Friday, May 26, 2017


Ah, yes. Here's an article printed in our community magazine this month. The weather is endlessly fascinating to me, not only its apparent quirks and the way it is the ubiquitous topic of casual chitchat, but the way we humans have such a great effect on it. Not that our esteemed president agrees, but, hey...  
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In the late 40’s, cable TV began as a service to bring broadcast content to mountain and rural areas of Arkansas, Oregon and Pennsylvania. A few clever people raised their antennas to great heights and brought the signals down to their TVs. One enterprising appliance dealer, John Watson of Allentown, Pennsylvania, realized he wouldn’t sell any TV sets if the townspeople couldn’t get the signals. Knowing about those high antennas, he put up one of his own on a nearby mountain, and ran a cable down to the town and in to homes where, for an installation fee and a monthly charge, the residents could watch the three broadcast channels, the affiliates of ABC, CBS, and NBC.

The idea spread country-wide, and gradually, cable network operators offered more and more “stations” or “channels.”  Many of us from the bigger cities and their suburbs had little awareness of the cable networks. One cable channel we heard about though, and wished we had, was The Weather Channel. Customarily, in the early days of television, we watched the local weather as a short spot, usually on around 6:20 p.m., on our favorite broadcast channel. Many of us remember Tex Antoine’s “Uncle Wethbee” on WNBC in New York City. As time went on and weather technology advanced, the forecasts became less hit-and-miss, and we could catch the weather on the morning shows, perhaps a lunchtime news report, and always on the dinner hour news.

Tex Antoine and "Uncle Wethbee"

Thinking that many folks would like to know the weather at any time of the day, or all day long, John Coleman, meteorologist and forecaster for ABC’s “Good Morning America,” had the idea for a channel to provide such information. In May of 1982, 35 years ago, The Weather Channel made its first transmission. While many believed it would be short-lived, the channel is still going strong providing forecasts and regularly running documentaries and other weather-related content. It maintains a website for local, national, and worldwide forecasting information.

Several of the channel’s expert reporters are very well known. When raging snow storms or hurricanes strike, viewers look to Jim Cantore, and Bryan Norcross, among others, for the latest conditions. Viewers can’t believe that the reporters, and the unsung, unseen camera crew, would be out there braving winds and rain and snow as they do.

Jim Cantore, intrepid 30-year veteran of The Weather Channel,
out in the thick of things with, of course, his crew.
Did you think he was out there alone?

One “innovation” of The Weather Channel was the naming of winter storms. In times past we heard, in retrospect, of storms names like “The Great Blizzard of 1947” or the 1993 “Storm of the Century.” Just over four years ago, The Weather Channel started naming every wave of severe winter weather that threatened significant areas of the country. The official governmental meteorological offices do not look favorably on this naming, and it is doubtful that it serves any use beyond being a publicity gimmick for the channel.

The Weather Channel, headquartered in Atlanta, relies on their own technological equipment, as well as information from the National Weather Service, part of NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the Department of Commerce. Weather and reliable forecasts are vital to commerce.

Old saws like the one that start “Red sun in the morning…” or “If it rains before seven…” are still around for our amusement and amazement, but accurate predictions have become essential in our every-day lives.
One of the pioneers of scientific weather forecasting was Robert FitzRoy, Captain of the HMS Beagle on which Darwin sailed, Vice-Admiral in the Royal Navy, second Governor of New Zealand, and one of the first scientists to recognize, in the mid-1800s, that the study of weather patterns of the past could help predict those for the future. Such predictions, which he named “forecasts” were vital for mariners, fishermen, and commerce in general. At first the idea was ridiculed, but gradually it proved its worth, and our great interest in forecasts began.

Thursday, May 25, 2017


600 – The first thought that comes to mind when I think of 600 is Alfalfa, marvelous member of Our Gang, reciting The Charge of the Light Brigade. And I remember the firecrackers going off in his pocket – “Canons to the left of me” - bang, bang, bang - “Canons to the right of me” bang, bang, bang. Sitting in front of the TV, waiting for the fireworks, we laughed to kill ourselves each time we saw them go off.  
That’s not how the lines really go, but that’s how I remember them. Years (and years!) ago on TV,  on the local stations, they’d repeat shows so many times that you got to memorize the lines. Because I liked poetry, I always remembered quite a number of lines from the great Tennyson poem. 

