How Old is Old?


What's Your Real Age? | The Dr. Oz Show

I am overdue to shop for a new smart phone.  I bought the I-4 about six years ago, but it still works fine, and the photos I take with it parallel my SLR.

But people wonder that I haven’t traded it in for something newer.  Can you imagine, in the 1920’s, a five-year-old telephone being considered old?

When thinking about the consequence of the passing of years, many things can come to mind.  Books, for instance.  A classic is a book that stands the test of time, we were taught.  It’s true – you can read a Newbery Award winner from 50 years ago and marvel at its fresh, unique style.

Movies, television — film noir and old sitcoms — can be just as enjoyable as the first dates they aired.  I never tire watching the tap dancing in Yankee Doodle Dandy, or laughing at Fish in Barney Miller.

And why is it that horses, dogs and cats have their years telescoped into a fraction of ours?  It doesn’t seem fair: they live the same amount of hours we do, but run out of time much sooner.

Of course, I’m winding around to the subject of human age.  “Sixty (or some other number) is the new forty,” we hear.  The average age considered old for women is seventy-three, and for men seventy, a psychology magazine reports.

People like Dr. Oz talk about chronological age vs. real age.  Some try to guess your age according to how you look.

I don’t base a lot of things on how I feel, for feelings are often fickle.  But I do think that you are about as old as you feel.  This can differ depending on the day.

It’s always been hard for younger people to understand this.  They see what they  see, and judge accordingly.  I remember thinking how ancient I thought great-aunts and uncles seemed, when they were the age I am now. 

Aging is a being-there experience, as we used to call our school field trips.  You have to go through it yourself.  You have to enjoy and weather the different decades of your life.  I don’t know if it should be compared to earning something, but I guess more people work harder at getting through it.

I close these random thoughts with the best thing I read today:

You don’t stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing.”

–George Bernard Shaw


Man of Letters, Words, Phrases, Sentences, Books


Theodore Roosevelt Delivering Speech, Providence, Rhode Island ...

Theodore Roosevelt talked a lot.

Six years ago when I started this blog, I wanted to publicize my study of our twenty-sixth president to a larger audience.  I’d finished my book about his childhood as a naturalist but continued to find he was more fascinating with each new thing I read about him.

Not only did TR like to talk, but he put 35 books and 150,000 letters down on paper (not counting personal letters before and after his presidency).  At one point, thinking his political career was going nowhere,  he referred to himself as a “literary feller.”

You may or may not realize his common catchphrases still in use today.  “Good to the last drop,” “the right stuff,” “throwing my hat into the ring,” and “lunatic fringe” came from him.  His political programs, “The New Nationalism” and “The Square Deal” sound familiar, don’t they?  Cousin Franklin, a TR wannabe from the time he was in college, combined them to make…The New Deal.  Seems the country wasn’t ready to adopt Theodore’s progressive ideas until it was in such a hole in the 30s.

A good friend and superb re-enactor of Theodore Roosevelt, Larry Marple, set to sharing TR’s thoughts on his Facebook page during the past month.  With his permission, I have copied some of them below.  Larry and his wife, Julia, who portrays Edith Roosevelt, spend the summers in Medora, North Dakota, enlightening visitors about the Roosevelts’ time in the West.

“There is no effort without error and shortcoming…”


“There must be honesty in public life…”


“That land of the West has gone now…”


“Some of my supporters sent me a small bear…”


I will share more of these delightful vignettes in a future blog.  Check out the Marples’ re-inactments on

Mr. Tiger

At the corner of Michigan and Trumball Streets in Detroit stands a nice, new Police Athletic League baseball field.  Its cheerful astroturf spreads out over a rebuilding neighborhood, taking up a fraction of what it replaced, the old Tiger Stadium.

