When I was growing up … and even when my son was growing up in the 1970s, kids went out to play. Alone. Unsupervised. Unstructured. Disorganized with not a single adult to keep an eye on us. We built “forts” and “clubhouses” out of crates and old boxes and anything we could find that mom wouldn’t miss.

We played stickball with old, pink Spalding balls that were often long past bouncing or even being “round.” You didn’t go and buy a “stickball set.” You found an old broomstick and someone had a ball, or what used to be a ball, or you all chipped in and bought one in the local (!) toy store.

The dock at River Bend

Remember toy stores? Not “Toys R’ Us.”

Local shops where you could buy a ball or a bat or a Ginny doll for a few cents or a few dollars. The shopkeepers were always grumpy old guys (probably a lot younger than we are now), but they had a gleam in their eye. If you don’t like kids, you don’t run a toy store.

We ran around a lot. Playing tag was basic. Even dogs play tag. “Catch me if you can,” you shouted and off you went. If you got tagged, you were O-U-T. But if you could run fast enough, you could grab whatever was “home” and one shouted “Home free all!” and everyone was back in the game.

There was Hide and Seek, another classic. Someone hid, everyone hunted. You had to be careful. If you hid too well, your friends might get bored looking for you and go do something else. But no one’s mother came to complain that you were being bullied. This was stuff you dealt with because there will always be bullies. Unless you were in real danger, it was better (then and now) to cope on your own. Much better than waiting for rescue.

In the real world, rescue is rare, but bullying is not.

1953 -I’m in the middle

Jump rope. There was always an old piece of laundry line somewhere. They actually call it skipping rope in other parts of the country. In the cities, the Black girls played a variation called “double Dutch” using two ropes. We all knew how to do the double Dutch ropes turning, but none of us ever mastered the technique of actually jumping. More like an intricate dance — and I also wasn’t ever much of a dancer.

Klutz that I was and am, I was barely competent on a single line, much less two. I remain in awe of how incredibly graceful, athletic, and coördinated those girls were … and are. There was a feature about them on the news a couple of weeks ago and I am no less awestruck now than I was more than 60 years ago.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Along with jumping rope came chanting. All those weird little ditties we sang as we jumped. They mostly were alphabetic and involved names and places.

“I call my girlfriend … in …” when we were playing in a group. You could gauge your popularity by when and who “called you in” to jump in tandem. Looking back, I think the problem was not unpopularity, but being a washout as an athlete. I was a slow runner, an indifferent jumper, and a terrified tree climber. On the other hand, when it came to derring-do, I was a champ. I could organize games of pretending –pirates and cowboys and outlaws and cat burglars.

We burgled, but we never stole. We weren’t thieves, just little girls trying to prove we could do it.

I don’t see kids playing outdoors these days. Almost never, except as organized groups with one or more adults supervising. Calling the plays with whistles and shouts. Children are not allowed to “go out and play” anymore. Everyone is afraid of something. Bullying, kidnappers, traffic, skinned knees. Unlike we kids who were always covered with scabs from a thousand times falling down on the sidewalk or street.

Come home with a bloody knee today and they’ll call an ambulance. Growing up, unless you appeared to have broken something, a bath was the remedy of choice and usually, beneath the dirt, was an unbroken kid.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

It makes me wistful, thinking about it. My family was dysfunctional, but I could escape by going out to play.

“Bye, Ma, I’m going out,” and off you went. It was the best part of being a child. Those months between school and hours after school (much less homework and we still learned more!) contained what seemed unlimited freedom. That was the freest I would ever be in this life.

Once you were out of the house and too far away to hear your mother calling, you could do whatever you liked. You could be whoever you imagined. There was nothing you had to do, no place you needed to be. Until the streetlights came on.

Streetlight is on. Time to go home!

You had to be home when the streetlights came on. It was a fundamental law, the bottom line. Do what you will, but be home when the streetlights come on. In those warm summers of childhood, the days flowed in an endless stream.

Darkness fell late. There was more than enough time.


Back in the day, I played bridge. In those golden olden days, “no Trump” was a bid. It didn’t have extra meanings. Just a contract bid. Three no trump equaled “a game.” Seven no trump was THE bid, to take every trick and the high card of the led suit won. Even a two of clubs could take a trick.

I loved playing bridge. I learned to play when I was a kid and by the time I was a grown-up, I was an addict. I never played tournaments and I never played for money. I played because it was the most intense game in the world (I’m sure chess players might disagree). But the thing about Bridge is that it’s a team sport and the aggressive energy involved is intense, especially between partners.

