“Slip Sliding Away”

No, I haven’t taken another fall! On our new walk in the park we get to enjoy views up and down the Connecticut River. The temperature dropped dramatically this week, and in two days the river began to freeze over. Here I am standing on the eastern shore looking upstream towards Hartford. At this stage the river is only partially frozen. In fact the next day this ice was broken up and lying on the edges of the river while the main channel was free.

Sometimes the Connecticut freezes over for long stretches and the Coast Guard has to bring in ice breaking boats to keep the shipping lane open. The cove near us, a backwater of the river, freezes over completely and allows ice fishing. As a sad aside, the carpenter who built our home in 1929 died in 1930 when he fell, unattended, through the ice of that cove when fishing.

Do any of my readers live near major rivers that freeze over in part or in whole? I would love to learn where else this picturesque phenomenon occurs.

“Embodied Insults”

I suppose that anyone who is around young kids has learned that any discussion of rear ends using any kind of slang word is bound to cause gales of laughter. “You butt” and “you booger” seem to be the extent of insults for little kids.

Strangely adults seem to limit their insults to much cruder language, almost always referring to body parts not show in toddler body parts books. There seems to be a plethora of choices for both male and female “private” parts and they all seem to be slung around as insults. Adults seem to have abandoned the simpler “butt” and “booger” for the most part. Apparently calling someone a “foot” or an “ear” has never seemed to have caught on.

I am not, by the way, writing this in the hopes of collecting crude slang words. Please keep any lists that come to mind to yourselves. Rather I am hoping to hear insults that don’t involve body parts. My favorite insult came from my daughter when she was four years old. She called me something she hated more than anything. “You, you.. Swiss steak!”

Gentle teasings preferred. Does anyone still use “nincompoop?” (entymology shows no connection to body functions by the way!)

“Getting Her Vitamin D”

We had eight inches of snow on Friday and after Emmy roamed in it to her heart’s content, she found that she could lie on the picnic table and soak up the sun. This when it was 20 degrees outside. Her undercoat has come in and she is “dressed” for winter. She even refused to come back into the warm house when offered the chance, just stretched out again after I took this photo.

“Uncle Who?”

1924 advertisement

I continued to think of English phrases that confuse me. I first heard “Bob’s your uncle” in the film version of “Mary Poppins,” but forgot about it until I heard it again recently in a Masterpiece Theatre episode. In the recent case, the detective said “Quicker than you can say Bob’s your uncle.” Of course I had to try to track down the meaning of this odd phrase.

Interestingly enough, given my recent foray into nepotism, there was some suggestion on line that the phrase first applied to a British prime minister appointing his nephew to be minister to Ireland in 1887. I liked the possibility that I had stumbled on two English phrases for favoritism. Sadly, other web sites discounted the attribution and said it was first mentioned in connection with the variety show illustrated above.

After reflecting again on nepotism I found myself singing a song my grandfather loved. “Lloyd George knew my father, Father knew Lloyd George” and so on ad infinitum. But I still was no closer to understanding the meaning of “Bob’s your uncle.” Once again I am counting on my friends across the pond to enlighten me.

“Side Shows and Reality TV”

Library of Congress Photo

When I was a child we went to the Oregon State Fair. It was a dazzling array of rides, games, food and agricultural exhibits. What it no longer had, as my mother told me, was a “freak show,” more properly called a side show. She told me that people used to pay money to see people with medical conditions such as a very large woman called a “fat lady,” and a very short person called a “midget.” She and I agreed that we lived in kinder times in the 1950’s and that people would be ashamed now to pay money to stare at fellow humans.

But “reality TV” has arrived in full force to provide countless opportunities to gawk without the possibility of shame. One channel in the United States hosts a variety of such programming. My Giant Life, 1000 Lb. Sisters, My 600 Pound Life, Little People Big World, The Little Couple and Abby &Brittany(two headed conjoined twins.) There clearly continues to be a large audience ready to stare at the same giants, “midgets,” “fat ladies,” and other rare conditions as there was in earlier times.

