Which Goose Is Getting Fat?

Double wreaths edit

Double wreaths, December 2014 (iPhone 5s)

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat,

Please to put a penny in the old man’s hat;

If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do;

If you haven’t got a ha’penny, then God bless you!

Christmas Is Coming” has been playing over and over in my head lately. My sources, aka wikipedia, tell me that it is both a nursery rhyme and an American carol. Why the “ha’penny,” or half-penny, if this song is American? Maybe half-pennies were used in eighteenth-century America? I could find out, if I did extensive research, but there’s the rub: I can’t do research, because Christmas is coming, and, at our house, the metaphorical goose is looking lean.

Close-up of a Christmas wall-hanging made by my mother

Close-up of the wall hanging, made by my mother

Historically, I am the one who sees to it that Christmas cards are sent and presents are bought. Once my husband gets the lights on the tree, I’m the one, aided by my youngest son and daughter, who puts on the ornaments. This year, the strings of white lights were mysteriously missing, but putting on the lights never goes smoothly. Still, my husband got ’em up. He even put up the Father Christmas wall hanging and placed the angel on top of the tree. Despite the fact that Christmas cards have been on the dining room table for weeks, I haven’t started addressing them, nor have I put one ornament on a hook. I’m hoping that the influx of my college kids this weekend will motivate me. If I don’t buy the presents, who will? If I don’t bring up the ornaments from the basement, will they find their way onto the prickly fir branches this December?

A line from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory drifted into my head as I thought about the many responsibilities that mothers and fathers have on holidays and birthdays: “We are the music makers, / And we are the dreamers of the dreams.” I’m not sure what Mr. Wonka meant by quoting Arthur O’Shaughnessy here, but, for me, these words mean: make music for your children, and dream dreams with them. In my childhood, my mother added the sparkle to festive occasions. She was the person who ensured that gifts were bought and cakes were made. Being a parent is daunting, and there are moments when I fail, or nearly fail. This year, my blog is threatening to derail Christmas at our house.

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Season of Symmetry? There seemed to be many “doubles” in this picture of a downtown church decorated for Christmas. Closer examination reveals more triples. (iPhone 5s)

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Designed by Douglas Ellington, First Baptist Church was completed in 1927. (iPhone 5s)

For now, I must shift my focus from the blog and to the family goose, which needs fattening with only two weeks left until Christmas Day. The literal goose is getting fat, by which I mean myself. I have gained between 5 and 10 pounds this fall. I’ve heard of the Freshman 15, but is there a Blogging 10? Too much time at my laptop, too little time in the kitchen, and a slowing metabolism have proved an unfortunate combination. When I first started blogging, I was taking hikes to generate fodder for posts, but then Blogging 101 came along, followed by Photography 101. So, yeah. The weight gain isn’t exactly encouraging me to roll out the sugar cookie dough.

Of course, the point of “Christmas Is Coming” is not a reminder to stuff the goose (whoever the goose might be) but to “put a penny in the old man’s hat.” While this phrase brings to mind a Dickensian figure holding out a battered top hat, an awareness of those less fortunate than ourselves is as important now as when this rhyme was first sung. (And when was that? My desire to research this carol is growing.) Recent posts by Teresa and Kim have reminded me to think of others in the midst of merry-making. This week, my mother-in-law took my son to buy gifts for a needy child; she has done this with my children for years. Many people, old and young, struggle through cold, hungry, or lonely days while I am busy making cookies or addressing Christmas cards.

Except that I’m not mixing cookie dough or putting on stamps: I’m on my computer, tweaking a sentence here, reading a post there. I hope that you see less of me over the next few weeks! I’ll miss reading your posts regularly as much as I’ll miss writing my own. My 10-year-old tells me that I talk about other people’s blogs too much, but how can I keep silent about Lia’s apple pie encounter on the New York subway, or Dan’s reference to a Star Trek episode in his post about comment spam, or Deborah’s post about the Christmas Train in Santa Cruz? In the meantime, I leave you with a Christmas poem that I wrote “many and many a year ago,” back when I used to make Christmas cards:

Starry Night poem


The “double” photos are for a Photography 101 assignment. All text and photos copyrighted 2014 by Sandra M. Fleming. “Starry Night” poem written by Sandra M. Fleming and copyrighted © 2014.

