Friday, April 29, 2011

Lion Taming for Dummies

I do not consider the  computer my friend.  We have a very edgy relationship, my computer and I,  maybe something akin to that between a lion tamer and a lion.  You may think yourself in control but you never know when the beast will turn on you. I am not fond of people or objects that are so capricious.   Last night, for instance, I was working innocently away when the screen suddenly turned shadowy  and everything froze.  No amount of clicking, cussing, or pleading could get it to react.  Finally, I just gave up and shut off the power.  Later in the evening when I went back to it, it booted up with it's cheery major six-chord as though nothing had happened. We've all had "friends" like this but we've  never really trusted them, have we?

Understand that I am to a savvy computer-user as "Chopsticks" is to Chopin's "Revolutionary Etude". I can do the simple things.  Email has been a pleasure . Textediting has kept me in touch with old acquaintances who still use snail mail.  (If I wrote in longhand, they would think a chicken had walked through an inkwell and across the page.  I can't even read my own grocery lists.)  I have become somewhat of a Facebook addict, checking a couple of times a day to see who is doing what.   I can access a link and I have finally learned about Copy and Paste.  But I have no idea how to change my profile picture on Facebook, or how to add clever  photos to my blogs, like Erika, or to forward most stuff.  How do you put those cute little hearts in your statuses?  My hairdresser does all her bills, taxes, banking, and all other business on her computer and is always prattling away about storing and back-upping and other foreign terms.  People earn their livings using the computer! My mind boggles.

It is not as though I am dying to do any of these things.  I would just like to be sure this computer knows who is boss.  The idea that a machine is smarter than I am makes me mad. And uneasy.  I can feel that lion watching me and although I ought to be the controlling factor, I am keeping that whip and chair handy, just in case.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Gladly, the Cross-eyed Bear

I love mondegreens.  True mondegreens are extremely rare and I treasure every one I find.  

For those of you who do not know what a mondegreen is, the term was coined by an author named Sylvia Wright, who as a child often heard an old Scottish ballad called "The Bonny Earl of Murray" which contained this stanza: " Ye Highlands and Ye Lowlands/ Oh, where hae ye been?/ They hae slain the Earl of Murray/  And Lady Mondegreen."

Little Sylvia grieved for Lady Mondegreen,  Such a sad end.

Only later in life did Ms. Wright discover that the verse really went like this:   "Ye Highlands and Ye Lowlands/ Oh, where hae ye been?/ They hae slain the Earl of Murray/ And laid him on the green."

This is what I mean by a true mondegreen.......innocent, natural mishearings or misunderstandings. Many of the ones you hear have  a contrived feel, as though someone had thought them up in an attempt to be clever.  But you never know...people hear things in different ways.  I bet everyone at some time has coined a mondegreen without knowing it.  Children do it all the time.

Some examples:  A woman returned home to find a note from her husband which read: "Your doctor's office called.  Your Pabst beer is normal."
On a program at a residence for the elderly: "The artists will be singing the timeless sounds of classic Broadway and the marvelous melodies of Tim Panally."
"Our Father who art in Heaven, How did you know my name?"
 "Is there a saying that goes, 'Hope springs a turtle?' "

This one is problematic and may well have been made up by somebody, but it is cute and funny and is one of my favorites:
The small son of a minister was conducting a graveside service for his pet robin or goldfish or whatever and his little friends were gathered around while he intoned the words he had so often heard from his father:  "...... in the name of the Fatherrrrr, the Sonnnn....and into the hole he goes!"

Hope you will all be watching out for mondegreens.  They are worth a smile on the darkest day.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Would you repeat that, please?

I am quite hard-of-hearing.  I am not deaf. With the help of today's improved hearing aids, I function perfectly well in everyday situations, although I admit there are a large amounts of "Excuse me's"?, "What did you say's"? and "Huh's"?  involved.  In many cases, although I can hear what  you are saying,  I  can't understand it.  This is especially true on the telephone.  Voice-mail messages are often just gibberish which I have to ask someone to  interpret for me. ("Hello?  This is Mr. Szchiwrovjg's office calling.  Would you please return this call as soon as possible?  Our telephone number is txe-kwp-vrzn") Any one with an accent or one of those high-pitched little-girl voices might as well be speaking Swahili.

Needless to say, all this is very frustrating, but there are worse handicaps and I deal with it as best I can.

Social situations are another thing.  Where groups of people meet and converse, the hard-of-hearing are often lost.  Conversations become a blur of murmurs and whispers and mumbles.  It is like sitting in front of a plate glass window watching the action and hearing only a distant hum.  This can mostly be avoided if the person speaking faces you and speaks distinctly, but in an animated discourse this can be difficult and restricting.  You focus intently, you smile and nod when it seems appropriate,  you sometimes offer a comment if you have managed to pick up some thread of the conversation, but essentially you are just a spectator watching other people talk.  It can be very lonely.

