Condiment days

Standard

I call summer my condiment days because it’s the season of catch-up. As you know or would know if you had a copy of B. E. Gent’s A New Dictionary of the Terms Ancient and Modern of the Canting Crew, In its Several Tribes, of Gypsies, Beggers, Thieves, Cheats, c. with An Addition of Some Proverbs, Phrases, Figurative Speeches, c. Useful for all sorts of People (especially Foreigners) to secure their Money and preserve their Lives; besides very Diverting and Entertaining, being wholly New, the sauce known to us as ketchup or catsup first appeared in 1690 as catchup. As far as I remember, which is not very far considering that the length of my brain in just 167 mm or 6.5 inches, I have always dipped my French fries in the condiment that starts with “k.” I attribute this to my mother’s fear of cats and their propensity to jump on the table and lick the butter. She shuddered thinking about cats up on the table, so she always bought ketchup.

Lil_Bub_2013

Courtesy of Iamlilbub

(Just in case you’ve mislaid your copy of the dictionary mentioned above, go here. But don’t go yet or you will never return to finish reading this post. You may have already decided not to continue reading after that remark about catsup on the table. If so, thank you for reading the first paragraph.)

From B.E. Gent's dictionary

From B.E. Gent’s dictionary

School owns me for about 10 months of the year, so I have some catching up to do on my housecleaning. For most of the year, I clean at see-level: what I can see without moving any furniture or appliances. I shorten cleaning time by removing my glasses or contacts once I’m in the house. A quick wipe here, and little dusting there, and everything looks fine. Lens-free, I see my house through a soft blur, much like a painting by Monet or Renoir. It’s only when I get down on my hands and knees that I see the luminous line along the edge of the baseboard behind the bed and nightstands is actually a collection of dust bunnies.

 

For the past two semesters I’ve had little chance to lie around the house, but my dead skin cells have made a habit of it. Cells that once served a purpose have since sloughed off and gathered in tiny cemeteries beneath the furniture, on the ledges, and atop the light fixtures. It seems almost sacrilege to disturb my dead self parts by vacuuming, but according to one of the biologists on the Arizona State University website, an hour after I’m done, I will shed about 30,000 to 40,000 more skin cells to replace them. If only there were fat cells, but I suppose that would make the floors slippery.

Feather duster courtesy of Robert E Rempher

Feather duster courtesy of Robert E Rempher

Last week I began scrubbing in the kitchen and plan to move slowly through the house, cleaning and shedding as I go. Catching up also includes gardening and preparing for the summer class I teach in July, as well as chasing after my writing projects, which keep getting away from me. I plan to complete at least one piece of writing this summer because I have fewer and fewer summers in my future. Like so many others, I want to leave behind more than just dead skin cells.

Dear Miss Spelling and her moods

Standard

Some moods are easy to spell. Others, not so much.

 

Look closely at the word angry. Smack dab in the middle of “any” is the growling “gr-r-r” sound you make when you’re mad. Any little denial like being told no chocolate before dinner or no tying your little brother to the ceiling fan to see if he can fly is enough to make any child angry. Denial is the river children are constantly being thrown into, so remembering how to spell angry is the orthographic equivalent of dog-paddling.

 

Courtesy of the grandchild

Grandchild Art

By the age of six or seven, a child has learned the grammar of the language, how to hide Lego pieces so cleverly only the bare foot of a parent can find them, and the delicate art of whining until one or both parents must choose between insanity or giving in to the child’s demands. These skills give a child confidence, and when you’re confident, it’s easy to remember how to spell the word. See the little “I” standing in the middle of the word flexing those tiny little biceps?

 

Courtesy of the grandchild

Grandchild Art

Then consider that birthdays know just one adjective and shout it out every chance they get. Unlike other special days like Valentine’s Day or Labor Day, which have the good sense to limit their celebrations to one time a year, birthdays happen every single day of the year. Receive enough birthday cards and you’ll never forget those five happy letters.

Grandchild Art

Grandchild Art

Even its antonym sad is memorable. It starts off with that soft “s-s-s” which is the start of a child’s every sniff and snivel. Next is the short sound of “a,” which is not only the first sound the mouth makes to bite into the word apple, but is the only vowel needed to cry out “Ack!” once the child discovers half of a worm in the part not yet eaten.

