GOOD FRIENDS – BOSTON’S TV NEWS PERSONALITIES – GARRY ARMSTRONG WITH MARK SHANAHAN

I’ve just finished reading Terry Ann Knopf’s “The Golden Age of Boston Television”.  Terry was a long time TV critic for a prominent Boston-area newspaper. It’s an interesting read, covering a special time in Boston television news. I’m in it, briefly.

You would think a local legend like me would get more space. Just kidding, Terry. I’m flattered you included me.

The Golden Age of Boston Television by Terry Ann Knopf

Boston, indeed, experienced a wonderful period of TV news excellence. It was the envy of the nation at one point. I know because many reporters from network to major local stations shared their feelings with me. I knew because I had worked at a network (ABC News) before my career landed me in Boston. I could do the comparison without bias. Sadly, the excellence in TV journalism is now history with a few exceptions. Terry deals with that in her book.

I’m sure there will be a mixed response to “The Golden Age of Boston Television” from those who worked at the various television stations during the period.  As for me, I enjoyed the journey through time. I logged 31 years on Boston television. I have a treasure chest of memories.

ARAM BOGHOSIAN, BOSTON GLOBE – Garry Armstrong and Barry Nolan

One of the things missing from Terry’s book is an acknowledgement of the excellent work done by people from all the competing TV stations.  This was a time when reporters received five to ten minutes to deliver stories in complete depth. Facts were double and triple-checked. Words mattered. Our editors were old-school and verbally spanked us for purple prose or improper use of grammar. We cared more about the quality of our stories than how good we looked in live shots.

Reporters, competing for a scoop on the same story, often shared information to be sure we were accurate.  We wanted to be first — but we wanted to be right. There was no joy in seeing a competitor embarrassed by bad information. We had a bond — unlike any other major news market. Writing came first for most of us. Our words were supposed to complement the video — not be redundant.

There was a false belief among outsiders that we didn’t like each other. We’d back stab one another for a “beat.” Sure, there were a few who were better suited to modelling, chasing ambulances, or selling insurance, but that was not true for most of us. For a few precious years, Boston boasted an all-star lineup of reporters who graced the lineups for its TV stations.

Charlie “Chuck” Austin, Jack Harper, Jorge Quiroga, Dan Rea, Kirby Perkins, Walt Sanders, Sarah Ann Shaw, Ron Gollobin, Marty Sender, Shelby “Storm Queen” Scott, David Roepik, Ron Sanders, Paul Reece, Victoria Block, Rehema Ellis, Maurice Lewis, Byron Barnett, Greg Wayland, Gary Gillis (a multi-threat in hard news and sports), Mark Wile, Jack Borden, Chet Curtis (all-star reporter and anchor).

I know I’m forgetting some people and I apologize. Age is catching up.

Clark Booth is special. He’s a hero. Clark’s way with words often meant “we don’t need no stinkin’ video”.  Clark’s catch phrase “good stuff” has been stolen here myriad times.

I’ve stayed away from the news anchors because they are a different story and deserve separate space. News anchors, local and network, are a special breed. Terry Ann Knopf deals with many of Boston’s star anchors in her book. I’ve also not mentioned the “behind the camera” people who were so integral to our success. I will have a special piece on them. Stay tuned.

One of my former colleagues epitomizes my feelings about Boston’s television news reporters.  Ask anyone of a certain age about Joe Day and they will smile. Your political persuasion or news preferences don’t matter. We lost Joe two years ago and our world is poorer for his absence.

The Golden Age of Boston Television
Terry Ann Knopf
University Press of New England, Hanover and London

243 pages including appendix


JOE DAY


In August 2015, we gathered as a group to celebrate the life of a friend who passed away earlier that year.

Our friend was Joe Day. Joe’s name should be familiar to those who’ve lived in New England during the past forty years. He was a highly respected TV news reporter for four of Boston’s major television stations (WHDH, WCVB, WGBH, WBZ). Joe specialized in politics. He covered presidents, governors, senators, congressmen and local elective officials.

