Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Our Kitchen Thief in the Night--Part Two

In my previous post, I described our week-long war of nerves with the mysterious creature who visits  our kitchen table every night, picking out its favorites of the treats we leave, making them vanish, leaving anything he doesn't like, (popcorn and even a piece of cheese!) and then disappearing without leaving crumbs or droppings.

As I said in the last post, on Sunday night we left two "humane traps" which the animal had managed to burgle the night before, without triggering the open doors at each end of the plastic boxes to crash down and trap him inside.  We also left a bit of cookie on the floor near the back door.

On Monday morning,--yesterday--I came downstairs to discover that the animal had again snagged the cookie pieces in one trap without setting off the closing doors, but in the second one, he was caught!  And struggling to get out. He seemed to weigh nothing as the Big Eleni carried the trap to the farthest border of our property, near our neighbor's house.  I had my camera ready to catch his image, solving our kitchen mystery once and for all.

The moment Big Eleni set the trap on the ground, the creature exploded out of it, shooting into the underbrush so fast that we didn't know what we had just seen.  I insisted it was a small chipmunk, and Eleni insisted it was a mouse.  It's so frustrating that our thief got away without us getting a decent mug shot!

Dejectedly, I left in my car to drive to New York, where I am now.  Big Eleni threw away the trap the thing had been caught in but, I learned later,  just to see what would happen, she put the other small trap on the table with cookie pieces inside.  And this morning, she found that the cookies had vanished, without the trap being set off!  Had our thief found his way back into the kitchen from our neighbor's yard, or are we dealing with a whole gang of very clever rodents?

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Our Kitchen Thief Comes in the Night

It started a couple weeks ago. A small bowl of Hershey's Kisses was left on the kitchen table.  The next morning, all the Kisses were gone but their aluminum foil wrappers were strewn on the table, empty.

There were no mouse droppings and no crumbs.  Those chocolates had vanished!  Speaking as one who has had many dealings with house mice, I knew this was not normal mouse behavior.  My Nancy Drew side kicked in.  I was going to catch this animal red-handed.  We started on Sunday, May 13, leaving some cookie pieces on a napkin.  By morning all the cookie bits were gone, leaving no crumbs and no mouse droppings.  It was a neat heist. 

We (that's "Big Eleni" Nikolaides and me)  began musing about a chipmunk--there are dozens in our yard--or a bird (I had heard flapping noises one night)--or a ghost--some of our recently deceased relatives had really loved chocolates.

Hoping to gather clues about our visitor, on the night of May 14--Monday--I placed two chocolates kisses and some cookie bits in the center of a wide circle of flour.  By morning we discovered that the goodies were still there.  It seemed some animal had ventured in toward the treats but then turned back, scared off by the flour.  There was a tiny little hand print, which made me think "Chipmunk."

Big Eleni left some pieces of bread on the night of Weds. the 16th and the next morning, the bread was still there--one piece slightly nibbled.   Our visitor didn't like bread.

We crawled around the floor with flashlights, and examined the ceiling's edges but found no holes where the creature could get in.  Then Big Eleni found a hole on the outside of the kitchen's bay window and covered it with duct tape.  You can see it was in a spot that a small creature without wings would find hard to reach.  There was no corresponding hole on the inside.

That night we set out a virtual buffet for out kitchen thief--cookies, popcorn, almonds and one chocolate kiss.  You can see what we found in the morning: the creature had removed all the treats except for the popcorn.  Our visitor was a picky eater.  And still no crumbs or droppings.

It was time to bring in the big guns.  We put cookie pieces in two "humane traps" and a piece on one trap that has sticky guck so that when a mouse steps in it, he's stuck there.  The box-like traps are left open at both ends, with some food in the center, and when a mouse walks in, both end doors slam shut and the animal is trapped inside, until you carry it far away and release the thing to the wilds.  In the morning, we saw that the thief in the night had managed to remove one cookie piece from the box trap without making the doors come down (he must have reached in without stepping on the floor of the trap) and he (or she!) had also removed the treat from the sticky guck without stepping on it and getting stuck.

That was this morning.  What we had learned so far was that the wily thief was smarter than we are.

So tonight--Sunday night--we have put out the box traps once again, making sure the cookies were right in the middle of the box--not close enough to grab--and we've put a single piece of cookie on the floor near the back door, just in case the thief can get in under the door.

Tune in tomorrow to see if we've made any progress in catching--or even identifying--the creature who comes in the night, who is starting to seem like our pet or a member of the family.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Which Royal Tiara Will Meghan Choose?

We're getting down to the wire on the Royal Wedding that everyone's talking about.  There's so much curiosity and excitement swirling about the ceremony uniting Britain's Prince Harry and America's Meghan Markle that even I, a notorious layabed, will be up at 6 a.m. next Saturday to watch the ceremony.  (Today's New York Post printed recipes for scones to serve at your royal wedding breakfast party as well as the recipe for the Queen's favorite Chocolate Biscuit  Cake, and I'm very tempted to make it.)

