Friday, January 25, 2019

Family Idioms and Other Musings

I don't know if all families have phrases unique to them or not. I thought I'd share a few that we use  - no copyright infringement worries, feel free to take whatever works for you.

Ear read - to listen to an audiobook.  My wife coined that phrase several years ago.

Cat follow - to be on your way to another part of your house while the cat moseys in front, zig-zagging at regular intervals so you can't pass.  This is not an issue if you're heading for their food bowls, you'll find them waiting for you when you arrive and chastising you for taking so long.  The phrase could also be applied to someone sightseeing in front of you on a crowded sidewalk when you're trying to get to an appointment.

Spank up - to get your act together.  This one came from our older granddaughter when she was about two.  If her dad was not performing to her liking when he was her 'horsey' we'd hear "Spank up Daddy!"  I'm speculating a bit on the definition because said granddaughter, now in her twenties, has no recollection of saying it much less knowing what she meant.

Whip around - usually said at the dinner table, as in "Whip around and grab the ketchup."  Who remembers when 'catsup' was the accepted spelling of that condiment?

Cat bound - the condition obtained when one or more of your feline masters decides to use you as a bed, bathtub, or place to sit and converse face to face.  On the upside, being in this condition absolves you from procuring another cup of coffee for your spouse.  On the downside, it's a given that once you have relaxed into this position, your bladder issues an urgent call for relief.

There are likely several more that my aging brain cannot regurgitate now.

Speaking of cats (we were, weren't we), I'm sitting, feet on the ottoman Carol bought for my birthday several years ago, a cat—Elvis—curled up in my lap, waiting for the fire I started in the fireplace to actually become a fire rather than a suggestion of one.  When Elvis curls up this way,
with his paw over his nose, he snores.  While I was writing this he had a short dream—apparently chasing something.  He is 19 years old with arthritic hips and hasn't chased anything in years, but he dreams about it.  We are aging together but he, being a cat, is far more aware of his limitations than his aging  human servant.  Said servant incurred another stairway related injury last Saturday.  The few of you who are my readers may recall the last one as I tried to take a heavy reclining chair downstairs—The post is titled Not Even Close if you wish to refresh your memory.

The current incident didn't involve a full staircase this time, merely four or five steps from a bicycle shop where I went to retrieve our bicycles after their tuneups.  The rather ingenious stairway is half steps and half ramp so one can roll the bicycle down while walking beside it.  In the hands of most folks a fairly easy task.

 I blame my left-handedness for making it otherwise for like most things in our world, the described platform is geared toward righties.  Not being one of them I took my bike through the door in a position that would have had me on the ramp and the machine on the steps.  In an attempt to rectify the situation, while on my way down rather than at the landing before the descent, the bike and I got tangled causing me to swan dive over it and land on my head on the sidewalk.  Meanwhile one of the pedals and my left ankle (yes the same one that suffered injury in my last stairway adventure) met and the metal edge of said pedal carved up the ankle a bit.

A trip to the Vassar ER to be mended and medicated and ultimately released, followed.  I'm mending quite well and there appears to be no permanent damage to anything other than my pride.  I have a mild concussion and a funky looking scrape and cut on my head and stitches in my lower left leg, but all is well.

I think I got here comparing the sensible way my cat is aging compared to the way I try to ignore my own years.  Anyway, it's been an interesting week.

Until next time,

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Why We Are Where We Are (Maybe)

I've often thought that one of the biggest US errors, of many, was allowing TV cameras to broadcast the workings of congress live.  With 535 people, many with enormous egos, given access to ears and eyes outside their chambers, opportunities for rational debates on issues often  turn into political posturing.  A wonderful close friend remarked a few days ago, after attending Congressman Antonio Delgado's swearing in ceremony, this about Senator Chuck Schumer, "... I am so glad to report that he was so great and funny and relaxed and not at all like he is on TV!!! I wish he could do that more often."

Need I say more?  No, but I probably will.

We are now experiencing the petulant child we elected president refusing to let the government run until he is assured funding for his absurd wall.  The part of this that I find most disturbing is the ability of one person, Mitch McConnell, to stall a veto proof majority vote to reopen the government simply by refusing to allow it.  WTF?  If one person can stop the legislative process, where is our representative democracy?  I don't understand.  The US Constitution assures us that the branches of government created by the document are co-equal bodies.  Why then does McConnell await the child's permission to move the government along?  And why has the Senate not replaced this man with someone who cares about the USA?  Is there no way the Senate majority can say "This man is not serving to lead; let's replace him."?

This old crotchety concerned citizen wants to know.

Friday, December 21, 2018

To Perseverate or not to Perseverate

Train of Thought
Writers are by nature collectors of words, consciously or unconsciously.  When Carol is reading and comes upon an unfamiliar word and can't discern its meaning to her satisfaction through context, she asks "Do you know what ------ means?"  Being normally umbilically connected to a computer, I look it up.  Most recently the word was Perseveration

 Querying the omniscient Google, I discovered the answer.  I present its verb form below.

