What Happens at the Uffizi Stays at the Uffizi

Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy

When I went to Italy in the eighties, I was part of a tour group of twenty people. We spent a full day visiting the Uffizi Museum in Florence, one of the most famous museums in the world. It has a large collection of unique works of art and masterpieces, mostly from the Renaissance Period, although it contains works from the twelfth century to the present. My favorite pieces were works by Italian artists such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Giotto, and Raphael.

Upon leaving the museum, I saw Maxine and Gwen, two elderly sisters, staring down at a grate in the sidewalk under the portico next to the building. Both had knitted brows and worried looks. I had just come out of the museum, and they didn’t see me yet. I told myself I should hurry on my way before they caught sight of me. Unfortunately, I just can’t pass by when someone needs help.

I went over and asked, “What’s wrong?”

“I was changing the film in my camera,” Maxine said, “and the canister popped out and dropped into the grate.”

“Why don’t you just buy another roll?” I asked.

“I had all 36 pictures from the beginning of the trip until now. I really want them back.”

Together, we peered down into the grate.

A man walking by stopped and asked, “Is this another exhibit?”

“No,” we said.

He shrugged and walked away.

Actually, we could see statues and paintings beneath the grate, so we knew this must be part of the Uffizi.

“What can we do?” Maxine asked.

“Follow me.” I walked over to the entrance to the gift shop, which is the room everyone must go through before they can leave the museum. The operators hope, of course, that people will linger and buy souvenirs after seeing the artwork. A uniformed officer stands guard at the opening from the museum to the shop so people won’t sneak into the museum without paying.

I went up to her and asked, “Do you speak English?”

No. No Inglese.”

I tried to explain the situation in Italian, but she just kept shaking her head, so I motioned that we just wanted to go back in the museum. She grew more and more frustrated.

Fortunately, I knew the word for office in Italian, so I said, “Ufficio, per favore.”

She pointed behind us and said, “Exit.” She didn’t say, “Uscita,” since she could already tell we were Americans.

I stood my ground. “Ufficio, per favore.”

Once again, she pointed her finger said, “Exit.”

Ufficio, per favore.” I could keep this up all day if I had to. We would not leave without Maxine’s film.

Eventually, the officer sighed dramatically and pointed through the doorway she was guarding. She made climbing motions with her fingers and waved toward some stairs at the back of the museum. The two sisters struggled up the flight of stairs, out of breath by the time we found a receptionist behind a desk.

I went up to the woman and asked, “Do you speak English?”

No. No Inglese.”

Once again, my rudimentary Italian made it impossible for her to understand the situation, so she picked up her phone and spoke into the handset. When she hung up, she pointed to another set of stairs going upward, and we went up another flight, with the sisters stopping to catch their breath a couple of times.

An elegant woman stood in the office doorway at the top of the stairs. She spoke perfect English with a beautiful Italian accent. I explained the problem to her. She went over to her phone, spoke into it in Italian, and then said, “Follow me.”

We went down both flights of stairs and one more before we reached the basement. A handsome young custodian met us at the bottom. He was tall and broad-shouldered, looking quite fit in his blue uniform. A lock of black hair curled on his forehead like Superman.

The woman explained the situation to him in Italian. He smiled, nodded, and started looking around.

We all searched among the dusty statues and paintings for at least thirty minutes before Maxine examined her camera and said, “Oh, wait. It wasn’t the film that’s missing. It’s the battery.”

I said, “Oh, I saw a battery stuck in the sill of the grate while we were on the sidewalk.”

Maxine gave herself a face palm.

Gwen said, “Don’t feel bad.”

“We all make mistakes,” I said.

Her red face told us our words were little consolation.

The three of us thanked the woman and the man for their assistance. I told the woman we wanted to send a thank-you note to their superiors praising them for their willingness to help. She would not give me her name, saying she did not need to be thanked.

I turned to the man and asked, “Come ti chiami?”


I raised my eyebrows, opened my eyes wide, and asked in as sultry a voice as I could muster, “Fabio?”

