Oh, to be Queen (all 5 feet 0 inches of me)

I don’t really have a desire to rule a queendom. Okay, maybe I do a little bit. My inner 10-year old does still daydream of crowns and sceptres and beautiful gowns and having all of the coffee and chocolate I want. And kittens everywhere. And peace on earth. And rooms full of books. And time to read them.

my throne
The throne room in Genevieve-landia.


But who doesn’t have those daydreams?

Queen for a Day


My beautiful sister Cathy was Homecoming Queen at Druid Hills High School. She looked so glamorous in her gown and sash, wearing the tiara, and carrying roses. Her beaming boyfriend (later husband) stood proudly at her side. My equally beautiful sister Ellen raced across the football when Cathy’s crowning was announced, as excited as anyone. I could only dream.

By the time I got to high school, it was clear the title wouldn’t pass down to me. I was a bookish, quiet wallflower. I never was asked out on a date or to the prom. I pretended I didn’t care.



A popular song in the 1970s was Seals and Crofts King of Nothing. I actually managed to use it a reference in an essay at the end of my senior year. It was something about how I saw my future. I got an A, and the teacher read it to the class. I was heavily influenced by J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951), the paean to teen angst and alienation, of course.

Seals and Crofts
Seals and Crofts.

King lyrics



I was trying to be all Bohemian and anti-preppy. I made dresses out of fabric remnants on sale from the bin at the local fabric store (there were such things then) and quit eating meat. I dreamed of going to Mount Holyoke with the other girls like me, and being like one of the characters in Wendy Wasserstein’s play Uncommon Women and Others (1977), which I saw as a teleplay in 1978, starring Jill Eikenberry, a young  and upcoming actress named Meryl Streep, and Swoosie Kurtz. If you can find it, watch it!



What has renewed my queenly aspirations? Recently, Bob and I binge-watched the Netflix series The Crown. So good! I got to Googling Princess Margaret, and for some reason looked up how tall she was–5’2″. So of course, I had to look up Queen Elizabeth II–5’4″ (maybe shorter now that she’s 91 years old; we tend to shrink as we age).

The Crown.jpg

It made me happy to realize these women were on the small side. I am 5′ 0″. My mother was 5′ 2″.  There are a lot of average height and tall people in my family; we women of small stature are the anomolies. I’m fine with that. I’ve never wanted to be tall. But queen? Maybe.

Queenly and queen-size are reference to large women in the fashion industry. I am in the petites category. Sadly, a lot of petites clothing looks like it was made for little girls, not adult women. I imagine queen-size runs to the matronly, if designers and their stereotypes are at play in other size categories. Designers–get real!

Anyway, shortly after we finished The Crown, we started watching Victoria on PBS. Also excellent! There are many references early on to Victoria (1819-1901) being too small and too short (and too young) to be queenly. That piqued my interest! I Googled. Queen Victoria was–get ready for it–5′ 0″ tall! I am vindicated. I can be queen!

victoria_portrait at 24
Queen Victoria at age 24, portrait by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1842.


Victoria reigned from 1837 to her death in 1901. She inherited the throne at age 18. As depicted in the costume drama, she had to be feisty and stand up for herself to be taken seriously. Now it is with great seriousness that we picture her.

The Queen 1887
Queen Victoria in 1887.


And sing of her. The song by Leonard Cohen (1972) comes to mind. I won’t pretend to understand the lyrics. But it sounds serious.


Of course, as portrayed by Jenna Coleman (5′ 2″), she is heartbreakingly lovely and delicate looking. And spunky.



Actually, it’s pretty good casting when one sees portraits of the young Victoria. Not quite as lovely, no, but there is a similarity.

1842 portrait Franz Xaver Winterhalter
1842 portrait of Victoria, Franz Xaver Winterhalter.


Once down the rabbit hole, I had to know how tall other queens had been. Elizabeth I is estimated to have been about 5′ 4″ as well. One of my favorite queens to read about is Anne Boleyn (1501-1536), the ill-fated second wife (1533-1536) of Henry VIII and mother of Elizabeth I (1533-1603).

Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn
The “Darnley Portrait” of Elizabeth I, c. 1575.

Anne Boleyn’s body was exhumed in the 19th century (I try not to think about that too much), and she was estimated by a Dr. Mouat to be between 5′ 0′ and 5′ 3″. (Insert inevitable joke about “with or without her head” here.) I first became intrigued with Anne Boleyn from the 1969 film, Anne of the Thousand Days, with Genevieve Bujold (5′ 4″) playing the queen.

Genevieve B
Canadian actress Genevieve Bujold as Anne Boleyn in 1969.

After watching the series Wolf Hall (2015), another excellent drama based on the Hilary Mantel novel of 2009, I decided to read up on Anne, who was portrayed somewhat less sympathetically than in Anne of the Thousand Days.

Conincidentally, Claire Foy (also 5′ 4″), who portrays Elizabeth II in The Crown, played Anne Boleyn in Wolf Hall.

Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn.

Wolf Hall.jpg

After struggling a bit through the Mantel novel, I decided to go a little, shall we say, more readable, with Philippa Gregory’s book, The Other Boleyn Girl (2001), told from the perspective of Anne’s sister Mary.



I know there is a movie version of The Other Boleyn Girl, but I just can’t get behind Natalie Portman (5′ 3″) as Anne and Scarlett Johansson (5′ 3″; I thought she’d be taller) as Mary. Don’t ask me why; I’m not sure.


My paternal grandfather’s Aunt Genevieve was Queen–Queen of Mardi Gras in 1888.

1888 G
Genevieve Cottraux, 1888.

I have royal blood, so to speak. Do I wear the crown well? Maybe that’s why I like a good headband so much; it’s kinda like a crown. Combine a headband with cat ears, and there I am!


I’ll be a kind a benevolent queen. Genevieve-landia will be a happy place of peace and harmony. The motto will be Peace and Hugs. I tried inserting this in a Latin translator and got this:

pacem et cubantem piis foveamus amplexibus

Peace and Hugs is a lot easier. No need for Latin.

By the way, Genevieve Cottraux of 1888–her father was a coffee merchant and her uncle was a confectioner. So my royal blood includes coffee and chocolate. I’m taking applications for Royal Barista and Royal Chocolatier. These are appointments of the utmost importance.

Until my coronation, you can find me wherever there are books, kittens, coffee, and chocolate. Wait, that sounds like home.


The banjo moves up on my life list

I hate the term bucket list. You might as well say, “I’m going to die any day now. What to do?” I’d rather say, “Life is a mystery. What would I like to do?” Bucket list sounds so final. Life list sounds open and celebratory.


For the longest time, going up in a hot air balloon was a feature on my list. I lived for a while in Napa, where hot air ballooning is a major activity. But no one I know would go up with me. I know too many people who are afraid of heights. And I was afraid of going alone. So I still haven’t done it. I would hear that sound of the air whoshing up into the balloons as they drifted over my house near the Napa River. Taking my coffee out on the deck, I’d stand in my pajamas and wave longingly at the tourists in the balloons as they drifted by.


I signed up for a watercolor painting class and the first thing I painted was a hot air balloon.

balloon painting

I’ve read Around the World in 80 Days more than once. Of course, there isn’t a hot air balloon in the book, but thanks to the film version, I can’t think of the story without a hot air balloon.





I still have hot air balloon dreams. Maybe over Paris! Paris was also a long-time life list item. And in 2014 I finally got there! Was it everything I dreamed it would be? Mais oui! Certainement! I’ll brush up my bad high school French and go back anytime. Given my name and French heritage, you’d think I’d have speaking French in the bag, but alas, languages don’t necessarily pass down in families once they assimilate to the United States. So I was really An American in Paris:


For a few years now, I’ve said I want to learn to play the banjo. I see banjos at the Alameda Point Antiques Fair (the flea market) now and again, but they always look pretty beat up, and I never have the courage to haggle with the dealers since I know absolutely nothing about banjos.


I don’t know why I love them, but I do. Recently, we went to the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix. What a beautiful place! I worked for years in museums, and I was quite impressed with the displays, collections, volunteers, everything! They even have a conservation lab, which was my first foray into museum work.



