Offtheshelf's blog

Last minute field goal

As physicists experiment with particle accelerators toward understanding the Higgs boson – the so-called “God particle” responsible for bringing about the spontaneous creation of the universe – theological archaeologists digging in ancient Mesopotamia have unearthed clay tablets that date back to the time of Adam and Eve, or so they say.

The tablets were apparently etched by a fellow named Herb, who was a neighbor of Adam and Eve in the “old neighborhood,”  known in those days as Eden Estates, an upscale gated community consisting of single family homes with three bedrooms, one and a half baths, a two-car garage, and some with swimming pools and hot tubs. The entire development was built adjacent to an apple orchard owned by a crotchety old coot known as S. Atan, or at least, that’s the name that appeared on his mailbox.

Herb was a tax accountant by trade, but before he became a CPA, he was a close friend of the Lord, aka God, residing together in the singularity just moments before the creation of the universe. Or as the recently discovered clay tablets read:

“We were college roommates, God and I, in those early days before He created everything. I was studying accountancy; He was studying theoretical physics, with a minor in religious studies, when He got this notion of designing the universe. At first I thought He was nuts, talking about galaxies and suns and planets and moons, and this thing called gravity to tie the whole thing together. He tried to explain to me the relationship between matter and energy, which I didn’t understand at all. Of course, He didn’t understand anything about the tax code.

“Anyway, one day, during Homecoming weekend when most of us were over at the stadium watching the football game, He suddenly had an epiphany. He began writing formulae on the blackboard in the empty lecture hall; when He ran out of blackboard space He wrote upon the walls. His writing immediately took form, and in an instant there was Light, which paid immediate dividends for our football team as they finally completed their first forward pass of the season now being able to actually see the ball.

“The Lord then invented the Day and the Night, dividing the Day and the Night with wee hour TV infomercials. He next created the Heavens, and below the Heavens dry land and seas, thus forming the earth, all the time nodding to Himself and muttering ‘It is good, it is good.’

“But the earth needed something, so He brought forth grasses and trees bearing fruit, and the fruit yielded seeds to grow new trees with fruit, thus creating a kind of a self-fulfilling creation, and He was very pleased with Himself – He could be a bit cocky back then – and kept saying ‘It is good. It is good.’

“And He brought forth fishes and whales to swim in the seas and every kind of winged fowl to fly above the earth, and beasts and cattle and creeping things to walk upon the earth.

“And, in His own image no less – I tell you, what an ego – He created man and woman, providing them with dominion over the fishes of the sea and the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

“And He said unto them, go forth and multiply and replenish the earth … but finish college first!

“And God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good.

“And so He rested, but His rest was quickly interrupted by the noise of a wild party in the courtyard outside His dorm room window – there was a joyous celebration down below, for the football team had just won the Homecoming game with a last minute field goal!” (Genesis 1:1)

Jack Sheedy

Author of six books, including Cape Odd, with Jim Coogan, available at your local CLAMS or OCLN library.

And with warm wishes for a Happy Birthday to my Boston Terrier/Dachshund mix, Willie!

Predictions of the Amazing Flemmi

Look out Elijah. Move over Nostradamus. Step aside Jeane Dixon. Make way for the 13th century monk known as Brother Flemmi of Padua, a seer who made some rather astounding predictions that have nearly all come true … according to Vatican scholars.

For instance, he scribed the following passage alluding to the voyage of Columbus: “In the year 1492, an Italian gentleman wearing a funny hat and puffy pantaloons will sail off the edge of the world, but his ill-fated voyage will be the inspiration for a new dance craze called the Santa Maria.”

Of Galileo, he wrote: “An Italian astronomer will incorrectly suggest that the earth travels around the sun, but thankfully the Pope will set him straight.”

Of Napoleon, he predicted: “A Frenchman of average height, who incidentally will crown himself emperor and will attempt to conquer all of Europe and Russia, will centuries later be mistaken for being much shorter.”

And of Hitler and Eva Braun, he wrote: “A German couple, living underground in a bunker during a time of war, will commit suicide just hours after becoming married – perhaps they should have just lived together instead.”

The “Amazing Flemmi,” as he has been dubbed, also predicted the coming of the atomic age, mankind’s exploration of space, the JFK assassination, Nixon’s resignation, a number of earthquakes and weather-related disasters, the Red Sox World Series victory of 2004, various Kentucky Derby winners, and the great economic Depression of 2013, as follows: “The great seas (translated by Vatican scholars as “the economic markets”) will crest and then trough suddenly until the big fish (translated as “the 1%”) and the tiny fish (translated as “the 99%”) and even the jellyfish (translated as “the jellyfish”) are cast upon dry land to bleach beneath the relentless sun (translated as “financial ruin”).”

Yet, according to the Vatican, most astounding are his predictions for the future, leading up to the year 3043 and the end of the world. The following represent just a sampling:

2050: “The sea levels will rise by 50 feet due to a gradual warming of the earth, thus causing the glaciers to melt. Global warming naysayers, at a United Nations meeting, continue to argue that scientists are wrong despite the fact that the UN building is awash and half the delegation have drowned.”

