Monthly Archives: September 2013

Punctuation Marks I Wish We Had


I don’t know if you recognize the punctuation sign above. You might if you are of a certain age. Time magazine first proposed it in the ’60’s as a way of conveying excitement and interrogation. It’s called an “interrobang” and it would be used in a sentence like this:

“What in the Sam Hill were you thinking ” Or, if you can’t do the funky thing with your fonts, you can write “!?” or “?!” but it’s not as cool looking.

There’s an article in Mental Floss about other punctuation marks we could use. I’d like to. I especially like the rhetorical question mark and the irony mark. Maybe because I frequently am. Rhetorical and ironic, that it. Maybe you will like these as well. Here’s the link to the articlePoint d'acclamation.svg

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Windows and Walls


Recently I went to visit the ATM at my local bank, and something was different. The ATM had been moved down a few feet, and the driveup windows were gone. In their place was a blank brick wall. I thought at first that they had closed the drive-up, which didn’t make any sense because the lanes and carrier machines were still in place. I went in and asked them what happened to the drive-up windows. They said they had been bricked over for security reasons and the tellers used closed-circuit cameras. I also noticed that the tellers inside the bank were behind what I assumed to be bullet-proof glass. I didn’t ask any more questions so they wouldn’t think I was casing the joint.

I suppose that the most determined thieves would not be deterred by a brick wall although it would give pause to most. There are also those geniuses who try to pull ATM’s out of the wall. My question is, once they have it, what do they do with it? You can’t exactly ride around with an ATM in the back of your pickup without attracting a lot of attention. Anyhow, it’s a sad day when banks feel they have to close up their drive-through windows and put their tellers behind glass.

We have all become used to increased security since 9/11, which has manifested itself in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Everyone knows about the 3-ounce liquid limit with carryons and taking our shoes off at security while flyi8ng. It could be worse. I taught with a woman who made frequent trips to Israel on El Al. She said that the security process before a flight could take four to five hours. Every bit of luggage was searched and checked by bomb-sniffing dogs, and every passenger was questioned, sometimes several times, by security people toting semi-automatic weapons. If your luggage or your story was the least bit out of line, you didn’t fly. Now that’s security.

We hear about conspiracies and plots when suspects are arrested, although I believe we don’t know half of what is going on. It’s just as well—all this attention to security can create a sort of semi-permanent anxiety and paranoia. Even the church I go to has security people and a security plan with three levels depending on the severity of the threat. At first, I thought a church of all places would be safe, but as we know there have been shootings of pastors and shootings inside churches. Schools were similarly considered safe until Columbine in 1999. All this has become part of our lives.

Given the situation, what do we do? I would suggest that we do what I see most people doing—go calmly about our business. The statistical probability of dying in a terrorist attack is quite low, so we can relax know we’ll probably die of something else. Focusing on the relationships and faith we have and contributing to our communities are the best ways we have to provide for our own safety.

We should be grateful for those who guard us. As George Orwell is reputed to have said, “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” I would amend “rough men” to read “courageous men and women.” I know I could not do what they do.

It’s no surprise that the world is, and always has been, a dangerous place. Personally, I remember the “duck and cover” drills in the ‘50’s where we practiced what we would do in the event of a nuclear attack. The answer was, cower in fear, which we did. My class one year was to go outside in the hall and cower next to a large wall made of glass brick. Even as a nine year old, I thought this was not the best idea I’d ever seen. We could have used my bank’s blank brick wall, but thank goodness it never came to that.

