Meet Oliver Twist

Editor’s Note: Lightning in a Jar will return. In the meantime, you can catch up on the installment series by visiting the High School Years page.
This week, Henry, my Cavalier King Charles who descends from royalty, has written a post about our new arrival.

Oliver Twist is so much healthier now, which is good news for Henry. Or maybe not.

Cook says I’ve been remiss in not revealing something of significance, but if truth be known, I saw no point. After all, why stir up news of a troubling nature?

Yet, Cook says it’s not troubling at all. It’s wonderful news, she adds, a tad too happily.

Ahem. I beg to differ.

It seems we have a new addition to our household. A Maltipoo, of all things. Of course, as a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who is the only descendant of royalty (and of sound mind) residing in this abode, I ought to have had the power to veto bringing in a new soul, even if the soul in question is an orphan, rescued from the ravaged streets of our fair city.


When Oliver Twist arrived, he was underfed and ridden with Sarcoptic mange and roundworms.

But alas, Cook seems to have forgotten that little fact of my lineage, and left me unceremoniously out of the loop the day she decided to take the imp into our home. Make that, my home.

Naturally, I would be delighted with the arrival of said dog had Cook brought him here to serve as my footman. One can never have enough, you know, particularly when one has none at all. Thus, that would have made sense, especially when you consider the rascal is always underfoot.

But, there you have it. That is our, ahem, splendid news. Oh, did I say splendid? I meant disastrous.

Oliver Twist is the name he bears. Cook says it’s an homage to a hooligan from a Charles Dickens novel.  I wonder if that other Oliver would have given me a case of mites. I’ll never know.

Young Oliver Twist arrived to our familial tableau weighing a mere 1.75 pounds, about the same amount as one of my meals. Hmm. Not that I’m getting any ideas, mind you.

Cook says a man of questionable circumstances, no doubt, with a nefarious look in his eye, was selling the ragamuffin on the streets–practically in the gutter. Feeling bad for the scamp, she took him in, only to discover Oliver, at four weeks (not eight weeks old, as she’d been told), was undernourished and laden with a slew of ailments. One of which was passed on to me. Bloody mites.

Thus, Cook was duped and royal that I am, I had no choice but to suffer in silence as I took the medicinal cure that awaited me.

Feeding time!

Feeding time!

And now, it’s been nearly four weeks since his arrival, and–blasted!–he now seems to be thriving. Nothing like a little R&R I’ve always said, which is something I myself strive for every hour of every day.

The rapscallion is slowly gaining weight, and getting perkier by the day. Confound it. I despise perky. He’s rather a bit of a bloody nuisance, too, and insists on playing with my handsome, feathery tail, and on pulling at my leash.

Oh, the things a royal must bear. Noblesse oblige, I suppose.

Not a word to Cook, but first chance I get, I’m teaching young Oliver how to be my footman. That is, once I figure out precisely what it is a footman does. There’s still hope for him yet.

Incidentally, speaking of Cook, she has added two videos here of the boisterous lad, so that you can see what a bother he can be. Frankly, I don’t understand what Cook sees in the little fellow. Perhaps you can tell me?

And I Quote: On Tributes & Loss

Among my collection of quotes are a few that pay tribute to some of the people who have had special meaning for me. People who have touched my life–and, perhaps, yours, as well–and who have contributed significantly through their art and passion.

We embraced them, we were inspired by them. Their lights flickered on this earth for a brief moment in time, giving us strength, joy and love, through their music, their writings, their creativity and their vibrant spirits. These are people I admire, who enriched our lives, and who are now no longer with us.

Nobody could do scat like Ella, the "First Lady of Song."

