Archive for September, 2013

Can We Just Not Call It Food?

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

By Bob Gaydos

What's the beaver's connection with raspberries? DOn't ask.

What’s the beaver’s connection with raspberries? Don’t ask.

Sometimes, a little bit of curiosity can ruin your appetite.

I love raspberry-flavored, frozen Greek yogurt. I defy you to find a more soul-satisfying treat, especially with some dark chocolate shavings sprinkled on top.

Recently, having become a more conscientious food label-reader, I noticed a story on the Internet about ingredients that don’t have to be listed, but come under the heading of “natural flavoring.” Among the “natural flavoring” ingredients listed was “castoreum.”

“Hmm, something from the castor bean?” I wondered.

Off to Google I went and soon found myself in a state of shock, disbelief and a little bit of, well, disgust.

It turns out that castoreum is a yellowish secretion from the castor sac of adult male and female beavers. The castor sac is located between the anus and genitals in beavers and, along with its urine, is used to scent mark the beaver’s territory. Sweet.

While I had to admit the source made it a “natural” ingredient, I also wondered why the natural flavor of raspberries wasn’t sufficient. And more to the point, I wondered who the genius was who decided that the exudate from a sac located next to a beaver’s anus would be a good thing to add to yogurt to improve its flavor. What was the “Eureka!” moment? Who did the first taste test?

It turns out castoreum has been used for years in perfumes. So I imagine it wasn’t such a leap to go from putting a dab on the wrist to wondering if a shot of beaver sac juice would enhance the flavor of ice cream, candy, yogurt, iced tea and gelatin, especially, apparently, strawberry- and raspberry-flavored foods.

In case you’re wondering, the Food and Drug Administration puts castoreum in the “Generally Regarded As Safe” category. Maybe so, but I am generally going to think twice before I buy raspberry yogurt again.

As it happens, the search for information on castoreum also led me to data on what I at first thought was the source of castoreum — the castor bean. More bad news.

The castor bean (actually a seed) is regarded as the deadliest plant on the planet. It is the source, yes, of castor oil. But it is also the source of ricin, a powerful poison with no known antidote. The bean is also the source of a food additive identified usually as PGPR. I have learned that when I see a bunch of letters like that on a food label, it’s wise to find out what they mean.

So, remember the added ingredient to my favorite dessert — the chocolate shavings on top? Guess what’s listed on the label of Hershey’s dark chocolate bars? Yup. PGPR. Polyglycerol polyricinoleate.

PGPR is a sticky yellowish liquid that acts as an emulsifier — it holds the chocolate together. It is also much cheaper to produce than cocoa butter, meaning Hershey’s can give you less chocolate in its chocolate, at lower cost to itself, thus making more profits. PGPR also lets the candy sit on the shelves much longer and still be considered safe to consume. Apparently, we’re supposed to ignore that word ricin in the middle of the PGPR as well as the lack of cocoa in the chocolate bar. The FDA says PGPR is safe for human consumption, although lab tests on chickens showed what was described as reversible liver damage.

Finally, while still looking at the Hershey’s label, the word vanillin caught my eye. Again, not necessarily what it seems to be. Yes, vanillin is an extract of the vanilla bean and is used as an additive in lots of foods. But, because of the rarity of the bean and the cost associated with producing it, much vanillin today is of the synthetic variety, coming from lignin, which is a byproduct of, ahem, wood pulp.

So there you have it, my favorite dessert: ricin and wood pulp sprinkled on top of beaver scent-marking sac juice. Some days it just doesn’t pay to read the labels.


Anchors Aweigh & Fairness Away

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

By Jeffrey Page

The United States Navy in some respects still sails the oceans and seas in wooden schooners powered by beneficent winds filling their mainsails and jibs.

The Times ran a story over the weekend about a woman midshipman at the Naval Academy who has accused three members of the Navy football team of raping her after a party. In a hearing that could lead to formal courts martial of the men, the woman was asked a series of questions, the likes of which are not allowed in many state courts.

