The Blueberry Solution

§  I have reached the inescapable conclusion that there is no possible explanation.  § 

A few years ago while having lunch with a friend, I tucked my debit card into that discreet little leatherette envelope to pay my tab. It was returned to me while my friend and I chatted, and so it was several minutes before I opened it to fill in the tip and sign the receipt.

It was at that point I discovered that, although the bill was mine, the card was not! The card in the envelope belonged to someone else. Horrified, I flagged down the first available server and demanded to see the manager. Fortunately, the table of guests to which my card had been incorrectly handed was still present; equally horrified, we exchanged our cards. Faced with deathray glares from two enraged patrons, and my “enraged half-Italian woman talking with her hands!” demand to know exactly how this error had occured, the manager assured both of us that we would NOT be billed for our lunches, owing to their inexcusable mishap. In an overabundance of caution, I later called my bank to report the incident, canceled my card and went through the inconvenience of waiting for a new one to be issued.

About two weeks later, my statement arrived. I had been billed for the luncheon, after all. The very next day I stormed over to the restaurant and, pinholing the manager, demanded in my best William Shatner-esque voice, How…Does…This…Even…Happen?!”        

How does this even happen? or its twin, How is this even possible?  seem to be recurring themes in my existence. Not long after the card incident, I ruined a favorite top by dropping a frozen blueberry on it without noticing. By the time I realized what I’d done, the berry had thawed and irrevocably stained my pink shirt. Countless stain removers failed to remove the mark, and the shirt, which I had really liked, ended up being tossed into the rag bag.

However, the blueberry stain came to mind when a new dark blue sweatshirt, having been washed the first time, came out of the laundry with a couple of pale marks indicating that the dye had not been consistent. There were two small, faded areas. It occurred to me that if a frozen blueberry could irrevocably stain a pink cotton shirt, surely it could re-dye a faded area on a dark blue sweatshirt. So I happily crushed a couple of blueberries into the pale spots and left them to sit for twenty-four hours, sure I’d found a solution to the problem.

Except I hadn’t. It didn’t work at all. Once I’d removed the blueberries and rinsed the areas, they were just as faded as they had been before I tried the blueberry solution.

Blue marker pen applied to the spots failed, also—the same marker that, drizzled across a white teeshirt, ruined it. Blue ballpoint ink, ditto.

How is this even possible? How can it be that the very substances that stain and destroy clothes I want to keep, fail to stain and repair an item of clothing I also want to keep?

I have the same question about power cords that tangle while out of sight and untouched, and necklace chains, sitting undisturbed in a drawer of my jewelry box, which somehow jumble and twist themselves into a welter of kinks and knots. I mean, really! Think about it. Last fall I set up a new computer. I snaked most of the cords back behind my desk and up to the top of the file cabinet where the surge suppressor rests. A few weeks later, though, I needed to move the desk. I found all the cords—all the utouched, hidden cords—wound into a muddle of confusion and tangles.

They were BEHIND the desk. No one and nothing, not even my marauding cats, were touching those cords. How is this even possible? How does this even happen?

I have reached the inescapable conclusion that there is no possible explanation except for that of Evil Gremlins. Tiny, long fingered minions of evil who sneak in under cover of darkness and gleefully bestir necklace chains and power cords into a hopelessly tangled mass.

Gremlins alone can explain the necklace chains and power cords, and perhaps even the swapped debit cards.

But despite my best philosophical maunderings on the subject, to this day I still haven’t a clue as to why The Blueberry Solution…wasn’t.

Apples to Oranges!

  The Gods of Power Consumption are at it again. 

I recently received yet another of those periodic mailings from the local power company, purporting to tell me how well (or not) I’m doing in managing my power consumption.

Uh….

Their mailing states that my power usage is being compared to “100 similar” homes within the area, and then continues on to state ways in which I can reduce power consumption and so (one presumes) my bill.

Now those 100 similar homes… Hmmm. I suppose The Gods of Power Consumption are looking mostly at square footage. Well, not to put too fine a face on the matter, this is simply stupid. Idiotic. Worthless. Comparing apples to oranges.  Let me count the ways…

Just a few of the factors which that “how you’re doing” memo is (I think–depending upon how hard Big Brother is watching!) to take into consideration, are, for instance, the number of individuals in the household, and, more specifically, their ages and states of health. Elderly people notoriously need higher temperatures to be comfortable, due to the loss of insulating fats in their skin layers; newborns, having just come out of a 98.6º environment, ditto.  Heavily pregnant women lap up air conditioning like a kitten with a bowl of cream. People who are ill with any number of diseases may very well feel best in either exceptionally cool or warm settings, while many desperately-needed home medical devices consume power as they operate.

Are the people in those 100 houses living in groups of two or three (the highest number that would fit comfortably into my small home), or is there only a single inhabitant? Are all those people out of the house for ten or more hours most days, attending work or school, or are they often home for long periods of time—retired, as I am, or stay-at-home parents of small children, and thereby using lights and stoves and microwaves, TVs and computers, at times when the empty homes are sitting idle, evincing little draw upon the power grid?

Then let’s consider those “100 homes” themselves. Are they two-story, as mine is, or one? And, if two-story, is their second story a partial area, with a balcony opening into a large cathedral ceiling overlooking the lower floor, and altering air flow significantly?

Were those 100 homes built over two decades ago, when air vents and ducts were being built to smaller dimensions? Or are some of them brand-new, tightly constructed, with recent, energy-efficient furnaces or air conditioners and lots of wide air vents and ducts that are heavily insulated?

Apples to oranges.

And then there were those irritating commercials shown last winter by the power company, providing suggestions for reducing power consumption. (As my 90-year-old father grumps, “Why the hell do they need to advertise? They’re the only game in town!”) One of their more idiotic winter suggestions was to turn the heat down or even off completely when leaving one’s home temporarily. I’m sure my elderly rescue cats would have been greatly unappreciative of that action—especially as I keep my heat set to only 67° in the first place. Not to mention how much power would have been consumed by bringing the heat back to bearable temperatures upon my return—or the possible icing up of water pipes during that time of absence with little to no heat during some of our Siberian winter conditions. Their summer recommendations (which also include that confusing suggestion to “turn off the air conditioning when you leave your home”–are none of these people pet owners?!) are even more hilarious. Being at home most days, I’m in the habit of placing big box fans in open windows on cool mornings and evenings in the spring, summer and fall; I prefer fresh air. Far from setting my thermostat to their recommended temperatures, at the height of the summer I do not even turn my air conditioning on until the lower floor of my home reaches 77°–which means that the upper floor is at least 80° or 81°. Only then do I remove the fans, which I presume draw so much less power than the central AC unit, from the windows and switch on my air conditioner. And were it not, again, for my elderly animals, not to mention my own asthma, I would probably allow the room temperatures to rise slightly higher. I grew up without air conditioning, and although I appreciate it, I do not consider it essential except during the direst times of heat.

Their recommendation is, of course, to set one’s thermostat on 78º or 80º in the first place, and to then run fans if one is uncomfortable.  The logic of this escapes me; don’t fans run on electricity?!

No, the next time I receive one of those irritating little “How Are You Doing?” mailings from the local power company, I won’t waste my time rolling my eyes and tearing it in half to be tossed into the wastebasket. Instead, I’ll just print out this blog post, attach it to their nonsense, and mail it back.  And may everyone else reading this irritated little diatribe feel free to do the same!

The Great Paint Can Head Splash

§  Since I’ve already reproduced, I’m not a candidate for the Darwin Awards! But as I continue forging links to the chain of my days, I’ll probably find other, incredibly stupid ways to nearly do myself in.  §

Each morning before I eat breakfast, I boot up my laptop and read the news stories while sipping a cup of tea. This habit actually falls under the category of “Why, oh Why, Would I Even THINK This Was a Good Idea?”

I mean, really—consider it: news. Politics. Murders. Police brutality. Inane stories about celebrities. News story comments. Vicious name-calling and rude remarks.

Before breakfast. Every morning.

As I pointed out: Why would I even think this was a good idea?

And yet I have done and continue to do it.

But then, many things in my life fall under that category. And often, the question is not even so much why I ever thought these behaviors were a good idea, but how the hell I managed to survive them.

Take, for instance, the fact that I was, for years, in the very bad habit of waltzing out barefoot to pick up my mail from the mailbox—barefoot, or, at most, clad in stocking feet. Now, it’s just the length of the driveway from my front door to the mailbox, and my driveway is quite short. But I did this daily mail run regardless of the condition of the concrete: wet with rain; slick with whirligig seeds from the maple tree or slippery with autumn leaves; slightly glazed with ice; under pelting rain or even tiny hailstones or falling snow. Just a quick trip out to pick up the mail. No need to put on my shoes.

Only to fall on my butt. Not once, but several times. Or perhaps not fall—just find myself with arms windmilling and mail tossed every which way as I tried to stay upright.

Then there was the time that, beneath the soft rays of the Super Moon, I decided to decontaminate the poisonous atmosphere created by a nasty neighbor by going out with my salt and white sage bundle to cleanse the area around my house. Again, in my stocking feet—it was chilly, so I didn’t want to walk in bare feet. Having first lovingly scattered Himalayan pink salt all about the perimeter of my home, I lit my sage bundle and paced the boundary of the house, concentrating on positive thoughts. Forgiving thoughts. A very noble and praiseworthy action…if only I’d worn shoes. Because as the sage bundle burned down, the ash scattered. Scattered straight onto my toes. Where it immediately burned right through the sock. Ooow, ooow, ooow! (Goddamned nasty neighbor, this was all his fault, I wouldn’t have been burned if he had just not been acting like an ass so that I had to go out and cleanse his spitefulness from the atmosphere….)

Why, oh why, would I have ever even thought this was a good idea?!

Also under the heading of Really Not Bright Things That I Have Done was the six-month time period in which almost daily I reminded myself, “If I don’t wiggle under this desk and snake that computer cord to the back, I’m going to fall over it.” Of course, I didn’t, and I did. It took nearly another six months for my strained tendons to heal.

Then there was the day that I decided, while cleaning my carpets, that I was fed up with crawling down the stairwell on hands and knees while using the hand attachment. When I reached the landing where the stairwell turns, I resolved to stand on the floor of my entry way, reach over the two bottom steps, and use the upright carpet cleaner on the landing. This might not have been so bad an idea had I not decided to back down those two steps to the entryway below. That’s right—step down two steps backwards in shoes (for once) that were damp from working on the carpets of the upper floor.

Of course I slipped. Of course, I fell down those two steps. And of course, I slid prone across the laminate of the entryway, the carpet cleaner machine half on top of me, and slammed my head into the wall opposite.

After awhile, having determined that all I had was a goosegg and a headache as the price of my stupidity, I finished cleaning my carpets.

But, of all the things falling under the category of Stupid Things I Have Done and Yet Survived, none of them will ever beat The Great Paint Can Head Splash.

The original owner of my condo had, shall we say, unusual tastes in décor–as in a living room done in flat khaki greens and browns, and bathrooms painted dark, dark royal purple, or dried-blood red and poison green. Needless to say, repainting was a priority. The unused spare bedroom closet seemed a logical place to store the paint cans as the final touch-ups were done…or, that is, might have been a logical place had I not decided to store the cans on the upper closet shelf.

And so it came to pass that I went to grab a can of wall paint and work on touch-ups…only to discover, as I lifted it from the shelf, that the top had not been hammered on completely when it was last used. Like Captain Kirk under the rain of tribbles, I stood there as the can tipped and poured paint all over my head, my clothes, the closet floor, my hair–my freshly-colored hair….

Later that day, as I visited my daughter, she nobly refrained from commenting on the numerous ivory-pink paint speckles liberally bespattering my hair, despite two careful washings.

I’m sure that, as I continue forging links to the chain of my days, I’ll find other, incredibly stupid ways to nearly do myself in. Since I’ve already reproduced, though, I’m not a candidate for the Darwin Awards. And, happily, although those genetic testing kits don’t include it, I suspect my intelligent offsping escaped inheriting the “Why Oh Why Would I Even Think This Was a Good Idea?!” gene. I certainly hope so, anyway.

Heavenly Weather

§   “Oh, but it’s a dry heat,” I hear you saying. Well, so is an oven, but I’m not going to stick my head in one.   §

I have lived in only two States in my lifetime. After barely three years in Charleston, South Carolina, I returned home to Indiana. There were many reasons for the return move, not the least of which was family and friends, but the weather played a role, too.

Living in Charleston was akin to living in a tropical fish tank lodged inside a sauna. It was bright, colorful, endlessly interesting–and hotter than the hinges of hell. It was step out on the sidewalk and collapse from heat stroke hot. To add insult to injury, I lived there in the years immediately following the volcanic eruption of Mount St. Helens. Ash in the atmosphere somehow did nothing to reduce the glaring heat of summer, but gave South Carolina some of its coldest, nastiest winters ever during the years I resided there. (Climatologists will argue this fact, but, remember, I was living there with the Rebels. I saw how shocked they were at the winters of ’80, ’81 and ’82.)

No, much as I loved other aspects of that lovely city, the weather in Charleston was hardly my idea of heaven.

My idea of divine weather is days of temperatures no higher than the low 70s—75°F is optimal—and nights in the 50°F degree range. I call this “sweatshirt weather”, and I love it. I enjoy sunlight in moderation—a sun-and-clouds variation day is delightful to me, as are soft rainshowers and even an occasional mild thunderstorm. Breezes, too, are important; a windless day is anathema. Living in Indiana means that for at least two seasons a year, spring and fall, I get plenty of these preferred days and evenings. That’s six months, sometimes seven, with numerous days, occasionally even weeks, of the type of weather I favor. I’m willing to endure Indy’s less pleasant variants–the humid heat of July and August, and the bitter temperatures and snows of January and February, for the pleasure my lovely, perfect spring and fall days, with the windows of my home thrown wide open, and with the occasional white noise of a window fan whirring softly in the background.

Almost as important to me as the temperatures, though, are those variations. As dreary as the Midwestern world might be at the end of March, with trees still stripped of leaves tossing bare limbs in strong winds, it is merely a lead-in to the incredible bursting forth of spring buds. Daffodils, crocus, tulips. Forsythia blazing out. Trees softly cloaked in green lace. Nothing satisfies a hunger of the soul like the riotous colors of early spring following the dreary end of winter. Conversely, nothing is as welcome after the humid heat of July and August as the first hint of fall chill; of autumnal color in the leaves, and their crunch beneath one’s feet as they begin to whirl down, cloaking the ground in colors brighter than Joseph’s coat.

That is why when a dear friend moved recently to Sun City, Arizona, I wished her well and godspeed, but declined even the faintest notion that I might ever be visiting there. A city where the mean temperature in the summer months is 104°F is, I explained to her, quite seriously akin to my idea of Hell.  (“Oh, but it’s a dry heat,” I hear you saying. Yeah, well, so is an oven, but I’m not going to stick my head in one.) And please, please, PLEASE don’t give me that, “Oh, but in the winter…” nonsense, either. Yes, temperatures in midwinter might (emphasize might) drop to my preferred range for a month, perhaps even two, but by very early spring they are going to spiral back up into the 80s. The only thing temps in the 80s are good for, in my estimation, is hanging out at the pool…and I’m not one to hang out at the pool. Leaving entirely aside the un-pretty sight of me in a swimsuit, chlorinated water just isn’t my thing. Oh, I like to jump in and splash around a bit with the kids of the family, but, as I am prone to sunburn (as in, I step outside, say, “Hello, Sun!” and walk back into the house having turned the approximate shade of a boiled lobster), a sunworshipper I am not.

I know without question that my beloved “big sis” is having a glorious time in her chosen environment, but, nope-nope-nope! It’s just not for me. Barring, of course, a total backflip of that whole desert environment montage due to global warming!

 

Language Is a Funny Thing

Will regional idiom become more or less common due to social networks and instant communication?

I recently read a BBC article questioning whether Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle’s accent was becoming more British. Skimming through the examples proving the author’s point, I shrugged. “Yeah, probably,” I thought, “because she now lives in Britain. She’s surrounded by those speaking British English.”   As myself recalled from three years spent living in Charleston, South Carolina, after a childhood growing up in the Midwest, one picks up not only regional dialect and phrases, but a touch of an accent, while living in those circumstances. I rapidly shed my faint overlay of a Southern American accent upon my return to the Midwest, but I still occasionally find myself reaching back through time for a turn of phrase which causes my Midwestern acquaintances to double-take, such as when I declare an attractive man to be “right pretty”, or claim that someone is “no brighter than a firefly’s backside”. I do not, however, complain that a room is too “airish” (breezy) any longer, and  the memory  is still vivid of my total confusion when a Southern acquaintance referred to the previous night as “slept under blankets”. Uh, didn’t most people sleep beneath a blanket or a sheet, I wondered? It took a real twist of Sherlockian brainpower to make the deduction that, to someone for whom a “warm” day was 90°F, sleeping beneath a blanket was a rare occasion, occurring only when the temperatures had plummeted to a surprising low.

It astounds me that, in a era of instant communication, not only accent and dialects, but regional idiom, persist. Yet they do, and I find myself often either bewildered or surprised by them.

I remember sitting in the theatre at the first showing of the movie “Home Alone” and being astounded when the sleepyheads awaken to screech, “We slept in!” My reaction was a straightforward, “Huh?” To my understanding, sleeping in was something desirable; it was a leisurely Saturday morning in which one had nowhere to be and nothing important to accomplish, and just planned to putter around in a bathrobe all morning. Rolling out of bed just when one felt like it was sleeping in; waking in horror, too late for an appointment, one’s job, or a plane trip was not sleeping in, but oversleeping. These were too separate occurrences, with two separate phrases to describe them: one delightful, the other absolutely awful.

I encountered the same confusion when watching a popular sitcom and hearing a character declare that he was close with his sister. Huh again. Close with? I’d never encountered that phrase. The Midwestern reference I’d grown up with and used all my life to describe a warm personal relationship was close to.   Just as one might be described as close to an emotional melt down, one was also close to a beloved friend or family member. Next to. Beside. Near to. Dear to.

More recently, a trip to the grammar advice pages of the Web was triggered by hearing the phrase step foot. By now growing accustomed to my “Huh?” moments, I decided to research, learning that the phrase had evolved from the original, set foot, around the year 1500. Huh. 500-some years. Funny, then, that I had never once heard it until 2018. The grammar page went on to explain, though, that the use of step foot rather than set foot had become more common since the 1980s…which actually made it still strange that I had never encountered the expression during those 30-some years. I’ve grown more accustomed to hearing it, but I can’t say that I like it. It just sounds wrong to my ear.

And then there are the phrases on accident and by accident. On accident makes me grind my teeth! One can do something on purpose, intentionally, but one can only do something unintentional by accident. Even the language tutor pages agree with me on this one: on accident makes grammar purists cringe. The difference—intentionally, unintentionally—is marked by the preposition.

But those who have grown up using the expression on accident would probably not agree. We usually prefer the language forms to which we’ve been accustomed. Which begs the question, will regional idiom become more or less common due to social networks and instant communication?

One can only wonder. I will ponder it the next time I’m waking from leisurely sleeping in.

I Actually LIKE Iceberg Lettuce!

I realize this proves that I have absolutely no palate… 

Shameful as it is to confess in a world of gourmet food and connoisseurs of all the best taste has to offer: I really, really like iceberg lettuce.

I realize this is an extremely unpopular point of view. It makes me appear unsophisticated, unrefined, crude. It proves that I have absolutely no palate (well, just the sort of wines I prefer prove that, in any case.) But there you have it. I like iceberg lettuce. I prefer it to many other types of greens.

This isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy other forms of salad greens. I love spinach leaves, so deeply green and silky. Radicchio, bibb, butter, romaine – toss ‘em on in, although I draw the line at bitter endive. But my favorite salad will always be based on a bed of iceberg lettuce.

I grew up in the traditional Midwestern fashion of many decades past, eating iceberg lettuce in all my salads and on my sandwiches; actually not even knowing, until I was probably about age 13, that there were any other types of lettuce leaves. And unlike a lot of other foods served me as a child (I still shudder at the sight of a Brussels sprout), I enjoyed iceberg lettuce. I still do. To my tongue, iceberg lettuce is the perfect crisp. Unlike radicchio or romaine or (again, shudder) endive, it has no bitter aftertaste. It crunches. It tastes green.

Mix iceberg in with shreds of red cabbage, small red radish roses, slivers of carrot, a bit of thinly-sliced celery, perhaps even some water chestnuts, and the aforementioned emerald green of spinach leaves, and yes, a few other types of lettuce just for the variety they add, and that, to my taste buds, is a perfect salad. I happily toss in sun-dried tomatoes, olives green and black and kalamata, raw broccoli and cauliflower flowerets, crumbles of feta cheese and croutons, while the dressing can be almost anything: my favorite Greek or balsamic vinaigrette, Caesar or even the delicious bleu cheese which will, unfortunately, break me out in hives and result in a quick trip to the medicine cabinet for a dose of Benadryl…   But all that matters less, though, than the welcome crunch and intense greeny-ness of my beloved iceberg lettuce.

Food sophisticates may well cringe and pronounce me to be a complete rube. It doesn’t matter. I will always prefer my childhood favorite: iceberg lettuce.

Homicide Is Not Pretty…or Hot!

My usual choice of escapist literature is the “cozy” mystery genre. These lightweight novels are relaxing, predictable, sometimes hilarious, often a tad silly, but rarely gory and usually lacking in nerve-wracking chills. “Thriller” is not, to me, a leisure pastime; I like to be able to turn out the light comfortably after reading in bed at night! But I enjoy these frivolous mysteries, which are interspersed with quirky characters and abound with loveable pets, and in which, as a usual plot line, only the characters one really doesn’t like bite the dust.

However, I may be reaching the end of my tether with my favorite genre. Since I review every book that I read—and that is a LOT of books—I found myself the other day beginning a review with the telling sentence, “I had second thoughts even as I downloaded this book: Did I really want to read yet one more ‘bakery’ mystery?!”

I blame the Sex and the City cupcake craze for the plethora of bake shop mysteries. The bakery mysteries have multiplied like Star Trek tribbles, and a great many of them are pretty pallid, with plots so similar they might have been created by algorithms rather than writers. Almost inevitably, the grand opening of the latest bakery will be blighted by the death of a first customer, with the baker/owner herself the main suspect. Of course, she will have to begin sleuthing out the real murderer, finding clues to which the police (who often seem to be drawn from a Laurel and Hardy movie) are oblivious. Meanwhile, our plucky heroine is never, ever arrested for interference in a police investigation—a fate which she richly deserves.

Now, to my way of thinking, Kerry Greenwood’s most excellent Corinna Chapman bakery mysteries (well pre-dating the slew of copycats which followed) sewed up the genre front, back and center. Beautifully written, excellently plotted, with three-dimensional characters and incredible detail, they are simply a delight to read. But those are not the only reasons for which I prefer them. I like Ms. Greenwood’s books best because nowhere, nowhere at all in their pages, does any character appear who might be even faintly considered a “hot hunky homicide detective”.  Yes, she does include an attractive PI–but never a hot homicide cop.  In fact, some of her police force characters are (gasp!) female.

But to judge by most of the other cozies (which I still enjoy, despite their flaws), every homicide detective in every rinky-dink precinct in every city of every state within the entire nation (every nation, worlwide!), is so attractive, chiseled, gorgeous, hunky and incredibly hot as to put most A-list Hollywood actors to shame. There is not a dud in the bunch. Nowhere in these many pages do we find a homicide detective (other than as a partner to the REAL detective) who sports a donut paunch and a balding pate; nor, heaven forfend, a female homicide detective, except as junior (very junior) partner to the hot honcho. Nope. If the cozy mysteries are to be believed, every desirable man on the face of the planet has chosen “homicide detective” as his career path. And he will, of course, fall like a rock down a cliff for the leading lady.

For this ridiculous notion, I must, sadly, hold the marvelous Janet Evanovich responsible.  Make no mistake: I absolutely adore Ms. Evanovich’s formulaic novels. I’ve read every one of them with utter delight—most of them several times each. They are the greatest escapism novels ever written. They are laugh-out-loud funny. They are just plain great fun, even for male readers.

But I cannot deny that it is likely upon Ms. Evanovich’s shoulders which rests the onus for the creation of the “hunky homicide detective” mythos. I sigh over this, even as I acknowledge that it isn’t her fault that every aspiring and seasoned mystery writer took her idea and ran with it right out the door and across the meadow to the romantic sunset beach. Still, I blanch at the thought of reading yet one more lighthearted mystery featuring the same, tired old “hot homicide detective” plot device.

I will almost certainly go on reading my favorite cozy mysteries. Despite their many failings, I find the books both relaxing and entertaining. But wish—oh, how I do wish!—that their authors would learn to show a tad more creativity and diversity when creating their leading men.

Mispronounced, Revisited

As I have mentioned before in these blog posts, there are words that I have mispronounced for so many years that the mispronunciation now sounds correct to my ears. One of these is the word piscine—which is not, as made famous in one movie, generally pronounced “Pissing”, but “PIE Seen”.  However, when I first read the word, I accidentally placed the accent on the second syllable: “Pie SEEN”. To this day, that is how I read the word.  It rarely comes up in conversation, so I don’t generally have to worry about mispronouncing it in public.  But then, anything would be better than pronouncing the word as “pissing”.

But another word, topiary, is a pronunciation Waterloo for me.  Again, since I first read the word rather than heard it in conversation, I mispronounced it, reading it as “Tow PIE Uh Ree”.  When I heard the word pronounced correctly for the first time, TOW Pee Airy”, though, I thought to myself, “Well, that just sounds stupid.”  And I have embarrassingly mispronounced it, and been corrected, in conversation a few times.  Still, reading the word topiary, I hold on to my personal pronunciation.  It just sounds right to me.

Another stumbling block for me is the word plebian.  Perhaps due to my childhood lessons in sounding out unfamiliar words, it appeared to me that this word should be pronounced “PLEE Bee An”, not “PLIH Bee An”.  Fortunately, it is one word which I can usually speak correctly, even if in my own head I hear it differently.

But there are words which I intentionally mispronounce, such as the name of the planet Uranus.  In the English language, there is simply no good pronunciation for this the name of this poor, benighted planet. It either comes out sounding like “Your Anus” or “Urine Us”, both equally awful.  So I pronounce it “You RAN Us”.  It is quite wrong—and much more pleasing to the ear.  Correctness be damned.  And while I’m on the subject of words for outer space, I have found no fewer than five different pronunciations listed on-line for the name Betelgeuse.  So, once again, despite the popular movie pronunciation, Beetle Juice, I absolutely refuse to pronounce the word that way!  It’s atrocious.  Instead, I lean toward the pronunciation, “Beh Tell Jezh.”  Far more pleasing.

Other words can rattle me simply because of growing up using local pronunciations, such as the ignorant Hoosier tendency to call the popular breakfast food an “Aig” rather than an “Ehg.” It took me years to train myself out of that slip of the tongue. Coupon will always catch me out, though.  It will forever be to me a “KEW Pon”, not a “KOO Pon.”

But the mispronunciations of some words are so common that the correct pronunciation sounds strange to most ears; witness, the word which, as I sat in Mrs. Dryer’s third grade classroom, set me up for this lifetime of persnickety pronunciation habits: mischievous.  MISS Cheh Vus, not Miss CHEE Vi Us!  The word is so commonly mispronounced that I have been called out on a few occasions when using the correct pronunciation, and (in great irritation, I might add), debated the question with my would-be tutors.  Which begs the question: If a mispronunciation is that common, is it, in fact, simply a separate way of saying the word?  Language, after all, is fluid; it ebbs and flows and changes.  New words are added; others fall out of use.  The word gif did not exist throughout most of my lifetime, and, despite the intentions of its creator, I will always pronounce it with a hard “g”, as gif, not the peanut-buttery jif.

Which brings to mind a TV documentary that I once watched far back in the 1970s. The computer era not yet having arrived, countries such as Iceland experienced both isolation and individuality.  The show’s narrator was extolling the fact that Icelandic people still spoke the language, unchanged, of their distant forebears, the Viking people.  As the narrator spoke, the video ran, displaying an Icelandic TV news announcer, reading the latest stories to his listeners in their ancient tongue.

This sent me into gales laughter. Exactly what, I wondered, was the ancient Viking word for “television”?!

The simple truth is that none of us who have either been raised speaking or who have later acquired the English language speak the language as it once existed—the English of Chaucer’s day. Within a world of instant communication, language is changing even faster than it did in the hundreds of years that divide us from notable writers such as Shakespeare.  Some of those changes in both pronunciation and usage will be sensible.  The language we read and speak will continue to evolve.

But I absolutely, positively, totally refuse to bend even an inch on the pronunciation of mischievous!

Controlling the Rainbow

(This post was originally published on December 4, 2017, and is now rededicated to Amanda and John. Happy First Wedding Anniversary, my dearest children!  What an eventful year!  And, yes, little Morrigan Lynn, our magnificent miracle–yes, someday you will be a young girl counting on your fingers…but I assure you, your birth was a full ten and one-half months after your parents’ wedding day!)

There was a rainbow on my daughter’s wedding day.

As omens go, that’s hard to beat.

Neither she nor I actually witnessed this phenomenon, but were told about it afterwards by the relatives, smokers all, who had stepped outside to indulge their nicotine habit.

I’d been praying for days—weeks!—for lovely weather to grace the outdoor wedding ceremony of my only daughter. The venue she’d chosen had an excellent hall, and we knew that, if the weather didn’t cooperate, the ceremony could be moved indoors.  But she wanted an outdoor ceremony—wanted it desperately.

And things weren’t looking good.

I began scouring the weather reports two full weeks in advance of the ceremony, constantly checking on my phone, Kindle and computer, comparing predictions that somehow never quite seemed to mesh except for one thing: rain, rain, and more rain. I continually reminded myself that “weather forecaster” is the only job where one can be wrong 95% of the time and still remain employed, but that wasn’t convincing me. So I decided the best thing to do was gather all of my friends and family and issue a request (command!) for prayer.  Prayer and petitions to whatever deity, saint, deva or nature spirit they believed in.  If they didn’t have a favorite divinity, I supplied them with options, using my favorite search engine (NOT Google, but that’s  subject for another blog post).  I tracked down the names and antecedents of every saint, goddess, god or nature spirit said to have authority over the weather.  And there were a bundle of ‘em.

And so the prayers and petitions and appeals and entreaties went up from a dozen hearts and lips. But the weather forecast remained unswerving.  Rain.

However, the forecast began to alter slightly, from rain all day to “rain in the afternoon”. Raindrops, just wait until after 4:00 p.m., I prayed.  That would get us safely through the ceremony and all decamped to the reception hall.

Smaller Walking Up Aisle
Her Dad and I walking our daughter up the aisle at her outdoor wedding, October 7, 2017.

And, in the end, that is exactly what the deities, gods, goddesses, saints, devas, divinities and nature spirits (most likely, heartily sick of hearing so many desperate petitions) provided: The perfect early fall day. A temperature that rose to no more than 80, a light breeze lifting the brilliant leaves of the trees, and fluffy white cumulous clouds cruising through a blue sky…all of it lasting until just that last shutter click as the final formal portraits were taken.  Just at 4:00 p.m., a dark thundercloud rolled over to obscure the sun, and we all made tracks for the reception hall and food, music, drinks, dancing, cake and joy.

And, at some point during the proceedings, a rainbow.

And that was the one thing I’d forgotten about in my desperate need to control every last detail and thereby provide my daughter the perfect wedding day: the possibility of a beauty even greater than clear, warm weather. A rainbow.  The ultimate promise.

