By Doris Questel

Approximately 1964

Written in pencil on 3 sheets of 12” x 18” sketch paper, both sides, with no corrections.

Dear Children,

I write this as I am approaching the age of 39. This is the age when my mother died. At the time I was 19, and 39 seemed centuries away. I have not the slightest intention of leaving you for still” many centuries, if God will agree.

If, however this were to be the midnight of my life, I would like to tell you certain things. I mentioned God, and truly I don’t know if I believe in him or not. I choose to think I do. When I was your age I thought I saw him in the shape of a cloud, and now I think it again, in rather a different way. For surely there is such beauty in a cloud, such momentary grandeur that it may well be a Godly thing. There is only one thing that remains constant to me. That is beauty. I hope that one day you can feel the exhilaration of a beautiful picture, a beautiful moment, a beautiful thing. Now beauty, my dear boys, is not always pretty. It is very often ugly. But it is pure. This brings me to another important point. To be able to judge the pure from the impure, the true from the fake, you must first be able to be true to yourself. This takes a very long time. When it does a new world opens within you and you are free from the pangs of guilt, and remorse. This truth, of which I speak, is a kind of Godliness again. It is never our intention to hurt, but if one day the truth in yourself causes hurt to someone else, think twice. And if after you have wrangled with your conscience, and are sure you are not creating a greater lie with in yourself, then, and only then dare you cause pain.

Although you will find this idea not original with me, truth and beauty (and a reasonable amount of cleanliness!) are indeed God and Godliness.

There is a classic poem, and the line that has stayed with me all through the years is “The world is too much with us, late and soon”. Often when I feel I am being caught up in the rat race of life I think of this line. For a brief moment I reflect. This is wonderful for as long as we breathe, we want. We want more creature comforts, we want more possessions, we want more and more and better and better until the things e lack can make us flounder like a drowning man in a sea of discontent. Stop and reflect and leave the world outside and see what you have! Can owning a forest make you appreciate a leaf better? My grand father used to say “can a man eat more than three meals a day, or wear more than one suit of clothes at a time. This of course is greatly simplified, but in essence it is true the world is highly competitive, so I do not wish that you do not recognize this fact. The trick is, to recognize it early and ignore it. The trick dear boys, is to give or do the best, the very best within you for your own sake, and your own pride. And it must follow, that the world will come to you. Another truth is that there is very little best in the world. This is not because many do not have the ability or the capacity; they simply do not work up to their full measure. This I find in looking back is a sin. This should be the eleventh commandment” do not waste your time or yourselves” There is so much success in our world today and it is so taken for granted, that we have overlooked the fact that mediocrity reigns. Today the supreme effort is not required to subsist, so people are willing to accept less than their best and find overwhelming joy in the common denominator.

When I was nineteen I thought that if I should not be famous, I surely would die. In each of us is something special and when we are very young we say to the world” look at me, notice me, I insist that you notice me.” Well my dears, we all have this feeling. I think effort, pride in a job and honesty are what make the difference. While it is not necessary to happiness to be world famous, to have a feeling of well being in your own world is necessary.

I want also to tell you about growing pains. My telling you will make you aware of them, and perhaps, they will be less frightening when they come. I started at a very early age, almost I’d say as an infant because I never had the security of a home and two parents and knowing that tomorrow will e fun. I think that is all the more reason to prepare you. It is also the reason I feel I can write this to you. I am full grown inside. This is a slow painful process, especially when you are in your teens. At that time most things are either black or white, right or wrong. You will be either high or low emotionally.  Just as a child can cry one minute and laugh the next, so you will feel inside. Everyone seems to feel that when you grow up you should stop crying. Well my dears, the tears inside have a much more acrid effect than those on the outside. These are the ones that shape the man. You come from parents who may at time vacillate from yes to no , and no to yes, but in our abilities to wrestle with inner battles we are victorious. Medals and awards are not given for this victory, only a word is used to separate the men from the boys. That word is maturity. This is a big word. You can not buy it or pretend it or read about it. It has to be the real thing. Then you emerge from the emotional chaos and you know as surely as you know you have grown to your full physical height, that you can handle yourself like a man. The trend today is not always to fight this conflict within yourself. It has become rather common to seek aid in some form of therapy. My feelings on this are very strong and definite. Therapy, analysis, confession are absolutely the greatest boon to mankind since the wheel. It can also be blight. If when you grow up you decide to hate us, hate us in truth, for the resentments that may have been built up, or the disillusionment that sometimes come to children about their parents (I pray this will not be so.) Do not however hate us to cover up your own inadequacies. Aside from the fact that it will hurt us deeply, it will hurt you more when you awaken to the truth.