Perseverate - Repeat or prolong an action, thought, or utterance after the stimulus that prompted it has ceased.

The verb apparently was coined by German Psychologists circa 1915— need I mention names? But it is the noun that Carol asked about so ...

Perseveration — early 15c., "duration, quality of persisting; will to persevere," from Old French perseveracion "persistence, stubbornness" (13c.) and directly, from Latin perseverationem (nominative perseveratio), noun of action from past participle stem of perseverare (see persevere).  

Note: A synonym is Stubbornness.

Well now we have a familiar word to look at ... 

Persevere – to Continue in a course of action even in the face of difficulty or with little or no prospect of success.

Which brings us to another familiar word ...

Persist – Continue firmly or obstinately in an opinion or a course of action in spite of difficulty, opposition, or failure.

Both words have PER as part of their etymology, but in Persist it is translated as Thoroughly and in Persevere as Steadfastly.  Not quite synonymous.

Perseveration is kinda fun!  

Until next time,

Thursday, December 6, 2018

River Pebbles and Glitter

These two dissimilar items came into contact when Carol, a very creative and loving 'class Grandmother' for seven and eight year old Hebrew School kids, decided that for this month's project each of them would make a functioning menorah!  They were meeting in the middle of Chanukah after all.  This idea germinated about two weeks before the scheduled project so time was short to assemble materials, especially when there was no materials list - because there was no design.

Undaunted, my loving wife searched our brains (she uses mine as a supplement since it is very rarely engaged elsewhere) to come up with a solution that would engage five youngsters for an hour or so and not burn the building to the ground.  It had to be small enough for them to take home, safe enough to be lit with supervision, and inexpensive enough to satisfy Carol's inbred frugality.

After trips to the local hardware store and the town reuse building at the recycling center, she went online to Amazon and found a solution - four ounce aluminum foil soufflé cups, minimum order 150.  Carol needed 54.  After another day of searching: the large chain hardware store, the large chain hobby store, she ordered 150 soufflé cups.

Next?  Mounting them on a stable base.  I came home from breakfast with friends to find an eight foot long piece of half inch plywood on the front walk. Inside the house were wood scraps of varying sizes, shapes, and thicknesses - including an old lap desk that had been sleeping in our library downstairs.

The optimal size turned out to be 12x15 inches so I cut one that size from scrap plywood that Carol could use to model the finished product.  How to attach the cups? Glue! I assembled the varieties we had in the house, then we strained our eyes to read the VERY fine print on each.  Carol decided to try them one-by-one.

Knowing I'd have to cut the other five pieces from the eight footer on the walkway with the handheld circular saw, I decided to buy a new blade with a finer cut to minimize sanding.  As I perused saw blades in our local True Value, my phone rang.  "Gorilla Glue works.  Get more so we don't run out."  Adding an eight ounce bottle to my blade purchase, I made for the checkout then realized we needed five individual containers for the river pebbles. I included five small paint buckets.

Carol's idea included having the kids pour river pebbles around the candles as they held them steady in the soufflé cups.  In order to make sure she had enough pebbles, she purchased two forty pound bags.

The evening before the project we glued eight cups in an arc onto each board.  The cup for the Shamash candle was mounted on an inverted cat food can (well scrubbed and unlabeled) glued at the approximate midpoint of the interior of the arc.  The finished product actually looked pretty good.

In order to be as gentle as possible with her creation, Carol decided that all the assembly would be done in separate cups that would then be dropped into the permanently mounted set.  150 cups didn't look like an over-purchase anymore.

With five miscellaneous containers of river pebbles (I returned the buckets), bottles of blue and silver glitter, clear washable Elmers Glue, and the five skeleton menorahs, we set up a table before the kids arrived and covered it with a cloth so they wouldn't see it.  I left to do some organizing of my photos.

Carol learned several things that afternoon: Gorilla Glue cannot hold soufflé cups against the eager attention of a seven year old, Glitter gets into everything, and some kids have to be reminded that candles - especially the Shamash candle - should not be glued into the river pebbles.

The following morning we thumbtacked the cups to the base, cleaned up the bulk of the glitter and the stray river pebbles, and stabilized all the candles straight and neat in their cozy little cups in  preparation for the Chanukah Party when the kids will retrieve them for the lighting of the eighth candle.
Carol's Demo Model

Carol's assessment? "Next time I'll do something a little less ambitious."

Oh, does anyone need seventy-five pounds of river pebbles?

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Sorry for Your Loss

Folks say Sorry for your loss because it gives the receiver comfort I guess.  Sometimes folks say it because some sentiment is expected, but is it?  And if it's not coming from one's heart isn't it just a self-serving throwaway?  Who knows.

As I write this I recall a time when a friend and colleague had suddenly lost, I believe, her first grandchild.  Having five of my own I could only begin to imagine what such a loss would do to me.  When I walked into the office someone said, "She wants to be left alone."  As she stood beside her desk, I crossed the room and wrapped my arms around her.  She squeezed me tight and cried into my shoulder.

