Thursday, November 12, 2009

Here's Our New Wrinkle! (Vocab. #8)

I expect this happens in many languages, but I only know English well enough to notice: words in English that sound similar often have similar meanings.

It is not safe, however, to assume that two similar sounding words share a common meaning. For example, ‘pimple’ and ‘dimple’ sound a lot alike, but if you tried to guess the meaning of the first from your knowledge of the second, you’d most likely lead yourself astray.

So, Cormac McCarthy writes: “Clamberin over those old caved and rimpled plates you could see well enough how things had gone in that place,…” And I hesitate over the unfamiliar ‘rimpled.’

Since it sounds a lot like ‘rumpled,’ you might guess it means the same thing – wrinkled, crinkled, crumpled or creased. Puckered and rippled.

And in this case, you would be correct!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

If You Play to Win, You Need Vocab. #7

For those who know the card game euchre, the expression euchred or euchred out is part of the game. For the rest of us, it may be less familiar but it's no less useful. If you euchred out your competitors, you outwitted them. You're no gormless creature. In fact, you're splendid and perspicacious.

Tomorrow I think I'll have a new wrinkle for you; don't forget to be here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Vid or Id? (Vocabulary #6)

Shirley Hazzard uses the word ‘gravid’ and Cormac McCarthy speaks of someone as ‘scurvid.’ The similar endings, ‘vid’ caught my eye. There are really only a couple dozen or so words in the English language ending in ‘vid’; avid and livid, David and vivid come to mind. Scurvid does not.

But a little investigation cued me to this: the ‘v’ in ‘gravid’ comes for the base word, ‘grave.’ I came to surmise the ‘v’ in ‘scurvid’ comes from a base word shared with ‘scurf’ and ‘scurvy.’ It’s the suffix ‘id’ that gives the words their commonality.

For Hazzard’s ‘gravid,’ you can actually check most any dictionary – the American Heritage on the shelf or any good on-line dictionary will tell you it means ‘pregnant or heavy with ripe eggs.’ I like my Dover sole gravid; how ‘bout you? The root is the same as the root for ‘grave’ – meaning ‘heavy, serious’ and so on. The pronunciation reminds us of 'gravity.'

McCarthy’s ‘scurvid’ is another matter altogether. I challenge you to find that in any printed dictionary. If you check on-line, you’ll likely be referred back to the McCarthy work Blood Meridian, my source for the word.

So what gives here? Did McCarthy make the word up? And if he did, can we tell what he meant? Can we use the word ourselves?

Yes, yes and yes again.

The suffix ‘id’ is used to form adjectives, very much the way the suffix ‘y’ forms adjectives in English. Thus, for example, ‘mess,' a noun, becomes the adjective, messy.

But, according my 1970 printing of the Oxford English Dictionary, except for a few technical uses, the suffix 'id' "is not a living formative in Eng." In other words, speakers of English no longer form new words by using the ending 'id.'

We might say someone forgot to tell McCarthy, but frankly it would be more accurate to say the OED didn't anticipate the arrival of Cormac McCarthy. McCarthy takes the root from 'scurvy,' substitutes one suffix for another and produces a new variation with the same meaning. So, only a scurvid cad -- a worthless, contemptible man -- would leave a gravid mate to fend for herself.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Delivering on a Promise

Several months ago in a post concerning chain letters, I remarked that, barring copyright issues, I would share an article here that had been forwarded to me in an email chain letter.

I did a little digging, located the source and even attempted to contact the author. Although I got no response from the author Helen Schwimmer herself, I feel somehow incomplete not having done what I said I'd do. Because in fact I am pretty sure I know how to address any copyright issues that might exist. Specifically, I'm just going to refer you to the original published piece, after I tell you a tiny bit about it.

This is a story of human survival and more -- of the determination of human beings to make dreams come true and to thrive despite the horrors that life experience can bring. It is a moving reminder of the best and the worst of life.

So, today I recommend The Wedding Gown That Made History.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Twitter is the current standard for bruiting; Vocab. #5

Words often move from specific, technical uses into our more everyday usage. For example, in the 70s, the word 'venue' moved from its source in the realm of law to our general language. The word 'dispositive' is currently traveling the same path.

Similarly, 'bruit' comes to us from medicine, where it refers to a loud, abnormal sound in the chest that alerts an examining physician to a circulatory problem.

Thus, 'to bruit' means to announce or report intrusively or vigorously, to spread the news. And a 'bruit' is a rumor, a noisy din or a loud, intrusive announcement.

So, when a celebrity appears on the red carpet and all the young folks start madly texting, their tweets bruit the arrival.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Better Than Vocabulary Building -- Again

The great things about hanging around with little kids -- aside from the joy of the kids themselves -- is doing things you never think to do otherwise. Like spending a morning at SeaWorld, watching the Ocra Whale show, throwing fish to seals and feeding the world's most colorful birds. I love the birds that collect at my home feeders, but for eye delight, they cannot quite match this!

Sampling from SeaWorld, San Antonio, November 7, 2009

Friday, November 6, 2009

Dinner with a Dollie

Excuse me while I take a brief break from the vocabulary building. I am on family weekend in San Antonio; among other things, we are exploring the American Girl Doll phenomenon.

When I first started hearing about American Girl Dolls, I thought this was something that had been around forever that I’d just missed somehow. But when I decided to figure out how I’d been so out of touch, the truth became simple: this line of amazing dolls came into existence in 1986, when my young boy child was already 6 years old. By the time the momentum built, I was mostly involved with mothers raising boys; dolls weren’t high on our list of concerns. I would hear a bit about these dolls and their tea parties and hospitals and such from time to time, but that didn’t pull my focus..

Fast forward to grandchildren. Suddenly little girls and the interests of little girls matter again.

The little girl in my life wanted American Girl Dolls for her November birthday. Her granddad and I couldn’t have been more willing to do the honors – or more happy sappy. So, here’s American Girl Doll Ruthie at dinner with us this evening. I’m just delighted to have little girls in my life again!.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The MSWord Spellchecker Didn’t Need to Be Taught Vocab. Lesson #4

If you are following my word-rich blogging, I judge you decidedly perspicacious.

And if you feel you sort of know what I mean, you are probably right. Like me, you probably recognize that you’ve heard or seen that word before and that it means something good.

But maybe – also like the former ‘me’— you don’t know quite what the good thing is.
So the new ‘me’ is here to tell you.

Actually, perspicacity is the perfect antidote to yesterday’s ‘gormlessness.’ If you are perspicacious, you are highly discerning, perceptive, clear-sighted.

(And, of course, being so, you will continue to watch for future Tiddlywinks installments.)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Build Your Vocabulary so You Don't Sound Gormless (Vocab. #3)

The words you know and use come from your interests, your activities and your general engagement in living. You pick up new words from the media, from the places you go and from your friends. It is possible to be very intelligent with a limited vocabulary – but it doesn’t happen much. In fact, a limited vocabulary restricts your ability to communicate, to understand and possibly even to think effectively.

