Tag Archives: history

Reading = Breathing

Photo of boy reading that we use to promote our bookstore...

When the young woman came into my bookstore yesterday, I greeted her, and knowing it was her first time in the store, asked what kind of books she liked.  “Journals,” she said.

Assuming that she was looking for a book she could write a journal in, I answered, “We only sell old books…I tell people a new book in our store is about my age, and I’ll be 50 in July!”

She laughed, and explained that she was actually looking for stories from other people’s journals…now we were getting somewhere!

I checked our database, and made some suggestions.  As I showed them to her, she revealed a stunning fact to me: she loved books, but had a lot of difficulty with reading, writing, and spelling.

As she told me her story, I choked back tears: she was dyslexic as a child, and no one in the school system caught it.  She was also left-handed, and the teachers used to try to make her use her right hand (and actually punished her for using her left one!).  She never told her parents what was happening.  She talked about having trouble with a job she’d had at WalMart where she had to match barcodes to items…she couldn’t do it!  It hurt to hear her describe herself as “lazy.”

The woman then pulled a laminated placemat out of her bag and showed it to me…it had the alphabet on it, with dotted lines and arrows showing how to trace over them…I’d bought similar mats for my children when they were learning to print at age 3 or so.  I was almost speechless…this woman was about 30!

She expressed an interest in history: “I wonder if Cleopatra ever wrote about her life?”  Pointing to Samuel Pepys’ Diary, she asked who he was: “I see this book a lot.”  I told her the limited amount I knew about Pepys.  The woman also liked royalty, referring to Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth.  “I looked all over Coles for a biography of the Queen, and they didn’t have it!” she said.

I spent the next half hour scanning the shelves, looking for books which would be relatively easy to read, and interesting but not too juvenile.  It was tough!  She was enthusiastic about the thick boys’ historical fiction books I showed her by G.A. Henty: “Now that’s a book,” she’d say, hefting them in her hand.  She liked the colourful bindings too.

Eventually, she settled on Eric Williams’ The Wooden Horse: it was historical (the true story of a daring escape from a German prison camp during World War II) and written in fairly straightforward short words.  I mentioned that I’d seen the movie when I was a kid, and never forgotten it.  We also had the followup book, The Tunnel.  As she was paying for the book, I asked if she was getting help with improving her literacy.

“No,” she answered.  I urged her to go to the Saint John Learning Exchange, which is right around the corner from our store, and provides free literacy training.  I have a couple of friends who work there.

“It’s free, they’re really nice, and they will help you,” I said emphatically.  The woman thanked me as she left.  I hope she goes to see them.  Sadly, she is one of many people who have literacy issues in our country.

After she was gone, I couldn’t stop thinking about the things I wouldn’t have in my life if I couldn’t read and write: my children (I met Kaylee and Anna’s father in college while studying Broadcast Journalism, and Hope’s father while ghostwriting a book for him and another guy); Jim (we met on Plenty of Fish three years ago); the bookstore I co-own with my dad; the Book Club I belong to; and this blog, which has been one of the most wonderful experiences I’ve ever had!  I think of the thousands of books I’ve read over nearly 50 years, and all the things I’ve learned from them!  I would be a totally different person if I hadn’t learned to read and write!

How would your life have been different if you hadn’t learned to read?

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‘Twixt, ‘Tween, and Twain…An Exclusive Interview

I had just played a 28-point word in online Scrabble (take that, Mondo!) when I heard the doorbell ring.  I hadn’t even heard a car, and I wasn’t expecting anybody.  Jake began to bark his head off.

I looked out the window before opening the back door…there was an old man standing on my back step.  There was a buggy parked in the driveway under my crabapple tree!  What the hell?  I opened the door a crack. “Yes?” I asked cautiously.

“I’m sorry to bother you, Madam, but I seem to be lost,” said the man.  “I heard there were fiddleheads in these parts…I’ve travelled all the way from Connecticut so that I may taste them.”

Okay…he’s old and looking for fiddleheads…probably not an axe-murderer, I thought.  “I’m sorry, Sir, but you’re a few weeks early for fiddlehead season, but you’re welcome to come in for a cup of tea and some pie!”