Some of my favorite displays at the museum were the Americana, Bluegrass, and Banjo sections. Banjos! In a museum! I felt vindicated in my banjo love.

Since, I have come to find out there is an American Banjo Museum and American Banjo Hall of Fame. Woo hoo! Now I have a reason to go to Oklahoma City. Some of the illustrious inductees include Pete Seeger, Earl Scruggs, Roy Clark, and Steve Martin. There are women in the hall of fame too: Debbie Schreyer, Helen Baker, Georgette Twain (love that name) among others.


Last night, in one of my weird, mixed up dreams, I bought a banjo. The main theme of the dream was that I was trying to board a ferry into San Francisco. It was an ordeal. I had to go through a labyrinthian mall to buy a ticket. And while wandering lost through the mall, I saw the world’s most beautiful banjo. I had to have it. I bought it. And in nonsensical dream style, instead of putting the banjo in a case for me, the salesclerk carefully and elaborately wrapped it in brown paper and string, like the gorgeous and mysterious Christmas present.

The dream banjo didn’t look like this; not quite so fancy. More Danish Modern meets banjo. This is Gibson’s Earl Scruggs Golden Deluxe.

The banjo often doesn’t get a lot of respect. Mark Twain (any relation to Georgette?) said something about a true gentleman is one who knows how to play the banjo and doesn’t. But I don’t care. I’ve had a crush on Steve Martin since the 1970s. Then, when I was in high school, the banjo was part of his comedy schtick. Now he’s a respected, Grammy winning musician with his band, The Steep Canyon Rangers. And he’s still funny.




Can I learn to play this late in life? The question is more, will I follow my dream. There’s even a Dummies book for me.

banjo for dummies


I challenge myself to follow this one. I made it to Paris. Maybe soon you’ll see me in the sky, in a hot air balloon, picking on a banjo and having a great old time.



Ah, caffeine, you pernicious substance!

Monday and Tuesday are my weekend. That’s when I try to do as much in two days as humanly possible. And I start to stress out. Weekends aren’t supposed to be stressful, but when I signed up for a Ph.D. program, I gave up anything that might be called leisure time. I had coffee, real coffee, Monday afternoon.

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever” (from Endymion, by John Keats, 1818).

It was kind of an accident. That all important word DECAF was left off my order with the barista. I realized it before I actually drank said coffee, but I had one of those “What the hell!” moments and down went the delicious beverage.


So here I am at 4 in the morning on Tuesday, my brain on fire. Not good for my beauty rest, but I am getting things done!


The other human in the house is sound asleep. The dog here with me on the couch is snoring. Two of the cats are hiding from me so they can sleep. My only friend at this hour is a 19-year old cat who I bottlefed when she was a newborn and posibly thinks I am her mother. She loves me unconditionally.

According to the Cat Years Chart I found online, Sara at 19 is the equivalent of 92 years old.
Einstein at 4 a.m. Really, there’s a dog in there.


You might ask, why am I doing this to myself? Back in the day, if I was awake on my weekend at 4 a.m. I was probably having what I thought was a good time and not remembering it later. I don’t miss those days, believe me! Being a vegan teetotaler graduate student working at an animal shelter might not sound like the good life to many of you, but it’s turned out to be the ideal life for me. As long as I stick to decaf! I suppose I could just become an early shift barista since I am awake, but I am not anywhere close to the the level of hipster required for that.


hipster barista
This guy comes up a lot if you Google “hipster barista”.


These days, I dream of book caves and animal sanctuaries, not of wine cellars.

book cave
What’s missing? A dog and a cat or 2 (or 3).


There’s something magical about the combination of cats and books. Cats can make reading hard sometimes, but they just want to know what the book is about!



Throw in coffee (or tea, if you prefer), and you have the makings of a perfect day.


Why are cat cafes becoming so popular? Yep, you can have your cats, coffee, and a place to read all at once.

London cat cafe
Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium, in London.


My particular favorite is Cat Town Cafe in Oakland, California.