I've never been able to cry when I need to.  My dad: WW-II vet, gentle giant, my hero, told me when I was very young that men don't cry.  I don't blame him.  It was the male mantra of the time.  But there are times, like now, I wish I could.  Oh, I cloud up, I feel the urge, but I can't/won't let it come.

Betsy died Saturday.  We worked together at Empire State College for a short time.  We wrote together at a funky beach house named Duckdog for a short time.  We kept in touch electronically over the years, years when she battled cancer to a standstill then had to battle it again.  I can't say she lost.  I'd bet it was a draw and she decided it was time to go.

She wrote from her heart - memoir - growing up in a small upstate town.  When she read her work to us later in the evening, her memories were illustrated in her face, happy, sad, wistful, all shown clearly.  She wrote with honesty and candor, some regrets, no excuses.  The writing crew enjoyed her as she enjoyed us.

She was sometimes serious

Sometimes not

Sometimes Curious

Sometimes not

But she was always that person who was fun to be around.  I'll miss her.  I wish I could hug and cry with her family and friends today.  I can't seem to do it alone.  

I'm so sorry for our loss.

Friday, June 22, 2018


"An egoless acceptance of stuckness is a key to an understanding of all Quality." Robert  M. Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance)

I have been fighting stuckness for more than four years now.  It's as if my physical trauma back then somehow grabbed hold of the mind that once spilled over with creative story ideas, wrapped a chain around it, and stuffed it in a closet.  I haven't been able to accept the situation yet. I keep pushing back, trying to pick the pocket of my jailer and get the key to the chains, but it hasn't worked. 

For example: the seventy-six words in the preceding paragraph took more than half an hour to write. Five years ago it would have spilled onto this blog in less than a minute.  
Why not now?  Not only did it take that much time, but the act of putting those words out was also anxiety provoking.

Here is my thought: to write whatever comes into my head without censoring anything and see where that goes.  Are you ready?


Note: It is now over a month later.  So much for moving on.  I wasn't ready.

In my defense, I was on the road from May 12th until June 8th.  But still: I had sporadic internet access, I've been sketching out a travelogue of the trip each day, and I had ample time to compose my thoughts, but I didn't.


It is now June 22nd.  I had breakfast with good friends and we discussed, of all things, politics ... sort of.  We talked about the term progressive among others, but I want to highlight progressive.  Not the capitalized word with the article 'a' in front, but the simple noun.  

I am progressive in that: I believe in the right of everyone to have access to health care that is not driven by their ability to pay, I believe that we need to make sure all residents of the USA have housing, food, and access to quality education, I believe that capitalism works when it isn't accompanied by greed, I believe that everyone who is able to work for a living should - but if there are no jobs they should still be able to have a home, food, health care, and education.  I believe that every job should pay well enough to provide those necessities.
I believe that government is responsible for ensuring that those elements work and that, when one's work life is ended, there is support through the remainder of that life to enjoy the fruits of  years of labor without worry.   

For me progressive is not a label, it is an attitude, a way of looking at my world.

We as Americans, and I suppose all other members of humanity, tend to apply labels to people, and that's unfortunate.  We label them by religion, by political perspective, by income, by ethnicity, by color, by sexual orientation, by gender identification, by any of a bunch of other terms.  The only label that has any validity is Human.  everything else is an attempt to find a slot, a convenient place where we don't have to treat the person as an individual, where we can apply a set of generic opinions which is easier than getting to know them.

I try to reject labels when getting to know a person.  I try.  Mostly I succeed, but not all the time.  I guess I'm asking all of you who read my infrequent posts to look into your own attitudes toward people and try to see them as individuals, not as labels.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

High Anxiety

Last couple of months I've been getting anxious - feeling that something's wrong, occasional dizziness, tension, and other sensations I can't come up with words to describe. It hasn't occurred often, but when it does it's debilitating for the relatively short period of time it's happening

Having had no prior experience with this, I'm not sure how to deal with it. When I'm in the middle of the situation, the intensity is scary, like I need to go to the hospital or something to get help. Then it's gone. Like now. Twenty minutes ago I was in the middle of one of these events and gave serious consideration to a trip to the ER.

That's a cruddy way to live. I have a new appreciation for folks who suffer from this ... malady? condition? I have no idea what to call it ... on a regular basis. I hope not to become a member of that group, but then I may not have a choice.

Things I'm gonna do to attempt to mitigate the situation:

Meditate every day, increase my exercise regimen and yoga, and whatever else I can figure out to calm my mind.

Side note: Carol - busy making dinner and watching PBS Evening News - put flour in the sifter then saw it was in the bowl upside down. Combine that with Elvis, my primary cat, asleep on my lap, and life is good.
Elvis is on the Right - Zorro on the Left

Stay safe people. And love your neighbor, even when it's hard sometimes.