“Thank you,” he answered as he came in the house.  I grabbed Jake to keep him from jumping on the man’s white suit.

“I’m sorry, Mr. –?”

“Clemens,” he replied, giving Jake a look that told me he wasn’t a dog person.  “Sam Clemens.  If animals could speak the dog would be a blundering outspoken fellow, but the cat would have the rare grace of never saying a word too much.”

“I don’t have a cat…my fiancé’s allergic.”  Wait a minute…Sam Clemens…that sounded familiar, I thought, searching my almost 50-year-old brain.  Holy crap!  “Not the Sam Clemens!  You can’t be him!  He’s been dead for 100 years!” I sputtered.

“The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated,” he smiled.  “Now how about that pie you promised?”

“Okay,” I agreed, reasoning that I might have overindulged in cold medication, and that I was having a hallucination.  I showed the visitor to a chair in the living room, and readied the food.

As I returned to the living room, I noticed the man had lit a pipe…damn!  “Do you mind putting that out, please?  Jim’s allergic to that too!”

“As an example to others, and not that I care for moderation myself, it has always been my rule never to smoke when asleep, and never to refrain from smoking when awake.”  He grumpily put the pipe into his pocket.

“So you came all the way from Connecticut?  Our weather must seem quite different to you,” I commented, hoping I didn’t sound too lame…my ability to make small talk is limited.

The old man was staring at Jim’s big screen TV as he replied, “The weather has been a good deal of a disappointment. Canada has a reputation for magnificent winter weather…but the result this time has been a mess of characterless weather, which all right-feeling Canadians are probably ashamed of.  Well, never mind, what you lack in weather you make up in the means of grace.”

Then I had a crazy idea (not that I wasn’t feeling crazy already talking to a dead man!): “Mr. Clemens, as long as you’re here, I’d really like to interview you and publish the story on my blog…would that be all right?”

“What’s a blog?” he asked curiously.

“Well, it’s kind of like a diary that people around the world can read if they want to.”

He looked pleased, “People around the world have read my books!  I’ll do it!”

The Visitor...photo from openinglines.org

What follows is the transcript of my exclusive interview with Samuel Clemens, also known as Mark Twain:

Writerwoman61: What is your philosophy of life?

MT: Always do what is right. It will gratify half of mankind and astound the other.

Writerwoman61: What is the secret to your success?

MT: The secret to getting ahead is getting started.

Writerwoman61: Are you happy with the person you are?

MT: The worst loneliness is to not be comfortable with yourself.

Writerwoman61:  Everyone likes to be right…does it bother you when people think you’re wrong?

MT: Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.

Writerwoman61: What happens when you lose your temper?

MT: When angry, count to four; when very angry, swear.

Writerwoman61: You must get depressed sometimes…how do you pull yourself out of it?

MT: The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up.

Writerwoman61: How do you deal with people who put you down?

MT: Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.

Writerwoman61: What about people who are just using you for their own gain?

MT: Never allow someone to be your priority while allowing yourself to be their option.

Writerwoman61: How do you feel about honesty?

MT: If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.

Writerwoman61: What do you think of our politicians?

MT: Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.

Writerwoman61: What about political speeches?

MT: If we were supposed to talk more than listen we would have been given two mouths and one ear.

Writerwoman61: Are you optimistic about the younger generation?

MT: The most interesting information comes from children, for they tell all they know and then stop.

Writerwoman61: What is the biggest problem with young people today?

MT: Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.

Writerwoman61: How important is a college degree?

MT: Don’t let schooling interfere with your education.

Writerwoman61:  When trying to understand something, how important is it to ask questions?

MT: He who asks is a fool for five minutes, but he who does not ask remains a fool forever.

Writerwoman61: Do you have any advice about love?

MT: If you want love and abundance in your life, give it away.

Writerwoman61: Is one happier when one is in love?

MT: To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.

Writerwoman61: How do you find the right person?

MT: When you fish for love, bait with your heart, not your brain.

Writerwoman61: Once you’ve found that special person, then what?

MT: Let your joy be unconfined!

Writerwoman61: How do you want to remembered?

MT: Let us live so that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.

*********

I jerked awake when my alarm went off.  “I had the weirdest dream…” I told Jim.

