whole no bath thing.)
  • In Hopkinton, although horses and cows are allowed in the common, dogs are prohibited. (Who has to clean up after them? Talk about some serious poop-scooping!)
  • In Longmeadow, it's illegal for two men to carry a bathtub across the town green. (Sorry, ladies. I reckon it's up to you.)
  • In Marlborough, it's against the law to buy, sell, or own a squirt gun. (Real guns, however, are highly encouraged. As long as you don't shoot at targets that look like your ex.)
  • Silly string is also prohibited.
  • And you may not detonate a nuclear device in the city. (Guess you'll have to carry it over to the next city.)
  • In Newton, the mayor must give all families a hog. (Beats a chicken in every pot!)
  • Native son Leonard Nimoy may not like this one. In North Andover, an ordinance prohibits the use of space guns. (Just in case, you know, Martians ever invade. Ya think anyone's told them?)
  • And finally, in Woburn, you can't walk around a bar with a beer in your hand. (Again, go with bourbon or wine.)
Okay, boys and girls, it's that time again. Time for (ta-DA!)

The Weirdest News Stories of the Week

***  London may have found the perfect antidote for the winter blues. This week, art collective Greyworld installed a giant fake sun right smack dab in the middle of Trafalgar Square. Commissioned by juice maker Tropicana, this man-made sun is thirty thousand times larger than a soccer ball, and as bright as sixty thousand light bulbs. (Dunno what wattage) The Tropicana Sun rose at 6:51 AM, and set at 7:33 PM, allowing plenty of time for hardy Londoners and tourists to relax on the provided deck chairs to bask in the illusion of warmth.

***  Nice looking car, huh? Only it isn't a car. Not really. You could say it's for taking a body on its final ride from this world. Yup, it's a coffin. It seems some people are interested in a more unusual send-off than the standard wooden box. From January 20 until the 29th, some of these unusual coffin choices will be on display in London at an exhibit entitled Death: Festival for the Living. Some of the coffins look like such things as boats, cars, a big cocoa bean,  and a kite. After looking at the pictures, I've gotta say, some of those things (like the car) are too pretty to bury in the ground. Others? Frankly, I wouldn't be caught dead in 'em.

***  Maybe those hippies of the '60s were on to something. Recent studies show that psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, may actually be beneficial, and may have potential for treating depression, anxiety, and even cluster headaches. What's more,  this psychedelic substance gives healthy people a feeling of extreme well-being, a spiritual connection to the universe, and a heightened sense of empathy, which can last for an amazing year or more. No wonder those hippies were all about peace and love, huh? I found it somewhat surprising to discover that there isn't just one type of these shrooms, but rather a multitude of them. Only one I'd heard about before supposedly grows in and around cow poop. So natch, when reading about these new studies, I immediately thought about politicians. I mean, if you think about it, politicians are the masters of cow poop, right? Not to mention the countless cluster headaches they cause. So I'm thinking, maybe some of our old hippies should visit Capitol Hill and prepare a huge vat of mushroom soup for lunch. ASAP. Maybe it's time for those folks to get off their red carpet and take a magic carpet ride.  Whatcha think?

                                  Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Brighten the Corner Where You Are

Thought for the day:  I prefer fall and winter, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape--- the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it; the whole story doesn't show. [Andrew Wyeth]

While I do appreciate the imagery of Wyeth's words, I don't think winter will ever be my favorite time of year. Yeah, sure, the landscape's bone structure does possess a certain stark beauty, I suppose. I'll give him that. Then again, some people probably consider a skeleton to be a thing of beauty, too. As for me?  I've always preferred a bit of meat on my bones.

When I look at the barren trees, stripped naked, and stretching their lonely branches against a leaden sky, I long to see them covered with leaves again. I miss the bazillion birds who flitted on every branch of every tree in our yard last summer, and I miss their cacophonous symphonies.

Yup, I guess I'm more inclined to second Robert Byrne's sentiments, who so eloquently opined, Winter is nature's way of saying, "Up yours."

There used to be a columnist for the Atlanta newspaper who called the first two months of the year Janu-weary and Febru-ugly, and that was a pretty darned good description of how most of us around here feel about winter. Our area is ultra rich in trees and greenery most of the year, but right about now, almost everything is brown. Or gray. How it makes me miss COLOR! You know? The kind of color that makes the heart sing.

A walk in the woods is so much different this time of year than it was six months ago, isn't it? The tangle of growth that impeded your progress then is just an impotent hollow mesh of dead branches now, and no deterrent at all. Now, a layer of dead leaves crunches softly underfoot, and with each step, the faint scent of rot awakens and rises from the ground ... whispering a promise of growth yet to come. There's a different sound in the woods, and a different feeling.  A sense of isolation. Invigoration.

