Category Archives: funny things

Things I Know Too Much About

If you thought I was going to say, “my neighbors’ sex life,” prepare to be disappointed. No, what I’m talking about is those Facebook memes that say, “What could you give a TED talk on right now?” or “What could you talk on for 20 minutes without preparation?”

I have at times compared my brain to a steel sieve. At other times, I’ve said it’s like a steel trap, one that’s unhinged and rusty. But actually, what I think my brain most resembles is a dusty old closet with a sticky door. I don’t know how I’ll get it open and I don’t know exactly what’s in there, but I’m fairly certain there are some things in there that I don’t even remember I knew.

I have friends who have epic knowledge about various and assorted topics, from video games (and their creators) to evolution to dairy farming to the Irish language. If I were ever on Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?, I would have plenty of “phone-a-friends” to use as lifelines (if I could remember their phone numbers, which I can’t).

I have all sorts of useless trivia stuffed in the corners of my brain: Armadillos are the only animals besides humans that can get leprosy. Henry Heimlich (he of the eponymous Maneuver) was a drum major at my alma mater and was married to Jane Murray, daughter of Arthur Murray, of dance lesson fame. Pear Ripple wine actually tastes pretty good. John Milton invented the word “pandemonium.” A “cenotaph” is a gravestone with no body buried under it. Some of these facts would not even be useful on Jeopardy, or even at a bar trivia night.

But when it comes to things I actually could give a 20-minute talk on, I have a choice of subjects.

First, there’s bipolar disorder. I’ve got a lot of experience with that. I have bipolar disorder myself and have been diagnosed with it for decades now. I’ve seen countless therapists and a few psychiatrists and have been on medications for decades. I’ve written two books on the subject, based on my other blog, Bipolar Me (bipolarme.blog), which I’ve been writing weekly for almost nine years – 468 posts. In those posts, I’ve covered topics including depression and anxiety, self-harm and suicidal ideation, lobotomy and shock therapy, plus a lot of everyday symptoms and treatments for the disorder.

I’ve written about why you can’t say assorted famous people have (or had) bipolar or various other disorders. I’ve engaged in the debate over what causes bipolar disorder and whether psychiatric drugs are helpful. I’ve even written about why people with bipolar disorder sometimes aren’t able to take showers (one of my most popular posts, for some reason).

Another topic I can expound on extensively (and have, much to my husband’s chagrin) is country singers and songwriters. I can tell you why Willie Nelson’s Shotgun Willie album was so important; how The Sound in Your Mind prefigures Stardust; how “On the Road Again” was written; what movies he’s been in (and why one of them was called Honeysuckle Rose); how Django Reinhardt influenced his guitar style (and who Django Reinhardt was); and what other singers have recorded his songs (Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” for example, was one of his).

I can talk endlessly about Kris Kristofferson’s early encounters with Johnny Cash, his marriage to Rita Coolidge (and how it broke up) and his hot fling with Janis Joplin; his political activism; his military career; how he came to write “Why Me, Lord?”; and what the original lyrics to “Sunday Morning Coming Down” included. I can expound on his education and his fondness for the poetry of William Blake. I can even tell you the specific time he stopped drinking.

I know which country songs were written by Shel Silverstein (yes, that Shel Silverstein). I can talk about the Outlaw Country movement and underappreciated women songwriters like Gail Davies, Matraca Berg, and Gretchen Peters. I can even talk about alliteration and internal rhyme in the lyrics of Kinky Friedman and how his songs were reflected in the mystery novels he wrote. (Yes, I have two degrees in English and have never gotten over it entirely. But I digress. In fact, this whole post has been something of a digression.)

And that’s why I never get invited to parties.

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Trek vs. Wars: Which Is Better?

In some circles, either answer will result in heated rebuttals, not to say ostracism. I don’t want to get in the middle of those who adore Star Trek and those who are captivated by Star Wars. I will not even get into the tempest over who was the better captain, Kirk or Picard. I will say, though it may seem like sacrilege to both sides, that both have their flaws and their triumphs. And they have some distinct similarities.

I was introduced to Star Trek in 1966, when it first came out. (Yes, I’m that old.) I watched it avidly, even in reruns at 2:00 a.m. I became a Trekkie, accumulating such Star Trek merchandise as was available at the time. (There wasn’t much back then. I did get Spock’s medallion, the IDIC, which stood for “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations,” a concept I hold by to this day. And of course, I had my mother make tribbles. But I digress.)