Helen Keller once observed that if she could have just one of her senses restored, she would choose her sense of hearing.  It is the thing that connects us most of all, that ability to communicate and exchange opinions, ideas, news, gossip, joy, grief.  The loss of it is profound.

But, there is a bright side!  The decibel level of most modern pop music has receded somewhat. Background music, which I have always detested, has mostly disappeared from my consciousness.  The Saturday night car races here in Lakeport are a distant buzz.  The bullfrogs in the lagoon, which keep my neighbor awake at night, pose no problem for me.

I have to say that, given a choice, I would put up with the elevator music and lie awake listening to the bullfrogs.  But I am overwhelmed with gratitude that I can move about in daily life without problems, that I can mostly hear the voices of the people I love, and that my hearing loss in more of an inconvenience than a handicap.

What was that you said?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

West of Here

This is a novel set in the fictional town of Port Bonita on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State.  The  plot involves the damming of the river on which Port Bonita is located and follows the stories of a variety of characters, switching back and forward in time between the 1800's, when the dam was built, to 2006, when it is going to be demolished.

There are a lot of characters and I found some of their stories distracting.   There are lots of loose ends. There is a strange paranormal relationship between the lives of two boys, one in 1890, the other in 2006.  The significance escaped me.  The author does a good job of invoking the feel of a frontier town in this part of the world, and if you have ever lived in the Northwest you will recognize the drippy firs, the mossy forest floors, the ugly clearcut hillsides, the mighty rivers roaring through their narrow canyons. 

I am undecided about this book.  It was a pretty good read, but not something I would go back to.  I think if you like this type of novel, it would probably be worth your time.  I'd give it about three stars, if I was grading.

West of Here          Jonathan Evison        Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Healthy First!

My refrigerator does not have an ice maker or even the little compartment in the freezer section for stowing ice trays and since my freezer is always stuffed full, it is hard to find a place to make ice cubes.  A few years ago while leafing through a catalog of gewgaws and kitchen gadgets, I found just the ticket!  It was a sort of bottle with half-circle bulges along one side.  You poured in water to fill the bulges, laid the bottle in the freezer and before you knew it you had these cute little half-circle ice cubes.  Perfect!  Of course, it didn't work and after several tries, I threw it out.  But I saved the little brochure that came with the product and the other day while going through some old papers I ran across it.  Here it is, verbatim:

"The latest style of Instant ice-maker
 Healthy Non-taste Ice-maker

ice of shape Half-circled & flat so that ice dropout from ice-maker directly that while ice-making & taking out ice without applying hand to touch ice.  Healthy First!

knock lightly and it comes soon the ice.

keep together with other food. without contaminating with other taste of fishy or foul-smell. TO be a complete non-taste and delicious healthy ICE.

put into the alcohol or drinks so much corn for table & marvellous taste.

keep in ice-box while outing all suitable for recreation fishing picnicking & baking (Bar-B-Q) applying.

while inputting water into the Bottle pls up till the indicated level

while putting/refrigerator Be sure keep it Balance

press un-flat part ice drop down one after another

the finished ice non-taste cooling & Healthy so much wonderful!  most suitable for cooking picnicking & recreation applying.

while ice-making finished put whole case in a recreation applying ice-box while outing for fishing or picnicking it can always keep long-terms freshing!

if that ice melt to water the water either leaking out of ice-maker so that the food conserved in the refrigerator can apply as watering can the melt water cooling and thirsty refreshing.  There's non-exist color-elements problems that actually proceed with environmental protections."

I never figured out what the non-exist color-elements problems were.  And I don't know about that corn in the drinks, but I bet if the thing had worked it would have been most suitable for cooking picnicking & recreation applying and that the melt water would have been thirsty refreshing, too!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Ooh! Look what I found!

After Erik died I worked for a number of  years as a volunteer at our local Hospice Thrift Shop.  Now I have to confess that before going to work at this shop, I had never in my life set foot in a thrift store.  I knew they existed and had made contributions from time to time, but I had not considered them as a real alternative to the commercial retail establishments where I shopped.

And I still don't. Not for me.  Because I am a destination shopper.  I do not window-shop, I cannot spend a couple of hours browsing just for the fun of it.  I am not a shop-'til-you-drop shopper.  I need a purse, I go into one of the big department stores and pick out a purse among the many offerings.   I need a pair of shoes, I do the same. Then I go home.  Shopping bores me.  Sorry, girls, but that's just how it is.

But thrift-store shopping is another thing.  You cannot go in with a preconceived notion of what you want to buy, because you probably won't find it.  Someone will ask."Do you have a....?"  And the answer will be, "I think we had one a week or so ago.  Keep trying."  If you have your mind set on something specific try another source. But for the  the shopper with an open mind and a good eye, the thrift store is a treasure house!    People will bring a beautiful suit, or a brand new pair of name-brand shoes or maybe a lovely ceramic from our "boutique" to the checkout. Things I had walked right by without seeing. (A "good eye" is the key.)

Our local store is a pleasant place to shop.  It is clean, well-organized and well-managed.  There is a paid staff of several people,  and a large corps of volunteers.  It is a cheerful place.  My short-sighted vision of an under-privileged clientele rummaging through life's left-overs was soon thrown in the dust-heap where it belonged.  Our customers were of all ages and classes, just as in a regular retail store.  Craftspeople looking for materials for their projects,  collectors hoping to score a rare find, readers checking out the bookshelves, families stocking up on back-to-school clothing.  There is a large jewelry selection, always popular.  Racks of Halloween costumes, a fraction of the price anywhere else.  Need a few jigsaw puzzles for the summer cabin?  A second TV for the kid's room?  Bedding, dishes, furniture, toys, electronics, and lots of clean, up-to-date, attractive clothing for all members of the family.

Of course, as a dedicated people-watcher, the customers were my favorite part of the job.  I was a "bag lady"...that is, I worked at the checkout counter, bagging the purchases in donated bags.  (Your second-hand coffee-pot could go home in a Saks Fifth Avenue bag, or a Dollar Store bag.)  Many of the people who came in were regulars.   One couple always came when there was a clothing sale and would buy $100 dollars worth, or more, of $3.00-4.00 dollar items, enough to fill several large garbage bags.  These things they boxed up and sent to relatives in the Philippines.  Another gentleman came periodically and bought many house decoration items, such as lamps, floral arrangements, book sets.  We figured he was furnishing rental units or something of the sort.  Another couple, who could only be described as aging flower children, came often.  She had long gray hair caught into a pony tail and he had a braided beard which reached to his waist.  They bought jewelry which they resold at flea markets.  A pleasant pair and we always enjoyed having them drop in.  There were the others:  One young man tried on several wedding gowns before departing, leaving the gowns in a heap on the dressing room floor.  Once a customer who did not agree with the shop's "no returns" policy, threw a telephone in a rage.   A lady who had not bathed in many moons was asked to leave.  Another time, a woman whose kids were running wild took exception to the manager's request that she rein them in.  We had a shop-lifter or two and some bad checks.  One lady offered to cover her bad check with another check!  I guess anybody who has ever worked with the public has experienced all this and more but it was all new to little ole me.

I often mused on all this merchandise and where it had come from.  It had once been chosen and paid for  by someone and then discarded or abandoned or maybe donated after a death.  We got many half-finished knitting projects,  partially sewn garments, abandoned art projects.  I thought to myself, someone once started these projects with a happy heart.  I wonder what happened to stop them midway, half-finished, sometimes with the needle still threaded and stuck in the fabric. The most poignant to me were the inscriptions.  In a book, "To Billy from Grandpa and Grandma."  Scratched into a copper pot, "April 10, 1935."  On the back of an old photo, "To May, with love." What happened to Billy?  What was the significance of April 10, 1935?   Who was May?    So many stories untold and now lost forever on the shelves of a thrift store in Lakeport, California.

But!  A new life for these items!!  Another Billy reading the book.  Someone else arranging flowers in the old copper pot.  A collector's album enriched by a pioneer woman's picture. We are a throw-away society.  Think of the bounty that goes into the landfills of our country every day.  Isn't it great that these shops exist to recycle and reuse all this valuable resource.......

Well, here I am prattling on and on again.  But, as I said when I started this blog, this is mostly for my own entertainment and no one has to read it.  So if you  have come this far, you have no one to blame but yourself.  But next time you are feeling a little adventurous, drop by your local thrift store and see what you might find that you absolutely cannot live without.  And at a price that you cannot believe!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


She was not beautiful, but she acted as though she were.  She was proud, shrewd, courageous,  supremely intelligent.  She was a murderess.  She was a seductress....or was she?

This biography of Cleopatra by Pulitzer Prize winner Stacy Schiff is a fascinating book about one of the most fascinating women in history.   I knew very little of Cleopatra before I started it except for the popular legends made famous by Shakespeare and Liz Taylor.  I came away very impressed by her.