Then there's the runny nose, too, and maybe rosy cheeks. I do love those rosy cheeks ...

Okay, so I'll admit it. It ain't all bad.

Especially here. We haven't had any real cold weather yet. And usually don't see much of it, anyway. We've had a couple early morning frosts, but the temperatures are still climbing into the sixties most days. The poor misguided forsythia bushes are peppered with blossoms, but that isn't unusual. Forsythia always seems to be confused about when it should and shouldn't bloom.

                                     But I saw something a couple weeks ago that astounded me.


On January 10, I spotted a single daffodil blooming in our back yard. A daffodil! In January! What a glorious, glorious ... and unexpected ... sight. Others are also pushing through the soil, and I expect this first brave warrior (the point man) will be joined by the rest of his forces within the next couple of days. This is much too soon for him to show up, but there he was. This one defiant daffodil, providing a single splash of sunshine in the otherwise drab landscape of our back yard.

A beacon of hope. 

Of joy.

Oh, crap. Might as well face it. (sigh) Of delusion. (Poor thing.)

Every winter,
When the great sun has turned his face away,
And earth goes down into a vale of grief,
And fasts, and weeps, and shrouds herself in sables,
Leaving her wedding-garland to decay--
Then leaps in spring to his returning kisses.
[Charles Kingsley]

We have a lot of winter left to go, but spring's already graced me with an early kiss on the cheek. It may not be spring yet, but a single yellow daffodil ... standing tall ... blooming defiantly in the midst of winter ... reminds my heart that spring will always return. Know what? If that little guy could sing, I'll betcha his song would be Brighten the Corner Where You Are.

The flower that blooms in adversity is the rarest and most beautiful of all. [Walt Disney Productions]

          Even in the midst of winter, there is still plenty of beauty... and hope ... to be found.

                               Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Monday, January 23, 2012

On Raising the Dead

Thought for the day:  Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world.  Dr. Victor Frankenstein

This writer knows how to put flesh on those bones.
The thought for the day could very well have been uttered by Dianne Salerni. Not that she created scary monsters from bits and pieces. No, nothing as sinister as that. What she did is dust off the bare bones of people from the past, put flesh on them, breathe air into their lungs, pump blood through their bodies, and give them substance and emotions. Her book We Hear the Dead successfully floods the dark past with a torrent of light, and makes a somewhat obscure history sparkle with renewed life. Essentially, in telling this tale about the Fox sisters, spiritualism, and talking to the dead, she masterfully raises these characters from the dead, and makes them live again.

Fox sisters Maggie, Kate, and Leah

The mysterious rapping began as a devious plot to drive away an unwanted house guest, but as rumors spread, and more and more people crowded into their bedroom to hear the spirits, young sisters Katie and Maggie simply gave the people what they wanted to hear. When older sister Leah discovered their chicanery, she coerced them into continuing the fraud on a grander scale, with more sophisticated tricks, and her, of course,  in charge ... charging clients a fee.

Thus began the spiritualism movement. And, believe me, not everyone was happy about it, either. The girls were as likely to be met with shotgun fire or a vat of hot tar as they were with a shower of accolades. Theirs is a fascinating tale, from the descriptions of their tricks of the trade, to the agonizing choice Maggie has to make between the way of life she knows with her family, and the uncertainty of life waiting in a remote location for  the man she loves, Elisha Kane, a celebrated Arctic explorer ... whose wealthy family wants nothing more than to keep a common guttersnipe like Maggie out of his life.

Frauds, one and all, right? Maybe. Maybe not. You'll have to read the book, and decide for yourself. But I can tell you one thing. I don't need a Ouiji board to make a sure-fire prediction ... you're gonna love this book.

After finishing her book, I had some questions for Dianne, and she most graciously provided the answers.

Q: Of all the obscure, potentially interesting stories to be found in the history books, why this one? How did you find out about the Fox sisters, and what drew you to their story?
A: I didn't start out to write a historical fiction book. I was researching seances and mediums with a vague idea about writing a humorous story about fraudulent mediums.  But the story of the Fox sisters kept coming up in my research, and the idea that the entire spiritualist movement began with two girls aged 14 and 11 fascinated me.  So, I bought a biography of the Fox sisters, Talking to the Dead by Barbara Weisburg.  By the time I got to the part about Maggie Fox's star-crossed romance with Arctic explorer Elisha Kane, I was hooked.  I knew I wanted to novelize Maggie's story.

