Baby Shower Wreath

Make a beautiful wreath for your baby shower!

Are you looking for baby shower wreath art ideas? I am so happy you stopped by! I was hosting a baby shower and needed to make a wreath for a special friend.

I needed baby shower girl decorations for our party. The mother-to-be wanted teal, yellow, and pink for her main colors.

Supplies you will need will be a grapevine wreath, colored tulle, floral sprigs, baby shoes, 1/2 yard of fabric to make a bow, and a hot glue gun.

I always like to find things that are a little different. I found these fun little sprigs and thought they would be perfect.

Start with gluing the floral sprigs to your wreath. Cut your springs into smaller pieces. You want your wreath to look airy and elegant.

You can find tulle on smaller ribbon rolls for around $2.50. If you do not know what the sex of the baby is going to be, eliminate the pink tulle.

This next part is easy. Cut your tulle about 5″ long. Tie your tulle to a piece of grapevine and then trim it about 1″ long. Just continue around in the same color pattern trimming your tulle all the same length.

Find some sweet little booties that go with the other colors you are using. I found mine at Cracker Barrel for $12.99.

These shoes were perfect because of the loops on the back of the booties. Trim some tulle to attach them to your wreath.

Again, I wanted something unique for this wreath, so I purchased some nursery fabric. The fabric is called bubble velour. It is so soft and easy to make a bow. Cut a long strip 8″ wide. Tie a simple bow, cut your tails at an angle.

Cut another strip around 1″ and run through the back of the ribbon and attach your bow to the wreath.

This wreath is so soft and sweet. Your mother-to-be may even want to hang it in the nursery when the party is over!

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Home Staging Tips

The Living Room & Bonus Room

Being neat and organized applies here too. If your living room is overcrowded with too much furniture, making the room look small, remove some of your furniture. You want your living room to look large and inviting.

Good lighting and furniture placement are the key in the living room.Take a look at your sofa pillows. Are they a little bit sad and flat? Go spend a little money getting better pillows! I’m amazed at how many sad and neglected pillows there are out there!

Mirrors & Greenery

Mirrors are a fantastic way to make a room seem much larger. Always try to hang a mirror on the opposite side of a window if possible. It reflects the natural light beautifully.

Add a little greenery wherever an area seems a little “boring”. Don’t go overboard! You can purchase a little greenery from any craft store along with a floral container. Simply place in the container, “fluff” it up a little, and then you have a simple arrangement.

Curb Appeal!

What is your “curb appeal”? We recently remodeled our front porch and it made a huge difference for just a few hundred dollars.

Go stand out at the end of your driveway and take a look at the front of your house. It is so easy to get used to the way things are and not see any flaws. But, take a critical look at whether or not you have “curb appeal”.

Just a little tweaking and cleaning up can make a world of difference! Put a nice potted boxwood shrub by your front door, change out the door mat, and clean up the landscaping.

For a cheap and easy front door decorating idea, hang a wreath on your front door. Nothing is more welcoming!

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Vintage Musings III: complexity and when to pick

We all love wine, different taste of wine. Is it safe to assume most people understand that a little bit of character from Brettanomyces enhances the complexity of a wine? Sure everyone’s threshold is slightly different, but when 4-ethylphenol or 4-ethylguaiacol hover around the threshold an already wonderful wine can become sublime and an ordinary wine compelling. In other words, flavor compounds generally recognized as a fault can often enhance and augment a wine helping the whole be greater than the sum of the parts. Of course it is a risky line to walk, but I think most would agree with this premise.

It is with this in mind that I follow-up the recent post regarding picking by flavors. If it is true that flavor compounds generally recognized as a fault can often enhance and augment a wine than is it true for methoxypyrazine specifically? While working with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon this compound is something we often ponder since it contributes to the relatively unsavory bell pepper aroma.

Studies (Allen et. al. (1991); Lacey et. al.(1991)) with white wine have shown that when methoxypyrazine was added to wine that otherwise had none, concentrations as low as 1 part per trillion significantly influenced the aroma of a methoxypyrazine-free white wine (emphasis mine) but was not necessarily perceived as pyrazine (bell pepper, chili, ect.) per se. In fact the threshold in this study was determined to be around 8 ppt in white wine. Typically aromas such as these have even higher thresholds in red wine. Why bring this up? Well the problem with scientific studies is that they understandably avoid more subjective conclusions regarding perceived quality and limit themselves to analytical quantification. What interests me is that the compound contributed to the overall aroma as low as 1 ppt, but while scores for veggie increased with increasing concentrations of pyrazine, there was no significant difference between 1, 2, 4, and 6 ppt. It was not until 8 ppt that the tasters effectively said, Whoa, now that is different.

