Vote Your Choice!

Primary voting begins in Texas on Tuesday, March 1. November’s General Election Ballot choices are being made in each state starting now. See dates at bottom. No right to complain later if you don’t vote in your State Primary! Find candidates at http://www.vote.org.

Sure, there’s less whoopla about the candidates, no Presidential or Senator’s races in some states, but here in Texas we have candidates for the top State offices, including Governor. If you are one of the 17 million eligible voters in Texas (who haven’t voted in the Early Voting) March 1 is your last opportunity. (For a list of dates for Primary in the other states -see below.)

It’s your right and responsibility to go to the polls to vote to help solve local, state, and national problems. Particularly right now, as citizens in Ukraine are fighting to remain free and hold tight to their free and fair elections, you who can do so must exercise this right.

I live in Texas, where people are flocking to avoid state taxes. * We do have our own challenges. Voting precincts are being carved up to favor one Party’s candidates, but that is even more reason for Texans to VOTE. Texas historically has had one of the lowest rates of voting in primary elections, 25% in 2020. Even general elections do not entice substantial numbers of voters to turnout here –the rate rose to 66% in 2020, but that’s not a number to brag about. Texans don’t like to rank so low, preferring to be at the top. SO help Texas get on top as a voting state.

Important choices indeed. By failing to vote in a primary, you are leaving it up to others to decide who will be on the ballot in November. Write in candidates very, very rarely stand a chance to win. Others will decide, leaving you with a far-left or a far-right candidate from which to pick. Today’s much smaller net of Primary voters tends to cling to the two sides of the political spectrum because they are voting with their ideology, not their community in mind.

Do not forfeit these crucial primary decisions about who will represent you and be on your ballot in November. If you sleep in, work late, or go out to lunch instead of voting, you let someone else make the decisions about who will lead in Washington, your State Capitol, your local government, and your neighborhood.

If you want to help America to pull back from the edges, check out the League of Women Voter’s Voting Guide online. www.vote.org It publishes a nonpartisan flyer about the candidates and short biographies. If you cannot find this in your community, then go to your local library for a listing of the candidates along with biographical information.  Be informed. If you go to the polls without doing a bit of research, you might actually vote against your best interest. It is well worth the effort to strengthen your community, your State, your country by participating.

Now MORE THAN EVER is the time to vote in your STATE’S Primary. Here’s a list of the Primary voting dates in the States. Check for 2022 Primary times and locations. Go to www.vote.org for local information by inserting your zip code to get specific information about candidates you will be voting for in your precinct at the time of the primary in your state.

State Primary Timetable

DATE                                 STAT

March   1                          Texas, Georgia, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania 

                                           Michigan also listed on Aug. 12. First date is the primary.

May 3                                Indiana, Ohio

May 10                              Nebraska, West Virginia

May 17                              Idaho, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania

May 24                              Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas

June 7                                California, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, South Dakota

June 14,                            Maine, Nevada, North Dakota, South Carolina, Virginia

June 28                              Illinois, Colorado, Maryland, New York, Oklahoma, Utah

August 2                            Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Washington

August 4                            Tennessee

August 9                            Connecticut, Minnesota, Vermont, Wisconsin

August 13                         Hawaii

August 16                         Alaska, Wyoming

August 23                         Florida

September 6                    Massachusetts

September 13                  Delaware, New Hampshire, Rhode Island

November 8                     Louisiana

Exercise your right. Get to the polls early or before 4 pm, so you don’t get lost in the 7-8 pm and avoid the wait.. Insure you don’t miss your opportunity. I commend those of you who stand in long lines. Bring water or snacks, just in case. Trust me, it is worth the effort!

*There are no state taxes and the schools are supported by local property taxes in Texas. Tough decisions will need to be made to maintain quality elementary, secondary, and higher education institutions Texan’s brag about. With the growing number of people flocking to the state, timely decisions about the energy grid that supports the Lone Star state are also essential to those living here. So important decisions need to be made here and in every state. Primaries are the entry point, so we have the most qualified people running in November.

Lincoln’s: Kid’s Story Birth of Lincoln’s Beard!

Lincoln reaches out to shake Grace Bedell’s hand in 1861. Lincoln stopped on his pre-inaugural train tour in her hometown to thank her. SONY DSC

Did an 11-year-old influence a national election?

Story to remember Abraham Lincoln on his birthday 213 years ago (February 12, 1809).

On October 15, 1860, * eleven-year-old Grace Bedell from Westfield, New York, wrote a letter to Abraham Lincoln, a candidate for President from Illinois. She admitted it was “very bold” for her to write just a few weeks before the national election. But she “very much” wanted Lincoln to be President.

Grace Bedell statue in Westfield, New York, commemorating the meeting with Lincoln (1861).

Grace wrote Lincoln that her father “came home from the fair and brought your picture.” She noticed in the picture that Lincoln had a narrow face. “You would look a great deal better if your whiskers grew,” she wrote. Then suggested that “ladies like whiskers” and would “tease their husbands” to vote for Lincoln.

Judge for yourself. Remember facial standards of beauty change throughout time. The image on the left showed Lincoln as a younger man. The right shows Lincoln during the Civil War, when his worries show.

Her four brothers were split on who they preferred for President. But both of her parents supported Abe. She agreed with them.

Before completing her note, she asked Lincoln if he had any daughters. If you have any daughters “as large as I am,” give them my love. Grace thought maybe this older daughter, if he had one, could write her back if Lincoln were too busy.

A copy of Lincoln’s return letter latter typed for preservation. Typewriters were not invented until 1874.

