Discussion and Q&A
Comments and questions are welcome.
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I am trying to get involved with a Hospice unit that would like to do memoirs but is holding out on allowing us to use tape recorders. How have you gotten approval for this? thanks. firstname.lastname@example.org
A visit to your site was enlightening and interesting.
Can I have your permission to reprint the story of:
Michael Kilian — Kilians give a new son a pleasant Irish name?
Thanks and regards,
Question What's the best to remove a grass stain from silk that has been sitting for 2 weeks. Kathleen F. wrote that she was working on a project in her chemistry class about how to remove a grass stain from silk that has been sitting for 2 weeks. She asked: "What do you recommend as the best method to remove the stain? What kinds of chemicals can I use to remove the stain?Is soaking the stain in water immediately something I should do? Why is the chlorophyll such a strong dye on fabrics? Does the structural formula of grass and silk play a key role in understanding the stain process and how to remove it? Concluding: If you could get back to me asap that'd be great, but thank you for your time."
Pat's response: Kathleen, you didn't leave an email address, so I couldn't respond. I'm curious to know the answer myself when you finish your project. If you can document where you got your answers, I'll add it to my website. It's not a question I asked when I was interviewing experts for The Truth About Dry Cleaning, a story I wrote for the Washington Post magazine. And I am definitely not an expert on the subject!
Question I am in process of writing my memoirs and after reading your explanation of preface versus introduction.... I find my intro includes both. It would seem awkward to separate my short half-page intro into two parts. What do you suggest?
Pat's response What matters is what makes sense to the reader. It doesn't have to be labeled preface or intro -- it could be A Note from the Author.
Question Hi Pat - just found you by google search for difference between preface and introduction. You were about the third down but most likely to help me as I start writing a book about my Mother. Your web page was immediately bookmarked. I'm sure you'll be a helpful resource. Thanks for being "there". Bob
Pat's response Hey--thanks, Bob. Good luck with your book about your mother!
CommentGreetings Pat I told you once that I would boast about "knowing you". It happened. Bud
Hi Pat I told you that one day I could say: I knew her when!
Pat's responseGreetings back, Bud: And you are as elusive and mysterious as ever. Where are you? -- Pat
A comment I am still smiling about: "Your website is getting alot of clicks coz it contains some aweasom stuff. and plz add a 'Contact Us' tab to u r website.
"i am an IP (Information Processor) student. looking at u r website i wish i could help u with some design concept. as i said u web site has excellent information but needs some design or graphics to make it interesting."
Pat's response: That's an understatement. In fact, all three of my websites need designing. First, however, I need to figure out how to restructure them so that this isn't like a big warehouse of information to wander through aimlessly ... and that takes time, which I never seem to have. I will have someone figure out how to add a "contact me" section. There is an "email Pat" thing down to the left, but you can send an email to "pat at patmcnees dot com" in the usual format. My other websites are:
Writers and Editors -- linking writers and editors to resources (including each other), markets, clients, and fans
Dying, Surviving, and Aging with Grace,- about illness, survival, dying, and grief -- a companion website for my anthology Dying: A Book of Comfort.
That website needs a new name! Suggestions welcome.
Question: How does one contact Pat via email. We are old friends from many years back. BG from Torrance Recreation Dept.
Hey, Bud Grantham: Try pat at patmcnees dot com
Question: A student asks, What is the MLA citation style for this website?
Answer: According to KnightCite, a web-based citation generator, it is:
McNees, Pat. Pat McNees, writer, editor, personal historian. Ed. Pat McNees. N.p., 2004. Web. (date accessed, thus: 26 Nov. 2010).
A frequent question (click here for a response): How does one get started as a personal historian?
For John, who wanted the name of that haunting violin music associated with the PBS show on the Civil War: It's Ashokan Farewell, played by Jay Ungar and Molly Mason (with Fiddle Fever). Clicking on this link takes you to a page with a sample. Go to Music for Funerals and Memorial Services (for links to samples of many beautiful tunes--suitable for funerals and for tributes to a person's life). If you buy anything (from an MP3 to a television) after getting to Amazon through that link, we get a commission, which helps support maintaining this site.
For the person who asked whether s/he should allow an unpaid interviewee to "edit" a transcript or story, I've posted a fairly detailed response here:
The interviewee's right to "edit" a transcript or story (Pat McNees, Writers and Editors 12-12-11)
• How does one become a personal historian?
• Hiring a personal historian to help you write your memoirs or family history
• What’s the difference between an “ethical will” and a “life letter” or “legacy letter”?