Therefore since the tasters do not indicate whether or not they liked the aroma, I am free to use this study amongst other corroborating evidence to make my own speculation about aroma contribution. This is a 3 paragraph intro to get to this point: at these low levels the contribution to the aroma certainly could have been positive contribution to complexity, to interest, to intrigue in the wine.

Don’t let their term used to train the tasters – veggie – throw you off track. Why shouldn’t the pyrazine compounds improve and complex the aromas and flavors of the wine that would otherwise have none? Indeed, Allen has said elsewhere in regards to Sauvignon blanc: [pyrazine] concentration in Sauvignon blanc wines is typically 5-30 ng/L. Below 5-10 ng/L, the aroma is subdued; at 15-20 ng/L it provides an aroma that is distinctive, characteristic of the grape variety, and frequently balanced with other flavor components in the wine; at only 30 ng/L it begins to be rank and overpowering. Too little of this compound leads to an undistinguished wine, but too much gives one that is unbalanced (emphasis mine).

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Fatal Journey Part Three

Grace died on Wednesday, July 11, 1906. Chester was arrested for her murder on Saturday, right after eating a leisurely breakfast at the Arrowhead Hotel.

 

Auburn Prison, Site of Chester’s Execution in 1908

 

Chester was tried in Herkimer, Herkimer County, and the outcome was never in very much doubt. He had competent lawyers acting in his defense, but the prosecutor had amassed an astonishing amount of evidence against him. That evidence was entirely circumstantial; there were no witnesses to what happened to Grace on that summer day in the Adirondacks. Some of the evidence was secured in ways that would not be legal procedures today, but rights of the accused were secondary in that era.

 

The defendant himself had made too many mistakes, had acted like a man planning a crime before the fact with his use of aliases, had failed to do what “common decency” dictated when he walked away from the scene of Grace’s death. When he then proceeded to act the tourist and enjoy life, he may have offended every last person who might otherwise have wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt.

 

Publicly, Chester maintained to the end that he did not kill Grace. He may have confessed privately shortly before his execution; both his religious advisor and his mother said later he had. New York State’s Governor, Charles E. Hughes [at left], called the prison the night before the execution and spoke with the former. He was apparently informed that a confession had been forthcoming.

 

Governor Hughes proved himself a bright star in public life, an honorable man before, during, and after his brief career as Governor of New York State. It seems likely he made that phone call to the prison in good faith and a willingness to act, had he been given any reason to do so.

 

Chester Gillette was electrocuted at Auburn State Prison on March 30, 1908. He was buried in a cemetery in Auburn. His grave is unmarked and its exact location is unknown. Grace Brown is buried in a cemetery not far from her family home. Her small headstone, aside from her name and dates of birth and death, says only “At Rest.”

 

All of the scenes of this story are very familiar to me, having lived most of my life in Central New York State. The landscape, the small towns, the lakes and mountains of the Adirondacks, the farms and open fields spreading across the countryside are as familiar to me as my own neighborhood. South Otselic, DeRuyter, Cortland – places I have visited and explored many times. Herkimer County, even including the lakes in its northern region, is my territory too. Many of my extended family and their friends had small farms like the one that nurtured and sheltered Grace Brown, and as a child I loved visiting those rural homes.

 

Chester Gillette’s life seems more remote, several times removed from the places where I grew up. He was in Montana and Oregon, Washington State, California. He was in the east only the last two years of his short life.

 

Still, in addition to our common ancestors, there is another coincidence in our respective lives. As I read his story, particularly the way it ended, I couldn’t help thinking of a story my mother told many times. As a young child, she lived for a while in Auburn. The Prison’s warden was a family friend, and he gave my mother and her family a tour of the prison. The itinerary included the “death chamber”, no longer used by that time. Electrocutions were then held only at Sing Sing State Prison. Would she like to try out the electric chair? She would. And she did. For a lark, someone flipped the light switch, as if power was surging to the chair. My mother laughs when she tells that story.

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Fatal Journey Part Two

Chester wrote Grace one last letter a week after his previous one. In it, he says

I think it is best that you should go to Hamilton next Monday and meet me there. It would be better to go where we are not known and so we can leave there that day, although I don’t know where we can or will go. I have really no plans beyond that, as I do not know how much money I can get or anything about the country. If you have any suggestions to make I wish you would and also just when and where you can meet me….Don’t worry about anything and tell me about what I ask about the time and so forth.

 

Don’t worry about anything? Grace was entrusting, had to entrust, her whole well-being and future to this man who had no plans.