Note: I succumbed to curiosity about the origins of “Christmas Is Coming.” While the song experienced a surge in popularity in the United States during the mid-twentieth century, it first appeared in a British publication in 1882, according to the author of TreasuryIslands.

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Tea Time with the Master

Wenham Tea House, March 2014

Wenham Tea House, March 2014 (iPhone 5s, edited in PicMonkey)

“Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” With this qualified statement, Henry James welcomes us to The Portrait of a Lady, an arena in which Old World and New World meet. His first sentence is masterful: to borrow a line from Jerry Maguire, Mr. James had me at “afternoon tea”  (and “agreeable” didn’t hurt). Mr. James lays the groundwork for his plot as he describes the three men sipping tea on the lawn of an English country house — tea drinkers “not of the sex which is supposed to furnish the regular votaries of the occasion,” as Mr. James notes wryly.

Isabel Archer, the lady of the title, does not make an entrance until the second chapter, but the young American is enamored of the Tudor house and its trappings from the moment that she walks onto the lawn: “I’ve never seen anything so beautiful as this.” Mr. James’ naively independent heroine does not find European society as agreeable by the end of the book, but that is a spoiler. At this point, the reader is mentally settling into a cushioned wicker chair and — if the reader is an Anglophile — reveling in a scene that includes not only tea but an eligible English aristocrat. By the time we realize that Isabel, like many nineteenth-century heroines, is a victim of her own illusions, Mr. James has caught us in his novel.

Although I glanced at Leon Edel’s introduction and Mr. James’ lengthy preface recently, I haven’t read The Portrait of a Lady in decades. Mr. James began writing the novel in Venice, where the beautiful view from his rooms was so distracting that he complained about it in the preface. It might be interesting to read his carefully crafted novel now as I would read any book, not because I was assigned to read it (which is how I experienced it). Would I read on to the end, or would I put down the book in exasperation as Isabel refuses one good man after another? I tend to finish books, unless I cannot sympathize with any of the characters, and Isabel, caught between her desire for culture and her wish to remain independent, still compels our sympathy, despite her failings.

I re-read enough of the first chapter to renew my appreciation of Mr. James’ abilities as a writer. His novel first appeared in serial form in two magazines, and he had not completed the novel before the first installments were published in 1880. The opening chapters have the crucial job of getting the reader interested enough to buy future magazines. Clearly, Mr. James is skilled in the art of drawing in a certain kind of reader — a reader who, like Isabel herself, is enchanted with the ceremony of afternoon tea.


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My choice of this famous first line for Writer’s Quote Wednesday was inspired by Lucile’s photograph of a glass teapot. I took my photograph of a glass teapot in March, when I had tea with family members at the Wenham Tea House in Wenham, Massachusetts. To his credit, my brother, who is not much of a tea drinker, suggested that we eat there because he thought his sisters would enjoy it. (He was right. Our one sadness was that another sister and my mother were not there to share the experience.)

As always, thanks to Colleen of Silver Threading for hosting this event. To read other submissions, click here and look for the pingbacks at the end of Colleen’s post. Leon Edel’s introduction appears in Riverside Editions’ The Portrait of a Lady (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1963). Text of the post and photo copyrighted © 2014 by Sandra Fleming.

O Brave New World

Miranda:
O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world
That has such people in’t!

Prospero:
‘Tis new to thee.

The Tempest (5.1.181–184)

I had planned to stay off WordPress today, but I wanted to respond to a post that I’d read last night. As I was firmly forcing myself away from my desk, I got a notification from WordPress. Typically, I ignore those, but this one got my attention: “Congratulations on getting 500 total likes . . .” “Total” includes “likes” on my posts and on my comments, and I felt deeply grateful to every WordPress blogger who ever sent a “like” in my direction. Bruce Thiesen‘s “like” for The Edge was the 500th that put me over the edge, so to speak. Too bad there is no jackpot for being #500, Bruce, but I recommend your thought-provoking blog, Ram On.

