Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Women of...Wednesday Lotte Jacobi: Photographic Artist

Johanna Jacobi was born in 1896 in Thorn, West Prussia (now a part of Poland). Her family called her Lotte (LOT uh). It was inevitable that she would one day make her living with a camera. Her great-grandfather, Samuel Jacobi, had studied with the famous L.J.M Daguerre in Paris. He returned to Thorn and set up his own studio. Her grandfather, Alexander, took over the studio and later passed it on to his own three sons including Lotte's father, Sigismund. Lotte and her sister, Ruth, were expected to follow in the family business.

When she was twelve, Lotte asked her father for a camera of her own. He did not give her one. Instead, he told her to make one. Lotte would learn the business, science, and art of photography from its very basic requirements. She designed a pin hole camera. As she worked with the little box, Lotte said she learned "that this camera was a sort of cage for light that controlled its effect." Lotte would try controlling the effects of light for the rest of her life. As a young adult, Lotte studied photography in Munich, Germany. She began to make a name for herself as a portrait photographer. The most famous names in European arts, theater, and politics sat for Lotte.

Lotte married briefly at 20. The marriage produced her only child, a son, John.

Portraiture was not her only talent. Lotte longed to travel and photograph great scenes away from her familiar surroundings. In 1932, she went to Russia for an extended stay. During the months that she was away, Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany. The persecution of Jews began in earnest and Lotte returned to a divided Germany . Jews were forced to wear Stars of David on their clothing and live in segregated ghettos. Jews who owned businesses found it harder and harder to make a living.

Portraits Done by Lotte

Actor Peter Lorre Albert Einstein

When Lotte's father died two years later, she felt it was time to leave Germany. She and her mother and young son left for New York City. Lotte's sister, Ruth, was already there. Leaving for the United States must have been one of the most difficult things Lotte ever did in her life. In those days, photos were made on huge glass plates. Lotte owned thousands of these plates that held the portraits of many well-known people and the scenes she had taken in Russia and elsewhere. It would be impossible to take them all. Lotte picked only some to take with her. The rest were lost forever, most likely destroyed by the Nazis.

In New York, Lotte opened a studio with Ruth. In 1940, she married her second husband: publisher Erich Reiss. The couple were together for 11 years before Reiss died in 1951. It was towards the end of Reiss's life, while he was ill, that Lotte discovered a new way to control light. Feeling that Reiss needed a distraction from his illness, Lotte asked a friend, Leo Katz, to give them lessons on the basis of photography. The students did not use cameras. It was during this time that Lotte developed pictures she called "photogenics" meaning "light generated." Lotte used a flashlight on photo paper " you would draw," she later wrote, "with a brush."
One of Lotte's Photogenics

She wasn't sure if the modern-looking designs could be considered art but her husband urged her to continue experimenting. Soon she was mixing regular photography with photogenic backgrounds.

Four years after her husband's death Lotte followed her son and his wife to New Hampshire. She lived in her own home near their property. She opened a new studio and often held shows featuring local photographers. New Hampshire politics fascinated her, too. She soon became involved and in 1976, at the Democratic National Convention, was the oldest person there to hold a press pass. She was 80 years old.

Lotte died in 1990 at the age of 94. As we continue to explore our Women of... you'll notice that many of our stories end this way. These strong women, whose achievements were often accomplished in spite struggles, difficult decisions, heartbreak, or other challenges, lived long lives. They blessed us and future generations by being fabulous role models.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Write Sisters Introduce: Mentor Mondays!

The fourth goal of the Write Sisters' Mission Statement is to "Educate other writers, and the public in general, including children, about all aspects of writing." With that purpose in mind, and a new year looming, we present Mentor Mondays. Every Monday we will share hints, lessons, or skills we've learned in our own writing journeys. We hope you find them helpful.

Today I'd like to share the lesson of time. Time=work. Time= patience. Time=the ability to enhance skills.