Grandchild Art

Grandchild Art

Being frustrated is something altogether different. There are levels. Maybe the small person can’t find the talking dog with the annoying bark which mommy accidentally hid in the basement. Okay, a clever child will still be able to spell the word. But what happens when the innocent goes to school and comes face to face with a language that has over half a million words. The student eagerly learns a few spelling rules, and then discovers the lie about the so-called rules. A spelling rule is like the speed limit – most words ignore it. Words disguise themselves in letters like false moustaches and ill-fitting toupés, so the child has no way of knowing who they are and what they sound like. That level of deceit could make anyone frushteraded.

Grandchild Art

Grandchild Art

No longer trusting the teacher, the child looks at a spelling word, saying it over and over until he or she falls down the rabbit hole, where the word turns strange, an object never seen before. And is so often the case, what the teacher calls a silent “e” or magic “e” (but what the child knows should be called sullen “e”) sits in the corner of a word saying nothing, mouth agape, staring back with a blank look. That’s makes a child feel not only werde, but also terrified of using an “e.” Once the sense of “e’s” is lost, one experiences the horror felt by the truly scard.

 

Grandchild Art

Grandchild Art

Grandchild Art

Grandchild Art

At first, sound-shifting letters such as “g” and “c” may merely baffle a child. One day they speak softly to the child telling tales of giraffes and circuses. The next day it’s all goblins and cannibals. Over time, the inconsistency and inability to rely on the sounds lead to such a level of disgust that the child can only express the feeling as dicustid.

 

Grandchild Art

Grandchild Art

Spelling in English is a map drawn half with comprehensible and sensible words and half in runes, or possibly ruins, with unhelpful signposts that cheerfully tell you to follow the road called “I before E, except after C.” Along that very road you notice signs for towns named Feisty Pines, Seize de Dayville, or Yurso Vein. A few children will find the map useful, follow the map, and end up in a spelling bee. The rest will end up at a crosswords with a sign in one corner marked Too, Two, and To, and a sign in another marked There, Their, and They’re. It’s enough to exhaust a grownup. Imagine a small child so spent, he or she can barely speak let along spell, too weary to know where the sullen “e” goes, so it’s pushed to the end of the word because that’s where it so often sulks, leaving just the I of the small child’s self lost in the middle of tirde.

 

Grandchild Art

Grandchild Art

 

 

Phases of the moon

Standard

Once I was a new moon, unseen, hidden in the dark universe of my mother’s womb. As she fed on the sun, swallowing sunlight silently gathered by plants, I grew into a small sliver of a crescent moon – a mere curl of the girl I would be.

Phase-040

Waxing day by day, more of me could be seen – small hands, feet, and face slowly revealed from the soft tissue, while the bones, pliable as new twigs, lengthened. Mother hid her lunate shape until I increased and she felt my orbit. When I reached the first quarter phase, her belly mirrored me.

Phase-088

For some length of days, I waxed gibbous within and her universe expanded. She knew my time would come soon.

Phase-134

When she could eat no more light, I shone through her, a full moon making my own self visible.

Phase-168

We women belong to the moon, following her cycle through the sky, waxing and waning through our lives. In this way the world is born again and again.

Phase-224

I have waxed full in my spin around the world, and despite an empty universe of a womb, I have had two full moons orbit my life.

Phase-265

Now I wane, and this phase – my last quarter – is almost spent.

 

Once I was full of light, but now so much is hidden. I follow the path forward, shrinking my way home in the dark night under the starshine, In the early morning hours, curled upon my bed, a small crescent shape beneath the covers, I wait and wonder about that final phase when I am too new to be seen.

Phase-327

 

 

Photos courtesy of Jay Tanner on Creative Commons

Waxing crescent: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Phase-040.jpg
First quarter: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Phase-088.jpg
 Waxing gibbous: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Phase-134.jpg
 Full moon: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Phase-168.jpg
 Waning gibbous: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Phase-224.jpg
 Last quarter: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Phase-265.jpg
Waning crescent:http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Phase-327.jpg

My non-imaginary friend

Standard

I never had an imaginary friend as a child because I had a non-imaginary friend that I could talk to anytime and anywhere, my very own self.

11586026226_f126b98a17_o

As I’ve grown older, my inner dialog has morphed into an outer dialog. I feel the need to tell myself out loud what I’m going to do next, just in case I have forgotten. “Okay, first I’ll make coffee and eat breakfast, read the news online, and then take a walk.”