Half a league, half a league, 
Half a league onward, 
All in the valley of Death 
   Rode the six hundred. 
‘Forward, the Light Brigade!

Be that as it may, this is my 600th blog post. Blogspot keeps track of these things. My first one was posted back in September of 2011. I don’t post every day – I’m not that prolific a writer, and my days are relatively uninteresting to others – but once or twice a week I come up with something to share.

I do appreciate all of you who’ve stuck with me. Knowing you’re out there pleases me no end, and keeps me writing and posting. Tak.

Friday, May 19, 2017


The twelfth day of May each year is Limerick Day. Why? Because it is the birthday of Edward Lear, the poet and artist who perfected the form of this jaunty, sometimes naughty, type of poem. Scholars say that the name “limerick” was given to the form because Irish Soldiers, home from France where they were serving in the 1700’s, brought back to Limerick a song with a chorus that followed the AABBA rhyme scheme such as in this one from an unknown writer:

A bather whose clothing was strewed   A
By winds that left her quite nude A
Saw a man come along B
And unless we are wrong B
You expected this line to be lewd. A

This modern limerick from author Gary Johnson follows that pattern:

There was an old lady of Queens
Who survived on wieners and beans
Wearing Army surplus
Riding the bus
And stealing from vending machines

There’s a set pattern to the usual number of syllables in each of the five lines of the poem, and to the content of the lines. The first two lines set the scene, the second two tell you what happened, and the last line is “the kicker.”  This one, one of the most widely known, is by “Anonymous”

There was a young lady of Niger
Who smiled as she rode on a Tiger;
They came back from the ride
With the lady inside,
And the smile on the face of the Tiger.

This one, also from the prolific “Anonymous,” has a punny ending:

There was an Old Man of Nantucket
Who kept all his cash in a bucket.
His daughter, called Nan,
Ran away with a man,
And as for the bucket, Nantucket.

The Nantucket limerick has spawned many more versions, both funny and lewd. Lear’s limericks were not naughty at all. He created them for children. One of twenty-one children himself, an older sister taught him to draw and paint. He became a drawing teacher, and an illustrator. The London Zoological Society hired him to paint a series of paintings of birds, which he insisted he had to paint from life, not stuffed specimens. Impressed with his work, the Earl of Derby hired him to paint pictures of the animals in his private menagerie. While doing the work and living at Knowsley Hall, the earl’s ancestral home, he befriended the earl’s grandchildren. For them he wrote poems like The Owl and the Pussy Cat, and limericks and other nonsense verse. His limericks are collected in one volume, his Book of Nonsense.

There was an Old Person of Mold,
Who shrank from sensations of cold,
So he purchased some muffs,
Some furs and some fluffs,
And wrapped himself from the cold.

There was an Old Lady whose folly,
Induced her to sit on a holly;
Whereon by a thorn,
Her dress being torn,
She quickly became melancholy.

Friday, May 12, 2017


Here's another one I did for the magazine. I changed some of the original "we"s to "I"s, and adjusted it here and there to use it for this posting. I have a few teachers I remember for their quirky personalities alone, but there are three I remember who really made lasting memories of learning something useful. Teacher Appreciation Day falls every May. I did once have the opportunity to thank one of my teachers years after I left his classroom, and I made sure to let him know how much I appreciated his teaching.

When casually questioned about the teachers he remembered and what made them good teachers, my husband immediately said “Mrs. Cohen with the great legs – drove all the boys crazy – not particularly good looking, but great legs.” Well, although it’s a great memory, that’s not really the answer we were aiming for.

The teachers we remember fall into two categories. On one hand, there are those who taught our least favorite subjects, who bored us to tears and put us to sleep as they droned on and on, and whose classes and course content we only dimly remember. On the other, there are the ones who really taught us something and made a difference, the ones whose classes we looked forward to, and whose names, even some of their favorite sayings, we remember today.

My Latin teacher was always looking for "Volunteers: you, you, and you!"