Lincoln responded within the week, thanking Grace for her “very agreeable letter of the 15th. Regrettably, I have no daughters, but three sons: seventeen, nine, and seven.”  At the time of the letter Lincoln questioned the whiskers: “As to the whiskers, having never worn any, do you think people would call it a piece of silly affection if I were to begin it now?”

He closed with “very sincere well wishes.”

After the 1860 Presidential Election, Lincoln took a long train trip to Washington, D.C. from Illinois for his inauguration. Lincoln visited several larger cities, including New York City and Philadelphia. But he made a special stop in one small town: Westfield, New York. There he thanked Grace and had a surprise. He bent his tall figure down to shake Grace’s hand, so she could get a better look at his face:

“You see I grew these whiskers for you!” +

Your chance: Presidents and governors answer letters from Americans of all ages. Maybe you would like to express your thoughts and opinions. You can write the President today at:

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Washington, DC 20500        or      open   White House.gov   to send an email message.

Your thoughts and ideas are important because you will become voters who are especially important to America’s future!

————————

*More than five months into the Civil War  

+ America did not have national pollsters in 1860 and the letter came so close to the election, the impact Lincoln’s whiskers is impossible to judge. But Lincoln did continue to wear them. He either thought they helped soften his image or he liked not needing to shave!

January Requires Bright Lights!

Kew Gardens’ digital light show delivers in London.

Palm House (above), a turn-of-the-century greenhouse, provides the ultimate setting

My crazy time in London (see January 17 blog) offered me a chance to see the digital light display at the Royal Botanical Kew Gardens before coming home. But much more than just a light display, Tchaikovsky’s classical Swan Lake creates sugar plum fairies and toy soldiers and helps us imagine the fluffy white swans on the lake in front of the showpiece multi-story, antique Palm House.

Become a kid again as you walk the magical trail through the grounds at Kew.

Kew’s imaginative winter wonderland provides digital delights for young and old. Plus, the two-mile jaunt winds through well-tended gardens aglow with imaginative light displays designed by London’s finest. Everything kicks off its first tour at 4:20 pm because London’s December brings total darkness ten minutes later. Along the way to help bolster the spirits of youngsters: hot chocolate with whipped cream, gingerbread cookies, and miniature mincemeat pies. Adults could choose from mulled cider, hot rum, or champagne paired with gingerbread, waffles, or churros (nice and crunchy, which I would expect to find in Texas!).

Take an opportunity to roast some colorful marshmellows among the forest of imagination!

My iPhone photos can’t do justice to the array of colors or the creative pairing of twinkling, syncopated, throbbing lights along the path, draping the trees and far overhead. My daughter’s skills far exceed mine, but the urge to enjoy the evening’s festivities overtook our desire to record the sights. So, without stepping on others ‘ creative work, I will attempt to dip into photography from Kew and other sources.

Trees are aglow with a silver beauty that resembles ice cycles. Christmas at Kew

I hope those who view this blog will consider a trip to London in a non-Pandemic future to see Kew Gardens for yourselves. It is a spectacular display that envelops and uplifts the spirit with music, color, and creative genius. Wonderful anytime, but there’s a reason it reaches out at Christmas and as the beginning of 2022 stretches out before us with promise!

A walk through this block of arched creamy-white lights seems almost a religious experience, as it reminds one of a cathedral of solitude.

As we move into February, take a little solitude, match it with hope, and thoughts of future joy in the year ahead.

There you have it. A roundabout comparison of language and a few tidbits tossed in for flavor. Next: I will finish my tales from the UK discussing Paul McCartney’s Lyrics book on display at the British Library and an interview he gave regarding the Beatles’ songs. Next I’ll address managing our habits for good or ill—how we can gear up for change.

London Sunrise

Positive British Words

East Sheen, a neighborhood south of London, 6:00 am. December 27, 2021

Nothing like a burning sunrise to encourage the day’s potential to shine. I took this photo from the third floor of a townhouse in East Sheen, off Richmond Road, about 20 minutes from Heathrow Airport. A few days later, Omicron descended upon everyone in the townhouse, one after another.

Looking on the positive side, being vaxxed and boosted paid off for the family and me. I got off with a few days sounding like an imitation Lauren Bacall with her deep voice. No fever or loss of taste or smell. Even the youngest only experienced fever at night. Being together for Omicron certainly beat being apart and not knowing its impact on the family.

As I settled in for a few Omicron days, I decided to use the time to make an amateur’s study of the differences in the British take on “English” and words employed by their American cousins. I enjoyed a quote by George Bernard Shaw: Britain and America—”two countries divided by a common language.” At the end I will include a comparison of the words that appealed to me. Some words surprised me, for example, my grandsons wore “jumpers.” Really? While I think of myself as open-minded, this didn’t seem likely. Until I learned their school sweaters were called “jumpers.” I got used to it.

Even though gray skies are the norm (50% of the time) and the pitter-patter of rain falls frequently in London, the Brits take it in stride. They manage to maintain their sense of humor. The words most likely to be heard are “lovely” and “cheers.” The cakes (British Baking Show), garden roses (even in December), and children are “lovely.” One thinks of earlier references to Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon in America, where “the women are strong, the men are good looking, and the children are above average.”

But this is different. The language expresses a refreshing outlook, particularly as we roll into the second year of the Pandemic. Omicron races through neighborhoods in London, just as it does in America. Yet “lovely” expresses a tone, that denotes a positive forward attitude, whether  or not it’s just the usual response in Britain. “Cheers” is a multipurpose response. “Cheers, I’m glad to see you.” “Cheers, your team/my team won the game.” “Cheers, to the high school/college graduate” (though the term high school is somewhat different in England). To be authentic, you want to sound more like Prince Charles or his mum, the Queen, and pronounce it “chairs.”