No one ever argues with their opponents, but everyone fights with his or her partner.

It’s also an equal opportunity game. Man, woman, or any version of in between, it absolutely doesn’t matter. Where you are coming from or going to, all that matters is how well you play.

Bridge is as addictive as drugs. Maybe even more so because there’s nothing illegal about playing Bridge. All you need is a partner and another couple to make a foursome. A table. Four chairs. A bit of light. Pretzels, too.

I used to play bridge a lot. I was one of the crazed players who didn’t think there was anything unusual about watching the dawn rise over a hand of cards.

The entire time I lived in Israel, playing Bridge was our prime form of entertainment. There were people to whom you couldn’t usually talk. If you think today’s USA is divided, Israel was really divided. Between the super religious and the absolutely non-religious, there were more hot topics to avoid that you could shake a stick at. Talking to people you didn’t know well was like walking through a minefield.

But if they played Bridge, somehow, you could ignore all the other disagreements because when you played bridge, what you talked about was Bridge.

And that could be quite enough of a battle without bringing in politics, religion and all that entailed.

Bidding. Contracts. Great games you remembered. Hilarious games. Weird games. Bridge players have their own sense of humor, which has nothing to do with anything except Bridge.

When Garry and I became a serious thing, I was appalled to discover I’d finally met a man who really — no kidding — didn’t know a diamond from a club.

He had never even played poker.

How do you make it through basic training in the Marines without learning to play poker? At first, I hoped I might convince him to give it a try, but it was soon obvious it wouldn’t happen. Garry doesn’t play games unless they involve movies or sports.

He is a vicious Trivial Pursuits player, but that’s it. He doesn’t “do” games.

I tried playing Bridge online. In those early online days, you had to pay to play. I played Bridge during lunch hour at work. I had played Bridge at college instead of going to class. You don’t interrupt a good game for a class!

But playing Bridge requires you have at least one regular partner and having a spare is a good idea, too. Playing with our spouse as your partner is dangerous for many reasons, but a single bridge player is like a car with three wheels.

It doesn’t roll.

So, as time moved on, I yielded, realizing I was never going to play bridge again. I have since met other reformed Bridge players and we talk, yearn, and dream of the old days. The long nights with pretzels and cards. Icy cokes and occasionally, beer nuts.

That was a good life!

Trump was the top suit for which it helped to hold all the aces. I’d probably be embarrassed to bid these days.


FOWC with Fandango — Game

Monopoly from Parker Brothers

When I was a kid, we played this game all summer long. If we weren’t building a “clubhouse” or jumping rope or playing hide n’ seek, we were playing Monopoly.

Monopoly was a bad word once upon a time. Teddy Roosevelt fought the monopolies. He lost, by the way. He never beat Standard Oil and they are still the biggest oil company in this country … and possibly, worldwide.

These days, the bigger your monopoly, the better. No more fight from your government. If you are rich? We’ll make you even wealthier. That is because only the rich (pardon the pun) count. The rest of us? We are the dirt under corporate heels.


I’m not a big game person. I don’t play video games. I don’t play a lot of games on my computer or phone. I like a few word puzzles and Shanghai (a form of Mahjong). But my all time favorite is the card game, Solitaire.

I play Solitaire on my phone for long periods of time, despite my ADD. I find it very soothing and absorbing. I think that’s because card games are a cherished memory from my past.

I used to play Gin Rummy all the time with my grandparents, starting when I was six or seven. Often we had a foursome with my Mom or with Grandma’s best friend and cousin, ‘Aunt’ Esther. With four of us playing, we teamed up and each team would pool their points. My grandparents scored in some odd way involving XX’s in boxes, which I never figured out. So I was never allowed to keep score.

Grandma, me and Esther when I was four

Grandma regularly accused Grandpa of cheating. I think she was right, but he was also a very good player. He could remember every card every opponent took and threw out. He turned that skill into a major strategy, playing defense as well as offense. I never played on that level. To me it was just a fun game of chance. I just picked cards and figured out how best I could fit them into my hand.

My grandparents playing cards

I remember all those hours playing cards at the kitchen table. Grandma would bring me something wonderful to eat when we stopped for a break. This is one of those memories that deserve a Hallmark card to commemorate it.

At home, my mom and I played Solitaire and Double Solitaire, which is a competitive game of Solitaire. In Double Solitaire, each person plays their own hand but all the players pool the cards they put up and build on, numerically, by suit. It’s a very fast paced game. You’re competing for who will get their cards into the suit piles first. The person with the most cards in the suit piles, wins. Sometimes everyone wins and you end up with all the players’ decks mixed together in suit piles in the center of the table. That was always a thrill!