• What is the difference between a preface, a foreword, and an introduction?
• Finding birth and death dates fast, free, on the Web
• Seeking former Brownies (1948-1951) and members of the 215th St. Club, from Halldale Elementary School in the Shoestring Strip, Los Angeles
• Pat’s current projects (“what are you working on now?”)
• DNA testing for ancestry
• How to order the good (and cheaper) edition of Dying: A Book of Comfort
• Getting rid of shiny spots on wool gabardine
• Selling your diamonds
• Comment on “How to buy upholstered furniture”
• Shopping for Abba Zabbas and other nostalgia candy (regional candy)
• What to do in Washington DC
• Cheap bus rides between DC and New York City
• Dancing: A Guide to the Capital Area
• Ceili history, corrected
• What has happened to Buffalo Dance Camp?
• Girls and women in science and engineering
• Music for funerals, wakes, & memorial services
QUESTION FROM READER: How does one become a personal historian? Or is that what you call yourself after studying the subject?
Pat's response: In a sense a "personal historian" is anyone who helps others record the stories of their lives, families, or organizations. It's a term the Association of Personal Historians adopted when Kitty Axelson-Berry first organized that group in 1995 (and APH is a good place to start checking out the possibilities). APH was formed as a trade association, to help people figure out how to do the job right and how to make a living helping others with their personal histories. It has a great annual conference in the fall (my favorite session being the evening Media Share, because like everyone else I love watching the various video biographies).
How is a personal historian different from the professional writers publishers and celebrities hire to write celebrities' memoirs? Basically there has been a democratization of the process. Now memoir writing and publication are available to all of us, even if we are not celebrities and our main audience is our family and friends and we won't have 100,000 readers or make the bestseller lists.
My brother, Steve, and I (and our cousins) are gathering the photos and stories of our parents' move from Kansas out West in the Dust bowl of the 1930s. In my view this will be a printed photohistory, but I know Steve has in mind more of a photo-montage video show, maybe in Powerpoint, maybe in video, kind of Ken-Burns style, like the PBS specials on the Civil War (but with different production values).
Traditional book publishing has tended to require a lot of savvy and a lot of money up front (and that's just to get the books published — marketing them is a whole other thing). Technologies have changed, making it easier to "self-publish" a printed book and even to mount a "personal history" on a website, or show it as a video or as a montage of photos with sound (music and voice recordings). Scrapbooking is a form of personal history, and many organizations and communities are recording their personal and group histories as oral histories (both recorded and in transcripts) or as professionally written histories (my specialty).
What this reader seems to be asking is, What do I need to know or be able to do to call myself a personal historian? And especially, can I earn money doing it? And there's no simple answer. Some people make a good living doing personal history projects; some are very busy, but have trouble making a LIVING doing it (because people are privately publishing most of these things, and their budgets are often tight, and their audiences small); and some struggle even to meet their costs.
You have to decide which kind of personal historian you want to be. Do you want to do oral histories? Personal stories told in the voice of the "narrator" (client)? Commissioned biographies written about the subject/client? Histories of communities or organizations? Slide shows with narration? Video tributes? Special products such as video tributes for an engagement or anniversary product? Animal tributes? And how fancy a production job do you need to do? Maybe your specialty will be quickly putting together the kind of booklet that is given out at a funeral or memorial service.
Here's the bottom line: When you can do a product that is good enough as a sample to entice someone else to hire you to do the same kind of product (or another one) for them, then maybe it's time to hang your "personal historian" shingle. In the meanwhile, you can get a lot of satisfaction out of just trying a project. Start with something as simple as a photo tribute (with well-written captions) to a person, a place, an animal, a period in your life, or someone else's life, or an organization's history. Join a life-story writing group (these are absolutely wonderful, if you have a good leader). See what you like doing and do best, find out which skills you need to acquire or improve, and study the people who do the job well.
Get a copy of Start & Run a Personal History Business: Get Paid to Research Family Ancestry and Write Memoirs by Jennifer Campbell. Check out these Frequently Asked Questions About APH, Personal History, and Life Story Writing. And here is a full set of links to resources and stories that should help you get started: Telling Your Story (getting started with life story writing).
To read from a variety of personal histories, pick up a copy of My Words Are Gonna Linger: The Art of Personal History, early readers of which have said:
"At last, a collection that shows the "why, what, and how" behind memoir as legacy. Spanning more than a century, these intriguing reflections of personal as well as global social and political history are told in the unique voice and viewpoint of each storyteller."