Each persevered through life, sometimes at great odds, sometimes facing challenges and incomprehensible tragedy on the world stage. We witnessed one, as a little boy, salute his father for the last time; another lose her life in a fiery crash. One had a voice like melted honey, and made a new form of jazz all her own, though no matter how great her gift, she still had to enter through the backdoor to some of the clubs where she would perform. Two couldn’t cope with their incredible talent for writing poetry and prose, and the state of their mental health made it impossible for them to go on. And, one will always remind me of my parents, and how they’d play his records on the Hi-Fi, over and over.

And, though they’re all gone, they always will be here, in our hearts and minds, still bringing us joy, every time we pick up a book, play one of their songs, and remember their inner grace and beauty. These quotes are eloquent, expressive remembrances, and worthy of the subject being revered:

On Frank Sinatra:

“But it was the deep blueness of Frank’s voice that affected me the most, and while his music became synonymous with black tie, good life, the best booze, women sophistication, his blues voice was always the sound of hard luck and men late at night with the last $10 in their pockets trying to figure a way out. On behalf of all New Jersey, Frank, I want to say, ‘Hail brother, you sang out our soul.’”  – Bruce Springsteen


On Ella Fitzgerald:

Where (Billie) Holiday and Frank Sinatra lived out the dramas they sang about, Miss Fitzgerald, viewing them from afar, seemed to understand and forgive all. Her apparent equanimity and her clear pronunciation, which transcended race, ethnicity, class and age, made her a voice of profound reassurance and hope. – Stephen Holden, New York Times 1996

On Sylvia Plath:

“You were transfigured

So slender and new and naked

A nodding spray of wet lilac

You shook, you sobbed with joy, you were ocean depth

Brimming with God.”

–      Ted Hughes’ poem to Sylvia Plath (to whom he was married), from Birthday Letters

Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Anne Sexton.

On Anne Sexton:

“Suddenly my childhood nightmare had a name and a date. It was reality—not just some wolf under the bed…

“…I looked for a plain box but there was none. This room was full of Cadillac’s, each model padded like a baby’s bassinet, swathed in silks and satins, each displayed on its own pedestal and with its own price tag discreetly tucked under the bedding. Astonishingly beautiful with their wood of burnished mahogany, the caskets aroused in me the first sadness to rise above the shock of disbelief: my mother’s body would lie, cold and final, here.”

– Both quotes are from Linda Gray Sexton, on learning of her mother’s death, in her heartfelt, beautifully-written memoir, Searching for Mercy Street: My Journey Back to My Mother, Anne Sexton

On John F. Kennedy, Jr.:

“His moral compass directed him to an honorable, charitable life. He kept his bearings despite the tragedies he experienced. It is profoundly sad that he is gone. His heart was as big as his mind, and with the deaths of John, Carolyn and Lauren Bessette, our optimism died a little, too. God bless you in heaven. – Glamour magazine, October 1999

On Diana, the People’s Princess: (Check out my post comparing myself to her: The Princess and the Gal from Queens)

“I stand before you today the representative of a family in grief, in a country in mourning, before a world in shock. We are all united not only in our desire to pay our respects to Diana but in our need to do so.” – From eulogy delivered by Earl Charles Spencer, Diana’s brother September 1997

And one more–

On Charles Dickens: (For those of you who missed my interview, 200-Year-Old Man Gives Dickens of an Interview)

“His death, in many ways, also marked the end of the Victorian age, although Queen Victoria would rule for many years to come. For when readers look back on that era today, it is not England’s queen that they recall. It is Pip, encountering a mysterious convict in the marshes of East Anglia. It is David Copperfield fleeing his evil stepfather, and Nicholas Nickleby discovering the horrors of a Yorkshire boarding school. It is Nell dying, and Nancy being murdered, and Miss Havisham endlessly living on, perpetually dressed for her wedding day. And it is Ebenezer Scrooge and Tiny Tim, the Aged Parent and the Infant Phenomenon, the Artful Dodger, the dipsomaniacal Sairey Gamp, the obsessive Bradley Headstone, the hapless Miss Flite, and all of the other more than 2,000 men, women, and children that Charles Dickens created to touch our hearts and to ‘brighten, brighten, brighten’ our days.” – Biography Magazine, March 2000

So, tell me, who has made a difference in your life, through their art or other contribution? And, would you pick any of these?

