Common Misconceptions, Part Two

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Napoleon was Vertically Challenged

I used to find solace in the fact that someone so short could still have such a profound effect on history. My God! The man practically invented canned food. Well, not literally. But he did set things in motion that eventually led to the canning of all sorts of foods.

I, myself, am vertically challenged. Short is a much better way of putting it really. Gets right to the point. At not quite 5′ 1.5″, I fall very firmly below the national average for the height of an adult American female. That would be five feet and four inches. Maybe I should move to Bangladesh. I’d be tall there. But Belgium and Bosnia are out. The average heights there are 5’6″, and 5’7″ respectively.

I recently learned that is has come to light that Napoleon was not actually all that short. It seems his purported shortness was due to a discrepancy between the French system of measurement and the British one. In French measure, he was five feet and two inches. But in British measure, it equated to five feet and six inches; an average height for a male at that time. So dang!

But apparently he did actually put his hand inside his jacket. This was a fad at the time and meant to impart a sense of calm leadership. Don’t blame me, that’s what it said online. And everything you read online is true. Right.

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Microwave Ovens Blow Up when you put Metal in Them

It’s simply not true. But it’s still a bad idea in general.

Consider the fact that the inside of the oven is made of metal. And for good reason. Yes, it’s painted but it still reflects the microwaves. Also there is a metal grid in the window. Both of these things keep the microwaves from escaping the oven and cooking you along with the food.

Only some metals are safe. Actually, it has a little more to do with shape and proximity than type. A small piece of aluminum foil smoothed over a dish is okay. A small metal tray is also okay. Also, some microwave ovens come with a metal shelf. Obviously that will be okay to use.

So what’s the deal?

If two pieces of metal are close together in the microwave, the energy is reflected between them and can build to the point where it will ignite anything flammable in the oven. Crinkled aluminum foil will actually burn. Smooth will not. And sparks can occur between the tines of a fork. There are even some foods that will occasionally spark.

I have this happen sometimes when I am warming my chopped salad. I love salads and eat them all year long for dinner, but in the winter, they are too cold for me. My favorite is a chopped cruciferous salad of cabbage, kale, broccoli, Brussels’ sprouts and radicchio. Now and then it sparks. I thought it was maybe something adulterating the salad, but when I looked it up, it turned out it was the salad itself.

Dense vegetables contain a higher concentration of minerals. It’s these metallic minerals, like iron, magnesium and selenium, which cause the arcing and the sparks.

So, food absorbs the microwaves and metals reflect it. What this means is that if there is enough microwave absorbent material (food) in the microwave to “catch” the reflected microwaves from any metal in there, you do not get arcing. If the ratio is wrong, then zaps happen. This is one of the reasons why they also say to never run the microwave oven empty. All that energy will just zing around in there with nothing to absorb it, except for the emitter of those waves: the magnetron tube. If it goes on too long, the tube will overheat and be damaged. But it still won’t blow up.

We pretty much all have and use microwave ovens. We don’t really give them much thought. But apparently, in order to use them safely, you need to keep in mind a few salient facts about the shape of the metal and the metal to food ratio. So the basic warning to never put metal in your microwave oven is the safer bet. But it can be done. Just be smart about it.

Oh, and when you are talking with your insurance claims adjuster, please be sure not to mention my name.

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The Buddha was not Fat

Those happy (or laughing) Buddha statues that people put in their gardens do not in any way reflect the reality. I have to digress for a moment. My mom had one of those. The Happy Buddha was sculpted sitting in a half lotus position rather than a full lotus. So one of his feet was tucked in close in to his groin with the toes pointing out. My mom thought that was hilarious because when it was viewed from the side, his foot looked like a penis. She loved to point that out to everyone. I just found it to be embarrassing. A lot of what my mother did was like that. Sigh.

It could be that Budai (an ancient Chinese god that was depicted as fat and always smiling) was confused with Buddha. Or it could be that the Buddha was depicted as fat because long ago, being fat was considered a sign of being well-to-do and who wouldn’t be more well-to-do than the Enlightened One. Hey, I’m just reporting what I’ve read recently. People have all sorts of ideas about all sorts of things. I’m a prime example.

It has been more years than I care to think about since I read “Siddhartha.”  But I’m pretty sure that I remember he gave up his princely title, became an ascetic, lived off of hand-outs, and became very thin. And if you boil down all that Buddhism has to say about the best way to live your life, you might be able to put that into one word: moderation. So a fat Buddha would be out of the question. So would a very skinny one for that matter.

I know that in the big scheme of things, whether or not the Buddha was fat doesn’t make a bit of difference. But, in my opinion, it never hurts to take a second look at something you take for true.

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Pseudo-Synonyms: Words that seem like they should be, but aren’t quite, the same

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I thought the same thing too at first.

I love words. I love their meanings and how they sound. I love investigating their origins. But more than anything else, I love using them. And I love playing with them. That’s why I’m a writer.

But they mystify me sometimes. And synonyms (words with similar or related meanings such as shut and close) are sometimes the most confusing to me. Why do we need so many different ways of saying the same thing? It begs the question is there really such a thing as a true synonym. And then there are the words that seem to be synonyms but, in reality, are not.

Defensible vs. Defendable

We live in an area of Arizona that gets wildfires from time to time. Thankfully, the one that killed all those hotshots was not close to our home. Though it did threaten many of our friends and their horses.

We did have one wildfire that required us to be ready to evacuate. I got some good footage of borate bombers dropping retardant on the flames from the back deck of our house. It was a fairly tense few days.

We didn’t have to evacuate, which was a blessing.

After both of these fires, the signs that are always present, but mostly ignored, got a cleaning, replacing or upgrading as necessary. The signs say simply:  Create defensible space. I’ve always wondered why they don’t say “defendable” instead.

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So what is the difference between defensible and defendable? Turns out it’s fairly subtle.

