Words that go back and forth

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Before I learned the meaning of the word “palindrome,” I thought it had something to do with merry-go-rounds. If you repeat the word out loud, you’ll hear those three syllables, stressed-unstressed-unstressed. This kind of metrical foot, called a dactyl, comes from the Greek for “finger,” and in this case it pointed to a carousel and me sitting on a palomino with a wild eye and a dark gold coat. (Both the eye and the coat on the palomino, not me.)

 

Unsurprisingly, I was wrong. A palindrome is a number, word, phrase, or sentence read the same frontward and backward.

 

I don’t remember when I learned what the word actually meant, but I know I have enjoyed reading words backward since I was a young girl. Discovering that star talked back and said rats and that was said saw as soon as it turned its back on you seemed magical and subversive at the same time. If I paid attention, I could find enchanted words all around me able to say two things at the same time, and some of them sassy to boot.

 

People have been palindroming forever, or at least in Latin since the late first century, which seems forever to someone expected to live just eight or so decades. Although the inhabitants of Pompeii disappeared when Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D., the palindrome Sator Arepo Tenet Opera Rotas, known as the Sator Square, remained, scratched on a wall to perplex and delight the archeologists who discovered it and all of us who came after. No one knows exactly what it means, but a number of sites list the meaning as Arepo the sower works with wheels. Even if that’s not the exact meaning, it’s fascinating to see how you can read the words any which way.

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In Greek, palindrome means “running back again,” like an echo or a boomerang that comes whizzing back. The Greeks also wrote using a method called boustrophedon, which means “ox-turning.”

Boustro Oxen

 

In English, we read left to right, line after line, as if we were watching a knife-thrower at the circus. We watch throw after throw until somebody dies or the circus shuts down for the night. In boustrophedon, the Greeks read as if they were at a tennis match, watching the ball served from left to the right, and then hit back from right to the left until somebody won or got ejected from the game. Tennis hadn’t been invented yet, so they used the image of plowing with an ox, moving first down one furrow, then turning around to plow the next row.

If I were to write a blog using that writing method

morf enil tsrif eht gnidaer trats ot evah dluow uoy  

left to right, then turn your plowing eye at the end  

m’I .tfel ot thgir daer ot nigeb dna enil taht fo

afraid you would soon grow tired of it.

Some people find the above paragraph easy to read; others don’t. Of course, that’s true of everything on this blog. But be that as it may or may not, anyone can learn to read words backward. Apparently it’s good for the brain. According to this article at mirrorread.com, it causes new growth of gray matter and increased density. I personally could do with more gray matter, dense or not. I may not have a lot of brains, but people  have often remarked that what I do have is already quite dense; even so, I’m sure if I work on it I can get even denser.

 

So this year, I plan to get as thickheaded as possible, read more in both directions and teach my old ox of a brain new tricks, one furrow at a time.

 

 

Dear Canada, we need to talk

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united-states-canada-mapDear Canada,

 

I like you. Really, I do.

 

I love the way you keep polar bears away from Wisconsin. Few things are as disconcerting as finding a hungry polar bear on your porch when you walk out your front door.

 

I feel a great deal of loyalty to you, too. Probably because when I was younger I drove up the Alcan Highway with my family from Texas to Alaska. That time with you so long ago probably explains that incident a few years ago in France when I committed a fox paw (that unlucky charm of the French, which they spell faux pas). I was so embarrassed, but I smiled sheepishly and said, “Sorry, I’m Canadian.” Honestly, I felt Canadian then, and proud of it.

 

Wisconsin and Canada are close. Maybe not as close as you and Minnesota or some of those other not-Wisconsin states. But that lake between Wisconsin and the part of you known as Ontario has helped the two of you develop what anyone can see is a Superior relationship.

 

I wouldn’t criticize you if you weren’t so close to Wisconsin, but since no one else seems willing to talk to you about it, I feel I have to. It’s your problem of passing wind. Please don’t be offended. Meteorological flatulence is no laughing matter, and it’s difficult to talk about, but we need to have this discussion.

