Reading the Encyclopedia Britannica – February 20, 2018 – Daily Chronicle

You’ve probably heard of the universal study aid called CliffsNotes. I’ve discovered the ultimate CliffsNotes in regard to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

In a book, “The Know-It-All” by A. J. Jacobs, he describes it as “one man’s humble quest to become the smartest person in the world.”

Jacobs read the entire 2002 Encyclopedia Britannica from “a-ak” to “Zywiec.” EB contains 65,000 entries with 44 million words. It does not include all entries, of course, but he writes amusingly and informatively about many topics.

That little groove between your nose and upper lip is called a philtron – a great word when playing Scrabble.

A mule is the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse, and the hinny is from a female donkey and a male horse. Evidently, there are gaps in our educational system. I did not know this, and I hope to spring that on friends when there’s a gap in conversation.

I always liked the song “Blue Moon” but did not know a blue moon is caused by dust in the air after a forest fire.

In the British Isles, the Halloween jack-o-lantern is made from a turnip – not a pumpkin.

I can’t verify this entry, but if you wished to visit Queen Victoria, don’t knock. She insisted you gently scratch on her door.

She wore a bustle that played “God save the Queen.” Today’s whoopee cushion.

Did you know the graham cracker was invented by Sylvester Graham, an eccentric health guru?

I did know this: Raccoons wash their food before eating. How hygienic.

An English semicolon used to be an interrogation mark in Greek.

Early typewriters were the size of pianos and only had capital letters. Then came a double-keyboard machine – two keys for each letter, small and large. This was followed by the invention of the shift key.

Jacobs’ book is by my bedside, and I read it during bouts of hyposomnia. That’s when you don’t sleep well. Insomnia is when you can’t sleep at all. I didn’t know that, either. Maybe I’ll sleep better knowing this.

My personal ambition now is to read the entire dictionary from “aardvark” (a burrowing animal) to “zyzzyva” (various tropical American weevils). I have no idea how many words are in there, but it’s a lot!

Maybe I should wait for Reader’s Digest to publish a condensed version.

So many words, so little time.


Imagination has its benefits, trappings – February 3, 2018 – Daily Chronicle

“The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless.”

So wrote the French philosopher, Jean Jacques Rousseau, born in the 18th century.

My conception of it is that it’s the wheels on the engine of progress. All our modern technology comes from someone’s imagination. It is what drives us to strive for newer and better things.

Imagination may be good or bad. It could lead to wrong conclusions, if we get carried away with it.

Solitude is a fertile soil to let one’s imagination take root and great thoughts, (as well as incorrect ones), to grow.

A TV commercial years ago portrayed a mother oversleeping and imagining her children going off to school without breakfast in a blizzard. Didn’t happen.

Some people put their imagination to work and invent or explore in their quest for a better life.

Imagination was at play when Columbus imagined the earth was round, instead of flat, urging him to find a new route to India.

Perhaps the Wright brothers imagined what it would be like to soar above the earth and that compelled them to find out with their flying machine.

Imagination also can cause us to picture all sorts of calamities, making us needlessly worry.

I recall an old anecdote about someone with an overactive imagination when he had a flat tire on a lonely country road.

Seeing lights in a farmhouse, he walked back toward it, framing his request in his mind, to borrow a jack. He imagined the reception he would receive knocking on their door late at night. He became more enraged as he walked, imagining the occupant saying he had no jack, or turning off lights when he knocked, pretending no one was home.

By the time he stood before the farmer, he was so angry, he shouted, “You can just keep your darn jack,” and stomped away without making a request.

When I am undergoing an unpleasant experience, I imagine myself in a happy place – from my past or an upcoming event that will give me pleasure, such as spending time with my son and daughter.

Try it. It helps.

Have you ever imagined what people think about you?

You shouldn’t – because they seldom do!

Nostalgia: A nice place to visit – but not to live – January 17, 2018 – Daily Chronicle

Instead of discussing the tragic events of 2017, a friend and I recently reminisced about “the good old days.”

Recalling Sunday drives, we wondered, “Do people still do that?”

She remarked, “How did we survive without seat belts and infant car seats?”

Some of us grew up without central heating, indoor plumbing, refrigerators, etc.

Recalling my youth growing up in a small town, I paraphrased an old saying for her: A small town is where something is no sooner done than said.

I told her that if I got into mischief, my parents often knew about it before I arrived home.

While in high school, I once pulled a muscle during gym class and bought a bottle of rubbing alcohol before walking home after school with some school mates. I pretended to sip from the unopened bottle and playfully staggered a bit. Someone called my parents before I arrived home, saying I was inebriated.

