Category Archives: Words

Messages To The World

Our puppy gets two or three walks a day, and this has afforded me more observations of the neighborhood. I noticed on my most recent walk a faux rustic sign on a front porch that said in rather decorative lettering “Don’t Let The Top Step Kick Your Ass.”

That sign had been purchased, not made by the home owners. I have a hard time understanding why people would put a sign like that in the yard. I suppose it is meant to be amusing. It sure makes me hesitant to get to know them.

We have a small, cast iron pig with wings in one of our front perennial beds. I hope it tells people we are somewhat fanciful and goofy. The Gulf War veteran down the block has an American flag along with his Marine Corps flag. He is a good guy. I am happy to say our neighborhood Trump supporters don’t have any signs up. I suppose if I really wanted our neighbors to know what we stand for we would erect a free little library by the front Spruce trees.

What signs or symbols do you have in or outside your home that could tell people about you? What messages would you want to convey to the world from your yard?

What’s In a Name?

I was a rep for a stamping company for many years…. you know, one of the home party companies.  Of course, for most of my tenure, I only did workshops in my home for my dedicated following.  I wasn’t really into “growing my business”; I just wanted have fun with my stamping friends and get the company discount.

I have stamps and accessories from many companies but even though I’m not selling any longer, I still get excited when the annual catalog comes out.  The first day to order is today.  One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that the colors of ink/paper in the catalog aren’t always QUITE the same in person as they are in the book.  You wouldn’t think I would be too fussy about my ink colors (especially if you could see how many I already have).  But when you have a lot, you don’t want duplication.  If I’m going to get another pink pad or green pad, it needs to be a different shade.  When I saw new colors called Polished Pink and Parakeet Party, I visited my rep (I signed up with her the day I resigned as a sales person) to see those colors in person.

Parakeet Party is a light but vibrant green but it occurs to me that the average person wouldn’t figure that out immediately.  And it made me think about some of the incredible names that stamp companies come up with for their colors.  Here are just a few… can you figure out what color they are by the name:

    • Coastal Cabana
    • Cadette
    • Alchemy
    • Mermaid

Of course a lot of them are more obvious:  Rich Razzleberry, Early Espresso, Bubblegum (just about ever company that does ink pads has one named this) and one of my favorites – Not Quite Navy.  I’m thinking that when they have meetings to talk about ink names, there must be alcohol involved!

What’s your favorite Crayola box?  8-pack?  24-pack?  64?  Living large with the Ultimate 152?  What about neons?  Or glitters?  Or confettis?

The Sunwise Turn

I’m reading a quaint little memoir called “Sunwise Turn: A Human Comedy of Bookselling”.  Two women, with no bookselling experience decide to open a bookstore in New York in 1916.  The book was written in 1925.  It’s a fascinating story of how they got started and how they survived.  The book downplays the fame of the store, but online you can easily find a history of the store which was also a salon for up and coming writers as well as an exhibition and performance space. 

Early on in the book, the author describes how they came to name their shop:

The name was one of the crises through which we had somehow to get.  There is sin and virtue in a name.  We wanted a name that would mean something.  Everything was to be significant.  All kinds of titles of the thumb-mail variety were offered.  My partner telephoned me one day that Amy Murray had drawn up in the net of her Gallic wisdom the name ‘The Sunwise Turn”. 


They do everything daesal (sunwise) here” – Father Allen had told her of the people of Eriskay – “for they believe that to follow the course of the sun is propitious.   The sunwise turn is the lucky one.”

The key goes sunwise; the screw goes sunwise; the clock goes sunwise.  Cards are dealt with the sun.  The Gael handed the loving cup around the banqueting table sunwise; he handed the wedding ring and loaned money sunwise  An old sea captain who once came into the shop told me that wind and weather go sunwise, and once when I called in our Swedish contractor, Behrens, to confer with him about the furnace, eh said: “It out to be in the other corner of the house, maam.  I always put my furnaces in the north end.  Heat goes with the sun.”