Being parents, I feel does not entitle us to blind love. If parents hurt a child this is a double hurt, and most times unhealable. We will try our best not to let this happen. I do not believe that parents and love are synonymous. I hope we will be worthy of you love and respect when you are adults.



American Royalty- Betty Boop was my Aunt

by RQ on December 15, 2012










It’s true. Betty Boop was my father’s sister.  Let’s call her Aunt Mae for the purposes of this blog. Google Mae Questel and you get 169,000 results. Looks like Betty, sounds like Betty, must be Betty. Check it out yourself.

Betty Boop was a mythical figure in America. She was every where – still is. When Aunt Mae was 17 and living in the South Bronx (like J-Lo) she won a local contest to find the girl who most resembled Helen Kane, a popular singer known as the “Boop-Oop-A-Doop Queen”.  Betty Boop’s creator Max Fleischer heard Aunt Mae doing her “boop-oop-a-doop” routine and hired her to do the character’s voice in 1931. She was the voice on more than 150 Betty Boop cartoons. Aunt Mae dusted Betty off at one more time, at age 80, after a nearly 50-year hiatus, to do Betty Boop for Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988).

Bless her heart. She was also the voice of “Olive Oyl” in the Popeye’s cartoons, as well as the toddler Swee’pea. Aunt Mae was the matchmaker, Mrs. Strakosh, in Barbra Streisand‘s film Funny Girl (1968), but you probably know her best as Aunt Bethany in 1989′s National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacationor as the mother in the sky in Woody Allen‘s New York Stories in the 1989 segment titled “Oedipus Wrecks.”

Her recording of “On The Good Ship Lollipop” sold more than 2 million copies during the Depression. Imagine that, in The Depression.

Aunt Mae was always a larger than life figure in our family’s lives. She lived on 68th street and Madison Avenue in New York City. When I was growing up she came to my second grade class at P.S. 40 on 19th street and Second Avenue to do all the voices for the entire school in the auditorium. (Do people still use that word?) Anyway, that was a good day. Nobody knew where those voices came from: they came from Aunt Mae. When I was 18 I took a girl to Betty Boop cartoon Festival at one of the art theaters in Greenwich village and I asked “do you get a discount if your related to Betty?” He replied in perfect New York wise guy “Who are you, Billy Boop?” I paid full price.

Aunt Mae always brought sparkle into our lives in a way that nothing else could. It was our secret until we revealed it. There was something cool about that, like surprise, “I know the Wizard of OZ”. We were always so proud of Aunt Mae. In 1968, the City of Indianapolis honored her with a “Mae Questel Day”. Now that’s something you don’t hear every day! This is a clip of her singing “Don’t Take My Boop-Oop-A-Doop Away” with Rudy Vallee.

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Ellen and Roger in Brazil 2002

When we were adopting our beautiful girls from Brazil we were held at gunpoint for four hours at a dear friends house. Here is a link to an interview with my wife Ellen and I as well as our diary of the night.

The Robbery

Monday, March 11, 2002

Campinas Brazil.

Sunday March 10th we were up all night on the plane traveling from New York to Sao Paulo. Ellen had three seats. She won the toss, but I would have given them to her anyway. I scrunched up on two seats, sleeping fitfully for an hour at a time. God bless the tranquilizers.