Given these ingredients–cats, coffee, books–I have the makings of a perfect day at hand! Plus it’s raining and I have nowhere I have to be, making the day even that more magical. So I am going to enjoy what’s left of my weekend in the best way possible. But first, I am going to add naps to that essentials list.

add naps

I hear there’s even a pillow to help me out with that.


If only I could get the dog to stop snoring. I could try this trick:


This may be the current popular image of a sleeping beauty:



But this is the best I can hope for:

beuaty sleep


And this is what I am more likely to get:

cats and sleep


Sweet dreams.

Reminds me, add chocolate to that list, please.

add chocolate



Please support your local animal shelter

Believe me, I hate asking for money as much as anyone. I could never work in development in any of the non-profits where I’ve worked or that I support. I am terrible at schmoozing, and I’d love it if we didn’t have to ask. But we do.

Yes, we all work hard for what we have. Most of us have causes near and dear to our hearts. I give money when I can, usually to animal shelters and rescues. I know people are in need as well, and I am glad that there are advocates for children, the homeless, the hungry, the environment.


In searching for numbers, I found that in 2015, Americans gave $373.25 billion to charity in 2015, a record whether measured in current or inflation-adjusted dollars. That is incredibly generous. Americans also gave their time. Also in 2015, about 62.6 million people volunteered through or for an organization. Non-profits depend on generosity of heart, mind, and, obviously, wallet.


My cause of choice is animal shelters and rescue. For more than 6 years I volunteered at the East Bay SPCA in Oakland, California. I made many friends and met some of the animals who now live with me. I still try to help out by fostering cats and kittens.

Chiclet, my most recent foster for the East Bay SPCA.


I have been fortunate enough to change careers to now work for another animal shelter in the community, Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF).


Baseball’s Tony La Russa founded ARF after the famous incident of a cat, later named Evie, running onto the field of an Oakland A’s baseball game.



Located in Walnut Creek in the East Bay area of California, ARF is a wonderful facility. A private shelter, we rescue animals from the over-crowded public kill shelters and give them the time they need to find their forever homes.

Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 9.37.04 AM.png



ARF offers many wonderful programs and services in addition to adoptions: many youth programs (my favorite being All Ears Reading), dog training, the Pet Hug Pack therapy animals, FoodShare (pet food pantry), the ARF Emergency Medical Fund, low cost spay/neuter services, a mobile clinic, and the awesome Pets for Vets program.

Children develop reading skills by reading aloud to Pet Hug Pack animals through All Ears Reading.



So, here’s the part where I ask for money.



I am fundraising for ARF’s yearly Animals on Broadway event, a pet walk and festival on Broadway Plaza in Walnut Creek on Saturday, May 20. I won’t be walking in the event, as I have to be at work at the shelter helping adopt out animals! I am a virtual walker, a walker in spirit.


My fundraising goal is fairly modest, at $500. I have $300 as of the writing of this blog post. Thank you from the bottom of my animal-loving heart to those of you who have donated. I love you all!

If you can give any amount, please consider helping out. If not to my fundraising page, to someone else’s, or to your local shelter, or to whatever cause is important to you. If not money, time if you have it. Getting involved was the best decision I ever made. You won’t regret it.

Snuffalufagus says Give!



Mary Pickford, the Girl with the Curls (and the cat, and the cool Google doodle)

I don’t usually pay attention to the ever-changing Google doodle. I don’t always get it, not being all that culturally hip, and I am often on a Google mission that keeps me from lingering on the home page. April 8 was a day on which I did linger. I was attracted to the blue background, the vintage female figure with the movie camera, and of course, the cat on the figure’s shoulder.

Mary Google

Who was the woman, a woman I immediately wanted to be? I clicked. April 8 would have been Mary Pickford’s 125th birthday. I realized I knew very little about Mary Pickford. I had a vague idea of her being a silent-film era damsel in distress, an early cinematic American Sweetheart. But she was so much more than that.

