Saturday, October 20, 2018


I am sometimes very glad that we’ve not got the power to read each other’s minds.  Surely I wouldn’t be thinking this way if we did have the power, but there are so many times that I want to shout at people, tell them off, tell them what I think of their conduct or attitudes.  Not nice, not nice, I know. 

I am invariably polite.  You’ll rarely hear me say, for instance “I like that dress,” or “I like that haircut.”  What I’ll say will be something like “What a dress!” or “That haircut is you!”  There’s a subtle difference there, and there’s no point in antagonizing some poor being who’s probably trying her best. I do try my own best, and it may not suit everyone else.
There’s a lovely saying, attributed to Elsie de Wolfe: “Be pretty if you can, be witty if you must, but be gracious if it kills you.”  Sometimes I’ve had to be gracious until my teeth hurt!

I knew a gal once, a friend of a friend, and she and I got talking about people we have no use for.  She said she wished she had a magic finger that she could point, just like a kid uses his forefinger and points it like a gun, and just cock the thumb trigger, and ‘poof’, they’d be gone. I’ve been mulling over the idea ever since we had that conversation.

Most of the rest of this was posted on my blog back in January of 2013. I apologize to any of my readers who are enamored of our current President, but sometimes I really wish I could use the magic finger on him. There must be times when even his loyal troops cringe at the things he says, especially, as he’s done lately, when he labels as “evil” any one opposed to his thinking.

It’s probably the same for most people, but there are several prominent people, entertainers and politicians among them, that I just don’t care for on looks alone. With our current POTUS, it’s looks and everything else about him.  

I suppose it’s good we don’t have this magic finger. It’s a simplistic solution - and just think of the possible ramifications - but don’t you too sometimes wish you had a magic finger like that? (other than that finger?) 

But then, I wonder who might use that magic finger on me?  I’d better watch my p’s and q’s.

Friday, October 12, 2018


…what a strange world this is right now.

Last Tuesday, I got an email from our son. He on a fishing trip down in Florida. There was no message, no attachment, but the subject was “Lobster Reuben.” Was he kidding me? He knows I’m a Reuben fanatic. Nope! I googled it, and there it was: Lobster Reuben - a Florida Keys specialty. Some people must love ‘em, otherwise why would they sell ‘em. I love lobster, I love sauerkraut, but lobster with sauerkraut ain’t gonna pass my lips.

I am getting a little peeved with all the sandwiches mislabeled as Reubens. The worst menu listing I’ve seen lists a Reuben as “Turkey or corned beef, 1000 Island Dressing, slaw or kraut, with Swiss cheese on rye toast.” Turkey? Slaw? 

That’s like mixing rye and vermouth and calling it a martini.

p.s. The very, very best Reuben I ever had was served at the now defunct D & H Restaurant in Pittsburgh, New York. Why was it so good? The owner-chef made the sauerkraut from scratch. I’ve had some pretty good Reubens since then, but that one was memorable.

Thursday, October 11, 2018


Hurricane Michael has left a huge mess down in Florida, and has come  barreling north-east. Above is a screenshot of the predicted storm path over us here in a few hours.  As with the late, unlamented Florence, we're ready as we can be. And as with the late, unlamented Florence, I doubt we'll experience much more than wind and rain. At least we had some practice in getting ready for the storm.
I can't begin to comprehend how people handle the total destruction of their homes and livelihoods by wind and water. I think it's time for coastal civilizations to move inland or underground. I can't begin to comprehend that either.

Meanwhile - Michael will head out, jet-propelled, and bother the folks in Europe early next week. I hope he's quieted down by the time he gets there.

Saturday, October 6, 2018


Frank and I are getting choosy in our old age. We’ve decided that we’d like to have the best. We’ve always loved dining out. Where we lived in upstate New York, though we were in a rural area, we were extremely fortunate to live relatively near some very good restaurants. We had standing reservations at a fine, award-winning restaurant, and regularly visited the others. We’d have appetizers or soup, main course, dessert and coffee. And drinks and wine, of course. When we moved south, we had to trek north into Charlotte to find anything similar, and we got out of the custom of dining out at least once a month.

Over the years, more good restaurants have opened closer to home. The problem for us now is that we don’t eat very much for dinner these days. We might go to an inexpensive or chain restaurant and have just an entrée. On state occasions, we’re going to a French restaurant that opened recently. We don’t have just an entrée there. Oooola la, that is indulgence at its finest.

