The City of Lighters and Other Paris Fun Facts

Everyone knows that French food is one of the most well-crafted and esteemed cuisines in the world, but not many people know why or how it came to be. In David Downie’s new book, A Taste of Paris, he dives into the history behind the food with a researcher’s wild abandon for discovery and a humourist’s eye for fun.

Last time we were reading about the City of Light here on the blog, we were exploring it through the paintings and photographs of writer Janice MacLeod in her book, A Paris Year.

Janice and her Paris Year!

This time around, we are deep in the archive vaults of Parisian history alongside author David Downie as he takes us on an epicurean tour of the food that made France famous. Magically, in just 280 pages, David manages to condense centuries worth of feasting into a tidy timeline that begins in 53 B.C. and ends in present day.

“What is thrilling at least to me,” David declares in the starter portion of the book, “is to speculate on how in modified and sometimes-hard-to-recognize forms many foods and food-related habits have survived the ravages of time, the invasions and massacres and floods and fires, the plagues and changes in religion or political and economic systems, and live on in Paris today.”

It is with that keen interest that David dissects how, when, where and why the French have cooked, created, dined and dallied their way to the top of the menu board. Along the way, we learn about colorful characters like…

Queen Caterina de Medici – wife of King Henry II (1519-1589)

Queen Caterina, wife of King Henri II who chewed tobacco leaves to relieve her headaches which started French women’s universal love affair with nicotine.

We also learn about the histories behind an assortment of interesting neighborhoods, buildings, and restaurants that all contributed to the food scene both ancient and modern…

Clockwise from top left: Le Marais historic district, Palace de Versailles, Hotel de Cluny dating to the 1300’s, Verjus restaurant

…and we learn fun facts galore on a myriad of kitchen topics like these…

  1. Butter knives were invented so that people couldn’t pick their teeth at table.
  2. During the Middle Ages, long before the invention of plates,  bread was baked in cutting board shapes and used to hold piles of food for individual eaters. Once the food on top of the bread was consumed, the bread was given to peasants or animals to eat.
  3. Artichokes are considered an aphrodisiac, especially in Italy.
  4. One in three French people smoke (hence the city of lighters!)
  5. In-home cooking spaces in most French houses didn’t exist until the late 18th century.
  6. Below is one of President Obama’s favorite restaurants near the Eiffel Tower…
La Fontaine De Mars

Paris is a city continuously simmering in centuries of tradition. A delightfully unique aspect of David’s book is that he shifts back and forth between present day and the past, so you absorb plenty of history along the way but you also directly understand the correlation between what’s changed and what hasn’t.

While you don’t need to be a European history scholar or a devout foodie in order to tuck into this culinary aspect of the city, it helps if you have a special interest in old world events and a basic understanding of the fine-tuned culture of the Parisian lifestyle because David presents so much interesting, thoughtful information.  You’ll want to marinate in his chapters for a bit instead of rushing through them in one quick read. I was lucky enough to receive this advance copy of the book several months ago. One of the fun aspects of reading it over the summer was keeping Pinterest close-by so that I could look up the people and places of Paris while I was learning about them through David’s eyes.

With a wonderfully engaging voice and an ability to colorfully (and often times humorously) describe a building or a banquet, David treks you around town with insight and intimation. One of my favorite lines in the book came forty pages in when he writes about the 3rd-century Roman bath complex at Cluny as “a charming jumble that looks like a mouthful of broken molars repaired with elaborate fretwork crowns.” Admittedly, I had no idea what the Cluny bath house looked like, but thanks to David’s description I could get a pretty good impression of it.

Other intriguing sections in the book included the eating habits of Versailles’ residents, the symbolic imagery found in The Lady and the Unicorn tapestry,  and the gregarious life surrounding French food writer, Maurice Edmond Sailland a.k.a Curnonsky (1872-1956).

A snippet from the Taste panel of the Lady and the Unicorn tapestry created in 1500.