Once a summer in the 1960’s, my dad would load up a few of us kids and his own dad to travel from our home in Indiana to a Major League game in the overgrown city.   I remember the largeness of it, the old wooden seats and stairs, and the popcorn smell.  But most of all, I remember the names of the players.  Willie Horton, Bill Freehan.  Mickey Lolich.  Rocky Colavito  (loved to roll that one around on my tongue).  Norm Cash, Dick McCauliffe, and Don Wert.  But always, always, there was one we looked forward to cheering for the most: Al Kaline.

Al Kaline remembered for talent, graciousness | Baseball Hall of Fame

Happy Birthday Al Kaline!!! | 30-Year Old Cardboard

Albert William Kaline joined the Tiger organization straight out of his Baltimore high school in 1953, and never left.   Two years later he was the youngest player to win the American League batting title.  A right fielder, he played in the All-Star game 15 times, won 10 Golden Glove Awards and was elected into the Hall of Fame the first year he was eligible, 1980.  He played 22 seasons before retiring.

I guess what made Kaline, who passed away at age 85 last week, the hero to us was what a good guy he was.  “I’ve always served baseball to the best of my ability,” he said.  “Never have I deliberately done anything to discredit the game, the Tigers, or my family.”  He didn’t have to tell us that, though.  We knew.

Brooks Robinson said Kaline was the best all-around player he ever faced.  The Detroit Free Press echoed that “he was a living monument of how gracefully baseball could be played.”

His #6 jersey was the first to be retired by the ball club.  Wearing it he had racked up 3,007 hits and 399 home runs.  In all, he scored over 1600 runs and drove in about as many.  He was a consistent defensive player in the outfield.

It was a racially dishevilled Detroit in 1968 when they played in the World Series.  Al had broken his arm that summer, and didn’t think he deserved to be in the lineup — but how could fans be denied a part for their favorite Tiger?  And they beat St. Louis for the title. 

He stayed with Detroit as a television and a radio announcer, side-by-side with George Kell and Ernie Harwell.  Many warm Saturdays I would open the front screen door to the sight of my dad listening to them broadcast a game as he washed the car.

In 2018 there was a 50th Anniversary celebration at Comerica Park for the great 1968 team.  My uncle, cousin, brother and I sat in “Kaline’s Corner” to see and hear the old players again.  

It was just as exciting as it was in the 60s.  Heroes are heroes.  Al Kaline was a gift, another star to look up at.  While readers may revere different baseball players, I, along with Mitch Albom and Jim Price, will always remember Mr. Tiger.

Information from AP reports and the Detroit Free Press.


Perfect title for a blog post. 

For a long time I wanted to use that word for a headline, and considered what the content might be. Pelted by Nicaraguan monkeys with fruit from a palm tree? Returning from a night out at the movies and a Big Boy restaurant in high school?  Or..

Better to go with the obvious.  The world tends to see us in the era we came from.  Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, and sometimes it just is.  

A barrage of senior photographs on Facebook honoring this year’s graduates who won’t get to finish their studies on campus has prompted memories of the way things were.  Of hair, of clothing, of thinner faces and whiter teeth.  Many of us have crossed the bridge of seeing the difference in ourselves then vs. now.  I commented to a friend that he looked the same almost 50 years later.  “I wish,” he replied, but it was true to me.

When does something go out of fashion?  Not only clothing, but music, architecture, furniture, art, TV genres?  I remember one time the press hyped President Reagan for setting a new style when he wore a dapper suit.  Surely well-dressed men would follow.  Then he simply told them, “It’s an old suit.”

Take being cooped up at home, like most of us have been in the last month.  Is it dated to put together a puzzle, talk more to family, write letters, send packages, invent new games, and read what you put on the shelf two years ago for lack of time?  Notice I did not mention cleaning out closets.  If you did that, you’re on your own.  Cleaners and avoiders each stand the test of time.

What’s never out of style is noticing sunrises and sunsets and marveling at spidery leaves of a crocus among its lavender blooms.  Spotting red cardinals, blue bluejays, and hearing woodpeckers hammering on trees in the distance.  Looking at photos of wedding cakes and videos of baby giggles.  And rediscovering the echo of a train moving through a crossing nearby.