The first time I saw Star Wars was on the big screen, in the summer of 1977, when it first came out. I saw the film numerous times, dragging friends who had not yet seen it to the theater. I didn’t get t-shirts or pins or anything like that. At the time, there wasn’t much Star Wars merch available either. That really revved up later, including Lego versions of everything.

Both television and film franchises have similar themes – good versus evil. Star Trek addressed these, because of its origin on episodic television, in a way that featured increments toward a vision of a more hopeful, more just society. Star Wars was a more traditional battle between big-g Good and big-e Evil, with little to no middle ground. (Once someone asked me why I liked Star Wars so much despite its lack of literary depth and nuance. I replied that it does have a deeper message: “Let the Wookie win.” I was being only half-facetious. But I digress again.)

I gradually lost interest in both of them after being exposed to a number of incarnations of them. I liked Star Trek: Next Generation and the first series of movies (or at least the even-numbered ones). I liked the first three Star Wars movies, the other six much less so, until I finally got to where I was disinterested in the last, most recent trilogy. I’m heartily sick of all the various continuations of both of them on TV and most of the movies. I used to watch Star Trek: Discovery and Picard weekly, but have lately fallen away. And I never got into the many spinoffs of Star Wars, featuring many lower-interest characters such as Boba Fett and baby Yoda. I know the franchises are huge money-makers, but I think they’ve reached past the point where it continues to be worthwhile for viewers, or at least for me.

Along that line, there have been some real clunkers in both series. The original Star Trek was uneven in the quality of the episodes, both from a production and writing standpoint. The lowest point came with an episode called “Spock’s Brain.” With a title like that, one can envision any number of truly compelling scenarios, but no. They may have gone for comedy, but ended up with unpalatable farce. And Next Generation had an episode that I can never remember the title of, but should have been called “The Nintendo That Ate Their Brains.”

Star Wars had its low points as well, the primary one being the introduction of the character Jar Jar Binks, a buffoon with a speech pattern that was by turns irritating and insulting. He appeared in the first movie of the second trilogy that was made, which is the first trilogy in terms of the plot line, if you can follow that, but by the end of it, rather inexplicably, he became a Senator.

There was a significant backlash to one Star Trek character as well – Wesley Crusher, a teenager working his way up to greater responsibility on the Enterprise. I thought his character was what every fanboy’s dreams were made of. But I was informed that he was just too goody-goody for some people’s liking. There were even bulletin boards devoted to “Ways to Kill Off Wesley Crusher.” (This was painful to Wil Wheaton, the teenage actor who played Wesley. Later he revealed his bouts with depression and abuse at the hands of his stage-managing parents. That he is still acting and doing well is a credit to his perseverance. But I digress yet again.)

So, when it comes right down to it, which do I prefer – Star Trek or Star Wars? I guess I would have to say Star Trek, based on how often I watch reruns of it, as opposed to how often I watch reruns of Star Wars. But for different reasons, both still hold places in my heart. Now if we could only rein in all the franchises and develop some new science fiction shows with good, original ideas, characters, and plots, that would make me truly happy. In the meantime, I’ll keep jonesing for new episodes of The Orville and Resident Alien.

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Shopaholics Unite!

We talk about shopaholics the way we talk about alcoholics – as though it were some sort of addiction, presumably one that can be treated through a 12-step group (though I’ve never actually heard of Shop Anon). Alas, that’s not the case. Those of us who have spending problems largely have to go it alone. Our friends are more likely to enable us than to talk us out of it.

In the past, I’ve had spending sprees that focused on music. I still buy CDs occasionally, despite the fact that most music is now in the form of downloadable mp3’s. I tried to fight my urges by, first, buying CDs secondhand and second, dividing them into columns, or rather, stacks.

There was a previously-owned music shop (the music was previously owned, not the shop) in town called Second Time Around. Way back when, they sold vinyl record albums. My high school friends and I haunted the place and picked up music by our favorite artists. (At the time, we never considered that we were depriving those artists of royalties. Later in life, I was once inspired to send a quarter to an author I knew because I had picked up one of his books in a used bookstore. But I digress.)