Of course if you use a lot of words the people around you don’t know, you could be talking to no one but yourself.

On the other hand, that might just be a virtue if you are frustrated by a witless, brainless companion! Rather than call the dolt ‘stupid,’ you can resort to ‘gormless,’ satisfy your impulse to express yourself without losing a friend. Maybe. Assuming the person is, in fact, as dull witted as you believe.

You may find variations for ‘gormless’ like ‘gaumless’ and ‘gawnless,’ as the word comes to us from the Germanic strand, from ‘gaum,’ meaning 'understand.'

And if you don’t want to be understood, save ‘gormless’ for State-side; the Brits apparently use it more than we. Plus, it is likely to be on the upswing here as well, as J. K. Rowling used it in the 2007 Potter release.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Raven with a Maven: Vocab. #2

Sometimes the word that stumps you isn’t unknown – it’s just used in an unfamiliar way. Thus, when Ms. Hazzard referred to someone ‘ravening,’ I wasn’t certain I knew what she meant.

I know, of course, what a raven is. It’s that big bird that appears in Poe’s poem. But I didn’t know it was possible to raven; I didn’t know ‘raven’ could be a verb.

What does it mean ‘to raven’? (So glad you asked.)

Probably, I thought, something like this: to behave in the manner of ravens. And how do ravens behave? They fly, they nest, they flock, they eat, they scavenge. We don’t see ravens much in the suburban North Shore, but I did have a tribe of them (flock seems too gentle a word) at my north side birdfeeder once and I’ll tell you this: they scared away all the other creatures, not just the littler birds but the squirrels on the ground, too. And they devoured everything they could get their beaks on.

At the risk of distracting you with a wild bird chase, I also considered the possibility that ‘ravening’ meant something like ‘falconry’ or ‘hawking.’ Falconry or hawking involves training and using birds in hunting small game; it was a sport popular among the Anglo-Saxon nobility some centuries back.

So off to the dictionary went I, where my first suspicion was confirmed: 'to raven' is 'to consume greedily, to devour.'

And, while ignoring the likely connotation, I want to say: to raven words ain’t misbehavin’.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Vocabulary Lesson 1: Azoic

Usually when I read, I do not need a dictionary. Nor do I consider the use of uncommon words a necessary feature of creative or imaginative writing. Yet I could not help but be impressed with two writers I encountered this summer whose work sent me to or even beyond my handy Webster’s Collegiate time and time again.

Shirley Hazzard’s The Transit of Venus introduced me to at least two dozen new words. And reading Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy tripled that treat. With almost one hundred new words in my quiver, I thought I’d share a bit.

One at a time.

So, today, I offer an azoic or beginning lesson. That is to say, the word for today is ‘azoic,’ meaning ‘at, in or near the beginning.’

The word ‘azoic’ is an adjective. The ‘a’ in this case carries the meaning of ‘not, without or opposite.’ And ‘zoic’ is related to ‘zoo,’ as in ‘zoology’ – meaning ‘life.’ Thus, ‘azoic’ refers to a period of time without life; geologically, the time before life appeared on earth.

For we living things, the time before life is at, in or near the beginning. Thus, the word ‘azoic’ comes to mean just that – at the beginning.

And I thought that was the perfect place to start.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Promise of Anne Lamott

This past summer, I read several books by novelist and essayist Anne Lamott. Someone suggested I read Bird by Bird, which is Lamott’s book length reflection on the process of writing. Not only did I read it, I reviewed it and blogged about it.

Then I read some more Lamott and blogged some more.

Finally, in July, I began reading Crooked Little Heart with a public declaration that I would share my reactions. Reactions which might now seem long overdue!

But ripe or not, here they are.

Lamott opens Crooked Little Heart with this sentence: Rosie and her friends were blooming like spring, budding, lithe, agile as cats.

To my ear, that’s two stale similes in one very important sentence: not a good way to start.

If that were the best a writer could do for language, she would need a very, very strong story. In fact, Lamott delivers a fine, well-crafted, engaging story; good conflict, good resolution, plenty of side plot to keep the reader wanting to go forward.

But here’s a frustration. Lamott is actually very capable of outstanding language. Within pages of that disappointing opener, she refers to a man named “J. Peter Billings” as one who “parts his name on the left” –- certainly to me a bright and vivid capture. She gives us “low rolling lion-claw hills.” At one point, a teenage girl is “as broody as a gaunt young buffalo,” and another, elsewhere, “snores like an ancient pug.” And I could continue.

So why open with a bomb? That seems sloppy.

As for sloppy – Lamott continues in CLH to slip and slide around within a point of view frame. As in Rosie, she has a narrator with access to the interior lives of two characters –- but inconsistently. The reader is treated to the thoughts and feelings of the daughter sometimes and the mother at other times. When those two characters are apart, this troubles the reader little. But when the two characters come together, an odd thing happens; the narrator suddenly seem only to know what is going on with one or the other. Why is that?

The problem here may be more in the evolution of narrative technique than anywhere else. We readers have been trained in a tradition: the writer is expected to establish and then maintain a particular point of view. There are a number of options, but once set, the reader expects consistency. Any number of outstanding contemporary writers duck this expectation at random points with -- strangely enough -- no negative impact on the reader’s comfort and acceptance.

Why it works sometimes and does not work at others is beyond my capacity –- at least so far -- to parse.

But leaving aside such quibbles -- and they are definitely quibbles -- Anne Lamott writes stories and essays that are worth every minute you will spend with them.

Put her on your reading list.

Or, to put it another way:

Accessing the work of Anne Lamott

Was a task I ended liking a lot

While not quite top tier nor highly prolific

I find her delightful and pretty terrific.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Can You Tell?

As we are walking away from our dinner companions this evening, my sweet mate says, "I know what's going to happen."

We've just finished dinner with some nice friends. Some political conversation, all cordial. Some health and family stuff; everyone is basically ok, nothing out of the ordinary.

We ourselves are a rather blessed middle American couple with probably fewer than average worries but nevertheless a real concern or two on our very real horizons.

So I am all attention!

He says, "Bets is going to find out he's cheating again and leave him for that politician's p.r. guy or the young fellow who cannot manage a horse."

And what world are we in?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

You're Going to a Class Reunion? Why?!?

Last weekend, October 2, 3 and 4, about 50 of my high school classmates got together in our old hometown. That means that roughly 10-12% of the class showed up for one or more of the class events scheduled for the weekend.

Ten to twelve percent is not a big turn-out. So I think it’s interesting to consider who came, who didn’t and – to whatever extent we know or can guess – why.

It was a class reunion, but the timing may have been a little ‘off’ for more than one reason. First of all, we finished high school about 45 years ago and ‘45’ is not a particularly common marker for big memory events. Twenty-five certainly and fifty; even thirty and forty seem more logical than 45. But some of our classmates did make the effort to organize a 45th.

In the past, we’ve usually had reunions in the summer, often near the end of the school year as if revisiting graduation itself. This time, we got together in October, on the weekend of Homecoming. That makes a certain kind of sense, but there are people who find traveling in June easier. Teachers and professors and school administrative types and anyone still responsible for school age children. (Not too many of us remain in that last group.)