We arrived in Sao Paulo an hour late, around 11 a.m. Somehow we were the very last people through customs, and Bob was beginning to worry. We greeted Bob’s warm presence with relief after recalling so many exhausted hours marching around the Sao Paulo airport between the morning arrival and the afternoon flight to Florianapolis. I really thought we had it figured out. Straight to Bob’s house for a rest before resuming our journey to Criciumma the next day.

Bob’s house in Campinas is about an hour away from the Sao Paulo airport. It’s a pretty highway after leaving the city limits. The entrance to Bobs house is a surprisingly long dirt road heavily damaged by the rains. Bob takes this road at twice the speed I would in Vermont, but then again, he must use it many times a day in order to function. He later informed me he is not allowed to fix the road, as it does not belong to his land.

All at once the road levels out and we are at the stone pillars and closed metal gates of Bob’s estate. A very large retired coffee plantation, with a beautiful river running through it.

We drive up to a grand old farmhouse surrounded by a furnished veranda. Six dogs greet you at the car, a big black lab, two small sheared beige poodles and three fine medium mutts. On the porch are canaries, parakeets and a grumpy old parrot that tell the dogs to “GO OUTSIDE”. He bites. Inside, high ceilings, beautiful old furnishings and paintings, a stocked bar complete with ice, and a fine formal dining room. Really, a visitors dream.

Bob’s mother, Evelyn, is a fine spirited woman in her 70”s. A very gracious, straight  forward Brazilian/Scottish Kathryn Hepburn type speaking perfect English with a slight British or Scottish clip. Bob’s son Victor, now 12, is a tall (5 ft.), handsome and a perfect gentleman, albeit a little shy, greets us at the car with a hug and an offer to carry our bags. Vera and Tom, both six, two bright-eyed coffee beans view us from the veranda with typical curiosity. Both are adorable, both never stop moving. Tom is a ball of fire –shot out of a cannon. They are affectionate and loveable, understand English but refuse to speak it. Unless of course they think they need to like when Tom whispered to me ”come into my room and I’ll show you something”.

We had drinks on the veranda, exchanged gifts and banter until a late lunch, 2-3 o’clock, of rice, beans, salad, steak and, I believe, banana crumble. It was great. We then rested in our room, which is the first room on the left. Bob’s and Victors room – very gracious people. The afternoon slipped by shopping for a cell phone inCampinas, so Aline could reach us. Around 8 pm we were called to a typical light Brazilian dinner of rolls, butter, cheese, cold cuts, juice etc. Just lovely and relaxing.

Around 8:30 two masked figures literally jump through the window (about 4’ off the ground outside), one with an old rifle, one a revolver like the N.Y.C. policemen use. The rifleman wears a black ski mask, the other a green horror mask from a monster Halloween costume. Ellen, thinking it’s Victor acting in the very height of older brother-scare your siblings-bad taste, yells “that’s not funny, that’s scary”.  I must admit, I thought the same thing even though Victor was sitting right next to me. Our brains simply couldn’t conceive of the true reality of the situation in the first instant. My first clue was Vera’s crying face as she headed to Bob seeking comfort.

Everybody froze as they screamed at Bob “where are your guns, where are your guns”. Bob said “ I have no guns in the house”. Naturally, they called him a liar. They swung the rifle around pointing it at Victor and I, yelling in Portuguese.  Ellen reacted unconsciously and screamed “put the gun down” or something to that effect. It worked, he pointed the rifle to the ceiling to avoid hysteria.

I said ‘No fahla Portuguese” and they were surprised and asked Bob who we were. Bob replied “Americans” .”why”. ”here to adopt children”. ”to sell their hearts and kidneys in America”. We were all glued to the dining room table. They told me to look down. Three other gunman arrive, one with his t-shirt wrapped around his head as a mask, and a large gut hanging over his belt like a pork roast. They all have a dishelved dirty appearance. I notice the green mask fellow’s fly is open with his shirttails sticking out. They are around 20 years old, clearly poor, very pumped up and looking for a fight. Nervous, dark and dirty.