 

LAST LETTER FROM GRACE

 

My dear Chester – I am curled up by the kitchen fire….Everyone else is in bed….This is the last letter I can write dear. I feel as though you are not coming. Perhaps this is not right, but I cannot help feeling that I am never going to see you again. How I wish this was Monday [the day they planned to meet in the village of DeRuyter]….

 

I have been bidding goodbye to some places today. There are so many nooks, dear, and all of them so dear to me. I have lived here nearly all of my life. First, I said goodbye to the spring house with its great masses of green moss; then the beehive, a cute little house in the orchard, and, of course, all of the neighbors that have mended my dresses from a little tot up to save me a thrashing I really deserved.

 

Oh dear, you don’t realize what all of this is to me. I know I shall never see any of them again. And Mama! Great heavens, how I do love Mama! I don’t know what I shall do without her. She is never cross and she always helps me so much. Sometimes, I think if I could tell Mama, but I can’t. She has trouble enough as it is, and I couldn’t break her heart like that. If I come back dead, perhaps, if she does not know, she won’t be angry with me. I will never be happy again, dear. I wish I could die.

 

I am going to bed now dear. Please come and don’t let me wait there. It is for both of us to be there….I shall expect and look for you Monday forenoon.

 

Heaven bless you until then.

 

Lovingly and with kisses, The Kid

 

Contrary to Grace’s worst fears, Chester did meet her in DeRuyter as planned. There are so many “what ifs” in this story, as there are in all stories, one of which is what if Chester had backed out, leaving Grace there in that tiny hamlet alone. Would she have gone home, confided to her mother, a sister, a friend? Would she have lived?

 

The journey from DeRuyter to Big Moose Lake took from Monday to Wednesday, requiring two nights in hotels. Chester registered under false names for himself, as he had done in DeRuyter. At Big Moose Lake, he rented a row boat and the pair set off from the shore. The boat was observed by several witnesses, some on the shore, others on the lake. The understanding of the proprietor of the Glennmore Hotel, where Chester rented the boat, was that the couple would return in time for dinner. They didn’t return, and the next day several people became involved in the search for the boat and its occupants. The boat was found, floating upside down. Grace was found, drowned. There was no sign of Chester.

 

Chester’s account of what happened fluctuated, but he settled on a story about Grace being distraught and jumping into the lake to commit suicide, overturning the boat in the process. Unable to rescue her, he swam to shore and then walked four miles to Eagle Bay. When the boat left the Glennmore dock, it was known that he had a suitcase with him. His explanation for the dry clothes he was seen wearing on his hike was that the suitcase was left on shore when the couple stopped to picnic. He said he had planned to retrieve it on the way back to the Glennmore.

 

There never was a satisfactory explanation as to why Chester failed to seek help or report the incident. He arrived at Eagle Bay on foot, then took a small steamboat across the lake to the village of Inlet. He registered at the Arrowhead Hotel under his own name, Chester Gillette, Cortland.

 

For the next three days, Chester behaved very much like a young man with not a care in the world, on vacation, and enjoying every minute. He acted like any other tourist, hiking up a nearby mountain, conversing freely with people he met, and generally being charming, particularly when chatting with young women.

 

For Chester, life was about to change dramatically.

 

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Fatal Journey

Part One

The young woman on the left was my cousin, Grace Brown. The young man on the right was Chester Gillette. He was also my cousin. When I started learning their story, I had no idea there was any kinship to add to the many connections of geography, and one other coincidence, which I’ll save for later. On a whim, I took a look at Grace’s ancestry and found we had several sets of ancestors in common. With Chester, there was even more shared ancestry. I haven’t been able to connect their families together, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find they were related to each other.

 

Grace drowned in 1906. She was 20 years old. Chester was convicted of her murder and was executed in 1908 at the age of 24. Behind those simple, stark facts, there are many details known, and many more obscure.

 

There are a great many facts known about Chester and the life he led before it was ended in Auburn Prison on March 30,1908. Born in Montana in 1883, he did a great deal of traveling with his parents, “captains” in the Salvation Army. The family’s wanderings are interesting, perhaps, but they hardly seem relevant. There is nothing there that gives us much explanation as to what happened later.

 

About Grace, there is little to say. She was one of several children of a farming family, and Grace never traveled at all. Still, we are “aware” of Grace in a way that we can never know Chester. You see, Grace wrote letters. Ah, such letters! They tell us worlds about their young writer, about her concerns, her fears, her state of mind. They propelled her story into national prominence, probably contributed to the novel (“An American Tragedy” by Theodore Dreiser) and the movie (“A Place in the Sun” starring Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, and Shelly Winters), and they may well have assured that her fickle boyfriend, Chester, was convicted of her murder.

