Thursday, October 27, 2011

Third Try Does the Trick! (Ok, unofficially)

At about 2 a.m. Sunday morning, a racketing hubbub woke me. I went to an open window to listen.

"Do I smell something burning?" my drowsy mate mumbled.

"I expect all the jack-of-lanterns are lit up now and we are smelling the smoke from them."

Several blocks from our house, the small suburban community of Highwood, IL was, once again, attempting to take the world record for jack-of-lanterns. Since the city of Boston, MA has been the reigning title holder, little Highwood's efforts are a study in determination and community spirit!

Three years ago, as the local chatter tells it, Highwood held a Pumpkin Festival featuring over one-thousand jack-o-lanterns.

Then the town got bigger ideas. Last year, they tried to set a world record for the most carved and lit up pumpkins in one place at one time. I tracked that effort here.

Last year, the total counts hit about 26,000 lit lanterns. But the record is about 30,000.

This year, Highwood set its target at 32,000. And to make things even more fun, they challenged the town of Keene, NH to a friendly competition.

Ever since Monday morning, I've been hearing that, while HW fell short of the goal, they beat the world record.


Apparently the final word is officially still out ... but the excitement is all in!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Helping Restore of a Treasured Joplin Park

UPDATE: This FB cite has pictures of the restored park -- and it is impressive!

The May 22nd tornado that destroyed 25-30% of Joplin, MO, took this treasured park along with everything else it took.

[Pre-tornado image of Cunningham Park, Joplin, MO from Google Earth]

That is what Cunningham looked like before the tornado. Here is what it looked like on May 23, 2011, the day after the tornado.

The spirited people of Joplin, MO -- with the help of many others -- have worked through one of the hottest summers on record to put their town and their lives back together.

Now they are asking friends and supporters everywhere to help a bit more -- this time with some clicks of a mouse!

Coca-Cola is running a grant contest this summer to assist park improvements. The Coca-Cola grant could be worth $100,000! -- if we take first place.

The winners will be determined by an on-line show of support. Here is how we can win together: follow the link below and click as directed to vote for Joplin's Cunningham Park.

There is strong competition for the funding. But the winning strategy is to have as many people as possible vote as frequently as possible. There are no limits on the number of times you can vote.

Vote for Cunningham Park

A kind and thoughtful friend of mine worried that he might be acting unfairly to vote over and over for Cunningham. "Aren't there other parks worthy of the funds?" he asked. And I told him what I will tell any of you who might share the same concern: yes, we have worthy competition -- but worthy in every respect.
Yes, like us, they have projects to fund that mean a great deal to the people involved. Yes, in at least some cases, they have sustained losses through no fault of their own, like we have.
But, like us, they are using every tactic and working every angle in this most honorable and vigorous competition. They, too, are power voting. They, too, like us, are asking for the support of family and friends throughout the country and throughout cyber-space.
It's like a game we are playing with very real prizes for the winners.
So as our kids are asking --


Vote for Cunningham Park


Check out the Facebook page for our voters: Coca-Cola Voting Marathon for Joplin! Online
Or read about the contest at Coca-Cola's Live Positively website.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Seeing It

We've always heard how a picture can communicate so much more than words alone and many friends have asked to me share or show or email or post my photographs of my hometown, Joplin, MO, in the aftermath of the May 22nd record-setting tornado.

Yet, despite the value of photographs, I want to tell you what my brother told me before I returned to Joplin about two weeks after the disaster: no matter how many photos or videos you see, pictures cannot compare to seeing it yourself. After two days of driving and walking the area and taking pictures, on the late afternoon of the second day, I went out again and felt as stunned by the sight as I had when I first saw it.

Nothing can do this justice, but here are about twenty of my best shots.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Close Calls

On Friday, May 20, 1988, a very disturbed woman named Laurie Dann went on a rampage which included shooting an eight-year-old boy to death in a Chicago suburban elementary school.

On Wednesday, December 21, 1988, a bomb explosion on a Pan Am Flight from London Heathrow Airport to John F. Kennedy International Airport killed everyone abroad and several people on the ground in Scotland as well.

On Sunday, May 22, 2011, a massive tornado set itself down and parked over Joplin, MO, killing people and destroying property beyond historic Missouri records.

Except for the human tragedies, these events have little to do with each other.

Unless you happen to be me.

On the day Laurie Dann shot and killed a second-grader at a Chicago north shore school, I HAD a second-grader at a Chicago north shore school. The Pan Am flight that was taken down was the same flight my husband's daughter took from London to Chicago just a couple of days before. And sixteen relatives of mine live in five households in Joplin, MO.

In each of these events, my beloveds were potentially in harms' way. And in each case, my own were spared while others were not. Each time, my attention was consumed for some time by the awareness of what others were suffering. My joy at 'dodging the bullet' was restrained by something like 'survivor guilt' -- pain for those who took the hit.