2115: “One day the moon will not rise, and no one will know what became of it, until a magician named The Great Zeppi steps forward to claim that he made it disappear. A formal international inquiry will demand that Zeppi return the moon at once, but despite his efforts he is unable to cause it to reappear – although suddenly there is an influx of white rabbits around the globe. Months later, using the Hubble VI telescope, astronomers find the earth’s moon in orbit around the planet Neptune, to which Zeppi  replies, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s where I put it.’”

2225: “The written word is abolished, all books are burned by ‘firemen,’ and lovers of literature are forced to memorize great written works in order to keep these books alive… oh wait, I’m sorry, that’s not a prediction, that’s a story by Ray Bradbury.”

2410: “A group of religious zealots from the Mermaid Church of God is surgically altered to add gills and fins so they can migrate back into the sea. Unfortunately, dolphins cast the congregation back upon the sand, thinking it’s a mass human stranding.”

2630: “Ping-pong replaces baseball as the great American pastime.  North Korea protests by launching a missile that fails to achieve earth orbit.“

2800: “Jesus arrives for the rapture, but then decides against it, saying, ‘I’ll give you another 243 years to clean up your act.’”

2905: “Progressive rock bands the Moody Blues, Yes, and ELO are finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”

3043: “The world ends in a cataclysmic fashion when the earth is struck by Halley’s Comet on a Tuesday afternoon, about 1:30 EST, so don’t make any dinner plans.”

As for Brother Flemmi, his life was cut short one sunny Italian day when he was struck by a horse drawn cart overloaded with casks of red wine. As he lay dying upon the cobblestone courtyard of the monastery, the monk reminded those standing around him that years ago he correctly predicted that “too much wine will eventually kill me.”

Jack Sheedy


PS: Be sure to look for my upcoming articles in this year’s Cape Cod history publication, Summerscape 2012, a NEPA award-winning supplement of the Barnstable Patriot, appearing at the end of June. Until then, check out this link to a story I wrote for Summerscape 2010 on Halley’s Comet:


And check out my book, Cape Odd, written with Jim Coogan, available at a CLAMS library near you:


 NEPA = New England Press Association - First place for editorial supplement, weekly newspaper, 1995, 1999, 2008

The future. In fragments.

I have come to a decision.

A rather big decision.

I would like to time travel.

Into the future.

After all, that is the only direction one can travel.

Forward. Into the future.

That is, until the universe begins to collapse.

Only then can you travel into the past.

Which is, in that reality, the future.

In a collapsing universe, that is.

Does this make sense?

See, in an expanding universe, in which we now find ourselves living, time spirals outward and we travel along with it. In such a universe, time travel can only be done in a forward direction. By traveling at a velocity approaching the speed of light the traveler is cast forward in time. Seconds and minutes to the time traveler translate into centuries and millennia for the rest of the universe.

As for the past, it is gone.


For now, that is.

Until the universe begins to collapse.

Within a collapsing universe, time goes backwards, so future events are really in the past. Yet, at that point the linear movement of time, though backwards, would make perfect sense to us. In that universe it would seem perfectly natural that we would move from death to birth.

But never mind that universe.

In this current universe, within expansion, we are born first and die later.

Which allows us more time to save up for funeral costs.


I recently had a quick glimpse of the future.

I was in a somewhat futuristic-looking building.

Walking down a flight of stairs.

After viewing pieces of abstract art.

As I made my way down the stairs.

Sunlight from a skylight above fell upon me.

Blinding me, temporarily.

And I swear for a brief moment.

I was transported into the future.

It was the oddest thing.

It only lasted a second or two.

But I had the distinct feeling that I had been transported ahead in time.

As proof of my experience, I now held a chocolate chip cookie in my hand. It seems that everyone who visits the future receives a chocolate chip cookie. Don’t ask me why. I wasn’t there long enough to find out. But I think it is part of a marketing campaign. As the napkin that accompanied the cookie read: “Thank you for visiting the future – Come again!”

Jack Sheedy


PS: I am experimenting.

With “fragmentation writing.”™

Which I am developing.

Hence the trademark symbol.

Note the contrast between the fragmented lines and the longer sentences and paragraphs. It creates an intentional ebb and flow. It provides the writer with control over how the reader moves through the text.

And the speed with which the reader moves.

So, until next time.

Thank you for visiting the future.

Come again.


In the meantime, read my books, Cape Cod Harvest (2007) and Cape Odd (2010), both co-authored with Jim Coogan, available though CLAMS and OCLN libraries.

Thirteen for Supper

We have travelled so far, each of us, in our yearly trek around the sun.

Those of us tethered to planet earth in orbit around its M-class star travel an astonishing 584 million miles each year, given that our distance from the sun is 93 million miles (i.e. radius).

Diameter = (radius) x 2

D = 93,000,000 x 2

D = 186,000,000


Circumference = (Pi)  x (Diameter)

C = 3.14 x 186,000,000

C = 584,000,000

Of course, this is approximate as the earth’s orbit is elliptical, and our own sun is moving as well (toward the star Vega), and the earth is moving along with her. But still, smoothing out the details, we’re traveling approximately 584,000,000 miles per year, relatively speaking. That comes to 1.6 million miles per day. Not bad for earth-bound descendants of primates who feel their lives are going nowhere.

And astral travelers can voyage even further. Just by thinking.