The third word that often reached my American ears: “brilliant.” You might judge that not everything that gets this tag could live up to the American meaning; that isn’t the point. I believe people strive for higher goals based on expectations. Rather than judging children’s initial attempt as being below the bar and criticizing the attempt, would it be more productive to find their effort “brilliant” in some area? Then they might be encouraged to “give it a go,” as the Brits would say, and continue striving?

As Omicron took the East Sheen neighborhood by storm, neighbors would say “touch wood” to wave it off in a comical way. Later I learned this was the British version of “knock on wood” and wondered how it evolved (see below). Challenges occur on both sides of the Atlantic. How you react is the key to your success.

{Touch Wood Superstition – Pick your as version. The first traces to the Celtics, who were said to knock on trees to prevent ruining their good luck and to “thank the leprechauns.” Or the Christian version—the wood of Christ’s cross was said to protect against the evil of the devil. Then, the German perspective: Stammtisch’s tavern had a table made of oak. According to legend, the guests believed that touching the table brought protection against the devil, who was unable to touch oak. Finally, in the 1800s, children developed a chasing game, “Ticky Touchwood.” Those children who touched wood were immune from being tagged.}

Downton Abbey Incentive

Like many American females taken by the male accents they heard on Downton Abbey, I enjoyed listening to British speech in London, even if I did not always understand the meaning of the words. To continue my British education, I listen to the BBC report on NPR in Austin. I have produced a chart of British words and equivalent American usage—some from first-hand discovery, others unique comparisons I thought you would enjoy.

Traffic Safety – Britain vs. America

Finally, I could not finish without a few words about traffic safety. It amazed me that there are many fewer stoplights in London than in Washington, D.C. or any other major American city. Scattered along city streets are “pelicans”– large yellow dots of light about five foot above the pavement that arise from single poles along highways, like Richmond Road. (Thus the name “pelicons,”in keeping with the British sense of humor.) Pedestrians push a button, then step out into the street as traffic stops. It’s hard to believe cars will stop, but they do. Roundabouts are circular roadways that allow drivers to cross to one of three directions–to the first right, straight across, or the second right–from where they entered. Virginia installed some further out rural areas, where highways met. They worked, but drivers would need to adjust!

Driving on the left side of the road also requires drivers to make their left-hand turn without driving in front of oncoming traffic–one of the more dangerous moves American drivers make. But drivers coming in from sidestreets depend on courtesy of other Britaish drivers, who let each other into the lane of traffic. It works because drivers exceed expectations. The statistics show the difference. Britain’s population is one-fifth of the United States, with 68 million Brits to 335 million Americans. The U.S. had 36,560 traffic fatalities (not collisions or injuries, but deaths) in 2018 vs. 1839 in Britain. Based on population, one-fifth of the fatalities would total 7312. Granted Britain is much smaller geographically, with fewer large cities and smaller towns not as far flung, but England lost a fraction of its people to driving fatalities.

One possibility might be that getting a driver’s license in England is more complicated than in the States. People study seriously to pass. Some compare it to getting a PhD. in safety. This may be too much of a challenge, but somewhere in the middle of the British difficulty and frankly the American ease in getting a license might be called for. Teenagers, as a rule, in Britain don’t attempt a license until they are older. Senior drivers are increasing in both countries, creating other challenges. Making it more difficult to get a license in America would be difficult to sell–but are we willing to lose more people on the highways? The simple fact is that in the U.S. highway fatalities are roaring back after the Pandemic’s emptier roads.  

OK, off soapbox. So what do they call khaki pants in the U.K.? Trousers. Look below for a more complete list comparing American and British English words.

British                                   American

            agony aunt                          advice columnist

            (dust) bin                             garbage can     An aging aunt: “I don’t think I’m ready for the bin.”

            barrister                               attorney           A barrister prepares documents but is not in court.

            biscuits                                cookie

            bonnet                                 car hood

            casualty                               emergency room

            draughts                              checkers

            flats                                     apartments

            car park                               parking lot

            chemist                               pharmacy/drug store

             crisps                                  potato chips

            dual carriageway              divided highway

            football                             soccer          Parents of elementary kids play in the evening.

            high street                         main street      See: “London’s High Streets” my December 17 Blog.

            (bank) holiday                  vacation            As we have vacations, Brits have holidays.

            Juggernaut                        18-wheeler        In London, commercial trucks are smaller in UK.

            jelly babies                        jelly beans

            ice lolly                             Popcycle

            green fingers                    green thumb

            knickers                           female underwear

            maths                               math                  British figure there is more than 1 type of math.

            nappy                               diapers

            pet hate                            pet peeve

            pavement                         sidewalk        Not paved, but ill-fitting 12″ squares mashed together.

            pub                                   bar               Pub food is better. Variety. Well beyond wings & BBQ.

            reception                          preschool                                                         

            reception room               living room Ground floor, floors above are the first floor.

            removals                         movers

            ring road                         beltway

            roundabout                     traffic circles  

            torch                               flashlight                                                                                              trousers                           pants

underwear            pants Confusion: When you say “pants” in UK, it means underwear.

            vest                                 undershirt

            Wellies                            rain boots

There you have it. A roundabout comparison of language and a few tidbits tossed in for flavor. In February will folow up with Paul McCartney’s Lyrics exhibit at the British Library (and a link to his YouTube interview discussing his life’s work. Next we’ll address the habits that we seek to manage at the turn of the year to see if we might turn a leaf on our own 2021 old songs.