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Filed under history, satire

Strength, Thy Name is Woman!

Yesterday, my blogging buddy, Charles at Mostly Bright Ideas wrote a post called The Weird Uncle of Invention…one part of Charles’ post caught my attention, as he muses over who invented pole vaulting:

“It had to be a man, didn’t it?…For one thing, most women don’t have that kind of free time on their hands.”

Charles’ assertion caused those little wheels in my head to start spinning…what he said about women and free time is true.  After doing some research, I found that female inventors were responsible for a lot of things that people wouldn’t think of doing without today:

1. Bras.  Contrary to popular opinion, the brassiere was invented by a woman: a New York socialite named Mary Phelps Jacob (aka Caresse Crosby).  In 1913, she bought a new dress for a fancy evening affair, and was frustrated because the corset she wore under it was poking out in very unattractive ways and indiscreet places.  Mary grabbed a couple of silk handkerchiefs and a pink ribbon, and the Backless Brassiere was born!  Mary didn’t enjoy being a businesswoman, so sold her patent in 1915 to the Warner Brothers Corset Company for $1500.   Over the next 30 years, Warner made over $15 million selling bras to women who were tired of wearing corsets!

The original "Backless Brassiere" patent diagram...

 2. Chocolate Chip Cookies.  The invention of one of North America’s favourite cookies happened by accident.  Ruth Wakefield was the proprietor of a tourist lodge called the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts.  She was making Butter Drop Do Cookies for the guests one day in 1930, when she discovered she was out of baker’s chocolate.  Ruth substituted some broken pieces of Nestle’s semi-sweet chocolate bars, expecting it to melt and act the same way as the baker’s chocolate…it didn’t.  The result was delicious, and the recipe for Ruth’s Toll House Crunch Cookies was published in a Boston newspaper.  In 1939, Betty Crocker featured the cookie on her national radio show.  Sales of the chocolate bars soared!  Ruth was no dummy…she made a deal with Andrew Nestle to print the recipe on the chocolate package in return for a lifetime supply of Nestle chocolate.

Ruth's recipe on the back of a Nestle chocolate chip package...

              

3. Dishwashers.  In 1886, Josephine Cochran got tired of her servants chipping her fine china in Shelbyville, Illinois…she declared “If nobody else is going to invent a dishwashing machine, I’ll do it myself!”  She invented a hand-operated mechanical dishwasher, and formed the Crescent Washing Machine Company.  Josephine unveiled her invention at the 1893 World’s Fair, but only hotels and large restaurants seemed interested in Josephine’s idea.  The general public didn’t use dishwashers much until the 1950’s.  The company Josephine founded to make her dishwasher eventually became KitchenAid (now owned by Whirlpool).

Josephine Cochran: "It's hard to get good help!"

 

Cochrane's Dishwasher (she added an "e" to her name)...

      

4. Disposable diapers.  Indiana native, Marion Donovan, was a housewife and mother of two living in Connecticut after World War II.  After changing her younger daughter’s sodden cloth diaper (and clothing and bedding) for the umpteenth time, Marion used a sewing machine to make a waterproof diaper cover out of a shower curtain.  The Boater  was better than rubber pants, because it had snaps instead of safety pins, didn’t cause diaper rash, and didn’t pinch the baby’s skin.  The Boater flew off the shelves at Saks Fifth Avenue when they started selling it in 1949, although Marion was unsuccessful in attracting manufacturers willing to produce it.  She patented it in 1951, and sold the rights to Keko Corporation for a million dollars.

Marion then started working on creating a fully-disposable diaper, using special paper that was strong and absorbent, but also carried moisture away from the child’s skin.  She shopped the idea around to all the large manufacturers in the country, but nobody jumped on it.  It was ten years later in 1961 that Victor Mills used Donovan’s idea to make Pampers.   Over a 45-year period, Marion held patents for 20 inventions including the DentaLoop, a two-ply dental floss that eliminated the need for wrapping dental floss around one’s fingers. 

Marion Donovan, and her nice dry baby...