 

This is a story of real people and, as such, has no easily identifiable beginning. A young man goes to work in his uncle’s skirt factory in Cortland, New York, where he meets many attractive young women who interest him. There are others that he knows from other settings. Grace was employed in that factory in the cutting room, and she was one of the girls Chester dated.

 

Perhaps “dated” is the wrong word to use here. Chester did date others, taking them places and attending parties with them, but Grace he visited at her place of residence. For a time she lived in her sister’s home and later in a boarding house. They had a sexual relationship in these houses for perhaps ten months, but they did not appear in public places together, outside of the skirt factory.

 

During the spring months of 1906, Grace became pregnant. There was never any doubt as to paternity. Whatever the two discussed with each other, whatever alternatives were considered, whatever plans were made are open to speculation, but only to speculation. There were no witnesses to conversations, and nothing was confided by either to any third party, as far as is known.

 

Grace took time off from work for a “vacation” at home on her parents’ farm. She and Chester kept in touch through letters during this time, and Grace also received letters from friends working in the factory. It was apparent that they were keeping her informed of Chester’s dates with other women. In writing to Chester, Grace alludes to plans they have made to go away together, for him to come and take her somewhere, the destination unspecified and purpose unclear. Were they going to marry? Were they merely planning to live somewhere until the baby was born and they could return to their respective homes? No one knows, and probably this question will be one of many remaining unanswered.

 

LETTERS FROM GRACE

 

Chester, I have done nothing but cry since I got here. If you were only here I would not feel so badly. I knew I should worry all the time. I do try to be brave dear, but how can I when everything goes wrong? I can’t help thinking you will never come for me, but then I say you can’t be so mean as that, and besides, you told me you would come and you have never disappointed me when you said you would not. Everything worries me and I am so frightened, dear. It won’t make any difference to you about your coming a few days earlier than you intended, will it dear? It means so much to me…I will try to be brave dear….I don’t believe I will sleep a wink tonight. Please write often and in every one of your letters I wish you would tell me not to worry about your coming for me. If you were only here, dear. I am so blue….Please write often, dear, and tell me you will come for me before papa makes me tell the whole affair, or they find it out themselves. I just can’t rest one single minute until I hear from you….

 

My dear Chester – I am writing to tell you I am coming back to Cortland. I simply can’t stay here any longer. Mama worries and wonders why I cry so much and I am just about sick. Please come and take me away from some place, dear…..I am afraid you won’t come, and I am so frightened, dear. I know you will think it queer, but I can’t help it….Chester, there isn’t a girl in the whole world as miserable as I am tonight, and you have made me feel so. Chester, I don’t mean that dear. You have always been awfully good to me. You just won’t be a coward, I know….I can’t wait so long for letters, dear….if you think I am unreasonable please do not mind it, but do think I am about crazy with grief and that I don’t know just what to do. Please write to me, dear.

 

My dear Chester – I am just ready for bed, and I am so ill I could not help writing to you….This p.m. my brother brought me a letter from one of the first [at the factory], and after I read the letter I fainted again. Chester, I came home because I thought I could trust you. I don’t think now I will be here after next Friday. [Grace continues to threaten to return to Cortland, thus causing trouble.] This girl wrote me that you seemed to be having an awfully good time….She also said that you spent most of your time with that detestable Grace Hill….I should have known, Chester, that you did not care for me. But somehow I have trusted you more than anyone else….I presume you won’t think you can come for me when I ask you to, Chester. If I could only die. I know how you feel about this affair, and I wish for your sake you need not be troubled. If I die I hope you can then be happy. I hope I can die….and then you can do just as you like. I am not the least bit offended with you, only I am a little blue tonight….Chester, please don’t think I am unreasonable. I wish I could hear from you, and I wish – oh dear, come please and take me away….I do want you to have a good time, though, and I won’t be cross….

My dear Chester – I am just wild because I don’t get a letter from you….I miss you. Oh dear, you don’t know how much I miss you. Honestly, dear, I am coming back next week unless you come for me right away. [another threat] I am so lonesome I can’t stand it. A week ago tonight we were together. Don’t you remember how I cried, dear? I have cried like that nearly all the time since I left Cortland. I am awfully blue…Please write or I will be crazy. Be a good kid and God bless you.