But not everything is champagne and caviar and easily expressed. Amidst all of these fascinating history lessons, David also dives into his own food experience which began in Paris in the 1970’s. With his modern eyes, he retraces his food steps taken four decades ago to see how, and if, the landscape he once personally adored still holds up to the memories he stored. He also talks about the future of French food among the booming explosion of other newly exalted food scenes in other cities. Can Paris hold up to the competition?

Described best as  part guidebook, part history class and part personal memoir, A Taste of Paris pushes you to make notes, take notes, look for more, explore more… which brought me to quickly wish for two things that the book did not have – detailed maps of the areas where David traveled and an index for quick reference.  Then I discovered, as I finished the last page that David does offer both maps and an index of sorts. He and his wife offer walking tours of Paris through his website where they take you on all sorts of off-the-beaten-path adventures. That’s ten times better than a paper map and a list of page numbers! You get the guy (and the guide) in person, all to your yourself!

While we often don’t even think about the fact that millions of people have experienced both good and terrible situations treading upon the very ground we also walk upon so nonchalantly every single day,  David reminds us that the veins of history are deeply wound up in the practices and procedures of our modern lives. That flaky croissant, that steaming cup of hot chocolate, that celebratory pop of champagne were all born a long time ago yet they continue to intrinsically impact us as we move towards the future. In detailing the anatomy of a cuisine, David dissected a city whose culture has influenced a collective conscious of eaters around the world and that is pretty remarkable.

Whether you get the chance to meet up with David in Paris and peruse the food scene together or you simply read about his city in your city, A Taste of Paris is as satisfying as falling in love with a new museum exhibit. It will broaden your point of view, make you think, ask questions, ponder your own country’s evolution of food practices and ultimately make you appreciate how far we have come, as a civilization, from the days of heaping breadboards and kitchen-less houses.

Cheers to David for peeling back the layers of French food culture in such an interesting way!

Find A Taste of Paris available here. Learn more about David and his other Paris based books here. And if you find yourself in the City of Light(ers) take David’s tour and watch the book unfold before your eyes.

 

Suzy Snowflake and the Marshmallow World

Washington DC, 1922
Washington DC, 1922

How very exciting this week has been for snow lovers around the U.S.! With all this winter white floating and flying around the country, February is chalking itself up to be one of prettiest winter months on record. Sadly there has been no snowy weather to report from Ms. Jeannie’s city but that’s okay because today snow scenes are not hard to come by as we travel back in time to some of the biggest snowstorms of the 19th and 20th centuries.

This post is all about the beauty of the blizzard as experienced from all sides of the States, north to south, east to west. We are also introducing two new (but actually old) snow songs that every once in a while get lumped into Christmas song rotation but actually have nothing to do with the holiday itself. Instead, these two whimsical melodies express all the hap-hap-happy joy found in a good day of snow.  So grab your mug of hot chocolate, turn up the volume and enjoy the snowstorms to come…

Suzy Snowflake debuted in 1951 and quickly became a popular hit for Rosemary Clooney for the next three decades.

New York City circa 1917
New York City, 1917

 

Boston circa 1875
Boston, 1875

 

Detroit circa early 1900's
Detroit,  early 1900’s

 

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Possibly this is Suzy Snowflake herself circa 1963!

 

New York City, 1892
New York City, 1892

 

Minnesota, 1940's
Minnesota, 1940’s

 

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Kentucky Mountains – early 19th century

 

Chicago 1956
Chicago, 1956

 

Eagle River, Wisconsin, 1911
Eagle River, Wisconsin, 1911

 

Belfast Maine, 1952
Belfast, Maine, 1952

 

Chicago snowplows, 1908
Chicago, 1908

 

New Jersey, 1926
New Jersey, 1926

 

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New York City, 1905

 

Seattle 1916
Seattle, 1916

 

Washington DC, 1922
Washington DC, 1922

 

Mckenzie Pass, Oregon, 1929
Mckenzie Pass, Oregon, 1929

 

Connecticut, 1888
Connecticut, 1888

 

It’s A Marshmallow World was first recorded in 1949 and was performed by Bing Crosby. This version (Ms. Jeannie’s favorite!) by Brenda Lee debuted in 1964.