Let go and let God. I’m a great proponent of that saying…in theory.  Practice is an entirely different matter.  However, my daughter’s wedding day was a firm reminder to me of that concept.  Another was taught to me by a Hindu friend, who explained that rain on one’s wedding day is considered “a blessing of water”.  Sunshine, warm breezes, trees clothed brilliantly in green and gold and ruby, rain and a rainbow. Every possible good luck omen.  My daughter and new son-in-law got it all—more likely in spite of, rather than because of, all my desperate pleas to the heavens.

Now, though, laughingly thinking of omens, I’m forced to remember my own wedding day to her father, right here in my home state.  Omens indeed!

Indiana had an earthquake.

Nigerian Princes and Dingbats

I was once acquainted with a woman who, although not unintelligent, was somehow still not the brightest bulb in the shed. It was not just that she was lacking in common sense, although that comprised a great deal of the problem; tact was also absent in her makeup, as were diplomacy, tolerance, and objectivity.  Most of the time, though, she simply failed to use the completely adequate brain God had put in her head.  “Dingbat” was probably the most courteous description of the lady, whom we shall, for the purposes of this essay, call “Lorene”.  I added a number of other, less-complimentary labels to my assessment of her character before I finally stopped associating with her, but the Dingbat label still stands out.

Lorene had an on-going feud with her step-daughter, of which she complained bitterly and at great length whenever we were together. I personally witnessed the interaction between the two of them just one time, when invited to a backyard barbecue.  Her step-daughter leaned down, smiling, to Lorene, who was sitting on the back porch steps, to offer her an appetizer from the tray she had carried out.  The look Lorene gave her would have melted steel. The step-daughter quickly lifted the tray out of range and stepped back.  A few days later, I mentioned my perspective on this interaction to Lorene, suggesting gently that she might possibly be contributing to their on-going misunderstanding.  Lorene was genuinely confused.  She hadn’t said anything nasty to her step-daughter, she protested.

After having gotten to know Lorene better, though, I came to realize that the real fault she found with her step-daughter was the fact that the young woman was in an interracial marriage. Lorene was a closet racist, but her mask of “good manners about black people” slipped askew on more than one occasion.  Perhaps the worst of these was when Lorene became the victim of a purse snatching in a mall parking lot.  Her attacker had been black; the detective sent to the site to interview her was African American, also.  As the detective probed for any information Lorene could provide him about the appearance of the mugger, she exclaimed vehemently, “I don’t know what he looked like!  You people all look alike to me!”

When she recounted this conversation to me, I nearly had a stroke. “Lorene, you didn’t!” I exclaimed, and she looked at me in total bewilderment.  After all, she explained, she was merely stating the truth.  Why on earth would the detective get upset at that?

Associating with Lorene, I learned, required frequent infusions of headache tablets.

But never was the Dingbat label more justifiably hung upon Lorene’s brow than when she was taken in by an e-mail scam. This was during the “Nigerian Prince” era of email scams, and one would think that nobody, nobody at all, could have been stupid enough to fall for those badly-written, misspelled missives that circulated so endlessly. One would think…unless one knew Lorene.

One afternoon Lorene proudly told me that she was assisting a woman in a third-world nation to escape a brutal husband. She’d received an e-mail from an overseas support network for just such women, and of course, she’d immediately responded.  They’d asked her to set up an account under her own name, with money they would wire to her.  When the brutalized spouse arrived in the U.S., she would be directed to Lorene, who would then turn over the account to her so that she could have a fresh start .

The whole “massive stroke/fatal heart attack” scenario flitted once more through my body as I choked out the information that, “For God’s sake, Lorene! This is either a terrorist organization or  money laundering scheme!  And soon they’ll have ALL your personal information! They can steal your identity! They can take everything you have!”  As I spun all the other likely consequences of her actions, Lorene’s face went from disbelief to bewilderment to, finally, dismay.

I quickly located a number for a federal agency to which Lorene could report the scam. But now Dingbat was too frightened to take action, so I suggested she tell her husband what she’d done and let him contact the feds.

Accustomed to his wife’s vagaries, her husband thought the whole affair was hugely hilarious. He did, however, contact the reporting agency, who managed to get the account shut down and somehow protect Lorene from identity theft.

These days I think of Lorene each time I read of the newest, more sophisticated way that scammers have developed to separate people from their money. I wonder if she’s ever wired money to a grandchild stranded in another country, or if she’s answered, “Yes, I can hear you” to the unknown caller, or allowed a “Microsoft Representative” to remote into her computer to “remove a worldwide virus”.

If it happened to anyone, I’m sure it happened to Lorene.