I wandered through Second Time Around, picking up everything that caught my eye (or ear) and piling it up in my little basket. Then I would retreat to a window ledge and sort the CDs into different piles: Must Have, Would Be Nice, and Don’t Really Need. I would buy the Must-Have discs and a couple of the Would-Be-Nice ones, but abandon the Don’t-Really-Needs. Using this strategy, I arrived at a total that, while not totally within my budget, missed it by only a little.

This strategy has served me well over the years. Now the baskets are virtual, but I still fill them up with whatever attracts me and delete as needed (or not needed).

Over the past months, though, my overspending has kicked into overdrive and my doorstep has filled up with Amazon and UPS packages. Nowadays, I over-buy items we may need for our trip abroad (planned for the spring), such as power converters, sweaters, scarves, umbrellas, and guidebooks.

The other item I’ve been jonesing for is pajamas. I work at home, at my computer, so pajamas are my daily uniform. I have shelves of pajamas in my office closet and a few more upstairs in my dresser. I have nightdresses, nightshirts, flannel pajama sets, fleece pajama sets, shorty pajama sets for the summer, and a number of pairs of pajama bottoms that I can pair with the nightshirts for in-between weather.

Pajamas are one purchase that works well with the “stack in the basket and weed” strategy. My husband has been helping me curb my spending. He asks helpful things like “Is there enough money in the bank account?” and “Do you need more pajamas?” I explain to him that the pajamas, particularly out-of-season ones, are on sale at really good prices.

One thing that does keep me from buying pajamas with such wild abandon is the shipping prices. If the shipping costs more than the pajamas, I wildly abandon them – though with regret. I suppose I could rack up the total to where I’d get free shipping, but that feels like cheating on my attempted shopping abstinence.

Travel items and pajamas, I tell myself, are not really so bad. I used to have a thing for jewelry. Now that I work at home, I never go to places where I need to wear necklaces or earrings. So, really, I can skip the jewelry and just buy pajamas. Or else found my own Shop Anon group – perhaps with my husband, who has a comparable problem with seed catalogs.

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When You Have the Flu: Some Unsolicited Advice

I first posted a version of this almost exactly four years ago. I’m revisiting it now because…well, you can probably guess.

Say you’ve got a touch of the flu. Keep far away from me – you feel awful and I don’t want to feel awful too. I know you don’t want visitors, but here I am, and at least I’ve brought a gift: a few suggestions for entertaining things you can do while you suffer in peace and quiet, except for, you know, the coughing and sneezing and assorted other noises you’re making. Relative peace and quiet, if you know what I mean.

Drink tea. It really doesn’t matter what kind, since you can’t smell it anyway. Earl Grey will smell just like jasmine. Peppermint and English Breakfast, the same. And if you want to, you can use any variety as the base for my father’s restorative tonic, which consists of tea, bourbon, and horehound candy (tea optional), or boring old lemon and honey, if you insist, though my father would not approve.

Cuddle large, fuzzy cats. Do this even if you’re allergic to them. You’re already sneezing as much as humanly possible, so you have nothing to fear from dander. Bonus: A large, fluffy cat makes an excellent substitute for a heating pad or hot water bottle.

Read. Or pretend to. Actual reading may distract you from how miserable you are (unless you’re reading Les Miserables). Pretend-reading will encourage people to keep their voices low, plus it doesn’t matter if you fall asleep with the book elegantly displayed on your chest. (Make sure it has a classy dustjacket, even if the book inside is Fifty Shades of Gray, which I don’t recommend, unless it’s for pretend-reading. It can lead to barfing, which may be in your future anyway.)

Eat chicken soup. Tell everyone that you need it for the fluids and the electrolytes, which is true. Egg drop soup is an especially good variety – if you can’t convince someone in your household to make it and bring it to you, you can always convince the Chinese take-out down the street to do it. Nibble saltines daintily, or the little fried things that look like Chinese tortilla strips.

Hit the Nyquil. I don’t mean the non-drowsy kind – sleep through as much of the illness as possible. Warning: Do not mix Nyquil with Southern Comfort or the bourbon-horehound mixture (see above). You’ll barf and you may be doing that already. Also, don’t mix Nyquil with cough syrup, which can cause unintended psychedelic effects and more barfing.

