Month: August 2013

Princeton, seen through fresh eyes

It was 43 years ago this week that I first moved to Princeton.  I was 18 years old at the time, an incoming college student moving into my freshman dorm.  I have lived and worked in the Princeton area for most of the last 43 years.  When you have lived in one place for so long, it’s easy to take the place for granted.  And so, beyond the pleasure of spending half the day with a genuinely nice guy, I also enjoyed the opportunity to see Princeton through fresh eyes.  I will leave it to Gary (RighteousBruin) to share his impressions and his photos, but while Gary was taking pictures of Princeton, I decided to spend the time taking pictures of Gary, taking pictures of Princeton.

This is Gary standing in front of Nassau Hall.

Nassau Hall is the oldest building on the campus.  Built in 1756, Nassau Hall has a fascinating place in American history.  In 1777, British forces occupied the building.  During the Battle of Princeton, George Washington’s army shelled the building with cannon fire, in order to re-take Nassau Hall.  (By the way, in case you’ve ever wondered where George Washington was going in the famous painting Washington Crossing the Delaware, he was on his way to the Battle of Trenton and from there north to the Battle of Princeton).  In 1783, when Philadelphia was deemed too dangerous, the Continental Congress moved for a brief time into Nassau Hall, in Princeton.

Here’s Gary checking out a sculpture just outside of Firestone Library.

And here he is taking photos inside the University Chapel.


We catch up with Gary checking out the plants and flowers in Prospect Garden.


And we finish the day with Gary taking a photograph at the grave site of Aaron Burr.


Sorry, I didn’t get any pictures of Gary eating his blueberry pancakes this morning.  It looked a lot like the rest of the photos, except he was eating blueberry pancakes.

It was simply a very nice day with a very nice man.

Do Not Mess with the Macaroni

When I penned my last post I was facing an existential crisis of sorts, pondering whether I had learned one truly valuable life lesson in the year since I wrote my 60 life lessons at 60.

I am pleased to report that the crisis has resolved itself today in the form of a birthday card.  Technically, the life lesson arrived one day late.  The card arrived right on time on my birthday, but that makes the lesson, strictly speaking, a day late. Of course, the calendar is an arbitrary way to measure time, so anyway, what matters is the lesson.  It is good to know, on my 61st birthday that I am still learning new, vital lessons.


Do not mess with the macaroni.

(I did learn a few other valuable lessons this year, but they all seem to relate to ways of disposing of dead bodies and they are far too nasty for decent folks such as yourselves).

Men, if you want to stay married, you will heed my advice

One year ago at this time, as I prepared to celebrate my 60th birthday, I wrote a series of blog entries about the 60 life lessons I had learned during my 60 years on this planet.  Now, approaching another birthday (I will be 61 on Monday) I find myself pondering whether I have learned one truly important life lesson this past year.  While I consider that question, I thought I should re-visit the most important lesson I learned during my first six decades on the planet.

newlywed game
Never talk about your wife’s thighs on nationwide television.


I learned to meditate when I was in college.  I think a lot of kids learned back in the day,  Perhaps they still do.  Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.  Anyway, I learned to meditate when I was in college.  And I was always curious about people who told me that they could only meditate if they were in a quiet place.  Because it seemed to me that the essence of meditating was that it didn’t really matter where you were or what was going on around you.  Meaning no disrespect to my friends, it  seemed to me that if you needed a quiet place to meditate, you weren’t really meditating.

Forty years later, I recognize that I may have been a bit condescending about other people’s meditation, but  somehow it still seems fundamentally true.  These days, I feel much the same way about writing fiction.  I find it difficult to relate to writers who tell me how they need a particular set of circumstances in order to write.  Their desk has to be just so.  A Brandenburg Concerto has to playing in the background.

When I am writing well, I can write anywhere.  I can leave a scene mid-sentence, return eight hours later and pick up where I left off.  And when I am not writing well, it really doesn’t matter.

To be brutally honest, since my last book came out in 2009, I have not been writing well.  I’ve been writing, but nothing that gets my blood to boiling.  And if it doesn’t excite me as the writer, it surely won’t excite you as the reader.  Until perhaps six weeks ago.  Something clicked.  Perhaps it was a lesson from the Bodhisattva.  In the last six weeks, I’ve written some 44,000 words.  Many of them are good words.  A few of them might be great words.

I still have to finish, but it may be the best thing I’ve ever written.  We shall see.


Whisky and Ice (August Scavenger Hunt)


With this classified ad, Ernest Shackleton is said to have recruited the crew for his 1907 expedition to the South Pole.  The effort took two years, and eventually, one hundred miles short of his goal, running low on supplies, Shackleton was forced to turn back.  Shackleton’s Journey

He abandoned what supplies remained, including several cases of Mackinlay’s blended scotch whisky.  Mackinlay scotch is no longer distilled, the original recipe forgotten long ago.  But, in 2007, a team of explorers from the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust discovered several crates of whisky at the site of Shackleton’s Hut.

Image(A group of explorers from Shackleton’s Nimrod expedition, 1907-09, in the Antarctic hut at Cape Royds; photo from Shackleton’s 1911 book, The Heart of the Antarctic, retrieved from wikipedia).

In 2010, Whyte and Mackay, the distillery that owns what was once Mackinlay, sent a team to the South Pole  in a successful bid to extract the scotch from the ice.  Not only did the team retrieve five cases of scotch, they discovered two cases of brandy as well.  Master blenders at Whyte and Mackay analyzed the whisky and have created a replica of the Mackinlay brand with a limited edition release of Mackinlay’s Shackleton Rare Old Highland Malt.

I love a story like this.  A story that combines good scotch and ice.  In honor of the story, I plan to combine a wee dram scotch (not Mackinlay’s, but still a very nice bottle) with a bit of ice.  A toast to Sir Ernest Shackleton.


(Ernest Shackleton, photo retrieved from

August Scavenger Hunt

13. ice
35. whiskey

Another Murder in New Orleans

There is nothing funny about murder.  And yet I write humorous mysteries.  Because I think sometimes, the only way to deal with tragedy is to find a way to laugh about it.

Or better yet, to sing about it.

So I was really pleased to see my cousin Donny post this yesterday on facebook.


One of his new songs, Another Murder in New Orleans, co-written with Carl Gustafson, recorded by Dr. John and Bobby Rush, will be debuted at the Patron Party on September 16, an event to benefit the non-profit Crimestoppers organization in New Orleans.

Way to go, Donny.