But this is the Navy, where questioning can be a judicial free-for-all and where rape victims often are victimized a second time – by the court. So, a defense lawyer’s question on how the victim shaped her mouth during oral sex was allowed, a question that could lead to many sexual assaults going unreported. But reported rapes in the military make for a shocking statistic. Quoting a Department of Defense survey, the Times noted there were approximately 26,000 rapes in the military last year, up 37 percent from 2010.

In the Naval Academy case, one of the defense lawyers was allowed to ask the woman if she had been wearing a bra when she was attacked, an outrageous question that manages to recall the grizzled old rape defense: “You saw what she was wearing; she was asking for it.” Was the attorney who asked about the woman’s underwear himself wearing boxers, briefs or nothing when he posed the question? He didn’t say.

Similarly he was permitted to ask her if she had described herself as a “ho” to a fourth man after having sex with him.

Another lawyer explained the question about oral sex by saying that her response could bear on the midshipman’s being a willing participant in the goings-on of the evening.

Questions like these – which were asked during 30 hours of cross examination – are responsible for the difference between the number of rapes that occur in a given year and the number of reported rapes in the same period.

Thanks to a politically active lawyer from Monticello who rose to become chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals, such questions are not allowed in civilian rape cases.

Lawrence H. Cooke, known as Larry to his friends or, when he was out of earshot, Cookie, had a long history as a defender of women’s rights in the courts, both as attorneys and judges, and as litigants. In an article about Cooke, The Historical Society of the New York Courts noted that he had told the magazine Good Housekeeping in 1974 that in matters of rape “women are outside the effective protection of the law and criminals know it.”

“Judge Cooke urged that the prosecution of rape cases be allowed to proceed without corroboration. That became the law and remains the law today,” the Historical Society said.

New York’s Rape Shield Law holds that, in most cases, a woman’s sexual history is not admissible in a rape trial. The exceptions include such narrowly defined situations as the victim’s prior sexual contact with the defendant.

Those Navy lawyers who asked about the rape victim’s mouth and whether she wore a bra wouldn’t have lasted a minute had they appeared before Lawrence Cooke.

He took women’s issues far more seriously than that. In 1980 he resigned from the University Club in Albany because it did not admit women, a club policy that later was changed. Later, when he was chief judge, he forbade judges and other court personnel from conducting official business with clubs whose membership rules excluded women.

At one point, Judge Cooke, who died in 2000, was admitted to the New York State Women’s Bar Association as an honorary member.

Plain old decency and fairness dictate that the Navy change its rules of evidence in rape cases. To reduce a rape trial to an off-color joke is an outrage against the people whom the Navy serves.

That would be all of us.

Carrie’s Painting of the Week – 09/27/13

Thursday, September 26th, 2013
Sorghum Oil on canvas, 30x30

Oil on canvas, 30×30

By Carrie Jacobson

The trees are starting to change color, even on the Eastern Shore. It’s not much, a tinge of orange here, a patch of yellow there. It’s slight, but it is undeniable, and in its way, exciting.

Farmers have cut the corn fields. Birds are flocking up. The squirrels, which are few and far between here in Virginia, are making a racket. And if there are still hummingbirds around, I haven’t seen them in a day or so.

A friend brought a cabbage over the other day, and it was huge and fresh and sweet. On the road to the mainland recently, I saw men picking pumpkins and squash.

I love the falling chill of the nights, and snuggling close, and pulling the blankets tight around my shoulders. I love putting on long pants for the first time, and finding my sweatshirt, and knowing that soon, I’ll be wearing my denim jacket and my scarf and my soft, warm boots.

I’ve gotten soft here in the south. A temperature of 70 sends me looking for an extra shirt these days. And while I am glad about fall, I am far more glad that winters here bring little or no snow.

And soft as I am, I am not yet as soft as whatever neighbor has the woodstove burning, even as I sit here in my open-air garage studio, loving the feel of the autumn wind.


I’LL BE PAINTING up your way, entering a piece in a wet-paint auction, and showing my new work at an outdoor festival, and it’s all happening this coming week!