They remove Bob from the dining room table for a long time. I slide Victor’s chair over to mine and put my arm around him. Vera is sobbing into Evelyn’s arms. Tom is asleep. Ellen’s eyes meet mine from across the table and expressed deadly seriousness, to serious to risk a message. Twice they took Evelyn out and Vera leaped into Ellen’s arms. Ellen shielded her eyes form the villains.

Later, I find out this is an inside job. Probably a disgruntled employee fired for stealing. They know everything about the house. The whereabouts of the safe, when Bob’s sister is coming home with the pick-up truck, everything. They weren’t expecting two Americans in the house-a hefty cash bonus plus our things.

They have taken Bob to the safe and to ransack the house with a guide. They may have been gone 40 minutes or so but really it is impossible to tell. In retelling the story Bob informs me that they found an old gun in the safe from his grandfather. The black ski mask calls him a liar, put three bullets in the chamber and threatens to play Russian roulette. This is instead of just killing him because “he is a brave man and I don’t like to kill brave men”. The green mask says “no”. They empty the safe and untold other rooms before returning to the dining room. Naturally, none of us are ever alone.

But what about my feelings. Was I scared. Yes, but I felt like some crazy mechanism of survival kept my brain from the adrenaline or a rapid heart rate or the true fear of dying that night. I found I was able to think about it all, but was not possessed by it. I noticed Ellen didn’t cry or looked freaked out. Everybody stayed calm. Especially Bob who did all the talking.

Upon retuning, they asked where my money was. They grabbed Ellen and I to go to our bedroom to search our things. Bob came along to translate. The green mask held my t-shirt tight around my neck with his gun in my back down the long hallway to the bedroom. I gave them my wallet and pocket cash. They yelled for American dollars. I had a zipper pocket in my knapsack with about $100.00 U.S.for arrival in J.F.K. after the trip. They screamed for more. I decided there was no point in trying to salvage a hidden cache of money. The more money they felt they had the sooner they might leave.

We rifled through Ellen’s purse and found a couple of thousand dollars U.S.I didn’t know Ellen had other stashes. They later found them and got angry with us, threatening to kill Bob for lying. Bob pointed out that they had the purse the whole time. The commenced to emptying our suitcases on the floor and refill them with things they intended to take.

By the way , when Bob returned to the dining room he had his sister Irene in tow. She arrived by pick-up truck. I didn’t know who she was and thought she must have been asleep in another room, perhaps a maid.

The robbers were unprofessional and goofy. They asked if my sneakers were men’s or women’s, they tried them on and took them. They took any of my clothes that were nicely folded-dress shirts reserved for the judge, creased pants etc., leaving my collection of shorts and black t-shirts on the floor. All watches, cameras, jewelry, palm pilots, suitcases, pens and pencils were taken. They took  a pair of antique earring that Ellen was wearing. They took all of Bob shirts and underwear.  They rode the exercise bike in the room like children. They found some mentos candy and the green mask offered Ellen one. Is it drugs or candy? Was he trying to be nice. Ellen wanted the film from her camera, but I whispered not to engage them in any way. She couldn’t help herself regarding a glass bead necklace she had as a gift for Giki- “it’s not worth anything” she blurted out and they left it. It takes strength to imagine a future at that moment, which is why Ellen wanted the necklace…for our friend Giki.

It was totally insane, objects everywhere. “What’s this, what’s that , how much is it worth, LIAR, it’s worth more.” Finally we were returned to the dining room and herded onto two small couches and a chair. It’s been about two hours at this point. They are getting sloppier and sloppier. Some of the guns are lowered or put into their belts. They are eating yogurt and cookies, but they have also discovered the Jack Daniels and beer. This was very worrisome for me as I know that it creates a different kind of courage. Thank God the girls weren’t with us or Bob’s beautiful teenage niece, who we met the following day, to create an even worse scenario. The dogs, save the poodles were locked up. The poodles huddled in our laps.