~ Susan Wittig Albert, author of Writing from Life: Telling Your Soul's Story, founder of Story Circle Network
“This anthology sings with Walt Whitman’s spirit of democracy, a celebration of our diversity. Each selection is a song of self; some have perfect pitch, some the waver of authenticity. All demonstrate the power of the word to salvage from the onrush of life, nuggets worth saving.”
~ Tristine Rainer, author of Your Life as Story
HIRING A PERSONAL HISTORIAN TO HELP YOU WRITE YOUR MEMOIRS OR FAMILY HISTORY
Question from a reader:
I'm interested in hiring a personal biographer to capture stories from my parents who are both first generation Chinese immigrants to the US. They both were born in China then fled during the communist/nationalist revolution. I want to have our family story documented in a way that ties heavily with Chinese culture and history. Any advice about pursuing this and/or recommendations about who could do this for a reasonable cost?
Response from Pat:
If you were doing a personal history only, you might check out the Association of Personal Historians (APH) website--where you can find people to help you with audio, video, or print versions of a family history. (I believe one Chinese-American member in California does video histories.) Since you want a heavy element of Chinese culture and history, you might want someone with a history background — perhaps an oral historian, who could capture your parents' stories and weave in background about Chinese history and culture. (Besides audiotapes, you would have transcripts, which could be edited to form a narrative.) There are Oral History associations all around the country, and some members of APH are oral historians.
"Reasonable cost" is hard to define; once you want more than your parents' personal stories, the costs are sure to go up, either because you are hiring an expert to help, or because a non-expert will have to do research. What you might consider is tracking down a professional author who has written about Chinese (or Chinese-American) history and culture, or a historian with experience doing interviews, and finding out if they would be interested in helping. Such a project might interest them. Other organizations provide links to members' websites, which might turn up a possible co-author; see, for example, the Authors Guild and the American Society of Journalists & Authors (which also has an informal writer referral service). If you wish, give me contact information and I can post a query with APH or ASJA. (The Authors Guild has no listserv, but you can check out many members' websites. Links for all the organizations mentioned are listed below.)
Question from a reader:
What does a personal historian do????
Response from Pat:
A personal historian helps you record and shape your life story, as memoirs, autobiography, biography, or family (or organizational) history — and might also help you create an ethical will (a love letter to your survivors). I specialize in recording interviews and shaping them into written, printed documents or photohistories, but they can also be preserved on audiotape, videotape, CD, DVD, or a website. Indeed, a personal historian can help you create a photohistory or video for a major birthday, a death, an anniversary, or another important occasion. You can find members of the Association of Personal Historians (link below) all over the country as well as in Canada and some other countries.
My brother Steve and I are creating a photohistory of our family, which he wants to preserve on a CD, so everyone can share photos easily. He created a wonderful PowerPoint show, with sound effects, which he showed relatives the day of our mother's (Eleanor's) funeral. I wrote a mini-lifestory (see Eulogy for Eleanor), which I read at the graveside service. I want to create a printed version of our family photohistory, because I have faith in books lasting, and don't want the family photos on a digital format that can't be read 50 years from now.
P.S. Most personal historians do not do "genealogy" (family trees). There are associations of people who specialize in that field. Google "genealogy."
WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AN 'ETHICAL WILL' AND A 'LIFE LETTER' OR 'LEGACY LETTER'?
When I teach Life Stories and Legacy Writing at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, MD, I invariably get puzzled looks and only slight interest when I first mention "ethical wills." These wonderful "letters for survivors" (which I call "legacy letters") aren't necessarily about ethics and are not legally enforceable as wills, in addition to which both words ("ethical" and "will") seem to put people off. Hearing examples of ethical wills makes people realize, "Oh yes, I should write one of these!" A while back I asked readers to post their own nominations for a phrase describing these documents that suggests clearly what they are, without stirring too much alarm.("Katrina" letter might have the wrong implications, for example.)
Ruta Sevo (www.momox.org), who wrote a wonderful ethical will herself, which will be reprinted in the forthcoming
I think it is a personal communication, usually about a life issue or selected issues. it is not necessarily a story. it can be intended to be therapeutic (to resolve some "issue" while living) for the writer and the recipients, to be read while everyone is living or "from the grave." it implies "love" and implies "deeply personal" (in contrast with confessional blog entries, etc., meant to provoke the world) you could use "personal life letter" or "family life letter" but shorter is better. Also, the recipient may not be family. Another assumption: you are not writing more than one of these to the recipient. (Check out Ruta's website for more info about how to order her novel set in Lithuania.)