500 likes

When I started this blog in June, I was unaware of “how many goodly creatures” there are in the blogging community. I have been impressed by the respect with which bloggers treat other bloggers, and the kindness shown to struggling bloggers. Blogging 101, Class of September 2014, was the catalyst that forced me into interaction with other newbies — Beth, Aileen, Deborah, Karen, Terri A and Terri B, April, Lucile, Flavia, RoseRed, Kellie, and Doug are just a few of the many bloggers with whom I crossed paths. I am grateful to WordPress for facilitating those connections: it’s a marketing strategy, but it builds relationships. Blogging has become a “brave new world” in which I interact with people like Teresa and Momma, who live in another hemisphere, and in which I am challenged to post more regularly through events like Linda‘s and Colleen‘s.

In an effort to keep this post short, I cannot thank every individual whose “like” contributed to the 500, but I will note the bloggers whose “likes” for my latest post preceded Bruce‘s lucky “like”: lrod1726, Teresa Ohjswunxin, Dan Antion, Wandering Dawgs, LifestyleswithLia, restoredpeople, fillyourownglass, Victo Dolore,  Priceless Joy, Allison, Terri Webster SchrandtBespoke Traveler, and kcg1974. The bloggers who most recently liked comments are: annanolan2014, Deborah Drucker, thecraftyladyincombatboots, jswunxin, Retirement Lifestyle, Silver Threading, luciledegodoy, Beth, Bespoke Traveler, and sorannymm.

Thank you to the readers who cannot “like” because they are not WordPress bloggers but who have demonstrated support for my blog in other ways. You know who you are!

The Edge

August 2012 (Panasonic Lumix)

Devil’s Courthouse on the Blue Ridge Parkway, August 2012 (Panasonic Lumix)

When I saw that “Edge” was the assignment for Photography 101, it was only a matter of time before I started thinking about  The Edge. No, I’m not referring to U2’s guitarist. I have a strange fondness for the 1997 adventure film The Edge, which features Anthony Hopkins, Alec Baldwin, Elle Macpherson, and an actor named Harold Perrineau, whom I know as “Michael” in the television show Lost.

Bear with me if you have seen this movie (and forgive the pun). Since some readers might not have watched The Edge, I’ll try to minimize the spoilers. This rather grisly movie (last pun, I promise) takes place in the Alaskan wilderness, where a plane crash strands a bookish billionaire, Charles (Hopkins), and two photographers, Bob (Baldwin) and Stephen (Perrineau). Making a bad situation worse, Charles suspects that Bob has been fooling around with his wife (Macpherson), and a Kodiak bear begins to track them. The Edge is an intense viewing experience, with enough violence, gore, and language to earn it an “R” rating — not usually the cup of tea that this Janeite sips; in fact, I have to cover my eyes or fast-forward in a couple of places.

I Iike The Edge for two reasons: 1) its revenge-of-the-nerd plot; 2) its inclusion of one of my favorite lines in a movie: “They die of shame.” Throw in a script by David Mamet and an excellent cast, and there you have it: a movie that will not only keep you on the edge of your seat but may lodge this dialogue in your brain permanently (that’s what happened to me):

Charles Morse: You know, I once read an interesting book which said that, uh, most people lost in the wilds, they, they die of shame.

Stephen: What?

Charles Morse: Yeah, see, they die of shame. “What did I do wrong? How could I have gotten myself into this?” And so they sit there and they… die. Because they didn’t do the one thing that would save their lives.

Robert Green: And what is that, Charles?

Charles Morse: Thinking.

As someone who over-analyzes every decision and agonizes over past decisions, I seized on Charles’ quote as wisdom that applies to many situations, not only to occasions that find us literally on the edge of society and survival. No matter how much I may justify my actions later, I blow it — not from time to time but every day. Sometimes the consequences of my mistakes are minor, and sometimes they are enormous. Sure, I should learn from past mistakes, but nothing good will come of permitting myself to be paralyzed by the awareness of my own incompetence.

December 2014 (iPhone 5s)

Edge of the Parking Garage, December 2014 (iPhone 5s)

If I’m running late to an appointment or event, will it help if I “die of shame” on the way, castigating myself for the series of poor choices that led to my being late? It will not. Nor will wasting the first five minutes after I arrive by over-apologizing. Human frailty is a redundant phrase: as Alexander Pope wrote in An Essay on Criticism, “To err is human, to forgive divine.” Should we hold ourselves to a high standard in our daily actions? Yes. Should we “forgive” ourselves when we stumble and slide along that straight and narrow path? If we don’t, then we may do more damage — not only to ourselves but to those around us.