Wisconsin, 1925
Wisconsin, 1925

 

Vermont, 1940
Vermont, 1940

 

Ohio 1952
Ohio 1952

 

Colorado, 1906
Colorado, 1906

 

1950's
1950’s

 

Alaska, 1910
Alaska, 1910

 

Tennessee 1918
Tennessee 1918

 

Buffalo, New York 1977
Buffalo, New York 1977

 

San Francisco, CA 1887
San Francisco, CA 1887

 

Harrisburg, PA circa early 1940's
Harrisburg, PA circa early 1940’s

Cheers to happy snowmen and winter site-seers! May your snow day, however you are experiencing it, be merry and bright!

All photos courtesy of pinterest and ebay. Click on each for more detailed info. 

Derby Day Fun: Pick A Winner, Win A Prize

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It’s Kentucky Derby time dear readers! As you know from past years, this is always a fun and festive time in the land of Ms. Jeannie. The roses are blooming, the mint is growing and the party planning is underway. Post time for the big race is Saturday (May 7th) at 6:34pm, where 20 horses will compete in the 142nd run for the roses. As of this (blog) post publication time, the field is large this year with 26 entrants in possible contention, which means six names will drop off before Saturday.

It’s a big guess as to who will make the final list and who will win the Derby. Anything is possible in horse racing and nothing can be left up to certainty until hooves pass the finish line, which is one of the elements that make this Saturday so exciting. In honor of such spirited sportsmanship, Ms. Jeannie is hosting a little competition of her own right here on the blog. Post the name of the winner in the comments section between now and 5:45pm on Saturday and you’ll win a very cool vintage prize that will be mailed out to you on Monday.

Here are all 26 entrants compiled in three sets in random order. Pick your favorite, type their name in the comments section below this post and Ms. Jeannie will be in touch if you (lucky you!) have chosen the winner!

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2016 Kentucky Derby Entrants: 1.Lani 2. Outwork 3. Suddenbreakingnews 4. Brody’s Cause 5. Gun Runner 6. Discreetness 7. Nyquist

You can only enter once, so make your selection count!

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8. Dazzling Gem 9. Mo Tom 10. My Man Sam 11. Creator 12. Adventist 13. Shagaf 14. Fellowship 15. Trojan Nation 16. Exaggerator

You can be easy breezy about this whole contest by picking a horse by name or face value or you can read up on each of the entrants on kentuckyderby.com 

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17. Cherry Wine 18. Tom’s Ready 19. Laoban 20. Mor Spirit 21. Destin 22. Oscar Nominated 23.  Mohaymen 24. Majesto 25. Whitmore 26. Danzing Candy

Good luck dear readers and happy guessing! Contest winner will be announced early next week!!!

Catch up on past Derby Day festivities here.  Photo credits of all racers in this post courtesy of: ladyandthetrack.com, coady photography, thisishorseracing.com, dylan buell, el porto roberto, horse racing nation, kentuckyderb.com, clb photography

On The Campaign Trail in 1896

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The flag of the United States of America in 1845 contained 27 stars.

Pomp and circumstance, stars and stripes, drum rolls and fifes, please! Election day celebrates its 175th birthday today!

Tucked in between Sunday and Wednesday, Congress chose the first Tuesday in November 1845 as the official day to declare this political event a national holiday. Ideal for voters who would have to make a day’s journey into the county seat to cast their vote (Monday) without disturbing the nation’s religious rest day (Sunday) or encroaching on merchant market day (Wednesday) Tuesday was the perfect day in the week to call upon the country to exercise it’s political powers.