Squash tissues. Let them blossom all around you in a protective ring that no one will want to cross. If you try the tissues with built-in lotion, don’t use them to wipe your glasses before trying to read (see above).

Call the doctor. Don’t go see the doctor. You’ve got a virus and there’s nothing she can give you for it. Just ask how long it is until you can get an appointment and rest assured that your ailment will be over before then. You may want to actually go if you start making a sucky (in both senses), moist kind of wheezing sound when you breathe. The advantage is it will keep people even farther away from you, but the downside is that you may have pneumonia, which is even less fun than flu.

Use Vick’s Vapo-Rub. You won’t be able to detect the scent because your nose is busy with something else (snot), but other people sure will, encouraging them to keep a respectful distance. If you don’t have Vapo-Rub, try Ben-Gay. Bonus: nice warm feeling on your chest. Note: If you use either Vapo-Rub or Ben-Gay, do not cuddle the large, fuzzy cats (see above), unless you want to look like Bigfoot. Just sing “Soft Kitty” instead, or insist that someone else sing it to you.

Whine. Punctuate with coughs and sneezes. Again, the goal is to get people to leave you alone. If this tactic isn’t working, move on to even more disgusting symptoms. Keep a bucket by your bed, just so people get the idea that you could use it at any moment.

P.S. I’ll give you one guess why I wrote this. If you don’t get the answer right, I’ll start whining. And coughing. And sneezing. And barfing. Just bring me some egg drop soup and leave quietly.

You wouldn’t want to catch what I’ve got.

Keep me in Nyquil!

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Watch Out! Phone In!

My husband is the last person in the universe who still doesn’t have a smartphone. He says it’s because he doesn’t want a phone smarter than he is. Personally, I think it’s because he likes to flip it open and yell, “Beam me up, Scotty!” just to confuse the telemarketers.

Not that he gets calls from telemarketers. He always gives my phone number when asked for his, making me effectively his secretary. Confirm a doctor’s appointment? The mechanic says the car is ready? Someone from work? I take a message. Sometimes it’s his own mother who calls me, if Dan’s not answering his phone (he usually isn’t) or she can’t leave a voicemail (he doesn’t know how to retrieve them).

But, as usual, I digress. I meant to talk about the evolution of watches and what we call them.

Once upon a time, a very long time ago, it was simple. There were watches. You kept them in a pocket, usually attached by some sort of chain. Then someone invented a watch you wore on your wrist, so someone else had to coin the terms “pocket watch” and “wristwatch,” just in case you couldn’t tell from context which kind was meant.

Watch technology was far from reaching its zenith, however. The next innovation was the digital watch, which lit up numbers the way your bedside clock does (at least until we got rid of the ones that had numbers on little cards that fell over as the minutes and hours changed). Some bright person realized we needed a way to tell that kind of watch from the kind with hands. Thus were born the “digital watch” (which has sort of died out) and the “analog watch,” the kind with hands that people under a certain age can’t read. Neither of the new watches made that comforting ticking sound.

Next came the mobile phone, which were actually really phones, not watches, except you could use them to call the time and temperature line, which still existed. At first, a mobile phone was a rich person’s toy, anchored somewhere in the car to impress passengers. Then completely mobile phones were invented. They began as big, blocky things with an antenna sticking out, which you can sometimes still see in old movies or episodes of Ab Fab. They got tinier and tinier, until they could fit in your pocket (assuming you were a man and had pockets in your good clothes).

That’s when watches began to morph into phones. Flip phones, such as my husband has, featured the time on the outside panel. Watches were on the way out. Larger watches still existed, aimed at teens. These were in bright colors and were called “Swatches.”

Suddenly, watches were obsolete. Everything now is done by phone. We’re up to smartphones, which everyone except my husband has, and which can tell you not just the time, but the weather in Istanbul, how to say “What’s the weather in Istanbul?” in Turkish, “What’s the best restaurant in Istanbul?” and how to get there. Unfortunately, smartphones can no longer fit in a pocket (unless you’re a man in a suit). Women have to carry them in their purses, where it’s almost impossible to hear them ring, unless you’re sitting near them in a restaurant. Fortunately, these phones take messages for those who, unlike Dan, know how to use that function. (To be fair, I hardly ever look to see if I have voice messages, which I guess makes me little better than Dan on that point. But I digress. Again.)