So an October 45th Class Reunion might not be the biggest draw. Let’s assume a fair number of people simply decided – if they were interested at all – they’d wait for the big one coming up about five year from now. Particularly for classmates traveling in from out-of-town.

But what about that? Are people more likely to come if distance is no issue?

This is a bit of a surprise. A little over half of the class – maybe 55% -- live in and around the town of our youth – which, by the way, happens in this case to be Joplin, MO. A little under half – about 45% -- live outside the immediate area. Of course some live much further away than others.

Obviously, then, we would expect people living in the Joplin area to be ‘overrepresented’ at a class event. NOT SO! Just slightly over half of the attendees came from the Joplin area; slightly under half came in from out of the area.

If some people will come from a distance, why don’t lots and lots of people come from nearby?

I happen to have two friends who live in the Joplin area who did not come and I know why. In one case, she had direct conflicts with the timing; her spouse, not a classmate, had a birthday last weekend. In the other, she has less than no interest – she tried attending a reunion once and found the experience unpleasant.

In marketing research where I spent a fair chunk of my working life, we note that people can tell you why they do what they do, buy what they buy and so on. But they cannot as a rule tell you why they don’t do or buy something. In the case of class reunions, I suspect the opposite holds. If you don’t go, you probably know why and if you do go, it is rather harder to explain why.

Amazing things can happen at class reunions. My widowed mother found her wonderful second husband at a class reunion. Such hopes may account for some of the single classmates showing up. But it certainly cannot account for the majority, who arrived with spouses in tow.

I came – bringing my willing mate along – in part because I needed to make a trip to Joplin anyway. And I thought certain friends who matter to me greatly were coming in – didn’t happen to work out that way. And I just have this endless curiosity about the trajectories of lives – about the ups and downs, the joys and sorrows, the hopes and dreams we hold on to as well as the ones we let go of.

You rarely get what you came for, but it’s still interesting to see how we’re lookin’ these days.

Sitting on floor from left to right are:

Mardell Thomas Rouse, Stephanie White Everitt, June Johnson Shelton, Linda Hensley Evans, Linda Putnam Emmert, Carol Corbin Buck.

1st row left to right:

Phyllis Payne Sapp, Nancy Page Allen, Sharon Peters Arnold, Joyce Tillman Frey, Jeanne Looper Tighe, Janet Counts Severs, Janet Hale Tabin, Sharon Johnson Lawrece, Billie Lenger Stockam, Katherine Patterson Barnes, Charlene Veteto Jones, Sharyl Reece Barwick.

2nd row left to right:

Jim Christiansen, Jerry Brackett, Mike Clark, Paula Mills Barlett, Pat Aggus Noe, Donna Drake Helton, Betty Shanks Smart, Joe Cowen, Frank Metz, Martha Earhart Wright, Donna Powers Hansen.

3rd. row left to right:

David Knisley, Bill Cook, Tom Harrison, Bruce McCaw, Mitch Stevens, John Keeling, Ross Smith, Jay Campbell, Rick Sadler, Gary Flenner, Dennis Triplett, Bill Hunt, Perry Potter.

4th row left to right:

Butch England, Steve Campbell, Jim Anderson, Dennis Smith, Monty Gavin, Clyle Linam, Dave Stockam, Jim Krudwig, George Gagle, Micky Moore.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

JHS64 Reunion after 45 Years -- Breakfast

Here -- a little more edited and organized and labeled -- are pictures of part of the group that collected Sunday morning at the Golden Corral.

Not quite Breakfast at Tiffany's, are we!

  • (Left hand picture, from left) Martha Earhart daughter, Gene Baldwin's daughter, Paul Mills Bartlett.
  • (Right hand picture, from left) Paula Mills Barlett, Janet Counts Severs, Mike Clark.

      • (Left hand picture, from left) Paula Mills Bartlett and Janet Counts Severs.
      • (Right hand picture, from left) Mardell Thomas Rouse, Paula's husband Buzz Bartlett.

        • (Left hand picture, from left) Carol Corbin Buck, Sharon Peters Arnold, Sharon's granddaughter.
        • (Right hand picture) Paula Mills Bartlett.

          • (Left hand picture, from left) Martha Earhart Wright's son-in-law and daughter.
          • (Right hand picture, from left) Roger Brown, Jene Baldwin, Martha Earhart Wright.

            • (Left hand picture, from left) Sharon Peters Arnold, Sharon's granddaughter, Mardell Thomas Rouse.
            • (Right hand picture, from left starting with lavendar top) Betty Shanks Smart, Donna Drake Helton, David Knisley.

            • (Left hand picture, from left) mmm, maybe later, with help!
            • (Right hand picture, from left) Betty Shanks Smart, Janet Hale Tabin, Donna Drake Helton.

                • JHS64 Friday Tailgate Party

                  Here are a few shots from the Friday night picnic in the Junge Stadium parking lot. If I've mis-identified anyone, corrections are most welcome!

                  Sharon Johnson Lawrence Pat Aggus Noe

                  Bruce McCaw, Billie Lenger Stockam,
                  David Stockam Jamie McCaw, Bruce's wife

                  Jim Christiansen

                  Sharon Peters Arnold

                  David Stockam

                  Billie Lenger Stockam

                  Friday, October 2, 2009

                  The Upside of Censorship

                  Or Reading Banned Books on the North Shore

                  In case you haven’t heard, this past week was the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week. It reminds me that about this time last year, someone started circulating a list of books that had been banned or suppressed somewhere, sometime, with the claim that Sarah Palin had attempted to have all of them removed from the Wasilla, Alaska public library when she was mayor of the town. I was personally disappointed that some of my otherwise very intelligent and well-informed book loving friends readily accepted this hoax as truth.

                  But that did start a long conversation in my reading group.

                  My reading group plans booklists several months at a time. We have two very creative leaders who develop the lists with input from the rest of the group. We like to have a theme. Over the years, our themes have included “Laudable Asian Novels,” “Acclaimed Prize Winners,” “Adventure, Sex, History,” and “Around the World in Five Books.”

                  But following the circulation of the banned books list, our next theme was irresistibly banned books. From a list of about ninety books banned, suppressed or challenged, our team selected five.

                  If your group wants a starting place, check out this list -- link here:

                  And maybe you’d like to see what we read from the list. Our picks, spanning the mid-nineteenth to the late twentieth century, also proved to cover a range of subjects. And they varied in literary value as well.

                  Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, was published in 1852; the story is set in the pre-Civil War United States. The bestselling novel of the 19th century, it had a huge historic impact, often credited with sparking the U. S. Civil War.

                  Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain was published in 1884, but deals with events occurring considerably earlier, about 1839, in the American Midwest along the Mississippi River. Although very popular, it is often challenged because of its repeated use of the word ‘nigger.’