Vintage Schwinn Girls Bicycle


Objects on The Antiques Roadshow, American Pickers, and forgive me, Pawn Stars, date us when we recognize them as from “our time.”  Are they antiques?  I had a bike like that!

The black-and-whiteness of time discrimination dissolves a bit more, and turning off media reports helps, too.  When we get to get together again in person, may we keep in mind that the inside of all of us is more important than the outside.  And it is a privilege to have lived in whatever time from which we came.



Developing Story

Behind every story you read there is a story of how it came to be.

If you think authors open their little notebooks and choose one of the ideas from a long list they’ve been keeping, well, maybe some do.  But unusual and fascinating circumstances have perpetrated and entwined the tales we love.

When Madeleine L’Engle turned 40, she told herself she would quit writing and pay more attention to her children.  However, she reneged and completed a novel by the end of the year, submitting it to 40 publishers.   They all rejected it.  At a tea party she hosted for her mother, she presented one of the guests with a copy of that story (for children) which involved quantum physics.  He liked it and in 1962 A Wrinkle in Time rolled off the presses.

Madeleine L'Engle


Bennett Cerf, whom you may remember from the old show What’s My Line,  bet Theodore Geisel $50 he couldn’t write a book with just 50 words.  The result was Green Eggs and Ham; Geisel won the bet, but Cerf’s publishing company won the contract.  Hope he shared more of it with Geisel, whose pen name was Dr. Seuss.

C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien once flipped a coin to choose new genres to write from.  While  Lewis’s space trilogy was very successful, Tolkien’s book on time travel was not.  Oh well, Bilbo made it up for him.

Successful ad writer Edmund Morris changed his focus and began writing a screenplay about Theodore Roosevelt and his ranch in the Badlands of North Dakota.  He kept finding more information, and more information, filling filing cabinets with meticulous note cards.  The resulting first book, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1980.  He followed with two more volumes of the biography, carefully choosing which notes to use at the back, which are interesting to read in and of themselves.

Several movies center around the writing process, one of which, All the President’s Men, starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as green reporters, blatantly demonstrates the guts of how a story comes into being.  Up Close and Personal, also starring Redford, deals with a young woman who becomes a network news anchor, showing how her storytelling expertise is built bit by bit.  The recent Man Who Invented Christmas with Dan Stevens unravels  how Charles Dickens discovered the characters and plot for A Christmas Carol.  He’d begun with the idea of exposing starved and overworked children in London.

The Man Who Invented Christmas | Kanopy

I was meaning to write a book called Pure Act (the title from a Henry Adams’ quote) about Theodore Roosevelt, until I discovered what Mr. Morris had done.  So I narrowed my topic to TR’s passion for natural history as a child.  I wrote a beautiful four-page outline and never used it.   I started accumulating notes, like Edmund did — and those sources led to other sources, taking on a life of their own.

I wouldn’t say that stories write themselves.  I would say that the stories are there, though, and present themselves to writers who take time to make the mistakes necessary to bring them to readers.

Some factual information from and



Ruins of Aristotle’s Lyceaum in Athens.

Educated: A Memoir is a current bestseller written by a young lady who broke away from her family’s systematic brainwashing, graduated from Harvard and Cambridge Universities, and gave the world of readers plenty to think about.

But being educated has much more to it than finding the right teachers and environment, as families are discovering in the present shut-in days of e-learning.  

A child learns to read, and then reads to learn.  A very simple statement, but it embodies the whole idea of independent education.  Teachers, mentors and coaches are needed for modeling, encouragement and advice.  It is important for them  to promote independent learning as much as they can.  Students will go much further than solely completing requirements of the best elementary schools, high schools, and universities.