Too often, in my years as a critique group leader, I've met people who thought they wanted to be writers. They believed they had an innate skill because they did well writing essays in school, or other people had commented favorably on their ability to write letters to the editors or spout rhyming jingles. What these people failed to recognize is that each of those things was merely an indicator of possibility. True writers know the journey is ongoing.

I'm currently reading a book that deals with the concept of success. It is the topic of a lot of discussion: Outliers-The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell writes about people that have attained almost unbelievable success in business, the arts, etc. One of the reasons they have gone above and beyond the average is something Gladwell calls "the ten thousand hour rule." He posits that innate talent is not the real reason for success. High achievers (those he calls Outliers because their achievements are so outside what we consider the norm) not only had some talent, they also had certain advantages, and they put in the time.

Bill Gates happened to attend a middle school whose Mother's Club felt it was worthwhile to fund a computer club--in 1968, when even many colleges had not yet jumped on the computer bandwagon. He spent hours working on these early machines, and later did the same at the University of Washington--even when the only time available to him was between 3:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m.

The Beatles were considered musical geniuses. In the late 50's and early 60's they were hired to perform in Hamburg, Germany. They were required to play 8 hours a night, seven days a week. (When was the last time you went to a club that hired a band for that length of time?) They needed a lot of music to fill up that time. They covered all kinds of music: jazz, rock, country. They honed their musical abilities in order to keep getting hired.

These are but two examples that Gladwell includes in his book. The truth is that most "geniuses" put in hours and hours and hours of practice before they are considered outstanding examples in their fields.

Writers need to do the same. We need to put the words on the screen or on paper over and over again. We need to write every day. We need to try different types of writing. We need to read, read, read. We need to put in the time.

So as the New Year approaches, make it a resolution to keep practicing. Write anything and everything. Critique yourself. Rewrite. Put work in the mail. When you get a rejection letter, don't think of it as failure. Think of it as just one more brick on your road to becoming a genius. You're only 10,000 hours away.

Friday, December 26, 2008



Three things say Christmas to me.

That first whiff of a live Christmas tree.
Hearing the first Christmas carol of the season.
And the Grinch.

I was at my Mom’s for Christmas, and all us adults were in one room talking, and all the kids were running around the rest of the house, when all of a sudden, something caught my ear.

You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch
You’re a nasty, wasty skunk!

One of the kids had put on the cartoon version of How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

It sucked me in. It always does. I wandered into the living room, sat down amidst the kids, and watched. And then I found myself narrating aloud along with Boris Karloff. The kids were amazed. I wasn’t. It happens every time I watch it. It’s not a conscious thing. It just happens. I can’t help myself.

Now, some of us may consider Dr. Seuss a poet, some of us may not. But it’s the day after Christmas, and the story rhymes. (Not to mention the fact that it uses a great villain to talk about the power of love, which ties rather neatly into my other two posts this week.)

So, if you have any kids in your life, find the book and read it to them this week. Or any week. Or pop in the video or DVD. And if you don’t have kids, or you don’t celebrate Christmas, read it just because. Here's a bit.


Every Who Down in Whoville
Liked Christmas a lot . . .
But the Grinch,
Who lived just North of Whoville,
Did not!

The Grinch hated Christmas!
The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don't ask why.
No one quite knows the reason.

It could be that his head
wasn't screwed on quite right.
It could be, perhaps,
that his shoes were too tight.

But I think that the most
likely reason of all
May have been that his heart
was two sizes too small.

Happy Holidays!

Note: the Poetry Friday Round-Up takes place this week at the Miss Rumphius Effect.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Christmas Tradition

At least it should be at your house!
Dylan Thomas reading "A Child's Christmas in Wales". It's on the following site: NPR
I think I clicked on the third Real Player link.

Thomas uses brilliant language --and his sonorous, operatic voice is fabulous, especially with the great rolling Rs! A classic you should hear. It takes about 20 minutes.

I also like reading along. You can find a decent text at poemhunter:

Wishing you all the very merriest of times with friends and family. On behalf of The Write Sister, thanks for making 2008 great!