                  Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall was written and published about 1928. It is set primarily in England before, during and after the First World War. Less familiar, at least to the American reading public, the story concerns the development and life of a lesbian. The book was subject to considerable efforts to ban and suppress in England shortly after its publication.

                  Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. L. Lawrence was also written and published about 1928. Although set in Great Britain and written in English, the book was published in Italy. The events of the novel take place in the early part of the 20th century. The book was considered quite sexually explicit for its time and was widely banned, censored and subject to suppression.

                  Not Without My Daughter, written by Betty Mahmoody with William Hoffer, was published in 1987 and described events from just a couple of years earlier, 1984-85. The book is based on Betty Mahmoody’s life and the life of her family, particularly concerning events in Iran. It paints a very unflattering picture of some Iranians and Iran in general. Efforts have been made in Iran to suppress the book.

                  Many years ago an uncle of mine specifically told me NOT to read James Joyce’s novel, Ulysses. Of course, the very comment only made me determined to read the book – which I admit I still try to do from time to time. But the point is this: there is nothing like forbidding people to read something to increase interest in doing just that.

                  So the ninety or so books on the Adler Banned Books list become all the more interesting because sometime, somewhere, someone tried to prevent other people from reading them.

                  Friday, September 4, 2009

                  Closet Streamlining By The Numbers

                  You might think, after I wrote the book on closet cleaning – oh, okay, it was an article, but it took SO much research it felt like a book to me – I’d be done with that problem forever. But not so fast. This summer I noticed my closet had become a classic. The bad kind: closet full of clothes, nothing to wear. I couldn’t find two pieces, a top and a bottom, that could be worn together, that were clean and fit. Just possibly they were in there, but I couldn’t find them. Something had to give.

                  I’d read Tim Gunn’s list of ten essential items. And I’d been knocked off my hanger by this bit of information from Free author Chris Anderson: at the beginning of the twentieth century “the average American consumer had just eight outfits.” And I had an idea!

                  I certainly do not intend to limit my wardrobe to ten items nor to eight outfits. But a closet full of clothes with nothing I want to wear – that’s no way to dress, either.

                  I decided to try counting my clothes. Yep, counting.

                  I counted the number of hangers in my closet – well, actually, in three closets, as my clothes had been migrating in response to the overcrowding.
                  One-hundred and fifty hangers held blouses, sweaters, t-shirts and knit tops, jackets and blazers, pants ranging from jeans to capris to shorts to tailored trousers, and dresses and skirts. 150!!

                  Decided to eliminate one third. Yes, I set a numeric goal: I would give away (or throw away if it came to that) fifty items of clothing. Period.

                  Arbitrary? Yes. But, effective!

                  First, I called the Cancer Federation to schedule a pick-up a week hence. Have you noticed how a public promise is more motivating than a private one?

                  Then I started reviewing, item by item by item. I hoped to find about one in every three that could go into the CF box. (By the way, it is my understanding they have a use even for rag cloth, so I don’t worry about the quality of my ‘purgees.’) Here I am looking for just exactly what we all look for when we clean out closets: items that are wearing out, are stained or no longer fit, things we are not wearing anymore and, perhaps most importantly, things we keep throwing on knowing they do not flatter us anymore. (That last group is worth some reflection, but let’s stick with the process here.)

                  Sometimes I would slide five or six items along the pole without finding anything I could readily part with – but then the process would reverse and I’d find several in a row that could easily go.
                  And, by the time I had reviewed all 150 items, believe it or not, I had 50 garments neatly folded into a big box – and a closet in which I could actually see my clothes.

                  (Stage two was less arbitrary, more thoughtful and stragetic. If you are interested, check back.)

                  Wednesday, September 2, 2009

                  At an Age

                  Too late, too late, too late,

                  The fall of my feet on the concrete walk

                  Repeat the beat of my heart: too late.

                  Tuesday, August 4, 2009

                  Oh, yuck!

                  I've just returned from a shopping errand that presented me with a contemporary dilemma.

                  As I stood waiting to check-out behind a young mom, I could see her toddler around the corner of the end aisle display. The mother was absorbed in paying for her purchase and had lost visual contact with the child.

                  The little girl, meanwhile, was gumming away on the wrapper of a Kit Kat bar she’d taken off the rack. Shortly, she stepped around into her mother’s line-of-sight and held the candy up with the ‘please, Mom’ look the little ones use.

                  Mom, however, said no and directed the child to return the candy to the rack. Which, interestingly enough, the child did with only minor objection.

                  And then she – the kid – started the entire procedure again, this time with a Milky Way.

                  Munch, munch, munch, stop munching; step around and make the appeal to mom.

                  Again, the mother said no. Again, the mother requested the child’s compliance from a distance that insulated the mother some of key facts. This time the child resisted somewhat more but the mother simply used more persuasive words, singing a little song about cleaning up which apparently the child is trained to respond to by – you got it – re-racking the item in her hand.

                  The mother never made physical contact with the child or the candy. In fact, the woman proceeded toward the store door, calling a ‘playful’ good-bye to the child.

                  Unbeknownst to the woman, her child had just slobbered all over the wrapper ends of two candy bars which she’d then had the child returned to the store rack. In the best case, the wrappers of the candy are now covered in the child’s saliva. Just as likely, the child breached one or both seals and the candy inside is contaminated with her spittle.

                  As I stood watching this entire episode, I was annoyed and conflicted. I know just how much young parents appreciate busy-body grandparent-y strangers telling them publicly what they are doing wrong. And, even if I’d tried, I could not have conveyed the information I had without conveying my judgment. And so I said nothing.

                  I should have said something. In fact, I regret my decision to ‘mind my own business.’ It was a wimp-out.

                  But, for goodness sakes, parents! If you take your youngsters out in public, keep your eyes on them. If you have to look elsewhere, keep your HANDS on them. Make sure you know where your kids are and what they are doing at all times.

                  A lot worse things can happen when a toddler wanders out of sight than a candy breach!

                  Saturday, July 25, 2009

                  Sleeping with Anne Lamott

                  Several months ago, my brother John and I got into a conversation about writing process and Anne Lamott’s work on the subject of writing process. John happens to be writing a novel and is actually the writer-friend referred to in this earlier post.

                  Out of that conversation came the post I just linked to and also a review of Lamott’s Bird by Bird, in the category Revisiting a Classic, at Readworthy Books.

                  Below, the conversation continues, as I find good reason to recommend Lamott’s Hard Laughter.

                  Janet to John

                  I did not suggest the Anne Lamott chapter on plot treatment [in Bird by Bird] with the intention to send you off in any particular direction. Just thought a pause to plan might help -- an outline, a treatment, whatever.

                  With the caveat that I've never prepared a novel-length narrative, I do think Lamott gives a pretty complete description of what a 'treatment' is, as she uses the concept. (That is, a chapter by chapter paragraph-style outline, noting 'where' the characters are at the beginning, what happens in the chapter, and where they are at the end.) But that is not to promote that particular concept.

                  In advertising, we used to talk about ‘a treatment.’ And sometimes what we saw resembled -- this worried me in earlier conversations -- a writer trying to talk the story into existence, ala your Joplin-writer-friend’s praise for what you had NOT done. So...