The ancient Greeks are responsible for the finest education “best practices”  in history.  Socrates’ method was questioning, Plato had an academy in a garden next to a gymnasium, and one of the first think tanks.  His student, Aristotle, worked in a building called the Lyceaum (pictured above) in which he had a big library and regular “serious” morning classes, but also symposiums, or festive meals in the evening.  Nothing like food you get your protoges’ attention.  He emphasized the hands-on, including studying habits of insects and dissecting larger creatures.

Movers and shakers in our nation’s past were prime independent learners.  James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, spent his sickly childhood reading all the books in his father’s library; Theodore Roosevelt, also pretty much an invalid until he willed himself into better health, taught himself to be a naturalist with knowledge comparable to that of a supervisor in the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History.

On the back cover of The Amazing Bird Collection of Young Mr. Roosevelt which I published in 2014, I listed some of his traits: curiosity, learning from playing and imitating animal sounds, making up his own games, taking risks, making observations in notebooks, sketching, and sharing the information he found with family and friends.  Sound familiar?  Your kids do the same.

If you look up characteristics of independent learners, you will find some of these —

  • Being  active instead of passive
  • Being ready to change rapidly and apply new skills
  • Structuring learning time themselves
  • Assessing themselves, focusing on process rather than product  

All right on.

In Indiana the Lilly Foundation provides teacher fellowships every summer for instructors’ and administrators’ independent study, but are not required to be  in the recipients’ field: just something they are curious about.  I can tell you from participating in two of these grants that the knowledge and experiences I gained go far beyond any course or plan of study.  And I have learned much from other fellows in all areas.

Emotion drives learning, as parents and caregivers are realizing with every day of current stay-at-home rules.  One source I looked at said that a drawback of independent study is cost, but that’s bunk.  Field trips to the back yard can be enlightening, and so many resources are available on the Internet. from Colonial Williamsburg has scads of things to offer about American History, as does The Library of Congress (  Book lists, especially those of Newbery Award winnners, are a good place to start for reading selections.  Babble Dabble Do on Facebook offers art, math and science activities which I would be using in the classroom if I were not retired.  I’ve seen many others shared by excellent teachers.

I do not suggest that the 20,000 hours children spend in the classroom from Kindergarten through Grade 12 are not needed.  However, kids require more exploring time rather than testing time.  They should be excited to experience more about anything which interests them.  Pedagogical terms and guidelines are OK, but the way to get a kid to learn is to inspire him to find out things on his own.

^   ^   ^   ^   ^   ^   ^

Sources of information include,,,  I was disappointed to find I could not read articles from National Geographic and The Washington Post unless I subscribed.


Two Authors, and the History of Two Centuries

This post is the complete opposite of my last one about an old time Christmas celebration, which came easily and took a short time to write.  A month’s wave of procrastination does not change the will to begin it.

You may notice, while you’re reading, that these words exist in a slightly more streamlined format.  This is I suppose in part due to the style of someone I’ve been thinking about for many weeks – a writer whom I admired greatly – Sylvia Jukes Morris.

Image result for edmund and sylvia morris

The Morrises chat with President and Mrs. Reagan in the 80s.  (NY Times)

It was a shock to learn in early January that she had passed away at her sister’s home in England,  only eight months after her husband’s death from a sudden stroke.

Sylvia was the author of three definitive biographies, one volume on Edith Roosevelt, and two on Clare Boothe Luce.  The latter, of the twentieth century elite, is probably not a household name, but her life story embodies the society and politics of the time.

Sylvia was married for fifty years to Edmund Morris, Pulitzer Prize winner and prolific biographer of Theodore Roosevelt, Ludwig von Beethoven, Ronald Reagan and Thomas Edison.  Like his wife, he found the research on Roosevelt too much to present in a single book, so ultimately he composed a trilogy.  The sum of their work adds much to our knowledge of the 1800s and the 1900s.

Sylvia and Edmund were a team unequaled in talent, poise and personality.  They invited my daughter and I to their Manhattan home in 2006.  We were doing research at the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace, and I’d asked for an interview.  It helped that my husband had created a model of Sagamore Hill, the Roosevelt family home, for Mr. Morris.