But, I digress. We both love filet mignon. We’ve found some very tasty filets mignons in local restaurants. The problem now is that because we’re having just an entrée, paying for a filet mignon – anywhere from $29 to $40 or more per person - is just absurd. We can afford it, but why would we? I can do up filets mignons for two for less than half the price of one eaten out. Ah yes, the experience is supposed to count for the price. Well, we’ve experienced the best – now we just please our taste buds at home.  

All this is by way of telling you that last night, as I've been doing for a few months now, I did up two absolutely delicious filets mignons. A bit of adobo seasoning, done in butter, done to a turn: medium. No sauces, no extras, just delicious. Of all things, Frank’s choice for potato was potato salad. Filet mignon and potato salad. My mouth had a party.

Saturday, September 29, 2018


I posted the following back in September 2015. I was amazed, almost appalled, at the proliferation of pumpkin. Though each year I do see more and more of the various types of pumpkins themselves, it's really the pushing the pumpkin spice that is sweeping the nation. The list is now much longer than the one I came up with three years ago.
I'm always astounded at the bizarre flavors that are tried out on us. Just this morning, the email from Simplemost reported that the latest flavor for candy canes is mac and cheese.  Again, why wouldya?

There’s a new ‘drug’ around: pumpkin. The pumpkin production people have raised their heads out of the pumpkin patch and decided to really push pumpkin.  No longer do we have just pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread, but everyone has followed the success of Starbucks pumpkin coffees, lattes and such. I say, “Why wouldya?”

Today is the first day of fall, and along with canned pumpkin for pies and real pumpkins for carving, on this morning’s Harris Teeter on-line flier we have from them, in alphabetical order no less -

On the Dairy page:
International Delight Pumpkin Spice Creamer
Nestles Pumpkin Spice Coffee Mate
Philadelphia Pumpkin Spice Cream Cheese
Pillsbury Grands Pumpkin Spice Rolls
Pillsbury Ready-to-Bake Pumpkin Cookies

And on the Grocery Page:
Alpine Spice Pumpkin Cider Mix (Don't mess with a good thing!)
Bigs Cinnamon Sugar Pumpkin Seeds
Blue Diamond Pumpkin Almonds – (I’d love to know how they did this. I
        Guess that the artificial flavors guys got in on this recipe.)
Boulder Potato Chips – Turkey Gravy and Pumpkin Flavors (really???)
Bigelow Fall Harvest Pumpkin Spice Tea Bags and Tea Cups
Clif Bars Pumpkin or Gingerbread – (well, gingerbread is o.k.)
Creative Snacks Pumpkin Granola
G.H. Cretors Pumpkin Caramel Popcorn - (pumpkin and caramel – no!)
Gevalia and Green Mountain Pumpkin K-Cups
International Delight Pumpkin Latte Mix
McCormick Pumpkin Pie Extract - (they extracted something from a Pumpkin
        Pie?  Holey Socks!)
Pioneer Pumpkin Pancake Mix - (close, but no cigar)
Salem Pumpkin Spice shortbread Cookie - (now that one I might go for)
Stonewall Kitchens Maple Pumpkin Spread – (anything from Stonewall  
         Kitchens is great, I’ve been buying their products since they first  
         started and were selling their wares in a tent at a Manchester,  
         Vermont craft fair, so this one is o.k. by me. Might be like pumpkin 
         pie on toast! Yum.)       
Terra Pumpkin Spice Chips

Pumpkin pie is one of my very, very favorite things from about late, I say late fall into the holidays. We’re still two months away from that. It’s even a bit too early to carve a pumpkin – by Halloween it will be a shriveled pile of mush.

Poor guy, can't find his dentures.

I’m always pleased that only maybe 50% of those around our Thanksgiving table like pumpkin pie because that means more for me, especially the next morning. In my estimation, pumpkin pie is the breakfast of champions.

I’m really not interested in ersatz pumpkin in mid-September, and it is amazing to me that anyone would want their potato chips or coffee to taste like pumpkin. Some of the sweeter stuff is o.k., but pumpkin almonds?

What’s next: broccoli?   (No! It's mac and cheese candy canes!)

The Curmudgeon has spoken, and I am
unanimous in this!