                  I have known writers -- listened to narrative writers talk about their process -- who say they start with 'just a feeling, a sense, a character and no idea where the story will go' and others who always know the end as they begin. I've never had the privilege to hear any of my personal heroes talk about this and I admit, the 'I know the end' types I've heard have tended to be category fiction writers. Dilemma. I don't much care about category fiction beyond the genius who created the category! But you are working on mainstream fiction with some aspirations to literature...

                  On the other hand, having 'listened' to people like Lamott and Cameron, who --notwithstanding Lamott's Plot Treatment chapter -- clearly advocate starting anywhere and following your characters' lead, I decided to look at their fiction results.

                  The first Lamott novel I could get my hands on was Rosie, which I found highly forgettable except for a couple of violations of my personal pet peeves: using a novelist as an important character and verbal cliques. I've just started to read a second Lamott novel, which happens to actually be her first novel, Hard Laughter. I am only a few pages in but already am much more impressed, even though there are writers who are important characters. (The key writer is dying. I guess that is a good thing – from the point of view of creating a story. Yikes!!)

                  In between the two Lamott pieces, I read Cameron's Mozart's Ghost. (I do not know where this piece fits in her body of work.) This piece is very imaginative. If I were asked to rank Lamott's Rosie against Cameron's Ghost, the latter wins. But in the absence of a personal interest, I probably would not recommend either of them to anyone.

                  Then again, I wouldn't likely recommend any Mary Higgins Clark, who I heard say she always knows the end point when she starts.

                  So, who knows what all that means!

                  I am impressed and excited by the developments you have described in your own novel. Whether you decided to outline or 'plot-treat' the story arc -- or just wade on -- I am sure you are going to get there. Maybe it doesn't matter whether the route is more or less direct.

                  Janet to John

                  Since I placed Lamont's Rosie behind Cameron's Mozart's Ghost, I feel it is only fair to mention -- I did find a quote in Rosie worth holding onto and perhaps sharing and there was nothing like that in Ghost. Specifically:

                  “You’ve just got to remember sometime you’ll be on an upswing, everything’s coming up roses, and sometimes you’ll be on a downswing, a broken heart or depression, but although you never believe it at the time, you’ll start an upswing again.” From Rosie, by Anne Lamont

                  While hardly a unique observation, it's a good idea to revisit often.

                  John to Janet

                  I've never read Rosie and after your remarks I probably won't. I think I've
                  read four books by Lamott: Bird By Bird, Hard Laughter, Operating Instructions, and Crooked Little Heart. (She produces great titles, certainly.)

                  The main character in Crooked Little Heart is named Rosie. I wonder if this is a younger or older version of the main character in Rosie? Crooked Little Heart is, by far, my favorite Lamott book, but I really like coming of age novels and excellent portrayals of coming of age kids.

                  I'm particularly fond of coming of age books about girls. Elizabeth Berg's
                  Durable Goods is a girl's coming of age book; it's probably nowhere near great literature, but I just love it. I've given it as a gift several times.

                  That was really all to say, I would recommend Crooked Little Heart, and I'd be VERY INTERESTED in knowing your reactions to it.

                  Janet to John

                  The last time we talked about Anne Lamott's work, I had just read a few pages of Hard Laughter and you were recommending Crooked Little Heart.

                  I have finished Hard Laughter and would recommend it without reservation. Here are my journal notes from the morning after I finished it.

                  Recently I’ve a spat of wee-hour sleep disruptions. Again last night, a physical frisson, a body buzz like a small electric shock, woke me. A momentary distress is made more distressful by the growing knowledge that the sensation augers a bout of late-night wakefulness.

                  I reached for my tiny reading light and the novel on top of my Chinese herb cabinet turned bedside table. It’s an Anne Lamott novel I’ve discovered helps me ease back to sleep. Not, however, what that sounds like.

                  It is not boring. Rather, it engages me at exactly the right distance: familiar but not personal. Reading it is pleasantly effortless. The vocabulary, period and culture are known. The experiences are familiar enough, yet comfortably distant from my own particular present difficulties.

                  Having completed Hard Laughter, I quickly located a copy of Crooked Little Heart. After all, this waking up at 3 a.m. thing could continue!

                  Read a few pages and can tell you now that the Rosie character in CLH is the same girl, a few years later, who lends her name to the title of the earlier novel.

                  Reactions will be forthcoming.

                  Friday, July 17, 2009

                  Who do you Follow? Who do you 'Friend'? -- II

                  The mysteries of who follows you on Twitter cannot necessarily be solved by simply observing your own behavior.

                  Take my behavior.

                  I joined Twitter because I heard second or third hand I could use it to stalk my son. Oh, no, wait ... I could follow some of my kids and a handful of their friends and keep some sense of what was going on in their lives. Some sense.

                  Once on, I found a few other people I knew who I thought would be interesting to follow. Friends, colleagues, from my RL. And a couple of public, newsfeed-type Twitter users.

                  At one early point, I was notified that Barack Obama was following me. With a 'yay, sure', I reciprocated and followed him and then a bunch of other candidates for various offices. (With those particular elections long over, I've removed all of them, although -- pausing to check here -- Obama still appears to be following me. (hahaha))

                  In the ancient days when I joined Twitter, about 12 or 13 months ago, your user's "Home" page included a button called "Everyone" which took you to the public timeline and let you watch the entire Twitter universe float along. That button is gone and now if you want to watch that amazing tide, you have to really care and know what you are looking for. But back then, watching the public timeline would occasionally reveal someone worth following. I have a couple of people I still follow because I noticed the quality of their tweets while watching the random roll. (Janet L, Scott K -- that would be you.)

                  There's more, but I'm way off point.

                  Nothing about what I've done begins to explain the particular people who show up following me from time to time. It tooks me several months -- and a kind fellow user who deigned to answer my question -- before I figured this out. When I asked Carla (name changed to honor privacy) how she happened to start following me, she repsonded: "Auto (I've lost background Mr Tweet?) key words (philanthropy, strategic planning, etc). Not work well unfollowing often." Then I understood; I'd made some comment about poverty or charity and her bot had automatically picked me out as someone with interests in common.

                  In Carla's case, I don't know if we've been able to share anything useful, but at least we really do share some interests. She is not hoping to sell me something.

                  This week's new crop of followers are much more typical. A friend and I shared some tweetie observations that included words like 'exercise' 'weight loss' -- stuff like that. So now I have some new followers who I bet hope I'll give a follow back and buy their exercise or weight loss programs or products. Not happenin'. Not even ...

                  But they do make my follower numbers look better, so I guess that's something.

                  Who Do You Follow? Who Do You 'Friend'?

                  and other mysteries ...

                  Yesterday my Facebook page offered a Friend suggestion that startled me. The name was familiar -- the husband of someone I know fairly well who is about a half-generation older than me. And, BTW, I am old!! Particularly around Facebook and Twitter.