Time to Consider a Change

A little boy looks off into the future.

Time to Consider a Change

Time to Consider a Change

After Ryan Seacrest brings down the Waterford Crystal Ball at Times Square for the 17th time on ABC and Miley Cyrus and Pete Davidson host a dance party on NBC, you’ve got 2022 front and center.

Few will mourn 2021. It’s been rough personally, politically, and professionally. We had enough of isolation and mask-wearing with Covid during 2020. I hoped we could bid the Pandemic adieu by January 2021. But, no, we were destined to take another dive into vaccinations and boosters, as the divisions reigned between those who agreed to take the former. While vax-ers are not immune to Covid, they’re not filling hospital beds or straining the medical staffs for the fourth time, like those resisting vaccination and masking.

Granted a date certain for the official END of the Pandemic cannot be predicted. But the 1918 Pandemic coasted to a close after a mild opening, then a lethal blow, like Delta in the U.S., but petering out on a mild tail, resembling uber-contagious Omicron that is rushing through neighborhoods and families throughout the globe, but without the lethal consequences.

Now 2022 stretches out in front of us as a time when the Pandemic could no longer dominate our lives as it did in 2020 and 2021. It’s time to consider a future when we would no longer be isolated if we no longer choose it.

My suggestion: Take the clean slate 2020 presents you and put it to good use. Select one element of your life that you would like to change. Before you complain that you don’t make New Year’s Resolutions because you disappoint yourself before the end of January. You fail every time.

Maybe you should try another strategy.

Kay Milkman in How to Change-The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You want to Be lays it out. “Making hard things seem fun is a much better strategy than making hard things seem important, according to Milkman.

Behavior change requires setting tough goals, breaking them down into the component steps. Visualize your success as you create tiny working habits that you build your own customized strategy. In doing this, identify the weakness that has prevented you from making progress and succeeding.

Milkman began her research into human behavior as a assistant professor of Wharton. She realized why Americans die earlier than they should: 40 percent of premature deaths are the result of personal behaviors we can change—small decisions about eating, drinking, smoking, and vehicle safety. Her work helps us identify the obstacles that keep defeating our efforts to move forward.

Agassi Used this Strategy

Andre Agassi used this approach to get out of a slump—focusing on the adversary, not perfection—to win in 1994 and thereafter. He’d been focusing on landing a perfect shot EVERY time. Impossible! A new coach showed him how to determine his opponents’ weaknesses and capitalize on his own strengths.

Pairing Drudge Work with Pleasure

Reading novels was a guilty pleasure for Milkman, but as her grades dropped, she decided to read assigned papers while getting a manicure, she listened to James Patterson’s murder mysteries and Harry Potter while on the treadmill, and folded laundry while watching Netflix. She allowed herself a glass of wine at the stove when she prepared a home-cooked meal. This motivated her to accomplish her must- do activities with pleasure.

Locking Out Temptation

Milkman points to literary examples where the author finds ways to force themselves and their characters to carry on, despite the more appealing options. Odysseus in The Odyssey has himself tied to the mast to avoid the temptation of the Sirens’ song and to steer his ship off course. French writer Victor Hugo, who enjoyed the life of the socialite, procrastinated on completing his first draft of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He locked up all his clothes, except a shawl to cover himself. By staying home, he focused on the manuscript and finished on deadline.

Cash Commitment

Twenty-six-year-old tech entrepreneur Nick Winter worried his life no longer met his expectations. Life lacked adventure. He wanted to transform himself into an adventurer—skydiving, skateboarding, and trimming five minutes off his 5K—and to write a book about it in three months! To accomplish this, he would need to set the stakes high–$14,000, everything he had. He wrote what became a popular book, The Motivation Hacker, and went skydiving with his girlfriend, who wasn’t afraid of heights like he was.

Flake Out

Sometimes life’s details– transporting kids, doing laundry, fixing meals—keep us from keeping our commitments to ourselves and our communities. Sometimes people just forget. One of her colleagues applied what they learned to registered voters. He found that huge numbers of registered voters said they planned to vote but failed to show up at the polls. In one election he studies, 54 percent of registered voters intended to vote, but they “flaked out.” They forgot. Actually, this is not so uncommon. In one study they found that we forget nearly half of the information we’ve learned within twenty minutes. After twenty-four hours, about 70 percent of it is forgotten; a month later, the loss can be 80 percent.

Bottom Line: Make a Plan and a Checklist

 Developing a planned attack to tackle your goal. Break the goal into little, easily achievable stops to build your confidence as you move forward. Build in your own nudges to remind and encourage you. Figure out where you most need help to follow-through. How will you do it? When? Where? Schedule a reminder that will cross your eyes at just the moment you need to act. Put it all together in a simple checklist on a whiteboard you will see each day. Mark off your progress. Schedule your reminders to keep you on track. The more distinctive the cue, the more likely it will trigger recall and action.

We’ve been part of a Universal event, suffering through a Pandemic—together. I’m listening to the neighbors in southwest London play Abba’s “Dancing Girl,” a song that crosses borders. It is two hours from New Year’s, five hours ahead of the U.S. Here’s to making the best of 2022, if not for us, then for the generations to come. Let’s start by making one personal change.

What is Boxing Day London 2021?

Life in London is different from what it had been pre-2020, but we have found little pleasures closer to home. A wreath at the door is inviting, along with our elf.