Q: How much of your book is based on historical facts, and how much on imagination?
A: Everything that happens in We Hear the Dead really did happen, based on historical record.  Where my imagination came into play was deciding WHY it happened and HOW it happened.  The girls lied; their sister lied; their clients lied to save face. Elisha's family claimed he was never seriously involved with Maggie; his letters suggest otherwise.  I fictionalized the story to emphasize the dramatic elements -- and to fill in the gaps where nobody wanted to tell the truth!

Q: Was your research fairly easy-going, or was it difficult to find information about the Fox family?
A: There are several biographies on the Fox sisters and also on Elisha Kane, so it was easy to find information on their lives.  I even acquired Kane's book Arctic Explorations and got to read about his adventures in his own words.  There were gaps, as I mentioned -- places where information is missing.  I don't REALLY know how Maggie got out of Troy when those men tried to kill her, for instance.  But I know my explanation fits all the facts. It might even be true!

Q:  Is it true a movie is in the works, based on your book? And you're doing the screenplay yourself?
A: There is a film option on the book, which doesn't guarantee a movie will be made.  And I did, in fact, write a screenplay which has also been optioned and is currently making the rounds of submission in Hollywood.  There is a lot of "might" and "if" involved in this process, and I've already had a near miss once.  But anybody who wants to keep their fingers crossed for me -- I'll appreciate the good wishes!

Q: What's next? Can we look forward to more books from you that make history come alive?
A: My next book, The Caged Graves, will be published by Clarion Books. I don't have a release date yet, but Goodreads predicts 2013, and who am I to argue with Goodreads?  The Caged Graves is also historical fiction.  The story was inspired by two real graves in an abandoned cemetery in Catawissa, PA that are surrounded by iron cages.  The women buried there were sisters-in-law who died within a couple days of one another in 1852.  Local historians have been unable to determine why their families thought it necessary to enclose the graves in cages -- so I had free reign to write their story any way I wanted!

Q: Anything else you'd like to add?
A: Just that I'm thrilled you enjoyed my book!  Interestingly enough, I was recently contacted by a descendant of Elisha Kane -- his great great great niece -- who read We Hear the Dead.  I held my breath, but turns out she liked my portrayal of Elisha and didn't mind the terrible things I said about the rest of his family. Phew!  It does make me wonder who might turn up, claiming a relation to the women in those graves some day ...

Dianne Salerni
We Hear the Dead (Sourcebooks 2010)
The Caged Graves (coming from Clarion)

Thanks so much, Dianne, and you betcha we have our fingers crossed for your book's screenplay  making it to the big (or little) screen. Either way, it'd make a terrific movie!

And now, folks, to pique interest in her next book, Dianne's provided some intriguing pictures.

Doesn't this make you wonder ...?

I can hardly wait to read Dianne's explanation.

                                        Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Hot Crabs and Cold Cows

Thought for the day:  You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood ... back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time --- back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.    [Thomas Wolfe]

Nope, I can't go back home to Maryland, but I was born and raised there, married and had my first child there, so a bazillion memories will always keep it close to my heart.

A handful of quick historical facts: Maryland's King William's School, which opened in 1696, was the country's first public school. The first dental school in the world, St. Francis Academy, also opened in Maryland. Founded  in 1828, it later became the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, and one of its graduates? Notorious gunslinger Doc Holliday.

Since I have so many cool pictures to share, I'll move on to them, and tell you a little about them as we go along.

Uh, yeah, you could say that. In case you didn't know, Maryland IS for crabs. And oysters. By the way, didja know a single adult Chesapeake Bay oyster can clean and filter fifty gallons of water per day?? (Just imagine if he got married and raised a family!) Ahem. Like I was saying, crabs and oysters. And all kinds of fish. But mostly crabs. Steamed, soft-shelled, fried, and of course, let's not forget crab cakes and crab soup. Lovely, wonderful crabs ... and Old Bay is a standard must-have staple in every Maryland kitchen. One funny thing I read recently is that in 2004, Maryland declared its state drink to be milk. Don't let 'em fool you. They're just trying to put on the dog. The REAL state drink of Maryland is beer. (Who ever heard of drinking milk with crabs?)

some big uns

Okay, now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's proceed, shall we?

America's bloodiest one-day battle took place at Antietam during the Civil War. That historical fact hits home in a gut-wrenching way every September 17, when the flames from an astounding 23,100 luminaries flicker all across the battleground in honor of those who lost their lives there.