Many of us fondly remember Joe’s “people” stories, his vignettes about everyday folks living their lives in relative obscurity. That was Joe at his best. On and off camera, he was a modest, plain-spoken guy despite the richly deserved awards he received which recognized his career. There were smiles and tears as people shared stories about Joe. We were mostly the generation of “old fart” journalists, recalling the days when news wasn’t just a business.

Joe Day’s family marveled at the size of the gathering. It’s one thing to send an email or video tribute. But to turn out in impressive numbers on a hot August Saturday, that says so much about how Joe touched the lives of people around him.

Fame is fleeting and transitory in TV news. Friendship is another thing.

Usually it fades quickly after changing jobs, states and retirement. You always mean to stay in touch but it rarely happens. That’s what makes the celebratory gathering so special. All those folks bonding in their memories of yesterday when our world was young and Joe Day touched our lives, making each one of us a little better just for knowing him.

Such good friends.


Boston’s TV news personalities come together to party by Mark Shanahan


Tom Bergeron (left) with Emily Rooney and Bob Lobel at a party at WGBH celebrating the new book “The Golden Age of Boston Television.”

Ah, the good old days.

That was very much the vibe at a party Wednesday night to celebrate the release of Terry Ann Knopf’s new book, “The Golden Age of Boston Television,” which looks back fondly at the heyday of local news, a period that lasted from the early ’70s to the early ’90s.

But whatever old wounds there were have clearly healed because a crowd of familiar, if slightly faded, wizened faces from back in the day filled a conference room at WGBH to salute Knopf for telling their story. (This being the media, many were also there for the free wine and beer.)

“This is like a high school reunion on the island of broken toys,” said Barry Nolan, who hosted WBZ-TV’s “Evening Magazine” in the ’80s. “Look at these people. Age has ravaged us, bad decisions have plagued us, failures have followed us, but we’re still here.”

Nolan was kidding, sort of. As Knopf points out in her book, Boston TV stations have a proud legacy of producing a lot of on-air talent that went on to national prominence, folks such as Martha RaddatzJay SchadlerHampton Pearson, Lesley StahlDan LothianRehema EllisMike Taibbi, and David Muir.

Another in that category is Haverhill’s own Tom Bergeron, the affable host of “Dancing With the Stars” who hosted WBZ-TV’s talk show “People Are Talking” in the ’80s. Bergeron drove up from his home in Greenwich, Conn., to attend the party and see old friends.

“My wife once said to me that when the ice sculptures disappeared from the Emmy parties, she knew it was all coming to an end,” said Bergeron.

Francine Achbar, the former executive producer of programming at Channel 4, shared a similar memory.

“About every two months there would be an awards thing and I’d take out my black velvet dress and we’d go to some city and get another award, and I’d say, ‘This can’t last,’ ” Achbar said. “Then, in 1990, I laid off about 40 people and I knew that was it.”

Yesteryear was well represented at the book party. Guests included longtime anchor R.D. Sahl, “Sonya Hamlin Show” host Sonya HamlinDan ReaJoe Bergantino and wife Candy Altman, former Channel 4 medical reporter Jeanne BlakeHank Phillippi Ryan, former Channel 5 anchor Susan WornickJon Keller, meteorologist Harvey Leonard (who skipped his station’s 6 p.m. broadcast Wednesday to go to the party), Sharon King, Channel 4 exec Barry SchulmanDick Albert, Jim Boyd, the estimable Christopher LydonCallie CrossleyGail Harris, whose great haircut made us wish she was still on the air, Lydon’s former co-anchor Carmen Fields, and Sarah-Ann Shaw, the former WBZ-TV reporter who was the first female African-American reporter on Boston TV. (Knopf dedicates her book to Shaw.)

Monica Collins, a friend of Knopf’s and a fellow former TV critic — she wrote for the Boston Herald for many years — was also there, to the dismay of legendary former Channel 4 sportscaster Bob Lobel, whom Collins apparently skewered in the past.

“Where’s Monica?” Lobel said after Knopf acknowledged Collins in the crowd. “Come up here and say you’re sorry.”

The crowd laughed.

Knopf gave Emily Rooney a shout-out of sorts — “I don’t care what anybody thinks of you, Emily, I think you’re great” — but also gave her props for being a pioneer in TV news. (Rooney was executive producer of ABC’s “World News Tonight” — the first female to hold that post at a major network.)