The MacDowell Colony is an artists’ retreat nestled in the woodlands of Peterborough, New Hampshire. It’s a place where all kinds of artists can get away to work on their crafts without the disturbances of everyday life. It opened its doors in 1907, and has been growing ever since. It exists because Marian MacDowell loved her husband.

In today’s world, a woman who lives her life for the benefit of her husband is a rare thing. I’m talking about emotionally secure women who do it willingly, who are not beaten or threatened into submission. Nancy Reagan is the only woman I can think of, and she isn’t really of this time. In fact, she’s closer to Marian MacDowell’s world than today’s.

Marian was born in 1857, a time when a woman’s sole purpose was to care for her home and family. As the eldest daughter of five children (she had two older brothers and two younger sisters) Marian fell into the role of caretaker early. Her mother died when she was eight and it was left to her to break the news to her father who was away at the time. When he returned, eight year old Marian not only told him the awful news, but comforted him when he should have been comforting her. Then, as the oldest daughter, she began to care for her family.

Luckily, Marian had an aunt - an aunt who was a piano teacher. Without her, who knows what would have become of Marian. She gave Marian lessons, and as it turned out, Marian had talent. She traveled to Germany to study under the great Clara Schumann. Clara, however, was on tour when Marian arrived, and Marian got stuck with Edward MacDowell.

Marian was disappointed. She could have trained under an American at home, and Edward was just as reluctant to have her. He didn’t believe she had much talent. But a mutual friend pushed them together. They fell in love and married.

“I hadn’t been married three months,” Marian said, “before I knew that I had to make a choice between a husband and a career.”

I don’t believe Marian made the choice because it was her ‘duty’ or what was expected of her. From all I’ve learned about her, she did it out of love. She gave up her career, as well as having children, and insisted they live off her inheritance for at least five years, so Edward could concentrate on his music. Edward became one of the most popular composers of his time. Marian was his doting wife, and was happy to be so.

Edward was aware of the gift his wife had given him, and he talked often of how wonderful it would be if other artists had the opportunity he’d had -- to work undisturbed at their craft without interruption from life’s daily grind. He and Marian talked about starting an artists’ colony and set about tapping all their wealthy friends for donations. In 1907, the MacDowell Colony opened its doors.

Edward, however, soon became ill, and Marian spent all her time caring for him. By 1908, Edward had died, and the money for the colony had withered away. Marian could have given up on the colony and restarted her career. She could have remarried, or lived comfortably as the widow of Edward MacDowell. But Marian knew how important that colony was to her husband, and because she loved him, she did everything in her power to make his dream come true.

Marian began to tour the country, giving lectures and playing her husband’s compositions in an effort to raise money for the colony. Her ‘tours’ were not like concert tours today. Marian spoke in front of small groups of women in people’s homes and played in their living rooms and at sorority houses. Contributions were small, and in order to raise the large sums needed for the colony, she toured all year round. Eventually, she played at larger venues, but doing it day after day, and year after year, had to have been exhausting.

The colony became her life, or to be more accurate, fulfilling her husband’s dream of the colony became her life. If Edward had wanted a statue of himself erected, I’m sure that’s what Marian would have raised funds for. She worked long and hard at accomplishing Edward’s goal, seeing the colony through two world wars--taking in soldiers and refugees, the Great Depression, and the hurricane of 1938. Her single log cabin on 75 acres of woodland turned into 32 studios on 450 acres, along with free room and board, three meals a day, and in some cases, even a stipend to make up for lost wages. Over 5500 artists, such as Alice Walker, Leonard Bernstein, and Jules Feiffer, have spent time there.

Marian wasn’t a daredevil. She wasn’t a rebel or a revolutionary. She wasn’t even a rule breaker. But because of her, thousands of artists have benefited -- as well as the world at large and generations to come. We have all been gifted with the books and music and art and films that came about because of an ordinary woman who loved her husband.

Monday, December 22, 2008


I have always loved villains. To me, they are generally far more interesting than heroes, who tend to be rather predicable characters. Villains are more complex, they have waaay more psychological issues, and their deviousness tramples the plodding perseverance of most heroes. A good villain can make a bad book readable, and a good book even better.