Those were innocent times and a much simpler lifestyle. We usually remember the good things and forget we did not have all the luxuries we have today. Most of us want to return if we could retain today’s creature comforts.

Russians launched Sputnik in 1957, and we were never the same again. Jack Parr, the late night television talk show host, remarked “From outhouses to outer space.” We wrongly thought they were behind us in technology.

We had not heard of drug overdoses. Drugs, prescribed by our family doctor, were purchased at the drug store – not on some dark street corner.

Teenagers, for the most part, had two parents and they did not seek the companionship of gangs as a family unit.

Highlight of the week was Saturday night when stores were open and farmers came to town with their wives and children. Fathers went to the local tavern and had a few beers with fellow farmers to discuss crops.  Mothers to purchase weekly groceries and the children bought a nickel bag of popcorn and walked the streets with fellow farmers’ children, where courtships often began.

Every time you gain something, you also lose something.

With all our modern conveniences, we may have sacrificed our innocence.

Let’s hope that modernism is more worthwhile than what we lost.

Treasure today. It’s a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.




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Reflections on Snow, Beautiful Snow –   January 3, 2018 – Daily Chronicle

We were blessed with a picturesque snowfall on the morning of Dec. 24. The kind that makes one think of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas.” It depends on your point of view, of course, whether or not you think we were blessed. You might have been waiting for a plane or you may have been at the working end of a snow shovel or plow. That would greatly diminish your thrill.

It was beautiful, however, as I pictured the angels in heaven, sifting flour from a giant sifter, making cookies for us mortals.

I thought about Bob Hope traveling millions of miles as he entertained our troops overseas during World War II. He often brought celebrities along. Pardon me as I momentarily digress. It’s that kind of morning, as I gaze out my window, watching the picturesque picture unfolding, turning the world into a “Winter Wonderland.”

Marilyn Monroe once accompanied him. She related her experience to her then husband, Joe DiMaggio, saying, “Joe you can’t imagine what a thrill it was to hear 50,000 people cheering for you.”

I’m sure you get the irony of her statement as he was no stranger to cheering crowds himself.

I reminisced about another Christmas Eve when I walked to church with one of my three brothers who had just returned from military service.

There was little traffic and all was peaceful and serene as we walked through the pristine snow, unmarred by car traffic or footsteps. Church bells where ringing all over in our small town and all was peaceful and quiet.

I often wonder why we always expect a white Christmas. I don’t believe there was snow in Bethlehem on that epic night as shepherds were watching over their grazing sheep.

Artists depicting Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem do not show snow anywhere. Is it just us northerners who think it’s not Christmas without a blanket of snow?

Snow does promote shopping as it puts one in the mood to shop. Church bells weren’t the only things ringing in days of old. (This will indicate my age.) But cash registers no longer ring as they once did. It’s a silent electronic transaction now as we hand over a credit card.

I hope you enjoyed the snow and Christmas as I did.

Happy New Year.

A CHRISTMAS WISH – Complete with humor – December 16, 2017 – Daily Chronicle

As we near the Christmas holiday — filled with joyous anticipation, I recall Christmas when our son and daughter were young.

Most families have traditions and rituals that they observe each year.  One of our traditions when we trimmed our Christmas tree was to play a Mitch Miller sing along album of Christmas songs, singing along as we bent to the task.

Once finished, we sat by the light of the tree and I’d read my favorite anecdote from an old Readers’ Digest.

I could never get through the reading without breaking into gales of laughter as I read the last line so they could never hear the ending.  I love subtle humor.

It still cracks me up, even as I was typing it here. I hope you will find it as amusing as I still do after all these years.  Here it is.

The British ambassador was in Washington D.C. some years back. About a fortnight before Christmas, he was rung up by the local radio station.

“Ambassador,” said the caller, “What would you like for Christmas?”

“I shouldn’t dream of accepting anything.”

“Seriously, we would like to know and don’t be stuffy.  You have, after all, been very kind to us during the year.”

“Oh, well, if you absolutely insist,” he said and then told him what he would like.

He thought no more about it until Christmas Eve when he switched on the radio.

We have made a little Christmas survey all on our own,” said the announcer.  “We asked three visiting ambassadors what they would like for Christmas.”

The French ambassador said, “Peace on earth, a great interest in human literature and understanding, and an end to war and strife.”

Then we asked the German ambassador and he said, “A great upsurge in international trade, insuring growth and prosperity, particularly in the underdeveloped countries.  That is what I wish for Christmas.”

Then we asked the British ambassador and he said he would like a small box of crystallized fruit.”

I loved the subtle humor

As our son and daughter grew up, when there was a need for a stern lecture for misbehavior, they’d distract me by saying “crystallized fruit.”

It worked and I’d crack up again.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I still do.