5. Grocery bags.  Paper bags used to be shaped like envelopes until Maine native Margaret Knight came along.  While working in the Columbia Paper Bag Company, in Springfield, Massachusetts, she created a new machine part that automatically folded and glued the paper to form a square bottom.  Workers installing the equipment argued with her, because they didn’t think women knew anything about machinery.  In 1870, Margaret founded the Eastern Paper Bag Company.  After patenting her bag machine design in 1871, she went on to be awarded some 26 patents for different inventions including a window frame and sash, machinery for cutting shoe soles, and a rotary engine. 

Apparently, Margaret's male co-workers were wrong...she did know about machinery!

  

6. Liquid PaperBette Nesmith Graham wanted to be an artist, but life got in the way.  Shortly after World War II, she was a divorced mom with a son (Michael Nesmith, later of The Monkees) to support, so Bette got a job as an executive secretary at a bank in Dallas, Texas.  Bette was a conscientious worker, and sought a better way of correcting her typing mistakes when she made them.  As a painter, Bette knew that artists painted over their mistakes on canvas…why not apply the same idea to paper?  She brought in some tempera paint and a watercolour brush, and started using them at the office.  The boss didn’t notice, but her co-workers did, and asked for some of her correcting fluid.  Bette put some in a bottle, and labelled it “Mistake Out” before passing it to her friend.  In 1956, Bette launched the Mistake Out Company from her home, using her kitchen as a laboratory (with some advice from Michael’s high school chemistry teacher), and working nights and weekends to meet the demand for her hot new product.  She was finally able to devote all her time to the business after being fired from her secretarial job for an error even Mistake Out couldn’t correct (she typed her company’s name instead of the bank’s)!  In 1962, Bette married Robert Graham, who joined her in running the company, which grew into a million dollar business by 1967.  The business was renamed Liquid Paper in 1968.  Bette sold the company for $47.5 million in 1979, and died six months later.

Bette Nesmith Graham

         

7. Trashcans with the foot pedal.  A native of California,  Lillian Moller Gilbreth was a superwoman before it was fashionable: she was an inventor, author, industrial engineer, and industrial psychologist.  When she wasn’t busy with that, she looked after her twelve children (her daughter and son wrote Cheaper by the Dozen)!   Lillian was a pioneer in the field of ergonomics, and she and her husband, Frank, were among the first scientists to acknowledge the effects of stress and lack of sleep on the worker.  Their Time and Motion Studies were developed in part from living with their huge family.  In the 1920’s, Lillian worked doing marketing research for Johnson and Johnson.  Lillian was later employed at General Electric as an industrial engineer, and interviewed over 4000 women to design the proper height for stoves, sinks, and other kitchen fixtures.  She patented many kitchen appliances, including an electric food mixer, shelves inside refrigerator doors, and my favourite: the trashcan with the foot pedal.

The Gilbreth family in the 1920s (one child short of their dozen)

 There are dozens of things invented by women…here’s a link to a list: http://www.buzzle.com/articles/famous-women-inventors.html .  I hope you’ve learned something today…I did!

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Patents, Potatoes, the Post Office and Other Fun Facts for February 17th…

I haven’t done a roundup of historical facts lately…figured today is a good day for that…lots of things happened on February 17th!

1. On February 17, 1691, Thomas Neale was granted a 21-year British patent for North American postal service (it was February 18th that the phrase, “The check is in the mail,” was first uttered…not really!).  In 1694, Thomas married England’s richest widow.  Sadly, Thomas died in 1699, heavily in debt, despite the fact that his franchise only cost 80 cents a year.  It seems he was a bit of a gambling addict…another one of his accomplishments was developing a pair of dice to prevent cheating at gaming.

Thomas Neale...

2. On February 17, 1795, it is said that Thomas Seddal harvested an 8.3 kilogram (about 18 lb., 5 oz.) potato from his garden in Chester, England.  The largest potato known in modern times was grown last year by amateur gardener, Peter Glazebrook, in Northampton, and weighed 8 lb., 4 oz.  Imagine how much butter you would need for this monster:

8 lb., 4 oz. potato grown by Peter Glazebrook...photo from The Telegraph...

3. On February 17, 1818, Baron Karl von Drais de Sauerbrun patented the “draisine”, an early bicycle.  I hope Anna doesn’t see this…she’ll probably want me to buy her one!  Karl is also credited with inventing the earliest typewriter with a keyboard in 1821.  Like poor Thomas Neale, Karl also died penniless, in 1851.