                  So some ol' guy had joined Facebook.

                  But how the hell did Facebook have a clue we might know each other? If you have mutual FB Friends, they tell you that right away -- and we didn't. If you went to the same high school or college, particular about the same time (and your profile says so), FB knows. And they tell you THAT.

                  But -- I'll call him Chet -- Chet and I didn't.

                  In fact, I couldn't think of anything we had in common that would be captured in a FB profile.

                  I am fast to accept FB Friend requests from people whose names I recognize -- a little slower to accept from names I don't know but sometimes I even accept those. But I am really slow to REQUEST a Friend unless I do actually know the person in real life at least well enough to think the person will remember how we know each other, that we know each other.

                  I don't, for example, ask my cousins' kids to be my Facebook friends if the last time I saw the cousin was 42 years ago and I've never met the kid!

                  I wasn't so sure that Chet would recognize me. Or wish to be my FB Friend.

                  But I had to know how FB made the connection. Was it simply that we were both in the Chicago network? That's a stretch. Of course, sometimes I think that is enough of a connection for Facebook to take a stab at it.

                  So, I requested Chet's FB Friendship, reminding him of how we know each other. He accepted. And I got to look at his Facebook page and profile.


                  The email address he listed for Facebook is shared with his wife and appears in my email contact list.

                  But there is something spooky about that. A long time ago when I joined Facebook, I did allow Facebook to search my email contact list for matches.

                  But it only now occurs to me FB retained that info and is using it. Yikes!

                  Thursday, July 9, 2009

                  Back to Bird -- Reading or Rereading

                  Not long ago, I was involved in a poetry event. The leader was demonstrating the way a particular poem evolved from good to better to outstanding. He finished up by quoting a writer friend of his: "It's all about the process."

                  A day or two later, a writer friend of my own said something about his process. When I whined -- just slightly -- that I didn't 'get' all this process talk, he asked if I'd read Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird.

                  I thought I probably had, but, not certain and not finding it in my own considerable library, I headed over to the new Half Price Books in my neighborhood and picked up a copy. Indeed, as I read or re-read, some parts of the book were completely familiar while other parts seemed altogether new. I expect certain chapters were published as excerpts in some magazine I read or passed out in a class somewhere.

                  On the familiar hand, Lamott's advice about "shitty first drafts" has been shared widely, was and continues to be about the most useful advice a writer can encounter. Paraphrasing in brief: write without concern about the quality; it's a draft, you don't have to share it until you are happy with the result.

                  But parts that were new were recognizable the way your own experience is recognizable. She talks about how writing makes your own life feel bigger, richer. I remember discovering that for myself in my early teens when a treasured friend moved away. Writing letters to her, just telling her about the ordinary things her old friends were up to, helped me see the golden glow of all those wonderful, adolescent dramas. Keeping a diary had a similar effect on my perceptions.

                  Much later in the book, Lamott comments that writing takes you out of yourself, which just might be the defining requirement for achieving happiness. These two ideas almost seem to contradict each other. Writing can make your own life seem bigger, more dramatic or meaningful; yet writing can get you out of yourself. It’s interesting to think about that.

                  Although Lamott does not make a distinction between creative and expository writing, much of what she has to say is specific to fiction or narrative. When her topic is character, setting, dialogue or plot, the subject is storytelling. But writer’s block and all manner of insecurity and doubt can assail both the novelist and the journalist. And Lamott is comedic and masterful on these writerly universals.

                  I don't recall getting this from Anne Lamott, but she advocates ‘tiny assignments’ and giving myself very tiny 'assignments' works for me. "Write a possible opening paragraph." "Write a few sentences about intuition.” “Work out transitions between drafted paragraphs.” I mean, I can focus down to just getting one sentence the way I want it. It won't make you a fast or prolific writer, but it can keep you writing. This, at times, is enough.

                  So, yes, I’ve read and reread Anne Lamott’s 15-year-old classic, Bird by Bird and gone on to recommend it far and wide: Readworthy Books, Revisiting a Classic.

                  Friday, June 19, 2009

                  Photos from Kahekili

                  Last week when I posted my description of our exciting ride from Kapalua to Wailuka (Maui, Hawaii), some people urged me to post pictures. Here are the best of the few I took. Then, below, is a link to some professional shots.

                  Here's Ellie Crowe's take on the story, with photos by William Crowe, Ron Dahlquist and Nina Lee, at Maui No Ka 'Oi,

                  Saturday, June 13, 2009

                  The Road from Kapalua to Waihe'e

                  Lee and I are exploring the Hawaiian island of Maui this week. Day before yesterday in the morning, we headed off from our amazing resort digs on the southern stretch of the west coast intending to explore two towns north and further west. We'd understood these places represented some history, but they were resort towns, mostly duplicating the features of any contemporary beach resort.

                  Continuing north and rounding the northern coast headed east, I thought I'd treat my mate to a scenic coastal drive. The Kahekili Highway follows the shoreline for about twenty-five miles. But we use the expression 'highway' very loosely here.

                  To the friends who advised us that Maui was touristy and commercial, we're making book you missed Route 340, also known as Kahekili.

                  As we continued north and east, the roadway narrowed and wound past spectacular views and glorious breakers. The sides of the road were parked solid and rock beaches below were full of families, couples and groups.

                  Then gradually the road twisted and narrowed. When a sign warned of winding, challenging passage for the next 17 miles, I noted my odometer: something-73; we should complete the demanding stretch at something-90. And nothing seemed too overwhelming yet – more primitive than we’ve seen in a long time, but do-able.

                  By something-79, however, my mate was beginning to ask how much longer this would be taking, in between ohhs and ahhs at the scenery.

                  Then about something-81, the roadway narrowed again, now barely as wide as my car, with a steep drop to my left. Meeting a car coming from the other way would mean driving backward in reverse on this path. I couldn’t see around the next curve but could clearly see the same narrow passage on the hillside across from me.

                  As I decided we’d come as far as we dared, my companion developed determination. So, at his prompting, I moved forward, slowly, carefully, hands in a death grip. For the next 45 minutes, we inched along, timing movements so we hit wider patches as we approached cars coming the other way. Luckily these switchbacks do allow drivers to spot one another well in advance of the meeting.

                  At about something-88, we greeting a companion headed the other way: “How long until we reach something resembling a regular roadway?” “Oh, just a couple more miles,” he laughingly confirmed my original calculations.

                  Unfortunately, in our family, the driver that morning is also the primary photographer and, at least on a first pass, I couldn’t manage much picture taking. I would be posting a couple of shots which don’t come close to doing justice to this very special trip, except I am posting from a public computer and find no slot for my media card -- oh, well, not a big loss.

                  And despite my deep sigh of relief when we were again on an ol’ ordinary street, I’d be off again for a slower, more photo-oriented pass – if I could convince one of you to come along.

                  Thursday, June 4, 2009

                  Chain, chain, chain; chain of love

                  This morning I found two chain e-letters sitting in my email in-box.