I would not like to have you think I was not glad to hear from you, for I was very glad, but it was not the kind of letter I had hoped to get from you. I think – pardon me – that I understand my position and that it is rather unnecessary for you to be so frightfully frank in making me see it. I can see my position as keenly as anyone, I think….You tell me not to worry and think less about how I feel and have a good time. Don’t you think if you were me you would worry?….I understand how you feel about this affair. You consider me as something troublesome, that you are bothered with. You think if it wasn’t for me you could do as you liked all summer and not be obligated to give up your position there. I know how you feel, but once in a while, you make me see all these things a great deal more plainly than ever. I don’t suppose you have ever considered how it puts me out of all the good times for the summer and how I had to give up my position there? I think all this is about as bad for me as for you, don’t you?…I don’t suppose you will ever know how I regret being all this trouble to you. I know you hate me, and I can’t blame you one bit. My whole life is ruined, and in a measure, yours is too. Of course, it is worse for me than for you, but the world and you too may think I am the only one to blame, but somehow I can’t, just simply can’t think I am, Chester. I said no so many times dear. Of course, the world will not know that, but it’s true all the same….I wish for your sake things were different, but I have done all I can do to prevent your being bothered. I know you will be cross when you read this, but you won’t be angry and blame me will you?…

 

[Apparently frightened at the tone of her previous letter and its possible consequences, Grace wrote the next day] …I have been uneasy all day and I can’t go to sleep because I am sorry I sent you such a hateful letter this morning, so I am going to write and ask your forgiveness, dear. I was cross and wrote things I ought not to have written. I am very sorry dear and I shall never feel quite right about all this until you write and say you quite forgive me…..Where do you suppose we will be two weeks from tonight? I wish you would write and tell me, dear, all about your coming….

 

My dear Chester – I wish you could have known how pleased I was to hear from you today….I think I shall die of joy when I see you, dear….I will try and not worry so much, and I won’t believe the horrid things the girls write….Chester, dear, I hope you will have an awfully nice time the Fourth [of July]. Really dear, I don’t care where you go or who you are with if you only come for me the 7th….I was cross and ill when I wrote about it before, but really, I don’t mind the least bit….

 

….You must come Saturday, dear, for I can never stay any longer. I have done my best and been as brave as possible these last weeks, but if you should not come I will do something desperate. Or dear, dear, dear! I can’t see anything but just trouble. What if I should not be able to travel? [Grace is apparently weak and ill from loss of weight, worry, and perhaps a difficult pregnancy.] There are so many things to think about. If I had strength dear, I do believe I should walk to the river and throw myself in. It would be rather cowardly, and I despise a coward, but I would not be a bother to you any longer. Oh Chester, the thought that I am in your way just drives me crazy. How I want to die no one but myself knows….I cannot tell how I really and truly need you, and I presume you will never know what I have suffered….And you must not fail to come. I will be so glad to see you, I will promise not to quarrel for a long time. Write as often as you can dear, and please come….

 

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WATERFALLS

Waterfalls are dear to most people, like rainbows. The sights and sounds of them have a universal appeal, restful and calming. There are some exceptions, like that tiny horror in the sheer north face of the Eiger that some climbers had to negotiate to reach the summit, or the dangerous falls an out-of-control boat is approaching. Pretty to look at, waterfalls can have a darker side.

They also have a history. Waterfalls actually have two kinds of history – a beginning and an end for themselves, and an impact on other kinds of history, such as human history.

The life history of a waterfall is described succinctly by the Encyclopedia Britannica.

In essence, a waterfall is an area where flowing river water drops abruptly and nearly vertically. Rivers tend to smooth out the bumps and depressions in their flow by processes of erosion and deposition. Elevated areas within the river get worn away, and the holes filled up with sediment. The river forms a smooth curve, steepest toward the source, most level towards the mouth. Waterfalls interrupt this curve, and their presence is a measure of the progress of erosion.

 

“Within a river’s time scale, a waterfall is a temporary feature that is eventually worn away….With the passage of time… the inescapable tendency of rivers is to eliminate any waterfall that may have formed.”

Nothing lasts forever.

The world’s tallest waterfall is Angel Falls, rising 3,212 feet above the floor of the a Venezuelan jungle. If you would like to jump from the top of it, there are expeditions planned so that people can do just that. Of course, there is a fee. An internet site explains. “COST: $5500 U.S. PER PERSON. This will cover virtually everything from the moment we arrive in Caracas until our departure. Flights to and from Caracas are additional. Alcohol, trinkets and beads are also additional.”

Angel Falls is in southeastern Venezuela and in a terrain so remote and difficult to get to that it was unknown to Venezuelans until the early 1930s. Overland access is blocked by a huge steep slope. Venezuelans were able to survey the region with aircraft, and they discovered the falls in 1935. Because of the dense jungle surrounding it, the waterfall is still best observed from the air. Angel Falls was named for James Angel, an American adventurer who crash-landed his plane on a nearby mesa two years after the falls had been discovered.