Dame Julian of Norwich, an English mystic who lived from about 1342 until about 1416, understood threat and upheaval. England during her time was visited by the Black Death, which took off up to half of the population. Peasants revolted several times during her lifetime, and the political situation was uncertain. Most people lived short, hard-working lives and never traveled more than eight miles from the place they were born. And yet, out of all of this, Julian wrote words that we can take to heart in our present situation: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”



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What I Learned from Baseball

Zimmerman at Bat

Well, it’s the end of another baseball season and once again my team, the Nationals, are not going on to the playoffs after an up and down season. They did have a strong finish after floundering for much of the season. I suppose I should be accustomed to this turn of events, having been a Senators fan while they were here. Now I’m a Nationals supporter, always having been a home teamer regardless of how good the home team was. It’s a time of year with a great deal of ambivalence. On one hand, watching Messrs. Zimmerman, Strasburg, LaRoche, Harper, Gonzalez, Rendon, Werth, Desmond, Ramos, et. al. ply their trade was often enjoyable; on the other, I’m glad they won’t lose any more games this year. Thanks for the high points, fellas, and for the reminder of what baseball can teach us. I’m not suggesting these are valid for anyone else: I am struck by how many life lessons baseball can teach us if we pay attention. Here are some lessons I’ve learned from the game:

Never give up. I was surprised this summer to see a major league player give up on a fly ball that scored a winning run. Sure, it looked like the runner would score and he did, but as our coaches used to tell us, anything can happen. The runner could fall down. Lightning could strike the ball. Make the play. Run it out. Never stop trying. If we did not run out a play to first base, we ran laps around the field after the game. A good life lesson as well.

Team work is important. Not even Willie Mays could play all by himself. It takes all nine positions working together to make it work. That’s why seeing a game in person is so important. Easily half the game is watching the players move around to back each other up. The catcher runs down the first base line on a throw to first, just in case. The cut-off man goes out to take the throw from the outfield. They’re all working together as a team to do what they cannot do as individuals.

Play your position. Do your job, and don’t interfere with anyone else doing theirs. This might seem contrary to team work but it’s actually an important part of it. In a double play, if everyone does his job, the work gets done.

Keep your eye on the ball. It’s no accident that this has entered the language as a means of saying “Focus. Think about what you’re doing.” It applies equally to hitting and fielding. If a fielder takes his eyes off the ball, you can bet something bad is going to happen. True also in life. Focus. Think about what you’re doing.

Work to improve. The teams I played on were so low down in the talent scale we could have looked for oil while we were there. And yet we had practice each week and tried to become better players. It didn’t make much difference, but it’s an important principle in life whether it is applied to baseball or writing or singing or running.

Practice, practice, practice. This is a corollary to the lesson above. Even professional classical musicians practice every day and they’re great at what they do.

The Tom Hanks Rule: There’s no crying in baseball. The one successful season a team I was on came when we were twelve years old in the minor league of Little League ball. Other younger teams cried when something went wrong or they lost. We didn’t. I think that’s why we were successful. But we cried the year before, just like the other teams. Makes it harder to play well.

Arguing with an umpire is like smashing into a rock. Nothing changes except you hurt yourself. There are some situations in life where you just have to walk away. Knowing when to do so is another important life skill.

Listen to your coaches. No matter how much you know about something, unless you are the unacknowledged Master of the Universe, there’s someone who knows more about a subject than you do. Look for those people who can help you. Listen to them.

Sometimes strange things happen. The balls hits a base or an umpire. A fan interferes. Sometimes unfortunate things happen. Shrug them off and go on. Sometimes fortunate events occur. Rejoice in them and go on.

Baseball will break your heart. Over and over again. Count on it. And there is much in life to break your heart. However…

There’s always hope. No matter how bad things look, never give up hope whether it’s in a game, a season or a situation. Hold on to that hope.

And, perhaps the most important thing I have learned from baseball…there’s always next year. Go, Nats!


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I thought “ovenable” was a relatively new word, about ten years old at the most. It appeared on food labels as a way of indicating that a container could be heated in an oven. It turns out that it dates back to 1977. I should pay more attention. (There’s also “dual ovenable” and even “triovenable” now—suitable for use in a conventional oven, microwave or toaster oven.)