 

Arctic wind, as you know, is powerful stuff. This month, the wind you passed was so cold that people here couldn’t talk when they were outside. Their speech bubbles froze in mid-air and shattered on the ground. We’ve all had to carry axes with us when we go outside. If you walk too slowly, you freeze in place and have to chop yourself free. Many of friends now wear a much smaller shoe size. No one knows how many of the snow mounds dotting the landscape are people who didn’t move fast enough and froze in place. We won’t know until spring. Your wind is so bad that when small children cry, their eyelids freeze shut; then they bump into flagpoles, cry out, and get their tongues stuck. It makes it really hard to raise and lower the flag when that happens.

 

Please, Canada, if you can’t control your meteorological indigestion and you have to pass wind, turn the other cheek and let it rip toward the north.

 

Your friend,

 

Yearstricken for Wisconsin

 

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Seven degrees of separation from busy to lazy

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1_Earth_(blank)Before Walt Disney had the Sherman brothers, Rob and Rick, create the earworm* known as It’s a Small World (After All), the Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy wrote about the small world concept in his short story Chain Links. If you take the time to read the four-page story by clicking on the title, you’ll see how Karinthy is able to establish an association between two people unknown to one another with just two acquaintance links between them, and another pair with four acquaintance links between them.

 

Most people today attribute the idea of six degrees of separation to Karinthy. According to the 6° of separation theory, every human being is connected to every other human being by six or fewer links (friends or acquaintances) between them. In its various iterations, the concept now includes Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, a game connecting every Hollywood actor, ham or otherwise, to Kevin Bacon in the required six or fewer links. Go here to test it out.

 

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If the SDS theory is true, we are all just six or fewer acquaintance links from Pope Francis, Macklemore, your crazy neighbor, and every terrorist on the face of the earth. This is good news for the acronym known as NSA (National Snooping Agency / No Secrets Allowed), because the theory can justify snooping on all of us. We are all guilty by association. Of course, the national acronym shows some restraint, restricting its snoops to three degrees of separation for persons of interest. Or so they say.

Someone is watching all your links.

Someone is watching all your links.

What does this have to do with busy and lazy? Back in the old days of crossword puzzle books, I used to play a word game in which you had to start with one word and end up with another by changing one letter of the word in a designated number of steps. I thought of this the other day when I realized how I seem to alternate between busy and lazy. So I started a word list and discovered the two states are separated by seven degrees of separation.

 

I start out BUSY, and all that frantic effort leaves me BUSHed. Tired and frustrated, I begin to BASH my head against the wall and LASH out at some of the people around me. Then I withdraw and build a flimsy retreat of LATHs. Confined by a cage built by my own hands, I postpone what I am supposed to do and find I am LATE for deadlines and for completing my well-laid plans. Once that happens, I lose focus and begin to LAZE around. That hammock-like verb leads to LAZY (hours wasted staring at moving objects on my computer screen).

It looks something like this:

busy

bush

bash

lash

lath

late

laze

lazy

What does this all mean? And why do I keep starting paragraphs with questions? I don’t really know, so I’ll make something up. First, words and how they are spelled can be linked. I like that because I enjoy words and wordplay. Second, ideas can be linked, for example, Frigyes Karinthy’s chain links and Kevin Bacon’s cinema links. Someone clearly needs to discover the links between toilet paper and nuclear fission, as well as vaccines and peanut butter. And I could be that someone if only moving from lazy to busy were as easy as moving from busy to lazy.

 

*Earworm = A song or musical phrase that 
burrows into your head to consume part of yourbrain. The earworm extracts tiny bits of 
sanity, extruding addle, which causes you to
become addle-brained. An ear worm can also 
make bad words come out of your mouth.

 

Photos courtesy of Wikimedia:   Big chain link     Earth

 

Love, marriage, and freezing weather

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Courtesy of the Commons.