As it happens, personal historian Linda Blachman has been calling “life letters” for some time, because “they are more about life than death: gifts from the living to the living about living.” Linda has done a lot of work helping women with breast cancer who are also raising small children create life letters for their children. If they live, great -- they file them away. If they don't, the children have a wonderful gift to help alleviate the grief of losing their mother.
Tia Willoughby writes: Hello, I am intrigued by your website and the information therein...I was one of those who stumbled upon your site after typing in a Google search for "removing oil from dry-clean only". You wondered how so many hit your site for that article - I think it's a wonderful little surprise to find out about who you are and your life's work in the midst of a garment tragedy! . . . I've not heard of "ethical wills" until reading some of what is on your website, but a phrase came to mind… "Lasting Words" - a play off of "last words." I think little else sticks with us more than the words of loved ones, especially when they can be revisited as often as they can be read….I've been inspired by visiting your site. Thank you! I plan to return...
Thank you. Someone told me that the site is "very stream of conscious," which no doubt is because I think of this as my personal website. So yes, there is a little bit of everything here, from death to dancing, from clinical research to finding a way to cut dry cleaning bills (a popular page). If you are trying to write a memoir, personal history, or family history, you should find plenty of inspiration and practical information. Just poke around a little.
Finding birth and death dates, fast
A reader asked:
“If you wanted to look up someone's birth/death date on the Internet quickly, which is the first website you'd use? My goal is to find one that's free, not subscription-based. I know there are tons of good ones out there, but would love your advice on a good, free, one-stop-shop.”
Law librarian and amateur genealogist Anne Washburn responded:
“You can only find a birth date if there IS a death date *and* if the individual has been included in the SSDI (Social Security Death Index), which is available for free at http://ssdi.rootsweb.com. Of course, if the subject of the search is a famous person, that information will be available in other sources.
Some states also provide birth or death information through venues such as ancestry.com but that is only by subscription. Many states are extremely aggressive about NOT providing such information to anyone except a first-degree relative and you have to prove it. For instance, North Carolina has birth and death indexes at ancestry.com. Virginia is closed for that sort of thing. So, even with access to ancestry.com or state agencies, vital records are unevenly available.
Privacy laws are making it worse and harder for legitimate researchers.
As an amateur genealogist, I have maintained a subscription to ancestry.com for many years. It has also helped me with my profession as law librarian when I have to find missing heirs (although I have access to other databases that are not available to the general public). Even though I find many of the changes ancestry has made to its search engine extremely annoying, it is still an indispensable tool.”
Try your local library. Many libraries have a subscription to costly genealogy (and other) sites.
Linda Coffin (of HistoryCrafters) adds:
If there were an easy answer to this question, Pat, you'd put a lot of professional researchers out of business!
The problem is that original vital records are most often stored in county archives, not in national online databases. Of course there are many places like the Social Security Death Index, FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.com, and county or state historical society websites, where the information can sometimes be found. But these are almost all compiled" records (in other words, someone had to go to the original archives and copy things into another format) so there is no guarantee that you will find what you are looking for. And because these are "secondary" sources (i.e., not original),there is always the risk that the information is incorrect.
Sometimes the only way to find a vital record is to go back to the original records at that county's courthouse or historical society (or hire a professional researcher or genealogist to go there for you). But then of course you have to know which county to visit, and many of them have changed their boundaries or merged with each other or disappeared altogether or sent their records somewhere else.
So, now that I've gotten you discouraged, my short answer to your question is that I'd start with
(1) the Social Security Death Index (good for 20th Century birth and death dates, free at FamilySearch.org) and
(2) Ancestry.com (not free, but immensely valuable as a research tool).
Both are good places to start. The FamilySearch.org website can be terrific too, but the information there is supplied by individual researchers and may turn out to be undocumented and/or incorrect.
PAT MCNEES'S CURRENT PROJECTS
Question from a reader:
What are you working on now?
Response from Pat:
In July I began doing interviews for a history of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, which has been fascinating because I am looking at that department through the prism of all the changes that took place in psychiatry in the twentieth century (and am delighted to find that psychiatrists are an articulate lot!). I continue to write stories about patients in research at the NIH Clinical Center, and have conducted several interviews for an eventual history of another valuable federal institution that, like the Clinical Center, is generally below the radar screens of most Americans (the United States Institute of Peace, a project on hold while they build an incredibly beautiful new building on the National Mall). I occasionally edit and rewrite papers for staff at the World Bank and elsewhere.