In 1971 three Americans and an Englishman climbed the sheer rock face of the falls in an adventure that took ten days. Climbing waterfalls is popular among some. When they reach the top, they say they have “conquered” the falls, which is the same claim they make about mountains.

A very famous waterfall is a small one, tucked into the Allegheny Mountains not far from Pittsburgh. Its distinction stems from the architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, who built a house called “Fallingwater,” cantilevered over the falls. Begun in 1936 and completed the following year, Wright designed the house for Pittsburgh department store owner Edgar J. Kaufmann as a weekend retreat. Probably Wright’s most-admired work, it was later given to the state and was opened to visitors. Wright had a sense of humor, which is apparent in some of his work, and in several quotes. My favorite is “The physician can bury his mistakes, but the architect can only advise his clients to plant vines.” Fallingwater was never a house that needed vines.

Henry Stanley, a New York Herald reporter, is supposed to have said “Dr. Livingstone, I presume.” That quotation is probably much more famous than the man who inspired it. That was David Livingstone, a Scot who arrived in Africa in 1840 at the age of 27 as a missionary and physician. He remained in Africa exploring the continent’s interior for the rest of his life. He lost an argument with a lion, losing his arm in the encounter, but continued undeterred.

 

In 1855, he became the first European to witness the magnificence of Victoria Falls. He wrote of the experience, “It had never been seen before by European eyes; but scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.”

 

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TWO VIEWS OF TOLEDO

A photograph – and a painting. Toledo now, and Toledo four hundred years ago. Toledo, as the camera reveals it. Toledo, as the artist, El Greco saw it, filtered through his own experiences, religious beliefs, mission as an artist, and, perhaps, what he knew of history.

The sky conditions in the two images are similar, showing a coming storm, or one just passing. In the photograph, it’s quite possible to see that soon the sun will break through. The painting, however, speaks of a sunny day gone by, now past, and perhaps long past. The horizon is black. Toledo’s history was black, too. Was the artist trying to convey that message? Possibly not; he was in thrall to the ruling religious powers of his time. It had been 100 years since the city of Toledo, capital of Spain until 1560, had tolerated anything else.

Titus Livius (59 BC-AD 17), a Roman historian better known as “Livy,” was the first to record any mention of Toledo. Two thousand years ago, he described it as a “small fortificated town.” When the Romans arrived in Toledo in the First Century A.D., they found a very well-defended city, situated on a mountain and surrounded by a river. Several centuries later, they built a massive wall that kept Toledo safe from invasions for centuries.

The Visigoths invaded Toledo and expelled the Romans in the Fifth Century A.D. and were the first Christian residents of Toledo. The Visigoths stayed in Toledo from the Fifth Century A.D. until 711, when the Muslims, with their vast armies, new religion, and powerful weapons obliterated them.

The Jews were a part of Toledan history since the last years of the Roman occupation. They came with the Romans, and the two groups coexisted peacefully. Though the Jews were never the dominant group in Toledo, they were always an important part of the city. They became known as money-lenders, merchants of fine cloths and precious metals, and intellectuals and were generally well-respected by the other peoples of Toledo. When the Visigoths took over, they forced the Jews to stop practicing their religion openly. The Muslims, in contrast, basically left the Jews in peace and only required them to pay taxes, just as they did to the remaining Visigoth Christians in Toledo.

Heritage Tours Online (website) says of Toledo:

During its heyday as capital (before it was moved to Madrid in 1561), Toledo was one of the most enlightened cities in Europe and a famous center for medicine, translation and manuscripts. While the rest of Europe was suffering through the Dark Ages, Toledo was shining bright and prospering.

Toledo was a society of great tolerance that attracted Muslim, Jewish and Christian men of learning and commerce. It was the scholars of Toledo who kept the works of the Greeks and Romans from becoming lost to future generations. Prominent schools of science, mathematics, theology and mysticism developed here, as well as schools of the occult and alchemy.

“Enlightened,” “shining bright,” “great tolerance,” words and phrases celebrate Toledo’s proudest place in history. Then, things changed.

When competing ideologies take up arms against each other, they can be just as vicious as any other type of warfare. My idea is right; yours is wrong. My religious sentiment is correct; yours is false. My God is the one true God; yours is a heathen fallacy.

I, ME, MY, where religion is concerned, is always in the context of WE, US, OUR and stands in contrast to OTHER, which includes all people not of the same religious persuasion. The thoughts, US and THEM, have a way of becoming US versus THEM, and THEY are suddenly the enemy.

The Jews in Toledo became the enemy.