I’m pretty sure naming your bookstore “Sunwise Turn” breaks every rule you can find about picking a name for your business.  It doesn’t say anything about what the shop sells and it’s unbelievable obscure, but I really fell in love with the name and the thought and meaning behind it.  Makes me want to open up a shop of some kind, just to use the name again.  

Let’s say you are opening a shop of your own next week.  What would you sell?  And what would you name it?

Creative Addresses

Daughter’s BFF is in grad school in a southern state getting her MFA in vocal performance. I have known her since she was in Grade 1, and consider her a second daughter. She has a beautiful voice, and recently sang in a lead role in a production of The Bartered Bride. She is a cook and loves to bake. She didn’t get a Christmas box of goodies from us, but I baked some of her favorite cookies and sent her a Valentines box yesterday filled with the cookies as well as cocoa mix, interesting pasta, pasta seasoning, fancy pizza crust flour, and a Mr. Rogers figurine who speaks in his actual voice about being wonderful for who you are and asks about your neighbors if you push the button on the trolley.

Her street address is IOOF St. I think this is one of the oddest street addresses I have seen. The clerk at the UPS store sure thought it was odd. I am curious if Baboons know what IOOF stands for, and what other odd or interesting streets names they are aware of. I have my grandfather’s OF sword.

What are some interesting street names you have encountered? What street names would you like to invent? Know any OF’s? What are your memories of Mr. Rogers?

Testifying

I found out earlier this week that I have to provide testimony to a State legislative committee as part of my role as member of a regulatory board. The committee is concerned that over-regulation and regulatory board inefficiency is causing shortages of health care professionals in the state. My job will be to disabuse them of this inaccurate assessment. That means I will have to provide lots of statistic on the number of license applicants, length of time between the receipt of the application and the issuance of a license, number of people denied a license (one in total my five years on the board), efficiencies we have introduced, and so on.

I plan to be plain spoken and professional, calm and patient. I will rely on the fellow board member who is doing this with me. I have testified in court on many occasions, but this will be slightly more nerve-racking. Besides, when I testify in court at home, I know al the judges and attorneys, and we all joke around and tease one another. I run into them in the grocery store. It is my understanding that the committee is comprised of very reasonable legislators, mostly Republicans, which is a comfort. If things go badly, I suppose I could find a way to casually mention that I am related to Lawrence Welk’s son in law. That might soften their hearts. I won’t mention my other relatives who were leading lights in the Non-Partisan League in the early part of the 20th century, North Dakota’s Socialist Party and the forerunner of the current State Democratic Party.

When have you had to change someone’s mind? Any advice for how I testify? What are your experiences providing testimony?

By Any Other Name…

Names are a big deal in my business.  You have to have legal names for air ticketing, names for namebadges, nameplates for dinner seating, names on awards – sometimes one person can have four different names in these situations. 

Over the years, I’ve seen some doozies.  One couple asked for “Chief” and “Boots” on their badges – the client said no.  I’ve had requests for Princess, Houdini, Sport, even the Big Lebowski.  Several times participants have “exaggerated” their titles when they register for programs.  It’s always pretty clear when someone’s title shows up a President of their company.  I did have someone once type in “Grand Exalted Poombah” – guess he thought we didn’t really need the information and he could have some fun. 

The best name I ever came across was Waightstill Scales.  His nickname was Booger. And the company that he worked for had an award named after him since he was their top salesperson of all time.  The Booger Scales award.  And his namebadge?  You guessed it, Booger Scales.  I kid you not.  I think you’d have to be really confident to carry that name your whole life and then to give it to your son, whose nickname was Waighty.  Waighty Scales.  I swear, I am not making this up.

What’s the funniest actual name you’ve heard of someone having?