The best way to avoid cold weather is to be careful who* you marry. My husband and I met and married overseas, and the fact that he was from Wisconsin didn’t seem important at the time. I visited the state once before we wed, but it was summer, the season that makes you believe anything is possible. I won’t say I was deceived, but I will hint at it. When we lived overseas, I told my husband repeatedly that I would never, never live in Wisconsin because it was too cold in the winter.

 

And I meant it. It is too cold in the winter. Although Wisconsin boasts that it has four seasons, it really has two: winter and springsummerfall. They both last about six months. And while it’s true that the last one, the non-winter season, can almost make you believe Wisconsin is God’s country; in winter, it turns into God’s icebox.

 

It’s common knowledge that everything is bigger in Texas, my home state, but I’m here to tell you the uncommon truth: it aint so. The winters in Wisconsin are way bigger than the winters in Texas. Winter there is a little bitty bunny that burrows in your yard for the season and plans to eat the bark around the saplings in your yard. Winter in Wisconsin is a great big old polar bear that lives on your front porch and plans to eat you.

 

You can’t tame a polar bear. They fear you about as much as you fear a rib eye steak or Texas brisket. So what can you do?  Here are two tips to help you stay alive in winter if you accidentally marry someone from Wisconsin:

 

  1. Avoid going outside.
  1. If you must go out, don’t.

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*Yes, it should be whom. No, I do not plan to change it. Maybe the war is over.

 

Happy One More Lap Around the Sun Day!

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If you’re feeling dizzy, I don’t blame you. I feel dizzy too. We just finished another lap around the sun, moving 108,000 kilometers an hour. It doesn’t sound quite so fast in miles – just a little over 67,000 miles per hour. (When it comes to numbers, it doesn’t matter that the distances are equivalent, the bigger number makes me feel that we are going faster in kilometers than in miles; in the same way that 100 pennies looks like more money than 4 quarters to small children and people like me.)

 

Add in the fact that the earth is also rotating at up to 1000 miles per hour each day,and I start to feel a tiny bit panicky. Too much thinking about it makes me want to stay inside lest I accidentally get spun off the earth before my time. Yes, it’s a far-flung idea, but just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it won’t.

 

The last million or so kilometers of the 940 million kilometer course (or 584 million miles plus a few yards) I traveled this year were exhausting. I’ve been doing these laps for decades, so you think I would be used to it. All the scientific types assure me that this year’s turn was no faster than any other year, but I think it was.

 

However, reaching the finish line on December 31 and pushing through the midnight tape stretched between the two years is always cause for celebration. So, I want to wish you a Happy New Year! May the next 940 million kilometers be good ones for you and yours!

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Cold feet

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While still suffering from seasonal amnesia back in September, I won two tickets to a Packer football game. Seasonal amnesia happens after you escape death-by-cold in northeast Wisconsin and convince yourself that the unseasonably warm fall weather will sneak unscathed through the months of winter, arriving just in time for spring. You convince yourself that bones can’t freeze and teeth cannot grow noticeably shorter from chattering. You should know better.

 

Cold is frozen into first place in my list of things I hate. I prefer sweltering to sweatering so many layers I cannot bend my arms. I do everything I can to avoid cold and would never willingly put myself in a place where frost is free to bite at will. And yet…few things please me more than free. I rarely pass the sample ladies in the supermarket, and when I shop, I look for bargains. The ultimate bargain, of course, is free.

 

Bewitched by the weather and the win, I told my husband I wanted to attend the game at Lambeau field. If you have ever been to Green Bay, Wisconsin and visited Lambeau, you know that for a pro football stadium it lacks nothing, unless roofs are important to you. I am rather fond of them myself, especially when the colored alcohol in the thermometer refuses to rise above 23 degrees Fahrenheit (-5 degrees Celsius).

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And yet…I won a pair of FREE tickets. Me, lucky me. All those other people wanted those tickets, but did they win? No! I won! Somehow I convinced myself that free is stronger than cold.

 

When I awoke from my enchantment, I discovered I was living in winter. I could have turned back, given the tickets away, and barricaded the door, but I convinced myself it would be an adventure – a free one.