I have been thinking about ovens lately because the control panel on our three-year-old electric wall oven started peeling off in a rather large flap, taking with it the labels for the various functions of the appliance. The panel is one of those push pad designs usually found on microwaves. The pad sits above the oven cavity and apparently the heat got to be too much for it. I thought about gluing it back since I would rather repair than replace but I couldn’t think of a glue that would work. I won’t reveal the name of the manufacturer of the oven except to say that it involves two letters of the alphabet and it is a very large company. I thought of checking with the manufacturer to see if they would fix the panel for free since it really shouldn’t have delaminated so soon. I was prepared to argue with, reason with and beg them to fix our oven, being all too familiar with out-of-warranty appliances. I sent an email to their consumer site and they wrote back saying, essentially, sure, we’ll replace the control panel for free, sorry you have a problem, and when would you like to schedule the repair? It was too easy. I have gotten used to be ignored at worse and denied at best when I ask for something to be rectified. I’m in a bit of a state of shock about, but it bodes well for other situations when something is not right. Maybe it’s the beginning of a new day in America. (Or maybe not.)

So I don’t have to resort to cooking our food in the dishwasher. I recalled seeing some articles about cooking food in the dishwasher, and when I checked, sure enough, there were several recipes. Fish seems to be the favorite for dishwasher cooking, although there were a couple of recipes for beef. If you’re interested in trying this (and I don’t know why you would be if you have an oven), wrap the fish or meat in a foil pouch and then put it in the dishwasher for a couple of cycles. It seems to me that this is a lot of sound and fury (to say nothing of water and energy) to cook some food. I suppose you could do it to say you’ve done it. I used to work with a guy who put a can of soup on the engine of the truck we used. By lunchtime the soup was just about boiling. I could see doing this since we didn’t have an oven in the truck and it was winter. It’s also possible to wrap food in foil, put it on the engine of your car, drive some and have cooked food. I’m not recommending you try any of these methods: I’m just saying it’s possible.

Our present oven is a sight better than the one we replaced. I don’t remember the manufacturer so I can’t give you a veiled allusion so you can be an informed consumer. The single virtue of this oven was that it had two main controls. One dial (it had dials) had four positions: bake, timed bake, broil and off. The other dial controlled the temperature. To run the oven, you set the first dial to bake (or whatever) and the second to the temperature to what you wanted. The oven ran both too hot and too cold (or too fast or too slow as we cooking types like to say), and the controls for the timed cook feature had broken off long ago so we had to use a pair of pliers to set them. The oven was also an apartment model which meant it was too small to take a standard baking sheet. (We think the builders put in an apartment oven to make the kitchen look bigger since the house was a model for the neighborhood.) Something was always falling off the appliance such as the handle or the door. We used it for about 19 years until we couldn’t stand it any longer.

So, the control panel has arrived and the service technician has come out and put it in. Sometimes things just work out well, and that’s always gratifying.


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A Poem for the Day

Edmund Fitzgerald

A touching, elegant poem by Donald Hall about his wife Jane Kenyon during her final illness.

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Disappearing Jobs

Disappearing Job

There are various lists of jobs that are on the way out, some more clearly than others. This one is a compilation from several of those. don’t say I didn’t warn you.

 Retail store cashier.

Photo film processor. .

CD and video store employees.

Unions and organizers.

Encyclopedia author.

Miners of all varieties

Construction jobs

Fighter pilot.

Call center staff.

Oil company drillers and wildcatters.

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In Honor and Memory of Those Affected by the Navy Yard Shootings


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September 16, 2013 · 8:18 pm

What Year Was I Born In?

Born in 1947

This is not a rhetorical question I ask of myself since I know the answer (or know what I’ve been told: I was there, but not up to understand what a year was, or anything else, for that matter); nor is it a solipsistic request for information (not under the Freedom of Information or any other Act.). Instead, it was a question I was asked by a political pollster yesterday as part of a political poll about my preferences in the upcoming gubernatorial race in Virginia. (I like the word “gubernatorial,” don’t you? It’s fun to say and a challenge to spell. I got it right the first time, but don’t try the same thing at home, boys and girls—I’m a professional!)