He grinned and said, “Si, Fabio,” then raised both fists in the classic bodybuilder’s pose. I certainly would remember that name long enough to write a letter to his supervisor.

After we climbed back up the stairs and exited through the gift shop, Maxine and Gwen wanted to buy me lunch for being so helpful, but I declined. I realized that if I had not tried to “fix everything,” they would have found out a lot sooner that only the battery was lost.

But then I wouldn’t have met Fabio.



strawberry shortcke

The Cherokee explain how strawberries came to exist on Earth. Many variations of the legend exist, since the story comes from oral history, but I will tell you the version I like.

In the beginning the Creator, ga lv la di e hi, created First Man and First Woman. For a time they were the only people on Earth. They lived together in contentment for quite some time, but eventually they began to fight. First Woman said to First Man that she was leaving him, and he said he didn’t care. She started walking away, swift and determined in her anger.

After a bit, First Man decided he wanted First Woman back, so he started after her. She, however, was walking so swiftly that there did not seem to be any possibility that he would catch her.

The Creator put blueberry plants in her path, but she walked on. Then He put luscious blackberries in her path, but she walked on. Finally, He put strawberry plants in her path. She looked at the bright green leaves, the white flowers, and the luscious red fruit. Bending down to taste one, she was astounded at how good they were, so she stopped and ate as many as she could. Then she decided that she really did not want to be apart from First Man, so she filled her basket with as many strawberries as she could and headed back toward their home.

First Man caught up with her, and they walked back home arm in arm.

Today, a Cherokee tradition states that a home should always have strawberry jam or jelly, if not fresh strawberries.

My favorite strawberry shortcake recipe is a Sara Lee Pound Cake, thawed, a big tub of Cool Whip, and a bag of frozen strawberries. I cut the cake into cubes, stir in the thawed strawberries, and mix in the Cool Whip. I’m off to the grocery store now.

The easy way to core a fresh strawberry is to push a straw through it, from the pointy end to the green top.

Update: One of my friends asked, “Where did the whipped cream come from?” Another friend replied, “From the First Cow, of course.”

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Strawberry Plant


When the Army assigned Dad to the Territory of Alaska in the fifties, my twin and I spent third and fourth grade in an Army school at Fort Richardson, near Anchorage.

Our principal at Ursa Minor Elementary School was Nellie Belle Horseman. Rumor had it that she had lost her ears to frostbite. Every time we saw her, we would try to see if it was true, but her hair always covered the area where her ears were—or weren’t. That didn’t stop us from staring. Third-graders can be insensitive.

In Alaska, we all walked to school even when there was deep snow. The Army took care of clearing the intersections, but the families had to clear the snow off the sidewalks in front and in back of their quarters, so we didn’t need snowshoes to get to school.

Even when the temperature was below freezing, girls were not allowed to wear jeans or slacks during school hours, so we would put them on under our skirts before the long, cold walk to school. Then we would stand in the hall, take off our jeans or slacks, and stuff them in our lockers before first period. At the end of the day, we would put them back on before heading home. The boys in the hall must have seen lots of panties.

Even when we had a blizzard, we still had to walk to school. I suppose Mother could have kept us at home that day, but by then she had seven children, and the twin boys were still in diapers. I think if they had called off school, Mother would have sent us to school anyway in hopes we would find something to do on the playground.

During the long winter months when we were cooped up in the house, I’m surprised she didn’t turn into Johnny, the Jack Nicholson character from “The Shining.” The movie came out in 1980, when I was 45. When I saw Johnny’s son running through the snow maze in that movie, I had a flashback to the blizzard in Alaska, when the snow drifts were over our heads on both sides of the sidewalk as we walked to school and back. I understood the boy’s terror.

Back in third grade, I was most afraid of being attacked by a moose. When there were moose out on the playground, our teachers wouldn’t let us go out for recess even though we promised we wouldn’t hurt the moose. I’m sure the teacher thought it was the other way around.

On the way home to and from school in the dark, I was glad there were several of us walking together. I was sure the moose would pick off only one of us, so I made sure I was in the middle of the pack. I didn’t know then that moose are vegetarians.