Door Stoppage

Photo credit:  The Avocado

On Friday Steve suggested a book be used for a doorstop that Clyde needed.  My very first thought was Ulysses.  I was an English major at Carleton and there were two infamous lists.  One was the short list – about 100 titles that you’d better have read before your comprehensives at the end of your senior year.  Then there was the long list – this was about 500 titles – that the English department thought you should read if you wanted to be truly well-read.  I know, I know, incredibly  presumptuous.  I got copies of these lists in my sophomore year and kept them for years.  As you can imagine, Ulysses was on that list and while most of my brain knows there is no reason I have to read this, a little bit still thinks that I should wade through Joyce.

Three years ago when I started getting rid of excess stuff, I realized I had THREE copies of Ulysses.  Unfortunately for Clyde’s needs, I got rid of all of them, along with most of the guilt that I never could get through the first chapter, much less any farther.

But it made me think about what other books I could imagine consigned to doorstop-hood.   I pulled up my reading list to look for 1-star titles that I wouldn’t mind using to keep a door open.  I started keeping this list in 2007 but didn’t start assigning stars until 2013.  I actually don’t have too many two-star titles, and next to no one-star ratings (it’s a 1-5 rating).  Life is too short – if a book isn’t shaping up, it goes back to the library (or if I actually purchased it, on a pile to be donated to the library).

I do have a few one-stars, but they bring up a secondary problem… I don’t actually remember all of them.  So here’s a short list of my one-star doorstop recommendations:

  • The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (not even a whiff of memory about this one)
  • The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan (I know that tim loved this one, but it didn’t have enough surrealism to support an unbelievable plot)
  • Gingerbread Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke. I kinda liked the first few and I do like the Hallmark movies made from the series, but this one stunk and the main character stepped over so many lines (moral AND legal) that I couldn’t believe it.
  • Man in the High Castle by Philip Dick. You all know I love alternate-reality future stories but this one did NOT satisfy.  Several concurrent stories, which did not ever intersect, did not wrap up  in any meaninful way and one that jut didn’t make sense.  (And in looking at the reviews of the tv series, they pretty much didn’t use 95% of the book.)
  • And then my one and only negative star title… Swamplandia by Karen Russell. I only finished this because it was a book club title.    Unbelievable set-up, unlike-able characters, tragic outcome and ending that could not happen in anybody’s reality.  There are actually good reviews of this book, but I can only say that hallucinogenics must have been involved.

Any nominees for a door stop?

Aha!!

I love having “aha” moments and I’ve had three recently, all from reading.

#1.  99% Invisible City by Roman Mars details a lot of the infrastructure that surrounds us in the urban environment, much of which we don’t notice and definitely take for granted.  In discussing wireless towers, he writes: “As commercial cellular towers began to sprout up in the 1970s, diagrams depicting their coverage areas looked like blobby plant or animal cells pressed up against one another – hence the name ‘cell phones’.”   I had never stopped to think about why we say “cell phones” so this was an amazing discovery for me.  I stopped reading for a moment and reveled in the fun of it.

#2.  This is Your Mind on Plants by Michael Pollan.  This is the second book of Pollan’s that features discussion of hallucinogenics.  In writing about mescaline, he alludes to the song Mellow Yellow by Donavan and that the meaning of the song is about smoking banana skins, believed in the 60s to be hallucinogenic.  I can sing along to Mellow Yellow but never ever thought about the lyrics and what they might mean.  (Turns out Pollan was actually wrong – Donavan was writing about an electric vibrator that he had seen an ad for – the equipment was called the “mellow yellow”.)

#3.  A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor.  This is an older travel book; the author walked from England to Constantinople in the days before WWII.  After completely overdoing it in Munich at the Hofbrauhaus, he woke up with a “katzenjammer”.  Now I remember the old comic the Katzenjammer Kids, but had no idea that katzenjammer actually means hangover.  I’m not sure how “cat” and “distress” came to mean hangover, but it’s fascinating to know this tidbit!

Can’t wait to see what the next few books reveal!

Any “aha” moments for you recently?