For instance, hold on a moment …………..

…………………….Ok, I’m back. I just voyaged via astral projection to the red giant star system of Betelgeuse, a dying sun in the constellation of Orion, more than 600 light years away, that’s 1,200 light years round trip, some astronomical number of miles that requires figures multiplied exponentially by 10 to the 12th power. Wow, talk about an expensive trip at $3.99 per gallon of gasoline!

But that’s not what I wanted to scribble about this Holy Week. Yes, we live in an infinite and expanding universe of countless suns and worlds, and yes, we are but one world in this incomprehensible existence. Yet, upon this one particular planet we possess a multitude of beliefs that form a variety of religions. And this week, we see a unique overlapping of two such religions as we celebrate Easter and Passover during the same weekend.

The presence of Passover in the Passion story is apparent, as the Last Supper was a celebration of the Jewish feast. It’s a perfect blending of Old and New Testaments, of one religion growing into another, with the preparations for the feast being mentioned in the Gospels:

From Mark 14:12-15: “And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the Passover, his disciples said unto him, Where wilt thou that we go and prepare that thou mayest eat the Passover? And he sendeth forth two of his disciples, and saith unto them, Go ye into the city, and there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water : follow him. And wheresoever he shall go in, say ye to the goodman of the house, The Master saith, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the Passover with my disciples? And he will shew you a large upper room furnished and prepared : there make ready for us.

You can just imagine the conversation between this “goodman” and his wife. Standing together in their kitchen, as she in an apron prepares the Passover meal for her family…

Wife: “Tell me once again. Who the hell are all these people?!”

Goodman: “I’m not quite sure. They call themselves Disciples. I went out to the well in the square for a pitcher of water and they followed me home.”

Wife: “And they want to eat Passover supper at our house? All twelve of them?!”

Goodman: “Well, thirteen actually. Apparently there’s this one other fellow coming -- they call him their Master.”

Wife: “Thirteen! GoodLord, how am I going to feed thirteen additional people? We’ve got your sister and her family coming over, and my mother, and Uncle Moe, and the twins.”

Goodman: “I know, I know, what could I say to them? “

Wife: “You could have said we’re not some damn restaurant!”

Goodman: “Shhh…one of them is coming down the stairs.”

Peter: “Excuse me, I hate to be a bother, but you wouldn’t happen to have a towel we could borrow. John spilled some red wine on the carpet … I’m sure it will come up … ah, yes, thank you my fine woman, I’ll bring the towel right back.”

Goodman (quietly, once the Disciple had left the room): “Listen, we’ll feed them a quick supper, just bread and wine, and then they’ll be on their way.”

Wife: “Fine. But I’ll tell you something, if they spill any more wine on my new carpet it’s going to be their last supper!”


My dog, Willie, is telling me to wrap it up. He gets a bit anxious when I write about religion. After all, he is a bit of a non-believer, per se, being a Boston Terrier-Dachshund mix who subscribes to the chaos theory.

Despite his agnostic views, though, he has no problem gobbling down Easter pie crumbs when they hit the floor.


Jack Sheedy


PS: According to the formula Circumference =(Pi) x (Diameter), with one earth orbit equally approximately 365 days, we on planet earth travel at an average rate of 66,667 miles per hour … that is, unless we hit bumper-to-bumper traffic approaching Sagamore Bridge.

PPS: Check out my books, Cape Odd and Cape Cod Harvest, written with Jim Coogan, from your local CLAMS or OCLN library. And listen to stories from Cape Odd by clicking on this link to NPR’s “The Point” program:

Note: Above, in the section that mentions "an infinite and expanding universe of countless suns and worlds," I originally wrote "a vast and expanding universe," but then changed that sentence after my initial posting on Good Friday to "infinite and expanding." The term "vast" seemed too arbitrary. When I awoke this morning (Easter Sunday), I had a concern about how something "infinite" could be "expanding" since infinite seems to suggest something as expanded as it could possibly become. I was all set to change it back to "vast and expanding" until I consulted my old college notebooks (yes, I do still have them 30 years later) and concluded that something infinite could be expanding. You see, there are two main theories, with a number of sub-theories that we won't get into, but there are two possibilities - of the universe being either closed or open. Of the universe being either finite or infinite. I tend to lean toward the infinite universe, as I have this feeling that the properties of light, which bend due to gravity, create an illusion of "finite" in an infinite realm. It's hard to explain, but I can see it pretty clearly in my mind. It's like approaching something on the horizon but never quite reaching it. Like a hyperbola never quite reaching the axis. So, since I can accept the notion of the universe being infinite, and since it has been proven that everything in the universe is racing away from every other thing in the universe at a seemingly mathematical rate - things further away are racing away at an accelerated rate - suggesting an expansion to the cosmos, then I can accept the idea that although something is infinite it can also be expanding. Again, it is a difficult concept to express here on paper, or rather, on the laptop screen, but because of the properties of light no matter how far or how fast we can travel we can never reach a terminal end of the universe. After all, the universe has had a 13 billion-year head start. Thus, "infinite and expanding."