Defensible is generally defined this way:  able to be protected as in “a fort with a defensible yard at its feet.”

Defendable is generally defined thus:  capable of being defended against armed attack.

But if you look them up together in a search for how they differ, you get: “As adjectives the difference between defendable and defensible is that defendable is capable of being defended while defensible is (of an installation etc.) capable of being defended against armed attack.” (From Which would seem to be something of the opposite of when you look them up separately.

But I think the most important thing to consider is the word “installation.” So a sign that cautions you to “Create defensible space” (the assumption is around your house or property) is more correct than if it used “defendable” instead. And I would have to guess that a moral position would be defendable but not defensible.

Still, I think it would be a serious case of nit picking to call someone out for using them interchangeably. Hopefully, I’m not quite that anal. Though if you asked my husband, he might have a different take on it.

Affect vs. Effect

Over the years, these two words have given me more trouble than just about any other two words that seem the same. And it doesn’t help that they sound similarly. Often when someone is speaking one word or the other, I am not certain which one they really mean.

I find it helps to think of them this way. Affect is a verb as in “have an effect upon” or “make a difference to” or “move emotionally.”

Effect is a noun and generally means a change that is a result of an action. Think of special effects in a movie if that helps. Or consider this sentence, “Most prescription medications have side effects that affect about one third of the general population.”

But I find that calling the one a verb and the other a noun is about all I need to keep me straight on the usage. Usually. But not always. I can be stubborn with my misconceptions. Luckily I have Microsoft Word to come to my rescue.

Lie vs. Lay

This one gave me fits for years. Still does to some extent. So many people say lay when what they really mean is lie. I cringe every time. I know. I should relax a little. After all, language and words are defined by usage and usage changes over time. Consider the word “fuck.”

There was a time in the history of the English language (although the word is probably Germanic in origin) that this was an acceptable way of referring to sexual intercourse. Over time, it fell out of favor and then became more or less completely unacceptable for use in polite society. It was actually outlawed in print in England by the Obscene Publications Act, 1857, and in the U.S. by the Comstock Act, 1873. The word continued in common speech, however.

It stayed that way for a very long time. But the legal barriers against its use in print began to break down in the mid twentieth century. It seems to me that recently, it is being used more and more. Who knows, maybe one day it will again be a perfectly acceptable way to refer to the sexual act.

So where was I? Oh yes, lie and lay.

My dog, Maddie, and I might like to lie down for a nap, but I will first have to lay her down in her bed. I will not lay down for a nap, but as in the prayer, I might “lay me down to sleep.” It seems to be all about the action involved. Is something doing it or are you doing it to something? It can be very confusing. And then there is flatness and surface to be considered.

I got this definition of the difference from  Lay means “to place something down flat,” while lie means “to be in a flat position on a surface.” The key difference is that lay is transitive and requires an object to act upon, and lie is intransitive, describing something moving on its own or already in position.

So, is a book lying (already in position) on a table or is it laying on a table? From the book’s perspective (if it had one), I guess it is lying. But from my perspective it would be laying. Ack!

That’s about as clear as mud. I like my way of looking at it better. So having straightened out (or have I really?) when to use one or the other, there is still the problem of conjugating them. The present tense of lie is lie, past is lay, present participle is lying, and the past participle is lain. But I have to tell you, saying something like “Yesterday, I lay down for a nap at 1:00 p.m.” just sounds weird. My mouth wants to say laid instead of lay really badly.

The past tense of lay is laid. More often than not, my husband will ask me where he left something. I might say something like: “An hour ago you laid it on the table, but that’s only where I saw you lay it last. It might not still be there now. Why don’t you just look for it?” But I wonder about that first sentence and more often than not, because I’m often just too unsure to commit myself to possibly saying something incorrectly, I might just say, “An hour ago you put it on the table, but that’s only where I saw you put it last.” End of problem.

The word put seems to be its own past tense, which sort of simplifies things. And while it can stand in for lay fairly well, I can’t see it standing in for lie. Oh wait a minute, I don’t think I’d ever want to say, “I’d like to lie down for a nap, but first I have to put Maddie down in her bed.” So I guess we are just stuck with lie and lay and the mess we make of them.

Inspire, Promote, Encourage, Sing!

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There is no doubt that songs can be inspirational. Songs are written about all manner of things and because words put to music are often easier to remember than otherwise, songs have been used through the ages to teach and inform as well as sell and influence and even warn.

A national anthem tells the people who sing it how they should feel about their country. And an advertising jingle tells consumers how they should feel about a particular product. So songs “inspire” in more ways than one.

Songs that inspire feelings in me usually have nothing to do with propaganda or consumerism. I use songs in my daily life to motivate me or change how I am feeling about something. For instance, when I am being tailgated by some idiot (I use the word “idiot” freely because tailgating someone while we are all doing 65 miles per hour on a two-lane undivided highway is just stupid) I frequently find myself singing out loud to: (1) distract me from the anxiety the tailgater causes me and (2) help me past the anger it produces in me.

Most often in that situation I find myself singing “Blackbird” by the Beatles. Don’t ask me why that song in particular because I don’t really know. But if the problem continues for quite some time and I need a little more distraction I might start singing “Ghost” by the Indigo Girls. I don’t listen to the radio or play CDs while driving. That’s just too much distraction. I know my limits.

When I am having trouble getting my workout started, I’ll put on a Dirty Vegas album (or something else with a really good beat) and just let it move me around the living room for a while. After a song or two, I’m warmed up and ready to get down to business.

But you know, for the most part, I like silence. What I mean by that is an absence of distracting noises (music, people talking, dogs barking). I can ignore the refrigerator as it cycles or the sound of the neighbor’s hot tub. But anything that has content and meaning is hard for me to ignore. So once I’m warmed up and ready to work out, I turn off the music. I listen to my breathing to be certain I keep it even and regular. I focus on the song the blood in my veins sings as my heart works harder and harder. Of course, hearing my pulse in my ears as I bend over to put my knuckles on the floor might not be such a good thing.

I had an assignment once to write about a song that inspires me. But how could I pick just one? Really. I’m just no good at that. And over time, those songs have changed. And what about songs that don’t actually “inspire” (I tend to think of that word in terms of inspiring to create) but instead simply make your heart soar with joy and make colors bloom behind the lids of your closed eyes … or sink to the very brink of despair. And there are songs that are good simply for no other reason than that they are good.

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Dan Fogelberg

However, years ago there was a song by Dan Fogelberg titled “Nether Lands” that would almost always make me cry and I couldn’t tell you what I was feeling. That song alone caused me to buy a book of his songs for the piano (“Complete Songs, Volume I”) in which I found so many other songs that were simply wonderful and evocative. Something I read by another blogger this morning reminded me of this and other songs that have inspired me over the years. But “Nether Lands” still stands out:

“High on this mountain the clouds down below I’m feeling so strong and alive.

From this rocky perch I’ll continue to search for the wind and the snow and the sky.

I want a lover and I want some friends and I want to live in the sun …

And I wanna do all the things that I never have done.”

Those are the words of the first verse and the melody fits the words so well that it makes my heart ache. Check out the full lyrics of the song when you have a spare moment and maybe you will find something inspiring in them too.

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Things I Just don’t Understand, Part One

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The caption for this one read: “100% recycled toilet paper.” You have to know what that made me think.

Bath Tissue

“If I put bath tissue on the shopping list, will you know which kind to get?” My husband, Bernd, actually said that to me. Me. Just who does he thinks does all the shopping around here? The Shopping Fairy? Why wouldn’t I know what kind to get?

But that’s not what I don’t understand about bath tissue. Who the heck came up with that misnomer and why does it persist? Have you ever tried taking a bath with toilet paper? Of course not. You have way more sense than that. So why call it bath tissue? We’ve had toilet paper and toilet tissue for years. Suddenly it is no longer acceptable to mention the word “toilet?” Oy!

Allain 3-Light Vanity Light Laurel Foundry Modern Farmhouse Finish: Oil Rubbed Bronze
I don’t see a tub or shower. Do you?


This could just be another example of the desire never to utter the word toilet. Why do people say they have to go to the bathroom when what they really mean is that they would like to use the toilet? We once lived in a condo that had a half “bath” downstairs. It consisted of a toilet and a sink. I could maybe bathe my foot in that sink, but for sure nothing else was going to fit. In my book, the Brits have the better answer to this dilemma. They call it a water closet. While not ideal (consider a clothes closet and then one for water?), at least it doesn’t mention bath. Doesn’t mention toilet either, but I’ll still give the Brits props for gritty realism in general.

And people say they have to use the bathroom when they are out in public and need to use a public restroom. I’ve been in a couple public toilets (well, you know what I mean, the building or room that houses the toilets!) that had a sofa or a couple of chairs in them so you could actually sit down and rest for a bit. But mostly, that’s not the case. Lord, I could go on about this forever. Maybe it’s my age or just general contrariness, but it seems like people don’t want to admit that what they really have to do is urinate and/or defecate. I ask you, what’s wrong with that?

Okay, so maybe I say “pee” when I mean urinate, but I won’t ask to use your bathroom. I’ll ask to use your toilet. If the room just so happens to also contain a bath tub or a shower, well I can’t help that. I won’t be using either of those. And I won’t look in your medicine cabinet either.

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Just kidding. Not really. Well, maybe.

And Standing in for To

I hear this so much now that I worry it will never be remedied. I’ve heard it in commercials on television and I’ve heard it in movies and television shows. “I will try and see if I can come up with a good solution,” should really read “I will try to see if I can come up with a good solution.” And in reality, “I will see if I can come up with a good solution” is all you actually need. I have no good solution for this one. Although, I can sort of understand why someone would be inclined to add the “try” to the sentence. Saying it without might seem to be too much of a promise or a social contract to deliver. Apparently, there’s a bit of weaselly politician in all of us. And please don’t get on me about the word “see” in that final sentence in quotation marks. That one has just been around too long for me to get up much energy to argue about it.

These Ones or Those Ones

I love the American English language. Really, I do. I just don’t always love what some people do with it. I get as big a kick out of using interesting analogies and dialectical phrases as the next person, but how did this ever become so widespread and … dare I say it … acceptable?

“Which ones do you like best? These ones or those ones?” Argh! The word “ones” behind these and those is totally unnecessary. And for that matter, the word “ones” in the first sentence is also totally unnecessary. Consider: “Which do you like best? These? Or Those?” Simple, straight forward, uncluttered.

I’ve always marveled at how few words it takes to say something in English as opposed to, say, Spanish. It’s no wonder that Spanish speakers talk so fast. They have to just in order to keep up with the sheer volume of words necessary to get the point across. American English has impressed me over the years with its brevity and ability to come to a conclusion rapidly and succinctly (unlike me). Adding these superfluous words seems like sheer idiocy.

Alright, so I’ve used an inordinate number of “reallys” and other unnecessary words. Sometimes I use them to make my point more memorable or just (see, I did it again) emphasize my position. We all do that unless we are intolerably anal about the rules of writing. I’m not intolerably anal am I? Please say that I’m not.

Maybe I should have titled this “Things that Get my Panties all in a Bunch” instead. Oh! Aack! That’s a one sentence paragraph! Oh wait. No it’s not because I’ve added these ones.

Common Misconceptions, Part One

In my ongoing efforts to educate and delight, I thought I might start a new series. Also, series of these sorts are handy to have around when you don’t really have anything truly amazing to write about (this statement predisposes that I sometimes do). In other places and at other times, I’ve written copiously about the things I don’t understand or the things I have learned.

As always, my intent is to amuse and entertain. I hope that I can do that with this new series. And I might have to resurrect the older ones too.

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Sharp Knives are Dangerous

Seems like a no-brainer. Right? Well, it’s not as simple as that. And I write from experience.

Sure, if you are talking about a knife held to your throat by some hoodlum intent on separating you from something you possess, that said hoodlum dearly wants, and isn’t of a mind to ask you nicely for it, then yes, sharp knives are dangerous. That’s one nasty, long, run-on sentence to be certain.

But if we are talking about the kitchen variety of knives, well then you are dead-wrong. Maybe not exactly dead-wrong, but possibly maimed-wrong.

I keep the knives we use for cooking extremely sharp. Why? Think about it. A dull knife that does not immediately bite into whatever you are slicing/chopping/dicing is more likely to slip off of what you are attempting to slice/chop/dice. Dull knives do not always slip in the fortuitous direction.

I wasn’t always as conscientious about the sharpness of our knives as I am now. Slicing through a finger changed all that.

Think about it some more. The duller the knife, the harder you have to push, the harder you have to push the more force will be applied to whatever part of your anatomy is in the way when the knife slips.

Sure, it doesn’t happen all the time, but why take the risk. Keep your knives sharp and worry less.

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Shaving Hair Makes it Thicker

Come on now. Does anyone really believe this anymore? Apparently they do because I found it on a list of common misconceptions.

Okay, here’s the thing. When I was younger (in my teens), I had a pretty good mustache. If I were a guy, it wouldn’t have been a problem. But I hated the thing. I wanted to shave it off. Yeah, sure, I’d have to do that regularly and I was willing to do that. But, enter Mom and Grandma. They caught me doing just that one day and said, “Oh no. Don’t shave it off. It’ll just grow back thicker.” The thought absolutely terrified me. And I spent a lot of time with a pair of cuticle scissors, trimming the hairs as close to the skin as I dared without running the risk of cutting off part of my upper lip.

Most of the females my age had little or no hair on their upper lips. I was just special that way. I can think of about a hundred better ways to be special. Also, most of the older women I knew had very hairy upper lips. So at the time, I surmised that as you get older, your upper lip gets hairier. And that got me to thinking. And worrying some.

I wondered, was this some ploy on the part of older women to convince younger women not to shave their upper lips because they themselves were reluctant to do it because it made them feel less feminine? Or were they maybe so afraid to try it that they conspired to condemn all women to a life with a hairy lip? Okay, I know there are a load of logical fallacies in those statements because I’d made so many unsupported assumptions. I wasn’t the perspicacious individual then that I am today. But it did make me look at the situation a little more realistically.

I asked myself these two questions: (1) Has the hair on my upper lip gotten any thicker for having cut it off close to the skin? And (2) Does a hair know the difference between being cut off right at the surface of the skin or two inches from the surface of the skin?

The answers were, it hadn’t and it doesn’t.

I went to my mom and asked her question number two. She gave me the oddest look and went straight away into her bathroom and shaved off her mustache. Actually, that’s only what I hoped would happen, but it didn’t, except for the odd look. She held firm to her belief despite years of having the hair on her head trimmed regularly and that having provided no help at all for the wispiness of it.

I, on the other hand, began shaving my upper lip and still do to this day. Oddly enough, I need to do it less now than I did then, instead of the other way around that seems to be true for most women as they get older. Boy, I’m on a run with run-on sentences today.

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Fortune Cookies are not Chinese

I loved fortune cookies. Sadly, I can’t eat them anymore since developing an allergy to wheat.

They were always the highlight of a meal at a Chinese restaurant. Can’t eat Chinese food anymore either, unless I make it myself. Some of the dishes aren’t as hard to prepare as you might imagine. But I’ve never tried to make a fortune cookie. Not sure it could be done with oat flour. And I’ve no idea how they get that little piece of paper inside the cookie and manage not to incinerate it. Maybe I should Google that.

Anyway, I learned some years ago that fortune cookies are not Chinese. In fact, they are not even a tradition in China. Imagine my surprise. They are actually Japanese in origin.

As far back as the 1800s, a cookie looking very much like a fortune cookie was made in Kyoto, Japan. The fortunes were a temple tradition called omikuji. I didn’t pull that word out of my memory. I had to cheat and look it up.

The Japanese version of the cookie differs in several ways from the Chinese restaurant version: they are a little bit larger; are made of darker dough; and their batter contains sesame and miso (doesn’t really sound much like a cookie, but a lot about the Japanese mystifies me) rather than vanilla and butter. Also, the fortune is placed in the bend of the cookie rather than in the hollow space.

It’s thought that the fortune cookie as we know it today was invented in California by immigrant Japanese bakers sometime in the very late 1800s. But not even that is certain. There are a couple of different bakers, though, to whom the first fortune cookie as we know them is attributed. (I do seem to be the queen of awkward sentences today.) There is also an account of the cookies being exported to Hong Kong and advertised as “genuine American fortune cookies.” So go figure. Seems the Chinese fortune cookie is actually American. Kind of like chop suey.

The Incarceration of Serafina

Day One

Well, that most assuredly did not go as well as planned. What started out as a simple look-see to determine why so many of my crew have gone missing did not turn out well at all. At least they have not relieved me of my personal journal. In this way, I can keep a record of my incarceration among the aborigines of this planet.

It’s a lovely planet, and because we had been in transit for so long, I surmised that my crew was simply taking advantage of the natural beauty and getting a little well deserved rest and relaxation. Now it seems that is most likely not the case.

I was detained and confined within a few hours of my arrival in one of the aborigines’ city centers, if you can call it that. I have been placed in a cell with others, similar to me, in cells around me. Unfortunately, none of them speak my language and so I have been unable to determine where I am, how long I might be held, or even why I am being held.

The accommodations are terrible. They have thrown some blankets on the floor for a bed. The sanitary facilities are pathetic. And the food was delivered without eating utensils. I did not eat any of it. It was horrible and not at all suitable to one of my station.

They have turned out the lights and my cell mates are settling down to sleep. I guess I must do the same. Best to be well rested to prepare for whatever might transpire tomorrow.

Day Two

I do so wish they had not divested me of my uniform. The pockets thereof contained a few items that might have allowed me to break out of my cell. That shall be my main purpose and focus … breaking out. I will take as many of these others with me as I am able. I feel very exposed without my clothing. But none of the others around me is clothed. We are all naked. It must be some sort of attempt to belittle and control us emotionally. The aborigines are all clothed. Perhaps it makes them feel superior. Once I learn enough of their language, I will give them a piece of my mind about that. Of course, though, I hope to be long gone from this sorry world before I can learn enough of their language to do that.

I am fairly certain I know their single sound for “cease what you are doing this instant,” but beyond that, the aborigines have not been exceptionally forthcoming with dialogue.

A short, very round aborigine arrived shortly after the sun came up. It is assumed that she is a female of the species due to the presence of pronounced mammary glands and a higher pitch to her vocalizations. Although, it was observed yesterday as I was being unceremoniously detained, that the individual detaining me was most likely male by the hirsuteness of his face and the lower pitch to his voice, and yet, he had pronounced mammary glands as well. Perhaps both sexes of this species are capable of nurturing the very young.

The short and round aborigine has delivered breakfast. She has removed my uneaten dinner from last evening while making some sort of note on a form she has hanging on her cart. The breakfast is no different from the dinner and is still completely unappealing to me. Yet, the others around me are eating greedily and quickly. I cannot imagine how they can stand it. I refuse to eat the slop.

Quite some time has passed since breakfast was delivered. Very little has transpired. Those around me speak to each other now and then, but mostly they sleep. I can see why that might be if they have been here any length of time. There is not much else to do.

As for myself, I have remained alert. I sit at the very front of my cell so that I may see more of what transpires; precious little that it is. A different aborigine from the breakfast aborigine came through the cells a while back. She was accompanied by a male with a long stick. The female engaged herself by cleaning the sanitary facilities in each cell. The male only applied his stick if any of the inmates attempted to escape their cells.

I witnessed one such encounter and was counseled by it to not attempt my own escape. That the male seemed to enjoy his duties was not lost upon me. And on several occasions, it looked as if he might be encouraging an attempt at escape in order to apply his stick. In my opinion, that is totally reprehensible behavior.

It is once again evening. We have gone straight from breakfast to dinner with no lunch offered in between. Dinner is the same disgusting fair as breakfast. But hunger is starting to gnaw at my stomach and so I may have to eat the slop whether I will it or not. Oh, how I long for my uniform and my tools.

Day Three

I did indeed consume the meal that was offered last evening. It did not taste as bad as it looked or smelled. I find the latter to be an odd contradiction. There were some hard bits which I carefully set aside. They did not seem to bother any of the others, but they seemed out of place to me and so I did not eat them. I worried that they might contain some drug to make me more docile. For it seems to me that my sad compatriots are extremely docile and not at all involved in their situation.

The same short and round aborigine has delivered breakfast. And the same pair have been along and cleaned the sanitary facilities. It looks as if this day will play out much the same as the last two. With one exception, the female cleaner made a few interesting noises with her mouth that sounded a little like music. I had no idea these aborigines had any kind of culture. Maybe they are not quite as backward as I first assumed. They do, after all, possess some technology. Still, I have encountered races that made use of ancient technologies with no understanding of them whatsoever. They thought it was magic or some such silliness.

So, I guess I shall just have to settle down and wait to see what might transpire. Oh wait, what is that commotion? I hear many different noises. As if a group of aborigines is approaching.

Oh look. That must be what the young of this species look like. They are a lot more pleasing to gaze upon than their elders. But what are they doing?

They are stopping at each cell in turn and looking at the occupant. Now one is poking its fingers through the bars and the occupant is licking them. Why would she lick the fingers of the young aborigine? The other young one is saying something to one of the elders. Is that laughter? Are they laughing at the plight of me and my compatriots? That seems totally lacking in compassion.

Now the elder is speaking to the male with the stick. It seems they want the cell opened. Yes! They are opening the cell. The male with the stick is gesturing for the occupant to exit the cell. The occupant seems very happy to be out of her cell and they all head for the door at the end of the hallway. It is much quieter once they have all passed through the door and the door is closed.

I had not realized it, as engrossed as I was in what was occurring, but many of the other occupants of the cells had started vocalizing quite loudly when the one occupant was released. In hindsight, the vocalizations sounded distressed. And yet, the body language of the one released seem to be indicating happiness on some level. Oh I so wish I could speak with the people around me so I could find out what this place is and what is its purpose.

Once again, no lunch was offered. I would really appreciate some lunch. It is a very long time between breakfast and dinner.

The individual that was released never returned. I fear the worst. And there is now a new individual in that cell. I worry that something bad has happened to the previous occupant of the cell. Still, I did not at any time sense fear. I wish I knew what was happening.

Day ?

I have no idea how long I have been here. I stopped making entries into my journal after day three because every day was the same as every other.

I have made some small progress at learning the language of the aborigines. It is a very limited language, unfortunately. How they manage to conduct their society with such a limited vocabulary is beyond me. I have theorized that perhaps a major part of their communication is empathic or perhaps even telepathic even though our scientists assure us that telepathy is a myth and simply not possible.

I now know the sounds for “put your back side on the floor” and “remain right where you are until I tell you differently.” I also know the sounds for when you have behaved as required, and not as required.

Day ??

I do not know how much more of this I can bear. On several occasions, aborigine families (that is what I now know them to be) have come and looked at my cell mates. Several have been removed never to return. What happens to them? I still fear the worst.

But I have decided that should any aborigine families approach my cell in future, I will go to the front of the cell and lick the proffered fingers. If it wins my release from this cell, it will be worth it.

Day ???

An aborigine family has skipped all the cells before mine. They are stopping at my cell. I will hurry to the front of it. Look! The small female is sticking her fingers through the bars. Much as it pains me to do so, I decide I will lick them and so I do. The face of the small female changes abruptly. Her lips part and she shows her teeth. But I have learned that among these aborigines it does not indicate aggression. It is an expression of pleasure. She is speaking to her elder and the man with the stick is coming to open the door to my cell. I find my tail wagging quite vigorously in response.

We all walk down the hall and out of the door. We stand at a counter where the elder aborigines shuffle papers around for a while.

Oh no! They are attempting to remove my necklace with my personal journal pendant upon it. It seems they want to replace it with another necklace. If they do not return it to me, I shall not be able …

The elder male says, “Well, Mother, that is the grumbliest dog I have ever laid eyes on.”

The elder female replies, “Yes, dear, she certainly does seem growly, doesn’t she? I have no idea what Susie sees in her.”

Susie says, “Mom, Dad, she’s just talking. Can’t’ you see that. She’s going to be the best and smartest doggie ever. I just know it.”

About two years ago now, when I was looking for a dog to adopt, I spent a lot of time online looking at the various rescues and the local humane society. I saw a lot of pictures of absolutely adorable dogs. But many of them didn’t meet my needs. One of which was size. I needed a small dog because I was still in recovery from a bad accident and subsequent surgery.

There was one dog that I thought would fit the bill. But when I went to the humane society, she had already been adopted. Her name was Serafina.


There was something about her photo that spoke to me. I had to write the story that you have just read. I sort of formed whole in my mind and kind of amazed me with the detail.

When I did finally find a dog I thought we should adopt … that would be Maddie … there was also something in her photos that said I am the one. We almost didn’t get her because someone else with a fenced yard was interested in her. But Maddie’s foster mom decided I really needed her. And she was right.

The weird thing is, Maddie is probably the grumbliest dog I have ever known. She grumbles when I rub her belly. She grumbles when I pick her up to put her on the bed at night. She just grumbles a lot. I figure she’s talking. She’s telling me how she feels about this, that or the other thing. It’s not her fault I can’t translate her various grumbles.

She has a number of other also endearing habits. She pokes me in the leg with her nose to get my attention. If I continue to ignore her, as when I am in the zone and writing like a fiend, she will clap her jaws together. If I ignore the clapping, she’ll say gerroww-Ruf! And then I really can’t ignore her any longer.

Maddie is smart and funny and loving and lovable. Our lives are better for having her in it.

Fourteen pounds of enthusiasm and joy.
Photo by Deborah Mayne

Weird Words, Part 7

American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 1973 edition


No seriously, this is a preface and it’s not about the word “preface.” Although, it is kind of a weird word if you think about it too much. I tend to do that … think about words too much. Many times to the point where they suddenly seem meaningless. I got hung up on the word barrette once. Said it so many times that suddenly it seemed like I couldn’t pronounce it properly any more. That ever happen to you?

When I’m at a loss for any real inspiration, I start thinking about words. Happens more than I care to admit. I’ve also thought about adding posts that begin “Things I Don’t Understand” and maybe “Random Thoughts” to help me get through the uninspired times.

I had decided to dazzle you with information about the word “preface” despite my disclaimer. Don’t try to find the etymology of “preface.” It’s a circular mess that offers very few satisfying facts. Certainly nothing I could make into a joke no matter how obtuse I might get. Sorry.


I can’t (or won’t) say that I use this word very often. But when I do (or might), it is most likely followed by a sharp exhalation of air from between my mostly closed lips (pfft!). Isn’t that how it was always done in all those old black and white movies that only the insomniacs (or diehard film addicts) watch anymore?

The first use of this word is said to have been recorded around the 1590’s. That’s pretty darn old. Like so many seemingly made up and nonsensical words, the exact origin of this one is not known. Originally, it was said to be a jumbled mix of liquors. For example, milk (milk is a liquor? Hey, I’m just reporting what others have written, don’t blame me) and beer, beer and wine, etc. So I guess that technically many of the drinks you might find in some upper class bar (I’m not talking about the “establishments” on Whiskey Row in downtown Prescott near where I live) are balderdash. I can sort of get the “dash” as in a dash of this and a dash of that. But what’s with the “balder?”

In Norse mythology, Balder (or Baldr) is a god associated with light, beauty, love and happiness. Hmmm? I suppose that some could argue that happiness could be found in a cup of balderdash. Personally, I’m doubtful.

Somewhere around the 1670’s it came to mean a senseless jumble of words. That’s an interesting leap. Or maybe not so much so. Consider someone who is profoundly drunk trying to say something a little more complicated than “Gimme ‘nother.”

Today, most dictionaries define it this way (except for mine which is, it seems, totally inadequate to the task of satisfying my curiosity):  trivial nonsense, stupid or illogical talk, absurdity, bull, drivel, fiddle-faddle, gibberish, piffle, poppycock, rubbish, trash, twaddle. There are a few really good weird words in that list. But I’ll move on to another that I found while researching balderdash.


I don’t remember actually using this word, but I have been called this in the past. It wasn’t all together a pleasant experience. I remember there was a fair amount of yelling involved.

Usually I really like Etymonline, but today they haven’t been of much help to me. Witness this:  1674, apparently a “jingling extension” [OED] of *whip-snapper “a cracker of whips,” or perhaps an alteration of snipper-snapper (c.1590). Cf. also late 16c. whipperginnie, a term of abuse for a woman.  Goodness! Guess I’ll have to try some other sources because to my mind “whippersnapper” is used to indicate someone young and inexperienced in the ways of the world. How we got there from a “cracker of whips” or a “term of abuse for a woman” I can’t imagine.

One of the main roads where I live was built on an old dirt track that haulers once used to get from Prescott to the outlying areas east of there. They had to go over Bullwhacker Hill in the process. It was named such because you had to really whip the bull oxen in order to get them to pull the heavy loads up that hill. The name has always conjured images of dusty men in cowboy hats sitting on a wooden bench in front of their loads yelling at and cracking their whips at the poor oxen; whip snappers. The downgrade on the east side of the hill isn’t as bad as the upgrade, but I’ve often wondered how the oxen felt about that. First you pull really hard and then you have to hold back really hard. Boy, I’ve certainly gone off on a tangent here. I could eliminate this whole paragraph, but then you might think there was something wrong with me if I did. Oh wait, you wouldn’t even know that I did that. So I could go ahead and do it anyway. Nah.

 Back to topic, I got this from the Word Detective:  “Whippersnapper” is a somewhat archaic term, rarely heard today outside of movies, and then usually from the mouth of a character portrayed as chronologically-challenged and hopelessly old-fashioned to boot. (I wish I’d written that, it’s really good.) A “whippersnapper” is an impertinent young person, usually a young man, whose lack of proper respect for the older generation is matched only by his laziness and lack of motivation to better himself. (Guess I’ll have to revise my definition of whippersnapper. Not to mention my opinion of the person who used it on me. Were they blind as well as rude? Although, there was this one older woman who thought I was a boy when I was working in a fast food restaurant. But I think it was the cap, uniform, and my hate of traditional brassieres that was to blame for that.)

One might imagine that the term derives from the understandable temptation among more productive citizens to “snap a whip” at such sullen layabouts, but the whips in question actually belonged to the whippersnappers themselves. Such ne’er-do-wells were originally known as “whip snappers” in the 17th century, after their habit of standing around on street corners all day, idly snapping whips to pass the time. (They must have been bored out of their minds if they thought that was entertaining.) The term was based on the already-existing phrase, “snipper-snapper,” also meaning a worthless young man, but in any case, “whip snapper” became “whippersnapper” fairly rapidly.

Though “whippersnapper” originally referred to a young man with no visible ambition, the term has changed somewhat over the years, and today is more likely to be applied to a youngster with an excess of both ambition and impertinence. I’ll add that often it also is applied to those young folk who want to do things differently from their elders. Maybe that is the impertinent angle. I have to say that impertinence is really a matter of perspective. I probably shouldn’t get started on impertinence. Does anyone else besides me find this stuff at all interesting? Goodness, I certainly hope so.


I just had to revisit this word from the balderdash definition. It’s just too darn juicy to ignore.

Again Etymonline has let me down. All they had to say on the subject is that it dates back to 1782 and is probably from “twattle” which dates back to 1556 and that it is of obscure origin. Another source also says that it is sometimes used as “twiddle-twaddle” which would seem to link it to “fiddle-faddle.” Wasn’t that a snack food that was popular many years back? And what does that say about snack foods in general?

I think it’s the “twattle” relationship in “twaddle” that first piqued my interest and elicited the “juicy” remark. A little piece of “twattle” is “twat” and twat has some interesting definitions. The Urban Dictionary says that it is a great word to shout out, although I have my reservations about that. It also says that it is a woman’s vagina (oh dear, am I allowed to print that here!), a blow (as in punch, not the kind you drink) to the face or genitalia (“You twatted me, I’ll twat you back), that it is used by Tweety, or that it is an offensive term for a person, and an acronym for The War Against Terrorism. To me that last is probably the best use for twat. Can you just see some politician using it that way when we all know what we mainly associate with the word? Could be funny though: “Our TWAT is doing well, don’t you think?”

So, anyway, much of what I write is just balderdash. But what do you expect from a young (at heart) whippersnapper like me?

Following Blogs

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I have very little spare time. It always seems to me that should not be the case. I don’t work outside the home, but taking care of a house, yard, a husband, a cat and a dog do take up quite a bit of time. Because my husband still works a full-time job, I essentially do everything else.

Right now, my writing is my job. Trying fit in several hours of writing each day on my books and blog and still getting all the other things I need to do done can often be difficult. When you add in working out and reading, it becomes nearly impossible. And I’m not going to give up the working out. So the reading suffers.

Having my blog hosted by WordPress is wonderful. I really appreciate the ability to connect with other bloggers, read their work, and have them read mine. I get a thrill when someone likes what I’ve written. I get an even bigger thrill when I get a message that someone is now following my blog. And I also feel a sense of guilt.

There are only a few blogs that I follow. I’d like to follow more, but even with the few that I do, my inbox is flooded daily with new posts to read. I can’t possibly read them all. I look at the list as it gets longer and longer and wonder what I am to do about it. And then the guilt sets in.

How can I expect others to read my blog if I don’t read theirs? And it seems only polite to follow the blog of someone who is following my blog. But I don’t have that much time in the day. I guess this is sort of an apology.

There’s an answer to my dilemma out there somewhere, I suppose. But I haven’t found it yet.

You Can’t Legislate Away Stupidity

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Do you ever wonder what’s next? I do.

I have read reports that a significant number of emergency room visits are due to individuals taking over-the-counter medicines that contain acetaminophen and then also taking acetaminophen by itself. The overdoses were the cause of the emergency room visits and led to death in a number of cases.

In an effort to cut health care costs, will legislators decide that over-the-counter cold remedies and sleep aids and the like can no longer contain acetaminophen? I don’t necessarily think that it is a good idea to put a pain reliever in anything other than something intended to be taken to relieve pain, but that aside, you can’t legislate away stupidity. And I frequently wonder what choices and liberties we might lose in government’s attempts to do just that.

I’ve always felt that it is my responsibility to know what I am putting into my body in what amounts and what constitutes a safe dosage. And I’m not just talking about medications; it’s just as important with the food that I eat.

I learned early on that one quarter of the usual adult dosage of an antihistamine was all that I required and that I should never, ever eat squash. I also learned that the full, recommended adult dosage of an antihistamine would knock me right out … for hours. Decongestants in any dosage are a complete no-no.

My point is I don’t want government trying to tell me what and when and how much of something I can or should take or eat. And yet, that is the direction in which we seem to be headed. I’ll say it again, you can’t legislate away stupidity. No matter what you do, some idiot will find a way to use something in such a fashion as to make themselves sick or outright dead. I don’t think that the rest of us should have to suffer because of it.

Don’t get me wrong, I have just as much compassion as the next person, maybe more, but the necessary information for making good decisions is printed right on the packages of these sorts of items. If someone wants to believe it must be safe to take different medicines in haphazard combinations simply because they are offered for sale, they are sorely mistaken. The crazy numbers of these items that are offered for sale are offered for one reason, and one reason only … to make money. Why anyone would put their health and safety in the hands of that often cited “they,” I will never understand. As in, these must be safe if they put them on the shelves.

I know that it might be nice if there were some way for us all to stay as children in our parents homes where our parents always make all the best and right decisions for us (yes, I know, there are homes in which this does not happen). But that is not the case. We grow up, we become self-sufficient and we get on with life. To expect or even desire that government take the place of our parents is naïve and, in my opinion, ridiculous and not at all a good idea.

I don’t know what they cover in health classes anymore. Or even if they have health classes these days. But in my day, they did not really cover nutrition, nutrition labels (well, okay, we didn’t have nutrition labels when I was really young) or how to read the labels on packages of over-the-counter drugs.

You can’t legislate away stupidity, but you can educate it away. A course on the safe use of over-the-counter drugs alone would be helpful. So, all you movers and shakers out there in government land take note. The key to cutting health care costs and making lives better in general is to have a better educated populace. End of lecture … or maybe that’s end of rant.

I Don’t Watch the News

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Some years ago now, we cancelled our cable television subscription. We did not replace it with any other kind of reception. At the time, we had dumb phones, so there was no watching of old TV show (my husband’s current favorite is The Rifleman), or YouTube videos (I like amusing cat and dog videos).

Cancelling our service made a profound change in our lives. Chief among the changes was that I completely stopped keeping abreast of the news.

It wasn’t until I stopped keeping tabs on crime (local and national) and international doings that I realized how much stress that had added to my life. I found an inner calm that, before then, I had thought was not possible.

But, I got to thinking that perhaps I was remiss. Everyone else seemed so wrapped up in who did what to whom, celebrity doings, political intrigues, and that like that I thought maybe I was shirking my civic duty in some basically unfathomable way.

I lost touch with the latest sports scores. I had no idea about what new movies were coming out or what the new season on television was bringing to the small screens all over the country. Eventually, I figured out that it was not my civic duty to keep informed and I stopped worrying about it.

These days, when someone walks up to me and says, “Hey, what do you think about … ?” I don’t automatically cringe inside and feel like apologizing for not knowing a dang thing about it.

And you know what, it hasn’t mattered one little bit that I don’t know who won America’s Got Talent or Dancing With The Stars. It doesn’t even matter that I don’t have a clue about the latest stupid thing that Trump has said. Truly, none of it affects my day to day existence.

I also don’t miss the commercials. For a long time before we cancelled our cable service, we had been recording the few things we wanted to watch so that we could fast-forward through the commercials. I have never been a fan of them and never will be. I think they are harmful with their fear messages:  heaven forbid your house should smell like your house and not like a spring morning, what will people think if you have damp spots on your clothing under your arms, blah, blah, blah.

Think about it. When our country was new, there were small local newspapers and really slow snail mail. People in the northeastern part of our country had no real idea what was going on in the southeastern part on a day-to-day basis. Did it change their lives significantly? I can’t know for certain, but I’m willing to bet that they just went about life, scratching out an existence as best they could, and didn’t worry too much about the rest of it. And seriously, why would I want to know that there is a chance some dumb country will lob a nuclear missile at the good old United States of America in a fit of utter pique? Such an event will either be thwarted or not. And if not, that’s the end. Would the knowledge it might happen change anything about what I might do that day? Nope.

Did I tell my husband that I loved him? Check. Did I send my sister and email in which I told her that I loved her? Check. Did I walk Maddie and see to her comfort and happiness? Check. Did I feed Bonfire and brush him and love on him? Check. So, nothing to worry about. One of my mom’s favorite sayings was that we will cross that bridge when we come to it. I think that can be applied to most of the things that might go wrong in your life. Her point was, did worrying about it make it better. The answer was always no.

Today, both my husband and I have smart phones so we are a little more informed than previously. My husband has more interest in the news than I do. I prefer to read about the latest discoveries in physics or astronomy or the newest information about health from the medical perspective (not the crazy rantings of devotees of this stupid diet or that new cure for toe fungus). Some of what I read can be presented in a fairly sensational manner. But none of it is akin to television commercials or the sensationalism that seems essential to “selling” the news. And the ads that pop up on most sites, well I just ignore them. They are not what interests me.

I’m not advocating completely disconnecting. I’m not saying we should throw away our cell phones, unplug our TVs and completely ignore the world at large. I don’t think that’s entirely possible in this day and age. And I like my cell phone. It gives me a sense of security when I drive from place to place. I know that help is only a phone call away. It might in reality be a false sense of security, but it’s what I’ve got right now.

So here’s my suggestion. Try not watching anything even remotely newsy for a week. See if it doesn’t make a positive change in your life. I’m willing to bet that it will.