Unless a subject was really right up our alley or the teacher made it interesting to us, the courses we had to take to complete graduation requirements or to fill in a class schedule are usually the ones we least remember. It is no surprise that we wouldn’t remember the teacher or a bit of the Calculus we had to take in order to fulfill the state mathematics requirement for a Teacher’s Certificate, especially when the subject we were going to teach was English.

It’s no surprise we remember the college prof who sprang those quickie quizzes on us to test whether we were “getting” it or not. It’s no surprise that I remember the high school Biology teacher who taught me the way to remember the taxonomic ranks: kingdom, phylum, class order, family, genus, species - King Philip Came Over For Grandfather’s Spectacles – and made dissecting a frog fascinating, not icky.

It’s no surprise that we remember the English teacher who made poetry interesting or enlivened a Shakespeare play for us. It’s no surprise that we remember the teacher who enlivened dry History’s dates and battles and personalities, by relating them to the Arts and Sciences what else was happening in the rest of the world. We remember the teacher who was also a team coach and never brought our classroom triumphs or failings on to the playing field or court. We remember the teacher who set us on the road to the profession we followed, or the pastimes we love to this day.

Don’t you sometimes think that you should have thanked those great teachers for what they gave to you? If nothing else, they gave you some lasting memories.

Friday, May 5, 2017


Here's another one of the essays I wrote for our community magazine. It's a follow up on one I did a good while ago on The Fork. I don't think I'll follow up with an article on The Spoon: after all, the original 'spoons' were our hands. They're still in use today. 

your basic, utilitarian cutting edge

Knives, the cutting edge, have been around since man discovered that the sharp edge of a rock or flint would cut into an animal carcass. What would cut into an animal carcass would also be effective as a weapon for hunting, self-defense, and war, and as a tool for the dining table and the operating table. The cutting edge has been developed and enhanced, from the Stone Age to the age of lasers and waterjet cutting machines we have today.

not the sharpest knife in the drawer

But the knife we celebrate this month is the humble table knife. It is said that on a May day, 380 years ago, in 1637, the French Cardinal Richelieu, churchman and statesman, invented the table knife. “Invented” is probably not the correct word for his ordering the staff to round off the points on all the household’s knives. “Intuited” is probably closer to the mark. He realized that removing the stabbing points would improve table manners, making impossible the picking of teeth. It would stop the eating of meat off the knife points, and, most importantly, deter the occasional stabbing of fellow guests. Forks came into greater use at the table.
In later years, Louis IV banned pointed knives from any table, and banned them from use as a part of a person’s daily attire. Unless he had nefarious notions, a person no longer needed to carry his own knife. His host or his household would supply him with the proper table implements.

fancy or plain - always deadly

Knives for hunting and combat are legion, and as diverse as the cultures that invented them. (And let us mention, in passing, the wonderful Swiss Army knife. Among other blades and tools, there’s a table knife somewhere in there.) Knives for the kitchen are purpose-built, from the butcher knife to the boning knife. Most Michelin-starred chefs have sets of knives that they treat like pampered children. Most household chefs have a few “old reliables” they wouldn’t be without.
In most non-European cultures there are no table knives. Any food item, animal or vegetable, that would require cutting was cut into edible pieces in the kitchen. All that were required at the table were chopsticks, spoons, a rare fork or two, and facile fingers. Before Victorian times, table knives in the west were standard, and their blades were less sharp. In that era’s spirit of invention, where dining became an all-evening event, the upper echelons of society came up with all manner of spoons, forks, and knives. They did it because they could, and because it provided a bit of one-upmanship in a time when it now seems like that was all those folks had for amusement. They had dinner knives, fish knives, game knives, butter knives, and additional knives, as needed, for fruit, cheese or other foods. We’d think they could have used the same knife for meat, fish, or game – but no, each had its own knife.

Laguiole - one of the best steak knives in the world

Any good, sharp knife can be used for steak, but the steak knife, so named, came into common use, and to the table, with the advances in stainless steel after World War II. We’ve kept the butter knife on the table for use at a more formal meal, and on some expansive table settings there are table forks and knives for each of the main courses, to be removed with the empty plate. The rest of the unusual knives, as well as their fellow forks and spoons, are now to be found tarnishing in the silverware box or as collectables on eBay.