As for this blog, Off-the-Shelf, now in its eighth year with more than 200 entries, though it has expanded greatly over the years it is not infinite and will one day reach its terminal end. I wish to take this opportunity to thank those who have journeyed along with me (apparently Off-the-Shelf receives on average some 200 hits each day). My plan is to post an entry each month throughout the rest of 2012, and then to re-evaluate going forward.  Until next time, thanks for reading. JTS

Update - (04/13/2012) - It was just reported that life was (most likely) discovered on Mars .... back in 1976 ... by the Viking mission, which sent back the first close-up images of the Martian surface - perhaps the pinnacle of our human endeavors, besides man landing on the moon, that is. A reanalysis of that nearly four-decade old data provided by the Viking mission points to life being present. The data is mathematical in nature, but signals something other than randomness. Rather, something lifelike. Imagine, life on Mars! Plant life, that is. Which is fine with me, as I'm thinking of becoming a vegetarian.

Seriously, though, this is huge news. And Saturn's moon, Titan, once thoroughly examined, will probably reveal even more life. So, that would mean three worlds in one solar system supporting life. The universe must be teeming with lifeforms, throughout the cosmos, multiplying and growing and evolving, which may change our image of God as Creator. If the universe is indeed brimming with life, then "in the beginning" God must have been very, very busy. In fact, I doubt He had time to rest on that seventh day. JTS

Eat more apples

What a complex universe God created.

A complex universe indeed, from minuscule components of quantum mechanics to red giant suns of spiraling galaxies.

From invisible protons and electrons on an elemental level, to visible planets and moons on a celestial level.

From nuclear forces that hold atoms together, to gravitational forces that circle planets around stars.

From the calm vacuum of outer space, to the chaotic cataclysm of galactic center.

From the Big Bang to the Big Crunch.

From creation to destruction.

From birth to death.

And within this great swath of existence from the minuscule to the giant walk each of us, engaged in the trifles and details of our everyday lives, paying electric bills and mortgage bills, buying loaves of bread and rolls of toilet paper, changing automobile oil and washing windows, raking leaves and shoveling snow, and otherwise dealing with all the various biological needs and urges as they arise each day.

While we’re busy engaged in all these trifles and details time ticks steadily by, marked in months by the parade of the constellations above and marked in years by the names and dates etched upon granite slabs below. Tick, tick, tick - the great celestial clock of the cosmos swings its pendulum back and forth without stopping, and without regard for the lifetimes that are born and expire. Half a century elapses here on earth and the moon above takes no notice.

So, what’s it all about?

What, if anything, can provide some form of understanding or meaning?

When searching for an answer to all that is I tend to refine things down to their most basic elements, whether scientific or spiritual or otherwise. So here goes…

As I see it, each day we live within the bounds of Newton’s three laws of motion, plain and simple, touching us in a real and meaningful sense on a daily basis, and moving us forward in a linear fashion throughout our finite lives.

As Newton postulated:

  • An object at rest will remain at rest, and an object in motion will remain in motion, unless acted upon by a force.
  • The greater the mass of an object, the greater the force needed to move or to accelerate it.
  • For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  

These three laws govern everything under God’s reign.

For instance, these laws come into play when, say, a leopard chases an impala in the Serengeti – in a timeless battle of predator versus prey which has been going on since life on this planet first began. The subtleties of these laws determine whether or not the leopard eats, and whether or not the impala lives to see another day.

These same laws have impacted human history over millions of years as our ancestors evolved from early primates toward becoming Homo sapiens. And these laws continue to impact us every moment of every day.

Yet, beyond the physics these laws take on a different meaning when superimposed against human nature.

For instance:

  • An object at rest will remain at rest. While an object in motion will remain in motion. In other words, you can’t just sit around and wait for things in life to happen. You must make things happen.
  • The greater the mass, the greater the force needed to move it. In other words, sometimes things in life are difficult to manage. You have to muster the strength necessary to accomplish such difficult tasks.
  • For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. This is perhaps the most important law of all. As you muster the necessary strength to make things happen, there are results, sometimes good and sometimes bad. You must be aware of the impact of these results and be prepared to react accordingly.

How does this apply to our modern day life?

Let’s take our economy, for example. Our economy is presently an object at rest. Over the past years it has become a great unmoving mass that will require a great deal of force to move it forward. The problem is that the two political parties in Washington differ on what kind of a force is needed, and are wary about the potential opposite reaction brought about by the opposing party’s proposed action. Thus, within this stalemate the economy remains an object at rest.

So, what can we do to improve our own situation during these dire economic times?

Not to worry, for this brings us to another idea that struck Newton upon the head one day, which may not help us economically, but will certainly help us nutritionally.

Eat more apples.

Jack Sheedy

PS: Watch Newton’s laws in action. Look westward after sunset this week and watch as Jupiter and Venus perform a planetary dance as they converge to within 3 degrees (per Sky & Telescope). Then turn around 180 degrees and see Mars rising high in the east, sans dancing partner.

Desk Drawer

Last night I was consulting with my literary agent toward determining a theme for Off-the-Shelf 2012 as my blog enters its eighth calendar year of publication. Of course, by literary agent I mean my dog, Willie, who besides being half Boston Terrier/half Dachshund also holds an MBA in Marketing from Stonycliff University.