 

The day before I descended into madness, my husband and I met with siblings for breakfast at a nearby café. A number of hunters, clad in camouflage and orange please-don’t-shoot-me-I’m-not-a-deer hunting clothes sat nearby. One of the sister-in-laws said, “You’d have to be crazy to go out deer hunting in this weather. The only thing crazier would be going to a Packer game.” She had no idea that’s exactly what I was preparing to do, and when I told her and the others, all of their flabbers were gasted. “I hope,” I said, “that I sit next to a large, fluffy man. That way I will have my large, slightly fluffy husband on my left and another on my right.”

 

The morning of the day I was prepared to die, I laid out the clothes I would probably be buried in: two pairs of long johns, three pairs of socks, a long-sleeved pullover, a wool sweater, heavy pants, a wool scarf, a knit hat, silk glove liners, wool gloves, snow boots, and a hooded down coat. In my arms I carried a Packer-green throw and a queen-sized blanket.

 

The sister-in-law who correctly diagnosed me as insane lives within a ten-minute walk from Lambeau stadium, so we parked at her house and walked. I felt invincible with my soft, wimpy flesh encased in sheep and geese products. I, the thin-blooded, slim-minded Texan, had tamed the mighty Wisconsin cold. That euphoria lasted the entire ten minutes it took to reach the mausoleum/stadium.

 

Thankfully, the stadium has an atrium with walls and a roof, a concession no doubt to the non-natives who might be lured in by free tickets. Fearful that the mustard on my brat (the wurst kind) would freeze before we found our seats, we ate our lunch inside. With my belly full of brat and my mind full of hubris, we left the atrium and entered the roofless stadium.

 

When we reached section 110, row 46, seats 20 and 21, I felt as if Christmas had come early. Santa Claus, or his near cousin, sat in seat 22, his own warm self overflowing into my 18 inches of space on our shared metal bench. When he saw me moving in his direction, he smiled with delight and said, “Are you sitting here?” Both of our prayers had been answered – he had asked for a small person on his left, and I had asked for a large one on my right. My husband brought a large cushion to sit on, while I brought a smaller one and the green throw to sit on. I snuggled into my now 12-inch seat, pulled the blanket over me, and waited for the games to begin.

 

Once I was thoroughly nested, a bunch of people appeared on the field with a gigantic American flag and I had to stand up. That meant removing the large blanket, positioning myself between two large men on either side, checking to make sure my small blanket didn’t fall down when I stood up, and avoiding bumping into the people in the row in front as I tried to maneuver and actually see over their tall, fluffy bodies. The seatmate behind me, less inhibited than I, carried a large cardboard sign, which she waggled around, hitting me on the back numerous times.

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After the anthem, things began to happen. The other 79,999 people roared periodically, prizes were announced on the big screens towering over the stadium, music blared, rupturing eardrums at will, non-profits advertised, vendors vended (mostly beer), and people began excusing themselves up and down the long rows of swaddled people. My husband described it as a rock concert-church bazaar-bingo game atmosphere.

 

In the meantime, some football players down on the field started crashing into one another. Half of the time, I couldn’t actually see what they were doing because the excited and quickly inebriated fans in row 44 liked to stand and watch, unaware that none of the people in rows 45 to 47 could see through them. So I watched a lot of the game on the big screens.

 

This led me to ask myself two questions. First, why are football players smaller in real life? They looked like miniature versions of their television selves. Second, since I could see more of the game on the big screens in the stadium instead of squinting at the field, why was I sitting outside in 23-degree weather watching the game on their screens when I could be sitting in my chair at home watching the exact same thing on my TV screen?

 

Note how small the football players actually are! I've always heard being on TV makes you look heavier, but I didn't realize how much.

Note how small the football players actually are! I’ve always heard being on TV makes you look heavier, but I didn’t realize how much.

After spending close to three hours sitting outside watching TV, it hit me like a block of ice that I had another two or three hours to go. That’s when I got cold feet. Literally. Well, actually I got cold toes. All ten of them asked to leave, and I, being both in the minority and a believer in democracy, yielded.