In the unlikely event that my college kids happen to be reading this, please don’t “die of shame” at the end of the academic semester. In The Edge, Charles implies that thinking would have saved the lives of the people lost in the wilderness. Not necessarily, but assessing the remaining options, now that the door has been irrevocably closed on better options, is the only way out of any bad situation. (Says the woman who can’t seem to schedule her mornings productively.) So study on! Find a study group, limit your internet time, go visit the professor — but don’t die of shame.


Not having gone on any Alaskan adventures recently, I have no edgy photos of charging grizzlies to illustrate my post. I had hoped for a return trip to the Devil’s Courthouse on the Blue Ridge Parkway, where I remember the sensation of being on the edge of the world.  I had to content myself with the edges that I found in a local park and in a local parking garage (above). Adding a black-and-white filter brought out edges and textures in some photos.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_assignment/photography-101-edge/

Text and photos copyrighted 2014 by Sandra Fleming. Please do not reproduce them without her permission.

“A Humour for Writing”

Jane Austen humour“I am not at all in a humour for writing; I must write on till I am,” wrote Jane Austen in a letter from Godmersham Park to her sister Cassandra on October 26, 1813. Is there any writer among us who has not felt that way at times? For whatever reason — and there are many good ones — writing is the last thing you feel like doing some days.

Maybe it is a grey day, and the clouds seem to have drifted inside, obscuring your flow of thought. Or maybe the sun is streaming through the windows, tempting you to forsake your writing for a long walk. Perhaps the topic has been assigned to you by someone else, and you’re “not feeling it.” Are other people in the room, asking for your input or making just enough noise that you can’t concentrate?

While any number of outside distractions might have contributed to Miss Austen’s disinclination for writing, I take heart from her resolution: “I must write on till I am.” Although Miss Austen initially wrote for her own amusement and to entertain her family and friends, two of her novels — Sense and Sensibility (1811) and Pride and Prejudice (1813) — had been published by the time she wrote this letter. The modest financial success of these books was probably an incentive for Austen’s pushing herself to write on, despite her mood. With another novel drafted (Lady Susan) and two more in the works, she surely knew that the words would come, sooner or later. Rather than waiting for a moment of inspiration, she presumably picked up her quill and wrote.

How thankful I am that Miss Austen pushed herself to write, regardless of her “humour”! Five of Miss Austen’s completed novels are among the books I have re-read most often. Which gem might we lack today, had she allowed an uncongenial humour to defeat her? Mansfield Park? Emma? Persuasion —  the last novel she finished and possibly my favorite?

Her implicit advice — write yourself into a frame of mind for writing — is worth remembering. Sooner or later, every writer has one of those days. I have found that, once I get some momentum going, the words spill onto the page, almost of their own volition. Do I have to cut more words from the writing than I do on days when I’m pulling out the words rather than the words pushing me along? Undoubtedly. But an imperfect draft is better than no draft at all.


writers-quote-wednesday (2)Note: In the context of Austen’s letter, she was almost certainly referring to letter writing rather than to novel writing when she made this statement. Because I have personal experience with writing as a means of getting past a block, it seems legitimate to apply Austen’s quotation to all writing.

Many thanks to Colleen at Silver Threading for hosting the Writer’s Quote Wednesday event. In deference to Miss Austen’s nationality, I have used the British spelling of “humour” in this post. Text and photos copyrighted © 2014 by Sandra Fleming.

When Men and Mountains Meet

Great things are done when men and mountains meet.

This is not done by jostling in the street.

— William Blake, Gnomic Verses

Who doesn’t love a view? Few sights surpass blue mountains stretching across the horizon beneath an endless sky. In my part of the United States, you can easily see such a view by pulling off at an overlook along the Blue Ridge Parkway, a 469-mile scenic road that begins in Virginia and winds its way down through North Carolina.