When my kids were younger, one of my daughters was reading the Redwall series, so I started reading it, too. Redwall wasn’t for me. There were too many big blocks of description telling me what everyone was eating. I just didn’t care. And then I met Cluny the Scourge.

If you haven’t read Redwall, Cluny was a one-eyed rat who wore a batwing cloak fastened with a mole skull. In battle, he tipped his tail with a poisoned spike. He was so good at being bad - “Don’t be afraid. I won’t kill you. I don’t need you dead right now.” I’d flip ahead just to see how many pages I had to go before I could read about him again, then I’d skim, just to get the gist of the story, until I got to Cluny. He’s one of my favorite villains.

Villainy is also one of the few places where women have not had to fight for acceptance. Some of the best villains in literature are woman. Enter Mrs. Coulter from Pullman’s, His Dark Materials. Let a man cut the souls from little children and it’s a dark and horrible thing. But let a woman do it and it becomes an abomination. Alas! She changed her ways by the end of the trilogy, but at her worst, she was far more threatening than Lord Voldemort, whose evil and vileness was more talk than action. Thank goodness he had a band of henchmen!

Even at Disney, where everything is cotton candy sweet, they know the power of a good villain. There’s Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty -- “Now you shall deal with me, oh prince, and all the demons of hell!” (And isn’t that a great name for a villain?) The evil queen in Snow White -- “I’ll crush your bones!” And let’s not forget Cruella DeVil and her dog fur coats.

Yes, the literary world would be a duller place without villains. Without the bad guys, there would be no one to pummel, to outwit, or save the world from. Without villains, there would be nothing for a hero to do. And we, as readers, would live in a literary limbo of boring books no one would read. Libraries would shut down, book chains and publishing companies would go under, thousands of people would lose their jobs, and children would starve. Riots would break out in the streets until . . .

Somewhere, a villain arises. Using his silver-tongued speech, he rallies the people into revolution and uses them to take over the world, murdering everyone who stands in his way. But not everyone falls under the spell of his evil eloquence. From the ashes comes a hero who says enough is enough. A great battle ensues and the villain is vanquished.

And then . . . a writer emerges - a writer who tells the epic tale. People come from miles around to buy the writer’s story. Suddenly, publishers begin to re-invent themselves and pander to the writer, begging for the rights, but only one lucky publisher gets the story. The others find their own writers to whip up rip-off versions of the original. In only weeks, publishing houses grow and expand. Book stores and libraries reopen. Thousands of new jobs are created and children’s bellies are full once more. The world has become a better place. All because of a villain.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Poetry Friday--How Do You Know You're a Poet?

I remembered today (13+ years later), that the first thing I published, for which I was paid, was an article in The Christian Science Monitor that deals with poetry. It was a piece for the "KidSpace" page and introduced kids to terse verse.

I've been writing about poetry and I've dabbled a bit in writing poems, mostly haiku and senryu. But, I've never labeled myself a poet. Why? Insecurity, I guess. I'd think of myself as a fraud--someone who would be found out! Oh, the humiliation--I'd been living a lie.

How do you know when you're a poet? Interesting question. I thought I'd look at some poets who have written on the subject of poets and poetry:

Robert Frost--
I have never started a poem yet whose end I knew. Writing a poem is discovering.

T.S. Eliot--
Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.
Matthew Arnold--
Poetry is, at bottom, a criticism of life.
Maybe on the basis of the above quotes, I COULD consider myself a poet! I love discovery. I have personality and emotions. I'm a critic of life!

By virtue of this one, though, I am most certainly a poet:

Bob Dylan--
I think a poet is anybody who wouldn't call himself a poet.

The Poetry Friday Round-Up is taking place at Author Amok.


By the way, I checked The Christian Science Monitor's website and found that my first article can be accessed. If you'd like to see it, click here. You'll notice that in places where there should be an example, there is nothing. That's because a graphic was included, and those, I guess, don't show up in the archives! (If only I were more organized, I could put my hands on the original and fill in the blanks. Alas, organization doesn't exist in my world.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Celebrating Trina Schart Hyman's Christmas Books

'Tis the season for Christmas books, so I'm going to tell you about two that NH's own Trina Schart Hyman had a hand in.