 

We arrived home in time to watch the last quarter of the game, which went into overtime and ended in a tie.

 

Because it’s winter and I recognize that winter’s death threats are serious, I’m sure I will never go to another Packer game in mid-November when the temperature has sunk to the twenties. I am sure in the same way I was sure before last week that I would never go to a Packer game in winter. In the same way I was sure I would never live in Wisconsin because it’s too cold. My only fear is that I will win or be given free tickets again. So, I’ve written this post as a reminder. If I read it before football season each year, maybe I’ll get cold feet before I go.

 

 

Doggerel / Bloggerel

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Doggerel / Bloggerel

 

Peteca_dog

Dog, man’s (and presumably woman’s) best friend, shows up in the word doggerel, wagging its tail full of trivial verse. The word ends in –erel, which indicates the diminutive, but unfortunately, a negative diminutive. You’re left with a sorry little puppy of a poem, the runt of the litter, or in this case, the runt of the letters.

 

Doggerel is a legitimate surname, but it’s unknown (at least to me) which came first – the man or the rhyme. Chaucer uses it as an adjective in his Canterbury Tales as early as 1400, but where did he get it? Perhaps a particularly clumsy wordsmith was anointed with the name, and it stuck like a burr on a cur. Or perhaps someone with the name Doggerel couldn’t help but mark his rhymes with his name, in the same way dogs can’t help but mark fire hydrants and telephone poles with their scent. The origin is buried like a bone somewhere in history’s backyard. I have been unable to dig it up.

 

So what happens when doggerel and blog meet? You have bloggerel.

 

In recent months I have recited a little couplet to my grandchild who has what one may call “potty issues.” Small children often suffer when the physical demands of the body meet the appliances created to meet those demands. Just as the hero Ulysses, on his long journey home, had to pass through the Strait of Messina and face Charybdis, the awful whirlpool that swallowed men and ships whole; small children, on their way to bladder relief, have to sit atop the toilet, that violent vortex capable of swallowing Lego men and ships whole. Experiences on automatic flush toilets can terrorize them for years.

 

Apparently at night, while that couplet was wandering around in my brain, it went out for drinks, met some rhymes, and decided to hang out together. They presented themselves to me the other morning when I awoke, one for each gender.

 

 

Tinkle, Tinkle (for girls)

 

Tinkle, tinkle in the pot

Place your hiney on the spot.

 

Flush the toilet once you wipe,

Wash your hands; turn off the light.

 

Tinkle, tinkle in the pot

Bladder’s full, now it’s not.

 

 

Tinkle, Tinkle (for boys)

 

Tinkle, tinkle in the pot

Take your aim and hit the spot.

 

Lift the lid; then put it down

Lids left up make mommies frown.

 

Tinkle, tinkle in the pot

Bladder’s full, now it’s not.

 

 

Now I’m off to search ancestry.com to see if there are any Doggerels who have left their markings on my family tree.

 

I hear the bells a-ringing

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My mind refuses to reveal the details of the day that I first read Poe’s poem “The Bells.” I do remember, however, the pleasure of hearing it read out loud and listening to the music of the bells in every line. Most likely it was in my sophomore year of high school. The teacher’s name remains buried beneath the rubble of my memories, but I remember that she was a great lover of words. Although I had some interest in biology, French, and algebra, I loved English class because we were required to read. No one had to require me to read, but English class assignments gave me the perfect excuse to avoid chores or obligations – Sorry, but I have to read this for English class.

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Poe’s use of language, first ringing and singing then wrangling and jangling across the page, thrilled me. I loved the words, even the ones I didn’t know yet like tintinnabulation, euphony, and monody. I never forgot the delight of listening to those tinkling silver sleigh bells and the bright golden wedding bells, followed by the clanging bronze alarm bells that led finally and irrevocably to the heavy iron bells tolling death. Poe, of course, could never stop with love and beauty; he had to follow them to their final end. But it was the magic of the words even more than the meaning of the poem that held me and rang in my mind ever after.