Alas…

It’s fairly well documented that William Shakespeare coined a lot of  words (sources go as high as 2000) that we use commonly today:

    • Auspicious
    • Bloody
    • Dwindle
    • Frugal
    • Gnarled
    • Majestic
    • Multitudinous
    • Premeditated
    • Sanctimonious

There are also scads of phrases that he was the first to use and that we still use today:

    • Seen better days
    • Too much of a good thing
    • Love is blind
    • Set your teeth on edge
    • The game is up

Unfortunately, having seemingly absorbed the rules of language and grammar in my youth, I am often (read “always”) torn when I come across a new word.  Part of me wants to send these new words to the trash can and part of me wants to embrace new words wholeheartedly.  After all, think how unimaginative English would be if we hadn’t embraced “gentlefolk” or “jaded” or “pendantical”?

This week, I heard the word “bleisure” (combination of business and leisure travel) and I was a little appalled.  If there is business, can there truly be leisure?  Even my trip to Kenya and Tanzania, which was devoid of clients and official business, still felt like a business trip to me as I was surrounded by travel professionals from other companies.  But I suppose there are plenty of people out there who can combine business and pleasure, making the word “bleisure” useful.  I just can’t see myself ever using it.

Anything new bugging you this week?

What to Read Next?

Last month Bill asked “How do you judge a cookbook at first glance?”  For me the first thing a cookbook has to have is a great photo on the front to initially catch my interest.  Then it needs to be a niche that I’m interested in (vegetarian, ethnic, baking).  That’s enough to get me to request it from the library.  Once I get the book, the quality of the production is key, how easy it is to follow the directions, how many recipes appeal to me, will the ingredients be do-able?  Probably 50% of the cookbooks that I peruse from the library go back and I never think about them again.  Then about 49% might have a recipe or two that I’ll copy for myself (I have a big white binder for these).  Then there is the rare 1% that I feel I would to have my own copy of and then I try to find it as inexpensively as possible.  And then I have to get rid of an existing cookbook.  Cookbook shelving unit is cram-packed!

All of this quantifying led me to another thought.  How do you judge ANY book at first glance?  How do you decide to read a specific book?  And if you choose badly, what do you do about it?

For me, great titles are key; it needs to be interesting, maybe some word play.  “Dragons” in the title is a gimme.  The phrase “mercenary librarians” on the cover of a book was too tempting to pass up last month.  It’s a toss-up whether author or subject matter is the next ingredient for me.  I’ll pretty much read anything by my favorite authors.  I even read Michael Pollan’s LSD book last year.  Only a very few authors have failed to keep my interest.  Poor Barbara Hambly lost me between the vampire books and the nasty ice queen series.  If a book has an author with whom I am unfamiliar, then subject matter can draw me in.  Of course, I’m curious about so much stuff that pretty much anything can work in this respect.  I’m not a romance fan and I get irritated pretty quickly with historical fiction but even having said that, I will still occasionally read something in these genres.  I prefer fantasy to science fiction.  I’ve read my fill of WWII titles the last few years but if something comes well-recommended, I might put it on the list.

There is another category of “what do read” for me because I’m one of those folks who reads multiple books concurrently.  At any given time I have a book on CD in the car, an audiobook on my pc and a variety of books piled up in my bedroom.  When I decide I want to read, I have to decide WHICH of those books to pick up.  Most of the time, it’s my mood that decides, but if a book is coming due soon and I can’t renew it, that factor often takes precedence.  Now that the library has re-instituted due dates, I have to think about this more.

I am also a book-abandoner.  I decided about 15 years ago, after struggling for weeks to finish Blood on the Snow by Tunstall, that life is too short.  There are so many books published each year that no one could read them all so if I don’t finish a book, it won’t doom the publishing industry.  I once quit reading a book on page four; I already had the feeling that I wouldn’t enjoy the characters or the plot.  Authors beware – you gotta hook me fast!

So the answer to Bill’s question is complex.

How do YOU decide what to read?  Can you abandon a bad choice?