The Maryland State House, built from 1772-79, is the oldest state Capitol still in continuous legislative use. Located in Annapolis, it is also the only statehouse that once served as the nation's Capitol. By the way, did you know Maryland gave up some of its land to form Washington, D.C.? 

While we're talking about Annapolis, we've gotta mention the Naval Academy, which was founded in 1845. Ever since I was a young girl, the Academy has always been one of my favorite places to visit. The buildings are impressive, and the setting, even more so. A multitude of midshipmen were almost always honing their skills in a multitude of small sailboats, and between the azure sky, the azure water, and all those sails and bobbing boats, it was quite a sight to behold. As for the midshipmen? I'm not sure what happened, but the last time we visited, I noticed that the middies have gotten considerably younger than they used to be. Anyway, the picture shows the chapel altar, but it doesn't even begin to do the place justice. The chapel is cavernous, with a soaring domed ceiling, and gorgeous statues, paintings, and stained glass windows throughout. In the basement of is the crypt of John Paul Jones, America's first naval hero. (Don't give up the ship!)

Also located at the Academy is a museum containing all manner of historic Naval relics, uniforms, etc. However, the items most fascinating to me are the ship models. Many are warship replicas, extremely intricate, and built to a 1:48 scale simultaneously with the building of the actual ships. That means, when a battleship was built in 1650, a replica model of that ship, based on the same plans as the actual ship, was also built in 1650. Pretty amazing, huh? The actual warships are long gone, but these elaborate models remain,  providing an accurate and valuable vision of the ships from long ago. The craftsmanship in them is amazing, but the ship in the picture above is slightly different. It wasn't built to exact dimensions, and it wasn't built by a master craftsman, either, which makes it all that much more amazing. It was built by a French POW during the Napoleonic conflicts. (1756-1815) And it is built of bone. When their British captors gave them beef, some of the French prisoners kept the bones so they could carve these models, which they then sold to the Brits. The Academy's collection of bone models is the largest in the world. And it offers tangible proof of the incredible spirit of the men who made them.

This is a semi-aerial shot of Baltimore's Inner Harbor. We took it from an observatory located on an upper floor of one of the surrounding buildings. The ship you see is the U.S.S Constellation, the world's oldest commissioned Naval vessel afloat, and the last all-sail warship built by the U.S. Navy. Commissioned in 1797, she had an illustrious career until she was decommissioned for the last time in 1955. Berthed in Baltimore since then, she's undergone extensive restoration over the years, and made her first trip outside the harbor in 2004, when she sailed to the Naval Academy. She is now part of the Historic Ships in Baltimore group, which includes the Coast Guard cutter Taney, WWII nuclear sub Torsk, lightship Chesapeake, and an 1855 screw-pile lighthouse, Seven Foot Knoll Light.

Another semi-aerial view, this time of the Baltimore Aquarium, AKA the National Aquarium.  When you walk through it, the path spirals right up through the center of the aquarium tank, so the critters appear all around you as you make the ascent. And at the top is a mini rain forest.

The Thrasher Carriage Museum, located in Frostburg, contains a large collection of early 19th and 20th century horse-drawn conveyances, including FDR's inaugural carriage.

Edgar Allan Poe was one of Baltimore's favorite sons, and the macabre man of mystery would've loved the ongoing mystery involving his own grave. Since 1949, some unknown person (or persons) has been entering Westminster Cemetery every year on Poe's birthday, and leaving a partial bottle of cognac and some roses next to Poe's gravestone.

While observing the British bombardment of Baltimore's Fort McHenry, Francis Scott Key wrote the words to The Star Spangled Banner, our national anthem. Touring this fort is like walking back into history. The cannons and cannon balls are still there, suspended in time, as though still poised and prepared to protect the port from attack. The barracks, the offices, and the stockades, etc, are still there, too. After you watch a short film about the history behind our national anthem, the window drapes open very slowly and regally to reveal an enormous flag fluttering in the breeze.  A goose-bump kinda experience.

The Babe Ruth Museum is located in the Baltimore row home where he was born. Pictured here is the statue of Bambino in that museum, along with MY bambinos. Since this picture was taken nearly thirty years ago, the museum has expanded to include the history of various Baltimore sports teams and figures. (Gee, I wonder if they include the Colts.)

When our kids were growing up, we always let each of them select a place to visit when we went to Maryland. One son always picked this place, the U.S. Army Ordnance Museum, in Aberdeen. Outside, there are a bazillion tanks, and inside, there are a bazillions weapons and various displays about the history of the American soldier. It was actually very interesting. The first hundred times. The son who loved this place so much ended up going into the Special Forces. Go figure.