 

I also enjoy asking myself questions, especially while driving. “Can you believe that idiot cut in front of me?” I’ll ask myself. After I respond with a few choice words, I commiserate with myself and respond, “You poor thing. It’s a curse to have the unsought-for gift of turning into an idiot magnet once you get behind the wheel of a car.” I talk to myself a lot in the car because idiots from around the state are compelled to get in their cars to drive the same roads I am on just to get a glimpse, a very close glimpse, of me.

 

Home is where I talk to myself the most. While cleaning the base of the toilet, I ask myself out loud, “Who in their right mind uses toilet anchor bolt covers that pop off and require superglue to attach? Why don’t they use screw-on caps?” I ask myself that question every time I wipe the base of the toilet, knock off those little plastic covers and watch them roll behind the toilet. Only someone who never cleans a toilet could design something like that.

install-toilet-install-step5

On occasion I use the mirror to role-play another person who needs to be told off. I rehearse a brilliant conversation in which I use my incisive reasoning skills and devastating humor to reveal their stupidity, callousness, or delusion, leaving the person duly chastised and at a loss for words in the face of my wisdom and oratorical skills. Sometimes I wear sunglasses when I do this because my brilliance can be blinding.

 

Once I have given the person a piece of mind, I can walk away knowing that I saved another piece of my mind, which would otherwise have been lost. At my age, you need to hang onto every single piece you have. I’ve lost quite a bit of my mind over the years, so I know what I’m talking about. Or at least I think I do.

 

I even talk in public when I think I am alone. If I have already begun talking out loud and notice someone within earshot, I hum and mumble made-up words to a real or imaginary song, so the person who got shot in the ear with my self-talk will think I’m merely singing to myself. Most people feel cordial to those who sing to themselves in public, judging them to have pent-up musical talent that can’t be contained. People who talk to themselves in public, on the other hand, are more likely to have just one talent: being crazy. And they themselves need to be contained.

 

Frequently when I’m in conversation with myself in my head or out loud, I remind myself of funny things that have happened, so I start laughing. If people carry their ears within hearing range, I pretend that laughter is part of the song that I was singing, which is harder than you think.

 

My repertoire of songs that include laughter is limited to four from my youth. All appeared in the 1960s. The first one, Wipe Out by The Surfaris, is instrumental with just one word, the title. Humming, laughing, and shouting out “Wipe Out!” alarms most people, however, so I avoid that one. Another one I’m reluctant to use is They’re Coming to Take Me Away by Napoleon XIV because I think they really would. The Beatles recorded the last two that I remember: I Am the Walrus and Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da. Both have that LSD-authored quality of the decade. No matter how smoothly I segue into any of these songs though, the people around me get that look of panic that movie characters get when they hear a door open in the abandoned house they’ve gone to investigate alone, with no weapon or phone, because they suspect a serial killer might be hiding there, and it seemed like a good idea at the time, in spite of an entire theater full of people yelling at them to turn back.

 

I understand. I’ve been there myself. Not in an abandoned house looking for a serial killer, but walking near a person who is chatting away in a robust voice, but with phone-free hands. I’ve been convinced and alarmed that the person was deep in a self-argument until I carefully circled around and noticed the person wearing one of those Bluetooth earpieces.

Bluetooth_headset

I’m not much of a phone-talker and have never wanted an earpiece, but I think I might need one. When you’re long in the tooth and have the habit of talking to yourself in an audible voice, it’s best to have at least one tooth that’s blue. Of course, I won’t connect the earpiece to my phone; I wouldn’t want anyone to call and interrupt my conversations with myself.

 

Photos: 
Painting from Sally Ann  
Anchor bolt cover from Lowes
Bluetooth earpiece from Wikimedia

 

 

Frequently Not Asked Questions: Seven

Standard

Is it safe for children to watch Curious George on PBS Kids online?

 

Curiously, if you had asked me that last week, I would have answered yes. But after a shocking conversation with my grandchild, I would have to answer with an unequivocal “not-yes” or perhaps “not-no.”

 

Not-yes and not-no represent the infinite number of answers that fall between no and yes. This includes not only vocal responses such as maybe, not exactly, possibly, but also gestures such as a shoulder shrug, a humph, and a side-mouthed tsk.

 

Why “not-yes” and not yes, or “not-no” and not no? I’m afraid I can’t answer that because Frequently Not Asked Questions addresses only one question at time. Please try to remember that as we continue.