One day my teacher kept me after school for misbehaving. My twin sister did not wait for me, and I trudged home in total darkness at 4 p.m. The whole way, as I hurried down the sidewalks with snow piled high on both sides of the path, I was certain there was a moose stalking me, ready to charge. Surely that was the moose’s breath I felt on the back of my neck. If I turned around, it would see the fear in my eyes and it would attack. Third-graders have great imaginations.

When I arrived home unscathed, I made my sister promise never to leave me at school alone again. I also made sure I never misbehaved after that. I still haven’t forgiven my twin for that long walk home.


Five Things I Hated About “Star Trek Into Darkness”

Warning: Here be spoilers. Do not continue if you have not seen the movie.

I suppose “hated” is too strong a word. I loved the movie, actually, and I have seen it twice. I wish, however, that I had known before seeing it the first time that the timeline was an alternate universe.

Since I did not want to read any spoilers before seeing it, I had read no reviews and was not prepared for what I saw.

My first reaction was “How can Kirk and Spock not know who Khan is when they meet him in this movie? Didn’t they defeat Khan in “Star Trek: The Original Series” and again in the movie The Wrath of Khan? Why does Young Spock have to ask Old Spock whether Khan is dangerous? I was almost screaming at the screen.

I don’t care if you mess with the timeline. You are messing with my mind.

Now, of course, I realize I should have known that it would be an alternate reality since that possibility was set up in the 2009 movie.

Once I read the reviews and understood that was the case, I was able to enjoy the movie the second time I saw it.  I do hope, however, that the next movie will have a totally new villain. I spent most of this movie comparing everything that happened to what I already knew from the earlier shows. I think I would have enjoyed the movie much more if I had never seen those earlier ones.

Here are my complaints:

1. Why did they use a woman with a British accent to play Carol Marcus? I liked the Midwestern accent of the original Carol. After she saw the glorious world she had created using the Genesis Machine, she asked, “Can I cook or what?” Delightful.

The whole time I was listening to the new Carol, I thought, “How could they have miscast her so badly? Was it because she looked so good in almost nothing?” I felt betrayed because I wanted her to sound like the old Carol, who must have been from Iowa or Idaho or Illinois or Indiana. You get the idea.

2. Why didn’t we get to see Kirk or Spock or Khan half-naked also? Or all three. Fair is fair. Give us both male and female, please.

I have learned that there was a shower scene in which we could have seen Khan naked from the waist up. Maybe more. Why was it cut?

Why was half-naked Carol even in the international trailer? What did that have to do with the plot, other than to show Kirk as still a frat boy rather than a man. The fact that he could not even remember who Christine Chapel was shows us that Kirk is a love-em-and-leave-em guy.

3. Khan Noonien Singh being played by a veddy, veddy British actor. I would much rather have seen someone who looked more like Ricardo Montalban’s Khan than someone who was so white he almost glowed. There are many great minority actors out there. Why wasn’t one of them chosen? I’m not a minority, but I think minority actors are underutilized by Hollywood.

4. Roddenberry was deep into thematic significance. From the two races that hated each other because the wrong side of their faces was white to the people who milled around aimlessly shoulder to shoulder all day because they had overpopulated their world, Roddenberry gave us themes and causes. If there is a theme in “Darkness” it is that if you have enough special effects the audience will put up with a modicum of thematic significance.

We have the military leader who wants to create a war. We have the eugenically enhanced superior being who wants to take over the world and get revenge in the meantime. We have Kirk who grows up a bit when he loses members of his crew. Okay, maybe I’m wrong on this one. Maybe those are enough.

5. Finally, Spock should not cry. Not real tears. I don’t care how much he grieved over the death of Kirk.

One of the appeals Spock has had for decades is that he can control his human side. Now he is so human I don’t recognize him.

Spock cries, Kirk cries, Khan cries, Scotty cries, Uhura cries, Bones cries. Did I leave anyone out? Abrams certainly did not. But Spock should not cry. Ever.

Now that my rant is finished, let me say I truly enjoyed the movie the second time I saw it. These are just my individual reactions.