This is a draisine from 1820 made of cherry and softwood...it's in a museum in Heidelberg, Germany.

4.  On February 17, 1867, William Cadbury, English chocolate manufacturer, was born.  He was the third generation of Cadburys in the business (joining in 1887), but made some important changes.  William established pension funds for the employees in the early years of the 20th century.  Under his leadership, Cadbury stopped buying cocoa from Sao Thome and Principe Islands after slavery was discovered to be in practice there (he also convinced his competitors, Fry and Rowntree, to boycott Portuguese cocoa from West Africa).  In 1905, William commissioned French designer Georges Auriol to design the first proper company logo, a cocoa tree.  The Cadbury script logo introduced in 1921 is William’s signature.  Cadbury Easter Creme Eggs are amazing…

5. On February 17, 1876, sardines were first canned by Julius Wolff in Eastport, Maine.  Until 1871, Americans had imported their sardines from France and Spain, but the Franco-Prussian War ended that practice.  Julius was the owner of a New York brokerage firm which had been bringing in the European sardines.  He established the first sardine factory, Eagle Preserve Fish Company, on Passamaquoddy Bay.  Over the next 125 years, some 400 sardine factories operated along Maine’s coast.  In 2008, Ronnie Peabody opened the Maine Coast Sardine History Museum in Jonesport, Maine.  There’s even a Sardine Society

Scene from a Maine sardine factory...

6. On February 17, 1924, Austro-Hungarian swimmer Johnny Weissmuller set a record for the 100-yard freestyle (52.4 seconds).  It was but one of the 67 world records he would set during his impressive swimming career.  Movie buffs will recognize Johnny as the actor who played the role of Tarzan in a dozen movies, and “delivered” the famous Tarzan yell (which was actually a recording of three vocalists spliced together: a soprano, an alto, and a hog-caller).  After Tarzan, Johnny went on to play Jungle Jim in more than a dozen movies and a TV series.  Johnny was married five times, and fathered three children: his son, Johnny Jr., followed him into acting, but wasn’t nearly as successful.  Johnny died January 20, 1984.  At his request, a recording of the Tarzan yell was played three times as his coffin was being lowered into the ground.

Cheeta with Johnny Weissmuller...I was always confused about why the monkey's name was "Cheeta"...

7. On February 17, 1933, Blondie married Dagwood Bumstead in the comic strip, Blondie.  I bet there aren’t a lot of people that know that the bride’s maiden name was Boopadoop!  Or that Dagwood went on a 28-day hunger strike to convince his well-to-do parents to let him go ahead with the wedding!

The Bumstead Wedding Scene...

8. On February 17, 1969, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash recorded an album together, which was never released.  They cut more than a dozen tracks, including renditions of “It’s All Right, Mama” and Cash’s “I Walk The Line.” However, only a version of Dylan’s “Girl From The North Country,” was eventually released.  It would become the first track of Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline,” which came out in April of 1969.  I found this bootleg album online:

Bootleg Album...

 I hope you’ve enjoyed this walk down Memory Lane…

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It’s Not My Style…

This past Saturday, my friend Amiable Amiable at Big Happy Nothing passed me The Stylish Blogger Award.  My friend, AA, is very sweet (be sure to check out her highly amusing blog!), but clearly delusional in bestowing this honour on a woman whose children have threatened kindly offered to suggest Style by Jury do a makeover on her (“They’d give you brand new pearly whites!” says Hope, hopefully).  Nevertheless, being the gracious sort (and not wanting to hurt AA’s feelings), I am proud to accept this award, and pass it along to other deserving bloggers.

Stylish Blogger Award

 

The requirements I must follow as an award recipient are as follows:

1. Write seven things about myself. 

I’ve decided (since I’m likely to repeat myself in my advanced age) to share with you seven little-known facts about me and my lack of style (Stacy and Clinton from What Not to Wear dream of getting their well-manicured hands on someone like me!). 

2. Present the award to six bloggers.

There are few people on my Blogroll who I haven’t already picked on honoured with various awards, but I will offer up some of my latest additions for your perusal.  I may lack that “je ne sais quoi,” but I’ve got a whack of stylish writers on my Blogroll!