Human life is an admixture of luck and accomplishment, failure and crises and plenty of day-to-day routine. The big events, extreme events, for better or worse, sometimes are humanly caused and sometimes beyond human control. But the victims are generally innocent, so whether a crazy woman shoots a child or a crazy storm takes someone's brother or sister and their homes, we know: who is taken and who survives is utterly random.

I believe that.

I don't think I've been spared the crushing pain of losing my beloveds for any reason or because of any plan. I believe it is random.

But I also believe it is a reminder to all of us to live as fully as possible, to love every day of our lives – to love the people we care for and the lives we are blessed to live.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Question I Cannot Ask

Each week I pose a question via Twitter and Facebook in hopes of engaging and entertaining my friends with interesting conversation.

Sometimes the question concerns the way we use important words. For example, we've discussed how we use the words 'envy' and 'jealousy.' Sometimes I ask about particular types of experiences. I asked my friends to reveal the bravest thing he or she had done. Sometimes the question concerns wishes, whims, desires, thoughts or feelings. Recently during the Wisconsin teachers union action, I asked my friends how they feel in general about unions.

I keep a running list of new questions as they occur to me. There are a couple of questions that come to mind over and over. I write them down. Then when I consider using one of these question, I realize it is not a question most people would choose to talk about in public, with attribution. Since the answers are mostly posted on Facebook, in public, with attribution, it doesn't make sense to ask such a question.

But I just discovered that someone else has posed at least one of these questions in a format that allows people to respond anonymously. I've often consider asking: What is your greatest regret?

Want to get it off your chest? Check this out:

Friday, February 25, 2011

Here's a word barely worth knowing: coruscate. (Vocabulary 2011-4)

There are a few words I recognize slightly, but repeatedly have to look up. The verb 'coruscate' and its adjective sibling 'coruscant' are such words.

George Eliot uses that word and I knew I should remember what it means, but I had to reach for the dictionary. Then I knew why I never remember this word -- because except when some silly writer uses it, I have no use for it.

Coruscate is a Latinate word and as Latin contributions go, I guess it's okay. It means to flash or flicker, like a fire. It has a bit of a crackling sound to it, which is good. But it doesn't come close to at least a half dozen or more Anglo-Saxon words that capture that feeling of a sparkling flame. Consider twinkle or glitter or shine. Sputter and shimmer. Glitter and glow; gutter and glimmer.

Who needs 'coruscate'? But I bet you and I won't have to look it up again!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Word with No Definition? (Vocabulary 2011-3)

In George Eliot's 1871-2 novel Middlemarch, she uses the word 'worreting.' To the ear of a modern English speaker familiar with the words 'worry' and 'fret,' 'worret' sounds like an additional synonym for those. 'Worret' certainly suggests a ruminating, troubled state of mind. But of course words don't always mean what they sound like they'd mean, so I headed to a handy dictionary.

Where I found ... no listing for 'worret'!

As I have many occasions to use the words worry, fret, fuss and so forth, an additional synonym would be so welcome. Thus, I was a little frustrated. (Traveling, I'm away from my OED, where I'm guessing I will find its definition when I return home.)

However, I located a document on the Internet showing about a half dozen uses of the word in context, all occurring in literature written between about 1875 and 1915. From such context, the meaning of the word can be inferred.

Let's look at a couple or few cases.

The Middlemarch quote is:

Mr. Bulstrode could not enjoy life in their fashion, eating and drinking so little as he did, and worreting himself about everything, he must have a sort of vampire's feast in the sense of mastery.

Eliot also used the word twice in her 1859 novel Adam Bede. For example:

"They mean we shouldn’t be overanxious and worreting ourselves about what’ll happen to - morrow, but do our duty and leave the rest to God’s will."

In his 1871 study called Character, Samuel Smiles uses the word:

They have educated themselves in the habit of endurance, of not being easily provoked, of bearing and forbearing, of hearing harsh and even unjust things said of them without indulging in undue resentment, and avoiding worreting, petty, and self-tormenting cares.

Additional quotes use the word in much the same sense and I think we can reasonably conclude: worret is a lost synonym for worry or fret.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Everything Old is New Again
( Vocab. 2011-2)

This spring my reading group plans to focus on classics. In preparation, I've just re-read George Eliot's Middlemarch and Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie.

I've been struck by language and observations that seem so contemporary.

For example, writing in about 1870, Eliot makes a detailed observation on the social reality recently captured in the expression "eating out on." The point is that gossip and similar human events provide us opportunities for socializing.

But perhaps that's not so surprising; human nature is constant. More surprising to me are some of Dreiser's expressions. I was surprised when one of his late 1800's characters says the words "Come on, people." Or uses this expression I'd've sworn was born in the late 1960s: out of sight!

On the other hand, Eliot uses a number of words we don't use anymore. But prehaps we should.