Now, however, there’s an even newer kind of watch, which you wear on your wrist (how retro!). I suppose it will tell you the time, if you ask it nicely, but its main function is to keep track of your bodily processes as you jog, walk, sleep, or whatever. It keeps track of your heart rate, your breathing, your oxygen sats, the quality of your sleep, your body mass index, your blood sugar, your exact position on planet Earth, and how much you’d weigh on the moon. (And probably some other parameters I don’t know – and don’t wish to know – about.)

I think these are called fitwatches, by analogy with fitbits, a trend from ages past (last month, I think).

But I call them snitchwatches. And I’m not getting one. I swear.

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Spoons and Showers

This is one of the most popular posts on my other blog, bipolarme.blog. I thought I’d share it with you today to see what you all think.

It is fairly widely known that people with bipolar disorder and/or depression (like me) have trouble taking a daily shower. It’s not that we don’t know what’s involved in taking a shower, or why it would be good for us to do so, it’s simply that showering uses up a tremendous number of spoons.

(Spoons are a measure of how much energy a person has each day. For the full explanation, go to https://butyoudontlooksick.com/articles/written-by-christine/the-spoon-theory/ for Christine Miserando’s post. It applies not just to mental disorders, but any kind of chronic illness.)

Here’s what showering looks like according to Andrew Solomon, author of the now-classic The Noonday Demon:

I ran through the individual steps in my mind: You sit up, turn and put your feet on the floor, stand, walk to the bathroom, open the bathroom door, go to the edge of the tub…I divided it into fourteen steps as onerous as the Stations of the Cross.

I performed a similar exercise in one of my blog posts (Brain vs. Brain: http://wp.me/p4e9Hv-iF) and here’s my version:

First I have to find a clean towel and a bar of soap, get undressed without seeing myself in the mirror, fiddle with the water temperature, wash and shampoo, dry off, find clean underwear, and that’s not even thinking about drying my hair and figuring out what I can wear! Oh, my God, I’ve used up all my spoons just thinking about it! I should just eat Cocoa Puffs and go back to bed.

Now let me say, first of all, that I don’t really like showers. I grew up taking baths and have never enjoyed the sensation of water spraying in my face. But with my bad back and bad knee, getting up from sitting in a bathtub is nearly impossible these days. (Please don’t ask me why anyone would want to sit in dirty water. Everyone says that when I say I prefer baths. I have a nice long soak, steeping in the clean water like a big teabag, and only then wash up and get right out. Used to, I mean. But I digress.)

To most people, showering is a single act that requires the expenditure of a single spoon. Take a shower; that’s it. But for those of us with invisible illnesses, each separate step may require its own spoon. Take something as simple as finding a towel, for instance. Go to the linen closet, grab a towel and voilà! Only a fraction of a spoon, if that.

But surely you don’t think I have had the spoons to fold and put away my laundry. It is all there in a jumble on top of the dryer. (Who needs a wrinkle-free towel anyway?) I have to root around to find one, and maybe twice if a cat has thrown up on the first one I pick. (They love sitting on clean laundry.)

If I have to go to a business meeting I force myself to use some of those spoons showering and getting dressed and acting respectable. But I will pay for it later, collapsing after the meeting in need of a mega-nap.

Now here’s a little secret I’ll tell you. Most people believe you gain spoons by going out of the house – walking in the fresh air, meeting friends for lunch, shopping, going for a drive (does anyone do that anymore?). But the fact is that, according to Spoon Theory, you get a certain number of spoons every day when you wake up. You cannot gain, buy, beg, borrow, or steal any more, not even by breathing fresh air. You can only spend them.

Given the mathematics of spoons, I don’t spend a single one that I don’t absolutely have to. Not going out? No shower. Have to go out for a loaf of bread or a drive-through meal? Wash up in the sink. If I need a shower between outings, my husband reminds me and facilitates by, for example, rummaging on the dryer for a clean towel and clean clothes or a clean nightshirt.

I need those spoons for doing my work at home in my smelly pajamas more than I do for the ordeal of showering.

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The Wacky World of Proofreading

I’ve done a lot of proofreading in my life. I’ve worked as a writer-proofreader-editor for a small publishing company – so small that I sometimes had to fill all those functions to get an issue out. I’ve bartered proofreading academic papers for someone who offered guitar lessons in exchange. And, God help me, I’ve had to proofread my own work, which is by far the worst kind of proofing.

