Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary

That’s the subtitle of The Professor and the Madman, written by Simon Winchester in 1998.

The Professor and the Madman

The madman is William C. Minor, a Civil War surgeon. His latent madness may have been triggered during the two days of the stunningly bloody encounter known as the Battle of Wilderness, which occurred in Orange County, Virginia in early May of 1864.

Later, in London, he commits murder, is arrested and incarcerated, and spends the balance of his life in asylums for the criminally insane. What is remarkable is this astonishingly gifted man’s decades-long contribution to the compilation of the OED.

A friend who lives in Oxford and whose work is involved with the OED told me that Winchester–the author of a dozen books on various other topics–wrote a second tome about the famed dictionary in collaboration with a friend of hers. Written in 2004, The Meaning of Everything has been touted by The New York Times Book Review as “supremely readable.”

That’s next on my list after finishing Deborah Devonshire’s memoir, Wait For Me! and Stefan Zweig’s  The World of Yesterday. More on those in a future post.

In the meantime, happy summer reading to you.

P.S. Speaking of reading, I am thrilled to announce that my second memoir, published earlier this year, is a semi-finalist in the Florida Writers Association’s Royal Palm Literary Award Competition.

You can get your copy on Amazon by clicking here:

See you next time!



I Married Adventure

Years ago my sister-in-law gave me a book called I Married Adventure. Tell me something I don’t know, I thought, when I saw the title. I suppose I was going through a bit of a bump in the relationship road with her brother, which, since we normally have an excellent marriage, would mean we were (he was) contemplating another relocation.

I Married Adventure

At the time, I assumed she gave me the book to cast a humorous light on a situation I did not consider humorous in the least. I thanked her and put the book in a stack along with others to read. Soon it was packed in a box, and there it remained. For years.

We finally stopped spinning around the United States, and then moved to Portugal where we continued to move about (three houses in a year and a half). Eventually we had our personal possessions shipped to us from storage in Indiana. One of the biggest challenges was to weed through our books. I sorted them into his, hers, and give away, lined our shelves, and promptly began reading on my Kindle. (Currently there are 77 queued up.)

Just prior to the recent publication of my memoir, A Movable Marriage, I caught the title I Married Adventure on the top shelf in my office. I took the book down and read it from start to finish. I wish I had done so years ago.

The author, Luci Swindoll, spent thirty years in the corporate world as an executive at Mobil Oil Corporation, five years as Executive Vice President at her brother Chuck’s ministry, Insight for Living, and is now a popular author and keynote speaker for Women of Faith.

There are differences between our lives. Ms. Swindoll has never married, while I have; she was raised a Christian, and I came late to that party, as recorded in my first memoir, Rabbit Trail: How a Former Playboy Bunny Found Her Way. One of the items on her bucket list, according to her memoir, is to enter the Iditarod. Count me out. The closest I’m getting to sled dogs and moose at this juncture is this.

Carson and Jackson 2

But there are striking similarities. Our faith, of course. Add to that our innate love of school, music, art, theater, literature, photography, and travel. (Notice I said “travel,” not “relocation.”) As I continued to read, often I felt she was expressing my very thoughts, feelings, desires and concerns.

Her wanderlust is unquenchable, as is my husband’s. Yet her ideal day is mine: up at seven, coffee on the patio, chatting with friends and working on her computer. Baked chicken, broccoli, salad and dessert for lunch while watching Law and Order. (I eat mine watching Rizzoli and Isles or Castle.) Creative activity in the afternoon, more e-mailing, maybe letter writing, before an outing in the neighborhood followed by a light dinner, popcorn and a movie, or a great book. A warm bubble bath and into bed at eleven. Perfect.

I Married Adventure has a subtitle: Looking at Life Through the Lens of Possibility.  I wish I had read her book long ago because I believe it would have shaded my perspective about my husband’s nomadic tendencies. I think I would have been more enthused about everything out there in the world to experience that my tireless husband must see. I finally got there, but it would have happened sooner. And interestingly, over time his appreciation of the pleasures of home has deepened.

To Ms. Swindoll, I say thank you. I will add you can learn a new language, ma’am, at any age. Finally, living in Europe is every bit as marvelous as you think it is. I hope you get to check that one off your list.


I’m happy to report I haven’t moved again since my last post.

There was way too much to do right here at our current home, including launching my memoir, A Movable Marriage, with an event at RG Livreiros Bookstore, and celebrating my husband’s birthday (on the same day).