One of the big questions about the ceremony is--not only what will the bridal gown look like, but also WHICH ROYAL TIARA will Meghan choose?  This inspired me to re-post some sections of two blog posts I wrote earlier this year, discussing the weddings of Queen Victoria, as well as Diana and Kate.  As you will see, Victoria was somewhat of a rebel, choosing a crown of orange blossoms instead of diamonds.  And Princess Diana, at the last moment, decided not to wear the tiara her future mother-in-law, the Queen, had loaned her, but instead to wear her own family's Spencer family crown.  Good thing we commoners don't have to make those tough decisions!

Can't wait till next Saturday when we learn about Meghan's tiara and dress, as well as the other big question:  how will Meghan's parents interact together, after all those years apart following a reportedly not-friendly divorce?
With Prince Harry’s engagement to American actress Meghan Markle set to climax in a wedding in St. George’s chapel at Windsor Castle on May 19th and then Fergie’s daughter Princess Eugenie’s recent engagement to marry Jack Brooksbank in the same place in the Fall, royal brides seem to be much in the news lately.
Some of my antique wedding photos are of royal brides. One of them is this small carte de visite  (above) of Queen Victoria when she was a 19-year-old girl and ruler of Great Britain, marrying her first cousin, 20-year-old Prince Albert of Saxe Colburg and Gotha in Germany.
The carte-de-visite photograph is a process that was introduced in 1854 and became vastly popular until after the turn of the century.  the “CDV”s as they are called, were simply paper photographs mounted on a small piece of cardboard about the size of a calling card.  They were produced by the thousands and were very inexpensive and easy to make in multiples—unlike the previous processes. 
By the time of the Civil War in the U.S., just about everyone was collecting in albums the CDVs of their favorite actors, politicians, heroes, royals, entertainers, freaks (including Tom Thumb as well as Barnum’s other stars) and family and friends—both living and dead. Let’s face it, CDVs were our first selfies!
Queen Victoria and her family were among the most popular subjects for CDVs.  In 1860 John Maryall, an American working in England, published 60,000 sets of his Royal Family album of CDVs.   Victoria herself avidly collected the small photos and put them in albums. 
            Back to the CDV of Victoria and Albert as bride and groom.   I originally bought it because I was amused that someone acquired the CDV in the 1860’s and valued it so much that she cut a bit off the bottom and placed the photo in the kind of ornate frame and matte that was earlier used for cased images like daguerreotypes and ambrotypes.
            I took the photo apart from the frame and matte (which is something I always do, because you can find all sorts of things behind the image if it’s in a case:  locks of hair, written identifications, dates, love letters, poems). 

         By now you have realized, as I did when I took the thing apart—this is not a photograph!   It’s taken from an engraving of the royal pair. And the artist, whoever he is, made them look a teensy bit better than they did in real life.  And there’s one more thing wrong with the image—Victoria did not wear a real crown on her wedding day, but instead chose a simple crown of orange blossoms.  She also had bunches of orange blossoms attached to her gown. Wearing not a diamond crown but a headpiece of orange blossoms was a revolutionary step for Victoria to make at her wedding, as was wearing all white. 

         FYI, because I know you’re going to ask, Kate Middleton did wear a sort of crown at her wedding in April of 2011; a diamond halo-style coronet, which someone said was  “as understated as a headband of diamonds can be.”  It was an heirloom made by Cartier in 1936 and originally bought by King George VI for his wife—the Queen Mother.  It was loaned to Kate by Queen Elizabeth and includes 739 brilliant diamonds and 149 batons.
(The next paragraph was wrong, as I soon found out!)
          Princes Diana, at her wedding on July 29, 1981, wore a much more visible and dramatic crown—the Lover’s Knot tiara, which was made in 1914 using diamonds and pearls from the royal family’s collection.  It was given to Diana by Queen Elizabeth II as a wedding present. Kate has inherited it and has worn it on several occasions.
Royal Brides, Part II
         Last week I posted about Queen Victoria’s revolutionary wedding dress, which broke with tradition in 1840 by being white and featuring, not a diamond crown, but simply a wreath of orange blossoms in her hair. I also included two photos and comments about the crowns worn by modern royal brides Princess Diana and Kate Middleton.  I posted a photo of Diana and wrote:  Princess Diana, at her wedding on July 29, 1981, wore a much more visible and dramatic crown—the Lover’s Knot tiara, which was made in 1914 using diamonds and pearls from the royal family’s collection.”
            Turns out I was completely wrong.  As my sharp-eyed daughter Eleni pointed out, that was not a photo of Diana in the Lovers Knot tiara at her wedding, although it did become her favorite crown and the Queen did loan it to her for the wedding.  But at the last minute Diana decided to get married in the Spencer Family crown, shown here.
         According to People Magazine, “Like all good royal pieces, the Spencer Tiara is actually made up of other pieces of jewelry... The current version – which is constructed with diamonds shaped into tulips and stars surrounded by attractive scrolls – was probably finalized sometime in the ’30s. It has become a popular wedding tiara for the Spencer family: Diana’s sisters – Lady Sarah and Jane, Baroness Fellowes – both wore the sparkler for their wedding days and Victoria Lockwood, who was the first wife of Diana’s brother Charles, the current Earl of Spencer, wore it when she married into the famed aristocratic family in 1989 (when little Prince Harry served as a pageboy). However, Diana’s mother, Frances, did not wear the tiara when she married into the Spencer family in 1954.”
(If you want to read my two "royal brides" posts in their entirety, here are the links:

Sunday, May 6, 2018

World Laughter Day and the Birth of the Smiley Face

Because today is World Laughter Day and we all could use a little help cheering up,  I'm re-posting the story of Harvey Ball, the artist from Worcester, MA who created the original Smiley Face fifty five years ago and never made more than $45 from his creation.  Then, in 1999, disturbed by the crass commercialization of the Smiley, Harvey created World Smile Day--the first Friday in October every year--to promote the true meaning of the Smiley Face.  So like World Smile Day in October, today--the first Sunday in May-- is a good day to do a random act of kindness as Harvey put it--improving the world "one smile at a time."

When three of Harvey Ball’s comrades were killed by a wayward shell as they stood next to him in Okinawa during World War II, he did not ponder if fate had saved him for a greater destiny.  Harvey, a tall, lanky, laconic Yankee from Worcester, Massachusetts, was not much given to introspection, socializing, talking, or even smiling.  But when he died in 2001 at the age of 79, Harvey had figured out his purpose in life.  As he told  People Magazine in 1998, “I taught the whole world how to smile.”

Harvey Ball, born and raised in Worcester, was the creator of the Smiley Face--that round yellow image that now beams out from Wal-Mart ads, Joe Boxer shorts and internet icons.  When, in December of 1963, he picked up a black pen and a yellow piece of paper and drew the world’s first Smiley Face, Harvey, a self-employed commercial artist, was working on an assignment from a Worcester insurance company suffering from employee discontent after a merger.  They wanted a campaign and buttons to raise company morale. They ordered 100 yellow Smiley Face buttons and then, when those disappeared almost over night, they ordered 10,000 more.

Harvey later figured out that his compensation for creating the Smiley Face button for the Worcester Mutual Insurance Company added up to about $45.   When the lawyers for the company tried to copyright the image eight years later, they learned that it was impossible, because the image, reproduced 50 million times in the year 1971 alone, was in the public domain.  By the mid-seventies, according to the curators of the Worcester Historical Museum, the image had fallen out of favor.

But Smiley made a significant comeback in the late 1980’s when interest in acid and other psychedelic drugs became a major cultural phenomenon. The icon was embraced by trendy downtown club kids.  Those who grew up in the 1970’s—today’s most desirable consumer demographic —view the image with nostalgia. (Some of them also think it was created by Forrest Gump, the fictional movie character.)  When votes were taken by the U.S. Post Office for icons to represent the decade of the 1970’s, the most popular image by far was Smiley, whose stamp was issued in 1999.

Brothers Murray and Bernard Spain of Philadelphia added the phrase “Have a Happy Day” and took in a reported one million dollars in sales of Smiley products in the first six months of 1971 alone.  In 1998, French Businessman Franklin Loufrani claimed that HE had created the image in 1971, and he proceeded to trademark the face in 80 countries.  When faced with Harvey Ball’s earlier creation, Loufrani replied with a Gallic shrug:  “I  don’t care if he designed the Smiley face.  We promote, we own, we market.” 

Riled up by “the France guy” as he put it,  Harvey in 1999 created World Smile Day—the first Friday in October-- to promote the true meaning of the Smiley Face.  And he trademarked it. Harvey said, World Smile Day® is open to every person on the planet.  No matter what color they are, or who they might pray to, no matter what country they live in.  World Smile Day® simply asks each person to live the day with a generous heart, do one kind act, to help one person smile.  Acts of kindness and smiles are contagious."

Every reporter who interviewed Harvey Ball asked him the same question: was he angry that he never made more than $45 from the creation that could have made him very, very rich?  To every reporter he patiently gave pretty much the same reply: “Hey, I can only eat one steak at a time, drive one car at a time.  I’m not ticked off about it.  I don’t mind getting up in the morning and going to work. They ask me why I’m not upset.  I just get satisfaction from it being so widely used and that it has given so many people pleasure.”

Even though he didn’t want to profit from it, Harvey Ball did want recognition for creating the image whose smile has been called more famous than the Mona Lisa’s.   He said  “Smiley is one of the greatest pieces of art ever created, as simple as it is.  It’s got a very, very positive message. Anybody can use it and reproduce it and it reaches everybody regardless of language, religion, nationality, all those things--as compared to some of the art you get today which you haven’t the faintest idea of what you’re looking at…I’m glad Smiley came from Worcester.  The city should make more of it.  Because no other city has this.”

After Harvey died in 2001 in Worcester, his son, Charles, said : “He was proud and pleased to have served his country and raise a family…He died with no apologies and no regrets.  His moral compass stayed on northh and never wavered."

And he left us the legacy of a smile.