Like most independent writer-editors, I work on several projects at once and find the balance of work (researching, interviewing, writing, and editing) both practical and refreshing. I also teach a course on Legacy Writing and Life Stories at the Writer's Center in Bethesda. Keeping content updated on my three websites also gobbles up time. And Paula Yost and I have completed editing a wonderful anthology for the Association of Personal Historians: MY WORDS ARE GONNA LINGER: THE ART OF PERSONAL HISTORY. Due out late 2008, early 2009.
Seeking former Brownies (1948-51) and members of the 215th St. Club, from Halldale Elementary School in the Shoestring Strip, Los Angeles, and later Narbonne High School
Members of Mrs. Thayne's troop: Are you out there? Call home (e-mail Pat at pat at patmcnees dot com). We have two photos of the Brownie Troop that was led by Mrs. Kane and Mrs. Thayne and need help identifying a couple of people.
LATER: Okay, now I've had some responses, but they're conflicting. Judy Wolf Thomsen thinks Mrs. Reed (who lived at Denker and 220th) was our leader and Mrs. Thayne just helped out sometimes. Jacki Krown wrote in her Handbook that Mr. McCue was leader and Mrs. Turner co-leader in 1950. We all sure remember things differently, and I'm glad some of us write things down!
Do you remember whose back yard we were in? Barbara Sandusky asks, "Is this the 215th Club that played Canasta each week under the guidance of Nancy's grandmother, Liz?
Back row: Donna Knott, Barbara Sandusky, (?) Nancy Morrison, Carol Kail, Berniece Wright (Barbara thinks that might be Georgia Kinneman or as I would spell it Kinnamon)
Front row: Jackie Krown, Myra Andrews, Sharon Thompson, Phyllis Swanson, Jeanette Wright
Phyllis remembers spending many hours playing canasta at Georgia's house, putting on a variety show in the garage (to which we lured all the neighbors), and painting ceramics. We also learned a little to play the piano and, for $1 a lesson, took "personality lessons" from Mrs. Evans, who emphasized correct posture and taught us how to introduce people and how to waltz. (I danced to "The Tennessee Waltz" with Harold Sandusky, and still waltz Sunday afternoons at Glen Echo!) Our little "charm school" ended just as we were going to learn how to eat spaghetti properly.
CLICK ON THE PHOTO TO ENLARGE
DNA TESTING FOR ANCESTRY
How can I find out what ethnic strains run in my family? We're midwestern white and our ancestors date back to the Revolutionary War, but I have heard that we may have both Indian and black ancestors. How can I find out and how much would it cost to know?
Pat's response: I'm curious myself. I am posting links here to a couple of articles that may answer some of our questions. Would other readers let me know what they have learned, or tell me of links to reliable information.
A reader responds: I have participated in my family's test project and am active in my family's genealogy research. The Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) folks have a lot of information about all kinds of tests on their site. (See link below)
Who's your daddy? The unintended consequences of genetic screening for disease (Steve Olson, The Atlantic)
60 Minutes segment, Finding One's Roots (Vy Higginsen gets tested by a genetic genealogy company, expecting to explore her African American roots, and discovers she's related to a white cattle rancher from Poplar Bluff, Missouri)
DYING: A BOOK OF COMFORT
Query from a reader: I buy five or six copies of DYING: A Book of Comfort at a time, to give people when there is a death in the family. But the Warner (trade paperback) edition is out of print (except for a print-on-demand paperback on amazon.com, which is not as nice)! How can I get copies?
Response from Pat:
Through Doubleday Direct I arranged for a special reprint of the beautiful small hardcover gift edition, issued by the Literary Guild, and now have copies available, at $17.95 each, with discounts for quantities. You can skip the two-paragraph sales pitch and click on the button below to buy a copy. (Amazon.com sells a print-on-demand paperback version for a few pennies more.)
Ray McGrath, a Catholic chaplain who along with other readers made me aware that the book was out of stock, wrote later to express his gratitude for the special printing, because he and his wife give copies to people who are grieving. "The response that we get is that your book is so easy just to page through and find various readings that are helpful. During grieving people don't want to sit down with a 200-page book and try to read it from page one to page 200. After awhile these same people have asked me where I got the book because they themselves want to give them as gifts."
Nanna Tanier, creative supervisor of the book clubs when DYING was first published, wrote: "I grew ever more surprised while reading Dying, A Book of Comfort. I was expecting depressing or clichéd material, but I found, instead, thoughtful, peaceful, even inspiring passages on this difficult subject. Pat McNees has helpfully organized specific topics in each chapter -- from the experience of dying to saying good-bye, to mourning a parent or child, to the journey through grief. There is even a sensitive chapter on mourning a suicide or sudden death. Additionally, there is a chapter of “Prayers in Many Voices,” where regardless of faith, you will find passages that truly speak to, and comfort you. Of the books I have designed, this is the one I am most proud of. I have given it to family and friends, all of whom have found comfort and peace in its pages." I am happy that the lovely edition for which Nanna was art director (Debbie Glasserman was designer) is now back in print.