In 2013, Ms. Jeannie’s mom sent a box of family treasures and interesting antiques that had been collected or used by various family members over a century ago. Contents included a civil war inkwell used by Ms. Jeannie’s great great grandfather Albert…

Albert's inkwell that he carried with him throughout the Civil War.
Albert’s inkwell that he carried with him throughout the Civil War.

and a silk scarf monogramed for Ms. Jeannie’s great, great grandmother Martha at the World’s Fair in 1893…

Silk Handkerchief Souvenir from the World's Fair Chicago 1893
Silk Handkerchief Souvenir from the World’s Fair Chicago 1893

Another fantastic wonder included in the box was this pair of campaign buttons for Republican presidential nomination William McKinley and his vice presidential choice Garret Hobart.

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Dating to 1896, the set is comprised of a 2″ inch round button badge and a 3″ inch tie clip encased in gold medal. McKinley was running on the platform of maintaining the gold standard as the foundation for the U.S. economy so almost all of his political swag included gold colors to communicate his cause.

There were gold campaign posters…

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and gold bug pins…

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There were gold campaign ribbons…

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a bevy of gold buttons some featuring the pair, some just featuring McKinley…

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and even a gold umbrella for rainy day rallies!

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Donald Trump and his love of all things gold would definitely have approved of the McKinley/ Hobart campaign colors!

McKinley’s platforms of protection, sound money and reciprocity turned out to be winning tickets as he defeated Democratic hopeful William Jennings Bryant to become the 25th President of the United States with Garret Hobart at his side.

Get lost for just a minute in the patriotic spirit of the day with this footage from the National Archives as you take a walk along the parade route with spectators at McKinley’s inauguration in March 1897.

Striving for hope, opportunity and prosperity for citizens of the United States, McKinley barreled through his first two years as President before tragedy struck the White House in 1899 with the death of Hobart from a heart condition. McKinley, carrying on, campaigned and won a second term in office in 1901, this time with Theodore Roosevelt as his VP. But by 1901, McKinley himself would be dead – the third US President to be assassinated.

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The last portrait photograph of President McKinley . Taken in Buffalo, eight days before he died. Photo courtesy of McMahan Gallery and Archive.

It is easy to get caught up in the hoopla of contemporary political campaigning and to forget the hundreds of campaigns that came before. In 1896 these two gentlemen, McKinley and Hobart  were the dream team of the Republican party – riding high on their hopes and ideals for a better country and more golden skies ahead. Not much has changed in that department over the course of a century and half. Politicians still seek the same things – a better way of life for all. We are lucky in that way. To  live in a country where we have the freedom to express our views, the encouragement to strive towards our dreams,  and the support to accomplish our goals not only as individuals but also as Americans.

Happy Election Day dear readers!!!

Detecting A Case: Part Two

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Here we are dear readers with part two of the sleuthing and solving saga involving an exciting and mysterious piece of paper found in an old book!

In case you need a refresher… last week, Ms. Jeannie blogged about how she found a note in an old 1940’s art book entitled Masterpieces in Color. This week we are taking a good long look at the note and determining its age and possible author.

First things first, here’s a full view of what we are working with in clue department…

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A lovely, sentimental handwritten note on White House stationary! How exciting! If you are having trouble reading it from the photo this is what the note says:

Kay,

Merry Christmas. I found this in a bookstore here. It is from an ambassador’s estate and has some nice reproductions from a good cross-section of art history. Tell everyone there hello for me.

Love, Jay

Who is this Jay? What’s his connection to the White House? And who is Kay or the ambassador for that matter?! And just when was this note written?

Here is what we know for certain…

Fact #1: The book was published in 1945. Fact #2: The book was purchased second-hand. Fact #3: It was a gift for Kay from Jay. Fact #4: The note was written on White House stationary.

Armed with that info, Ms. Jeannie began by researching letterhead from past administrations. It was her theory that White House stationary changed with every new President, so that offered help in determining the age of the note. When she found a picture of this stationary, she knew she found her administration…

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Gerald Ford, the 38th President of the United States served in office from 1974-1977. You’ll notice it is the exact same font and layout on Jay’s stationary. To be certain of this letterhead, Ms. Jeannie also researched stationary from Kennedy, Nixon and Carter administrations, which produced no similarities.