Friday, September 21, 2018


From the map above, you can see that the Atlantic is relatively calm this week. Florence did her dirty work on the Carolinas coast, slowly headed inland, and didn’t cause much damage for us here further west. We never lost power, and right here in this part of the community we got about 4” of rain. Other neighborhoods got more – it is always that way. Many of us here in Sun City Carolina Lakes heeded the request of community management and governance, and stayed home, holed up from Thursday to Monday, though some did venture out for church. I got a lot of reading done, and my “to read” pile is no more.

Those folks on the coast really got slammed by Florence, and many will be flooded until the rain that fell in the mountains and the Piedmont makes its slow way to the sea. I just can’t imagine what I’d be doing were I in their shoes. I do suppose it’s the luck of the draw, and you just deal with what you’re dealt. A family friend and his family were burned out to the ground in the Santa Rosa fire last year. They’re still dealing with the devastation. Nowhere is safe.

Friday, September 14, 2018


We're just above  that Ssc in South Carolina - just where the state indents at Charlotte. 

I have to tell you that my husband Frank is the original Boy Scout. As soon as it looked like Florence was heading this way, he went into action. We've got all the usual things covered: batteries, flashlights, candles, even oil lamps, a bathtub full of water, umpteen bottles of drinking water (our water here tastes terrible) a gas stove (would never be without one!) and an iffy generator.

That generator is about 35 years old, and has done yeoman service. Its battery-start doesn’t work anymore, and it is a beast to use the pull rope, but it doesn’t owe us a cent. In a freak storm that dumped a foot of snow on trees still in leaf in October of 1984, it served us well for 9 days. (We did have a bit of a problem then because our well pump wasn’t properly hooked up to the power exchange on the electric panel, and we were without running water. We collected snow, while it lasted, and were grateful for it. That whole episode is a story in itself.) 

We’ve been making and saving ice cubes, and we’ve filled and frozen bottles and jugs of water. When the power goes out, and it’s almost guaranteed that it will, and if we can’t get the generator going, we’ll just hope for the best. So I may lose a bag of shrimp, a steak, and some chicken.  Mmmm…..maybe I’ll cook up a feast!

Sunday, September 9, 2018


Well here it is Sunday, and once again I forgot to post to my blog. I've got two "canned" articles, one already posted on the Charlotte Seniors website, one for the magazine, but I've even forgotten them. (I just had to look them up in my "To Be Posted" folder to remember what they were.)

My week has been busy with a few meetings, some writing, some editing, and a lot of research for a new community council. I'm researching other "55+" communities to find out what they mean if or when they use the word "Lifestyle." That's neither here nor there, and I won't go into that part of what I found, but I did find that this community where I live, Sun City Carolina Lakes, looks to me to be one of the best such communities in the country. Last year we were nowhere to be found on the "55 Best" list. This year we  are No. 22. We're on a roll!

Another thing I'm discovering is that no other such community I researched has anywhere near the quality of magazine our group produces. Most have advertisement-heavy magazines, most being produced by management or a company that puts out such publications. They are, of course, money makers for their communities, but so what? They are all monthly, so they can't be too timely. They give a wee bit of news as to what's going on, and, every month, relist things like community management and governance information, description of all the available recreation, clubs, and activities, and, in general, are boring. 

I am very proud of our publication. It is produced by community residents. It isn't a money-maker, far from it, but so what? It isn't boring - there's a lot to enjoy in it. We are now online. If you'd like to see it, go here and look at our latest issue, September. It's the Tenth Anniversary issue of Living@Sun City Carolina Lakes, and it's a good one. 

Saturday, September 1, 2018


…but this weekend I have no excuse, just a wonderful reason: our oldest grandchild is here from Texas with our youngest great-grandchild. Of course you know that blogging is not in the forefront of my mind. There will be ten for brunch tomorrow morning – ten, including 4½ month-old Everly. She is a charmer if there ever was one. Oooo -I could just take a bite out of her!

Our Texas bluebonnet are here!

This morning I am beginning to prepare the family favorite Sunday brunch dish, Baked French Toast Casserole. I’m doing a recipe and a half, because it goes like hotcakes. (I must say that I couldn’t get a boule this week, so I’m using two baguettes that I cut into nice chunks.)
This is an easy recipe to adapt and tailor for numbers or tastes.