The Olana Plein Arts Festival takes place Thursday through Saturday, Oct. 3-5, at the historic home of Frederic Church, in Hudson, NY. I’m one of 30 artists from across the country, chosen to participate in the event. I’ll be painting outdoors on Thursday and on Friday morning, and entering a wet plein-air piece into the wet-paint auction on Saturday.

On Friday afternoon, I head to Pound Ridge near Westchester for the Pound Ridge Fine Arts Festival, which takes place Saturday and Sunday.

If you’re around, please consider coming to one or the other, or both! And please say hello when you do.



The Fruits of Obama’s Syria ‘Defeat’

Thursday, September 19th, 2013
President Obama ... his Syria policy may be more than it appeared to be

President Obama … his Syria policy may be more than it appeared to be

By Bob Gaydos

In the category of Things Are Never Quite the Way They Appear (especially in international diplomacy), I give you what many “pundits” regard as President Barack Obama’s humiliating defeat in getting Syrian President Bashar Assad to: 1. Admit that his country, contrary to all his previous claims, has a stockpile of outlawed chemical weapons; 2. Agree to promptly provide an inventory of those weapons and 3. Turn the weapons over to a United Nations delegation for the purpose of destroying them all by next year..

This humanitarian feat, which will save countless thousands of lives, was accomplished without firing one missile in righteous anger or placing one set of American GI boots on the ground in the midst of Syria’s brutal civil war. Stay out of Syria is what a solid majority of Americans said they wanted ever since Obama broached the subject of a punishing strike against Syria for using chemical weapons against its own people. It is also what most Republicans in Congress insisted they wanted, contrary to their usual position on military intervention, but consistent with their policy of opposing anything Obama proposes. In this case, to the president, Republican motives didn’t matter; end results did.

This is strictly my opinion. I have no special insight into White House strategy, no one leaking me information on the president’s intentions. Rather, I have my own version of common sense and what I believe is a willingness to judge events by outcomes rather than political bias.

One of the things I believe may not necessarily be as it appears — or as many critics would have it be — is the president’s intent. I do not believe Barack Obama is so dumb as to submit a proposal to Congress that he wants passed if he knows it will be defeated. He is a biracial man living in a racist country who earned degrees from two Ivy League schools — Columbia and Harvard Law, where he was editor of the Law Review. He got elected president. Twice. Having made history, he also has guided the country slowly out of a devastating, largely Republican-created recession and got a health care plan for all Americans through a Congress that can barely agree to meet. This is one smart man (although I think his “red line“ on chemical weapons was a tactical mistake).

So, I have serious doubts that the president ever intended to launch a military strike against Syria, precisely because of the opposition he knew existed among average, war-weary Americans, as well as entrenched anti-Obama, rank-and-file Republicans. He signaled that when, after days of threatening a strike, he agreed to ask Congress to debate and vote on the issue, without even asking members to cut short their vacation to do so. That made the proposal DOA, with even many Democrats opposed to U.S. involvement in Syria because of their constituents’ opposition to it.

Ironically, with the disarmament agreement now being finalized with Syria and Russia, Obama’s continued threat to use military force if Syria fails to comply with the agreement gains much more validity and support among Americans than his original threat. Assad has admitted he’s got the weapons. French, British and American experts, as well as Human Rights Watch, say, based on a United Nations report, that there is no doubt it was Assad’s troops, not rebel forces, that used them. The U.S. Navy’s continued presence in the Mediterranean Sea now takes on even greater import to Assad.

Then, of course, there is the disarmament agreement itself. Americans are strongly of two minds on this:

1. One group, that didn’t necessarily want to attack Syria, nonetheless thinks it is embarrassing that Russian President Vladimir Putin is getting credit for the plan and that he lectured Americans (in the New York Times no less) about thinking they had to act as morality policeman of the world.

2. Another group feels it is high time America stopped acting as morality policeman of the world, focused on domestic issues instead and enlisted other countries’ help in finding diplomatic, rather than military, solutions to international crises.