Me and Mom when I was about fifteen

My mom and I had very spirited games. But the most fun was when we got the housekeeper and the cook (it was a different time) to play with us. Four people playing the game is only slightly organized chaos. We would yell and scream and throw cards around in a frenzy! We all had such fun!

I’ve carried my card traditions over into the next generation through my daughter, Sarah. Sarah loved to play gin with me and my mom. We also inducted her, at an early age, into our wild world of Double Solitaire. She’s 33 now and still plays. She recently found two decks of cards we used to use when we played with my mom in Sarah’s youth. We loved those cards, which is why I kept them all these years. Seeing them brought back such wonderful memories!

Sarah, Mom and me when Sarah was thirteen

So I think my love of online card games is due to my fond memories of card games past. I played different games with different family members. But the warm glow of love and good times pervades all these card related vignettes from my childhood, my adult life and my daughter’s life.

Sarah and me a few years ago



We didn’t get more than a peek at the full autumn colors this year.

Home again.

It was late October by the time the leaves fully changed … and within hours, the rain began to fall. It was heavier rain, lighter rain … and finally, it ended in a crashing storm with high winds (I think they gave it a name — Phillip? I think?).

Gibbs and the great out-of-doors

Almost a million people in New England lost power and some still don’t have it making me feel even worse for those poor souls in Puerto Rico who must be wondering if they will ever rejoin the modern world.

The Mumford River — full foliage!
Photo: Garry Armstrong

There is nothing like the loss of basic power to make you realize what the 19th century was all about.

Except, of course, we were set up to function in that world back then … and now, we most assuredly (at least around here) are not.

Be that as it may, this is what we got of the fall. The only really brilliant shots were taken at the very end of the month and in the rain at that. A few were taken with my least auspicious camera, the tiny one I tuck in my back when I don’t think I’ll be taking pictures at all … what I call my “just in case” camera. At least that.

Both Garry and I took one set of shots on our own property during the rain and let us all applaud for Olympus OM-D weather-resistant cameras! It is nice knowing that a few drops of rain are not likely to ruin my cameras for good and all. I tried to label the pictures as his (Garry’s) and mine, but sometimes the signature is a big small and hard to see.

Since today is the first of November, it is a very good day for a photo roundup of our Autumn shots. There will be some more, of course. November is the month of the bronze and golden oak trees.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

They always run a month behind in the glorious color sweepstakes of autumn. Sometime during this month, when the light is just right, the sun will drift through all the oak trees and turn the rivers to gold. Meanwhile, enjoy what we were able to get of this year’s colors.

I participate in WordPress’ Weekly Photo Challenge 2017


I’m having a real problem with reality lately. And it’s not from taking too many drugs. I think it’s from not taking enough drugs. The problem is that we have too many realities to choose from. We have reality TV, which everyone knows is not real at all.

We have our real reality, which seems to be a really bad reality TV show and is very surreal.

And very now we have Virtual Reality, which is oddly, very real.


I recently made the leap and got a VR (Virtual Reality) system. In this case the Sony PlayStation’s VR platform. There are currently two others out there, the Occulus Rift and the HTV Vive. Which one is better? It depends. Mostly on which one you own. The Vive is the most expensive, the PlayStation the least. I’ve seen all three. Frankly, they look pretty much the same. By that, I mean AWESOME!!


Unfortunately, I can’t describe the experience. You have to experience it. Imagine being inside an HD movie. Everything is to scale. You can walk up to people, walk around them. They are human-sized. Not TV-sized or big screen movie-sized. It’s amazing. The only downside is that the games and movies available right now are sort of skimpy. There’s a Batman game in which you literally become Batman.

“I’m Batman”

It’s incredible, but the whole game only lasts about an hour. This is because of the enormous amount of data the system requires. That will change. Soon. Most of the games involve looking around at things and marveling at how real they are.

“I’m gonna need a bigger cage!”

That all changed when a new game came out called Star Trek, Bridge Crew.

In this game, you are on bridge of either the Federation Starship Aegis or the original Enterprise. The detail is amazing. You can sit at any one of four stations.:  Helm, Tactical, Engineering and, of course, the Captain’s chair.

Each station has its own console and responsibilities. Helm steers the ship, sets courses for both warp drive and impulse drive. Tactical fires phasers, photon torpedoes, scans other ships and objects, transports people on-board the ship and can disrupt enemy ships functions, such as disabling their shields, weapons, engines, etc.