Nothing says Christmas like having an elf at the door.

Christmas is a banking holiday in England, but shops are open, so Americans can find last-minute coffee and rolls or add to the meal if unexpected guests arrive. Boxing Day, which may be unfamiliar to Americans, is a more important holiday here. Larger family gatherings and Premier League football games take place all day. But instead of the National Football League in the U.S., these the leading European soccer teams.

What is Boxing Day?

Boxing Day has been a bank holiday in England since 1871. British tradition regarding the holiday on Deceemer 26: The servants of the wealthy were required to work on Christmas, so they were given the day off on the 26th and received food and a gift box. Post men and errand boys also received a “box” and leftovers from the Christmas meal. In keeping with the season of giving, churches opened their donation boxes on the 26th and distributed the money to the poor. Mainly families exchange gifts and had a meal.

We celebrated Christmas Day with a full-on American brunch with plate-sized pancakes, bacon and eggs, and sausage too thin to be British bangers. The kids squirted whipped cream faces on their pancakes. This after opening presents and the children clicked together their Lego sets.

Earlier in the week, I saw a spectacular outdoor lights and fountain display at the Kew Gardens in southwest London. Christmas music perfectly coordinated with digital lights moved with gigantic snowflakes up the sides of the greenhouse, which stood four stories tall. In the next blog I will feature the Kew presentation, which will lack the mulled wine, hot chocolate, and mince pies, or the opportunity to walk among the spacious grounds on a three-mile tour to see the lights dance through the Kew acreage.

Christmas lights twinkle on the street where the family lives on London’s southwest edge.

While Kew outdid itself, London’s neighborhoods are generally subdued when it comes to Christmas. Green wreaths are common at the doors. Lights, when displayed, are usually white. Blue lighting occurs at a few houses.

  


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Big Ben

At home some decorations represent British stereotypes, including the double-decker, which I rode the week I arrived before the Omicron warnings were out. Then there is Big Ben—the clock that keeps time for Parliament.

Enjoy your Christmas and 2022, wherever you may be!

London’s High Street: Shopping Small

London’s Marylebone High Street offers an eclectic mix of buttons, an independent bookseller and Bond Bingo.

I arrived here, in England’s capital, late last week. I came early to ensure the Omicron variant would not prevent me from sharing our first family holiday in nearly two years. For those Londoners still able to shop, we will head over to the High Streets—the equivalent of Main Street in the U.S.–where we find the one-of-a-kind gifts that small stores provide.

When the city rebuilt after London’s Great Fire in 1666, High Streets were designed to avoid congestion. Narrow alleys and lanes ran behind them. The 19th century marked the hallmark of the High Street when fine ladies and their gentlemen would go “promenading” to show off their finery and their intended—lady or squire.

Today there remain about 5,400 High Streets in the UK and six hundred in London’s boroughs. Retail businesses, like those on High Streets in London and Main Streets in America, depend on steady foot traffic that will come with the winnowing of Covid restrictions.

Shopping did not top my list of must-do activities after I landed at Heathrow, but there are tempting opportunities here. High Street at Walthamstow Market offers the greatest variety with five hundred stalls on the “longest street.” Here you will find an eclectic mix of fresh produce, ethnic foods, craft supplies, fabric, and the William Morris Gallery.

If it is women’s bespoke couturier you seek, we will head to Bermondsey on London Bridge Street. If you have a favorite four-legged creature, Holly & Lil offers homemade dog leads and accessories. Or if you fancy a Cuban Cigar, try Shepherd’s Market for Alfie Turmaus Tobacconist in London’s Mayfair. One of the city’s favorite French meals is nearby at Le Boudin Blanc, where we could stop for lunch or even a mid-day croissant.

For booklovers, Daunt Books on Marylebone’s High Street, so quintessential you will swear Hugh Grant could pop out as the Nottingham Hill bookseller. Here you can find James Bond’s Bingo with all seven main characters, ranging from Sean Connery to my favorite, Daniel Craig!

Continuing our quest for unique goods, we cannot skip the only button retailer in London: “The Button Queen,” also at Marylebone. You never know when you will drop a one-of-a-kind button. Bet you can find it here.

King’s Road in Chelsea, the hippy hangout from the 1960s, staged the Birth of Punk in the 1970s, and now is home to the Bluebird Restaurant. We move on to Gabriel’s Wharf, behind London’s South Bank, where we find Southbank Printmakers’ contemporary art, Wagumi’s Japanese design products, and Ganesha Indian homeware.

Near Hyde Park in the heart of the city, Connaught Village, has become a center for luxury goods and fine wines. Mud Australia serves up ceramics and Cocomaya sweet treats. These are but a few of the delights available in London.

Small businesses are essential to the economies in the US and UK. In the US, sixty-seven cents of every dollar spent with small businesses stays locally. Just forty cents of every dollar spent with national companies in America comes back to the original community where it was spent.

Which U.S. President Employed Santa to Win Hearts and Minds?

Abe Lincoln purchased a toy for his son, Tad, on Christmas Eve1863, Stuntz Toy Store, 1207 New York Avenue, Washington, D.C. (See Lincoln’s collar below “T”,)

Every Christmas, parades occur in small towns, like where I grew up in Indiana. Inevitably the sheriff or the mayor would always ride in a car right behind Santa Claus and his sleigh. Figuring the first President to employ Santa Clause to win over public sentiment could be challenging. Here are a few hints about Christmas’s entry into the U.S.:

  • 1822  “Twas the Night Before Christmas,”   by Clement Moore
  • 1843  “A Christmas Carol”  by Charles Dickens
  • 1848   Britain’s Queen Victoria’s Christmas tree appears in the U.S.