                  Each was sent by someone dear to me and each asks me to send the item on to others. Both convey powerful, worthy messages. In one case, the piece indicates that, by sending it on, I will help maintain vigilance against radical human cruelty, certainly an appeal that gets my attention.

                  But each creates a dilemma for me.

                  Back in the earlier days of the internet, I used to get lots of chain e-mails claiming to convey good luck. These emails would come from some friend or acquaintance, often apologizing while explaining that he or she really needed the promised luck. The letter would either offer good luck in portion to your forwarding behavior or threat bad luck for failure to forward – or both! I hated these things and tried to resist the superstitious compulsion they inspired.

                  Then a young friend, wise beyond her years, sent me a ‘chain letter to end all chain letters.’ It purported to be a talisman again bad luck arising from chain letters. It stated that, from that day forward, I was categorical protected from chain-letter-bad-luck and free to do anything I chose with email chain letter without fear of consequences. The letter itself said to feel free to forward the ‘chain letter to end all chain letters’ – or not; totally up to me.

                  Incredibly liberating!

                  After that, I would occasionally get a chain letter that offered something worth sharing. If I wanted to share it, first I would copy and paste what I liked, deleting all nonsense about how the sender should send it on to 1 person for 1 day of luck, 2 people for 2 days of luck – or whatever the gambit was.

                  But I digress, for neither of today’s missives appeals to my good/bad luck superstitions. Yet, as I said, each creates a dilemma for me.

                  I know a lot of people and I have lots of email addresses. But I cannot name even a handful I am confident will welcome these letters. I am sort of a ‘permission marketing’ type; if my audience hasn’t volunteered to BE my audience, I hesitate to foist a message. I guess because I am not happy to be asked to forward these items, I cannot imagine my contacts will be any happier. So, what to do?

                  Well, I am not going to forward the emails.

                  I’m going to do this. One of them has a medium length quotation worth sharing and I will post it on my Facebook where FB Friends can read it if they like, at their leisure and under no duress to pass it on.

                  The other – the one with the ‘vigilance against man inhumanity to man’ message I will check carefully for copyright issues and, if there are none, I will share it here sooner or later.

                  And what do you do with e-chain-letters?

                  Monday, May 25, 2009

                  Coriander vs. Cilantro

                  The other day my son sent up a tweet indicating he'd just learned that coriander and cilantro are the same thing. To me: surprise (how'd I fail him!) and memory trigger.

                  The first time I wondered about the connection between coriander and cilantro, I was following a recipe from a cookbook with some regional slant. It called for one of them and offered a useless 'clarification'. So, say, it read like this: coriander (cilantro) -- or the other way around.

                  Unless you already know what the connection is, that parenthetical sends you off on a research jaunt. Even if you've used both coriander and cilantro before. No, sorry, particularly if you've used them both before.

                  Most cooks -- and I include here anyone required by circumstance to do more than boil an occasional egg or reheat something in the micro -- first encounter coriander as an ingredient in pumpkin pie or gingerbread; thus, it is associated with clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, stuff like that. Then again, the other common use for coriander is in curries, in which case it seems to go with cumin and chilies as well as several of the previously mentioned items. What we usually call coriander is purchased in jars, as a ground power; it comes from the seeds of the plant.

                  Cilantro, by contrast, often comes to our attention nowadays in salsas, although I first discovered it when I was served seviche. Though apparently not a defining ingredient, all the seviches I encountered in Central American in the 1960s carried the distinct and recognizable favor of cilantro. Sort of a cross between citrus and soap. As many people do, I found it took some getting used to, but once I'd acquired the taste, I was hooked. You might be amazed how much cilantro I go through in my kitchen. You buy it in the produce section, between the parsley and the watercress.

                  Never -- and we are talking decades here -- had I made any connection between the two items until that fateful cookbook and I crossed paths.

                  The next part of this story requires some -- excuse the expression -- back story. See, growing up I was pretty interested in food and, by extension, cooking. Similarly, I did such things as: learn to sew, dust and vacuum like a dynamo, change more than a few diapers, practice planting a garden and develop significant typing skills. I bet you can see where that’s going!

                  Fast forward to life in the city as a liberated woman: assuming the bank account will support it, I pay to have my skirts shortened, my house cleaned, all my vegetables trucked in from elsewhere. I prefer my parties catered. And god forbid anyone discover I can type!

                  So, while my family-of-origin believes I'm a crackerjack cook, it doesn't surprise me when my family-of-procreation sneers at my domestic and distaff skills. Hey, my bad -- or maybe not even.

                  Add to that a few ethnic issues (blog for another day) and some subtle problems involving blended families, and we find my cooking cred with the people I sometimes call 'my kids' was and remains low, low, very low.

                  So the next chapter makes perfect sense.

                  Having a female teen-ager in the household at the time, I must have shared my coriander-cilantro discovery with that likely candidate. A few days later, I was informed that I was ... misinformed. “Faye said coriander and cilantro are not related.” Faye -- another Mom in the neighborhood, but also model-beautiful Jewess possessed of the first and only Sub-zero frig I've ever seen in a residential kitchen. Well, what do you know.

                  I know I didn't crack open my Joy of Cooking, 1967 edition, to page 531, where the connection is actually explained. Nor did I attempt to persuade in anyway. And anyone who has had a teen-age step-daughter will understand my thinking there.

                  Faye and I, of course, talked about it a few days later and laughed when she realized the connection.

                  But I somehow forgot to tell the boys!

                  Saturday, May 9, 2009

                  Spring has Sprung, Midden Arrives

                  It is spring clean-up week-end in my neighborhood. Excuse me! I mean it is our annual Spring Clean-Up Program weekend. Each year in April and May, our town schedules a series of special, free Saturday garbage collection days with different areas of town assigned to different Saturdays.

                  For about a week before your Saturday, your neighbors start setting junk out on their curbs. An amazing variety of debris bubbles up out of basements, rolls out of attics and floats out of garages. The sidewalks and parkways become littered with two-by-fours and broken trellises, porcelain toilet bowls and defunct Shop-Vacs. Mattresses and cushions and pads of all descriptions are piled about. Last night on the way to dinner, I spotted a garish green tarp appropriate for sheltering a Cormac McCarthy character. That, along with half a set of TV trays on their stand looking incomplete but solid. Recently acceptable furnishings mix with perfectly useless scree.

                  The result makes the entire area look at bit like a midden for a few days, distracting painfully from the seasonal glory of newly leafing trees and brushes and bursting blossoms in every direction.

                  My neighborhood usually gets assigned to Mothers’ Day Saturday. And in my family, two family birthdays also fall right around Mothers’ Day. So I am usually planning to entertain on Mothers’ Day Sunday. As the refuse and detritus accumulates, I send up silent fretful prayers to the village demigods not to fail the Saturday promise. I really don’t want my guests confronted by my neighbors’ mounts of trash.

                  The flotsam and jetsam attract an odd fleet of vehicles. As the day approaches, scavengers prowl in their dilapidated but business-like pick-ups, trucking off a good deal of the truck. I welcome these wily and perhaps wise operators, who seem to know how to salvage all that is useful in these piles of debris. The idea that someone can put the stuff to use pleases me quite a lot.