I don’t think Obama cares that Putin is getting most of the credit for the chemical weapons agreement. I also don’t think the agreement just sprang into Putin’s head in a dream one night. In fact, Russian officials have acknowledged such a plan was discussed months ago with American officials. Just as Obama is no clueless patsy in this, Putin is no hero. He is no champion of human rights and Americans shouldn’t really pay serious attention to what he has to say about life in the U.S.

In fact, Russia has been the main supplier of arms for the Syrian Army, enabling the civil war to drag on and produce more than 100,000 deaths and a flood of millions fleeing their country. But it is precisely for the link with Syria that Putin had to appear to be the primary force behind the non-military plan.

Of course, this helps Putin gain even more political stature at home. As mentioned previously, Obama has been elected president twice. He cannot run again. His place in history is forged and his future as a statesman guaranteed. But Putin has an Olympics coming to his country next year and has stirred worldwide condemnation for Russia’s anti-gay laws. I wouldn’t be surprised if Russian authorities were tolerant of demonstrations supporting gay rights next winter or if Barack Obama were among the world leaders being most vocal about demanding such behavior. And, while he won’t show it, I don’t think Putin will regard his apparent backing down on gay rights as a “humiliating defeat” on the international stage.

Meanwhile, a major store of chemical weapons will be destroyed, a potential threat to Middle Eastern neighbors of Syria will have been removed, rebel forces in Syria will know they don’t have to fear facing such weapons, not one American soldier will have set foot in Syria, not one Syrian citizen will have been listed as collateral damage in a strike by American “smart” missiles, the United States will have shown cynical countries that it really can use diplomacy, rather than military might, to resolve a crisis, Assad will have been shown to be a murderous liar, Putin will have had some of his Lone Ranger image stripped away in international diplomacy, President Obama, counter to his image in some corners as a reluctant warrior, will have appeared to be willing and eager to use U.S. military power, and Republicans will have emerged as a party opposed to war. By the way, the overwhelming majority of Americans support the non-military resolution of the Syrian crisis.

Humiliating defeat my ass..

A Vote for the Bill Bradley of 1971

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

By Michael Kaufman

The other day I found a yellowed copy of a piece I wrote in 1971 about a passionate speech given by Bill Bradley at an event honoring collegiate scholar-athletes. Bradley was 27 then and a star player for the New York Knickerbockers. Before becoming a pro basketball player he was Phi Beta Kappa at Princeton and a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. Sports announcers and writers called him “Dollar Bill” but his Knicks teammates often referred to him as “President of the United States.”

Ironically, by the time Bradley made his unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for president in 1992, the passion in his speeches, like his basketball skills, was long gone.  But what he told the scholar-athletes makes as much sense today as it did in 1971. All you have to do is adjust the geography occasionally to reflect present-day conditions. “We live in a world where survival becomes more precious every day,” said Bradley. “The basic racial antagonism of our American history remains festering without sufficient attention. Eighteen-year-old Americans are sent—unconstitutionally—to die in a civil war of an underdeveloped country on the other side of the world for the espoused purpose of protecting us.

“Political fugitives compose one half the FBI’s most wanted list. Hollow men in skyscrapers make private investment decisions without concern for man or nature. Mass education programs students to fit in categories of mediocrity, where imagination falls before the sword of efficiency.” I told you he was passionate. And he was just getting started.

“We learn our myths early, and we see the world prove it. The myth of America’s moral superiority….of manifest destiny….of the melting pot and the deceptive belief in progress. And hovering behind the myths lie the frightful possibilities of nuclear war where man can turn himself to ashes.” He implored the young scholar-athletes not to turn their backs on the problems but to “deal with the social environment of America which is disintegrating before our eyes.

