Friday, April 24, 2009

Ginny Joyner

Ginny Joyner is an artist, illustrator, decorative painter and educator. She graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design with a BFA in illustration but has gone on to be far more than an illustrator.

Ginny has done illustration work for Harper Collins Publishers, Sleeping Bear Press, W.S. Badger, The Baltimore Sun Eating Well Magazine Gardener’s Supply, Vermont Teddy Bear and many other clients. She also teaches classes at St. Michaels College and gives presentations in Vermont schools to encourage art in children of all ages.

She illustrated the book M is for Maple Syrup, which was written by Cynthia Furlong Reynolds. The book is a window into Vermont history, culture and lore for children 3-12.

Ginny works in several mediums including watercolor, acrylics, pen and ink and scratchboard. Her delicate watercolors of orchids, butterflies and antique china are exquisite.

Ginny lives in Colchester, Vermont. You can buy her work in shops and galleries in Shelburne, Stowe, Burlington, Manchester and Middlebury, Vermont as well as Nantucket MA. She also exhibits every November at the prestigious Vermont Hand Crafters Fine Art & Craft Show in Burlington, Vermont.

You can see more of Ginny’s fabulous work at

Volvo Duett

I own a 1967 Volvo 210 Duett. I’ve had it for thirty-eight years. Maybe it now owns me.

If you don’t know what a Volvo Duett looks like, picture a small 1940s panel truck with windows. The name Duett came from Volvo’s intent that it was a dual-purpose car. It could be used for daily transportation and for weekend excursions.

I don’t have a recent photo of my car, because it’s stored in a friend’s barn; but I did find one like it in the Volvo museum.

My love affair with these cars began in 1959 when I was fifteen. My mother bought a shiny new red-and-gray 445 Duett. It was the car I drove when I first got my driver’s license -- a funny-looking little Swedish car with a twin-carbureted sports-car engine and a blatting exhaust.

The car combined funky good looks, practical utility and excellent performance. It had better acceleration and fuel economy than many contemporary American models. It was also the car I was driving when some guy from the next town ran a stop sign and hit me nearly head on.

There were seven of us in the car. Thanks to its rugged construction, none of us were killed; but the car was destroyed. My mother wanted to buy another, but she couldn’t find one. Volvo only produced a few thousand a year, and they were never regularly imported to the U.S.

I found a Duett when I graduated from college -- a rusted, worn-out 1958 model that got me back and forth to my first post-college job. It consumed a quart of motor oil for each tank full of gas and had almost no brakes, a serious deficiency for commuting in and out of Boston every day—particularly when Route 2 west of Boston was under reconstruction. Slow moving construction vehicles often brought rush hour traffic to a sudden halt. On several occasions, I had to execute some heart-stopping evasive maneuvers.

While driving in the car with my wife one weekend, I spotted another one in good condition and flagged down the owner. We swapped stories; and I asked him to let me know if he was ever interested in selling. I got a call a few weeks later and bought the car for $600.

I parked the old one in the woods behind my mother’s house to save for parts. It eventually went to the junkyard.

I now had a reliable, shiny dark blue and gray 1958 445 Duett. It looked great and attracted a lot of interest. Everywhere I went in the car, people commented on it. And the very few times I met another one was an occasion to stop and talk.

I drove the car for three years. I loaned it to my boss one day, and he smashed it into a phone pole. I was devastated. It was repairable but would never be the same again. I sold it to a friend who patched it together and drove it several more years before parking it in a field behind his Vermont farmhouse. It was still there last I knew.

On my way home from work three years later, I passed a shiny dark blue 210 Duett. I turned around, followed the driver home and pulled into his driveway behind him. When I asked if he was interested in selling the car, he admitted that his wife was after him to get a more conventional car. A few days and $1100 later, it was mine.

The car was in good physical condition, but had already traveled more than 150,000 stop-and-go miles as a newspaper delivery vehicle. I installed a highly modified engine, beefed-up suspension, oversized tires on wide orange wheels, Italian driving lamps, garishly flowered window curtains and an eight-track stereo system (Remember, this was 1971).

It was great sport to out-accelerate the hot imports of the day at stoplight encounters. My hopped-up Duett left many a surprised BMW 2002 and Datsun 240 in the dust.

The car was my pride and joy. It was fun, fast and attracted lots of attention. I never let anyone else drive it for fear of having this one wrecked too.

I drove that car for six years, logging more than 150,000 additional miles. With our three young children, my wife and I traveled, camped and enjoyed many memorable family adventures in that car. It was part of the family. When it finally began to show its age at more than 300,000 miles, I bought another car and stored the Duett in my garage to be restored.

Years later, I was visiting with my good friends, Malcolm and Kathy Lee, when the subject of my 210 Duett came up. I described the car to Kathy, since I didn’t know her when I was driving the car.

Her face lit up. “I know that car. My sister and I drove it for several days.”

“You must be thinking of a different car," I told her. "I never let anyone drive that car.”

“I did. It had bright orange wheels, wild flowered curtains in the back windows and a little plastic Cookie Monster glued to the dash. A body shop in Acton loaned it to me while they painted my car.”

The Cookie Monster clinched it. I had my car repainted at the same body shop. They loaned it out without ever telling me.

Thirty years later, it still isn’t complete. But I haven’t given up.

The Duett has gained a cult following for its individuality, utility and rarity. And it was one of the Volvos that helped the company earn its reputation for durability.