A 200-Year-Old Man Gives Dickens of an Interview

I scored the coup of the century. Make that TWO centuries! Charles Dickens, author extraordinaire, just turned 200 this week, and in honor of the milestone, I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with him for a rare, one-on-one interview.

MTW: Mr. Dickens, everyone’s talking about your 200th birthday. What’s your secret to enduring for so long?

CD: Plenty of rest. For, it is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest, than I have ever known.

MTW: Ahem, okay. So, you’ve enjoyed your rest. Well, how does it feel to be revered, so long after your death?

CD: Any man may be in good spirits and good temper when he’s well dressed.

MTW: I’ll grant you that. I suppose it’s been uncomfortable, though, lying in a narrow wooden box all these years. I expect being on the outside must be like a breath of fresh air.

CD: Minds, like bodies, will often fall into a pimpled, ill-conditioned state from mere excess of comfort.

MTW: So, are you saying you’ve been comfortable in there or you’re glad to be out of it?

CD: Reflect on your present blessings, of which every man has many; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.

MTW: Mr. Dickens, you should know that, as lovely as it sounds, we no longer use such proper English. Mass media has gotten the better of us so, you may want to take it down a notch. Capiche?

CD: It pains me to hear that. For, I do not know the American gentleman, God forgive me for putting two such words together.

MTW: No worries. You’re forgiven. So, which of your books would you say is your favorite? Based on the number of remakes, I’d say A Christmas Carol is one of your more popular today.

CD: I despise that one. Too common. Besides, Tiny Tim was not easy to capture on paper. In real life, you know, the lad was a bit of a brat.

MTW: I don’t think that’s common knowledge.

CD: Nasty child, that one. Burped a lot and thought it was funny. Imagine. Who would see the humor in that? No, definitely not one of my best. Though I rather did enjoy Bill Murray’s cinematic version, Scrooged. Rather a brilliant take, wouldn’t you say?

MTW: Yes, but I didn’t think you had seen any of the film versions of your books, considering movies weren’t around in your day.

CD: I’ve seen them all. There’s the Muppet, Mister Magoo and Scrooge McDuck versions. George C. Scott and Reginald Owen, too. I spin in my grave every time a new one is released. Which reminds me, may I use your cell? I need to call my agent.

MTW: Is he still around? Frankly, I didn’t realize authors had agents back when you were writing.

CD: The movie deal he obtained for me was appalling. And, frankly, he did not foresee either the invention of television or the Internet. And the toy industry? Talk about a missed opportunity! Think how popular a Miss Havisham doll could have been with designer wedding dresses made by Vera Wang or Valentina.

MTW: Yes, I can see how such a doll would sell on eBay for quite a penny.

CD:  And don’t get me started on Amazon. I hate that nearly all my books are free on Kindle. Copyright, be damned! I don’t care what the lawyers say, those stories are still mine! They’re priceless! David Copperfield alone ought to be worth two quid.

One of my favorite stories by Charles Dickens.

MTW: Ahem, Mr. Dickens, it’s euros now.

CD: Euros? What the damn devil is that?

MTW: Never mind. Let’s change the subject. Tell me what inspired you to write, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

CD: Funny how that happened. I couldn’t make up my mind is all, plain and simple. Was it the best of times? Probably not. Sheer luck is what it was. Sheer, unadulterated luck!

MTW: Well, I guess it’s true then. Some of the best lines happen quite by accident.

CD: And some of the best characters, too. You’re familiar with Jo March in Little Women? Well, she was based on me. Louisa May Alcott said I inspired her.

MTW: No, I did not know that.

CD: Indeed I did. Louisa always said I had spunk and I told her she should write a character with spunk and name it after me.

MTW: How is Jo March named after you?