We were there for a long time. They even sat across from us and began to chat with Bob. We all tried to keep Evelyn cool, she wanted to tell them off. She hid jewelry in her shoe and under her seat. She is tough and unafraid of a fight, saying things like ”that’s my grandchild’s breakfast you’re eating”. There were many times while sitting there that they were far enough away from me to bolt out the open door, about 8 ft. away. But to what end. No resources, no plan-were there more of them out there?

Is it possible we would die without taking action or would taking action cause us to die. Thoughts of a good life passed through my mind. Hard work, a good marriage and many friends that would step up and take care of Aline. In many ways I was ready to go… I found that fascinating.

Bob implored them to leave, and they said “what’s the hurry”. They threatened to take Victor or Tom as a hostage. I’m sure it would have turned violent then. Little Tom slept through the whole thing on a couch shared with Ellen and I. We were sitting there for an hour while the others loaded the truck when I heard the magic words “emborha”…. Lets go.

Now they wanted a room to lock us in. Bob remembered a basement room with the safe and old beds in it. We were all herded outside and down stairs and into a 10’ x  20’ room filled with simple beds and a small window with bars. There were lights and it was clean, not the dark, dank basement from the movies. Renewed fears of guns going off in the final hour plagued me.

They warned us not to scream or try to get out for an hour. Nobody wanted to give them an excuse to shoot us. After about 15 minutes I heard the truck and Bob’s car pull away. The euphoria was unimaginable. The words “they left” kept reverberating through my mind. For me, the hour passed in 5 minutes, a mantra of “they left” echoing in my brain. Nobody panicked. We were alive. Better then alive. They left. We survived.

Every time I went near the small window with bars, everyone said “sit down, get back, not yet”. The bars were soft steel and the cement softer. With about three minutes effort the first bar came loose and I bent it out of place. Bob and I attacked the second bar together in half that time. Victor slid his lithe body out the window returning with the key. He handed the key through the window and we opened the door. Liberation.

We all talked about having a stiff drink and I honestly don’t know if anyone did. I went for the guarana. The house was a wreck. It was past midnight when we began to clean up. No one could sleep. We straightened up until about 2 or 3 in the morning, making new discoveries of things lost and things found, eventually finding the courage to go to sleep.

I don’t know when Bob said it, maybe on the small couches during the robbery , maybe the next day…”we are really brothers now”. Evelyn quickly chimed in “and you must call me mother”. So in the end it was we who were adopted by a fine and noble family. The next morning, to hugs and kisses we were formally introduced to Irene.









In 1965 New York City went dark. Weather was never a factor. The electric company, a monopoly called Con Edison, just screwed up. The thing is, the word terrorism was not in fashion until November 2004, when a United Nations Secretary Generalreport described terrorism as any act “intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants with the purpose of intimidating a population”.(Wikipedia).

The fear of attack was not in the air. Even the word sabotage, a much more romantic concept, was missing from the media. And with no electricity, there was no media, just the good old newspapers the next day. There were no cell phones so it was really quite common to be out of touch with you family. I was a boy and it was an adventure. We just enjoyed the ride.

New York was a less complicated place than the city hit by Sandy last week. Before Soho was Soho (south of Houston, by the way), and Tribeca was Tribeca  (triangle below Canal), Lower Manhattan was an exotic nether zone of Chinatown, Little Italy,  the meat-packing district  and many unknowable streets with names like Peck Slip that didn’t conform to the grid.Nobody lived down there. It was Wall Street and warehouses.  But the beat went on. It was a straggly magical night for a boy of 12. Mysterious yet familiar. The streets had cars but no lights. The glow of the city was muted and we navigated by boyish instinct, loving every minute. The impossible was happening and we were wondering around in it.