Here is the Google blurb:


    • Lights, camera, action! Today’s doodle honors the “Queen of the Movies,” Mary Pickford. An actress, a film director, and a producer, Mary Pickford proved that actors weren’t relegated to careers in front of the camera. She co-founded the film studio United Artists and was one of the original 36 founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

      Before she became one of the most powerful women who has ever worked in Hollywood, she was “the girl with the curls,” and one of the most beloved stars of the silent film era. She appeared in as many as 50 films per year, and eventually negotiated wages that were equal to half of each of her films’ profits. She went on to demand full creative and financial control of her films, a feat still unheard of to this day.  

      She used her stardom to bring awareness to causes close to her heart. She sold Liberty Bonds during World War I, created the Motion Picture Relief Fund, and revolutionized the film industry by giving independent film producers a way to distribute their films outside the studio system. She won an Academy Award for Best Actress, for her role in Coquette (1929), and an honorary Academy Award for lifetime achievement in 1976.

      Today, we pay tribute to Mary Pickford’s enterprising leadership on what would be her 125th birthday.


      Born in 1892 in Toronto as Gladys Marie Smith, she began in a traveling theater company at age 7, with her family, and was known as Baby Gladys Smith.


      In 1908, a producer gave her the name Mary Pickford, changing her middle name Marie to Mary, and using her mother’s maiden name, Pickford. She appeared in her first film in 1909. 

      It was her performance in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm in 1917 that finally gave her the fame and fortune that she built on to become the Queen of Hollywood.



      This is from her first talking picture, and the one for which she won an Oscar, Coquette (1929). She is said to have been dismayed at hearing the sound of her own voice.


      In her autobiography, Sunshine and Shadow (1955), she wrote that as a young girl in Toronto, she would buy a single rose and eat the petals, believing the beauty, color, and perfume would become part of her.

      book cover


      rose petals


      Here she is in 1976 receiving her honorary Oscar; I was dismayed at the zebra skin rug in the foyer at her home Pickfair, but more on that in a bit. It’s a bit sad to watch but remember she is 84 years old in the video clip.



Pickfair, the estate where she lived in Beverly Hills until her death in 1979, was a gift to her from second husband Douglas Fairbanks.



Sadly, so-called actress Pia Zadora (“Who?” I can hear you ask) razed the house in 1990, having purchased it in 1988 from Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Russ. In its place, she build a “Venetian-style palazzo”, eventually claiming after much criticism that she did so because the house was haunted, not by the ghost of Mary but by one of Douglas Fairbanks’ mistresses. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. said in a public statement after hearing that the house had been destroyed, “I regret it very much. I wonder, if they were going to demolish it, why they bought it in the first place.” In its heyday, Pickfair was second only to the White House in American house fame.

Pia Zadora, literal home wrecker.

Zadora sold the “palazzo” (17 bedrooms, 30 bathrooms) in 2006 to Korean businessman Cory Hong. It was listed for sale again in 2008, with an asking price of $60 million.

Despite the zebra skin rug, which seems much more Pia Zadora than Mary Pickford to me, made me think about Ms. Pickford and animals. Many images of her include animals, particularly dogs and cats, but also rabbits and birds.

with cat
Of course this one is my favorite.

I wonder, even though in some images I found she is wearing fur, if that is also of the era (like the zebra skin rug), and if she was in fact an animal lover. I feel she might be a kindred spirit.

She was a trailblazer, and even today not many women have the creative control and power she had.

American woman finally get the right to vote in 1920. Canadian women first received the right in 1916 in Manitoba. The last Canadian province on board was Quebec in 1940.



I’m never going to be an actress or a director or a producer or any kind of “powerhouse”, but I admire Mary’s determination and seeming sweetness. I’ll have to read more about her. In addition to her autobiography, there are quite a few books about that early era of Hollywood and the people who made it happen. The one I am going to look for is Pickford: The Woman Who Made Hollywood (2007) by Eileen Whitfield.

amazon book cover


In the meantime, this will have to suffice as my homage to Mary Pickford and women like her: strong, determined, and happy to have a cat climbing on her shoulders.


Peace and hugs from me and little Chiclet, foster kitten extraordinaire.

P. S. Please support me in my fundraiser for Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation. My goal is fairly modest. Mary would approve.





Grumpy Old Men (or, A Man Called Ove, or Get Off My Lawn!)

Okay, maybe this image of Clint Eastwood as Walt Kowalski from the movie Gran Torino (2008) is a little extreme. But we almost all of us know the “get off my lawn guy”. Heck, sometimes these days I am the get off my lawn guy!

Maybe Homer Simpson is a better example, although I am sure there are Walt Kowalskis in the world.


When I was a kid on Dyson Drive in Atlanta, it was Colonel James G. Bogle. I am sure he was a nice man. He lived a long life (1915-2010), and I hope a happy one. Our family spent many evenings at the home of his family. His daughter, Alice, a few years older than me, had a wonderful bedroom filled with the most spectacular array of toys and games. I was allowed to play in there. According to my sisters, Alice also had all the best Barbie stuff. Col. Bogle kept up a miniature train wonderland in his basement. But I was afraid of him, and we all knew not to step on his lawn

col bogle
Colonel James G. Bogle

Once, when I was in about 2nd grade, there was a hurricane warning issued, and the school decided to send us all home. It was getting really dark outside, and it was kind of exciting. My mother was at work, and couldn’t come get me. We only lived a block away from the school, but I wasn’t allowed to just walk home. So Col. Bogle came to pick me up and walk me home. I remember being frozen in place, afraid to go with him, and afraid of the coming storm. What’s a scared little girl to do? Looking back on it, it breaks my heart to think of how he must have felt seeing my fear. I wish I could apologize, or have a redo, and slip my hand in his and walk down the street happily missing an afternoon of school.




I just finished reading the book A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman. I loved this book, and loved the main character Ove. The book is at times funny, at others sad. Ove can be frustrating. But it’s made me think about the stories of grumpy old men and how they came to be who they are.

ove book

I first proposed reading A Man Called Ove to my neighborhood book group after it was suggested to me by one of my animal shelter buddies (and one of my favorite volunteers). My book group declined; they had mostly all read it already and one guest (not a member, just visiting) said she didn’t like it, finding grumpy Ove tedious. Hmmm. Makes me wonder if she is the Grumpy Old Woman version of the get off my lawn guy. (Unfortunately, I’ve had to give up the book group for the time being due to schedule conflicts. But I made some great friends and received so much encouragement from my fellow bookies regarding my school and career decisions.)

The book is from Swedish author Fredrik Backman, and has since been made into a film.

Author Fredrik Backman





You’ll notice there is a cat featured on both the book cover and the movie poster. Maybe that’s partly why I love this book and I love Ove. The cat does play a central role in showing us Ove’s lovable side. And he does have one.

Ove cat.jpg

I can’t wait to watch this movie!

Speaking of movies, there was the Grumpy Old Men movie (1993) and the sequel, Grumpier Old Men.

HTRA210 VV093
Two of my favorite grumpy old men,  Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, both now deceased.


And there was Harry and Tonto back in the day (1974), another lovable grumpy old guy with a cat.

Art Carney played Harry.


Another great grumpy old guy who has a story we learn (and I cried over) and comes to find a new life is Carl Fredricksen, voiced by Edward Asner, in the Pixar animated film Up. This time it’s a dog, named Dug, not a cat. Kids and animals are often the way to the heart of the grump.

Carl, finally smiling, with Russell and Dug.


One of my particular favorites is Peter O’Toole as Alan Swann in My Favorite Year (1982), not necessarily grump, but a handful with a back story.


The point is, everyone has a story. Ove’s story was the loss of his beloved wife Sonja, the only person who ever seemed to accept him for who he was.

Ove meets Sonja, a ray of sunshine and the love of his life.


The story is often one of loss and loneliness. I write a lot about kindness toward animals, but I also worry that we aren’t kind enough to each other. Bullying in any form is not okay, and often mistreatment of animals and of people go hand in hand. Whether it is your neighborhood Grumpy Old Man or Crazy Cat Lady, show some compassion. Like Ove with Parvaneh and her family, they might come to mean the world to you.


with the kids
Ove eventually becomes a grandfather figure for Parvaneh’s daughters.


Peace and hugs.