            Via telegraph and expanded newspaper circulation.

  • 1849  “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,”  by Edmund Sears,

1850    Melody  to Sears’ poem by  Richard Storrs Willis

  • 1850s  Christmas trees and Poinsettias first went up on Christmas Eve.

Here is the biggest hint: The Civil War tore the nation apart in the 1860s. President Abe Lincoln felt the weight of leading a nation torn North from South, 1861-1865. Yet, he could not ignore Christmas for his family, while many Americans prepared for a traditional holiday.

The Lincoln’s Christmas 1863-64

He purchased a toy for his son, Tad, at D.C.’s Stuntz Toy Store at 1207 New York Avenue (see picture above) on December 24, 1863. Then their eldest son, Robert, attended Harvard Law School. Two other sons, Eddie (1848-1851), died of typhoid, and Willie (1850-1862) died of tuberculosis while the family lived in the White House.

The Lincolns’ followed the low-key family traditions of the time. In December 1860, after the election but before the Lincoln’s moved to Washington, Abe visited a shop in Springfield to purchase gifts to fit into Christmas stockings. His notes record on Christmas Eve that Lincoln bought three linen handkerchiefs, three silk gentleman’s silk scarfs, and four child’s silk handkerchiefs. He might have stopped off at another store to purchase popcorn balls for his sons or a fancy perfume or soap for Mary. These were customary gifts at Christmas in1860.

Toy store where Lincoln purchased a CHristmas present for Tad.
Father Christmas/Santa (in jacket with stars, beenie cap, seated) as he gives Union soldiers books, toys, and clothing. Harper’s Weekly 1863

Lincoln’s Strategic Move

Lincoln understood the reach of publications like Harper’s Weekly to carry his message to Americans on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line. Thomas Nast, Harper’s artist, already worked with Lincoln to design campaign posters for the 1860 campaign. For the 1864 Christmas season, Lincoln and Nast devised messages to reach both sides in the Civil War. Tad Lincoln accompanied his parents to D.C. hospitals to visit Union soldiers. After the visits, Tad wanted to give books and clothing to the soldiers. His father made it happen, then worked with Nast to craft an editorial cartoon picturing Father Christmas/Santa drawn from the side as he gave Union troops books and clothing with tags that read “From Tad Lincoln.” Historians believe this to be the first time Santa Claus’s image appeared in print.

The following year, Lincoln sought to move Confederate troops closer to the Union. First, he had Nast draw Lincoln standing in a doorway, inviting cold and frost-bitten Rebels to rejoin the Union, titled “Union Christmas 1864.” Finally, an editorial cartoon named “Christmas Box” depicted Lincoln offering Confederate President Jefferson Davis a present with the question: “More war or peace and Union?”

Lincoln and Religion

Earlier in Lincoln’s career, questions arose about whether he believed in God because when he ran for the Illinois legislature, Lincoln said he did not belong to a particular church. In 1846, Lincoln said he had never denied the truth of the Scriptures and could not support for office a man “I knew to be an open enemy of religion.” After his election, Lincoln voted against making Christmas a holiday for state workers. He said he looked at it from the cost to the state budget to offer another holiday to state workers. Lincoln worked Christmas like any other day during the Civil War. He attended New York Avenue Presbyterian Church regularly when living in the White House. Grant would be President in 1870 when Congress approved Christmas as a national holiday.

President Lincoln depended on the Bible as the only book available to read as a youngster and came to depend on the wisdom he found there, particularly during the Civil War. This Lincoln quote from the war years is one indication of his sentiment. Likewise, we could apply the ending sentiment to the crisis we face today:

“I fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the Nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace consistent with Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and Union.”

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British Ghosts: Does Anne haunt Henry VIII’s Dreams?

Coronation of Queen Anne Boleyn and King Henry VIII 1533 HistoryExtra,com

Does Anne Haunt Henry VIII’s Dreams?

Two figures from the deep, dark past adorn my lawn this season of spook. I thought a wee bit of ancient English history might interest my Texan neighbors or at least their curious children who might continue, given a taste of it. I have started with the two most referenced—the ones on my lawn—Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, his second wife. He had four more wives. (As king, Henry took advantage of his regal power.)

Anne Boleyn’s father, Thomas Earl of Wiltshire, served as ambassador to the Netherlands and France and encouraged his daughter to be educated there. Her date of birth is murky because records from the 16th century are spotty, but a birth in 1501 fits with her education in France and her courtship. While there, Anne served as a maid of honor to Queen Claude of France, learning how to appear in court.

Anne probably would not serve in court much before 14. She returned to England in 1522 to marry her Irish cousin James Butler, but the marriage did not take place. Instead, joined the court of English Queen Catherine of Aragon as maid of honor. King Henry would have been eighteen when crowned and married to Catherine. The king desired and achieved a court of unsurpassed glamour with he the handsome, athletic, and cultured lead. Henry liked to dress like a peacock, enjoyed wearing costumes, including a Turkish outfit of white damask, embroidered with roses made of rubies and diamonds.

Henry Declares War Against France, Builds Navy

But Henry was distracted. In 1522, he declared war against France. This required an increase in taxes, which was not popular. He built the British Navy from a few ships to fifty, earning the title “Father of the British Navy” and making England a serious contender on the water.

 Henry got on the wrong side of Hapsburg Charles V of Australia, who carried influence with the pope, from whom the king would eventually want a divorce from Charles’ aunt. Not likely.