I remember a spectacular, monochromatic apartment with stairs leading up to a bookcase-lined mezzanine which overlooked Central Park.  The couple pulled some of their books and autographed them for us.  My daughter identified a modern artist whose original painting hung on their dining room wall, with Edmund complimenting her,  “Good eye!”

We saw them again at a Theodore Roosevelt Association book talk in New York City a few years later.  “Margaret!” she said warmly in her beautiful British voice.  I was pleased she remembered me, and we told her we’d seen her recently on C-Span’s Book TV.

I was hoping very much to go to a book signing when Edmund’s Edison was published, but it was not to be.  The first bound book was delivered to their home in Connecticut shortly before he died.  Then, I hoped we could see her after her period of grief subsided, but that was not to be, either.  “It doesn’t get better – it gets worse,” she told a friend in the fall.

They were so close.  And perhaps it was merciful that she didn’t have to face her first Valentine’s Day without him, but instead join him where their marriage had been made.

A moving tribute to Sylvia may be found at this link:

Powers of a Church


As a rule I mull over and then go after my blog subjects, but on a chill December Sunday one came right to me.

I turned down the top corner of the morning paper to read a short notice about a Christmas service.  What was unusual was that it would be held at a restored church close to where I grew up; in the details were caroling, cider, cookies, and a warning to dress warmly because the building was not heated.

We were to eat lunch with friends at Pokagon State Park near Angola that day, so the 3 p.m. celebration at Historic Powers Church on Old Road 1 was good, if not perfect, timing.


In the middle of the Midwest (York Township of Steuben County), where corn is grown and stored as it was in centuries past, sits the two-room church. It was constructed in 1876, the centennial of our nation.  The Powers Family had settled there 40 years earlier and donated the land.  Building costs were under $2000.


Non-denominational worship services were held every week at the Powers Church for about 50 years.  Then, for another 20 years, it hosted funerals and other community events.  The family and other interested persons refurbished it in the 1970s: with original pews, wallpaper, stoves and pump organ, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.


As we walked in we heard selections of the Christmas story from Luke 2, and a dulcimer accompanying folks who sang the same carols that had echoed in the same place 140 years before.


I looked out a window at a large boulder on which was mounted a plaque telling the church’s history, beyond which is an old cemetery.

Those who rest there would be glad to know their house of worship is still a place where people come to hear the Christmas Story.  It is also open for Sunday services three weekends during the summer.

Currently there is a campaign to raise $40,000 needed to replace the original steeple.  If you are interested in helping, contact Marcia Powers at

Those Little Orange Books

Image result for bobbs merrill biographies

First edition of one in the biography series which appealed to boys and girls.

I often had my nose in a book after the third grade, and usually it was a biography.  Stories about famous people which centered on them when they were my age fascinated me.  I read what they said, what they did, what their families were like and how their way of life differed from mine.  There were over 200 in this series; all were published in the 1940s and 50s by the Bobbs-Merrill Company of Indianapolis.

Image result for bobbs merrill biographies

The covers morphed into blue by the time I checked them out in grade school.

Reading one after another before we studied American History in school, I found that Martha (Patsy) Dandridge and Abigail Smith grew up to be important figures in the colonies. Children who would be leaders on the frontier often had poor childhoods but close families.  The little biographies are classified by some as fiction, because they contain conversation that we don’t know happened, but might have.  The events which the talking evolves around really did, though.  And we were smart enough at the time to realize nobody had an electronic device to record what was said.  Even if they did, who knew the kids would turn out to be key figures of our past?

I just reread Teddy Roosevelt, All-Round Boy, publication date 1953.  From years of doing research about our 26th president, I find most of it to be correct.  Many facts are drawn from TR’s autobiography written in 1913.

I was fortunate to find an old library book in good condition which previewed my current collection of Theodore Roosevelt biographies.