Now I’ve entered into an entirely new version of the practice.

It started like this.

While working on my novel (still unpublished), I needed a gig to make a little money (very little money, as it turned out). So I turned to a transcription service. This company did not transcribe medical dictation or court cases, as many think when they first hear the term. Rather, it involved transcribing mostly business meetings and occasionally interviews or podcasts. As you might guess, when the pandemic hit, business picked up because so many businesses were teleconferencing rather than talking in person. In fact, I wast kept quite busy four days a week, and sometimes extra jobs on the weekends or holidays if there was additional work that needed doing.

(When I talk about this, people sometimes think that it sounds terribly interesting. It isn’t. I hated business meetings and conferences when I had to attend them, let alone listen to them over and over as I transcribed audio files. I privately gave awards for “the world’s longest run-on sentence,” “the most ‘you knows’ and ‘I means,'” and so forth. But I digress.)

Of course, the company employed proofreaders, too, to check the work that the typists had done. But typing paid more per minute of audio than proofreading did, so despite my truly crappy typing, I signed on as a typist. (I never took typing in high school, and back then, they didn’t have keyboarding. Typing was considered a “business” or “secretarial” course at the time, and I was on the college track. Entering college as an English major, I soon learned the error of that way of thinking. English majors are required to write – and, of course, type – dozens of papers per semester. But I digress. Again.)

Two phenomena threw the typing arrangement into disarray. First was the (perhaps ill-advised) resumption of in-person business meetings. The other was the progress made in AI audio dictation software. I once used a dictation function to transcribe an interview that I did. The output was mediocre at best.

Dictation transcription software was supposed to have gotten better since the early days. And I suppose it has – but not enough to make proofreading obsolete, for which I am profoundly grateful.

What I do now is listen to the audio and edit the computer-transcribed version. It’s really editing, but they still call it proofreading.

And – wouldn’t you know? – all those run-on sentences and “you knows” and “I means” are still in there and need taking out. There are speaker names and company names that the AI attempted to spell phonetically that I need to look up and correct. There are passages from speakers with a foreign accent that aren’t transcribed even close to what the speakers said. The paragraphing is dubious and the punctuation appalling. Once, the software even transcribed “yearend” as “urine.”

All told, it doesn’t take me quite as long as typing it would have, but I usually need to do a first proofing pass and then one or two proofing-proofing passes.

It’s a drag. It still beats proofreading my own writing, though.

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The World of Cats

Once I was reading Julie and Julia (or maybe it was Julia Child’s memoirs) when I came across the statement that because she was living in France, she needed a pousiquette. I had studied French since junior high through college, and though my French is so rusty it has holes in it, I couldn’t place the word. Was it some piece of French cooking equipment? An herbaceous plant?

I began to sound out the word: poo-see-kett. Then it hit me: Julia needed a pussycat! Despite the fact that the French word for cat is chat and for pussycat is minou (I looked it up), Julia, with her inimitable flair, had made up her own word. I’ve been using it ever since and the cats don’t seem to mind (or notice).

Then recently, I learned through Facebook that the French equivalent for “purr” is ronron, which seemed a lovely approximation of the sound of a purr. I began looking up other languages’ words for “purr.” I was somewhat disappointed to learn that many other languages simply use the word “purr.” Spanish, being a Romance language like French, used ronroneo.

Other countries were more inventive. “Purr” in Vietnamese is gugu. In Croatian, it’s presti. In Japan, a cat expresses contentment by going gorogoro. German and Dutch pretty much agree on schneurren and snorren (which bring to mind “snore” rather than “purr.” This is okay with me, as we have a cat that snores. Daintily, but she snores.)

I even looked up Italian (fusa, for some reason, despite its being another Romance language), Korean (puleuleu), Hindi (myaoon), Romanian (tors), Hungarian (dorombolas), Swedish (spinna), Polish (mruczec), and Russian (murlykat).

While I was at it, I also looked up the word for “pussycat.” Spanish: minino. Dutch: poesje. Polish: kisia. Korean: goyang-i. Japanese: neko neko. Italian: micia. Hungarian: punci. Swedish: kisse (which I think is adorbz).

I restrained myself (ran out of time, really) before I could look up different versions of “meow.” Another time, I will. (But Julia’s pousiquette would have said “miaou.” With a French accent, no doubt.)

My husband and I have traveled a bit, and we love meeting cats around the world, no matter how they purr. I was in Mexico, staying at a small resort, where cats had the run of the place. The cats’ main duties seemed to be to take up lounge chairs and hope guests would drop ice cream. Each resort cat that had been neutered had a slight clip on the ear to indicate its nonreproductive status. (I understand this is also a practice in the US, a procedure known as TNR, for Trap-Neuter-Release. The clipped ear indicates the cat does not need to be trapped again. But I digress.)

In the Slovenian Alps, we met another cat with a much more strenuous job. As tourists went single file exploring the Plitvice Lakes, at the head of the column trotted a black-and-white cat who seemed to have appointed itself the tour guide. It was easy to follow even in the falling snow.

In Dubrovnik, we met a small black kitten, who proved that cat games are universal. We had dropped a brown paper bag on the ground and the kitten immediately crawled into it. We thought it was playing the bag-mice game, in which a cat makes a rattling sound in a bag and then tries to catch the imaginary mouse. But when we tried to extract the cat, we quickly learned that it would not leave the bag and wanted to go home with us. We were tempted.

Soon, we hope to go to Ireland, where, disappointingly, the pussycats will purr, just as they do in the US. Maybe we’ll find out whether Irish pussycats play the bag-mice game too. I’m betting yes.

My Personal Style

I didn’t think I had a personal style, until I invented one for myself. I’ve never been a Victim of Fashion or a Fashionista. Maybe an Unfashionista, but that’s about it.

Ever since college, jeans have been my uniform. (Except when I worked at a Frisch’s and had to wear a real uniform, or when I worked in an office and had to dress like a Respectable Business Lady, or now that I work at home and wear nightshirts or flannel pjs all day. Come to think of it, I really only have two pairs of jeans now. But I digress. Whenever I go out, unless it’s to a funeral, I wear jeans.)

My mother sewed and she made a lot of my clothes when I was a kid. When I got to the college-jeans stage, she made me western shirts (the kind with the yokes and the pearl snaps) and patchwork vests. Sometimes she got whimsical and made me something special. I particularly loved the Robin Hood hat she made me, which I wore to Beginning Archery class. (The instructor just rolled her eyes.)

Actually, my fashion “sense” was pretty well summed up by what I considered appropriate winter outerwear. I rocked an authentic army-surplus, lined, olive drab jacket (with the snorkel hood lined with real fur). The capacious pockets held my wallet, my student ID, and my driver’s license, and sometimes a paperback book. Snowmobile boots completed the ensemble.

So what goes with jeans? T-shirts, of course! I have quite a collection, many of which I purchased at science fiction conventions. Many of them were lost in the tornado that hit our house. I still remember fondly the one with a picture of the Death Star and the caption “Ceci n’est pas une lune,” which is really hysterical if you know Star Wars, French, and art. Yes, it’s obscure, but when I saw it, I couldn’t do without it.

For a while, I went through a Banana Republic phase. (This was before they sold out to The Gap, for which I never forgave them.) Adventure clothing seemed the ultimate in cool to me. Plus, everything was khaki or olive drab, which made accessorizing easy – camo scarves, wooden beads, and amber earrings. (I fondly remember driving to Erlanger, KY, near the Cincinnati airport, where the B.R. outlet lived. The first time I got to an actual Banana Republic store, in La Jolla, I hyperventilated. If I could afford full price, which I usually couldn’t, I shopped their catalogues, or sometimes just read the awesome travel stories and daydreamed.)

When I did wear skirts, I chose the midi-length (mid-calf), unless I could only find business clothes that hit me right at the knee. I even admit that in high school, I wore granny boots with midi-dresses, which about summed up my fashion sense at the time. (I also had a red and beige gaucho outfit, about which the less said the better. It even came with a red gaucho hat.)

Then there’s my purses. They were always large enough to carry one or more paperback books. Until my back gave out, of course, and I had to switch to an e-reader. Now a regular-sized purse accommodates over 1,300 books. When I saw the slouchy pouches that women were carrying a few years ago, I fell in love. Not only would they hold books, but snacks, hats, phone, wallet (if I carried one, which I don’t, my money being tucked into my jeans pockets).

Anyway, if I should ever give up my jeans (and couldn’t wear my nightshirts and flannels), I would have to go with a mish-mosh that I invented myself. Midi-skirts, still, I think. Keep the t-shirts. Ballet flats (not Birkenstocks). Patchwork whenever possible. Camo accessories and lots of semiprecious beads. I’d keep my boring navy slacks and top for funerals, of course. (During my Business Lady phase, I owned a black Liz Claiborne dress that I bought on clearance. For a while, it was my go-to funeral dress, but I had to wear a jacket over it, as the back was a little low-cut. Awful for summertime funerals.)

I can just imagine the get-ups I could create. And I’ve even invented a name for the look. I call it Boho Hobo.

Tiny Little Type

We’ve all heard and, I hope, know and live by the advice to always read the fine print. Generally, that refers to contracts or other official documents we must sign.

Well, that’s all well and wonderful, and certainly good advice, but the problem remains as to how we are to read that fine print. I know my eyes are aging (quite possibly faster than the rest of me) and reading fine print does not come as easily as it used to. Even the recent bump up in the power of my glasses and the enhanced bifocal lenses have not helped me read ingredient labels or the 800 numbers on insurance cards and the like.

What to do?

First, you can give the document (or whatever) to another person and let them read it to you. My husband exists for this purpose (among many others) because he is nearsighted. I am farsighted and so have especial trouble reading the fine print. (If we had ever had a child, I maintain that the far- and nearsightedness would have canceled out and she or he would have had perfect vision. But I digress.)

Then there’s the ever-useful magnifying glass. Except try to find one when you need it. “Reading glasses” that you find in drugstores are no help either. Would I wear them over my prescription glasses or under? Reading glasses certainly wouldn’t address any of my other eye problems such as crossed eyes.

There is a trick I learned just the other day. If you are trying to read the prescription number on a bottle of pills, for example, simply whip out your camera (easier to find than a magnifying glass), take a quick snap, then use the camera to enlarge the image. (Of course I still always ask the pharmacist if next time, could they please use smaller type? They never get it.)

But you can’t use that trick in every situation, I guess. There’s no use taking pictures of every square inch of a road map and blowing them up, for example. For that you do need the magnifying glass, which I can guarantee is not in the glove compartment of your car, along with the gloves that aren’t there either. Or a road map with larger lettering, which would be twice as hard to refold.

For everyday reading, you can use large-type books, which I refuse to be seen with, or a computer that will enlarge your screen. This only works on certain devices, though. Thankfully, my e-reader is one of them. I can bump up the point size till there’s only one word on a page.

Still, my farsightedness does come in useful for small type that is at a distance from me, such as on the television. (I could probably read the pill bottle if my arms were longer. Say, about two feet longer.)

There are some interesting things in the fine print on TV. There’s always the “Drink responsibly” warning that’s in type as small as that on road maps. (Does anyone really think that those messages actually cause someone to forego that fourth beer before they drive home?) And there are the disclaimers that the person in the ad does or does not really have the disease the medication the commercial is promoting.

But there’s lots more to learn – for example, the definition of perineum (aka “taint”) in medical commercials. And in case you didn’t know it already, you can learn that the car is driven by a stunt driver on a closed course. You can even find out what that liquid is they’re soaking up with the paper towel (150 ml of “green juice”).

One of my favorites is a commercial that shows a person falling down the stairs. The disclaimer reads: “This was not a person. It was a dummy we threw down the stairs.” That was welcome news.

My absolute favorite is an ad for chicken that offers “serving suggestions.” You know, like on the cracker boxes where the crackers are all Martha-Stewarted and the fine print says “serving suggestion” as if you intended to serve naked crackers to your guests. Well, the chicken ad showed: broiled chicken (serving suggestion); roasted chicken (serving suggestion); barbecued chicken (serving suggestion); and oops chicken – it fell on the ground and the dog was eating it. It still said “serving suggestion.”

If you can’t read these disclaimers on TV, just pause the program and rummage through your desk for that pesky magnifying glass. Or get your husband to read the fine print to you. He’ll feel useful, and trust me, it can be educational or at least worth a giggle.