So with the administration decided, Ms. Jeannie continued on with her second theory… that Jay was part of the higher echelons of the White House staff, because it didn’t seem probable that everybody (meaning all workers) at the White House would have access to White House stationary – even if they were just scratch pads or notepads. What if an inappropriate note was misplaced and found its way out into the world? Surely there is some sort of protocol for what is being written on paper that represents the highest form of government in the country. Don’t you think dear readers?

Continuing in that same vein Ms. Jeannie combed through the names of Ford’s administration on the lookout for our Jay. Thanks to the help of the Gerald Ford Presidential Library – she found a Mr. Jay F. , who served on the legal team as counsel to the President. (Ms. Jeannie is not including his last name here because he is still alive and because this would seem like some sort of breech of privacy.) But she can share that he is pictured somewhere in here…

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How exciting! Which one could he be? The guy on the crutches? Or the one in the thick black glasses? The suited sitter on the couch or the shy stander with his back to the camera?  Half the fun of this detective project was just looking at these retro white house pictures:)

In the course of her research, very easily Ms. Jeannie came upon Jay’s email address. Pretty confident in her deductive reasoning regarding this whole quest Ms. Jeannie sent Jay a message hoping to appease her curiosity about such a prominent previous book owner.

Some days went by. There was no news from Jay. Ms. Jeannie waited. More days went by. Ms. Jeannie continued waiting. And still no news arrived.

In the meantime during all this waiting, Ms. Jeannie worked on a  completely different research project. Very randomly, she happened upon this image…

elenroosevelt

The same stationary font! On a letter from Eleanor Roosevelt! Written twenty years before Gerald Ford’s administration! Oh my. So it seems, dear readers that not ALL stationary changes with each administration. Ms. Jeannie’s first theory was wrong!

It’s been close to two weeks and still there is no response from hypothetical Jay. Of course, there is a whole slew of reasons why he might not have responded from the trivial to the extraordinary, with the very first and most obvious reason being that he never even received or saw the email. But it wouldn’t be fun to pester him again, so Ms. Jeannie’s giving this one over to the hands of fate.

The art book was published in 1945 which gives it dozens of decades of possible Jay connections. Even though Ms. Jeannie still believes she has hit the mark with the Ford administration, she’ll continue poking around the staff files of previous presidents. It’s a case not yet closed, which means there is more to the story yet to come! If our letter-writer is meant to be found than we will find him!

And if anyone out there is a presidential paperwork scholar, please weigh-in with your theories about who our characters might be. Half the fun of connecting the past with the present is daydreaming about what could have been and what might have happened. Happy speculating dear readers!

On This Day in 1915: A Writer Travels the Sea of History

justusmilesforman

On this day, May 7th, exactly 100 years ago a handsome American writer was traveling by boat to London for what he hoped to be a successful theater run of his first play. The writer was 39 year-old Justus Miles Forman and the play was The Hyphen which had just debuted at the Knickerbocker Theatre on Broadway one month earlier.

The Knickerbocker Theater 1893-1930
The Knickerbocker Theater 1893-1930

Already a successful short story writer and novelist, Justus was ready to jump into the performing arts with both feet and believed he had a winning ticket with his WWI melodrama centered around German-Americans and the very big subject of the little hyphen in between. It was funny, it was dramatic, it was poignant and Justus was proud.

But New York reviewers were not quite so smitten. A total of sixteen performances were presented before the box office was shuttered and signage taken off the marquis.  Justus’ friends and the general public loved The Hyphen more than the critics but if Justus wanted to make an impressive splash as a new playwright he was going to have to drum up some interest across the pond.

Influential American theater producer Charles Frohman
Influential American theater producer Charles Frohman

So on May 1st, 1915, Justus left New York Harbor with the play’s producer Charles Frohman traveling on the world’s largest passenger ship. A seven day crossing, with the ultimate destination being Liverpool,  the trip was to be an exciting adventure full of glamorous potential just like the writer himself.