Off-the-Shelf has presented various themes over the years. It started off as a book review blog, and then later morphed into an irreverent collection of essays on anything from the beginning of the universe (aka the Big Bang) to the end of the universe (aka the Big Crunch) while touching on a great many things in between (aka the Big Bore). Over the past few years my blog has taken a religious slant as I consider my Catholic upbringing and muse over various Bible stories. There were some years during which Off-the-Shelf showcased my research on the lunatic poet, Thomas J. McSheey, a little known scribbler of nonsensical sentences whose belief system teeter-tottered back and forth between Christianity and Paganism. I even once blogged my campaign for Governor as a candidate of the Whig party, running an online write-in campaign (and receiving less than one percent of the vote). While more recently, over the past year, I showcased highlights of my trip to Italy by publishing excerpts from my travel journal.

So, as Willie and I sat before a gently crackling fire upon a chilly February evening, sipping from our snifters – Willie is a bit of a tippler – my Terrier/Dachshund friend arrived at a solution.

“You know that desk drawer of yours that you can barely open with all that crap inside it,” he began as he placed down his glass and took a drag from his pipe while quietly humming “Hanover Winter Song.”

“Yes, I know the drawer of which you speak,” I replied as I arose, strolled over to the hearth, placed my goblet upon the mantle, grasped the poker, and then nudged the burning logs until newborn flames leapt upwards . He referred to the desk in my office with a drawer crammed full of papers and notebooks and half-finished short stories and scraps of other assorted paperwork and memorabilia.

“Well, it’s full of notes and incomplete thoughts and trip journals and old concert ticket stubs” he continued with the pipe wedged between his canines, “Rummage through there and see what you come up with. There’s gotta be at least a dozen kernels hidden away that you can write up.”

“Hey, that’s a brilliant idea.”

“Of course it’s a brilliant idea!” he barked as he raised his snifter as if to make a toast. “Now run off to the kitchen and bring me back a treat. Something crunchy so I can make lots of chomping noises and leave crumbs all over the rug. Go now...Go!”


Winged Skull

So, with the theme for 2012 being “things found in my desk drawer,” we begin here with inscriptions I jotted upon pages of a 3”x5” notebook from headstones I came across while researching an article about six or seven years ago. The following is from the Dennis village cemetery along Route 6A, next to the Dennis Union Church, pointing to nearly 80 years of ministry in the East Parish of Yarmouth (now Dennis) and documenting in slate the early history of the place: 

{Below images of an urn and a weeping willow} Here lies the body of the Rev. Josiah Dennis, pastor of the east church in Yarmouth, who died Aug 31st  1763 in the 69th year of his age & 39th of his ministry.

{Below the image of a winged skull} Here lyes buried ye body of Mrs. Bathsheba Dennis, wife to the Revd Mr. Josiah Dennis, who departed this life Novr ye 20th 1745 in the 43rd year of her age.

{Below a winged skull} Here lies the body of Mrs. Phebe Dennis, wife to the Revd Mr. Josiah Dennis, who departed this Life Octr the 2nd 1773, in the 63rd year of her age.

And this headstone nearby…

Here lies the remains of Rev Nathan Stone, Pastor of the east church in Yarmouth, now Dennis, who departed this life April 26, 1804, in the 67th year of his age & 40th of his ministry, endeared to his family & friends in life & lamented by all at his death. Of temper humble, mild & kind, To hospitality inclined; This world’s vain wealth he ne’er cov’d prize, But laid up treasure in the skies.

I always figured that when my time of dying comes I’d be cremated and scattered, but now I’m thinking a slate headstone with a winged skull would be cool.



And this inscription upon an obelisk at the South Dennis Congregational Church cemetery, overlooking Main Street:

Rev. John Sanford. Born in Berkley, Sept 12, 1788. Graduated at Brown University 1812. Installed first pastor of the Congregational Church in South Dennis Dec 30, 1818. Resigned after a pastorate of twenty years. Died at Taunton, July 11, 1866.

Or better yet, I’m thinking I’d rather have an obelisk. A really tall one.



On an earlier page in the notebook, perhaps scribbled a dozen years ago, I recorded the results of a whiffleball home run derby contest I had with my son, then around eight or nine years old.

HRs: Greg 7  Dad 4

HRs: Greg 6  Dad 3

FYI, sonny, now that you’re all grown up and in your third year of college, I should let you know that I was batting lefty that day.

Jack Sheedy


Next time: I’ll provide entries from the same notebook of talking points from a lecture I gave a number of years ago on the subject of Cape Cod history. (I’ve since developed stage fright and have vowed never to lecture again.)

PS:  I also have a fear of flying, so you will never catch me giving a lecture on an airplane.

PPS: Regarding Cape Cod history, check out my books, Cape Odd and Cape Cod Harvest, with Jim Coogan, at a library near you.

PPPS:Hanover Winter Song,” published in 1898 by Dartmouth College alums Richard Hovey and Frederic Field Bullard, tells of friends sitting before a fire enjoying pipes and spirits and fellowship while outside a snowstorm rages. Recently, my son and I attended a college hockey game at the Hanover, NH campus – Dartmouth vs. Cornell. We sat at center ice enjoying hot dogs and soda and fellowship. “Oh, a song by the fire, pass the pipes, pass the bowl…

New Year, Old Scribbles

As another year A.D. unfurls, I begin 2012 with some final entries from my Italian travel journal which I showcased in Off-the-Shelf throughout much of last year.