                  Mostly. But I had one melancholy moment in the midst of this annual event. Glancing out my window yesterday, I noticed an old, battered, dull-burgundy van parked at my curb; looking closer I could see a bent little old man and woman picking through the already picked-over heap on the parkway across my street. I wish I could believe they would find what they need.

                  Thursday, January 29, 2009

                  25 Random Things

                  This sort of thing looks a little self-absorbed, but I did it at the prompting of someone I care about. [I was 'tagged.'] Now that it is done, I might as well post it here, for whatever it is worth.

                  [Rules: Once you've been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you.]

                  1. I have powerful mixed reactions to a task like this. I can anticipate all the tendencies that will slow me down, particularly the perfectionist part of me.

                  2. I analyze things to the n-th. In a task like this, I am likely to say one thing about myself and then note (at least mentally) all the supporting and contradicting evidence.

                  3. I am just about the world’s worst speller. Spellcheck has been my salvation. (Ah! My spellchecker doesn’t recognize the word ‘spellcheck’!)

                  4. As a toddler and pre-schooler, I lived in a tiny village and started school in a rural, two-room schoolhouse. (It would have been a one-room schoolhouse if I were just a year older.)

                  5. I always think of red as my favorite color … followed very closely by burnt orange. (Sorry, Sara.)

                  6. Truth is, I love interesting and unusual combinations of colors. I had a friend once who would get almost orgasmic when she saw pink combined with various shades of green. I completely understood what she was experiencing.

                  7. I am interested in and responsive to most human endeavors and activities, more so than I believe most people are.

                  8. Two exceptions to #7: spectator sports on TV (although I enjoy watching sporting events live) and TV sit. coms.

                  9. I love going to the movies. When the lights go down and the title comes up, every care and concern of my day-to-day life disappears.

                  10. Same thing when I teach! I mean, as soon as I begin the lesson, everything else in my life disappears.

                  11. I spent much of my childhood playing in forests and fields and I am completely at home in rural settings.

                  12. I’ve lived all of my adult life (since age 21) in and around cities. I am completely at home in urban settings.

                  13. I am really pleased that I’ve drafted half of these in about an hour. But I know I’ll need to take a break, refresh my coffee, maybe work-out and shower. And even when I get to 25, I’ll still have to type these into Word and spellcheck and proof about three times, after which I’ll post them, spot a typo. I missed, copy, delete, correct and repost.

                  14. I am promising myself, despite #13, I will finish this.

                  15. I see and understand a lot of things through the lens of economic theory and economic analogies. Case in point: a friend and I have been exploring the need for solitude and if I weren’t working on this list, I’d be writing about the marginal trade-offs involved in the needs for solitude and companionship.

                  16. I expected to give birth to daughters. (If you know me, you know I did not.)

                  17. At various points in my childhood, I planned to be 1) a ballerina (like just about every other little girl), 2) an acrobat and 3) the wife of a farmer. The third persisted the longest.

                  18. Like someone else whose ’25 list’ I read recently, I have a love-hate relationship with exercise.

                  19. My personal experience bears out this idea: the thing that most draws you to your mate is inseparable from the thing about him/her that most annoys you.

                  20. I was born on Easter Sunday and, due to a calendar process I’ve never completely figured out, my birthday seems to fall on Easter Sunday whenever the 2 digits in my age are the same (i.e. 11, 22, 33, etc.)

                  21. I love techie stuff and gadgets. In that, I take after my Dad.

                  22. I am drawn to things like time-and-motion studies, ‘therligs’, systems and methods. Both my Mom and my Dad were, too.

                  23. I do not have the normal complement of facial sinuses. I am missing a couple of them. (Can’t remember exactly which ones just now.)

                  24. Oh! I am left-handed.

                  25. I am amazed at how many more of these items are floating through my head. I don’t think I’ve even touched the ‘goal’ part. I guess those ‘100 random things’ lists aren’t as impossible as I’d imagined.

                  Monday, January 26, 2009

                  Environmental Damage, Gym-Style

                  In 'my' gym, you could walk on a treadmill while watching activity on the bayside of South Beach. The view consisted of palm trees wafting in the breeze, aqua and purple rippling water, docked pleasure boats and plowing work vessels, ivory and eggshell toned buildings in the distance backed by an endless baby blue sky.

                  Working out there was a lot like meditating.

                  But recently the gym got an upgrade. Now my view consists of a TV screen up close and personal. I can’t see around it, but I can set it to any channel I choose. I've picked the option of my face in a soft focus mirror; that is to say, I've turned the damn thing off.

                  Who said, "Take paradise, put up parking lot"?

                  Saturday, January 17, 2009

                  Mustang Sally

                  Doing the annual Deco Walk on Saturday, I enjoyed the antique cars most. As usual. Something that might surprise my adult-acquired, urban-oriented friends: I grew up loving cars. Still do.

                  Saturday, January 10, 2009

                  Someone Asked Me ...

                  Dianne, you originally asked something like how Lee (my husband) and I happen to travel around so much. We are largely retired and travel is Lee's big hobby. Lee was a sales representative for a NC textile mill for over 30 years. When he was working, traveling abroad was the only way he could really get a break. When we'd vacation in the states, he'd end up on the phone with partners and clients about half the day every day. He developed the skills to plan and organize international trips. I just get to go along for the ride.

                  Miami, on the other hand, has been our break from Chicago winters for a number of years now.

                  I'll get into the family and offspring stuff soon.


                  Ok, life story stuff -- After college, I moved to the Chicago area, where I've lived ever since. I married and divorced in my 20s without having any children.

                  I met Lee on my 31st birthday (although it was a few months before we started dating) and married him on my 33rd. He had a daughter, Jennifer, and a son, William, from a previous marriage. Together we have a son, John, now 28-years-old.

                  Lee's daughter lives in San Antonio, TX; she is married with two children.

                  Bill lives in Madison, WI and John in Washington, DC. Bill is a tennis pro and sports club manager. John is a political free lance writer. Bill has not married, at least not yet. John is currently separated. Neither one has children.

                  That's a sketch of the offspring part of my life story.


                  Dianne, you mentioned a brother and a sister. I also have one brother and one sister. Are you, like me, the oldest of three?

                  Both my brother and my sister returned to Joplin and settled there after living elsewhere for a few years. My brother John is a successful executive in human resources, now with Leggett and Platt. My sister, who is named Diane, has had a lot of struggles, although I assume that is not how she would tell her life story. Both of them and their children are significant in my life. Two of my brother's kids actually settled in Chicago, so I get to see them regularly.

                  My Dad passed away at the very end of 1994. Mom and Dad lived in Joplin until then. A few years later, my Mom re-connected with a Joplin high school classmate, was blessed with a new love, married and moved to a suburb of St. Louis with her new husband.

                  I was NOT bored by your story. Hope I am not boring you! If/when I write more, I should probably tell you a little about my own career.