Is it still a source of shame for the television viewer? I don’t know. I have never watched one second of any of those shows myself. LOL

“Let Me In!”

I looked up from my living room chair to see Emmy peering in at me from the window. She had jumped up onto the picnic table to stare mournfully in. I must say she has an ability to jump that surprises me. You may be able to tell from her paws that she has been frolicking in the mud. No hard freeze here yet, so the yard is her mud pit of fun.

Happy New Year to all, those indoors and those wishing they were!

“55 Across(10 letters) Nepotism”

“Old school tie”

I grew up in America reading English books, that is to say books that had been written in England. I was so clueless about this distinction that when I got to college I took English 10, the introductory course, which omitted any books written in the United States. I had made no distinction between American books and English ones. I also was pretty oblivious to distinctions in both meaning and spelling. For instance, I was frequently corrected for spelling gray as grey and theater as theatre.

This morning’s crossword puzzle reminded me of a phrase that was my nemesis throughout my childhood. Every time there was a mention of “old school ties” I was baffled. Why were they so focused on OLD ties anyway? And even if I began to think maybe it referred to ties from a boy’s OLD SCHOOL, I still had no clue to what the author was suggesting.

The crossword puzzle writer apparently has decided that the phrase simply means “nepotism.” But after sitting down with the dictionary, I seem to understand that the phrase is more nuanced than that. As far as I can gather, the wearing of a tie from one’s old school signals something to another person about one’s background and position in society. This allows favoritism, or nepotism, to a fellow tie wearer. So the phrase plays on two meanings of the word “tie,” both the literal object and the reference to connection.

But I am hopeful that a genuine English speaker can help me further clarify this phrase. After all, I speak American.

“Nights With Amahl”

“Nights With Amahl”: A Repost from my blog of
December 14, 2018

My family was not religious and we celebrated Christmas purely as a secular day. But curiously one of the things we did each year once we had a television in 1955 was to watch “Amahl and The Night Visitors.” This operetta by Gian Menotti was commissioned by NBC and was shown throughout my childhood at Christmas time. Though it eventually was presented in color, we had only a black and white television, so we always saw it that way.

The story centers around a very poor family of a mother and a boy with a leg injury requiring him to walk with a long cane. The boy, prone to exaggerating, has trouble convincing his mother that he has seen a very bright star. Then she is furious when he insists there are three kings at the door. But in fact these are THE three kings on their way following THE star to pay homage to the baby Jesus.

Because the role requires a boy soprano, every couple of years there was a new Amahl. We argued each year about which boy sang the role best. We never discussed the meaning of the play, nor did we absorb its religious significance.

This week I listened to the forty-five minute performance available on line. As an adult, I came to have Christian faith and the operetta moved me deeply. Still part of the emotional impact hearing it again came from remembering the experience of being at peace with my family together. I will always be grateful for that yearly respite from the usual turmoil at home. 

Thanks Amahl.

“Puppy Proof Present Pile”

Emmy is not the first puppy we have had at Christmas time, and we have learned a few things over thirty years. Our first dog opened a package under the tree and devoured a small amount of chocolate. We didn’t know that chocolate was poisonous to dogs nor did we anticipate that the dog would forgo all family rules and open a package early. We were awakened at 2am Christmas morning by a very hyper dog jumping onto our bed and running all around. We learned not to leave chocolate around. We left the packages in place under the tree since we would be up soon ourselves with the kids.

Our next puppy loved to eat ornaments. I had forgotten that dogs would eat glass, even though the first puppy had devoured a complete light bulb. We removed all the ornaments she could eat and left the tree up.

The next puppy thought that the tree was exciting on many levels. It moved when she bumped it. The cloth ornaments at mouth height were great chew toys, and the stand held water. We kept her out of the living room but left the tree up.

This year we caved to reality. We didn’t get a tree at all. The yard is fully lit with Christmas bulbs and two lighted figures. The house is decorated above dog height. As for the presents, they are piled on the window seat on the second floor. So far this dog has not learned to climb a steep flight of stairs.

Maybe next year we can have a fully decorated tree surrounded by presents. I can always dream!