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A half of a century later, I often think of Poe and his poem. When the world and the whirlwind in my mind are still, especially at night, which is when all of Poe’s bells ring, I hear the tintinnabulation of the bells, ringing and singing in my ear without end. I had hoped six weeks ago, when the ringing first began that it was a temporary aberration of the ear, but it has continued. The official name for this most poetic of conditions is tinnitus, so called since 1684 when it was listed in a medical dictionary as “a certain buzzing or tingling in the ear.”

 

Like so many conditions and health issues, the only cure is death. Until then, I must learn to manage the sound, ignoring it when I can. When I am busy, I don’t notice it at all. Thankfully, I have discovered dozens of possible illnesses that cause tinnitus. I’m sure I have all of them, so I should stay quite busy, first by diagnosing myself to confirm that I have them, next by keeping vigil by my deathbed, and finally by spontaneously recovering from all of them.

 

My ear rings! Day and night.

My ear rings! Day and night.

For your reading pleasure, go here to read “The Bells.” Enjoy. May it ring in your mind, but not your ears, forever.

 

Photos: Large church bell by Cherubino    Small bells by David Blaikie     Three bells by Badseed

 

Once I was keyless

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We’ve been looking for a key for the last three and a half years and finally found one. We looked in two different counties, two cities, and one town. And we had to walk through room and after room, opening drawers, peeking into closets, and looking around basements. What an ordeal.

Last week we found the key we were looking for. It’s the priciest key we have ever bought, but it opens the door of our very first home. Yes, we waited six decades to buy our first house. That’s what happens if you live like nomads for most of your life.

For a while I imagined that my first and last house would have about 16 square feet  – all basement with no windows or doors. Sooner or later we all move into one of those houses or a cozy urn.

The upstairs of this house is full of light and the basement has daylight windows with beautiful views of trees and flowers. I don’t feel like it’s ours though and keep expecting the real owners to show up and ask us what we are doing living in their house.

I would like to use the buying of the house as an excuse for not reading and commenting on other people’s blogs but it’s not a very good excuse, so I will try to add more in order to excuse myself more.

In August I signed up to teach a one-month intensive English writing class, which met 10 hours a week and required that I create a new curriculum. Then WordPress, which had been preventing me from commenting on many other blogs, suddenly stopped sending me email updates.

Dragging my excuses out of my head onto paper makes them look small, but believe me, inside my head they took up a lot of room. I could hardly get around them to tend to anything other than school and house-hunting/finding/moving. When you have a small brain, just about any idea or excuse looks big inside it, so while I am no longer keyless, I’m still clueless.

 

 

Ancient key

 

Dealing with your dirty laundry

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Like you, I have secrets, things that no one else knows, except me (oh, and the NSA, the National Security Agency aka No Secrets Allowed). And like you, I have dirty laundry.

 

My dirty little laundry secret is that I have opened up my home to an agitator.

 

Up until last week, I had no idea that Uncle Sam wanted to wipe them all out. Agitators have been part of American life for as long as I remember. Every home used to harbor one. But since 2004, they’ve been banned, or at least highly discouraged, by the people who have one of the highest piles of dirty laundry in the world.

 

I know agitators are an endangered species because we had to buy a new washing machine.

 

It's time I got a new washing machine.

It’s time I got a new washing machine.

 

Open up a new top loading or a front loading washer and see for yourself. Outside of the inside of a Speed Queen you won’t find many agitators. Just big empty tubs that spin. Oddly, the same thing could be said of many of our lawmakers, but that’s beside the point or at least in close proximity.

 

 

We bought the Speed Queen after reading reviews, talking to appliance sales clerks, and looking inside our wallets. We’ll use more water than our neighbors with the new high-efficiency washer, but we’ll do fewer loads because it’s just the two of us. I promise.

 

Have you seen this agitator? Let your government know now!

Have you seen this agitator? Let your government know now!

 

I’m all for high-efficiency, reducing carbon footprints and muddy footprints, and cleaning up my laundry and my act. I just wish the people who are going after agitators would do the same.

 

 

Wanted poster of the agitator courtesy of  © BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons