Monday, November 29, 2010

Refudiate THAT, My Friends!

It’s official, and you may have already heard the news: the New Oxford American Dictionary has named ‘refudiate’ its 2010 Word of the Year. That sound you hear is coming from linguists who’ve lain peacefully at rest for millennia, but are now spinning in their graves.

The new word originated last summer when Sarah Palin used it on Twitter. She bollixed up ‘refute’ and ‘repudiate’ and out came ‘refudiate’.

Much as I hate to say it, I kind of like the word. I can’t disagree with the practicality of it—it serves a useful purpose, and while my gut reaction is to revolt because of my political reaction to Sarah, I’m going out on a limb to defend the creation of something that actually makes sense to me.

The Oxford people point out that it suggests a general ‘rejection’, where neither ‘refute’ nor ‘repudiate’ were suitable. Of course, they don’t mention the fact that she could have just said ‘reject’.

Sarah’s original tweet was a message urging Muslims to ______ the planned building of a mosque on a site in New York near Ground Zero. ‘Reject’ would have worked just fine, but ‘refudiate’ just seemed to fall onto the page.

I’m not inclined to liken Ms. Palin to Shakespeare, as she herself did, pointing out that Shakespeare coined new words all the time. But, as Seth Meyers pointed out on SNL’s Weekend Update the other night, Shakespeare came up with new words deliberately, and Palin’s new creation was what he called a word ‘fender-bender’.

Still, when the Oxford people want to elevate the status of a new word such as this one, who am I to judquestion? Tweet.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Look What I Found!

I may not clean house as often as I used to—hey, stop laughing—at least I get to it eventually! But anyway, when I clean, I REALLY clean. Baseboards, window sills, door frames, all the little nooks and crannies of every piece of furniture in the house. Except for the fact that no matter how hard I try, I always seem to realize at the end (just after all the cleaning rags have gone into the washing machine, and the cleaning products are put away) that I’ve forgotten one thing. And it’s never the same thing, so even though I think I’m double-checking myself, I still find later that I missed one table or one shelf, or some little spot. It’s frustrating, but I get over it.

So the other day, as I was diligently polishing the dresser in the guest room, I happened to open a drawer that appeared to be a little off-kilter. I was greeted by happiness, lollipops, rainbows and sunshine! It was so wonderful and so unexpected that I took a picture of it to share it with you.

Now you know that I haven’t cleaned that room since our older son was here the last week of October. My excuse is that awful cold I had for a couple of weeks that also kept me from going to the gym. Yeah, that and a basic and generalized aversion to cleaning. But back to the important stuff, it was a grand reminder of having Jason and Kaitlyn here with us for a visit. I’m somewhat surprised that they still haven’t noticed that she’s missing so many outfits, but life with a 2 ½ year-old is like that…

So I’m going to box them up and send them off to Boston, and dry my tears. I’ll just look at the photos we took when she was here. We covered the zoo, the Museum of Transportation, the pumpkin farm and more. And she still had time to visit all the rest of her St. Louis fan club, which is sizeable.

Maybe I’ll go open some more drawers. I may find Jimmy Hoffa or the Hope Diamond. Maybe Jimmy Hoffa wearing the Hope Diamond.  Hmmm. Maybe I’ll just let sleeping dogs lie…

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Dates to Celebrate, Consecrate and Commemorate

Now that we’ve covered astrological signs, what about certain dates of birth? I get a daily e-mail from Garrison Keillor (no, we’re not such good friends) that comes under the guise of “Writer’s Almanac”. It’s really cool. (Yes, remember, I long ago admitted to being the world’s biggest nerd.) It starts out with a poem for the day, then goes on to cite important events that happened on the current date, often the dates of birth of famous people, usually literary people.

Garrison Keillor

This fascinates me, and I don’t know why. Ever since I was a little kid, and you’d find the special feature on the comics page in the newspaper every day (remember newspapers?) of “Today’s Birthdays”, I liked seeing the famous names, and guessing how old they were. “Ginger Rogers—Mom, guess how old!” or “President Nixon, really, come on—guess!” Yeah, that’s how cool I was, and I haven’t gotten over it, either.

So now I get a daily dose from the Writer’s Almanac of special birthdays and special events. What especially impresses me, though, is the aggregation of some amazing people on the same date. I’ve been jotting some of them down, because it just seems to me to be pretty remarkable that a cluster of highly renowned folks were born on the same day. Granted, this is usually many years apart, but still, I am kind of fascinated by it.

In July there was an especially strong run of these coincident dates. Look at this:

On July 3, Tom Stoppard (1937), Dave Barry (1947), and Franz Kafka (1883) all shared this birthday. This does not even include my old friend Jerry J. (1950). Now Stoppard, Barry, and Kafka wrote in entirely different genres, one could even say they were in different worlds, but I still think it’s remarkable that they all were born on the third of July.

Dave Barry

Then on the fourth, Thoreau moved into Walden Cabin (1845), Walt Whitman published Leaves of Grass (1855), and Nathaniel Hawthorne was born (1804). Not to mention the signing of the Declaration of Independence. (I asked you not to mention that.)

As if that weren’t enough, look at the significance of the 26th of July: George Bernard Shaw (1856), Aldous Huxley (1894), and Carl Jung (1875) were all born on that day. Also, my daughter’s childhood friend Jason R. (1976). How much fame does one day get? This is a veritable plethora of big-brained people who achieved some level of either greatness or notoriety or at least fame, all born on the same day. Hey, even Jason’s a big-time surgeon now.

Carl Jung

So does it all mean anything? I looked again at the info for my very own birthday, June 14. Growing up, whereas just about every other day in the year had the birthday of someone admirable or exciting (or both) in the comics section feature, I remember every year being disappointed to find just boring old fat and dumpy Burl Ives. Sorry, but I never liked the guy, and came to resent him for sharing my birthday. Granted, he had it first (1909!—that’s waaaaay first!) but still, it irked me.

The dreaded Burl Ives....

Now along comes the Writer’s Almanac, and I learn that my birthday is also shared with Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811), and John Bartlett, who started the whole “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations” project (1820). Now that’s better. I’m not feeling badly at all about sharing with such literary icons.

And with the advent of Google, I have learned that Boy George, Che Guevara and Donald Trump were all born on the fourteenth of June, Flag Day, just as I was. Maybe I was better off not knowing.

Boy George

Monday, November 22, 2010

Gemini Meets Scorpio

I’m not at all knowledgeable about astrological signs. I know people who are, and I think it’s kind of cool, but I never learned much about it. I’m a Gemini, and I do think that accounts for my split personality, but then again, so do I.

I used to work with a woman named Linda, who would always ask when someone’s birthday was, then she’d say, “Oh, you’re a Sagittarius!” or whatever sign was correct. Then she’d ask about the boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse/whatever, and pronounce her assessment of whether the relationship had a chance at happiness or was doomed to go up in smoke. She knew this stuff cold, too. “Oh, no, he’s going to be selfish and isolating,” or “You don’t want to trust her with your kids or money—they’re (whatever the sign was) so irresponsible!” I don’t know how she knew this, but she was pretty sure that my hub, [the Center of the Universe, when he was still ‘the boyfriend’] and I would work out great. “Gemini and Scorpio—that’s a very strong combination,” she asserted.

Now, however, I find Linda was either learning from a different playbook, or fifteen years has changed the conventional wisdom. And, since fifteen years is nothing in the big scheme of things, I seriously doubt it’s the latter. Anyway, if you Google ‘Gemini and Scorpio compatibility’, you will find this view of things:

A Gemini and a Scorpio are like two ends of the same pole. They are totally opposite to one another in almost all the aspects of their personality, making this zodiac match a difficult one. The Scorpion is a highly emotional individual, who always forges deep, meaningful relationships. A Gemini, on the other hand, hardly becomes attached to people and most of his love relationships tend to be superficial ones. The frivolousness of a Gemini will not go down too well with a Scorpio and he is most likely to find the former as too childish, immature and irresponsible.

Now, frankly, not to give out too much personal information, but that particular description of the Scorpio couldn’t be further from the truth about CoTU. It describes me far better than it does him. In fact, a case could be made that they got us totally reversed, or at least partially so. So was Linda just nudging me along, hoping we’d self-destruct, or did she have special psychic insights?

This is a little like the Chinese restaurant placemat information on birth years… If you were born in the Year of the Rat, can you successfully marry someone born in the Year of the Monkey? Does it all depend upon the phase of the moon? Which system takes precedence? Do the Chinese birth years override the astrological signs, or is it the other way around?

Pig, rat, snake, monkey, ox—not too much to aspire to, if stereotypes hold. What does that leave?—rabbit, rooster, horse, dog, dragon, tiger… Hmmm… Maybe I was better off trying to grasp the signs of the zodiac. Aries, Taurus, Cancer, Libra—they just sound less judge-y…

So for all you readers out there who are into on-line dating, do any of these things become factors for you? Does anyone really take these things seriously when you meet someone you might want to date, or is the old ‘personal chemistry’ still the gold standard when it comes to choosing a significant other?

In either case, despite what they say online, this particular Gemini and CoTU, my Scorpio hubster, are doing just fine. So maybe Linda knew better than the websites, in the final analysis.

Perhaps the labels and the generalizations are just another way we try to cubbyhole each other. I guess it’s still best not to try to put a monkey and a rat in a Taurus. Somebody’s gonna get hurt. Especially if the monkey’s driving.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Ding-Dong, Get Your Wallet Out

Remember that conversation we had the other day about how we hate it when our kids have to go out and sell stuff for their schools, or their sports teams, or their scout troops? Wait, that wasn’t here—someone else blogged about how they hate it when their coworkers turn their cubicles into a sales booth for those kid-driven products. I believe she might have also mentioned the tiny Avon/Mary Kay/Scented-Candles-I-Don’t-Really-Want emporia that lurk in what should be a larger workplace dedicated to the people who give you your paycheck.

Actually, that blogger was Stephanie Faris who writes a great blog called “Steph in the City”. As usual, she was spot-on in her analysis of the situation.

I was sufficiently moved by her post that I commented as follows:

Yeah, this stuff is way out of control. It's bad enough that I paid a neighbor kid $17 for a bag of caramel popcorn for his boy scout troop (I am not kidding), but that's because I believe in supporting the kids who are willing to ring the doorbells on our block and ask. In the workplace?-- I always hated it. It seems to me to be totally wrong. When I had the authority, I would tell people they could leave their brochures and sign-up sheets in the break room, but not approach people personally on work time.... Didn't always work, but I sure tried...

But I’m out of the workplace now, and subject only to the ringing of the doorbell with the occasional adorable kid from the neighborhood trying to peddle gift wrap, cheese and sausage packages, popcorn, magazine subscriptions and the like.

My husband, the Center of the Universe (CoTU) is a real soft touch. He plays tough, but the fact is, he will rarely pass kids running a lemonade stand without stopping to buy a cup. If he absolutely can’t stop, then he talks about how badly he feels about letting them down for the next twenty minutes in the car.

And any time a kid rings the bell with a fundraiser, we always step up and find something to purchase.

So it’s as if there’s a giant red neon arrow over our front door that flashes the word “SUCKERS” when school fundraising season comes around.

About a month ago a neighbor boy came to the door, and CoTU answered. He was out on the porch for kind of a long time. When he came back, he said, “I hope you like caramel corn.” (Side note: After 15 years, shouldn’t he know whether I like caramel corn?) But anyway, when I asked why, he told me he had just spent $17 on a bag of caramel corn for this kid’s scout troop.

“Seventeen dollars???” I asked, incredulous. “The bag better be the size of Montana for that kind of money…. And aren’t we both trying to lose weight?”

“Well, you know how it is,” he said. “These kids are forced to raise money—how can I say no?”

Of course, I’m secretly glad that this is one of his characteristics—helping the kids out. I just wish it didn’t come laden with so many calories.

So the other day the doorbell rings again. Cynic that I am, I look out the window first to make sure it’s not the toothless boys from Deliverance trying to sell us firewood. We are in the firewood season, after all. I didn’t see a truck, and anyway CoTU was already opening the door.

Aha, the young lad with his bag-o-calories. Not the size of Montana, not the size of Iowa, not even the size of Rhode Island. It would easily fit into my gym bag. With the clothes, shoes and towel already in it. And the water bottle. And headphones. Anyway…

So I see CoTU bringing the bag into the kitchen, and he’s laughing. I see the bag, and I hear his laughter, and I say, “Next time, maybe we just shouldn’t open the door.”

Then he turns the bag around and shows me what’s cracking him up.

“Great,” I admit. “The little manipulator knows his craft—we are putty in his tiny little hands.”

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


This morning my husband, the Center of the Universe (CoTU) and I were clueing each other in on our respective schedules for the day. I had a dental appointment, which means I was picking up our dear friend Ruth, because we always go to the dentist together. Ruth doesn’t drive, we go to the same dentist, and I love Ruth dearly, so it’s a great excuse to see each other and catch up on our respective families and lives.

Did I mention that Ruth has a birthday in a few weeks? No? Okay, she’s turning 98 in a couple of weeks. A-mazing. She has a better memory than I do, and it doesn’t hurt that she looks about 75. No joke. Oh yes, and she just signed another two-year lease on her apartment. She lives independently. She is my hero and my personal role model. If I’m doing as well at 78 as she is at 98, I’ll be quite satisfied.

So, one more little detail. Ruth’s daughter and I were best friends in our youth, and in the early ‘70s we married brothers. This means that Ruth’s grandsons and my kids are first cousins. Diagram it, it’s true. So Ruth is family because we love her, but we also have a familial claim on her.

I lied—here’s one last bit of trivia… You could not say the name “Ruth B.” in front of my dad without him stopping you and interjecting, “She’s such a doll!” Okay, I’m done. I’m just saying….

So I was going to the dentist, then to take Ruth on whatever errands she needed to do, then to lunch. I always look forward to our outings.

CoTU was planning to drop off some items at his parents’ place, pick up some 9-volt batteries, and make a perfunctory stop at Home Depot. If he’s not there every couple of days, they call us to make sure he’s all right. Kidding. A little.

In the middle of his rundown, I subconsciously reached up to adjust my necklace. CoTU stopped abruptly, and said, “What???”

I said, “Nothing, I’m listening—go on.”

“No,” he said, “are you trying to show me your necklace? Was I supposed to notice something?”

I shook my head. “Honestly, I was innocently fiddling with it to make sure it was centered. What would you think you were supposed to notice?”

“Well,” he ventured, “I don’t remember seeing that before. I thought maybe it was new.”

“Hmmm. This is the necklace I took with us to Abby’s wedding in Chicago a few weeks ago. I wore it for three solid days. I wore it on our tenth anniversary a few weeks ago. I wore it when we went out for dinner last week. I’ve had it since before I met you. It’s probably the piece of jewelry I wear most often, sweetheart.”

He fidgeted and shuffled and looked at his watch. “You know,” he said, “it’s not even nine o’clock and I’m already in trouble.”

“Look at the bright side,” I reasoned. “At least we weren’t up at six—you probably saved yourself a good three hours in the doghouse.”

But I tossed him a Milk-Bone before I left.

Monday, November 15, 2010

National Day of Listening

So for once I seem to have heard about a National Day of Something before it actually happened. You may recall that earlier this year I was late to the party when it came to National Coffee Day and National Punctuation Day. I still haven’t recovered from those shocking realizations. And since I didn’t r.s.v.p., I probably won’t be invited next year, either! So you can imagine how delighted I am to have heard of the National Day of Listening in time to participate!

Yes, the National Day of Listening will be Friday, November 26th. That’s the day after Thanksgiving, so if you’re not out shopping, snapping up the bargains you’re seeking for your holiday celebrations, consider taking part. Husbands, typically handicapped in the realm of listening, need not apply.

This project falls under the umbrella of the StoryCorps, whose vignettes you may have heard on NPR. They are usually brief interviews conducted by one family member of another, or the two participants may be friends, neighbors or co-workers. I’ve heard many of them broadcast over the years, and am always affected by them. Some are poignant and touch my heart. Some amaze me with their insights and perspectives. I’ve never turned the radio off in the middle of one.

It may seem obvious, but I mostly end up wishing I could interview one of my parents, or grandparents. Maybe my lovely Aunt Sadie. Someone I’ve lost, and wish I knew more about. Someone who meant the world to me, whose secrets might bring me a clearer understanding of who they were, and what they wanted for me. Or what they would think of how I turned out, how wonderfully my kids turned out, and how fabulous my grandkids are.

I’d like to have that time machine, but I know it is not possible. What is possible, though, is taping interviews with my kids (we’ll be in D.C. with the newlyweds) to see what’s in their hearts, that they might not expose in our day-to-day interactions. And maybe we’ll disclose something of ourselves in the process. I envision all of us getting to know each other in a slightly new way. Doesn’t that sound like a good idea? If they have questions for us, and I imagine they can come up with plenty—after all they are both former newspaper reporters—perhaps one day they won’t have the same regrets I have. Sure, they’ll have some regrets—who doesn’t? But at least they’ll be different, and possibly less substantial.

Interviews done for this project can be uploaded to the “Wall of Listening” at the StoryCorps website You can also upload them to Facebook, or post them on your own site to share with your loved ones.

So on November 26th, think about taking out a tape recorder, and asking some questions of someone important to you. And keep it nice—this post-Thanksgiving experience should be about positive things, and possibly difficult things, but not anything likely to cause hurt feelings, or a rift between people. I’m just saying… And then think about uploading that interview (or those interviews) to the Wall of Listening. You may touch hearts all over the world.

By listening closely to one another, we can help illuminate the true character of this nation reminding us all just how precious each day can be and how great it is to be alive.

Dave Isay
Founder & President, StoryCorps

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

It's a Car

I know a lot of people anthropomorphize their vehicles, give them names, pat them on the fender at the end of a trip and generally consider them to be members of the family. But those people (for the most part—certain exceptions apply, of course) know that that big hunk of steel and plastic is not, in fact, human. They know that a car is a car, a pet is a pet, and a teenager is a nightmare. But that’s not important right now.