He scoffed at those who respond that the United States is the “best country in the world” and that anyone who criticizes it is a traitor. “Is a man un-American to suggest and explain the dimensions of our social and economic problems?” He urged the scholar-athletes not to get “disillusioned” but cautioned them against relying on “textbook answers” or to become “unquestioning cogs in a bureaucratic machine.”
He spoke of the relationship of sports to society and his discomfort with the vicarious way in which people identify with athletes. “Thousands of people who don’t know me use my participation on a Sunday afternoon as an excuse for non-action, as a fix to help them escape their everyday problems and our society’s problems.” He urged his listeners not to sit back and allow others to fight for change without them.

“Only you as an individual who makes a seemingly meaningless commitment of himself can change things,” said Bradley. “No one else can do it for you. Only millions of ones can succeed in demanding that 18-year-olds no longer be sent to die in the quagmires of Southeast Asia….that private investment decisions will no longer be made without concern for man or nature, and that men no longer treat their fellow men as objects of senseless hatred.”

If Bradley had made speeches like that during the 1992 Democratic candidates’ debates, he might even have become president. I  know he’d have gotten my vote.

Michael can be reached at

There She Is

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

By Jeffrey Page

Remember the guy in 2008 who carried the sign reading, “Keep government out of my Medicare you damn socialist?” Was he a genuine anti-government activist taking his position to the extreme? Or was he just dumb as a post?

Now, five years later, this brand of prideful ignorance is still with us – why is this not a surprise? – and requires that we consider a young woman named Nina Davuluri, who is 24 years old and who is Miss America 2014.

A little background: Davuluri, 24, is a native born U.S. citizen. She was born in Syracuse, N.Y., lived for a time in Oklahoma and graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in brain behavior and cognitive science. She the Miss America contest as Miss New York and did all the goofy stuff that most of the 86 Miss Americas and all their runners-up before her had done since the early 1920s. There was the bathing suit business, (hers was zebra striped). There was the gown business (hers was canary yellow). There was the talent business (she performed an East Indian dance). And to show the judges just how smart she is, she was asked a question and responded by saying no, she’s not interested in plastic surgery for herself but that the procedure is available for anyone who wants it.

No surprises and in Davuluri, the judges liked what they heard and liked what they saw, and she was crowned.

The reaction was quick and furious. All it took was the revelation that Davuluri is of East Indian ancestry to bring out racist lunacy at its American best.

Here are some comments and observations I found while wandering around the internet. This is the stupidity that America still must deal with nearly 150 years after the end of the Civil War.

“I swear I’m not a racist. But this is America,” one woman wrote to

“9/11 was 4 days ago. And she gets Miss America?”

“How the f— does a foreigner win Miss America?”

“Miss America is an Indian. With all do [sic] respect, this is America.”

“Congratulations Al-Qaeda. Our Miss America is one of you.”

I am reminded of e.e. cummings’s 1925 take on a great human failing: “Humanity i love you because when you’re hard up you pawn your intelligence to buy a drink and when you’re flush  pride keeps you from the pawn shop.”

Prostate Cancer: Aware and Confused

Friday, September 13th, 2013

By Michael Kaufman 

September, in case you didn’t know, is National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. Maybe you haven’t heard of it because no one has come up with a clever symbol like the pink ribbon used to highlight breast cancer awareness. Neither breast cancer nor prostate cancer is anything to joke about but somehow this reminds me of an old joke about a mohel, whose job is to perform ritual circumcisions, who rents a storefront to drum up business. He puts a sign bearing his name and profession in the window. Then he decorates the rest of the window with herring.

“So,” asks the first person who enters, “why do you have herring hanging in the window?”

“What should I have in the window?”

Perhaps there is a bit of subconscious irony at play in thinking of the joke: The prostate is attached to bundles of nerves and blood vessels linked to the penis. Ritual circumcision occurs at the beginning of a male baby’s life at the tip of his penis, whereas the prostate gland, located just in front of the rectum, is a matter of concern for the aging adult male.

Be that as it may, prostate cancer is among the most common cancers for men living in the United States and continues to take a devastating toll on thousands of lives each year. After skin cancer, it is the second most common cancer in American men—second only to lung cancer as a cause of cancer deaths. The National Cancer Institute estimates that 238,590 new cases of prostate cancer will be reported in the U.S. in 2013 and that 29,720 men will die of the disease.

Thanks to recent advancements in treatment, however, nearly 100 percent of men are still alive five years after diagnosis of prostate cancer; more than 93 percent are alive 10 years after diagnosis, and approximately 79 percent are alive after 15 years. While those numbers are encouraging, the need for greater awareness remains: Prostate cancer rarely causes symptoms until the disease is far advanced and more difficult to treat. Thus, screening is essential for at least some men aged 40 and above.

Many men are resistant to screening because the physical evaluation begins with a digital rectal exam (DRE). As described in a Johns Hopkins Medicine White Paper on prostate disorders, the DRE, “which involves the insertion of a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum, is mildly uncomfortable but extremely important.” I don’t know about you but I don’t like having “a gloved, lubricated finger” inserted into my rectum one bit. I waited three years before going to my most recent “annual” physical examination by my internist because my memories of past DREs made my skin crawl.

A couple of years ago the Prostate Cancer Foundation launched a brilliant campaign at the beginning of Prostate Cancer Awareness Month that used humor to try overcome men’s reluctance to undergo the DRE. The campaign, featuring a character named “Branko, the Prostate Czech” was a big success. (Watch the video at

But the DRE is merely the first step in a dizzying process of diagnostic and potential treatment choices. At each step, starting with the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test, there is widespread disagreement among medical specialists and conflicting sets of guidelines. As noted by the Mayo Clinic, “A number of major professional organizations and government agencies have weighed in on the benefits and risks of PSA testing. The American Cancer Society, the American Urological Association, the American College of Preventive Medicine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force all recognize the controversy surrounding screening with the PSA test and the lack of firm evidence that screening can prevent deaths from prostate cancer.” The full Mayo Clinic explanation of the risks associated with prostate cancer screening is available at

In August an international panel of experts at the Prostate Cancer World Congress in Melbourne, Australia, issued a five-point “consensus statement” in an attempt to bring clarity to the confusion that exists with existing guidelines and to offer “reasonable and rational guidance for the early detection of prostate cancer today.” I read the statement. I’m still confused.

Michael can be reached at




My Fall Illness

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

By Jeffrey Page

Another September, and I am afflicted with my annual autumn ailment. I have written about this unhappy topic before; there is no cure and it never goes away.

The other day I found myself in back of a school bus. It stopped and off stepped a boy I guessed to be in second grade. He trudged across to the other side of the road, where his dad awaited.

I felt bad for him. The poor kid, already enslaved by the requirement that he be educated. I cheered up a little when he reached his father, who gave him one of those hair tousles as they walked to the house.

I acknowledge the importance of school. I understand the need to know how to read and to do subtraction. I accept the fact that little children turn into better citizens when they have an idea of where this nation came from. It is important for them to know about the Bill of Rights.

Yet there is this gloom – this utter despair – that overtakes me every September. Actually it begins late in July when I see the first hints of the expression “back to school sales” in newspaper advertising. If I were a newspaper publisher, I’d encourage the stores to wait a while on early sales of rulers, calculators, pencils, loose leaf paper and all the rest. Let the kids enjoy the rest of summer, I would say. And I’d probably go right out of business.

Most of July, being the first days after the end of the old school year, is good. July is blessed. It’s a time of baseball, a time of friends, a time of adventure. It’s a time to do nothing if you feel like doing nothing. Most of all, it’s a time when you never have to worry on Sunday night about not having done the homework that was due on Monday morning.

Oh glorious summer, I have loved you.

Dylan Thomas said it best: “… In the sun that is young once only, Time let me play and be golden in the mercy of his means.”

And then August, and the dreaded understanding that in just one turn of the calendar, it would be a return to the classroom and to the monumental boredom that made me want to put my head down on my desk and sleep until June.

And finally, of course, came September in all its summerlike self. September, the great pretender.

School had its maddening rules. We could not talk among ourselves. We had to curtail our exuberance; we had to raise a hand, wait to be called on, and then – only then – could we speak. Yes, it is different now, but now is not when I am pinned into a classroom like a butterfly pinned on a black display board. We could not read what we wanted to read. And we had to learn a refined, albeit fraudulent, manner of speech if we were to make our teacher, Mrs. Jewel H. Denelfo, happy. She would not consider the request “Can I go to the bathroom?” If we had to go, we were required to recite, “May I please be excused, Mrs. Denelfo.” No one in my house ever said “May I please be excused.” In my house what you usually heard was, “Hey, hurry up for God’s sake! OK?”

Another of Mrs. Denelfo’s rules was that when she called on you, you were not allowed to start your response with “well”:

Mrs. D: “Jeffrey, what did you do on your summer vacation?”

(No one called me “Jeffrey” but Jewel H. Denelfo was a stickler for formality. I was “Jeff” to family and friends.)

Me: “Well, in July we went to see my grandmother.”

Mrs. D: “If you begin your answer to my question with ‘well’ you may jump down your well.”

Well, hang in there, kids. There are just 11 weeks to go until the long Thanksgiving weekend and then, come to think of it, seven months until the summer break of 2014.

Carrie’s Painting of the Week – 09/13/13

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013
Where He Loves to Fish Oil on canvas, 20x60

Where He Loves to Fish
Oil on canvas, 20×60

By Carrie Jacobson

A couple from Tennessee was visiting our next door neighbor, Miss Dulcie, when I got home one evening from a recent and exhausting visit to Charlotte, NC. I spent most of the next day sleeping, but roused myself in the afternoon to carry the ancient Pekingese outside. I’d been out there for, oh, 10 seconds when one of Miss Dulcie’s visitors showed up at the fence.

“Hi!” he said. “I hear you’re an artist! That’s so wonderful!”  It became clear to me, even in my exhausted dim dumbness that he wanted to see my paintings and my studio, so of course, I showed him, and his wife, and Miss Dulcie, too.

Turns out that, decades back, he had turned down a full scholarship to Notre Dame to go to art school. Then he was drafted, came home, married, took a job, and pretty much forgot about art.

But way back then, he had painted with a palette knife, as I do, and he was tremendously excited to see my paintings. He swore that when he got home, he was going to start to paint again.

If you get anything from my story (I started making art seven years ago, at the age of 50), get this: You are never too old to make art. You are never too old to START making art – or writing poetry, or making quilts, or throwing pots, or creating mobiles, or making movies – or whatever it is that your heart’s been telling you to do.

Take a class, read a book, watch a video – or just get some materials and give it a try. Your life will be richer, and you will be happier. That’s a promise.

Carrie’s Painting of the Week – 09/06/13

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013
The Red Umbrella

The Red Umbrella

By Carrie Jacobson

On Tuesday, here in Virginia, parents and alarm clocks woke kids up. They rose in a morning that was strangely early, strangely dark. They dressed in clothes that smelled new and felt stiff.

They shouldered backpacks filled with pens that all work, pencils with sharp points, unblemished erasers. Notebooks held oceans of possibility, untouched so far by thought or striving or error. There were special lunches, carefully packed in unstained lunchboxes, in which nothing has spilled or ripened over a weekend.

On the bus and in the schoolyard, they saw kids they haven’t seen for months, and they smiled and laughed and screamed, took up joyful friendships and strained ones, too, and surely found that some of each had changed, over the long lapsed months of summer.

I remember the smell of unused classrooms, open for the first time, in the autumn heat. The creak of floorboards and desk lids, the unaccustomed noises that come from lots of people being inside together. I remember the heat of those September classrooms, the sound of the bell and the PA system, and the feeling of my summer-hardened feet, inside shoes for the first time since June.

I remember the excitement of it all, and how I loved it. I spent the summers happily at the beach, but I was a learner, and school was my place. I loved the classes, the friends, the new clothes. I loved bag lunches and the bus and assemblies and recess and the teachers. I loved learning, and trying, and achieving.

And every year, when school opens, a little part of me wishes I were there again.