Browsing Archives for Books & Letters

Here we have the Hyannis Port Kennedy Compound. Note the sweeping lawn, the white house, the porch and the multiple pointy roofs.

And now my house – note the sweeping lawn, the porch, the white house, the multiple pointy roofs.

Here we have a bunch of Kennedys lined up in matching bathing suits with matching parts in their matching heads.

Here we have a bunch of my family lined up with matching uh…matching um… matching arms akimbo.

Here is the famous photo of Robert and Ethel Kennedy’s family stretched out in front of a Italian Villa type mansion.

And here is the famous photo where we are sort of lined up and sort of in front of an Italian villa. Okay not really – but maybe… if you squint… really hard.

And now Jack goes for a touchdown pass in front of yet another Kennedyesque gorgeous, timeless, classic American dream house posed beautifully amidst majestic oaks on a sprawling lawn.

And here are several photos of my family doing the exact same thing.

Except it is colder.

And muddier.

And a little rougher.

I am not sure the Kennedys could handle it.

Oh and um… we have a bulldozer parked in the background and we don’t know if the bulldozer guy is ever going to come back and get it. Other than that….

The same…

Salvaged Brick Sidewalk

January 2nd, 2008

This story begins with a nice pile of bricks. A pile of bricks that our family salvaged from an old sidewalk in town which ran in front of my friend Kara’s house. Kara was having a new sidewalk put in and called to let me know that we could take the old bricks out of her sidewalk before the concrete truck arrived – if we still wanted them. We did want them and spent the next two weekends digging the bricks out of her old sidewalk, loading them into the back of the pick-up, driving them out to our building site, and unloading them.

After the immense effort of moving those bricks, I am sorry to tell you that we grew a bit prideful of them. Nevermind the new house, the quaint barn, the view, the pond and the shiny new kitchen cabinets… WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE OUR SALVAGED BRICKS?

Because we salvaged them…


And this makes us much better than most people on earth. Because WE ARE SALVAGERS…and EVERYONE in AMERICA knows that re-using old building materials is what makes you closest to God these days.

This is what our sidewalk looked like back when I was having a delirious visit from Beverley Nichols, my favorite garden author.
Over the course of the summer, the only thing that changed in this path was that the weeds got taller and taller and taller. I am very glad Beverley was not around to see that happen.
One of the reasons for the delay, was that we needed to pick a pattern in which to lay the bricks. While on the UC Berkeley campus – we found our inspiration.

In the shadow of a tall clock tower were bricks in a herringbone pattern. We thought if it was good enough for Berkeley, it was good enough for us.

Back home, the Country Doctor, tilled up the dirt in the sidewalk.

Mixed in some cement.

And then we had to move the pile of bricks from behind the house to beside the pathway.
I did not help with this step as I had seen a black snake crawl out of this pile of bricks earlier that summer and had no interest whatsoever in seeing him again.

I was further vindicated when the Country Doctor found a snake skin.

The bricks were unloaded in various piles around the pathway. You can see here the sand and the screed that the Country Doctor built to smooth out the surface evenly before setting the bricks in place.

Here’s the screed again…
At least I think it is called a screed.
And here is a live snake they found in the brick pile.

The Country Doctor lined both edges of the pathway with bricks placed end to end, and then he started working on the herringbone pattern.

It was about here that we realized how many bricks we were going to have to cut to make this pattern work.

And right about here, we realized that we would be cutting bricks to fill in the holes in this pathway for the rest of our lives.
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And when I say “we would be cutting bricks” ….

I actually mean “the Country Doctor” would be cutting bricks.
Because my hands started to sweat buckets every time I watched my husband slice one of those bricks in half. I eventually had to retreat to the porch and sit there helplessly, fanning myself with a wide brimmed straw hat, saying things like “I do declare!” and “Glory be!” and “Heavens to Betsy!”
Besides, why exactly did I have all these boys, if not to help their father build a brick pathway?

Here is Drew marking chalk lines on the bricks to show their dad where to make a cut.

The thousands and thousands…..

And millions and trillions of precise brick cuts…

Eventually, the Country Doctor wore out the blade on the big saw and for the last twenty odd cuts he used a hand saw.

This is the last brick!

This is the last cut!

But it isn’t over yet.
I was able to help the Country Doctor spread a fine layer of sand over the sidewalk as there were no snakes and no saw involved. But I did have to take frequent breaks to drink my coffee, admire my roses, practice some modern dance steps on the sweeping front lawn and oh yeah… take some pictures….
The final step involves sweeping the sand into all the cracks and crevices in between the bricks…

And using one of these thingys to… to… Heck I have no idea what that machine does.

Jack gave the new/old sidewalk a test drive.

Here is the Country Doctor standing on his new brick pathway.

Nice job Honey!
Now honey… we have to get that other sidewalk done.

Due to a recent article I wrote about Phillip Pullman and The Golden Compass, I had a request to mention some of my favorite children’s books. There is only one author that I begin this series of posts with – one of my very favorite children’s authors of all time – Arnold Lobel.

Arnold started out as an illustrator during the “Dick see Jane…run Spot run era of children’s literature.” Soon after Dr. Seuss swept onto the scene and introduced a drastically new approach to children’s books and how they are written, Arnold Lobel was encouraged, by his agent, to write an “easy reader”. The resulting book Frog and Toad are Friends left a deep impression on the children’s literary market with Lobel’s dry wit and quirky sense of humor.

Since he was trying to write an “easy reader” Arnold used short sentences and oft repeated words and phrases in the first book. This style of writing made his characters, Frog and Toad, seem almost neurotic or maybe they just are neurotic, either way, it became a stylistic part of their charm creating a book that was funny and warm and was named a Caldecott Honor book.

The Frog and Toad books are classics. We read these books to all of our boys, but also found that one of the few ways we could get our oldest son to sleep at night without hours of drama, was to play the Frog and Toad tapes in his room after the lights were out. Lobel’s deep warm voice somehow comforted our son and miraculously soothed him to sleep.

Frog and Toad are so recognizable, funny and endearing that you will find yourself laughing out loud as you read them and comparing them to people you know or to yourself and your spouse which is what we inevitably did. The Country Doctor is sooooo Frog and I am sooooo Toad. I still love to read these books and I have read these books literally hundreds of times.

A series of books that is somewhat similar to the Frog and Toad series are the George and Martha Books by James Marshall. Also an illustrator, James created two hippos to share stories of silliness and demonstrate how to be a good friend. These stories are told in a more traditional picture book format, while Frog and Toad are easy readers, but kids of all ages will enjoy them.

So if you are looking for a good set of books to check out from your local library, buy at your local bookstore or HEY – even purchase RIGHT HERE on my site! I would have to recommend Arnold Lobel and James Marshall. I can almost guarantee that you will not be disappointed.