Someone is checking up on the vintage books and issuing revised copies.  Florrie Binford Kichler, who formed Patria Press in 1997 (Bobbs-Merrill was acquired by Howard Sams and then Macmillan in 1985), had read many of the books in her own childhood.  She said she’d had rheumatic fever when she was eight, which required bed rest for three months. “My face lit up every time Aunt Mary came to visit with an orange biography.”  Her first was about Mary Todd.

Silhouetted drawings interpreted events in each subject’s life.  I know from spending time in the Houghton Library at Harvard that this amusing incident took place.  Theodore Roosevelt, and his friend, Freddy Osborn, tipped their hats to the wife of the US Secretary of State, Hamilton Fish.  They forgot that the frogs they had been collecting were in the hats.

Baby Boomers also recall the faceless illustrations on the inside pages.  They resemble scherenschnitte, or paper cutting, which was popular in the early American colonies.  Very different than today’s Who Was… series which plop on the covers a post-modern-looking giant head and shrunken body of the subject.  They, of course, are starkly accurate and leave little to the imagination.  I always liked to think I was there in the chapters of the Bobbs-Merrill ones.  It felt like I could have been in the same room or yard or school, watching and listening.

How about it?  Were you interested in those little orange books?  If so, did it lead to a lifelong love of history?  I’d be interested to hear your story.

A Nation Divided

A man who would be an American president agonized over a situation which could tear the nation apart.

But it wasn’t Abraham Lincoln, and it didn’t concern slavery.  It wasn’t even a division between north and south.  It was George Washington, worried about the east and the west.  The issue was geography: the wilderness which separated original states from the land beyond the mountains to which its citizens were moving.  Would another country try to take this bountiful land from under our noses?

Washington was concerned that we could lose the area on the western side of the Appalachian Mountains to France or Canada, or both, if a better way across those mountains was not figured out.  According to author Peter L. Bernstein in Wedding of the Waters (2005), pioneers moving west didn’t really have an allegiance to the east; with abundant natural resources, western territories could soon wield power on their own.

Patomack Canal company logo

GW’s solution was simple: build a canal system which would hasten travel between the two areas.  He succeeded in engineering the Patowmack Canal to bypass rapids and waterfalls, and began it in 1785.  The waterway was meant to connect the Potomac River with the mountains, but it went bankrupt after he died.

Image result for Patowmack Canal George Washington

The Great Falls of Virginia.  C&O Canal Trust

Conditions for constructing a canal were somewhat in better in New York than Virginia (even though Thomas Jefferson thought even that would be next to impossible).  The United States bought approximately 1/5 of our current land area from France in 1803 via the Louisiana Purchase.  In 1825, due to Governor DeWitt Clinton’s persistence, creativity, and Irish immigrants’ hard labor, the Erie Canal succeeded in marrying the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes.  It was possible to travel east to west and west to east in a fraction of the time it took on horseback, or rivers, whose depth and other natural obstacles prevented a smooth path between settlements.

Image result for Erie Canal

The Erie Canal.

Five miles an hour seems like a snail’s pace, but at that rate of speed provided by the Erie Canal and horses which pulled the packet and freight boats, travel time was significantly reduced.  Passengers and goods could go 363 miles in a comparatively short time.  Citizens settled in new cities and frontiers while farmers sold their surplus crops.  And the United States economy boomed.

Then…the railway system came on the scene.  It copied the same route, with trains giving a much faster option for getting from here to there.  Soon the Atlantic Ocean would be linked by tracks not only with the Great Lakes but with the Pacific Ocean; the Erie Canal, even though expanded, fell into disuse.

It was a vital chapter in our history, though.  It needs to be remembered for both its economic contribution, and the thought that it may have saved a “divided” country.

~      ~      ~

The notion that the Erie Canal saved the early union is just one I’ve uncovered studying for my new book.  I’ll be sharing others along the way, and project that I may be ready to publish in another year.  Canals have a loooooooong history, for sure.