The first is not only my favorite Christmas book, it is also my all-time favorite book in the whole world! It's called Star Mother's Youngest Child (Houghton Mifflin, 1975) and was written by Louise Moeri and illustrated by Hyman.

A crotchedy old woman is surprised to find an extremely ugly child on her doorstep. The child is a star given form who has been allowed to visit the earth to discover Christmas. The old woman is someone who has spent many years alone and no longer has Christmas in her life. These two experience a Christmas together.

The utter simplicity of the book is to be admired, and the terse concluding lines always leave me verklempt. The small physical size of the book makes it perfect for sharing with just one or two. (Give this as a gift to yourself--you're worth it! It's still available in both hardcover and paperback.)

The second book is the even older, How Six Found Christmas (Little Brown, 1969, o.p.), which was both written and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. This, too, is a story about the heart of Christmas.

The book opens,
Once upon a time there was a little girl who had never heard of Christmas and therefore did not know what it was. By chance one day she happened to meet an old wise woman who told her that there was such a thing. But the wise woman did not elaborate on the matter, so the little girl was left as ignorant as before, yet with a great curiosity.

The girl meets five animals in the forest, each of whom imagines Christmas to be something that appeals to its own particular animal sense, e.g., a fox imagines it to be something tasty.

This little book would be a great conversation starter in a classroom. It also lends itself to reader's theater. Look for it at your local public library!

Hyman ends the unusual little fable with this, "Christmas is not only where you find it; it's what you make of it." To which I say, AMEN!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

And the Winner Is . . .

Corinne Malvern! HTML clipboard

Children in my Early Kindergarten class participated in the Hogarth School's 7th annual Vote for The Night Before Christmas. I read three different versions of Clement C. Moore's poem The Night Before Christmas illustrated by three different artists -- Corinne Malvern, Cheryl Harness and Jan Brett.

Malvern was the winner with 7 votes, Harness came in second with 3 votes, and Brett came in last with 2 votes.

Corinne Malvern tied to win one year, and flat-out won the other 6 "elections." I love this curriculum unit, and am intrigued that Malvern wins year after year. Although her version was originally published smack in the middle (almost) of the 20th century in 1949, those very traditional renderings of Santa and his reindeer still hold enormous appeal for a 21st century audience.

I found it interesting that my 11 and 13-year old nieces (who lost power during the ice storm and whose family is staying with me for the duration) were appalled that Jan Brett was not the clear winner. In fact, Brett's illustrations have come in last 6 out of 7 elections.

My nieces are fantastic artists, and Margaret (the 11-year old) is an aspiring illustrator. We talked about what Brett's problem might be (at least with the preschool set) and determined that you could never put a red nose on a Brett reindeer. We think it's as simple as that. Kids just can't fit a realistic-looking reindeer into their existing reindeer schemata. I think Brett has the same problem with her Santa. That guy would never live at the North Pole. Which is kind of what New England is feeling like these days.

NOTE: Here in New England we're experiencing the fallout from a beautiful but powerful ice storm. Hundreds of thousands of homes are still without power three days after the storm, including those of several of the Write Sisters. It's sister Janet's week to blog, but until she's up and running, you'll see her power-filled sisters pinch hit for her.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Poetry Friday--Mary Dear

Today I'm celebrating a gem of a picture book written by N.M. Bodecker and illustrated by Erik Blegvad--Hurry, Hurry, Mary Dear (Margaret K. McElderry, 1998). The weather this week has been cold and gray, and if anyone had any doubts that winter would soon be here, they quickly had their minds changed. The worsening weather put me in mind of Hurry, Hurry, Dear Mary, and I pulled it from the shelf to enjoy once more.