 

George, the monkey on the back of the man with the yellow hat, is curious, and as you know or should know, curiosity killed the cat. What most people, don’t know is that it was saturated fat that killed the cat. Had you been privileged to be raised by my mother, you would know that cats live only to jump on the table and lick the butter. Any time the subject of cats came up in a family discussion, my mother would snort softly, shake her head, and say, “You can’t trust them. The minute you turn your back, they jump on the table and lick the butter.”

 

Courtesy of Wikimedia.

Courtesy of Wikimedia.

We lived in a cat-free home but never left any uncovered butter on the table or counter. In fact, we used mostly margarine, but mother was convinced that should a cat be allowed in the house, it would lick all our butter leaving vegetables with nothing to swim in. I never doubted her wisdom and when I heard the warning “Curiosity killed the cat,” I imagined a curious cat atop a table, licking butter until its arteries clogged with fat and it died.

 

I have nothing against George for being curious, as long as he stays off the table and away from the butter. But if what my grandchild told me is true, I fear something much, much worse from George than butter-licking.

 

My grandchild spent a morning with me last weekend and talked with me as I took the clothes out of the dryer. When I bent down to take the dryer lint out, I heard words that filled my heart with dread and despair. “Grandma, don’t throw the dryer lint out; we can make something with it. I saw it on Curious George.”

Dryer_lint_screen

Protect your loved ones. Dryer lint is a gateway craft. Picture courtesy of BD2412. Creative Commons.

 

I read aloud every Curious George book ever written by Margret and H.A. Rey four or five thousand times when my daughters were growing up, and I know for sure that they never mentioned dryer lint crafts. If they had, I would have burned every one of their books.

 

Crafting with dryer lint never ends well. Once the thrill of dryer lint is gone, these crafters begin to crawl under beds looking for dust bunnies; then they begin sweeping dresser dust into paper bags to make papier-mâché. It’s not long before they begin saving belly button lint for collages. Fingernail clipping mosaics are next, followed by collected hair found in brushes spun into yarn for itchy boleros. Unless someone intervenes, they will be found stark naked in the bathroom, standing on a piece of paper to collect their own dead skin cells to use as snow dust on ornaments to give to grandparents for Christmas. I would rather my grandchild just jump on the table and lick the butter than begin dryer lint crafting.

 

What should you do? Again, please don’t ask any more questions. It’s annoying.

 

In my search on the PBS Kids website I failed to discover a link to the craft my grandchild mentioned, which proves to me and others who have searched for elephants with pedicures that the craft is hidden somewhere on the site. As you know if you have children or grandchildren, elephants paint their toenails red in order to hide in cherry trees. Over your life, I’m sure you’ve never seen one in a cherry tree. Actually, no one has yet spotted any elephants in cherry trees, which proves how well it works. Nothing could convince me more that dryer lint crafts are promoted on PBS Kids and Curious George than not being able to find any mention of it.

 

Remember, friends, the road to ruin is covered in lint.

 

 

Close up: Chalome

 

 

Screen: BD2412

 

 

 

 

 

 

Windbreaking news: NBC reveals major cause of climate change

Standard

First, let’s clear up any misunderstandings you have about the difference between weather and climate.

 

This gives you a clue as to where weather comes from. Courtesy of http://gwendolyn12-stock.deviantart.com/art/Sky-Texture-390272597 (NOTE: she provided the picture not the weather)

This gives you a clue as to where weather comes from. Courtesy of http://gwendolyn12-stock.deviantart.com/art/Sky-Texture-390272597 (NOTE: only the picture comes courtesy of her, not the weather)

Weather is one snapshot from your trip to Prairie du Sac for the Bovine Bingo and Cow Chip Throw Festival, climate is the 2-hour video of the event that you sent to your relatives for Christmas this year.

 

Weather is one drop of water in that little drip from your kitchen sink, climate is the water bill you get at the end of the month.

 

Weather is one website that you visit, climate is the history of every website you visit that the NSA keeps, just in case.

 

Weather is one pixel, climate is a collection of those pixels that shows Elvis leaving a Walmart in Pittsburgh.

 

Weather accumulates until it becomes climate. And since it’s left outside day after day, it rusts, which leads to change. Not the paltry amount you find under your couch cushions, but the kind that causes your skin to lose its elasticity. Skin that once covered your thighs now pools around your ankles like an old pair of underpants, but unfortunately you cannot discretely step out of that loose skin and look back in shock wondering who would leave a pair of underpants on the sidewalk, which is a true story about one of my daughters that I try not to tell because it’s…em…barrassing.