By 1526 Catherine of Aragon had failed to produce a healthy heir (her male child died young). Henry took this as an afront to his manhood, damaging his growing ego. While he continued his marriage with Catherine for 24 years, he began to look elsewhere.

Then the king noticed Anne Bolen’s beauty as she danced and sang in court. Henry moved the courtship forward sending Anne love notes and a golden pendant that have survived through the ages. He thought these would sway her decision.

Initially Anne would not be convinced of Henry’s sentiment because she did not want to be a mistress, knowing that women who did not produce legitimate children would not have a long future in court. She brought back from France a knowledge of court and her formal schooling could have been a few paces ahead of Henry. (Although his knowledge of three languages speaks well of him.) The couple could have corresponded in French and few the wiser. (We know Anne wrote in French from a letter to her father.)

We see a different picture of this pair from more recent evidence. Five centuries later, given the picture of the rotund Henry, we find it difficult that Anne would come under the king’s spell. Bur we have learned as a young man Henry bore no resemblance to the portrait by Holbein that shows a guy who resembles a walk-on lineman for the Chicago Bears with the face of an emotionless simpleton. Their courtship lasted seven years. At the front of it, he was a 6’2” man when most everyone else was 5’7.” He kept in shape jousting and performed what we would consider extreme cross-fit sports to impress his subjects and his conquests with his prowess. Henry more likely came in around 175 pounds in his courting years.

. Venetian diplomat Sebastian Giustiani left behind his impression of the young king that draws an attractive suitor, which he shared with the senate:

He is very accomplished and a good musician, composes well: is a capital equestrian, and a fine jouster; speaks good French, Latin, and Spanish, is deeply religious. . . He is extremely fond of hunting…He is also fond of tennis, at which game it is the prettiest thing to see him play, his fair skin glowing through a shirt of the finest texture.

 Perhaps the diplomat wanted to score points with the king, but he gives a picture of someone NOT the size of a refrigerator (like the portraits of Henry VIII that come down to us.)

Pope Denies Annulment; Henry Names Self Head of Church of England

Desperate to end his marriage to Catherine with an annulment, Henry appealed to the Pope in 1534. Pope Clement VII excommunicated Henry from the church for dissolving convents and monasteries. Henry broke from the Catholic Church and went to the English Parliament to endorse his claim to be the SUPREME Head of the Church of England, launching the English Reformation and separating from the Roman Catholic pope. This gave the king authority to annul his marriage himself.

The year 1534 marks the beginning of Thomas Cromwell’s role as the king’s chief minister, Great Lord Chamberlain. A lawyer and statesman, he became a chief proponent of the English (Religious) Reformation and helped engineer the annulment of the king’s first marriage. This helped Cromwell become an ally of Anne Boleyn, but this soured by 1536.

Henry took Anne to France to get a blessing for their marriage from the French Archbishop, which they received and celebrated with a secret marriage in November 1532. That same year Henry conferred on Anne the title Marquess of Pembroke, a step towards their upcoming official marriage on January 25, 1533. By which point Anne has already conceived a child, the future Queen Elizabeth I, born on September 7. This pregnancy was followed by several miscarriages.

Anne Fails to Bear a Son; Pays Ultimate Price in 1536

Henry became even less forgiving after he fell off his horse in a jousting contest in 1536, the third year of their marriage, and seriously injured his ankle and the front of his brain. He was unconscious for several hours and the physical damage to the control center likely harmed his emotional responses. Those who have studied his reign believe that he became a more brutal ruler after the accident, though he may always have had a mean streak to begin with.

This might have influenced his decision, to file treason charges against Anne considered false and self-serving. He wanted to remove her as his wife, so he could marry Jane Seymour. Anne’s execution took place in the Tower of London on May 19, 1536. This is where the GHOSTLY part comes. Henry brought in a professional executioner from France, known for a sharp blade, to complete her beheading. She left this earth at 35, leaving behind a daughter, Elizabeth I, who ruled for five years.

Are we to believe that Anne Boleyn did not haunt Henry VIII’s dreams?

Henry will marry four more times before his death in 1547, at which point his waist measured 54 inches. They buried him next to Jane Seymour, the only wife to present him with an heir—the only one he officially mourned.

Ian Crofton, The Kings & Queens of England. (New York: Metro Books, 2006) 128-135. Quote from Venetian and other information about the 16th century king come this source.

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Does Talent Beat Grit?

Manhattan’s myriad of high rises reflects the talent, creativity, passion, and perseverance that created them over a century.

America is mesmerized by talent or what passes for it. Nearly two decades of televised contests have drawn huge audiences: snarky Simon Cowell’s America’s Got Talent (despite the fact that he is a Brit), music’s chameleon + EGOT John Legend (1) provides counsel on The Voice, granddaddy show American Idol still selecting soloists, and aging Dancing with the Stars, where contestants have put on their dancing shoes and coaxed themselves into spandex for years.

But are we sending the wrong message? Does talent alone win the race?

No question American Idol Grand Dame Kelly Clarkson towers over country music, winning three Grammy’s (12 nominations), and a slew of Video Music Awards before expanding into television to be a judge on The Voice, and earning Daytime Emmy’s in 2020 and 2021 for her talk show. But would we even know her name today if she did not squeeze every opportunity out of her American Idol crowning and diligently work to assure her worthiness?

Most cannot boast a true “talent” that towers over others in our field, so does that mean we will never achieve “success?” Grammy Award-winning musician and Oscar-nominated actor Will Smith has thought a lot about talent, effort, skill, and achievement. “I’ve never really viewed myself as particularly talented,” he said. “Where I excel is ridiculous, sickening work ethic.” Since May the 51-year-old has worked the gym to turn his Pandemic-weakened body into a muscular physique, better than before 2000.