The text is taken from a nonsense poem written in 1975 by N.M. (Bo) Bodecker. It had been published in 1976 in Hurry, Hurry, Mary Dear and Other Nonsense Poems (Atheneum). Bodecker died in 1988 and his old friend Blegvad, took the poem, reillustrated it in color, and saw to its publication as a picture book. As Blegvad tells us in the foreward,
He illustrated them with the most delightful pen and ink drawings. Bo was a superb illustrator. My illustrations here are based on Bo's...

I'm pleased that Erik Blegvad brought the poem to life. It is a fabulous book to read aloud, and the pictures are full of little jokes that appeal to both a child and an adult. Regretably, it's now out of print, but I'd recommend searching it out at your local public library. If the library doesn't have it, ask if they'll get it on interlibrary loan.

So, until you get a copy in your own hands, here's a little bit of Hurry, Hurry, Dear Mary to tide you over:
Pull the curtains,
close the shutters.
Dreadfully the wild wind mutters.

Oil the snowshoes,
stoke the fires.
Soon the roads are hopeless mires.

Keep warm dear readers!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Woman of...Wednesday--Elizabeth Gurley Flynn: Woman of Conviction

It's funny how some people can fade from memory simply because the cause they supported was not "P.C." Take for instance, a woman I profiled for Women of Granite: 25 New Hampshire Women You Should Know--Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.

Flynn became a member of the Communist Party in 1936, and in 1961 served as its U.S. chairperson. Whoa! That was a big "no, no" during that era. The "red menace" of communism was supposedly a major threat to the US, so of course, any American who supported it was to be rounded up and thrown into jail. Flynn was put on trial in 1951 and sentenced to prison where she served 2+ years starting in 1955. A Time magazine obituary told of Flynn's release,

By then, Elizabeth was no longer a slim and fiery girl but a plump and matronly woman. Freed in 1957, she said, "I had no reason to reform, repent or recant, so I just reduced."

What a great line! What spunk! Actually, Flynn reportedly spent most of her time while incarcerated in the prison library. My kind of woman!

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was born in NH in 1890, but only lived in the state during the first decade of her life. As everyone knows, the first few years of one's life are the most important for shaping character, so it is easy to see what an effect NH had on her. She wrote in her autobiography, The Rebel Girl, of her family's move from Concord, NH to the mill town of Manchester,
The change from the pleasant clean little city of Concord, to the drab bleak textile center of Manchester, was sufficient to impress even a five-year-old child. We lived there nearly three years. The gray mills in Manchester stretched like prisons along the banks of the Merrimac River; 50 per cent of the workers were women and they earned one dollar a day...Our neighbors, men and women, rushed to the mills before the sun rose on cold winter days and returned after dark. They were poorly dressed and poverty stricken.

Is it any wonder that Flynn became a labor organizer who fought for the rights of workers? Her long life was filled with good, if often misunderstood, deeds in support of justice for all Americans.

It was difficult to put her life into less than the 600 words required for the profile in Women of Granite. I think this woman should be resurrected from the ashes of American history and given a second chance! Maybe some day I'll do just that.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Just Thought I'd Share...

a blog posting on the Good website is entitled, "Books Are the New Cars: Major Publishing Houses Follow American Automakers into Financial Abyss."

Those of us who write for children have long railed against the huge advances paid to celebs who think they can write for children. Ha! I guess those, and other advances (blogger Anne Trubeck: "Sarah Palin meanwhile received a reported $7 million advance...") are now coming back to bite the Big 3 in the butt.

I'm sure OUR little publisher will love reading this:
Should we weed the big boys out? In the dirt of fallen conglomerates, might more flowers bloom? There are already dozens of struggling, small presses (which of course is not true of automakers) and hundreds of deserving authors who only ask for modest, middle-class advances.

Click on the link above and read. I guarantee you'll be right there with Ms. Trubeck.


Monday, December 8, 2008

Another Book Signing

Some of The Write Sisters attended the Manchester (NH) Historical Society's open house last Friday. Their bookstore now carries Women of Granite, so we were happy to attend to promote and sign our book.

The 4 scheduled hours were much too long, but, we managed to keep ourselves entertained by signing books and just generally catching up with each other.

There were other perks such as two super platters of cheese and crudites, and cheese and fresh fruit!