I have created a special website to supplement the book, providing links to useful resources, brief readings, and practical advice:
To purchase 1-3 copies now:
GETTING RID OF SHINY SPOTS ON WOOL GABARDINE
Question: Can you suggest a method for getting rid of shiny places on my favorite pair of 100% wool black gabardine pants?
Response: I asked the International Fabricare Institute for an answer to this question and got the following response from Mrs. Chris Allsbrooks, textile analyst there:
"I wish there were some magic item out there that could easily remove shine from wool gabardine pants. Depending on the source, extent, and location of the shine, it may be difficult to remove.
"However, we have had luck in the past using fine grade sandpaper and rubbing it lightly across the surface of the area. The sandpaper loosens up the residues on the fibers contributing to the shine. This process also brushes up the nap, which is usually flattened, causing the shine."
A reader adds: I've had some success in ironing/steaming the shiny spots through a cotton cloth dipped in household vinegar.
Question from a reader:
Must I dry-clean polyester suits?
For the results of the reader's own experiment, see her comments, posted at the end of "The Truth about Dry Cleaning."
SELLING YOUR DIAMONDS
Question from a reader:
My mother-in-law left my wife a 5 carat pear shape diamond. I haven't got a cert. The jeweler who sold (20 years ago) it said it was an H-I color, IS2. The quality of the cut/make on a pear isn't mentioned. I don't want to try and sell it to a dealer-price will be too low but don't know how I can best sell a diamond to a private buyer at a higher price. Any ideas would be appreciated.
Response from Pat: I am not at all an expert on this subject--having sold only one diamond, and to an antique jewelry store — but in that case (as my article explains) I did get a better price at that antique jewelry store than I did at stores that didn't advertise themselves that way. What I learned was that you can't expect to get a lot selling your old diamond ring, but you might get more if the ring's design is "in demand." (Mine wasn't. Hope yours is.)
How much is your diamond really worth? The truth about diamond values, by Pat McNees (Washington Post, Style Plus)
Comment on "HOW TO BUY UPHOLSTERED FURNITURE"
Thanks so much for this article. I am like a dog with a bone on this subject. I love good furniture/not trendy/fancy, just time tested. I am often misunderstood in this area. I am grateful to read this and it backs up my findings of over 30 years of trial and error. I have a 30 year old sofa that has lasted because I was lucky enough to find it when I was not experienced enough to know better. New fabric -looks brand new. Thanks again,
Becky Smith, Romance,Arkansas
Pat responds: I agree. I bought my green velvet sofas about the same time and they still look pretty darned good! Incidentally, I ordered them made through a furniture-maker in North Carolina (Wood-Armfield, which I am told has filed for bankruptcy), they cost half as much as those I saw in local furniture stores, and many, many years later they are still in good condition.
How to buy upholstered furniture, by Pat McNees (Washington Post Magazine, eons ago, but apparently the principles still hold true)
SHOPPING FOR ABBA ZABBAS AND OTHER NOSTALGIA DANDY (REGIONAL CANDY)
Question from a reader: In a talk you gave recently, you mentioned Abba Zabba candy bars with enthusiasm. I can't find them.
Nostalgic favorites in candy are now available online:Abba Zabbas (peanut butter inside taffy) and Big Hunks (nougat with nuts), two favorites of many of us who grew up in Southern California, are made by a firm called Annabelle, sold mostly in California, although you can find them in nearby states. I found an entry for them on Wikipedia, which led me to the Abba Zabba page, which had links to companies that sell "old favorites" (including many nostalgic favorites that are hard to find in regular outlets). I suspect Annabelle also makes Look candy bars, also a Western tradition. I placed an order for a whole box of Abba Zabbas through www.favoritesof.com, but there were many many others. Great gift possibilities for friends with nostalgic cravings! Very bad idea for those of us with a weight problem and little or no will power.
What to do in Washington, D.C.
Question from a reader:We have friends visiting Washington, D.C. soon. Where's a good place to check out special events, good restaurants, etc.?
