Perhaps it’s not the worst simile…

…but when Willard Sterne Randall reports that “The resulting stalemate was about to burst like a beaver dam in a spring freshet, sweeping away the French”, I think I strained a muscle rolling my eyes.  

Yes, at this point (about which I’ll post later), the situation of the French teamed with the Algonquins (the Native Americans, not Dorothy Parker’s pals) against the English and the Iroquois was, indeed, a powder keg.  But Randall’s cutesie phrasing is especially appalling given that a dozen pages later, he practically writes a series of action adventure scenes suitable for Washington & Christopher Gist to be played by Johnny Depp and Daniel Craig.

And please don’t write in to point out that Depp is too old and too short and too weird to play a 21-year-old Washington. I don’t watch action movies and at least both of these guys could believably manage running off, getting their canoe cracked against ice shards, avoiding getting shot and living to heroically delivery the intel.  You wanna complain about casting, get your own blog. <g>

Published in: on January 3, 2009 at 7:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Biography Selected

The plan was to start this project the abridged version of Douglas Southall Freeman’s WASHINGTON: AN ABRIDGEMENT IN ONE VOLUME BY RICHARD HARWELL OF THE SEVEN VOLUME GEORGE WASHINGTON, as noted on the reading list in the blogroll. At 780 pages, it makes one wonder just how abridged it could be!  Indeed, the version as revised in 1995 (listed simply as Washington) comes in at 896 pages!  

I’d wanted to begin reading a few nights before New Year’s Eve, to get  a running start, but the version on hold at my library wasn’t available.  So, I  went with another worthy option on the big bio list,  GEORGE WASHINGTON:  A LIFE by Williard Sterne Randall, probably better known for his book on Benedict Arnold.

Having only made it  67 measly pages, the most compelling bits and pieces relate to his wacky mother, Mary Ball Washington. I don’t  doubt that all the bits and pieces related to his great, great grandparents in England had an impact on the events and issues surrounding his life, but as previously mentioned,  I’m not a historian. I also got a bit tired of the ancestors who married women named Anne, and when one Anne died, replaced her with another Anne.  Nor have I much interest in how much happened up to the death of Gus (OK, Augustus) Washington, Mr. Father of our County’s dad.  

But Mary Ball Washington?  Surely her special flavor of crazy had an impact in ways large and small.  But just for a taste of her background, through what was apparently not any fault of her own, her parents and grandparents dropped like flies, leaving her a pretty healthy legacy of furniture, livestock, money (lots of money, which she both squandered and hid), slaves, land, livestock…and horses.  Oh, this chick loved her horses.  (I’m making no Catherine the Great  connection, but you’re welcome to have at it!)  She was a wild horeswoman, and not interested in getting married off.  And why would she have been?  She  had everything a woman needed in those days for self-determination and power.

But she did, eventually, marry widower Gus, becoming mother to his three kids and moving all of her crap into the already crowded-with-crap little brick house at Pope’s Creek in Virginia.  Eleven months later (February 11, 1732 under the old English Calendar…the switch from which will probably be discussed in future posts), she gave birth to George.  But what matters to me is what happened while she was pregnant, and please reader, look away if you are at all squeamish.  The summer of her pregnancy, the family and some friends were having a post-Church meal when a thunderstorm rolled in and lightning hit the house and killed a little girl who was visiting.  Mary was sitting so close to the child that she was also shocked.

Randall believes that this sets up an explanation for much of Mama Washington’s weird fears and odd behaviors (like rarely going farther from home than church and expecting George to stay close and have fealty only to her), though some early tales make me wonder if she didn’t start out a bit wacky.  Nonetheless, weird parents yield kids with weirdnesses of their own, dissimilar often, but quirks nonetheless.  

So, if you’re ever time traveling and visit a Tidewater family for Sunday lunch, don’t sit too close to the little girl near the pregnant horsewoman.  Just as a precaution.

Published in: on January 2, 2009 at 11:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

Walking With Presidents

Earlier this week, the dental hygienist (Look, Ma, no cavities!) saw me reading Fellow Citizens: The Penguin Book of U.S. Presidential Inaugural Addresses and gave me a funny look.  I explained that in anticipation of my 2009 project to try to read a definitive biography of each American president, I was going to review their inaugural speeches.  She gave me that patient look reserved for small children and confused seniors and commented that I must love to read history.