This book is not a beach read.  It is a scholarly work and sometimes hard going.  Since I had no background in the history of that period, I found my self going back often to try to figure out all the family and political connections.  It was a grim time, murders and assassinations were commonplace, treachery seemed to be expected of one's "friends" and allies, family loyalties were paper-thin.  People murdered their sons, mothers, siblings.  Among the Ptolemies, incestuous relationships were so common that I gave up trying to figure out who was somebody's cousin or uncle or grandfather.  In fact, I gave up on the Ptolemies early on, there was no end to them!  Cleopatra's brother, and husband until she had him murdered, was Ptolemy XIV.  Cleopatra was Cleopatra VII. 

There are interesting views of the life of Alexandria and Rome as lived by the powerful.  The Ptolemies were almost unfathomably wealthy and did not hesitate to display it.  No expense was spared for the pageants, feasts, festivals and other activities with which they amused themselves.  The royal barges, the sumptuous palaces, the rich tapestries, gold table settings, the strings of pearls which Cleopatra liked to wear in her wonder Hollywood loved this stuff!   Not to mention her relationship with the two most powerful men of the period.

Her life was short. She was only 40 when she committed suicide  (almost certainly not by an asp bite) after the collapse of her world.  But she  left enough myth and mystery to engage the world for over 2000 years.  She may have been the "wickedest woman in history" but she was also one of the most interesting and intriguing. 

A very good book, but not light reading. 

Cleopatra          Stace Schiff        Little, Brown and Company

Friday, April 1, 2011

"He who laughs, lasts."

Nothing is quite as individual as one's sense of humor.  What you find hilarious may go right over my head.  What knocks me out may leave you scratching your head.  In my case, this happens quite often,  as my sense of humor tends to be on the quirky side.  My family shares my idea of what is funny in the main, although there are some differences of opinion even there.  For instance, I cracked up over David Sedaris' book, "I Speak Pretty One Day."  I thought the first chapter, especially, was one of the funniest things I had ever read.  By contrast, another book of his called "Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim" did not appeal to me, but Erika found it hysterically funny.

My mother, a conservative, right-thinking Christian woman, often got the giggles.  I remember one instance when we were Christmas- shopping at a local store and she caught the eye of the establishment's Rent-a-Santa.  She absolutely collapsed.  Don't ask me why.   Something about the sheepish expression peering out from behind his scraggly Santa Claus beard,  I think.  She sometimes got the giggles in church.  My sister, Iris, was similarly afflicted.  I used to hear stories of how she would be sent away from the dinner table to compose herself.  Of course, the minute she got back she would break up again.  I do not understand gigglers, but,  man, what they do sure is contagious!  It takes only one giggler in a room to set everyone in the place staggering around hanging onto one another for support.

Erik and I did not share the same sense of humor, although we had many good laughs together.  He thought Jerry Lewis was fall-down funny.  I thought Jerry Lewis was a buffoon.  He loved Bob Hope.  I thought Bob Hope was a bore.  My opinion was not held by many people, as both Jerry Lewis and Bob Hope were run-away stars in the comedy field.  It was just that I could not relate to their brand of humor.  Each to his own, as they say!

Our family contains many truly witty folks.  The O'Rourke branch has a quick quip for almost every occasion. My Coughlin son-in-law often makes me laugh with his cogent comments.  My grandmother and aunts were triple-quick on the  up-take.  My kids have kept me laughing all their lives with their off-the-wall remarks and goofy antics.

In his book "Anatomy of an Illness", Norman Cousins describes how watching Marx Brothers movies helped him recover from a life-threatening illness.  Dr. Cousins says, "Laughter may or may not activate the endorphins and enhance respiration, as some medical researchers contend. What seems clear, however, is that laughter is an antidote to apprehension and panic."  Indeed.  Everybody knows that a heart-felt laugh is life-affirming and can make your view of the world do a complete flip.

Much of today's humor does not amuse me.  There is an edginess to it that takes away the pure joy of a good laugh.  I miss the old comedy shows of the 50's, 60's and  70's. ( Lucy, Jackie Gleason, Imogene Coca, Jonathan Winters, come to mind.  Dick Cavett,  the Smothers Brothers, Jose Jimenez, Dick VanDyke, Flip Wilson, Bill Cosby, Ernie Kovacs, gosh, I could go on and on.)  Some others, not so much.  But they were all funny without being hurtful or ugly.  You were left with a good feeling after these shows, a tendency to chuckle.

I love a good dirty joke.  I enjoy non-PC jokes, blond jokes.  But they have to be funny and they have to be amiable and not hurtful or vicious.  Humor should not be used as a weapon but as a healing, happy, wonderful gift.

Hey, did you hear the one about......?