Since everyone in the room is, or at least was, in the news business, there was a lot of chatter about the Trump effect. Viewers are tuning in to hear about the latest news or outrage or scandal, and that makes Rooney miss her late father, cranky CBS commentator Andy Rooney.

“What he’d say would be so good,” Rooney said wistfully. “It would be career-ending — for both of them.”

06/14/2017 BOSTON, MA Bob Lobel (cq) (left) and Emily Rooney (cq) attend a cocktail party at WGBH studios. (Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe)

ARAM BOGHOSIAN, BOSTON GLOBE – Bob Lobel (left) and Emily Rooney.

06/14/2017 BOSTON, MA Jon Keller (cq) (left) and Terry Ann Knopf (cq) attend a cocktail party at WGBH studios. (Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe)

ARAM BOGHOSIAN, BOSTON GLOBE – Jon Keller (left) and Terry Ann Knopf.

06/14/2017 BOSTON, MA L-R Carmen Fields (cq), Christopher Lyndon (cq) and Robin Parmelee (cq) attend a cocktail party at WGBH studios. (Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe)

ARAM BOGHOSIAN, BOSTON GLOBE – Left to right: Carmen Fields, Christopher Lyndon, and Robin Parmelee.

06/14/2017 BOSTON, MA Gail harris (cq) (left) and Francine Achbar (cq) attend a cocktail party at WGBH studios. (Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe)

ARAM BOGHOSIAN, BOSTON GLOBE – Gail Harris (left) and Francine Achbar.

06/14/2017 BOSTON, MA Hank Phillippi Ryan (cq) hugs Mike Lawrence (cq) during a cocktail party at WGBH studios. (Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe)

ARAM BOGHOSIAN, BOSTON GLOBE – Hank Phillippi Ryan hugs Mike Lawrence.

THE WORLD AS A WAITING ROOM: BE STILL! DEPARTURE FROM COLLECTIVE MADNESS

The World as a Waiting Room


ERB-logo-Color-SmallToday The Englewood Review of Books published its book review of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness.



Thanks to Chris Smith, The Englewood Review‘s editor, for including Be Still!, and to Madeline Cramer, the reviewer, for close attention to its themes and substance.

Be StillMs. Cramer’s review is the first to lift up the deep affinity between the book’s cover, Vincent Van Gogh’s “Prisoners Exercising”, and the book’s elaboration of the less obvious forms of imprisonment, and our searches, alone and together, for sanity and stillness.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, September 7, 2017.

“Strange as it may seem, I often feel the way John Lennon did. I dream of a different kind of world…” the Presbyterian minister and social commentator Gordon Stewart says in “Creating Hell in the Name of Heaven”—one of a collection of brief essays in his book Be Still: Departure from Collective Madness. And, considering the timeless popularity of John Lennon’s song “Imagine,” don’t we all long for something more than what we see in front of us? Don’t we all envision a better world? If not, what would motivate us? Who would want to raise children in a world doomed to fail? Who would go to church believing that God’s kingdom would never come? 

Click The World as a Waiting Room to read the review.

ALL ABOUT BOOKS – A FOLLOW-ON

Stolen freely from sparksfromacombustablemind who stole it from purpleslobinrecovery and finally, from Patience of Willow

I’m not much of a rule-follower. I don’t think it’s rebellion, exactly. More like retirement. I followed a lot of rules for a long time. Now, I don’t have to, so I don’t.  You can check out the rules on some of the earlier followers of this page, but I’m going to suggest simply if you like this, then take the questions and write your own answers. I like books, so this appealed to me.

1. What are your top three (3) book pet peeves?  

When character behave out of character. This is especially annoying in a long series. I expect character development and welcome a character finding new ways to behave, but when out of the blue, he or she completely alters the way they act because the author needs it to move the series along, I get annoyed. If I get very annoyed, I stop reading and move on.

I hate fake endings. You can’t just drop an ending in from space. An end should have something to do with the rest of the book. A lot of books seem to run of ideas before the conclusion.