Baked French Toast Casserole with Maple Syrup

                                                                  6 to 8 servings – or more!
Adapted from Paula Deen – and - 
   Adapted by Laura Lee Johnston  (a/k/a Grammy)    01/23/11              
Bottom of Form
  • 1 loaf French bread (13 to 16 ounces)   (I used one boule)
  • 8 large eggs
  • 2 cup milk
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Dash salt
  • Praline Topping, recipe follows
  • Maple syrup
Slice French bread into 20 slices, 1-inch each. (Use any extra bread for garlic toast or bread crumbs).  (LJ’s method – cut off ends of the boule, slice the rest into 1-1 ¼ “ slices. Should be 6 nice slices, then cut those in half – use the two ends for something else.  We buttered them and gobbled them up!) 
Arrange slices in a generously buttered 9 by 13-inch flat baking dish in 2 rows, overlapping the slices. (LJ’s method – arrange the 12 slices flat in the buttered or sprayed dish – or cut it all into 1” chunks.)
In a large bowl, combine the eggs, half-and-half, milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and beat with a rotary beater or whisk until blended but not too bubbly.
Pour mixture over the bread slices, making sure all are covered evenly with the milk-egg mixture. Spoon some of the mixture in between the slices. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Take dish from the fridge and make the topping. Bake 1 hour until bubbly, puffed and lightly golden. Serve with maple syrup.

Praline Topping:   Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and blend well.
  • 1 stick  butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 cup chopped pecans   (used 1 ½ lbs. because that’s the way the pieces were packaged – who doesn’t want more pecans!)
  • 1 Tbsp. flour
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup(optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Saturday, August 25, 2018



Every once in a while, Frank likes to watch the acerbic Judge Judy. While he's watching and I'm reading or writing on my PC, I'm always wearing my ear protectors - what I call my "ears." I do hear the blurred sound of the courtroom action, but it rarely grabs my attention. The Judge Judy theme, however, with its four notes - da da da dum - from Beethoven's Fifth, makes me look up to the TV screen. I am always delighted to see the intro film of New York City. I'm down here in South Carolina, and there is little chance I'll ever get to Manhattan again, but just seeing those program intros makes me smile.

I was born in Richmond Hill, Queens, a part of the great NYNY. I love New York – which to me is Manhattan. There was always, always a special little frisson of excitement each time I arrived on the island, even when I was in the city every day for a while during the opening of the now defunct First Women’s Bank, or every week doing research for a thesis. The best time of the year was Christmas in Manhattan. Looking back now, I think it was the recognition of the endless possibilities the city had to offer. For me, no other city has ever matched that feeling.

Saturday, August 18, 2018


Holey Socks! It's Saturday again. More frequently these days, my blog posting has shifted from Friday to Saturday. When I began to blog, I posted several times a week. I suppose I had a lot to say, but at that time I wasn't writing for the our community magazine. Now I'm writing, editing, and coordinating. And in the last few months I've become involved on a new advisory council in the community. Their meetings are on Friday mornings, so all thoughts of blogging take a back seat.

This one is another article from the magazine. It was a fun one to research and write. I’ve never played the game, so what I know about golf is what I’ve picked up over the years. My brother was a big golf fan. In his younger years, he caddied regularly, and, of course, he played. An odd bit to keep in my mind, but I do remember that one of his favorite golfers was “Champagne” Tony Lema. Remember him? Every once in a while when our son is here on a weekend afternoon, we’ll watch a televised game. To me, it’s like watching grass grow, but does get a bit interesting when they get to the green and take shots at getting that little white ball into the "wee hole in the ground."

"Champagne" Tony Lema

“They” say – don’t “they” always – that the game of golf originated in Scotland, sometime in the mid-1400s. They also say it originated a century or so earlier than that in Holland, or in Belgium, somewhere in the Low Countries. Whoever invented it, and it certainly has proved to be a game in progress, the credit for the name “golf” goes to the Dutch and their word colf or kolf, and the credit for the modern, 18-hole version of the game goes to the inventive Scots.

Some historians paint us the picture of medieval Scottish sheepherders, watching the grass grow while the sheep kept shearing it, looking for something to pass the time. They probably knew little of the game already being played across the North Sea. As with many males looking to kill some time, they could have kicked a can, had they had one, skipped stones across a handy pond, played fetch with their dog, catch, if a buddy was around, or even taken a snooze. But then: “ah, a stick, a stone. How far I can hit the stone with the stick?” The rest as “they” say, is history.
Golf at St. Andrews in the 1700's
Whatever the origins, the game became popular in Scotland. Indeed, the Mecca of golfers worldwide is The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews there in Fife. With the exception of the United States and Mexico, “The R&A” is the ruling authority for the game worldwide.