My daughter and son-in-law bought a Hyundai Vera Cruz last year. They’re quite happy with it, and treat it like a car. Well, like an SUV. After all, when you need room for two child car seats, what can you do?

Anyhoo, Hyundai is diligent, or possibly even aggressive about their customer satisfaction. They mail out questionnaires and surveys, and go to serious lengths to understand the owner’s relationship with the vehicle. It seems to me that this borders on the kinky.

Following are direct quotes, and honestly, I swear I am not making this up—from a survey they received from Hyundai:

1. If your Hyundai was a person, which of the following traits would describe it? Environmentally-friendly, passionate, peaceful (yeah, it meditates whenever left alone in the garage), tough, outdoorsy (no, I see the car more as a family-room kind of accessory), charming, upper-class, successful, intelligent, reliable, up-to-date, imaginative (just yesterday it suggested a more scenic route on the way home from work), spirited, daring (yup, cut somebody off in traffic just for the sheer sport of it), cheerful, wholesome, honest (wouldn’t keep the change that fell out of my pants pocket), down-to-earth (um, what, you know a car that’s hoity-toity?)

2. Which of the following statements are true of you?

I believe the greater good stems from truth and wisdom.

I strive to bring the world closer together.

Technology and electronic products are not simplifying my life.

I usually do a lot of research before I purchase a product.

Seriously? I bought one of your cars—I’m not applying for a job in the CIA and I’m not marrying your daughter. If I get approved for financing and the check clears—we’re done here. Nice knowing you, see you when my warranty expires. End of story—my views of truth and wisdom should be between me and my significant other. Car maker? --not so much.

When my 90-year old friend bought an Isuzu sedan and named it “Suzy”, I thought it was endearing. But nobody put her through an extended psychoanalytic assessment to determine her mental status.

Okay, hers was white, not red.  Sue me...

Yikes—back off, Hyundai. You’re not taking over the world one driver at a time. Or then again, if you are, get your info from that guy across the street. He’s pin-striping his Sonata right now. Wonder what that means….

Monday, November 8, 2010

If the Name Fits...

Gee, it’s been ages since we talked about people whose names fit their occupations. Must be time to update our list.

In the past we had lots of doctors like:

Dr. Philpott, the urologist. Wait, I must remind you that these are REAL examples of REAL people, and not fictitious, fictionalized figments of my imagination.

So, where was I? Oh yes, Dr. Wink, the optometrist. Dr. Bonebrake, the orthopedic surgeon.

But in the interim I’ve encountered the following professionals:

During the whole BP mess in the Gulf, did anyone else find it interesting that their spokesman was a guy named “Kent Wells”? You know, like on “Car Talk”, where their Chicken Soup Provisioner (sic) is Kent Hoyt (you have to say it out loud)—this guy Kent Wells. Obviously.

I saw an interview with a pilot named Ross Aimer. I should hope so.

I’ve actually met a local ophthalmologist named Dr. Blinder, and yes, he does pronounce it ‘blind-er’.

Then my October issue of Cooking Light quotes (on page 200) a dietician named Kathy Kitchens Downie. Maybe in her spare time she consults on fabric softeners. I’m just saying…

This reminds me of the ultimate in occupationally-linked names, the eponymous Sally Ride, first U.S. woman in space. The astronaut who gave young girls hope and made it cool to like science!

Ride, Sally, Ride!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Halloween Coincidence? Happiness and Regret...

Halloween is over, but the candy lingers on. Yeah, only because I bought the stuff that wouldn’t tempt me in a million years. You know, Baby Ruth, Butterfingers—the stuff with nuts that I would rather starve than eat. Believe me, if there were a Hershey Bar in the house, I’d have sticky, gooey, tell-tale chocolate stains on my fingers.

Anyhoo, here are a couple of photos of what our grandchildren did on Halloween, and you should know that these costumes were conceived independently, and it’s purely coincidence that the three and a half-year old in Sacramento was a road, while his two and a half-year old cousin in Boston was Lightning McQueen! As for the 4-month old, well, he’s little more than a prop for his dad, and if you’ve seen the movie “The Hangover”, you’ll recognize Alan and Carlos!

Kaitlyn (a.k.a. Lightning McQueen) and her mom!

Zachary as the happiest road ever!
Baby Sam (a.k.a. The Tank) with his daddy!
I hope your Halloween was equally sweet and memorable!  But I should have bought Hershey Bars...