CD: Well, I didn’t say she listened, did I? Nice woman, that Miss Alcott was. Though, stubborn as a mule and couldn’t sing to save her life.

MTW: Well, Mr. Dickens, it appears we’ve run out of time. Any parting thoughts?

CD: Yes. Where’s my birthday cake? After 200 years, don’t you think I deserve one? Preferably, chocolate, with ice cream, too.

MTW: I do apologize but I didn’t think to bring cake.

CD: Well, that’s just like an American, isn’t it? See if I return in 200 years!

On Notice—For the Holidays!

In honor of the season of joy and goodwill, I bring you my On Notice list–just for the holidays. So serve yourself a generous slice of fruitcake or mincemeat pie. Break off the head of that gingerbread cookie, warm from the oven, and put on some Christmas music, too. Then, sit back and enjoy!

Pretty to look at, but don't try to eat gingerbread. It's on notice!

Gingerbread: I’ve never been one for gingerbread. Yuck. There’s no disguising the strong taste.  Basically, any dessert item that contains chocolate is my preference and let’s be honest: gingerbread and chocolate don’t mix. Ergo, I’m putting gingerbread on notice!

Pressure and/or Stress: There’s all kinds of pressure and stress during the holidays–pressure to decorate, buy the perfect tree, send out holiday cards, get gifts for everyone while staying within budget, participate in cookie exchanges, and go caroling with friends. I, for one, am ignoring the pressure, and plan to enjoy my holiday stress-free.

Annual Holiday Letters: There are three kinds of mail you get this time of year from distant family and friends.  1) A holiday card with a personalized message; 2) A holiday card featuring a photo of the sender, with family, and a pre-printed message; 3) Or the annual letter that details every family member’s achievement, report cards, health issues, vacations, etc.  Well, I’m ok with the first two (though I always favor a personalized, written message over a pre-printed one). But please, consider the environment and the stress that most of us are already under, when sending a 3 or 4-page annual letter.

Airports: Airports are bad enough. The mob of people checking bags, going through security this time of year, not to mention the blizzard weather conditions, makes flying not worth it. If you ask me, best to stay home. You’ll thank me later.

Mincemeat: What exactly is this and does anyone really eat it anymore?  Unless you’re a descendant of Charles Dickens, I see no point to mincemeat pies.  The same goes for fruitcake. And, I don’t care what they say, putting any kind of meat in a dessert—minced or chopped—should be against the law. 

Gift cards: These are becoming more and more popular. But if you ask me, gift cards are a gift cop-out.  Basically, you’re telling your friends and loved ones, you don’t really care enough to consider what they’d like, so you’re giving them a gift card.  I ask you, is that really in the true spirit of Christmas?  Do you think the Three Wise Men brought along gift cards with the frankincense and myrrh??

Standing in Lines: There’s no getting away from the crowds this time of year, and with crowds come the lines. Lines at the post office, department stores, the movies, the grocery stores, the liquor stores, you name it.  Do what I do when I have to wait: Bring a book. Might as well make the most of your time in line.

I asked my son to decorate cookies for a cookie exchange. This was his best effort.

Cookie Exchange: Why must the holidays be all about sweets? My must we have cookie exchange parties that make those of us who cannot bake feel bad? Why not have a party where you bring your favorite take-out food? Remember, I’m going for less stress, not more.

Calories: And while we’re on the subject of sweets, I’m putting calories on notice. For once, calories should do us all a favor and go on hiatus. Come back in January. Be kind.

Christmas Songs: While fun at the beginning—like an old friend making its annual pilgrimage—even the best Christmas songs can overstay their welcome. Yet somehow I can’t stop listening to these catchy tunes.  Luckily (or not), these songs are played everywhere and there’s no escaping them. At least they’re not songs about clowns. I really don’t like clowns.

So that’s my list for the holidays.  What’s on your list?

Wishing you a very Happy (and stress-free) New Year!