Sadly, I take this view of undulating blue hills for granted. In fact, my original plan for Photography 101’s Landscape theme was to drive out to Max Patch, a bald mountain on the Appalachian Trail. Situated on the North Carolina-Tennessee border, Max Patch offers an amazing 360-degree view of the surrounding mountain groups: the Bald Mountains, the Great Smokies, the Unakas, the Black Mountains, and the Great Balsams. You need a video camera to capture the astonishing scenery at Max Patch.

June 2011:  A partial glimpse of the 360-degree view at Max Patch

June 2011: A partial glimpse of the 360-degree view at Max Patch. Click here for my unsteady video of the view.

My son checks out an exhibit in the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center. (iPhone 5s)

My son checks out an exhibit in the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center. (iPhone 5s)

IMG_3197 cropLife interfered with my plans for a panoramic photo at Max Patch, so I chose an easy — and obvious — option for a landscape picture: the Haw Creek Valley Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. En route to the overlook, my son and I made an unscheduled pit stop at the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center. This was my first time inside the Visitor Center, where several hands-on exhibits caught my son’s eye. Meanwhile, my eyes were drawn to William Blake’s words — “Great things are done when men and mountains meet” — emblazoned across a photograph near the entrance.

In this context, Blake’s statement is lauding the Blue Ridge Parkway as a “great thing” achieved by the conjunction of men and mountains. Construction of the Parkway began in 1935 as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal and was finally completed in 1987. In every subsequent year since 1946, the Parkway has been America’s most visited national site. As the longest linear park in the United States, the Parkway annually gives millions of visitors access to campsites and hikes, vistas and waterfalls, wildflowers and trees. The Blue Ridge Parkway is a remarkable achievement.

Like most visionary projects, the Blue Ridge Parkway was not without casualties. Browsing through a bookstore in August, I came across When the Parkway Came, a children’s book written by Anne Mitchell Whisnant and David E. Whisnant. The Whisnants’ book looks at the building of the Parkway through the eyes of Jess, a boy whose family’s farm lies in the path of the proposed highway. While Jess is fictional, the book is based on a letter written to President Roosevelt in 1937 by S. A. Miller, owner of a small farm in North Carolina. Miller’s objections to the low offer made for his land were eventually rewarded with a better price. Although the book does not shy away from the Parkway’s darker repercussions, the Whisnants end on a note of optimistic reflection:

“I wish this land was still ours, Papa Jess,” I said. Papa Jess was quiet for a while. Then he looked up and smiled. “It is, Ginny,” he said. “It still is. Yours, mine, and everybody’s. And it is still so beautiful.”

As someone who benefits from the Blue Ridge Parkway, I am torn between sympathy for the mountain farmers whose property rights were overruled and gratitude for the engineers and CCC workers who made the mountains accessible to everyone. Because farmers like Miller sacrificed their land, the mountains bordering the Parkway are now a place for refuge and reflection – a beautiful place that provides recreational opportunities and inspires artists and writers.

In my reading of Blake’s epigram, he was not thinking of a specific “great” achievement when he wrote, “Great things are done when men and mountains meet. /  This is not done by jostling in the street.” A Romantic poet who hated the ugliness of industrialization and wrote of England’s “dark Satanic mills,” Blake is speaking here of that sense of wonder and awe that descends upon us when we gaze on a landscape too large for our circumscribed minds to comprehend.  Blake lived in London all his life — amidst the jostling of nineteenth-century London’s dirty, crowded streets.The great thing for Blake would have been solace for his soul and freedom for his thoughts as he gazed upon mountains.

Does the creation of a public treasure like the Blue Ridge Parkway justify the high price paid by Miller and many others? Thinking of the countless visitors who have gazed in wonder at views along the Parkway, I would answer, “Yes” – but, then, it wasn’t my land.

Haw Creek Valley Overlook (iPhone 5s)

Haw Creek Valley Overlook (iPhone 5s)


Thanks to Colleen at Silver Threading for hosting the weekly Writer’s Quote Wednesday event.

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All photographs were taken by Sandra Fleming in November 2014, with the exception of the Max Patch picture, which was taken in 2011. An iPhone 5s was used for the panoramic photos and overlook sign, while a Panasonic Lumix was used for all other photos. Text and photos copyrighted 2014 by Sandra Fleming.