Response from Pat: Washingtonian Magazine has pretty good online links to what's going on in Museums, etc., and so do the Washington Post and Washington City Paper. I'll place links to useful resources below. The problem with such pages of referrals is that they set editorial limits: There may be five wonderful Thai restaurants in Bethesda, for example, but they can list only one or two, to create balance. And although I always check the Weekend section of the Washington Post to find out where dances will be held, they have a policy of listing only dances for which there is live music, and Argentine tangos aren't usually danced to live music, so they're useless for that. (There's a link to information on where to go Argentine dancing under Dancing, A Guide to the Capital Area.)
GUIDES TO BEST FOOD AND DINING IN THE D.C. AREA
• Best Bets (Washington Post guides to best afternoon tea, barbecue, brunches, burgers, cheap eats, cheese plates, chocolate shops, crab cakes, crepes, cupcakes, desserts, Ethiopian, food trucks (mobile food), places for groups, French fries, grilled cheese, gumbo, hot dogs, chili, Italian, mac and cheese, novel kids' menus, outdoor seating, oyster happy hours, pizza, places to host a book club, pre-theater dining, restaurants for a quiet meal, runner's chow, sandwich shops, seafood, steak, vegetarian friendly fare.
• Food Truck Stops (where to find lunch on wheels, mostly in D.C., not suburbs)
• Find a Restaurant (various round-up reviews, Washingtonian) or plug in the name of a restaurant
• Restaurants (Washington Post)
• 100 Very Best Restaurants in DC and Environs (Washingtonian, 2011, and "environs" are Maryland and Virginia suburbs)
• Cheap Eats Washingtonian, 2010, good places to eat for less than $25 a person, tip and tax included)
• Travelers' favorite restaurants in Washington DC (Trip Advisor 2012)
• Late Night Dining in DC Area (Washingtonian)
• Best Grilled Cheese (Washingtonian 4-23-12)
• Menu Pages, DC and Maryland and Virginia suburbs (by neighborhood and type of cuisine)
• Readers' Favorite Restaurants (Washingtonian, 12-10)
• Dirt Cheap Eats in DC, Virginia, and Maryland (Washingtonian)
• Washington Post Dining Out Guides (organized by type: Best burgers, Best cheap eats Best pizza, Best pre-theater dining, Best romantic restaurants, Best seafood, Best steak, Best sushi, Best takeout, etc.)
• Best Bites (Washingtonian magazine food and restaurant news, including Food Stop News -- where to find lunch on wheels)
• 40 Dishes Every Washingtonian Should Try (Washington Post-- items voted for by readers)
• Best Ice Cream (Yelp -- the people vote)
• Best ice cream (Washingtonian, 2004 and out of date but some places still there)
Getting around DC (and finding unusual places to visit)
• Map of Metrorail system (subway service serving DC and parts of suburban MD and VA). Metro is the common nickname for the bus and subway system connecting DC, MD, and VA.
• Metro's Reduced Fare Program for People with Disabilities and Senior Citizens. See also SmarTrip® Questions & Answers (WMATA)
• HopStop (like Mapquest, but using public transportation--subway and bus directions for Boston, Chicago, DC, Long Island, New Jersey, NYC, San Francisco, with Metro North NY in beta testing)
• Metro Trip Planner (how to get where, when)
• Commuter Connections (trains, busses, Metro)
• DC Circulator. At just $1 and with buses arriving every 10 minutes, the Circulator provides daily bus service on five convenient routes throughout Washington, DC.
• Bethesda Circulator (map of stops)
• 15 Best Places to Go with Kids in the Washington DC Area (Rachel Coooper, About.com)
• Washington DC Parks
• Movie Showtimes (IMDb, Internet Movie Database--plug in your zip code to find out what's playing near you)
• Visitors Guide to Washington DC (Washingtonian, and if this link changes just search for Washingtonian magazine)
• Bethesda Magazine (good on where to dine, etc., in this northwest suburb of DC, which is full of good restaurants)
• Washington DC Theaters (thingstodo.com)
• MuseumSpot (and what's great is that many, if not most, of the DC museums require no entrance fee; search by specialty along left side). See also Washington Post on Museums
• Washington City Paper listings (Friday thru Thurs). This alternative DC paper beats mainstream media on entertainment listings
• Washington Post Going Out Guide (GOG)
Shopping for the Unusual in DC Area
• Community Forklift (Surplus, Salvaged, and Green Building Materials)
CHEAP BUS RIDES BETWEEN WASHINGTON DC AND NEW YORK CITY (AND ENVIRONS):
A number of bus lines that provide cheap service between Washington DC and New York City are worth checking out. For $50 I found the Vamoose Bus trip between the two cities (at 4 hours, leaving from Arlington VA and Bethesda MD) a great value--with decent bus companions (not just poor students). You reserve a seat and boarding was well-organized on both my trips. Some busses have Wifi, but don't count on it working beautifully. The price is DEFINITELY right, now that Amtrak tickets are so expensive. (On the other hand, traffic is so bad during holidays that I take Amtrak then.)