Janet became reacquainted with a woman who portrays aviatrix, Ruth Law. Ruth Law was the subject of two of Janet's recent posts.

Muriel found a long-lost writing course classmate.

I bought a present for myself--yes, it's all about me--in the Historical Society's gift shop. It's a reproduction of a photo that I had first seen many years ago, an image that has stuck with me (you can see it below). This photo is, for me, the epitome of immigrant pride. I like to think that those who participated in the making of this oversized flag wove or sewed a little bit of themselves into it.

All in all, it wasn't a bad way to spend an evening.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

But wait! There's more!

I'm a complete sucker for the right sales pitch. Not being terribly astute, the right sales pitch for me is Buy it! Now! Because I'm a bit of an insomniac, what little TV I watch happens between 2 and 4 a.m., which is infomercial prime time. There's a reason why God closes brick and mortar stores when He does. We don't make sound shopping decisions after 10 p.m. With the advent of on-line shopping, it's all over for people like me. I have buyer's remorse as often as a 3-year old new to daycare has the common cold.

My latest impulse purchase, however, has brought nothing but bliss. It's LibraryThing. I read about it in a newsletter from my cable company, and immediately clicked over to check it out. It's one of the few good things to come from my relationship with my cable company. LibraryThing lets you catalog your books on-line, tag your titles, chitchat with like-minded individuals, and discover new books in other bibliophile's libraries. I'm using it to catalog my children's book collection, a task I've been meaning to tackle for 29 years.

Cataloging at LibraryThing couldn't be simpler. I'm not even going to explain it, because you'll figure it out yourself in about 2 seconds. Just be warned that it's as addicting as crack. I nearly went into convulsions when I tried to catalog my 201st book and discovered that in order to do so, I needed to upgrade to a paid membership.

I took a deep breath and collected my thoughts. This was not a problem for the girl who owns Ron Popeil's Showtime Rotisserie Oven AND the NuWave Oven Pro. I clicked over to the Upgrade page and selected Lifetime Member. Why spend $10 for a yearly membership when you just know you're a LibraryThing lifer? For $25, I can catalog forever. That's less than a carton of Marlboros. If I still smoked, that $25 would be gone in less than a week, and all I'd have to show for it is a svelter figure, a nagging cough and a somewhat calmer demeanor.

LibraryThing. Check it out.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Poetry Friday: The Distressed Poet

I just started reading Mary Schell Hoke Bacon's Pictures that Every Child Should Know. The chapter entitled "William Hogarth" immediately caught my eye. My school is named for William Hogarth. Actually it's named for my father. He died in a car accident a few months before my sisters and I opened the school, and we wanted to name it for him. He loved William Hogarth's work, and so we thought calling the school "Hogarth" would be a fitting tribute to him.

Anyway, I skipped right to the Hogarth chapter. Hogarth was, quite arguably, the first great English artist. He was an 18th century painter, printmaker, social satirist and editorial cartoonist. His brush strokes and etched lines told some of the greatest stories never written.

Bacon writes, "William Hogarth, like Watteau, originated his own school; in short there never was anybody like him. He was an editorial writer in charcoal and paint, or in other words he had a story to tell every time he made a picture, and there was an argument in it, a right and a wrong, and he presented his point of view by making pictures."

One of his greatest works was a series of eight paintings called A Rake's Progress. He also produced A Rake's Progress in a series of eight engravings. (It really is worth ten minutes of your time to click over and check it out.) A Rake's Progress is a warning to young men that you really can have too much fun. This influential work inspired, among many other things, a 1951 opera by Igor Stravinsky, W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, a series of etchings done by David Hockney in 1961, and the 1946 RKO movie Bedlam, for which Hogarth received a writing credit.

What does this genius artist have to do with Poetry Friday? I offer Hogarth's engraving The Distressed Poet.

Who couldn't find poetry in this engraving? If that doesn't work for you, I offer Hogarth's epitaph, written by David Garrick.