Merry Christmas.

Impending Danger – Real or Imagined? – December 4, 2017 – Daily Chronicle

During breakfast one morning, a late intruder landed next to my plate – a wasp!  It was probably seeking a warmer place for the coming winter.

I attempted to banish it with my fly swatter, but only crippled it.  It fell to the floor and lay there, fluttering its wings, writhing in pain.  Turning to get a tissue to finish the task and clean it up, I could not find it.

I felt badly as I knew it was hurting and it had done me no harm.  I feared I had angered it and it might find me later, seeking revenge.  Aren’t we all a bit like that most of the time, fearful of impending danger?

Driving alone at night, stopped at a traffic signal, a pedestrian may approach, minding his own business.  We sense danger nonetheless when no threatening movement has been made.

Our first thought could be to lock all the car doors, fearing the worst.

Someone once said to me “Worrying is a fast get-away on a rocking horse.”

Back to the wasp — it did not emerge again so I was unable to put it out of its misery.  Thinking it was one of God’s creations, I could not bear the thought of it suffering because of my bumbling effort to annihilate it.

And yet, all the while during my sorrow over its sad plight, came the thought, “If there is any justice, they should all end up somewhere so we humans could flail our arms at them for all of eternity and annoy them like they did us on earth at picnics or while sun bathing.    Let’s see how they like it.”

That night as I tried to sleep, I uneasily thought it may rise up in the night, find me and interrupt my slumber. Who says worrying doesn’t help?  Most of the things we worry about never happen.

And so I slept.

I found it, dead, the next morning, not far from where I had last seen it. Several old sayings about fretting about things that may or may not happen came to mind.

It ain’t no use putting up your umbrella till it rains by Alice Hegan Rice.

It’s true we live in troubled times, but it is folly to rake leaves before they fall from the trees.

Good maxims for all of us to remember.

Change of Seasons – November 15, 2017 – Daily Chronicle

        On a gray and dismal October afternoon, I pondered how quickly the summer had passed. As we get older, the months slip by more quickly, like an object falling down a hill, escalating as we reach bottom.  Is it just my imagination?

          I enjoy the fact that we have four season.  Each season brings its own magic.  It would be boring to live elsewhere and not enjoy the wonders of Nature as it unfolds each spring.

        Years ago, it was a joy to sit on the front porch on a summer evening, trying to catch a cool summer breeze, listening to the chirp of the robin.  With air conditioning, we sit in our closed up homes now and don’t see anyone who might be walking by that we could invite to join us on our front porch for a glass of lemonade and a visit.  Or we sit on patios in our back yard out of sight.

        In October, we have mixed emotions watching the leaves change color and gently float to the ground below. A neighbor using his leaf blower or lawn mower mars our reverie.

        The leaves turn their usual bright hues.  It ends all too soon, like a shipboard romance but, oh, wasn’t it wonderful while it lasted?

        Now we are in the throes of November.  I was curious as to what a “throe” was, so I looked it up.  It’s a violent pang or spasm of pain as in childbirth or the crisis of an illness. That did not seem to fit.  Reading further, I learned it’s “a condition of agonizing struggle or effort.”  BINGO!  That says it all when we think of the winter months ahead.

        The trees are bare, save for the last few “hangers-on” — much like guests who find it hard to depart, lingering in our doorway.

        By mid-November, most of us have adjusted to the time change; litter from the Halloween pranksters has disappeared.

        Mothers begin planning for Thanksgiving when all roads lead home.

        Christmas can’t come soon enough for the little ones and much too quickly for parents.

        Din from lawn mowers and leaf blowers is replaced with snow blowers.

        Calendars for 2018 are already here.  It’s the “inexorable March of Time,” as we heard years ago on a radio program.

        How sad would be November if we had no knowledge of Spring.*

 (*From a quote found in an old Readers Digest.)

Some Thoughts on Writing – October 12, 2017 – Daily Chronicle

There are more serious topics to discuss. This is meant to take your mind off of current events.

With Facebook, Texting, and Twitter on our computers we have added to the spate of people sharing our thinking.

Picture Abraham Lincoln tweeting the Gettysburg address on Twitter instead of writing it on the back of an envelope.  Sadly, it may not have survived the ages.

Watching a documentary about Mark Twain amazed me when I found that he wrote his manuscripts in longhand before the invention of the typewriter or computer.  He was one of the first writers to use a typewriter once it was invented.  With a mind like his, imagine what he could do were he alive today.  Goes to show you that equipment is not a prerequisite for success in the writing field.  All it takes to be successful is to have a creative mind like Twain had.

True, he was also very successful on the lecture circuit. Who hasn’t heard at least several of his witticisms that have survived all these years.