After centuries of peace, a mob acting irrationally, as mobs always do, massacred Jews in Toledo in 1391. The same hysterical thirst for blood was unleashed in other parts of Spain, and nothing would ever be the same. The final horrific scenes in this long-playing tragedy would not take place for a century, but in the end, in 1492, Jews would be expelled from Spain. Along the way, many were tortured, many murdered, many driven out just ahead of the executioners.

The expulsion of the Jews heralded the political and economic demise of the city, which culminated in the Royal Court being moved to Madrid in 1561 in the reign of King Philip II. Toledo in the 21st century has tourism as its chief industry. Visitors can see the sad remnants of a glorious past, but it takes a knowledgeable tour guide to point them out. To really know Toledo, one must read the more honest of the history books. One could also study El Greco’s “View of Toledo.” Look closely; man’s dark side is suggested there.

 

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THE TWAIN SHALL MEET

Mark Twain and H. L. Mencken

All you need is ignorance and confidence; then success is sure.

It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.

Always do right. That will gratify some of the people, and astonish the rest.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens took his more familiar name, “Mark Twain,” from his experience as a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi. In shallow water, soundings were taken to determine the depth, and “mark twain” meant two fathoms, 12 feet, deep enough for safe navigation.

I have been an author for 20 years and an ass for 55.

Clemens lost his father when he was only 12. At the age of 13 he left school and became a printer’s apprentice. After two short years, he joined his brother Orion’s newspaper as a printer and editorial assistant. It was here that young Samuel found he enjoyed writing.

At 17, he moved to St. Louis and took a printer’s job, and about that time became a river pilot’s apprentice. He became a licensed river pilot in 1858. He was then 23. Three years later, in 1861, the American Civil War ended opportunities to continue that career. He left the Mississippi, briefly served in the Confederate cavalry, and then began some travels and adventures.

Later in 1861, he accompanied his brother to the newly created Nevada Territory, where he tried his hand at silver mining. In 1862 he became a reporter on the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City, Nevada, and in 1863 he began signing his articles with the pseudonym Mark Twain. After moving to San Francisco, California in 1864, Twain met American writers Artemus Ward and Bret Harte, who encouraged him in his work. In 1865 Twain reworked a tale he had heard in the California gold fields, and within months the author and the story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” had become national sensations.

In 1867 Twain lectured in New York City, and in the same year he visited Europe and Palestine. He wrote of these travels in The Innocents Abroad (1869), a book exaggerating those aspects of European culture that impress American tourists. In 1870 he married Olivia Langdon, a native of Elmira, NY. After living briefly in Buffalo, New York, the couple moved to Hartford, Connecticut. Much of Twain’s best work was written in the 1870s and 1880s in Hartford or during the summers at Quarry Farm, near Elmira, New York.

Mark Twain’s house in Hartford, CT

Twain was justly renowned as a humorist, but he was far more than that, and his versatility and wide interests and depth of thought and emotion were later recognized by other American writers. Two of those were Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner, both of whom pointed to Twain as an inspiration for their own writing.

He died in 1910, leaving a rich legacy for these writers, and others, to try to emulate. His best work is characterized by broad, often irreverent humor or biting social satire. Twain’s writing is also known for realism of place and language, memorable characters, and hatred of hypocrisy and oppression.

The best analysis of Twain’s work was written by another writer, H. L. Mencken.

 

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PRINCE OF WALES

PRINCE OF WALES

As an American with little knowledge of English history and tradition, I have wondered what in the world the Prince of Wales has to do with Wales. I have some ancestors, way, way back, who were said to be princes in the country we now call Wales. What happened? How did they get shoved aside for this (we suspect) honorary title, “Prince of Wales?” I decided to investigate.

Cardigan Bay, Wales**

My ancestor, and I have this on pretty good authority as those things go, was named Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, sometimes called “Llywelyn the Great.” He ruled a territory in Wales from 1194 to 1240 and was called Prince of Aberffraw and Lord of Snowdon. One historian, Wynford Vaughan-Thomas, says the following about Llywelyn: “He proved to be the greatest and most constructive Welsh statesman of the Middle Ages…. When he died in 1240, full of honor and glory, he left a principality which had the possibility of expanding into a truly national state of Wales. There was a moment when an independent Wales seemed about to become a reality.”*

Alas, it was not to be. Things looked pretty hopeful for a few years, on and off, but “off” won out. Edward the First replaced Henry III as King of England, and he conquered Wales and subjugated its people. In order to keep them in line, Edward I had enormous stone castles built in several places. Below is the one at Conwy, and it is said to have been placed above the original tomb of Llywelyn the Great. Not everyone can say just where their 23rd great grandfather is buried, but sometimes we just get lucky. There is also a statue of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth in the town of Conwy. I don’t know whether they also have a statue celebrating Edward I, but somehow I doubt it.