My greatest hope is that they will come up with a new villain in the next one. Keep the Tribble. Leave the Khan.

P.S. I have three previous posts about “Star Trek.” If you look at the list of topics below and on the right, you will find them.

Question: Do you have complaints/kudos for the movie? If so, I would like to hear them.


If I Survived Thirty Tears of Teaching, So Can You

This is an excerpt from my memoir IF I SURVIVED THIRTY YEARS OF TEACHING, SO CAN YOU. It will be published as an audio book before the end of 2014.

One year in New Braunfels, Texas, I was teaching sophomore, junior, and senior English, and I was going crazy with planning lessons and grading papers for all three levels, in addition to rereading all the novels I assigned the students so I would remember any little detail they mentioned.

One day to give myself a breather, I ordered a film from the Texas Education Service Center to show to my juniors. It was an American short story, and they were studying American literature. Perfect choice, right? Wrong.

This was back in the days of reel-to-reel movie projectors. For those who are too young to remember them, I will explain exactly what that entailed.

We would put the spool of film on the post at the top of the machine, thread the film through slots in front of the lightbulb inside the projector, and then thread the film on the sprockets of the bottom, take-up reel. Then we had to adjust the length of film on top and on bottom over and over to get rid of the flutter if the film was not exactly placed.

I started the film, and everything was fine for a while, except that there was almost no dialogue, which I thought was odd.

Then the camera started at a woman’s hand, traveled up her wrist to her elbow, then up to her shoulder and started across her front.

I thought, “Surely she has on clothes.”

Oh, no. Suddenly all that was on the screen was two huge breasts. They filled the movie projector screen.

I said, “Ack!” and jumped in front of the projector.

Then a student said, “Now they’re showing on your back.”

He was the son of the president of the school board.

After class, I begged him not to tell his mother. He said he would not, bless his heart.

When I was putting the film back in the canister, I was muttering about those stupid people at the Education Service Center who would send something out to teachers that had nudity in it. You would think they could have at least marked it or something.

Then I realized that the container had a big red label warning teachers to preview the film before showing it in class. I learned a good lesson that day. I also asked the center to remove the film from their catalog. I certainly hope they did. I can only guess why they kept it on the shelf. Removing it from inventory would require someone to admit they had made a mistake.

Years later I played bridge with his mother, and I asked her if he ever told her. He never did. Enough time had passed that we both had a good laugh.


A “South Park” Squirrel, Not a “Disney” Squirrel

It was a dark and stormy night. My daughter Katherine called and said she had been bitten by a squirrel.

It all started when her son Cameron, age 6 at the time, came into the house and said, “There’s a big black rat in the back yard!”

When Katherine went out back, she saw that it was actually a squirrel covered in mud.

Because of what we call the “Disney effect,” she decided to help it out by washing it off and sending it happily on its way, but when she reached down to pick the squirrel up, its teeth latched onto the tip of her left forefinger and would not let go. She pried it off and screamed for Brandon, her husband.

Brandon came out and saw that the squirrel was not running away, as any normal animal would, so he assumed it had fallen out of a tree and had broken some bones in the process. He killed the poor creature to put it out of its misery. A quick, merciful end was better than a slow, painful death for the little critter. It could have been days before it starved to death.

Katherine called me, and I told her I would meet her at the hospital. Brandon could stay with the children so they would not be traumatized.

“Take the squirrel with you for a rabies test,” I said.

When I got to the emergency room at McKenna in New Braunfels, Katherine was already there. She had checked in and was waiting for the doctor. Beside her on the floor was a small trash can. In it was a plastic bag with the dead squirrel inside.

A short time later a young man in scrubs came out and (very reluctantly) opened the sack to swab the squirrel’s mouth for a rabies test. He either drew the short straw or was the low man on the totem pole, poor thing.

The rest of the people in the ER, who had heard the whole story when she checked in, either grinned or grimaced.

In the treatment room, the doctor said that he knew how much it hurt because his rabbits would often bite him. Then he asked her when her last tetanus shot was. She said, “I don’t know,” so he said, “Then it’s today.”