In 1813, residents of St. Michael's, forewarned of a British attack, hoisted lanterns to the tops of trees and ship masts, thus tricking the British into aiming high, and overshooting the town. Mostly. One house was hit. Shown at left, that house, which took a hit in its roof, is now known as the Cannonball House, and the town is known as The Town That Fooled The British. 

Chesapeake Bay Skipjack
Tilghman's Island, located on the Eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay, is the home of the Skipjacks, the only commercial sailing fleet in North America. This traditional fishing boat is the primary vessel used by fishermen  to dredge for oysters. 

One last comment about the Eastern Shore before we go on to look at the state's antiquated laws. These smallish towns nestled on the banks of the Chesapeake tend to be extremely tight-knit, and many families have lived there for many generations. Even so, the following story tickles my funny bone. Allegedly, a young couple and their newborn baby left the big city of Baltimore many years ago to settle on the Eastern Shore. The baby grew up there, married and had a family there, and became a well-respected member of the community. However, when she died at the ripe old age of ninety-three, the local newspaper's obituary notice headline said it all: "Baltimore Woman Dies."

Okay, time to check out those laws.

  • It is illegal to grow thistles in one's yard. (Guess you'll have to grow 'em in somebody else's yard.)
  • Boys under the age of ten are forbidden from wearing lipstick. (But after ten, it's okay?)
  • Citizens who live past the age of ninety are legally required to apologize for being alive every year they survive another birthday. The apology has to be made in public, too. (I'm speechless. But that's okay; I'm not ninety yet.)
  • It's a violation of state law for a kiss to last more than a second. (A second WHAT?)
  • It's illegal to mistreat oysters. (You can pry their shells open with a sharp knife, sever their flesh from the shell, and then eat 'em alive, but you may NOT ...  mistreat them?)
  • In Baltimore, it's against the law to throw bales of hay from a second story window. (I keep telling ya. Go UP a floor.)
  • It's also illegal to take a lion to the movies. (Not even to see Jungle Book?)
  • You aren't allowed to wear a sleeveless shirt in any public park. (Go topless.)
  • It's against the law to sell chicks or ducklings to a minor within one week of Easter.
  • You may spit on the roadways, but it's illegal to spit on the sidewalks.
  • It's illegal to curse within city limits. 
  • In Cumberland, it's against the law to use profanity on a playground. (Gonna have to get on the other side of the fence and yell loud enough for that jerk in there to hear you.)
  • It's also illegal to knock stones into a public park. (Carry 'em in.)
  • Rockville laws make it illegal to swear while on the highway. (One-fingered salutes will have to do.)

Okay, it's that time. Time for (ta-DA!)

The Weirdest News Stories of the Week

*** Udderly ridiculous! Russian cows are now wearing ... underwear. To be more specific, cows in the republic of Yakutia are being fitted with bunny fur brassieres. Not that the locals are having second thoughts about the propriety of their cows going ... er... topless. No, you see, it's mighty c-c-cold in them thar parts. In fact, with temperatures sometimes plunging as low as minus 55 degrees Celsius, Yakutia is considered to be the coldest place in the entire northern hemisphere. Come to think of it, with temperatures that low, maybe this idea isn't udderly ridiculous at all. Maybe the only thing strange about this story is why no one thought to protect those poor tender tatas before now. Think maybe the market for ice milk recently went cold?

*** Hmm, I wonder how Vanna White would've handled something like this. On British TV game show Countdown, where the object is to form a word from a random mix of nine letters, a recent contestant proudly announced his six-letter word choice, to the delight of the tittering studio audience. The network bleeped out the the spoken vulgarity, but since the word appears in the British dictionary, the show had little choice but to accept it. The word isn't in MY dictionary, but there are plenty of other words in there I hope to never see on the Wheel of Fortune board.

*** An Australian company introduced a new snack this week called Nuckin Futs. There was a bit of concern about the obvious spoonerism, but authorities gave the product a tentative green light after declaring the F-bomb part of the universal discourse of the ordinary Australian. How could they do otherwise, after their Communications Minister, who oversees the country's broadcasting standards, accidentally dropped the bomb himself during a recent live speech? (At least American politicos have the decency to only get caught uttering vulgarities when they don't realize the mike is hot.)

*** New Zealand farmers are calling for sheep shearing to become an Olympic sport, calling it a bona fide sport warranting international recognition. Evidently, competitive shearers can clip up to 700 sheep during an eight-hour period, a grueling exercise some compare to running two marathons back-to-back. Sheep shearing, huh? Interesting. What next? Cow milking? (Not in Yakutia.)

                               Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.