Golf became so popular that it had to be prohibited under certain circumstances. King James II had to prohibit golf and a few other popular games because they interfered with archery practice mandated a part of the national defense. Later, golf was also banned by King James IV, but he was known to play a round or two every so often. (The members of the SCCL Ladies 9-Hole and the Women’s 18-Hole clubs will be interested to know that though Mary Queen of Scots played it, golf was considered unsuitable pastime for a woman. Yea verily, Mary was chastised for playing the game.)

Did Mary lose her head over golf?

James VI of Scotland, Mary’s son, became James I of England in 1603. He brought golf south with him, and the Scottish and British brought golf to the countries where they were stationed. It must be mentioned that the first recorded game in America was the kolf played by Dutch settlers at Fort Orange, now Albany, New York, in 1650. We’re not sure which rules they used.

From ancient clubs fashioned by hand by the players themselves, and balls made of wood, a step up from sticks and stones, on to today’s wide range of equipment made of combinations of materials both modern and traditional, and some very experimental, the sport has kept up with technology. In the United States alone, there are over 15,000 places to play a round. Today’s golfer can set himself or herself up with a range of equipment and clothing designed to make the most of individual’s ability to get that little white ball, hazards notwithstanding, into that far, wee hole in the ground.

Saturday, August 11, 2018


One recent morning, one of my regular email subscriptions brought me this:
English Word of the Day from Oxford Dictionaries
Your word for today is:  coulrophobia - extreme or irrational fear of clowns
I don’t fear clowns, but I certainly don’t like them. When I saw the word entry, it reminded me that I’d posted about clowns before. I’ll have a comment or two after, but meanwhile - in August of 2013, I posted:

Did you see this article from Smithsonian on The History and Psychology of Clowns Being Scary?  That first picture could send you screaming off into the night. Smithsonian didn’t have to tell me that clowns are scary – I’ve been a non-fan, shall we say, all of my life.  I kinda liked Emmett Kelley’s Weary Willy when I saw him at the circus when I was a little kid.  Was he the clown that swept the spotlight into the corner of the ring and then ‘under the rug’? (Yes, he was, I looked it up!) But it’s all a blur.

And I never did like Clarabelle or Bozo.  My sister got to go on the Howdy Doody Show – she won a pair of ice skates – but I didn’t care for that show. I got to go on Buster’s Buddies – no clowns – and I won a Toni Doll. Remember those?  Anyway, I knew there had to be an innate reason for my not liking those big red-mouthed clowns. I’ll be darned if I can find a current on-line reference to it, but years ago I read that the wide red mouth evolved from the Renaissance practice of slitting the clown’s mouth to make a wide grin. Gruesome!

I do remember thinking the bit where clowns got stuffed in the tiny car was really stupid. Who knows why – it just struck a sour note in me. But the rest of the circus – I loved it! I loved the elephants and the big cats, the high wire acts and the acrobats, and remember the man who balanced on just one finger? Neat stuff.  I haven’t been to the circus in eons – the memories will suffice.
Clowns themselves evolved from the motley-dressed court jesters of the Middle Ages who could answer back to anyone, even the king, and were given a wide range of freedoms enjoyed by no others, and were often the impetus for change. I am a fan of Alan Gordon who has written a wonderful series of mysteries around a jester and The Fools Guild – Thirteenth Night is the first in the series.  Never mind sending in the clowns, send in the jesters – they’re no fools, and this world could use quite a few of them.

Back to today – August 2018. I had to laugh at the last sentence of that post – “send in the jesters.” Well, two years ago the great American electorate sent in no jester: they sent in a clown. Funny thing though, he doesn’t make me laugh. He makes me cringe. He gives me a case of coulrophobia.

Ha! I went to find a picture of our president as a clown - there was quite a selection. And there I found this:

A circus is just what we've got.

Saturday, August 4, 2018


Picture from a misty morning at my house

I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world
        and a desire to enjoy the world.
       This makes it hard to plan the day.
                                                                              E. B. White

Friday, July 27, 2018


"Please tell me if you can what time do the trains roll in?
    Two-ten, six-eighteen, ten-forty- four.”
           Lyrics by Rod McKuen

I do like numbers. Even the time of day makes me smile if the numbers are familiar, like the ones in those old folk song lyrics above, or my birth month and day, or are in a good set like 7:11 or 12:34. We are surrounded by numbers: phone numbers, pin numbers, numbers games, TV channels, Interstate and highway numbers, merchandise prices and sales discounts, addresses, days and dates, times, and temperatures, 24/7/365, ad infinitum.