Good writing matters. That sounds so basic, but it isn’t. There are a lot of really dull writers out there. I have no patience with boring books. There’s too much else to read to waste my time. Write well — and find something new to say. I am so tired of books that are copies of other books. I don’t need another fake “Lord of the Rings.”

2. Describe your perfect reading spot.  

Perfection? My living room recliner. But anywhere I am will do in a pinch.

3. Tell us three (3) book confessions.  

A) I rarely read words on pages. These days, I mostly listen to audiobooks. My eyes got very tired and can’t focus for long on a page. I will read pages for the few books I love enough to not miss (even in print), but it is difficult to keep focused for more than a few minutes at a time.

B) I don’t like realistic books. I’ve had more than enough realism in life. Reading is entertainment. I want to be entertained, so it’s usually some version of science fiction or fantasy, mysteries, histories, and occasionally science.

C) I won’t read anything depressing. I won’t read about cancer and disease, the holocaust, genocide, or slaughter of any kind. I won’t read about torture and I don’t find violence sexy. Actually, I often don’t even find sex particularly sexy unless it is very well-written … and that is rare.

4. When was the last time you cried during a book? 

The last of Terry Pratchett’s books when the final old witch died after dancing with her bees.

5. What’s your favorite snack to eat while you’re reading?  Cherries.

6. How many books are on your bedside table?  

Like so many others, there is a Kindle on my night table. On it are probably 500 or more books, audiobooks and print.

7. Name three (3) books you would recommend to everyone. 

I could never do that. Individual tastes are so varied, so how could I? I would suggest that everyone read at least one good history because we should know where we come from. Everyone should also know some science. But which books? That’s not for me to say.

8.  Show us a picture(s) of your favorite bookcase or bookshelf. 

9. Describe how much books mean to you in just three words. 

Totally, absolutely essential.

10.  (Added by Embeecee)  Who was responsible for your love of books?  A parent, a teacher…or were you born that way? 

I think I was always kind of bookish, but my mother was a big encouragement. Neither my brother or sister were big readers. My mother read everything she could get her hands on. It made up for the education she never got. When she realized I was a reader too, she fed me books. Lots and lots of books. Crates of books. Rooms full of books. There was never a limit to what I could read, no age limit on anything.

I’m not sure I’d have survived childhood without books.

LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH – A PHOTO A WEEK CHALLENGE

A Photo a Week Challenge: Literary Reference


The picture is Garry’s and the quote is from “Good Omens” by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. It’s the last thing the Devil says to his follower. I thought the iron gate into the desert might be the entry to the other side?

It is a very good book, by the way. Thought provoking and hilarious. It was one of those books I wanted to last forever.

WHEN DOGS RULE THE WORLD – CITY (1952), CLIFFORD SIMAK

City is a 1952 science fiction novel by Clifford D. Simak. The book is episodic with eight or nine (depending on which version you read) short stories that have “bridges” between episodes. Version of the book after 1980 includes the ninth tale, “Epilogue.”

The novel contains eight stories which are the mythology of the Dogs. Each tale is preceded by doggish notes and learned discussion. An editor’s “preface” notes after each telling of these legends, suggest that puppies will ask many questions, for example:

1st-edition by source fair-use en wikipedia.org

“What is Man?” they’ll ask.

Or perhaps: “What is a city?”

Or maybe:”What is a war?

There is no positive answer to any of these questions.”


In the world where these stories are legends, there are no humans, no cities, and no war.

Generally, I find old science fiction awkward and occasionally dull. In City, the technology and science is dated, but the concepts are as innovative and unique as they were when I first read the book in the 1960s.

This “remembered human world” questions whether or not humankind will continue as a species, but not for the usual reason. Quite the opposite.

In these stories, earth was repaired in every way you can imagine. There is enough of everything — food, money, housing. Roads are useless because everyone flies. Cities are empty. Everyone lives in the country. Crime disappears and mutants have strange powers, especially telepathy.

The stories focus around one wealthy family named Webster and their robot Jenkins, . Over time, the name Webster becomes the noun “webster,” meaning “human.” Each story builds on a previous one. All discuss the breakdown of the urban world. The breakdown isn’t a bad thing because human life is enormously better.

And then, there’s Jupiter.