I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent in the Naples area, home to my maternal ancestors. I felt completely at ease there, and could see myself living in that Neapolitan setting, between the ancient waters of the Mediterranean Sea and the equally ancient mountains of volcanic rock, culminating in mighty Vesuvius to the south. Between the crumbling Roman ruins and the soaring Catholic cathedrals. Between the narrow streets of cobblestone and the gently cascading hills of olive groves. It was as if a part of me had lived there centuries before. As if the sights and smells and sounds of that port locale had earlier touched my senses.

These final scribbles from my travel journal touch on some of the forgotten pieces of the journey, which began in Rome and concluded with my return to Boston.

Day 1: (Within hours of touching down at Leonardo da Vinci Airport) we were afforded a driving tour of much of the old part of Rome. Among other things, we drove past the Colosseum and St. Peter’s Square, pretty much circumnavigating the Vatican, which is a walled city/state. To be that close to the Vatican and St. Peter’s was a bit overwhelming. St. Peter’s Square was smaller than I imagined it would be; much larger than I imagined was the Colosseum. I exclaimed a number of times in the car how grande it appeared. Its size was staggering.

(Later that day took the train to Naples, about an hour and a half south of Rome, then by car to nearby Pozzuoli.)


Day 2: Arrived at the designated metro station and ventured out onto the narrow streets of Naples. People bustled all about, and little cars whizzed by at an alarming rate given their nearness to pedestrians. In fact, pedestrians seemed not a bit upset when, say, the mirror of a passing car nearly grazed them, or when an auto came to a screeching halt right in front of them. Cars seemed to sneak up from behind while walking along, and a beep-beep told you to move aside so the driver and his vehicle could pass. Many Neapolitans drove motor scooters, which wove in and out of traffic. Sometimes it was difficult to see the point where the “pedestrian” ended and the “vehicle” began, as the vehicles seemed very much like pedestrians along the streets of Napoli.

The afternoon was spent touring the narrow streets, with vendors along the way selling everything from fish to shoes to religious items. (See my earlier blog entry on churches of Naples)


Day 3: (Daytrip to Isle of Capri – see my earlier entry)


Day 4: The church bells of the Pozzuoli neighborhood chimed repeatedly and I noticed the cause of the commotion as the doors opened for 9:00 Mass. The church’s bells, and the clock in her tower, reminded me that it was time to get ready for that day’s adventure – Pompeii. (See my earlier entry)


Day 5: We made a rather hectic departure from Pozzuoli and Naples. The metro was slow and we arrived at the train station just in time to catch the 3:30 out of Napoli. We had three reserved seats in a compartment, and after figuring out the arrangements, necessitating the departure of people sitting in our seats, we settled in for the trip to Rome, arriving about 5:30 p.m. Family members were waiting there and drove us to our hotel, the beginning of a Roman holiday and three days of touring the “eternal city.”


Days 6 & 7: (Various tours of Rome's churches, the Vatican, and the catacombs – see my earlier entry)


Day 8: Viewed ancient ruins and a renaissance villa, both located at Tivoli – about a 30-minute drive northwest of Rome. The ruins were 2,000 years old and were somewhat reminiscent of Pompeii, only on a smaller scale. We strolled about there for the better part of an hour and then walked through the center of Tivoli to a renaissance villa boasting some 600 fountains – all powered by gravity. Absolutely magnificent.

Because gravity was the powering mechanism, the property was built on a hill with a huge mansion at the top and fountains – from the gigantic to the very small – situated on various levels as we made our way down the hill along stone walkways and stairs. Of course, that meant that once we arrived at the bottom we had to climb back up again – a bit exhausting after a week of touring sights.

On the tour bus back to Rome I found myself involved in perhaps the largest traffic jam I have ever witnessed – 13 lanes of traffic just beyond a toll booth along the highway all trying to merge down to two lanes!


Day 9: At 7:00 am in the hotel lobby met a friendly older Italian gentleman to transport us to the Leonardo da Vinci Airport. After heading into the wrong terminal at first, we got all sorted out in short order, moving from line to line to line, and eventually boarded an Alitalia flight en route to Boston.

At Logan Airport, going through customs, the official there, after examining my passport to make sure all was in order, looked up at me, smiled, and said, “Welcome back to the United States.”

I must admit, those words of welcome, back home in my native city, filled me with a great sense of pride.

Jack Sheedy


PS: My trip provided a brief respite from the editing phase of the book I working on at the time, Cape Odd, written with co-author Jim Coogan. Check it out from your local CLAMS or OCLN library. To hear stories from the book, listen to our interview on NPR’s “The Point” from February 2011 by clicking on the link below:


Comet of Bethlehem?

Embedded within the Christmas story, as told in the Gospel of St. Matthew in relation to the arrival of the wise men at Bethlehem, is the notion that something strange was happening in the night sky at the time of Jesus’ birth.

The magi follow the star in this sixth-century mosaic at the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare near Ravenna, Italy.