Bolt Bus (https://www.boltbus.com/wherewetravel.aspx)
DC2NY (($40 round trip DC-New York buses, between Dupont Circle or 14th and Eye in DC and Penn Station in NYC)
Megabus (http://www.megabus.com/us/stops/washington_newyork.php) has a fairly extensive network of routes
Vamoose (http://www.vamoosebus.com/) I use this regularly: $30 each way and it leaves from Bethesda, MD, and Arlington, VA. The Gold Bus is $20 more and worth it for the comfort, but doesn't run as soften.
Chinatown Bus Lines (for adventurous economizers, various takeoff and destination sites--e.g., NYC to Nashville!)
National Geographic Traveler did a story Comparing the Cheap Buses and so did the Penny Pinching Geek.
Dancing: A Guide to the Capital Area
It's been a while since I updated and published the print version of this guide, but much of it is available on this site, on the following pages:
Dancing: A guide to the Capital Area (useful links)
Ballroom dance in the DC area
Country-western (honky tonk) dancing
Folk dancing in the Capital area
Love at first waltz, by Cheryl Kollin
Shuffling Off to Buffalo Gap Dance Camp
(the camp experience continues but the venue has often changed)
Swing, lindy, jitterbug, shag, and hand-dancing
Céilí history, corrected
An attentive reader, Michael Harrison, points out a problem in my story about Irish ceilis. He writes: "You state 'Then on the heels of Irish freedom came the Irish Dance Hall Act, which in 1931 allowed the Irish for the first time to dance in halls, a controversial idea at the time -- and one that changed the nature of ceilis. Ceili music became the Irish equivalent of the big band sound.'
"The way you've phrased it makes it sound as though the dance hall act was a good thing. In fact, it set Irish dancing back quite a lot. The dance hall act was in fact a way to keep people from dancing by requiring that they have a permit before doing so. Prior to that time you'd find people dancing in private homes and at crossroads but after, anyone caught doing so would be taken to court and assessed a fine." I've inserted the corrected and posted links both to Michael's website and wiki on Irish dancing and to further information on the act, for which he provided links. Thanks, Michael!
WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO BUFFALO DANCE CAMP?
Response from Pat:
Jim Newburn, who kept Buffalo Gap going for ten years, sold the camp was sold to land developer Brad (BK) Haynes, who was introduced at the Almost Heaven dance camp held over Memorial Day weekend, 2006. At the camp's talent show, where my favorite performer was a little boy who sang "Amazing Grace" standing on his head, BK sang "My Cheating Heart" and another country-western tune and gave away demo CDs (he has property in Branson, Missouri).
From 1969 to 2006, the camp had a wonderful run. Who knows what the future holds? Many of the camps formerly held at Buffalo Gap are being held at Timber Ridge Camp, about 10 miles south of Buffalo Gap, in the summer of 2008. As of 2009, the camp is closed and is "for sale, by sections." How very, very sad.
GIRLS AND WOMEN IN SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING
Question from a reader:
You said that young girls studying engineering often take up masculine mannerisms/appearance (aka tomboy qualities) in order to survive. What do you mean by 'survive'? I have never come across any form of sexism or exclusion at my university, am I just one of the lucky ones?
Response from Pat:
I have no personal experience of engineering; my role in writing New Formulas for America's Workforce was simply to summarize reports from the field. Some researchers reported that many engineering departments are unfriendly to women, or that women feel isolated because there are so few women there. If you've had a good experience, it could mean you are lucky. I'd like to think it's a sign that things are changing. There were many different kinds of reports on women in engineering. If you don't have the book, you can download it, free, from the website of the National Science Foundation. I did the writing on New Formulas 1, under the superb guidance of Ruta Sevo (under a contract with Low & Associates). NSF has now published NSF 2, a briefer volume, covering projects from 1993 through 2005. Click on following links to read or download free PDF files of either volume.
Download "New Formulas for America's Workforce: Girls in Science and Engineering" by Pat McNees (National Science Foundation)
Serving Up Science and Engineering (to girls especially). Preview this 10-minute-cookbook briefing by Ruta Sevo
Books, articles, and more
Writing or telling life stories
Dancing, food, good books, and other diversions
Medical mysteries, patient stories, and practical links
Dying, mourning, and other inevitable events
Girls and science