When Eliot refers to 'any trash ... suspected of mean cupidity,' I assume a link of some kind with the word 'Cupid,' the impish Roman god who inspires love or desire. And, in fact, the words 'cupid' and 'cupidity' come from the same Latin root words. Yet, while Cupid has become rather lighthearted symbol of romantic love in our time, the word 'cupidity' has dropped from common use.

In my opinion, it's time to restore this solid synonym for 'greed' or 'avarice': cupidity.


And while we're restoring out of fashion words, I suggest another Eliot find: troublous. Meaning just what you'd expect, it can be a useful alternative to 'troublesome' and 'troubling.'

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Reflections on Desire and Greed

Back in the 80s, the expression 'greed is good' became popular for awhile. This verbal contradiction was used to call attention to the value associated with needs, wants and desires, the driver behind all effort and all production. Needs, wants, even longings and cravings, are normal and even necessary to life.

Greed cannot, however, literally be good, simply because the word ‘greed’ is intend to name a vice. For example, in the Christian faith, greed, also called avarice and covetous, is one of the seven deadly sins.

But the word play and other uses of the word 'greed' have had me reflecting for a long, long time about what distinguishes morally acceptable desire from contemptible greed. Greed is excessive desire, but the question remains: what is ordinary, fair desire and what is excessive? How do we decide?

I had largely come to think that action distinguishes ordinary desire from greed. Though sin-in-your-heart types might disagree, I have trouble believing desire that has no consequences is a vice. If, however, your desire seduces into you into dishonorable behavior like cheating, lying, stealing, committing fraud, that might distinguish greed.

But last week I posed this question – desire vs. greed – to my Facebook friends. (I didn’t get a rousing response, which probably means this question interests me more than it does most people. Perhaps I should be taking the hint!) Of the people who responded, most spoke of a psychic or emotional internal difference in the individual, not of behavior or action.

I recognize that that might be significant.

Curiously, all too often when I hear a person charge others -- whether individuals or organizations -- with greed, what I hear is frustration and resentment. I wonder if this is projection or a ‘takes one to know one’ phenomenon. Responding to frustration with resentment and bitterness is an error or vice of some kind; resentment eats the soul.

Thus, it comes together for me this way: greed is desire that corrupts. Desire that results in bitterness in the psyche or dishonor in action – or both -- : that’s greed.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Did a word ever send you on a wild goose chase? Me and suzerain. (Voc 2011-1)

When Gregg Easterbrook in his admittedly oversimplified description of modern Arabian psychology (The Progress Paradox , pg. 141) said "Americans asserted suzerainty over much of Islam's oil wealth," he sent me on a journey, as the folks from Raleigh County, GA say, "all the way to Egery and back."

The dictionary definition of 'suzerainty' refers one on to the word 'suzerain.'

A suzerain is a sovereign, either an individual or state, holding political control over another state, thus a dependent state. Historically, a suzerain was a feudal overlord.

Somehow that left me a little confused still about Easterbrook's use of the term. So I turned to Wikipedia to read up on 'suzerainty.' Wikipedia says that 'suzerainty' refers to a relationship between a superior and subordinate for which there are no accurate contemporary examples. The accurate use of the word, I gathered, refers to the relationship between a feudal lord and his vassals.

Before I realized what I'd done, I was reading up on the etiology of the word 'suzerain,' feudalism as a concept, feudal law, the history of OPEC and more generally the history of the petroleum industry in the Arabian peninsula and heaven knows what else!

So, guess what. I now have a fairly good idea where the word came from, why the word was coined in about 1600, how it was intended to distinguish a very specific relationship of reciprocal obligations between two political entities and how that relationship, if it every really existed, wasn't named or defined until it had ceased to exist. And I know the word is being used today in a very loose and unclear fashion to refer to various power relationships; the word tells us nothing about the nature, source or practices associated with the so named power relationship.

That said, nowadays the word 'suzerain' means 'overlord' and the word 'suzerainty' can be taken to mean 'overlordship' or the position of an overlord.

Chase done; there we go.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Judging a book by its ... title!

Have you ever bought a book simply because the title was


That what I did when I came across the title I Never Metaphor

I Didn't Like.

At first, I didn't really read the book. From time to time, I'd

open it and read a few of the quotes -- metaphors, similes,

analogies and similar items. That, it turns out, is a perfectly

reasonable approach to this book.

A couple of weeks ago, I started borrowing quotes from the

book for my Facebook status updates.

I was enjoying that quite a bit, but doing that got me curious

about the author and how he came to write such a book. So

I started reading from the start and discovered that the author,

Mardy Grothe, is a psychologist who started collecting phrases

and expressions he liked when he was a undergraduate student

in the 60s.

In addition to a career in psychology with a focus on business

relationships, Grothe has spent years fascinated by wordplay

and verbal witticisms. So far he has published five books

exploring imaginative use of language.

So, this note is an acknowledgement of Mardy Grothe, I Never

Metaphor I Didn't Like and the source of my recent and coming

metaphor Facebook status messages.

Thanks, Dr. Mardy!