Edward the First was not the first king of England to be named Edward. There was Edward the Elder, 899-925. There was Edward the Martyr, 975-78. There was Edward the Confessor, 1042-66. We don’t get to Edward the First until 1272, and he ruled until 1307. He was also called Edward I Longshanks, being quite a tall fellow. After that, England seemed to get better at simple arithmetic; at least, they had learned to count. The next Edwards came in order. Edward II followed Edward I, next was Edward III. He was followed by some Henrys, but when another Edward put in an appearance, he was Edward IV, and so it went. It went right up to Edward VIII who, as we all know, didn’t want to be King without the woman he loved at his side, so he didn’t last very long in office. He was England’s last Edward, and there are no more in sight.

We have to get back to Edward the First, because he was the key player in all this “Prince of Wales” business. The Encyclopedia Britannica has this to say about the matter: “In Great Britain the word prince could always be used in a generally descriptive way for a sovereign, duke, or other peer; but as a title of rank it was not used until 1301, when Edward I invested his son, the future Edward II, as Prince of Wales. From Edward III’s time the king’s eldest son and heir was usually so invested.”

If the Encyclopedia Britannica is correct, and who would doubt it?, the first Prince of Wales in the modern sense was Edward II. What sort of chap was he? “Edward II lacked the royal dignity of his father and failed miserably as king.” That’s the opening sentence in one biography. At the end of his reign, he was deposed and murdered. His lifestyle lacked style, at least for those times: his most influential associate was probably also his homosexual lover, and the folks around Edward were not pleased.

It’s hard to imagine stronger words than these, spoken about Edward I, but describing his despicable son. Sir Richard Baker, in reference to Edward I in A Chronicle of the Kings of England wrote: “…of four sons which he had by his Queen Eleanor, three of them died in his own lifetime, who were worthy to have outlived him; and the fourth outlived him, who was worthy never to have been born.”

That was the first Prince of Wales, and a very dismal start it was.

Things got better. And worse. And better again. If most of the male heir apparents were made Prince of Wales, there must have been many of them. Probably few are known for their doings as Prince. After all, why examine the salad when you can review the feast to follow? There are some exceptions, though. Some were Princes much longer than they were Kings, and the previously mentioned Edward VIII is a good example of that. An even better example is Edward VII.

Edward got a bad start in life, having two very large handicaps. One was his mother. The other was his father. Poor Edward was the second child and first son of Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert. Neither parent liked this child, thought he would amount to much, or respected him for any of his personal qualities. They seemed to have decided early on that he was hopeless and very poor material for the future King of England. Edward was made Prince of Wales at the age of one month, and things seemed to go down hill for him thereafter.

His parents were strict. More than strict, they imposed a rigid regimen upon him, controlling, or attempting to control, his every move. He could have done what many do under those circumstances, knuckle under and become a wimp. He chose another path – that of rebel – and what a glorious rebellion it was. He indulged in wine, women, and song. And food. And more women. and more of everything. Edward’s exploits were a scandal to some, amusing to others. He himself seems to have had a good time of it.

Edward married Princess Alexandra of Denmark when he was 22 years old, and they had three sons and three daughters. Photographs and paintings show her to be a very lovely woman, and historians say she “turned a blind eye” to her husband’s indiscretions. Apparently, Edward fared better with his wife than he had with his parents.

Queen Victoria never allowed her son to participate in affairs of state, and she found a way to blame him for her dear husband’s death. Albert is said to have died from typhoid fever, but Victoria believed that his worry over his son’s scandalous behavior was a contributing factor. She stated later that she could never bear the sight of her son after Albert died. Odd attitude, considering that Victoria lived nearly another 40 years.

Edward VII has the distinction of being Prince of Wales for a longer period of time than anyone else who ever held the title, fifty-nine years. Considering that his mother nearly completely shut him out of governmental affairs, one would expect him to have been a very poor and inept monarch. In fact, Edward was one of the best.

Edward succeeded the throne upon Victoria’s death and Edward threw himself into his role of king with vitality. His extensive European travels made him an accomplished ambassador in foreign relations. He was kin to most of the royal houses in Europe, allowing him to actively participate in foreign policy negotiations. Victoria’s fears proved wrong: Edward’s forays into foreign policy had direct bearing on the alliances between Great Britain and both France and Russia, and his manner and style endeared him to the English populace. Like Princess Alexandria, apparently, they didn’t hold his flamboyant sexual exploits against him. Perhaps Princes and Kings are held to different standards. Whatever the truth of that, Edward VII was and is considered a success.

 

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