“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!

“Who Needs A Leash?”

Emmy’s leash training has two parts, both using a very fancy harness. In one instance a 20 foot lead is fastened to the back of her collar. This is in use in the video above. Here she runs free, circling back to us frequently to receive a treat. The second phase of this makes her come when her name is called to receive a treat. We were surprised at how close she did stay to us, returning frequently to check up on us(and get rewarded!) Apparently since she is still a puppy she needs to stay close to her pack–in this case the two of us. She alternates running to each of us and to our granddaughter when she joined us for a training time. We are able to use the expansive playground very close to our home. The school serves the very young, so the field is free.

In the second part of the training, a 6 foot leash is attached under her neck to the same harness. The parking lot next to the school has long white lines to separate the spaces. Here we walk her back and forth, rewarding her only when she falls into a non-pulling easy rhythm with us. The reward is delivered on the side of our leg so she can continue walking. All the times she goes behind us or away from us, the leash is pulled gently until she is back by our side. She is being trained to go on either side and to accommodate various paces, not just the gentle trot she enjoys with Charlie.

I hope to post a view of that training soon, but dusk fell. For the first time I am optimistic that we may end up with an Australian Shepherd that we can actually take out in public! As Charlie has said, we have had lovely dogs, we just couldn’t take them anywhere.

“Back On My Feet Again”

Path in summer

I had no idea how much falling hard a couple of weeks ago would affect both my balance and my self confidence. As my injuries healed enough to walk without pain, I really wanted to start walking again. I had been building up my daily step count from about 2500 in June to 6000 when I fell. I didn’t want to start over, and I didn’t want to walk on our uneven sidewalks for a while.

Fortunately we live near a circular walking path covered in crushed stone. Although we have to drive to it, the trail promised a much less risky walk. Monday we tried it for the first time and I was able to calculate the number of steps, 1000, in a full circle. I started out with two loops to see if my knee hurt. It felt fine the next day and I have now gone to three circles. My pace, according to Charlie, hasn’t suffered at all, which comes as a relief. I had hoped to not lose any stamina while I recovered.

The only hazard I encountered came as Charlie warned “look out” just as my right foot squished down on dog droppings! I have no idea why someone wouldn’t clean up after their dog on a path. Apart from that minor annoyance, I am thoroughly enjoying the new routine. Snow is coming of course, since this is New England, but for the time being I am happy to be back on the “road” again.

“Eye to Eye”

House for sale in Oklahoma

I was the shortest of the four kids, although I had a brief time of being the tallest since I was the eldest. Slowly each sibling passed me by on the wall markings similar to the picture above. At 5’4″ I consider myself a perfectly respectable height, but short in my family.

Of course I married not one but two different tall men, so I ended up with tall offspring. I can remember when each girl grew taller than I was. I had great hopes in my grandchildren that at last someone might be shorter than I am.

Alas. Yesterday my 12 year old grandson came over to visit. As I looked him eye to eye I had a creeping sense of the future. Sure enough, he told me that at his last doctor’s visit she had mentioned that his recent growth spurt was not THE growth spurt to come. She projects he will end up at over 6′.

Thank goodness I am now surrounded by family who can get things down from high places. Why they ever put things in high places is another question altogether.

“Dog Meets Snow”

Last evening our puppy Emmy encountered snow for the first time. As it landed on her, she looked at me with a degree of confusion. This morning Charlie took her out for her first experience of a light snowfall. He reported that she was mystified, picking up one paw and then the other, licking the snow and pushing it with her nose. By the time I took her out later in the morning she seems to have become slightly grumpy about the event. Where is the grass she likes to sniff? How can she dig in the leaves and why did I hide them anyway?

I hope that she comes to a better accommodation with it. This is just a taste of the inevitable snow and ice in her (and our) future. Our other dogs have loved running, jumping and burrowing in the accumulating piles. But whether she likes it or not, she will have to accept the inevitable. As do we!

“What Goes Around Comes Around”

I first wrote about the Lloyd Center in Portland, Oregon in a post June 3, 2018. At that time I described the scene when I was 13 as the totally new shopping experience opened its doors. For the first time there was an alternative to the downtown retail scene where we had all purchased whatever couldn’t be ordered from the Sears or Wards catalogs. Downtown merchants feared the end of retail as they knew it.

This past month I found the newspaper article shown above on the right. The Lloyd Center has gone bankrupt, losing its major retail “anchors” over recent years and now losing out to on-line shopping, the new threat to all such malls. Possible uses include housing and offices, though even though the demand for office space is diminishing. Too many people are working from home apparently.

Lately I seem to be aware that I have lived through two ends of certain cycles. I had never heard of malls as a child, and now they are being abandoned right and left. You can even do an online tour of them. In a similar, but much less light hearted matter, I have lived through the national legalization of abortion and the likely return to abortion restrictions through out the country.

I always wondered about the phrase “what goes around, comes around.” I no longer wonder.

“A Day That Will Live in Infamy”

80 years ago today.

I was born in 1947 when the surprise bombing of Pearl Harbor was fresh in every American’s mind. In recent years the papers seem to no longer mention it. I was wondering today if the United States would ever have abandoned its isolationist approach to the wars in Asia and Europe if Japan hadn’t attacked Hawaii. It took a grievous interruption of a quiet Sunday morning to end any thought that we could “escape” the conflicts.