Every so often, I do a Google images search for Volvo Duett and save photos I find. Here are a few of my favorites:

If Volvo were ever to produce a retro Duett, I have some ideas about what it might look like.

A disclaimer: I lost most of the photos that I took of my Volvos over the years. With the exception of the 445 in the Vermont field and the two black and white photos, I used photos of similar cars that I found online to illustrate this entry. I hope the owners of these photos don’t object to my including them here.

No Amnesty for Torturers

If the United States expects to be taken seriously as the champion for human rights in the world, we have no choice but to prosecute those people who knowingly violated international law by torturing prisoners of war. We can't let lawbreakers hide behind the Bush Administration's bogus interpretations of those laws.

All lawbreakers are responsible for their own behavior. They don’t relinquish that responsibility when they work for the federal government. It becomes even more important.

The Obama Administration had no choice but to release memos about Bush Administration senior officials' complicity in torturing these prisoners. It was in response to a judicial ruling.

President Obama announced that he does not favor prosecution of those government agents who carried out this systematic torture. By saying this, he is sending the world the message that you and I condone torture.

Both the actual perpetrators and their bosses should be held accountable for their actions--as far up the ladder as the evidence leads. An independent prosecutor must be immediately appointed to conduct a thorough, impartial investigation. War crimes require a legal decision by the courts, not a political decision by the President.

Bill Harley -- storyteller, songwriter, singer and author

Bill Harley is a rare gem. In addition to being a storyteller, songwriter, singer and author, Bill is a wonderful entertainer. He captivates kids.

If you see Bill perform, you get the feeling that some part of his brain never grew up. It’s that part that lets him relate so well to kids. He knows how they think.

Bill has written songs and stories for kindergarteners, primary school kids and middle schoolers. And they all make you remember what it felt like to be that age.

Bill was a favorite of my grandchildren and is now entertaining and educating my great-grandchildren. As you can tell, he’s also a favorite of mine. His songs and stories are just as delightful, contagious and funny now as they were when I took my granddaughters to see him perform almost twenty years ago.

In a new blog, Bill plans to talk about the culture of schools. He estimates that he’s given performances in nearly two thousand schools in his career. Since there are few people who have been in that many schools, Bill has a unique perspective on school culture today.

Check out his new blog at It can’t help but be good reading.

You can also treat your children and grandchildren to Bill’s songs and stories, by visiting his website store at They’ll love him. So will you.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Forgotten passion

I wanted to be a poet, but I never found the time.
I was always too busy making a living and being a Dad,
too caught up in life to follow my literary dream.
So I buried my passion at the bottom of an old trunk in the attic
with the idea that I would dig it out someday and begin anew.

I found it there the other day among a bunch of handwritten journals.
It reminded me of an unwound watch that stopped years ago,
an anachronistic chronometer of little use in the 21 Century.

The A Word

Ever since I was a young boy sitting in a rural Congregational church, I have felt that Christianity was a sham.

I loved the Sunday school stories about Jesus. He was my first super hero. He was stronger than all those Romans and Philistines combined. He was a courageous idealist who died for his beliefs.

I liked singing the hymns. Even though I thought the words were silly and redundant, it made me feel grownup to sing with the adults of the church.

And I liked the sermons. Our minister was a good speaker who was able to relate his lessons to life in a small 1950s New England town.

But it was clear to me then as it is now that most people only practice Christianity when they’re at church. Even at that age, I understood that society doesn’t really adhere to “Christian” values.

In that small town, everyone knew everyone else’s business. I knew who was kind, generous and tolerant, and who wasn’t. All I had to do was to look around in church to see that many of the people that acted like Jesus never came to church and many who didn’t came every week.

I heard hate speech on the radio from the McCarthy Hearings where Christians vilified non-Christian Communists. I saw in the newspapers the way Christians treated Blacks. I learned in school how Christians exterminated thousands of native Americans and how Christians dropped two bombs that incinerated 100,000 Japanese civilians when the war with Japan was pretty much over.

As I stared up at the church chandeliers, I realized that Christianity was a private social club where members forgave each other for their bad behavior. I can’t say precisely when it happened, but I gave up on Christianity.

At first, I thought of myself as an agnostic. That seemed socially acceptable. I saw how Christians treated non-believers, and I wasn’t ready to be socially ostracized before I was even a teenager.

So I kept quiet about my beliefs. I’m not as brave as my boyhood hero.

Fifty years later, I still don’t discuss my beliefs with anyone. I know that I need to be accepted by fellow townspeople to be elected to Town offices. I know that business relationships are based on common interests and beliefs. And above all, I don’t want my children and grandchildren to be discriminated against by Christians.

So I never use the A word. Maybe because Jesus still is my hero.

Hard Times

While many Americans have suffered financial losses in the current economic meltdown, few really understand what it’s like to be poor. A lot of us fear poverty, but most of us don’t have a clue what it’s like to live in poverty day after day after day.

Those who complain about their 401K losing 50% of its value don’t understand what it's like to choose between food and fuel oil. Those forced to switch from employer-supported health insurance to a COBRA plan won’t have to ignore symptoms and avoid the doctor. They won’t have their childrens' teeth pulled instead of repaired because it’s cheaper.

Most Americans will never experience the shame of justifying their situation to a cynical welfare worker. They won’t beg a utility for a few extra days before shutoff off and get shut off anyway. They won’t have to face the fact that their children and grandchildren will never attend college. And they won’t suffer the constant grinding down of their self-esteem until it is finally gone.

Most Americans can’t imagine what it’s like to make less than a living wage. The working poor are invisible to them.