To quote the former tax collector-turned-apostle: “Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2) “They departed: and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.” (Matthew 2:9-10)

The Star of Bethlehem has emerged as a major participant in the nativity story. Its presence infers the guiding hand of God leading the wise men along their journey and places the stamp of the Almighty on the holy birth in the City of David, which occurred according to theological historians sometime around the year 3 B.C. Although its mention in the Gospel of St. Matthew is brief, the story of the star has survived all these centuries later and has manifested itself as the five-pointed crown which today graces the tip-top boughs of Christmas trees around the globe.

The role of the star in the Christmas story is further perpetuated by its mention in various Christmas songs and hymns, perhaps most notably in “We Three Kings” (by Rev. John Henry Hopkins, Jr., 1820-1891): “We three kings of Orient are, Bearing gifts we traverse afar, Field and fountain, moor and mountain, Following yonder star. O, star of wonder, star of night, Star with royal beauty bright, Westward leading, still proceeding, Guide us to thy perfect light.”

Being a Catholic with a keen interest in astronomy, I often wonder at this holy time of year about the Star of Wonder and whether it might have been something other than a typical star. Stars, and the constellations they make up, were well known to our ancient ancestors. These celestial lights were fixed beings in our ancestors' night sky, forming a predictable calendar that mirrored the annual march of the seasons. The comings and goings of familiar constellations throughout the year happened without great surprise, as they appeared and disappeared on cue, without question and without debate. The stars and the constellations formed a celestial roadmap of the stellar year, unfurling a canvas of night upon which everyone could rely.

Yet, the tranquil parade of these pinpricks of light was occasionally "marred" by the haphazard appearance of wandering planets and wayward comets. Their arrival upon the starry stage caused astrologers of distant times to take notice, and to make revelations and predictions. The appearance of a comet might foretell of victory or defeat for an army about to wage war. The retrograde path of a planet, or the dual paths of a pair of planets travelling in close proximity within a particular constellation, might predict the death of an aging king, or perhaps the birth of a new king.

Could the Star of Bethlehem have been the sudden appearance of a comet as seen in the night sky over the City of David? Or perhaps the wandering paths of two planets in close union, in conjunction as astronomers term it, rendezvousing to form one bright “star” from the magi’s perspective.

Astronomers all the way back to the time of Tycho Brahe have plotted the paths of the planets to determine that a series of conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn did occur in the years near Jesus’ birth. And Chinese records point to a comet witnessed around that time as well. Whatever it was, whether a comet or a planet or perhaps even a star that went supernova, a guiding light of some sort led the magi to the manger with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

After all, something had to point the direction to Bethlehem, as GPS wasn’t invented for another two thousand years.

Merry Christmas.

Jack Sheedy

PS: This Christmas season, just after sunset, venture outside and view Jupiter rising high in the eastern sky and Venus falling toward the horizon in the west (along with a waxing crescent moon). Spectacular!

Eating my way thru Advent

Over the past year I’ve been sharing my travel journal with readers, showcasing the highlights of my trip to Rome, the Vatican, Naples, Capri, Tivoli, Pompeii, and Pozzuoli during a recent tour of Italian churches. While reviewing my handwritten notes to see what else I could glean from those scribbled pages, I was surprised to notice how many references I made to food and drink.

So, as we trek along through the Christmas season, which I consider a season of food and drink and merrymaking from the Feast Day of Saint Nicholas to the Feast of the Epiphany, I thought I’d post my journal entries on Italian dining.

In fact, it all began well before touching down at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci Airport, while still high above the Atlantic Ocean.

Buono appetite.


Lunedi (Monday)

The journey began with a smooth flight out of Boston on Alitalia Airlines. I never ate so much on a flight!


Family picked us up at the airport and immediately brought us to a hill overlooking all of Rome. We sat outside and enjoyed the view with some sort of a coffee drink heavy on the latte.


Martedi (Tuesday)

We arrived at Pozzuoli (a 90-minute train ride south of Rome) in the mid-afternoon and within an hour we were all seated around a table eating our first authentic Italian family meal – appetizers, followed by a pasta dish, followed by a meat and vegetable dish, followed by fruit and rum cake and gelato. And, of course, wine, and Italian beer for me.


Mercoledi (Wednesday)

The group of us ate a lunch of individual-size pizzas at an outdoor café situated somewhere in the old part of the city (Naples, just east of Pozzuoli). It was that quintessential Italian scene of people seated around a table, out of doors, eating and drinking and talking and laughing, with the ancient buildings of Napoli as our four walls and the blue sky above for our ceiling. Instead of wine, though, we drank Italian beer served in what resembled wine bottles.


Evening was spent with pasta and a meat dish and bottles of wine at a family household gathering where little-by-little I was picking up the language. Mostly, I was able to pick up the theme of the conversation and was able to at least know what it was they were talking about, without knowing any of the actual details.

We drank equally of wine and aqua, and the meal ended with fresh fruit and gelato.


Giovedi (Thursday)

Arriving back in Pozzuoli (after viewing Pompeii), later that evening we walked to a family household for a wonderful Italian feast of various cheeses, zucchini, bread, vegetables, and wine.


This morning there was a wedding held at the neighborhood church, Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie. We wandered in just beforehand to kneel and to say a quick “Our Father” before strolling a short 50 or 60 feet from the church’s front door to arrive at – believe it or not – an Irish pub in downtown Pozzuoli where I enjoyed a couple of pints of Guinness.