3. Contact those people. 

Will do (just as soon as the post is up!).

4. Create a link back to the person who honored me. 

Done!

Seven Fashion Tips/Facts About Me I Hope No One Chooses to Follow:

1. My first (and second pair) of glasses were cat’s eyes: the first pink, the second blue.  I was seven…I thought they were cool!

Me with my Aunt Nancy's ponies, ca. 1968...a fashion plate even then...not!

2. I made my own halter tops in junior high from a simple trapezoid shape with drawstrings strung through the top and bottom…I was a 34A until I was 16. 

3. My parents didn’t have much money when I was growing up, and I bought all my own clothing from the time I was fourteen.  One of the things I desparately wanted was a pair of Levis jeans.  One day, a local store advertised in the newspaper that they had Levis for $3.99.  When I got to the store, the “on sale” jeans were actually cords, and they were burnt orange in colour.  I bought them anyway. 

4. In Grade 10, I recut a pair of hand-me-down bell bottom jeans (remember the really big bell bottoms popular in the mid-70’s?) and sewed them into a long granny-style skirt…I spent the rest of the year tripping over it!

5. I was not a “girly-girl” in high school, and rarely wore regular-length skirts.  Girls had to wear skirts for band though.  I found out (from a photograph in the yearbook) that I had played my flute in a band concert sitting in the front row with my legs wide open (lucky that I wore granny panties then, just like now!).

6. Before I had kids, I used to have money to buy shoes.  Shoes in Canada were always more expensive than they were in the U.S., so I’d wait until we went to the States to visit relatives to make my purchases.  On one such trip, I was thrilled to find a pair of pointy-toed suede cowboy boots for only $38 (they would have sold for over $100 in Canada at the time).  Some unkind people referred to my prized boots as “pickle-stabbers”!

7. In college, I went through a brief period where I wore hats all the time (it was the early ’80’s).  I built up quite a collection before I came to my senses and realized I wasn’t a “hat person.”

My Six Stylish Blogger Nominees:

The proper words in the proper places are the true definition of style.

Jonathan Swift

I have chosen my victims winners with Jonathan’s quote in mind…please check them out if you don’t already know them:

1. Another Stir of the SpoonJeanne and her husband, Curt, write one of two wife-husband blogs I follow (and they’re just as crazy about birds as Jim is!).  It is an eclectic mix of food, art, gardening, books and nature.  Just today, I learned about “real” ramen (as they do it in Japan), and “shino” glaze on pottery!

2. EduClaytion. Clay is the history professor we all wish we had in college…he makes history and pop culture fun!  There’s a rumour that the look of the “Flynn Rider” character in Tangled was modelled after him…the real Clay is definitely cooler and smarter than his cartoon twin!

Flynn Rider from Tangled…

3. Jumping in Mud Puddles.  I discovered Vickie after she was Freshly Pressed in mid-December…I kept reading because she cracks me up!  Vickie’s a fourth grade teacher in West Virginia.  One of my favourite posts of hers involves a lost ring

4. Life From the TrenchesAmy used to write mostly about etiquette, but has expanded the scope of her blog in anticipation of her imminent return to the “away from home” workforce.  She recently took up a challenge presented by one of my commentators to do a post on flatulence etiquette (we may collaborate on a book, but don’t hold your breath…or maybe you should!).  Amy handles whatever she writes about with good sense sprinkled with a liberal dose of humour!  
5. Loose Leaf NotesColleen is a poet, photographer, journalist, and a grandmother in Floyd, Virginia.  She shares my love of music and tea.  You never know what you’ll find when you visit Colleen…one of my favourites of her features is Thirteen Thursdays.
6. Reinventing The Event HorizonKathy is an artist and creative writing teacher currently living in Haiti with her partner, Sara, who works with a NGO doing relief work.  Kathy accomplishes the seemingly-impossible task of finding beauty in the ruins of a country devastated by poverty and a series of natural disasters.  Her writing is always thought-provoking and honest (she will probably be honestly horrified to discover she’s “won” another award…she just got the Memetastic Award…more homework!).
I’m off to dust off a spot on the mantel…maybe we should get those fireplaces working again! 

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