Doug Webster hates the new world. He’s an agoraphobic. Although the word “agoraphobic” is never used, Webster (all his family members share the same issue) becomes ill if he is has to go out into the bigger world. At some point, Webster provides dogs with speech and improved vision. Meanwhile, the breakdown of civilization allows roaming mutant geniuses to make their own odd changes to earth. Joe, a wandering mutant, decides to see what would happen to ants if they remained active and free of hunger year round.

The ants form an industrial society and eventually take over “our” earth while humans go somewhere else — as do the dogs. A lot of stuff happens and there isn’t a lot of specific information provided. You will need your imagination.

Dogs see other worlds. They always have. Their worlds are “cobbly worlds.” In case you were wondering, cobbly worlds are why your dog barks at seemingly nothing. Dogs bark to warn the cobblies to stay away. Other worlds familiar to us, are invisible to Dogs.

Ultimately, humans abandon earth and dogs have nothing but mythical memories of humans. They are not even sure we ever existed. The stories in this book are their myths and legends. A few dogs believe humans existed, but most do not. I really enjoyed the book. I also enjoyed the audiobook. If science fiction is your thing, this book is worth your time.

And don’t forget about those cobbly worlds.

PONDERING PUBLISHING AND THE WORLD GONE BY

I usually say I wouldn’t want to ever work again, but I got to thinking about that. I realized if I could get back my job as editor at Doubleday? I’d do it in a heartbeat. How many jobs give you unlimited sick days, two-hour lunches, and require you to read sleazy novels during the day? And pay you for the privilege? And give you the best bunch of people as colleagues you could hope for.

We met at Doubleday!

I also had to write stuff about the books I read, but a long review was still shorter than any of the pieces I write for this blog. Even in my crumbling state of health, I think I could handle it.

The trouble is, the job doesn’t exist. Publishers are thoroughly conglomerated. Each is a subsection of some über corporation where books are one of many products — and not an important product, either.

The 1970s were wonderful years for reading. It was a tremendous period for books and book clubs — and for literature as an art. In those days, reading was major entertainment. People read books and talked about them by the water cooler. If you got excited about a book, you told all your friends … and they read it, too.


Before the internet.

Before cell phones.

Before cable and satellite television.

Before computers and many years before WiFi …

We had books.

Other entertainment? Of course there were movies, but you had to see them in a movie theater. Television was there, but it had limitations. We had — in New York which was entertainment central — seven channels. Unless you had a really good antenna on the roof, you rarely got a clear picture. There was interference called “snow.” Pictures rolled — up, down, and side-to-side. Vertical and horizontal holds on your TV were designed to help control it. Sometimes, they did, but I remember many nights of giving up and turning the set off because we couldn’t get a decent picture. Meanwhile, many of us used a set of rabbit-ear antennas that worked sometimes — if the wind was blowing due west.

I spent more time trying to convince the rabbit-ears to receive a signal than watching shows.

Doubleday in Garden City, NY

Not surprisingly, television wasn’t our primary source of entertainment. Instead, we read books — and we talked to each other — something we old folks continue to do. Sometimes, we had conversations that lasted for hours and in my life, occasionally ran into weeks. Blows your mind, doesn’t it? All that talking without a phone? Without texting, either.

Books were big business. If you wrote anything reasonably good, there were more than enough publishers who might be interested in printing it. I miss that world, sometimes more than I can say.

All of this got me thinking about how hard it is to get books published these days. So many people I know have written really good books and have never found anyone to back them. It’s rough on writers, and it’s not a great sign for the art of literature. Not only has our political world caved in, but our literary world is sliding down a long ramp to nowhere. In theory, many more books are published today because anyone can publish anything — and sell it on Amazon. All books — the great, good, mediocre, and truly awful are lumped together. Most of them are rarely read since none of them are being promoted by a publisher. This isn’t a small thing. Publishers were a huge piece of what made books great. If your publisher believed you’d written something excellent, you could count on being visible on the shelves of bookstores everywhere. You’d also be part of book club publications. People — reading people — would see your book. There were book columns and reviews — and people read them they way they read stuff on upcoming television shows today.