RG LivreirosGuests at RG Livreiros

To those of you who have already bought AMM, I say thank you. If you haven’t but would like to know more, here’s the direct Amazon link:

On to matters of the moment: this being Monday, it’s bridge lesson day. I break out into a cold sweat at about 1:30 p.m. on Mondays, because I know in exactly one hour I will have to know what my partner is telling me when she bids 1 Spade or 1 Club, which convention or transfer to use, and how to finesse. I freeze and draw a blank, just as I did during final exams in college.

Not content with the many sheets of notes distributed by our instructor, I’ve created a fistful of my own cards. Together they are a daunting package.

Bridge Aids

Confessing my concern to my husband about humiliating myself this afternoon, he, of course, had a solution. “Build a memory palace,” he said.

So I Googled the phrase and came up with this video, featuring Ronnie White:

I’ve decided to give it a try. Right after I read my notes one more time.


A Moveable Feast of a Marriage

CNN reports today bookstores are selling out of Ernest Hemingway’s iconic novel about Paris, A Moveable Feast. Buyers are showing support for the city, celebrating its joie de vivre.

The work made an impression on me years ago. Not only do I love the City of Light, but also the very title gave me the name for my book (and this blog). Excerpted from the “Pollyannaville” chapter of A Movable Marriage:

I tightened my woolen robe around me and rubbed my hands together while water heated in the kettle in the compact kitchenette. My eyes strayed to our makeshift shelving. It bore an alarming resemblance to that of my first apartment: plywood boards and cinder block supports. I wandered over to search the books I had kept out from storage. 

Ernest Hemingway caught my eye. He was perfect for my mood, the blunt simplicity of his prose in tune with my stark surroundings. When my coffee was ready, I brought my mug to the table, sat down, and opened A Moveable Feast. That was the defining moment when I gave a name to my past, present, and, I feared, my future: a movable marriage.  

Here’s wishing you a fabulous feast of your own this week. May our Thanksgiving–and every day–be filled with love and gratitude.

Collision Course

Last summer I read Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife.* The story of Hadley Richardson, Ernest Hemingway’s first spouse, the book achingly depicts the couple’s struggle to maintain their marriage in Paris during the Jazz Age, surrounded by a new morality–or lack of it–and socializing with the likes of Ezra Pound, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein.

The Paris Wife

While The Great Gatsby was on my required reading lists, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas was not. In fact, I was woefully ignorant of Gertrude Stein’s work.

So I found it timely when recently one of her poems appeared in my Inbox. Here it is:

Tender Buttons (Suppose An Eyes)

Suppose it is within a gate which open is open at the hour of closing summer that is to say it is so.
All the seats are needing blackening. A white dress is in sign. A soldier a real soldier has a worn lace a worn lace of different sizes that is to say if he can read, if he can read he is a size to show shutting up twenty-four.
Go red go red, laugh white.
Suppose a collapse in rubbed purr, in rubbed purr get.
Little sales ladies little sales ladies little saddles of mutton.
Little sales of leather and such beautiful beautiful, beautiful beautiful.

I read it once. Twice. Yes, a third time. I’m going to just spit it out: I didn’t get it.

What was wrong with me? Why didn’t I perceive this Lost Generation legend as the literary giant she is? I held a minority opinion about an icon. What retaliation from the scholarly elite might result if my lone voice cried out in dissent?

Then I remembered. I had Google at my disposal. Perhaps I would find a kindred spirit, equally unenlightened and, dare I say it, equally disdainful.

I did, in Guy Bergstrom’s 2011 post on his blog, The Red Pen of Doom, titled “Gertrude Stein is a literary TRAIN WRECK.”

A quick quote, because I can’t resist: “The worst rapper on the planet is better than this. At least I know what he’s talking about, it rhymes and you can dance to it.”

You can read the piece in its entirety here:

Comments from both camps welcome. Especially if you are a Stein supporter, do write and explain yourself. Please.

*Published February 27, 2011 by Ballantine Books.

Garden Party

The National League of American Pen Women blog is featuring flash fiction this month, with a limit of 100 words. I’m pleased to announce my submission, “Garden Party,” was published last week and enclose the link here. Hope you enjoy. (And keep an eye out for mischievous characters in your own backyard.)

And the Winner–Almost–Is:

Twenty-two designers and two hundred and two designs later, I’ve narrowed it down to three plus three.

I have new and deep respect for those stalwart individuals who attempt to convey someone else’s nebulous and ever-changing concept with style and efficiency. What a task!

Thanks to everyone who participated, either by contributing a design or responding to my poll, and a special shout-out to

Once I choose a winner there will still be a tweak or two. We all know it’s not over until the fat gnome sings.

AMM Cover with standing gnome AMM Cover with car AMM Cover with reclining gnome