Anyhow, I don’t normally answer calls from people I don’t recognize on the caller ID (one of the great inventions of all time, as far as I’m concerned. You can ignore people you don’t want to talk to and greet people using their name which is impressive unless it’s a husband using his wife’s line or vice-verse. Then it’s just confusing or embarrassing), but in this case I took a chance and found it was a nice young man wanting to know my opinions on the race. What I have plenty of is opinions, so I filled his ear with them, which seemed to make him happy. I had guessed right. If a pollster is calling from the party opposite the one you support, it results in an argument or a very short call. I prefer the latter.

So, as the nice young man was closing his survey out, he asked me, “What year were you born in?”

I wouldn’t have minded telling him how old I was (I’m 65), but it occurred to me that this was a way to find out someone’s age without actually asking them since many people take umbrage (and probably sackage and sockage and tollage and other forms of offense) to being asked directly. I had to smile at the cleverness of this approach to a bit of data that has to be pried out of some people. It’s anyone’s right not to reveal his or her age. I supposed I could have answered, “Long ago in a galaxy far way,” but that’s only true in my imagination. And I did like the young man, so I was glad to surrender my secret. I’ve been eligible for Medicare for some months now and it’s a good time! I hope more people get to experience it!


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September 11

It has been twelve years, but the memories of that day are still fresh in my mind. We had been in school for about week. Mid-way through the second period of the day, our principal Ann Monday came over the PA system to say that an airplane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. We had been atop one of the Towers just three weeks earlier, and I remember looking down and seeing a Cessna flying along the Hudson below us. I figured it was a light aircraft, and that couldn’t do much damage. My students were working on an assignment, and I looked quickly at my computer for a news feed. What I saw were the shocking images we are all too familiar with from that day.

The students finished their assignment, and were curious to see what was happening. We had a news feed on the classroom television, so I turned that on, telling them that they probably didn’t want to see it. They didn’t  react much, but left in silence. Then, chaos ensued as students gathered, hugging and crying, especially as news leaked out of the attack on the Pentagon where some of their parents worked. I remember especially one of my students who had come from Afghanistan holding another student whose father worked at the Pentagon.

Parents began arriving in droves to pick up their students because the phone lines were tied up. Classes were clearly done for the day, so I helped parents find classrooms. The buses came early, and soon the school was deserted. The teachers went to their cars and left.

I drove home listening to the news on the radio, thinking that the brother of one of our daughter Amy’s college friends worked on the 101st floor of one of the towers. Matthew Horning did not survive. We remember him every year with a donation to Heifer, International, which provides families around the world with livestock to allow them to improve their lives.

Everything was canceled that dark day, and our daughters joined us for dinner. There was no school the next day, and with all flights cancelled, an odd silence in the skies as no giant airliners came above our house on their way to land at Dulles Airport.

And so we remember…sacrifice and courage, and the day that “the world stopped turning.” May we never forget.

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A Tale of Two Picnics


Normally, I suspect that many of us think of the time after Labor Day as being too late in the season for picnics. Of course, there are no Picnic Police (not yet, anyhow) to prevent us from having a picnic any darn time we want to. I taught with a fellow who grilled out on his balcony every evening, regardless of the weather and of the season. He used the leftovers for his lunch, and he had one of the best lunches going.

This weekend we went to a couple of really good picnics. One was at Caton Merchant House Saturday, an assisted living facility where my dad lives. It is a fabulous place, with a caring and competent staff. They had all sorts of food and a bluegrass band, with residents and families enjoying the fine weather and the good food.

Sunday our church had its annual picnic, staged by the deacons. They supplied hot dogs and hamburgers, and members of the church brought side dishes. Church people can cook! We spread out under some canopies on the front lawn of the church and had a good time eating and talking. We met some nice people who were prospects both for the Bible study class I co-teach and for Becky’s children’s choirs.

We don’t normally like to eat outdoors, but the weather cooperated and the food and company were great on both occasions. You can’t ask for more than that!

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