"Farewell great Painter of Mankind
Who reach'd the noblest point of Art,
Whose pictur'd Morals charm the Mind
And through the Eye correct the Heart.
If Genius fire thee, Reader, stay,
If Nature touch thee, drop a Tear:
If neither move thee, turn away,
For Hogarth's honour'd dust lies here."

This week's Poetry Friday round-up is at Mommy's Favorite Children's Books.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Woman of...Wednesday--Persis Foster Eames Albee: Woman of Resilience

I profiled Persis Foster Eames Albee for Women of Granite: 25 New Hampshire Women You Should Know. (Or as The Write Sisters simply call it, WOG.) Persis made the final cut and became a WOG subject because she was instrumental in developing the sales model that built the Avon empire. Persis was the first Avon lady. The company was named The California Perfume Company at the time, and Persis sold door-to-door and recruited and trained other women to do the same. David McConnell, who started the business, called Persis "The Mother of the California Perfume Company," and readily acknowledged her contributions to the company's great success. Since 1969, Avon has recognized its top salespeople with The Albee Award, a statue of Persis. In 1997, Avon teamed up with Mattel to create a Barbie doll series based on Persis. Mrs. P.F.E. Albee has become huge with collectors.

My initial research into Persis's life kept bringing up the same information. Born in Newry, Maine in 1836. Marries Ellery Albee, a lawyer who became a state senator and treasurer of the local bank. Moves to Winchester, New Hampshire. Has three children, one of whom dies shortly after birth. Runs a general store out of her house with Ellery. Is president of the Winchester Literary Guild. Hooks up with David McConnell to sell books door-to-door. Impresses David to no end with her sales prowess. Is widowed at some point before she starts selling perfume in 1886. Does a bang-up job in the perfume business. Is so fabulous, she becomes the Avon Everywoman AND a Barbie doll.

So that was Persis's story. But something didn't feel right. Why was this Victorian-era woman with the lawyer/state senator/bank treasurer husband running a general store out of her house? And why on earth was she selling books door-to-door? And exactly how did Ellery die, anyway?

When I typed "Persis Foster Eames Albee" into the search engine at Newspaper Archive I wasn't terribly surprised when nothing came up that changed her story. Because I don't know when to stop researching and start writing, I typed "Ellery Albee" into the search engine. I hit the jackpot.

Apparently, in March 1881, Ellery stole over $100,000 from his bank, which didn't sit well with the authorities. He was tried, convicted, and tossed in the clink. I can only imagine the humiliation Persis felt. The 1880 census put Winchester, New Hampshire's population at 2,444. I'd wager that the $100,000 Ellery stole pretty much wiped out the savings of almost everybody in town. (Or at least the savings of those folks who foolishly decided to take their money out of their mattresses and put it in the bank.)

To make matters worse, Ellery didn't do his time quietly. According to the headlines, he was a "shammer." In fact, the January 31, 1886 Fort Wayne, Indiana Sunday Gazette headline read "Years of Shamming." The article went into great detail about how Ellery became mysteriously paralyzed while serving his sentence. At least one crack jail guard was onto Ellery. While peeking through a keyhole at the "paralyzed" Ellery, he observed Ellery raising his arms and moving on the bed.

Here's poor Persis, trying to survive in this little town whose populace had to have the kind of long memory that's a hallmark of little town populaces everywhere, and what does her shamming, thieving husband do? He resurfaces on a national level five years after he's convicted. Talk about opening up wounds for the sole purpose of pouring in the Mortons. When it rains it pours.

Now Persis is going to go door-to-door selling perfume to her neighbors.

"Ding dong. Avon calling!"

"Why Persis! Lovely to see you! Come in and make yourself at home. Mi casa es su casa. What's that you say? You're selling Little Dot Perfume Sets? Would I like to buy one? Would I! If I had any money left I'd buy several, but I don't have any money left BECAUSE YOUR SHAMMING HUSBAND STOLE IT ALL!"

How did she do it? How did she muster up the courage to knock on that first door and peddle her wares? As I see it, that's Persis's real triumph in life. That and the fact she became a Barbie doll. She looks like Barbie, don't you think?