We know that mankind must have used numbers, at least in his head and in his speech, from the time he began to think and realize what was out there, what he had, and what he wanted. What was the first numerical thought? It may have been “I see one lion,” or “I have two days’ worth of food.” He had to think in more precise terms than one or many. He realized he had fingers and toes on which to count. Fingers and toes, our first numerical system, are referred to as digits, from their Latin name, digitus. Man started recording numbers as notches on a bone. When man was able to find a bit of leisure to think beyond daily survival, civilization developed. Along with it came ancient formalized numerical systems.

There are many such systems, including those of the Egyptians and Babylonians, the Greeks, the Hebrews, the Chinese and Japanese, and others. The system still used for numbering special events, like Super Bowls and Olympic Games, is the Roman system of combining I’s, V’s, X’s, L’s, C’s, D’s, and M’s to designate numbers. How many times have you tried to do a quick translation of the date run at the end of an old movie? One beauty of a date is MDCCCLXXXVIII. Its 13 digits translate to 1888. Add another millennium, add another M. The system supports only basic addition and subtraction: add a letter here, take one away there. Don’t even try to multiply or divide them – the Romans used an abacus for that, as did the Chinese and Russians. Abaci are still in use in many parts of the world.

Several numerical systems had the concept of zero, but in most it was just a vacant position. In some it was depicted as a disc with an empty or vacant center. (Is that familiar?) The Roman system, and many of the other in the world, had no place for zero. The zero and numbers we use today are the legacy to most of the modern world from the Hindu-Arabic system that preserved and further developed the science and mathematics of previous cultures. The Moors brought their knowledge to North Africa and on into Europe, thus we call the numbers Arabic. Mathematicians and scientists soon realized the beauty and utility of the simple numbers. Bankers could calculate interest out to several decimal points, merchants could price their wares effectively, and mathematicians could begin to use the fractions, quadratic equations, and algebra already in use in the Middle East. The next step in numerical system development wouldn’t come until 1679, and the development of the binary system of representing numbers. That development, on hold for a while, eventually led to our modern digital age – there are those digits again.

Fibonacci Numbers

From Pythagoras and Euclid to the modern practitioners, mathematicians have come up with all manner of special numbers like primes, pseudoprimes, and palindromic primes, composite numbers, square roots, perfect numbers, Fibonacci numbers, Cullen numbers, Avogadro’s number, ad infinitum. Speaking of ad infinitum, don’t ever forget the exact number for πthat’s pi. And if you live numbers, as did the late Stephen Hawking, numbers can take you to the universe.

I’m not too mathematically inclined. Over the years, as have most of us, I’ve picked up a bit of trivial numeric knowledge. I do wish that my first Algebra teacher had given us a nutshell history of the whys and wherefores of mathematics beyond simple arithmetic. It might have made the subject more interesting, memorable, and retainable. I had to take Advanced Algebra and Trigonometry in high school, and I do know I passed the courses, but I don’t remember any of the course work. I do best with basic arithmetic and eighth-grade fractions. I’m set for life, math wise: that knowledge of fractions comes in very handy in cooking, and my checkbook always balances.

Friday, July 20, 2018



You know ghoti, don’t you? It’s pronounced ‘fish’ – yes, that’s right:
   Gh as the gh in cough – that would be your f
   O and the o in women – that would be your I or ih
   Ti as the ti in fascination – there’s the sh

Fascination – yes, it’s fascinating to me how words are spelled and pronounced so differently, sometimes so illogically.

In England, Worcestershire is pronounced as Woos-ter-shire or sheer.
Here we pronounce Westchester as Westchester, why don’t we pronounce it as Wester – leaving out the chest. Well, I fully realize that there are precedents for this, but I love to mess with words. The British must always have been in a hurry. They seem to have shortened whatever words they could. Featherstonehaugh is pronounces Fee-ston-hue, Cholmondeley is pronounced Chumley – one syllable less. Dalziel is pronounced Dee-ell. Were they always in a hurry to pronounce the names and get them over and done with?

While I’m rambling on about words, my favorite questionable words are names from China. I know that a according to my favorite Wikipedia:
“Pinyin, or Hànyǔ Pīnyīn, is the official romanization system for Standard Chinese in mainland China, Malaysia, Singapore, and Taiwan.” 

But when they were “romanizing” the words, why didn’t they pay attention to the spelling vs the pronunciations. Most readers and speakers of the Roman-based languages would, at first glance, know how to pronounce my favorite Feng Shui. They’d pronounce it as it looks: feng schwee or shooey. But no, it is pronounced fung shway.  So why didn’t they spell it that way? Am I making sense to you? 

Many of the romanizations, like changing Peking to Beijing, still baffle me.
The Chinese government changed it to Beijing when they adopted the Pinyin. Most westerners pronounce it Bay-zhing. It is supposed to be Bay-jing. Hard on that j. O.k. – I get the jing part, but why did they use Bei, not Bay? I’ll never know, and it’s good fodder for a grump session.

And then there was Noah Webster. The teacher in him that was dissatisfied: generally with the state of education in the new Untied States, and specifically with instruction in the English language. He set out to standardize spelling, and for the most part he did a fine job. He changed gaol to jail. He did eliminate the u’s in words like colour and favour, ones we’d now pronounce here as coloor and favoor. We know that works like philosophy and psychology are not filosofy and scicology – it’s because of the Greek or Latin word roots. But why do we have rough, cough, and hiccough? 

“‘Tis a puzzlement!”

Friday, July 13, 2018


What better month to celebrate The March King than July - what would our Independence be without a rousing march or two? This article was posted in this month's issue of our community magazine

“Da, da dee dah-dah, de dah, de dah, de dah.” Of course you recognize the opening bars of “Stars and Stripes Forever.” Don’t you? (There’s no way to put those opening bars, plus the cymbals crash, into print. You’ll have to hum to yourself.)

There’s nothing like a stirring march to get our patriotic juices flowing, and there’s nothing like a Sousa march to top them all. John Philip Sousa* was born in 1854 in Washington, D.C. He began with the violin, at age six, and went on to master the piano, the flute, and several brass instruments. He was a natural. His father, a trombonist in the U.S. Marine Band, enlisted his son, age 13, in the corps as an apprentice so that he wouldn’t run off and join the circus – the circus band, of course.

After his first stint with the corps ended in 1875, he learned to conduct while he was in a theatre orchestra. Thus, when he rejoined the corps, at the age of 26, it was the leader of the band. He led the Marne Corps Band for twelve more years, after which he left to form his own band. In the years that followed, the Sousa Band performed all over the world. Interestingly though, over all the years, they marched only eight times.

You can sense the concert audiences sitting and tapping their toes to the Sousa marches, but there was other music offered as well. Sousa, The March King, also wrote many popular operettas, dozens of songs, and other pieces such as overtures and suites. Among his 136 marches, though we may not remember their names, the tunes of “Stars and Stripes Forever,” “The Washington Post,” “Semper Fidelis,” and “The Thunderer” are familiar to us all.
No sousaphones in the Marine Band

In almost every marching band across the country, there is at least one person beholden to Sousa for inventing the sousaphone. A typical concert tuba weighs in at 25 to 35 pounds, and though a sousaphone can weigh just about the same, the tuba’s circumference is several feet. It’s fine for a player to let his chair hold it for him while he plays in the orchestra, but it is a beast to heft if he has to march with it.

Sousa recognized the problem. In 1893, providing ideas about what he needed, he asked Philadelphia instrument maker, J. W. Pepper and Sons, to design a tuba that could be carried. The sousaphone was based on the helicon, a much older but awkward instrument that could also be carried. The sousaphone incorporates different features that make it comfortable for the player to carry, as well as to play.

Though there were once jumbo sousaphones that weighed 60 pounds, the average one weighs 30 to 35 pounds, give or take the weight of the music holder.  And, would you believe it, there are Sousaphones made of fiberglass that weigh only about 15 pounds. No brass there.

Ready to march in the festivities in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, years ago,
this sousaphone-wearing gentleman was the clown of the event.
His eyes were very expressive. 

As Elizabeth Eshelman, a onetime sousaphone player, wrote, “There’s something about a wearable tuba that brings out the—goofy? show-off? animalistic? flamboyant? side of the tubist, and when you consider that one must already have a screw loose to choose to play the tuba, you start to realize that the sousaphone is really its own beast.”  Next time you’re at a football game or a big parade, make note of the antics of the sousaphone players – they’re a fun bunch.

* Don’t believe the wags who’ll try to tell you his surname was So, and that in a patriotic gesture he added the USA to his name. ‘Tain’t so!