Of course, we are also suffering from the vanishing bookstore … a whole other subject.

A great idea followed by a well-written manuscript was just the beginning of a book’s life story. From the manuscript, publishers took books and did their best to sell them to the world. Today, all that pushing and pitching is left to authors, including those whose books typically sell well.

Can anyone imagine how Faulkner, Hemingway and Thomas Wolf would do trying to “work the marketplace”? No doubt there were writers who were able to do the balancing of writing and marketing, but many authors are not particularly sociable. A good many are downright grumpy and a fair number are essentially inarticulate. They are not naturals to the marketing gig.

And … ponder this … what kind of blog do you think Faulkner … or … Eugene O’Neill … would have written?

I miss books. I miss authors. I miss publishers. I miss carefully edited manuscripts and beautifully published books where you could smell the ink and paper as you cracked the cover open. It was a heady perfume.

DON’T TALK TO ME ABOUT LIFE


Marvin: Life? Don’t talk to me about life!

– Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, 1979

There’s a lot of stuff going on. Most of it is exhausting and annoying — and all of it, expensive.

In a world where I find myself wondering if I’m going to live long enough to make it worthwhile to get the “lifetime warranty” on the water heater, please do not try to placate me with a platitude. I know them. I’ve heard them. I’ve probably even used them. I just can’t bear the idea of listening to one of them right now. Please don’t.

In honor of the one author that has always found a way to make me laugh — and the only famous person born on my birthday, here are some of my favorite quotes from Marvin, the depressed robot with a mind the size of the universe.

72-$ Ten thousand dollar bill

P.S. Someone in New Hampshire won $457 million dollars on a $1 lottery ticket a little while ago. It wasn’t us.


A Sunny Disposition:


Marvin: “My capacity for happiness you could fit into a matchbox without taking out the matches first.”
Arthur: “I think that door just sighed.”
Marvin: “Ghastly, isn’t it?”

Marvin: “Sorry, did I say something wrong? Pardon me for breathing which I never do anyway so I don’t know why I bother to say it oh God I’m so depressed.”


A ‘Can Do’ Attitude:


Arthur: “Marvin, any ideas?”
Marvin: “I have a million ideas. They all point to certain death.”

Trillian: “Marvin… you saved our lives!”
Marvin: “I know. Wretched, isn’t it?”

Marvin: “I’ve calculated your chance of survival, but I don’t think you’ll like it.”


A Strong Work Ethic:


Marvin: “I think you ought to know I’m feeling very depressed.”
Trillian: “Well, we have something that may take your mind off it.”
Marvin: “It won’t work, I have an exceptionally large mind.”

Marvin: “Here I am, brain the size of a planet, and they ask me to take you to the bridge. Call that job satisfaction, ’cause I don’t.”

Marvin: “‘Reverse primary thrust, Marvin.’ That’s what they say to me. ‘Open airlock number three, Marvin.’  ‘Marvin, can you pick up that piece of paper?’ Here I am, brain the size of a planet, and they ask me to pick up a piece of paper.”


A Good Education:


Marvin: “It gives me a headache just trying to think down to your level.”
Arthur Dent: “You mean you can see into my mind?”
Marvin: “Yes.”
Arthur: “Well?”
Marvin: “It amazes me how you manage to live in anything that small.”

Marvin: “I am at a rough estimate thirty billion times more intelligent than you. Let me give you an example. Think of a number, any number.”
Zem: “Er, five.”
Marvin: “Wrong. You see?”


A Positive Approach To Health And Well-being:


Zaphod Beeblebrox: “There’s a whole new life stretching out in front of you.”
Marvin: “Oh, not another one.”

Marvin: “Do you want me to sit in a corner and rust or just fall apart where I’m standing?”

Marvin: “The first ten million years were the worst. And the second ten million: they were the worst, too. The third ten million I didn’t enjoy at all. After that, I went into a bit of a decline.”


A Keen Interest In Philosophy:


Marvin: “Life? Don’t talk to me about life!”

Marvin: “I ache, therefore I am.”

Marvin: “Life. Loathe it or ignore it. You can’t like it.”


There, now don’t we all feel like better people already?

Douglas Adams, I miss you.

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