 

And what does that have to do with windbreaking news? Be patient, I’m getting there.

 

Climate changes just like you do, and only a tiny handful of the bad changes are your fault, while the majority are other people’s fault. And NBC has finally revealed that a major part of the bad climate changes falls at the feet of the U.S. and China, like an old pair of….dinner rolls.

 

Trust me, I was as surprised as you are at that last statement, but according to the screenshot I took, NBC, typing in the voice of  Jonathan Overpeck, director of the University of Arizona’s Institute of the Environment, clearly states that most of the problems in climate change are due to the “outsized rolls” of China and the U.S. As temperatures rise, these rolls also rise.

Outsized rolls cause climate problems

There are two important takeaways here. First, the initialism for Overpeck’s institute is UAIE. By adding the initial of his last name, we end up with UAIEO. Yes, friends, all the vowels. Clearly, our Dr. Overpeck is involved in vowel play, and while he may fool others, I’m no popover.

 

Second, Dr. Overpeck’s name not only includes the word peck, he prefers to be called Peck. As you know, a peck was traditionally used as a measurement for flour. Rolls need flour, and outsized rolls need more flour, or eerily, over flour. To make matters even more conspiratorial, he went to Brown University for his MSc and Phd. And what do China and the U.S. do with their oversized rolls once they are made? They brown them.

 

Guess which one belongs to the U.S.

Guess which one belongs to the U.S.

What does all this mean? Sadly, your guess is not as good as mine, but don’t be discouraged, keep on guessing. And I’ll keep on doing my part by bringing you windbreaking news like this.

 

 

There’s fun in words

Standard

Literally. You can find fun in words. Like fungus. Maybe you know a guy, and he is fun, so you say he is a fun guy. And if his name is Gus, maybe you say he is one fun Gus.

As you know if you know what’s good for you, fungi rhymes with fun guy. Every time someone uses the other pronunciation that rhymes with fun jai, a dung beetle dies. And do you really want to live in a world without dung beetles? No, because once they are gone, we are in deep doo-doo.

Pilze_2010-09-25-4343

We eat fungi, which are both tasty and sometimes deadly. Fungi live on us and sometimes invade our toes.

Fun Guy: George, you’ve got some fungosity    going there on your toes.
George: You nailed it, Fun Guy. You’ve got onegood eye.

 

You also might have made a go of something fun like bowling blindfolded. Then you could say you made a fun go of it. And if you talked quickly, squeezing those last seven words together because you heard a loud yell after you threw the bowling ball, you would say you made a fungo of it, and it would be true. Or almost true if your bowling ball was just struck by someone’s foot three lanes over, because fungo is baseball talk for striking a ball thrown up in the air. And that means one of two things: you shouldn’t bowl blindfolded no matter how fun it is, or you need to work on your hook.

 

Baseball_swing

The term fungo snuck into the baseball lexicon sometime in the 1880s, probably by climbing over the fence to watch the game. No one knows for sure, except for those people who think they know for sure. Like so many English nouns it has a second career as a verb. So, a person can fungo during practice, or have a coach who thinks fungoing is essential, which in my book is a fungoing coach.

If you think there’s a lot of fun in blindfolded bowling (and frankly, who doesn’t?), you probably think that there’s just as much of it in funambulism, aka tightrope walking. If etymology were done correctly, that fun in funambulism would derive from the word fun, or amusement. We would be left with a fun kind of ambulating, which is a four-syllable way of talking about simple two-syllable walking. However, the Romans lacked the kind of etymological skills that would truly benefit posterity because they spent too much time conquering and slaughtering barbarians to develop much of a sense of humor. In addition, they appeared too early in history to even know about the word fun. This is often true of people who show up too early at a party and then leave before the real party begins.

Highline_Peeto

Courtesy of Philip Bitnar

 

 

In what has to be the worst instance of word origin I’ve run across today, they borrowed that first syllable in funambulism from funis, Latin for rope. In one fell swoop, they cut the rope under my feet, so that instead of enjoying the fun of walking 50 stories high on a thin rope connected to two buildings on a windy day in the Windy City, I’m left trying to walk across a rope. Etymology is such a heartbreaker.

 

If I had more time, and trust me, you are going to be glad I don’t, I could write a ditty, a simple song, about etymology’s betrayals. Of course I would have to make it fun. I’m a positive person and very pro fun, so I would call it a profundity, but I don’t think anyone else would agree.