He also told us that he had checked with the city and state agencies, and since there had never been a report of a rabid squirrel, he would not need to give her the series of rabies shots. She was fine with that.

“We don’t stitch up animal bites,” he said, “so I’m going to put a bandage on it and give you a prescription for antibiotics. Come back if the wound becomes inflamed. And don’t forget to take the squirrel with you.”

We felt sorry for the young man who had swabbed the squirrel’s mouth since they were not going to test it after all.

After taking the squirrel with us, we laid it to rest.

I think from now on, Katherine will think “South Park” squirrel rather than “Disney” squirrel.

P.S. I was recently told by a zookeeper friend that (a) there have been three rabid squirrels in Oklahoma and (b) the cheek swab would have been useless for rabies testing. They would need to send the brain somewhere. Be safe, my friends.


More Memories of STAR TREK

This is the third installment of my blogs about STAR TREK. If you have not read the others, please read August 2012 and September 2012 first by clicking the dates on my website.

My son was a junior in high school when I had one of my several encounters with STAR TREK trivia.

Andrew had a habit of turning up the radio to full volume as soon as I left for work.

One day, he thought I was already gone, so he turned the radio up and stepped into the shower. As I was leaving, I heard the radio announcer say that the station was running a contest to give away dinner for four at Olive Garden and four tickets to a rock concert. All the listener had to do was name the episode of STAR TREK that was the basis for the new WRATH OF KHAN movie. The year was 1982, and neither Google nor Wikipedia had been created yet, so we could not look it up on the Internet.

I knew the answer, and I pounced on the opportunity, so I put down my purse and briefcase and picked up the phone.

The announcer said the phone number of the station so fast that I was not sure what it was. It sounded like “777-KZET.” I tried that number, but no one answered. I didn’t want to yell to my son through the bathroom door. I knew, however, that the last three letters ended in the “ee” sound, so I started dialing several combinations. Since nine letters end in that sound, I tried many variations.

No luck. Eventually, I assumed someone else had won the prizes, so I stopped trying. I again grabbed my purse and briefcase.

At that moment the song ended and the announcer came back on, saying, “We’ve had lots of calls, but no one has gotten it right. Please dial 777-KZEP.” He sounded disappointed, if not desperate.

After several busy signals, I finally got through. A voice full of resignation said, “Yeah, what is it?”

“Space Seed,” I said.

“Hey, guys!” he shouted. “Someone finally got it!”

The other callers had probably all said BOTANY BAY, which was the name of the derelict spaceship in that episode. Dictator Khan, played by Ricardo Montalban, and his genetically modified fellow tyrants were in sleep mode on the prison ship when the ENTERPRISE crew discovered it adrift in space. Khan was looking for a new world with inhabitants he could rule.

Khan eventually attempted to take over the ENTERPRISE but was subdued by Kirk using a club from engineering since Khan had almost supernatural strength.

When Kirk finally banishes Khan and his followers to Ceti Alpha V, a planet “inhabitable, although savage, somewhat inhospitable,” Kirk states that the original members of Botany Bay went on to conquer all of Australia. Kirk asks Khan, “Can you tame a world?”

Khan asks Kirk, “Have you read Milton?”

Kirk smiles. “Yes, I understand.”

After Khan and his followers have left the ship, Scotty says, “It’s a shame for a good Scotsman to admit it, but I’m not up on Milton.”

Kirk nods and says, “It is a statement Lucifer made when he fell into the pit. It is better to rule in hell than serve in heaven.”

Montalban reprised the role in STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN. One of his memorable lines was also from PARADISE LOST: “Revenge is a dish best served cold.”

Khan paraphrases a quotation from MOBY-DICK. (Yes, Melville used the hyphen.) He tasks me! He tasks me, and I shall have him! I’ll chase him ’round the moons of Nibia and ’round the Antares maelstrom and ’round Perdition’s FLAMES before I give him up.” Khan substitutes places in outer space for the worldly places Melville used.

Later, as Khan is dying, he says, “From hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee,” a line said by Captain Ahab near the end of MOBY-DICK.

STAR TREK is and always shall be one of the most literary of television shows and movies.