Psychologist Angela Duckworth studied the “talent vs. grit” question after teaching math to elementary students on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. She thought, like many of us, that talent trumped about everything until she had an average student who kept pounding away at the problems until the light went on.

Duckworth’s Chinese father was fixated on creating “genius” children. She assured him she was not one, even when she received a McArthur (“genius grant”) Fellowship in 2014. What she wanted to tell him as a kid: “I’m going to grow up to love my work…I won’t just have a job. I will have a calling. I will challenge myself every day. When I get knocked down, I will get back up. I may not be the smartest person in the room, but I’ll strive to be the grittiest.”

In 2016 after over a decade of research, plus writing time, she poured her thoughts into Grit, (2) a book documenting her work showing how people extend their passion beyond talent with perseverance. Unlike struggling to identify talent, her research shows we lesser mortals can develop “grit.” Duckworth conducted research at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to test out her theory. Each year 14,000 juniors apply, just 1,200 are enrolled. Most of these men and women were varsity athletes, even team captains in high school. Yet one in five would drop out of West Point before graduation. A high percentage leave in the first summer, during “Beast” the “most physically and emotionally demanding part of your four years at West Point…designed to help you make the transition from new cadet to Soldier.”

These were cadets who scored well on the Whole Candidate Score judging preparation for the rigors of West Point. This included a weighted average of SAT or ACT exam scores, high school rank adjusted for the number of students in the graduating class, an expert appraisal of leadership potential, and physical fitness performance.

Military psychologist Mike Matthews, who worked with Duckworth, explained his personal reaction to Air Force training: “I was tired, lonely, frustrated, and ready to quit—as were all of my classmates.” What kept him and the remaining classmates from moving forward? A “never give up” attitude. Now Duckworth wanted to know if this applied to elite athletes.

Every four years elite competitive swimmers—multiple gold medal winners that included superstars Michael Phelps and Mark Spitz—bring their “talent” to our screens. Sociologist Dan Chambliss traveled with swimmers and their coaches for six years, from local meets to the elite teams composed of future Olympians. “It is as if talent were some invisible substance behind the surface reality of performance, which finally distinguishes the best among our athletes,” Chambliss said. “These great athletes seem blessed ‘with a special gift, almost a ‘thing’ inside of them denied to the rest of us—perhaps physical, genetic, psychological, or physiological. Some have it and some don’t. Some are natural athletes, and some aren’t.”

But Chambliss found biographies of great swimmers reveal many contributing factors: parents who were interested in the sport, earned enough money to pay for coaching, travel to swim meets and access to a pool, plus thousands of hours of practice in the pool developing muscle memory, all leading up to the “flawless” performance we see on our screens during the Olympics. All those hours polishing the apple until it turns gold.

 “With everything perfect, we do not ask how it came to be,” philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche writes. “We rejoice in the present fact as though it came out of the ground by magic.”

Duckworth points to Nietzsche, who preferred that we not talk about giftedness or inborn talents. “One can name great men (note: and women) . . .They all possessed that seriousness of the efficient workman which first learns to construct the parts properly before it ventures to fashion a great whole; they allowed themselves time for it, because they took more pleasure in making the little, secondary things well than in the effect of a dazzling whole.”

There is no better example of the “little, secondary things” (rivets) that build into a “dazzling whole” than the persevering craftsmen of the Iroquois tribe, Mohawks, trained ironworkers. They built the Victoria Bridge near Quebec in 1886. Their work required not just personal strength, but mental fortitude, willingly facing death from great heights every single day. They learned climbing skills and absorbed from their elders the courage to venture out onto steel girders suspended in space far above the city.

Mohawks are not superhuman. Thirty-three Kahnawake (Mohawk) died in the collapse of the Quebec Bridge in 1907. That did not end the tribe’s commitment to urban structures. The next generation drove 12 ½ hours to Manhattan (and home on weekends) to walk on 12-inch girders fifty or more stories above the city’s sidewalks while drilling rivets into the 1,046- foot Chrysler Building (1930) and the 1,250-foot Empire State (1931) and the Rockefeller Center (1932-1939). In cold weather, ice needed to be scrapped off the beams before work began. No safety lines existed in those days. (3)

The Mohawks continued to work above the city to constructing five more skyscrapers (the UN, the Woolworth Building, the Seagram Building before applying their skills. Then the veteran ironworkers applied their skills to erect the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers from 1968 to 1973. Over the years Mohawk families moved to an enclave in Brooklyn, so the ironworkers were in New York to help rescue people from the burning towers in 2001 and provided their expertise to disassemble the metal protrusions from the building’s remains following 911.

Being an ironworker throughout the 20th century and into the 21st requires a fearlessness to push higher into the sky, ensuring the buildings continued to rise. No better definition of “grit” exists than the work ethic of those who built America’s towers of business and entertainment, some sacrificing their lives, to provide these lasting monuments to their perseverance.

NOTES:

  1. Legend is one of 16 performers who have been awarded the ultimate creative quad–an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony for their performances on TV, in music, film, and the stage.
  2. Angela Duckworth, Grit, The Power of Passion and Perseverance (New York: Scribner, 2016) Quotes can be found in her work.
  3. https://dailygazette.com/wp-content/uploads/fly-images/143928/0e-exhibit1-940×940.jpg Mohawk Skywalkers at New York City Museum