Well, I love to read, and I love history, but I don’t necessarily love to read history.  Too often, it’s about battles (which never interest me) or tariffs (Smoot-Hawley, anyone?), which never interest anyone.  But I am fascinated with people, and particularly with leaders.  What makes someone follow, swear loyalty to and be willing to wage wars at their command and brave snowstorms to support their candidacy?

So, to lay out the ground rules, which I may change at any time, here are the details:

  1. I’ll be reading about the presidents in chronological order.  Duh.
  2. The key is a definitive biography, not the definitive biography.  I’m not a real presidential historian–I only play one on television.  So, I’ll leave that to the wisdom and skills of the esteemed  Doris Kearns Goodwin.  Which books I read is not open for discussion or debate.  If you feel there’s a much better book than the one I’ve read, feel free to say so, but I’m not  obligated to borrow or buy it. Remember,  I’m doing this for me, not for you.  🙂
  3. I’ll get guidance, and when available (at the library, mostly likely) and practicable,  I’ll try to select a title from the THE ESSENTIAL PRESIDENTIAL BOOK SHELF: A SELECTIVE READERS’ AND COLLECTORS’ GUIDE By Tom Trescott and Dan Weinberg.  However, as noted in #2, the selections are up to me.
  4. I’m not going to review the books.  I am going to comment on them, but I’m more interested in commenting on the lives and decisions and lives of the presidents themselves, the people surrounding them, and the events of the eras.  Hopefully, I’m more Entertainment Tonight than TMZ.
  5. I’m doing this because I miss Professor (Richard) Polenberg.  Over two decades ago at Cornell, I took three of his classes, two big lecture-hall courses, where we just sat back and he told the thousand or so of us some great stories that just happened to be about American history, and one 15-person seminar where I’ve never tried so hard to be worthy of the person from which I was learning.  Professor Polenberg rocked (and I presume, still rocks), and failing being able to sit in his class somewhere on Cornell’s campus twice a week and find out how the country got this way, I’m going to read some books about some presidents, and figure out what I can on my own.
  6. And finally, as dazzling as Professor Polenberg’s classes always were, I really wouldn’t be here without William Daniels (yes, Mark Craig from St. Elsewhere and Mr. Feeney on Boy Meets World).  His voice, as John Adams in the musical 1776, on the Sunday morning broadcasts of Broadway Bound (just before Breakfast with the Beatles) filled my Cornell weekends with inspiration.  Commitment!

I see fireworks.

I see the pageants and pomp and parades.

I hear the bells ringing out.  I hear the cannons roar.

I see Americans.  All Americans free, forever more.

Well,  that (semi-apocryphal) Adams made the decision to accept the South’s terms in order to get the Declaration signed.  What does that compromise say about leadership, anyway?

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  First  comes General G. Washington.

Published in: on January 1, 2009 at 6:37 pm  Comments (2)  

New year, new projects


Although I’ve been blogging professionally since 2007, my alter ego, Paper Doll, appears at Blog Central at  If you were looking for something specifically about professional organizing or getting organized, please visit me there.  

This blog is largely unplanned, is likely to be less dutifully edited, and is a work in progress.  Actually, I hope it will be many works in progress.  But first, a little background.

I realized that as my professional blog is on a proprietary platform, if I didn’t do something soon, I’d be just about the only person under 70 who didn’t know how to use mainstream blog software.  I realize that platform (and Livejournal, where I’ve also played a bit) can’t be very much different from WordPress or Blogger or whatever becomes the next big blogthing, but nobody likes to be left in the dust.  Thus, one main purpose of this blog is to experiment and learn the blogging skills everyone else seems to possess.

Second,  I’m hoping to use this as a platform to write about things that have nothing to do with my professional life.  I love organizing and writing about organizing, and I’m sure I’ll be mentioning that occasionally here, but I’m really just hoping to use this as a space to speak my piece and track my personal projects.

Third…about these mysterious projects.  The first endeavor is presidential.  Of which, more later.

If you’re one of the two people I anticipate will be reading this, thanks.  If you’re someone else and either know me or are interested in the project(s), great.  If you’re someone very much else, and plan to write mean or profane comments, please know that they’ll be automatically stripped, so not only won’t you see them, but they won’t bother me in the least, because I won’t be seeing them either.

Ok, that’s it.  You’ve got some time.  Go have another New Year’s Day meal.  I’ll be back later.  🙂

Published in: on January 1, 2009 at 5:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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