But as the expression goes, “come hell or high water” New York City never stopped. The bridges and tunnels never closed, the subway ran in the worst storms and the taxis were always out in force. Evacuation was unheard of.

Experiencing the passage of time via new technologies like television, air travel, cell phones is one thing, experiencing the evolution of Mother Nature is quite another. It’s the second time in two years that lower Manhattan was evacuated. I don’t know about” hell”, but I believe” high water” has come and times have indeed changed.


Halloween: Jonny Depp stole My Outfit

by RQ on October 30, 2012

It was Halloween 1975. I was at Vassar College and a group of girls dressed me up as a bearded lady, pierced ears and all.

Flash forward 20 years and I walk past this poster of Captain Jack Sparrow wearing my costume. I was trying to figure out why it look so familiar. This photo survived “old school”- a 3 x 5 print, born of Film. That was the stuff we used to stick inside the camera.

Ugh… I still think he wears to much eyeliner!


Handmade signs in Santorini: Marketing 101

by socadmin on October 25, 2012

Hand made signs are one of my favorite things to photograph while traveling. Advertising, the internet, data mining be damned. This is someone trying to tell you something with precious little guile.

These three are from a small town  on the island of Santorini in Greece.  Rent a room, eat a meal and my particular favorite COFFEE, written on a rock. Everything was hot, bright  and silent. Coffee was the last thing you needed but I applaud the effort to generate sales.  Eat Local!

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How to Hide in Pottery Barn

by socadmin on October 25, 2012

Once a year these little beauties present themselves everywhere here in Vermont. Its always a treat when you happen to be out that day and see them. The poetry of it all is this: it is a young salamander in the terrestrial stage until it transforms back to an aquatic stage. I read that in Wikipedia. What they did not say is that Salamanders also blend beautifully in Pottery Barn’s latest color scheme.

Orange Salamander in terrestrial stage

Terrestrial stage back to the aquatic stage. That means there is still hope for us to go back to the sea and become dolphins again. I sure hope so. All this building and fighting caused simply by having an opposable thumb is over rated, over amped and getting just plain ugly.

The dolphins brains are the same size as ours and they don’t build cities, don’t fight wars and have a lot more sex.

So here’s hoping we can get back to the aquatic stage sooner rather than later!


Vermont Foliage: Makes You want To Go To Church

by socadmin on October 25, 2012

White church in a valley in colorful foliage in vermont

Its fall in Vermont and I passed this church in the a valley yesterday. New England is alive with golds, reds and browns. Somehow it opens the senses and, in my case, the heart. The first aromas of wood smoke fill the air. It’s a good time to be a bit chilly and leave your car windows open. Vermont is turning your watch back 30 years. Town meetings, general stores that open at 5:30 AM for coffee and lights out at 9.

There are only ½ million people in this state – more cows than people. This valley is not unusual, it’s just the way it is here. Come visit.. you wont regret it.


Which Way To the Palace: Blenheim Palace

by socadmin on October 25, 2012

While visiting the London Design Festival in September I took a side trip to Oxford, to visit a dear friend. We went to see the ancestral home of Winston Churchill, Blenheim Palace, home to the 11th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough and birthplace, literally, of little Winston himself.  Blenheim Palace has countless rooms and unimaginable furnishings and gardens all sitting on 2000 manicured acres. The museum was the modern architecture of the day, circa 1705, and beneath the tapestries and paintings there were indeed some clean lines and elegant unadorned moldings. I love these places that speak of slow careful building. They make modern architecture seem like fast food. But I also have a love for a good misplaced, or ill-conceived sign. In the context of the palace this was a beauty.


The Vermont Solution

by socadmin on October 23, 2012

I couldn’t resist this sign as I rode past on my bike this summer. I thought the photo might be handy for parents with kids acting out. Pull this up on your phone and say:” this is what they do up North…”

For those of you out of touch with country living a kid is a baby goat. Very cute.