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On board, Justus mingled with fellow writers and actors and party-hopped around the ship in first class style.

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With the chiseled good looks of a movie star, Justus was one of the most eligible bachelors aboard the 1200 passenger boat. Charming women with both his winsome personality and his words, he enjoyed the ideal lifestyle for a novelist at that time.  He was well-paid and well-received on both continents, living six months out of the year in New York City (where he did a majority of his writing) and the rest of the year was spent traveling to locations near and far, international and domestic, drumming up story ideas, writing travel pieces and occasionally acting as a news correspondent.

By the time of this 1915 trans-Atlantic crossing, Justus was the the author of nine successful novels. Writing what was mostly categorized as romance adventures, his work was as much elegant as it was dramatic. He had a flair for combining intriguing story plots with glamorous characters like his 1909 novel Jason…

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which was  a love story and a detective novel all in one about the disappearance of a rich young American and the two men in love with his sister who went in search for him.

Ironically in a strange twist of fate, the life of Justus Miles Forman would mirror his writing. The ship that Justus and his producer friend Charles Frohman were traveling on was the Lusitania. Just hours before reaching Liverpool, on May 7th, 1915 the ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat and sunk off the coast of Ireland. Justus was among the 1100 casualities, his body never recovered.

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Unlike his character in Jason, there was no happy ending for our enigmatic hero. No men came in swashbuckling search for the return of his live body. He was not married, he left no wife or children behind. But what he did leave behind was a collection of work that marks the beauty of literature which in turn marks the beauty of a life.

On this day 100 years ago the world felt a terrible loss. And in remembering the lives that were sent to the sea and the great ship that sunk below the surface, we are reminded how fragile life is and how truly important it is to appreciate every moment as we live and breathe it.

Ms. Jeannie feels privileged to be able to help keep the work of Justus Miles Forman circulating in our contemporary world with the offering of a first edition volume of Jason published in 1909.

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This volume, in addition to bearing wonderful illustration plates throughout bears a beautiful inscription on the inside front endpapers…

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which reads: May blessings be upon the head of Caxton – or whoever it was that invented books – and gave us dear friends to enjoy them – To Emmalyn – July 18-09

It is a beautiful story, presented in a beautiful book, written by a beautiful writer. A piece of history.

And peace to the history of the life of dear Justus Miles Forman and all those that perished in the sinking of the Lusitania.

*all ship photos via pinterest

Finally, The Fireworks!

As you might recall dear readers, Ms. Jeannie got rained out this past 4th of July in the fireworks department. But as luck would have it, a friend of the Jeannie’s cleaned out her garage over the long holiday weekend and discovered two forgotten bags of fireworks from long ago. Knowing what a big fan, the Jeannie’s are of such entertainment , she dropped them by for a little Labor Day celebration fun.

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The weather cooperated (thank you Mother Nature!) for a few hour break between rainstorms. Just enough time to enjoy a pre-fireworks patio dinner and the after dinner treat of a little light show. Here’s some photos from the display…

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And the big finale…

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Labor Day is actually the celebration of  American worker’s and all the strength, perseverance and endurance it takes to continue to make our nation great. Ms. Jeannie was thinking about this as she watched (and photoed!) the fireworks and thought what a lovely and fitting tribute the light show actually was.

Here they are, just small little individual rockets of paper, kind of like people . But when ignited or inspired they shoot to the moon and make a splash of color across the atmosphere, leaving a bit of awe and wonder in their wake.

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It doesn’t really seem to matter whether you watch a big show like Macy’s 4th of July Spectacular or just a humble homegrown attempt – either way it’s still marvelous.  Just like people, just like workers, just like America.

Happy Labor Day dear readers! If you are watching fireworks anywhere this weekend, send Ms. Jeannie a picture or share your holiday plans below in the comments section.

Cheers to all the hard workers!