The Suitcase Lady


January 15, 2019, 7:55 pm

I received the news from a friend of mine, a former children’s librarian and soon-to-be-published children’s book author, that John Burningham has died in London at the age of 88.

An award-winning author and illustrator of books for children, Mr. Burningham’s books brim with gentle wit and kindness. He and his wife, Helen Oxenbury, also an author, have been bringing delightful tales to young and old alike for over six decades.

Mr. Gumpy’s Outing is undoubtedly John Burningham’s most famous book. However, when I heard of his passing, the first thing I thought of was avocados.

I stumbled upon his book, Avocado Baby, when I was the children’s storyteller for my local library. All these years later, that book stands out in my mind as one of the funniest books I ever used in my storytimes.

Mr. Burningham’s editor, Kate Fletcher, says, … “he never speaks down to his audience, yet captures the spirit of imagination and inquisitiveness in children so well. In his own words for describing his approach to book-making: ‘There is no demarcation in my work for children and for adults.’ ”

I invite you to see for yourself. Click here for a short YouTube video of a British storyteller reading Avocado Baby.

With the condition that America is in now, we could use an Avocado Baby in our midst.

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January 8, 2019, 8:58 pm

I was driving down the Will Rogers Turnpike in northeast Oklahoma last week when my thoughts turned to the road’s namesake. My favorite quote of his popped into my head: “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.” Having been a card-carrying Democrat all my life, I can attest to the truth of his words.

The drive motivated me to know more about this witty man who H.L. Mencken called, “the most dangerous writer alive.”

William Penn Adair Rogers was born on November 4, 1879, in the Cherokee Nation in Indian Territory. (Oklahoma would not become a state until 1907). His parents were Cherokee and white but identified most closely with their Indian ancestors. In addition to being a prosperous rancher, his father was an attorney and a Cherokee judge.

Will’s wit and intelligence often got him in trouble at home and in various schools when he was growing up. Reaching adulthood, he left the ranch to see the world where he found work in Wild West shows doing rope tricks while telling jokes. This led to the vaudeville circuit and then to the Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway. Will Rogers was a success on Broadway and an even bigger celebrity when he went to Hollywood and appeared in dozens of silent films.

America couldn’t get enough of Will Rogers, and soon he was writing regularly for The Saturday Evening Post and newspapers all over America. By the 1930’s he also had a number of best-selling books including one with the improbable title, “There’s Not A Bathing Suit in Russia”. All the while he continued making films, now talkies, three of which were directed by John Ford.

Will Rogers had a life long love of airplanes and traveled around the world three times making friends wherever he went. In 1935, he and aviator Wiley Post died when their small plane crashed in Barrow, Alaska. All of America mourned the man whose political humor never offended any of its targets. His words remain with us today and are more timely and needed than ever. Here is a sampling:

  • I hope there are some sane people who will appreciate dignity and not showmanship in their choice for the presidency.
  • I don’t make jokes, I just watch the government and report facts.
  • Everything is changing. People are taking their comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke.
  • Why don’t they pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting anybody from learning anything. If it works as well as prohibition did, in five years Americans would be the smartest race of people on Earth.
  • Democrats never agree on anything, that’s why they are Democrats. If they agreed with each other, they would be Republicans.
  • The country has come to feel when Congress is in session as when the baby gets hold of a hammer.


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January 2, 2019, 12:42 am

In the life of a marriage, the total time having sex, wonderful as it is, pales in comparison to the time spent living beside one’s spouse and not having sex. Fortunately for me, I figured this out before I was married.

Finding a mate with great intellectual curiosity was high on my list, and I must say that I hit the jackpot. In 54 years of marriage, my spouse and I have never lacked for interesting things to talk about.

My husband is always researching and working on multiple projects such as water sampling in the local creeks, building an automatic cat food feeder, improving his barista skills and piping the sound of the waves into the house to name a few.

I am usually completely aware of his current endeavors, but one of his recent projects came as a total surprise. For each of the past two years, he has compiled a list of interesting websites for the year. I saw this year’s list for the first time last week and had to stop myself from spending hours immediately checking out many of the articles listed. It is a true potpourri of cool stuff to savor.

I am sure you will find something that piques your curiosity as well. Robert Louis Stevenson got it right when he wrote, “The world is so full of a number of things, I am sure we should all be as happy as kings”.

Happy 2019!

A Few Interesting Websites Found In 2018

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December 25, 2018, 8:59 pm

Christmas is here, and I didn’t get a partridge in a pear tree or any other of those cool gifts, either.

This is no doubt a good thing, as our cats would have a grand time if all 23 birds mentioned in the Twelve Days of Christmas arrived at our doorstep. The carol, however, is a favorite of mine. I’m a hopeless romantic and the song is all about some over-the-top gift giving from an ardent suitor.

The history of the song is fascinating. Although the exact origins cannot be verified, most music historians believe it began in France. I’ll go with this as the French understand romance.

Most experts also agree that the song was a “memory and forfeits” game. If a singer could not correctly recall the sequence, a forfeit such as a kiss had to be given.

In 1780 the first lyrics of the song were printed in London. It took until 1910 for the song to reach America. Credit is given to a music professor, Emily Frances Brown, who taught at Downer College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She came across a copy of the song in a bookstore in Oxford, England, and took it home with her. Her choral groups performed the piece three consecutive years for holiday programs, and its fame spread across America.

Since 1984, the PNC Bank Christmas Price Index calculates the total cost of the song’s gifts. 2018’s total is $39, 094.93. The swans are the budget breakers… swans would set a suitor back $13,125.

As we begin the Twelve Days of Christmas, which are the days between Christmas and the arrival of the Three Kings on January 6, here is a rousing version of the song.



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December 18, 2018, 9:53 pm

“Frappuccino is such a silly word,” my husband remarked to me the other day.

“It certainly is,” I agreed, “and so is the number of calories in those concoctions.” However, he had sparked my curiosity about the origins of the word. A little research revealed that the word is a portmanteau.

The first definition of ‘portmanteau’ in the dictionary is “a large suitcase with two equal compartments.” The second definition is “words that blend the sounds and meanings of two words.”

Note that compound words are not portmanteaus. ‘Starfish’ is a compound word. If turned into a portmanteau it would be ‘stish’.

Frappuccino blends the word ‘frappe’ and ‘cappuccino’. The origins of the word ‘frappe’ are French, but it is also a common word in New England for a milkshake with ice cream. The Greeks have a very popular iced coffee drink they refer to as a frappe as well, and they invented it long before Starbucks came on the scene.

Portmanteaus are sprinkled throughout the English language:

  • motel- motor hotel
  • smog- smoke fog
  • moped- motor pedal
  • dumbfound- dumb confound
  • flexitarian- flexible vegetarian
  • bash- bang smash
  • wallaroo- wallaby kangaroo
  • hassle- haggle tussle

Those of us who love to travel come across many ingenious place name portmanteaus at borders:

  • Lake Wissota
  • Delmar
  • Arkoma
  • Calexico
  • Calneva
  • Florala
  • Idavada
  • Kanorado
  • Michiana
  • Texarkana
  • Texhoma

And let’s not forget SeaTac, the airport between Seattle and Tacoma.

To conclude, my least favorite portmanteau at the moment is Brexit. My favorite is pictured below. It’s our CATIO. The cats agree with me on this.



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