The Engineering station fixes the ship, re-routes power, etc. (I need more time!) The Captain runs the show.

Here’s where it gets cool. The whole program is linked  to IBM’s Watson super-computer. When you play in solo mode you are the Captain. Your crew are AIs (artificial intelligences). You can talk to them in normal language. You can say “Helm prepare for warp.”

Helm AI will respond “Yes sir.”

Engineering AI will say “Charging the warp coils Captain.”

When you are ready you actually can say “Helm, ENGAGE!” And it does!


The Watson computer is constantly learning. You can just talk to it and it tries to figure out what you want to do. This means that when you are being attacked by five Klingon Cruisers, you can shout “Red Alert! Raise shields, arm photon torpedoes, fire phasers at that goddamn Klingon!  Helm! Prepare impulse. Get us the fuck out of here!” And it does.  Of course, there are glitches, but for the most part, it works.

The solo part is not what the program was built for. You can play the game with three other real people. It doesn’t matter what system they own. They all work together. You have to work together to finish a mission and the missions are not easy. Usually, you blow up the ship.

“I think we’re about to die”

It’s a lot of fun. The first time I tried playing with real folks I was at the Tactical station and our Captain was a 14-year-old. The conversation went like this.

ME: Tactical is ready Captain.

CAPTAIN: Helm, prepare to warp the Devos system.

VOICE OFF IN THE DISTANCE: Honey, it’s time to leave!

CAPTAIN: Ma! I’m busy!

MOM: I don’t care what you’re doing, it’s time to go!

CAPTAIN: But Ma! I’m on a starship!

MOM: I don’t care where you are, get your butt up here.

CAPTAIN: But Ma! I’m the Captain!

The rest of us were laughing our asses off. The engineer recorded the whole episode (you can do that) and posted it on his Facebook page.

One other time we sat at the space dock for a half hour because the engineer seemed to have no idea how to energize the Warp coils.  I was the Captain.

ME: So, engineering, figured out how to energize those Warp coils yet?

ENGINEER: Uh, yeah.

ME: Well, we don’t seem to be moving.

ENGINEER: Uh, yeah.

ME: Let me guess, you need more time?

ENGINEER: Uh, yeah.

Eventually we got so bored that the tactical guy started blowing up our own ships. Yeah, you can do that.

What I find odd is that many of the reviews of the game are sort of negative. They complain that you can’t get up and walk around. You are stuck in the chair in each station. Excuse me? That’s what they do in any Star Trek episode. They sit in their  friggin’ chairs and to their friggin’ jobs! I mean what would happen if Captain Picard ordered Worf to lock phasers on a Romulan ship and fire … and he’s off wandering around the bridge.

PICARD:  Worf! What the hell are you doing?

WORF: Uh, walking around the bridge Captain.

PICARD: Are you kidding me!! For Christ’s sake, get your ass back in that chair and fire those Goddamn phasers!

WORF: Well normally sir, I stand at my station.

PICARD: Oh for Christ’s sake!

Ever since November 8, 2016 I’ve been obsessively watching all the Star Trek series — because Star Trek Reality makes more sense than our real one.  Now, until our surreal reality TV show reality returns to real reality, I’m going to spend as much time as I can in the Star Trek Virtual Reality.



Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge: Bridge

I used to play bridge. In fact, I was one of those crazed bridge players who would as often as not watch the dawn come up over a four-heart hand. The entire time I lived in Israel, bridge was probably our prime entertainment. There were people to whom you couldn’t talk usually, but if they played bridge, somehow, you could fit them into your social life. Mostly, you talked about bridge.

Bidding. Contracts. Great games you remembered. Hilarious games. Weird games. Bridge players have their own sense of humor that has nothing to do with anything else.

When Garry and I became a serious thing, I was appalled to discover I’d finally met a man who really — no kidding — didn’t know a diamond from a club. He had never played poker. How do you make it through basic training in the Marines without learning to play poker? At first, I hoped I might convince him to give it a try, but it was soon obvious it wouldn’t happen. Garry doesn’t play games unless they involve movie or sports trivia.

I tried playing bridge online — and in those early online days, you had to pay to play. I played bridge during lunch hour at work. But bridge requires a regular partner. One lone bridge player is like a car with three wheels. It doesn’t roll.

So, as time moved on, I gave up. I have since met other reformed bridge players and we talk, yearn, and dream of the old days. With pretzels and cards. Icy cokes and occasionally, some beer nuts.

That was the good life!