With the ease to write our thoughts electronically, there are few letters these days  to be read and cherish in the future.

Just think — all the words in the dictionary are available to us all.  It’s just that some people are able to put them together in a more entertaining and interesting way than many of us.

There once was an exhibit of someone’s photography.  One viewer remarked, “You must have a wonderful camera.”

When asked her profession, she replied she was a successful, best-selling author, to which the photographer replied, “You must have a wonderful typewriter.”

Gerald Ochs Davis, Sr., wrote the following in “Fifty Years in Publishing,”

“One day God decided he would visit the earth.  Strolling down the road, God encountered a sobbing man.  “Why are you crying, my son?”  The man said, “God, I am blind.”  So God touched him and the man could see and he was happy.  As God walked farther he met another crying man and asked, “Why are you crying, my son?” The man said, “God, I am crippled.”  So God touched him and the man could walk and he was happy. Farther down the road, God met yet a third man crying and asked the same question.  The man said, “God, I’m a writer.” and God sat down and cried with him.


Civility and Kindness are alive and well in DeKalb – September 14, 2017 – Daily Chronicle

It seems like a mockery and unfair to be enjoying such beautiful fall weather here when others are being so devastated by hurricanes and other disasters.

Not to be insensitive, but I would like to change the subject for a little while.

We are truly blessed to be living here in DeKalb for many reasons.

I am not a native of DeKalb and am so thankful to be living here.  The citizens here are the friendliest and most thoughtful people I have ever met.

There is a lot of talk on radio and television about hate in America.  I beg to differ.  I find kindness and consideration every day from total strangers.  Civility and kindness is alive and well here.

When we dine out, it is a rarity to open a door ourselves.  Someone is always entering or leaving as we are and holds the door for us.  This kind gesture is combined with a friendly “hello” and “have a nice day.”   Not only from adults but from younger people, as well as the restaurant staff.

With the many stories of man’s inhumanity to man that fill the pages of newspapers and media reports, I like to concentrate on the fact that there is more good in the world than bad, even though the shooting rampages and other tragedies make headlines.

In the news business there is a slogan, “If it bleeds, it leads.”   But they are only giving the readers what they want so I am not blaming them.

We might miss a kind gesture shown us at times.  Our own attitude can define the kind of treatment we are accorded.  This anecdote may explain it better than I can.

Newcomers in a small Vermont town were asked by a shopkeeper why they left their previous town.    They replied that people were so rude and unfriendly,  they left.

The shopkeeper told them they would probably find that people were the same here.

They asked the same question of another couple, and they replied that they loved where they came from as people were wonderful and very friendly.

He replied in the same way he did to the other persons. This sounds like a contradiction but I believe you get the subtle point.

Our own attitude often defines the kind of people we encounter.  Friendliness is contagious.

School Days, School Days – August 15, 2017 – Daily Chronicle

With school beginning soon, it reminded me when I was young.

We used to refer to elementary school as grammar school, where we learned the three “R’s.”  No mention of grammar, but that was an all-pervasive subject. It was the bane of many students’’ existence.

We were taught never to end a sentence with a preposition, and had to memorize which words were prepositions.

If we abide with this rule and change the wording of, “This is a rule that I will not put up with,” to “This is a rule, up which I will not put,” it becomes rather awkward, don’t you think?

There are some silly rules about spelling and pronunciation too.

Why is there a “b” in the word subtle when we don’t pronounce it?

Why is Goethe pronounced “Gerta” when there is no “r”?

Email has replaced letter-writing for the most part.

Remember when we used to begin with “Dear Sir,” or “Dear Madam,” when we were not acquainted with the recipient?  They were not dear to us, were they?

TXTing and email have made us rather sloppy in writing and how we overuse acronyms like, LOL, laugh out loud, or TTYL, talk to you later, FYI, for your information, BRB, be right back, etc.

Emily Post, that doyenne of good manners and proper etiquette, must be rolling over in her grave. Formality has become passé and everything is much faster-paced than it used to be.

But I still appreciate a well-turned phrase and good writing.

Mike Royko had a great style. He wrote simply and to the point, but could also come up with some gems like the following:

In ““Boss,”” his biography of the late Mayor Richard J. Daley, he wrote, “So when Daley slid sideways into a sentence, or didn’t exit from

the same paragraph he entered, it amused us. But it didn’t sound that different from the way most of us talk.”

Verbal communication has its own rules, too. When we meet people, a common greeting is “How are you?  The rule is not to answer by telling them about your indigestion.  We are told, it’s a greeting not a question.

In parting, we say, “Have a nice day.” That always warms my heart.

I hope you are doing well and that you have a nice day.

Now, let school begin.