Venerdi (Friday)

Last evening we had a delicious meal at a restaurant situated along a narrow road somewhere in the city (Rome), about ten minutes from our hotel. There were seven of us seated outside under a canopy upon a perfect Roman evening, dining on cheeses and meats and pastas and drinking vino and aqua, finished off with some kind of chocolate-cream dessert.


For dinner, we strolled down the street to a small restaurant we had discovered earlier that day. In no time we became friendly with the young waiters, enjoyed a wonderful meal and drinks, and then afterwards stopped into a pastry shop for some morning muffins. Arriving back at the hotel, there was a man out on the sidewalk playing excerpts from Carmen on his violin.


Sabato (Saturday)

After returning from a tour (of the Vatican), we stopped at a little shop and ordered sandwiches and cappuccino, which we ate at a table outside the place. It was a pleasant lunch with people passing by out on the sidewalk – a beautiful afternoon.


Afterwards, stopped for espresso and a canola at a local pastry shop, visited a couple of gift shops – all selling the same Roman items – and then headed back to the hotel to rest up and to write in the journal before heading out for dinner at a nearby restaurant.


Domenica (Sunday)

Last evening we ate a late dinner at the same little Italian restaurant where we had eaten on the previous evening. The food was once again wonderful. This time we had our meal outside under a canopy, which was very nice except that we were approached by street vendors selling the silliest items, as well as by roaming musicians – a violinist and a guitarist – who each stopped to play three songs, and then afterwards came up to the table looking for a tip. I gave them each a Euro dollar, which sent them on their way with a “mille gracie.”


Today, on the last full day in Rome, had breakfast at the hotel and then strolled about in search of some of the sights missed during our various bus tours. So, this morning we took a walk through Palazzo Barberini and past Fontana del Tritone (Tritan Fountain) to the Spanish Steps at Trinitia del Monti, and worked our way back past Piazza della Repubblica to the hotel. We then ventured out for a bite to eat at a local shop – just a sandwich and some aqua, followed up with an espresso.


Arrived back at the hotel (after touring Tivoli, outside of Rome) just in time to change clothes for dinner over at a family household – another amazing multi-course meal with good company and of course, plenty of vino.

Jack Sheedy


P.S. For stories closer to home, visit your local CLAMS or OCLN library for my books, Cape Odd and Cape Cod Harvest, both written with co-author Jim Coogan. Or visit us at:


Hockey Sticks in the Garden

For a few years now I’ve been keeping a garden.

Over that time I’ve learned quite a lot about what helps to make a garden grow successfully and what results in complete and utter frustration.

I’ve found it takes perhaps nine seasons of experience, nine seasons of persistence, and nine seasons of toiling per vegetable to learn what works and what doesn’t. The magic number nine comes from three springs and three summers. Oh, and three winters of planning and dreaming and planting the seeds of hope.

How NOT to stake tomato plants.

Experience comes from experimentation, and paying close attention to which efforts work and which efforts are simply exercises in wasted energy. Rich, fertile soil is key; it can come to the rescue of other gardening flaws, like planting too close together. Spacing is important; it’s amazing how much square footage a cucumber plant needs to grow and prosper. Or better yet, butternut squash, which this year seemed like a lot of space and effort and watering for very little return.

Tomatoes, I’ve found, require more hands-on attention – caging, staking, trimming of dead limbs, further staking, etc. While cucumbers can pretty much be left to do their own thing. Swiss chard and lettuce need to be picked frequently. For the past two years, Swiss chard has been my first and last vegetable harvested, from June through November, which helps to bolster my self esteem and makes me think that I may actually have a green thumb.

I’ve found that peas do better in filtered sunlight, as I harvested them from late spring through the summer well into August. Green peppers started indoors are a bit temperamental, and have to be handled with care in the late spring, when the nights may still be a bit too cool, by gradually introducing them to outdoor temperatures before transplanting into the garden.

Broccoli needs space. Carrots also require proper spacing. Beets need … God only knows what beets need! I’ve had very little success with beets, and radishes for that matter. Swine root vegetables!!

It’s important to have good fencing, as any manner of critter may get into the garden, including a family of rabbits who nibbled on my lettuce, a chubby woodchuck who munched on my squash, and a Boston Terrier/Dachshund mix named Willie who got into my pea garden (perhaps he thought it was the alternate spelling) and then couldn’t find his way out.

It’s also important to have enough stakes and tomato cages. With the winds of Hurricane Irene swirling about, I was in the process of supporting my tomato plants with additional twine when I ran out of wooden stakes. No worries. I went to the garage and came out with a couple of my son’s hockey sticks. One was a Koho brand stick; the other a Sher-Wood. FYI: I’m sure CCM or Bauer or Louisville brand sticks will work just as well.

I don’t recommend using a goalie stick, though, as the blade is too wide and catches the wind, leading to disastrous results. I’ve consulted all my gardening books and they concur with this assessment.

Jack Sheedy

P.S. Check out your local library for copies of my books, Cape Odd (2010) and Cape Cod Harvest (2007), both with co-author Jim Coogan, or visit us at: