My Inner Cynic

I have known all my life that I was cynical. I suppose many of those who know me best would agree, even though in all my years I’ve never once mentioned this. I am quite OK with talking about other strengths: I am witty, I am creative, I am humble (?) . . . etc. But for me to admit that I’m cynical? Well, that would be a negative, wouldn’t it? Here is a definition for cynical:

Cynical, adjective

1. distrusting or disparaging the motives of others;

2. showing contempt for accepted standards of honesty or morality by one’s actions, especially by actions that exploit the scruples of others;

3. bittery or sneeringly distrustful, contemptuous, or pessimistic.

I mean, really. Why would I want to admit to everyone that I’m sneeringly distrustful? Contemptuous? Pessimistic? But I just did that, didn’t I.

While I don’t really see myself as pessimistic, I do believe I have a lifetime of distrust followed by keen contempt for things that just didn’t/don’t ring true to me. This self-reveal about my inner cynic came to me last night at about 2 a.m. I’ve been experiencing some insomnia for the past six weeks. Usually I spend these quiet minutes and hours rearranging furniture and hanging pictures in my immaculate (in thought) house. Sometimes I do menu planning or devise projects for my husband. For some reason last night took a crooked path to my childhood where I saw myself in vivid color as a five-year old cynic.

Janie: “Mother, is Santa Claus real?”

Ruth: “Why do you ask?”

Janie: “Because I don’t think anyone can drive through the air to every kid’s house in one night and get out of the sleigh, go down the chimney, drop off gifts, go back up the chimney, get in the sleigh and mush on.” (OK, at five I didn’t know the word mush.)

Ruth: “Well, honey, you are right. Who do you think Santa is?”

Janie: “You.”

Ruth: “You are right. Now please don’t tell your brother.”

Janie, with cynicism boiling up in her throat like acid: “The Easter Bunny?”

Ruth: “Yup.”

Janie: “The Tooth Fairy?”

Ruth: “Yup.”

At this, Janie turns and goes to her room to sit in her little rocking chair and ask herself why people who propose to love her could have fleeced her like this. The dishonesty! The shame! The birth of cynicism.

The Cynic in Kindergarten (5 years old)

Three years later, after several years of perfect Sunday School attendance followed by pre-baptismal classes, the following conversation occurred.

Janie: “They keep telling me that this is the ‘one true church.’ And if you aren’t baptized in this one, you might go to a lesser glory. Is that true?”

Ruth: “Yes. That is what we believe.”

Janie: “What about the aborigines? They might never-ever hear of us!”

Ruth: “Ask your grandpa.”

At the time my grandfather was an apostle in the denomination, meaning he was among the top 20 honchos of the world church. He would have been the expert to answer this, but my vocal chords were paralyzed by cynicism and I simply never asked. I already knew what I believed. After all, I WAS 8.

At around the same time I had another theological discussion with my mother.

Janie: “Don’t we believe that God is all powerful? God can do anything?”

Ruth: “Yes, honey. We surely do.”

Janie: “Then how can he have a crazed angel running amok all over ruining peoples’ lives? Why doesn’t he just smite the devil?” (OK again, I didn’t know smite or kick his ass. I probably said get rid of him.)

Ruth: “Ask grandpa.”

I adored my mother, yet I realize many of my early cynical moments were at her expense. I was born a night owl. At least I believe we are born-in to being night people versus morning people. Since I was a sleepy-head, my mother would recite: “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” First of all, I wasn’t a man. Second of all, I can attest after decades of living in the morning-person’s modus operandi, I am still neither healthy, wealthy nor wise.

A lot of my cynical moments came at the dinner table in the guise of well-meaning advice from my parents. You will note that by this time my cynical self no longer felt that any of these ridiculous things deserved a reply. [So I thought.]

“Janie, eat your carrots. They’ll help you see at night!” [Hello, I’m a kid, not a kitten.]

“Janie, eat that spinach. It will make you strong.” [Really? I’m a girl. I don’t have that much testosterone.]

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” [Then why does he take me for those annual shots?]

“Eat the crusts of that sandwich. It will make your hair curly.” [Then why, oh why, did you give me that Toni permanent that left me with a white-girl’s fro for half of 5th grade?]

“Chocolate will give you pimples!” [Oh well. I’ll take the zits.]

In spite of this inner cynic, as an adult I’ve still made some grievous mistakes about trusting people who I blindly assumed had my best interests in mind. I’ve taken the word s of people as their bond, only to find that I should have gotten it in writing. [I thought they were my friends?] It is interesting that once you’ve ruled out the devil’s existence, you tend to think people are a teensy bit more trust-worthy than you might have if you believed that Satan was lurking around every corner using your friends to trick you.] I’ve been up-ended, hurt, beaten down, bruised, lied to, and stomped by people I trusted. I’ve railed, cried, cursed, and exploded over those hurts. I’ve also consumed a lot of medicinal ice cream in the name of healing.

The Cynic Today

But at 2:15 a.m., after all these thoughts spun through my head, I realized that maybe—just maybe—my inner cynic has receded somewhat. And I think that’s a good thing. After all, I’m someone’s grandma! I should begin to get sweet and mellow and wise rather than harsh and cynical and suspicious. And I can’t help but cite some recent findings that put to rest some past lapses: chocolate is good for me; red wine is good for me; nine hours of sleep is good for me. Hurrah! I think I shall indulge in all three so I can live to be 100.

But in the meantime, until my mellowing is complete . . .  please don’t tell me that people shouldn’t marry whomever they choose (in spite of gender, age or race). Please don’t tell me political things that folks really know nothing about . . . even the president has advisors. Please don’t talk to me about stewardship of the earth unless you are recycling. And for goodness sake, don’t talk to me about peace and justice until you are living it.

The Anti-Cynic, Thinking Grandmotherly Thoughts

You see, I don’t want my inner cynic to emerge. You won’t like me when she does.


The Monster in the Closet


My sweet grandson Jordan (just 24 days shy of his 7th birthday), was convinced that monsters are living in my closets. Until very recently it was almost impossible for him to go to sleep in our guest rooms because of the possibility that my bedroom closets housed Zombies. We would start out with him in bed, read to him, turn down the lights and then sit with him, reading our own novels quietly, while he drifted off to sleep. But within hours he was up and moving into our bedroom to lie on the floor by our bed or climb in between us. I, Gigi, am the cooker of fine cookies, purveyor of art projects, and Sorry game-board-competitor. Bob, who is Papi, is replacer of batteries, fishing coach, and instructor of all things remote-controlled. In addition to our other grandparental responsibilities, we are Zombie Warriors. It seems that if we are in the room, Zombies are afraid to show themselves. They wait until we go to bed and then, surreptitiously sneak peeks out of the closet to scope out Jordan’s position and vulnerabilities.

After working tirelessly to convince Jordan that Zombies are not real, along comes the cell phone commercial with the rotting customer whose ear drops off. The clerk looks knowingly at him and he states, “I’m a Zombie.” To that, Jordan says, “Gigi! I told you they are real!”  In order to combat this fear for my treasured little one, I decided we would draw pictures of monsters. Somehow, if we could draw them and label them, I felt we might be taking the power away from them. Sort of like removing their batteries or vanquishing them from the closets. So I drew some free-hand coloring pages and away we went!

The following pictures show some of the many foes we drew to post on the door of the kitchen pantry.

monster1Who hasn’t received a monstrous sweater? Who could have foreseen the popularity of the ugly Christmas sweater party . . . and why haven’t I hosted one of those?


This is the monster that bedevils me at night, whispering her evil seduction: chocolate, mint, cookies and cream . . . oh no!


In keeping with his parentage, Spawn is a natty dresser. But in typical rebellious-sire style, he tries to outdo Daddy Dracula by wearing a blue silk cape rather than black. He has a Hermes inspired silk shirt, Dolce and Gabbana purple leather belt, and soft butter  leather boots by Louis Vuitton.


Although Slime Foot appears at first glance to be quite fierce, I think it bears observation that in spite of serious dental work, he has several things against him: 1) his slime foot is located on top of his head (obviously an evolutionary foible), 2) his hands look like he could participate in a glove exchange with a T-Rex, 3) his slime appears to be dissolving before it hits the ground. Sadly, I identify with this M.O.


Too bad this fish can’t loan some of those tootsies to Slime Foot. (Slime Feet?)


This monster was developed by Jordan. He said this guy is a brother to TUR Anchula, a big old hairy spider. Don’t you just love kids?


This was obviously designed by me. Can anyone think of a monster much bigger than tedium?


This is, remarkably, Big Bird’s cousin, Bad Bird. This is the difference between growing up in Manhattan and the South Bronx. Sadly, this guy belongs to the Beaks Gang. We are planning an intervention.

As you can imagine, we spent several hours laughing and mocking monsters. I’m not sure if this did the trick, but I can say that Jordan now sleeps peacefully. His jury is still out about Zombies. He has given up the idea of monsters in the closet. Only last night he said, “Isn’t it funny that I thought monsters were hiding in the closet when it is stuffed with Christmas decorations?” Yes, funny. And he is getting too wise. Use the word “wise” any way you deem appropriate.


All he wanted for Christmas was his two front teeth. Trite, but true!


Imagine this. My life was going along at a clip. Retirement was just a few months old and life was sweet. Everything was “going my way . . . “ to quote Uncle Remus from his song  Zip-A-Dee-Doo Da­h in Disney’s 1946 movie Song of the South. And then the unthinkable occurred.

I went to the doctor with a few minor concerns: stiff neck, constipation, sleeping difficulties, gravely voice, trouble swallowing, and a teeny-tiny tremor in my little finger. The stiff neck is what sent me to the doctor because I had struggled with it for six months. Not one of these symptoms seemed worrisome. No siree! I am woman, hear me roar! I can bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan. I’m okay! I’m great! Aren’t I Doctor?And then he opened that closet door and there WAS a monster lurking inside. He said, “Jane, you have early onset Parkinson’s Disease.” And just when I thought monsters weren’t real.

Out of the Blue, Lesson 3: My Big Bad Footprint


As promised, this is a story of desire, murder and remorse. The plot will never show up on Law and Order since the victim of this crime won’t engender any more sympathy than the death of Saddem Hussein. I may have underestimated the people who will read this who still are ticked off about Bambi’s mother . . . so, I will let the chips fall where they may.

Since this is my “beach blog series” you probably are already suspicious that the “footprint” mentioned in the title is going to be footprints in the sand. With all respect to that old [worn out] adage about “He carried” me leaving only “His” footsteps in the sand, this is another set of footprints entirely.

One cannot travel very far down the shoreline without seeing evidence of all those footsteps that have been there in the last 24 hours. Even if the tide has taken away the actual footsteps, the trail of them remains. There are always a couple of remains of the day left by children . . . an occasional shovel or sand strainer.

I understand that . . . children are, well . . . children. They are busy, forgetful, and less than responsible when it comes to collecting their belongings. But what about the adults? There are water bottles and fishing hooks with line, apple cores and banana peels, sunscreen bottles and food wrappers.


People must think that it is OK to toss their food garbage onto the sand since it is biodegradable; but, seriously folks, I so do NOT want to see your-half chewed apple on my nature walk. But I digress from the actual point of this blog, which is a tale of murder and hopeful redemption.

On my early morning walk (this is blog three of that fateful day) I saw this bee-U-tee-ful shell glistening on the beach. The picture just does not do it justice, as it is striped in exquisite soft pastels of green, mauve and beige. I wanted to add this to my collection of beautiful finds on the beach.


When I picked it up to look (lovingly?) at it, I turned it over. The resident in that shell, who was alive and well, jumped back inside the shell, shrinking until almost invisible. But I knew s/he was in there. Thus began a moral dilemma for me that didn’t end so well for the little crustacean (actually, a gastropod mollusk). What should I do? I wanted this shell. I really wanted this shell. Did I want it enough to commit murder? I held it in my hand and flipped it back and forth. Now you seem him; now you don’t. Yet I know he is inside. My mind traveled to that trite story about the child tossing the starfish into the water and responding, when someone challenged that she could never really make a difference, by saying “It will in this one’s life.” So my moral compass, which was feeling quite teeny at the time, whispered “Toss him back into the water . . . do it now! Make a difference.” I suppose you are tuned in to how this ended since I have pictures of the shell in this blog. I kept him and let him croak a sad lonely death on the front porch of the beach house. I have my shell. I also have my guilt. Why would this make me feel so sad and disappointed in myself? Is it any less moral to toss trash on the beach than it is to willfully take the life of something just because you want to possess another “thing?”


Each night, before going to sleep, I enjoy reading for 15-30 minutes. That night I picked up one of the 10 books I had brought with me for this tiny vacation. It was Eckhart Tolle’s book A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose. What an unfortunate choice of reading material for someone who already was wallowing in her homicidal tendencies. This book encourages its readers to live their lives in each present moment and to create happiness for themselves without emphasizing material possessions.Tolle’s intent is to change the way human beings think, and he envisions a world population that is increasingly more humble, enlightened and pure. The book describes human dysfunction, selfishness, anxiety and the inhumanity we inflict on each other, as well as mankind’s failed attempts to find life meaning and purpose through material possessions and unhealthy relationships. It asserts that thoughts can have a powerful and beneficial “effect on the healing process,” and puts forth a concept of “evolutionary transformation of human consciousness” which prompts the reader to participate in “honest self-evaluation [that] can lead to positive change.”

Obsession with possessions? Who me? EEEEEKKKK! How can I bring about a “new earth” when I personally assaulted and murdered an innocent snail? Suddenly I felt an individual responsibility for things occurring in the Ukraine, the Middle East, and Ferguson, Missouri. How far a stretch is it from killing a mollusk to beheading a journalist? I say this seriously, since my actions really did disturb me.

Do I enjoy this little shell? Certainly, but not in the manner in which I thought. Rather than enjoy it for its inherent beauty as one of the many wonders of a gorgeous world, I keep it as a reminder of my Lesson #3. The earth is fragile; life is fragile. I must take a role in making this a better (if not “new”) earth. Some Christian leaders have criticized Tolle’s book, saying that it states that man controls his own destiny rather than God. In my particular fantasy about sitting with “my” God, I’m quite sure I would hear this:

Jane! Repeat this: If it is going to be, it is up to me. 


My hope is that my footprint may take wings and I that I can quit stomping around in big old boots. I do want to make a difference. Is today the day? Yes . . . because if it is going to be, it IS up to me.


Out of the Blue, Lesson 2: The Early Bird Does Truly Get the Worm (Part 2)


After one lives in Florida for a while, one becomes quite familiar with a particular species of mammal, the subspecies of the kingdom Animalia known as Homo sapiens sapiens tourista. For our purposes, we shall refer to this as the HSS Tourista, for their ship has indeed sailed for this observer. This multi-colored, brightly-plumed species (think Hawaiian shirts and muumuus) can be seen throughout the great State of Florida. In spite of plumage, gender, ethnicity, age or other specificity, they all exhibit some of the same behaviors: pointing at lighthouses, purchasing large bags of citrus fruit, purchasing even larger bags of Five-Tee-Shirts-for-$10, and lining up in the rain to see such characters as Mickey and Minnie Mouse, newly discovered sisters Elsa and Anna, Harry Potter, and The Blue Man Group. They indulge in grouper and shrimp, Key Lime Pie, steamed oysters, and Cuban sandwiches (sneaky name for a sub sandwich). But as in all species, the H.s.s. touristas really shine on the beach. They seem easy to identify. Their swimsuits are glorious colorful spandex. Locals are in faded-out suits. They are the color of Maine lobsters. Locals are shades of brown, most hosting various degrees of skin cancer. They are frolicking in a most stereotypical fashion as if they have been drugged by the Florida ad campaign, by building sand castles, burying dad up to the neck in sand, swishing across the beach with a metal detector, playing Frisbee, and sunbathing. Locals look upon all this with a look of smug disdain . . . except for the art of beachcombing. Everyone but everyone goes beachcombing.

If you read yesterday’s blog you will remember that my mini-sabbatical occurred on the Atlantic Ocean. The species H.s.s. tourista have probably done their homework, because the Atlantic is not the best place to beachcomb. Shell aficionados have long known that the best, biggest, brightest, most impressive shells lie in wait on the Gulf shores in such sexy-sounding places as Sanibel and Captiva Islands, Honeymoon Beach, Cedar Key and if you have a flair for the international, there is Panama City and Venice Beaches. There are some Atlantic locations, such as Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island, but one has to plow through piles of broken shells to find some keepers. Here is an example of some of the bits and pieces I picked up from Neptune Beach.

 shells2 shells1

            Top view of broken shells                 Underside of broken shells

So, what about that early bird? The morning when I arose at 4:00 a.m. to walk the beach and experience the sunrise taught me a lesson . . . the first of many. If one is on the beach at daybreak, there are some fabulous finds in the vast detritus of shells on the beach. The three pictured below were within 10 feet of each other. I was stunned to see them. Never-ever have I found such perfect shells in my eight years of living near the beaches. I admit that my days on the beach have been minimal. Thankfully, retirement is changing that dynamic for me. My treasures (i.e., early worms!):

 shells4 shells3

Shells with a quarter, which is actually worth 13-cents (9-cents at the pump)

One final note, I found this beautiful little shell. It was perfectly formed and glistened in the sun. I wanted it like Gollum wanted “his precious.”  I grabbed it up and claimed it for my kingdom . . . only to see that it still housed a living resident.

 snail1My Precious

   A nice home for a snail                                . . . he’s back!

More on that tomorrow with Lesson Three: My Big Bad Footprint      

Oh wait! Listen!! I hear the beach calling me back. See you soon, sweetheart!

Thanks for stopping by.


Out of the Blue, Lesson 1: The Early Bird Truly Does Get the Worm (Part One)

Whoever said that? A little research finds this first recorded in John Ray’s A collection of English proverbs 1670, 1678, where it was “The early bird catcheth the worm.” That makes it sound like it was straight from the lips of Jesus or Queen Victoria. This must be a Queen sort of quote since Jesus wasn’t English (at least not until Walter Sallman painted him in the early 1900’s where he looks like Viscount Jesus of Birmingham . . . see below).


I think Jesus may have looked more like Osama bin Laden than this. That, however, is another blog.

That quote sounds like it could have come from the lips of Ben Franklin, who is attributed to everything from this quote to “my mother was so big she bought swimsuits with a blowhole” and we all know that was Joan Rivers (R.I.P.).

Yet the truth of that little proverb was revealed to me on one of my early walks on the beach. The highlight of my summer, and maybe even my decade, was taking the opportunity to dog sit for a friend who is living in Atlantic Beach, Florida. This funky and fun beach village is just a stone’s throw from Jacksonville. I suppose many would consider it a suburb of Jax, but somehow that just seems to trivialize this unique community. My sweet little beach cottage was just a two block walk from the beach. This area is called “The Beaches” since Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach and Jacksonville Beach all flow together seamlessly.

Since I was on the Atlantic side of the state, me thought it would behoove me to stroll the beach at sunrise. (Sorry about the behooving, but I think the spirit of Queen Vicky has overtaken me.) This would be a first and certainly something on my bucket list, that is: seeing the sunrise over the Atlantic (not hosting the spirit of Queen Vic). I would dearly love to see the “green flash” at sunrise but I believe one must be much farther north (i.e. Maine?) to experience that.

With or without the green flash, let’s just say that the sunrise was spectacular. Creeping along the beach in the dark at 5:00 a.m., I was quite surprised at the amount of light that seeped into the environment even before the sun was visible. The dawn was thick around us and the rhythmic pounding of waves filled our hearing. Just like a spotlight before an act emerges on stage, the glow on the horizon predicted the event about to occur. But nothing could have prepared me for the glorious rising of the sun, peeking over the distant waves and shooting fiery orange ribbons of light all the way from the horizon to the shore. As the sun appeared, I could only marvel at its resemblance to a big old blood orange (which is only politically correct since this is, of course, Florida). A series of gawkers lined the shore and the inhalations and exhalations, ooohhs and aaahhs, gasps and tears of joy united us at once into a primitive congregation of sun worshippers. Some raised their hands in praise, some prayed, and many tried to capture the moment with cameras and cell phones. Those moments are beyond cinematic capture. I share a few but know that they just do not reflect or refract that moment in time.

Tune in tomorrow to find out the other “worms” that this early bird captured on one glorious morning on Neptune Beach.


Sol beginning to peek over the horizon



Moments later . . . Scarlet ribbons


Just minutes later, the sun’s rising was done and birds began to skitter all over, followed by children and parents, dogs and masters, joggers, swimmers, castle-builders, tourists, and even more birds as life began to fill the beach.

A Thing of Beauty

A Thing of Beauty

Who said that? A thing of beauty is a joy forever?  John Keats, that’s who. We use this phrase so often in our consumer crazed lives. I know I have. In fact, here is my thing of beauty:

T Bird

Oh my, oh my, how I loved my red Thunderbird. Just seeing it in my driveway gave me a rush of pleasure. The hard top was removable and it was pure adrenalin to drive it around town with my hair blowing in the wind, radio turned up loud, and heater on if need be. I enjoyed the Florida experience so much that when I found that no license plate is required on the front of the car in Florida, I had a front plate made that said “SPF 0” . . . a perfect foil for listening to the Beach Boys. I planned all the great trips I was going to take in the T Bird: a picnic to the beach, a trip to Key West, driving through the Ocala Forest, and just driving back and forth to the grocery. Somehow I just never got around to those fabulous trips to the beach or Key West. The store, yes. Fun? Not so much.

A joy forever? Unfortunately, not so much as well. New opening for my novel:

It was a dark and stormy night (thinking Snoopy?). The highway was rain-slicked as he navigated his way home from work. In the midst of the interstate traffic, the exit sign glowed up ahead like a beacon. As he passed the car in the right lane, he felt that sudden moment of anxiety as the car lost traction. Slipping, slipping, slipping away! He braked but the car had a mind of her own. In Christine-like fashion, she slid quickly to the right, pummeling into the right guard rail. Angry at the offending metal, she crossed three lanes of traffic, banging into the left guard rail. The force of her wrath sent her back across the dangerous, deadly three lanes to slam herself into the right guard rail again. She was avenged, ravaged but victorious. The guard rail was demolished. Crawling from the wreckage, he called home. “Mom, I think I just totaled your T-bird.”

My precious???

My Precious

What was Keats thinking? A joy forever? Not so much. For sure.  Mos def. Not forever. In a moment of Zen, I realized that the voice on the end of the phone was infinitely more important than a car. In a moment of Zen I thought of the first mark of existence in the Buddhist tradition: impermanence. Nothing is permanent. In a moment of Zen I experience the second mark of existence: suffering. I felt a deep pang not so much for the loss of “my precious” but for the anguished voice on the phone. In a moment of Zen I thought of the third mark of existence: non-self. This car, which seemingly has a foxy personality, is really not a person. It has no self. In a moment of Zen, I realized that these three practices enable a person to find peace. In the midst of a scary, costly, disappointing moment, I found peace: my REAL precious was okay. My beautiful son had only a scratch on his arm from the impact of inflating airbags.

Keats was not as non-Zen as he sounds. His things of beauty, which do not last forever, are replenished daily. New wonders surround as trees bloom and birds fly. Old wonders sustain as the sun sets, the moon rises and the tides rule the beaches. For your edification, here is the first stanza of the poem by John Keats, Endymion:

  • A thing of beauty is a joy forever:
  • Its loveliness increases; it will never
  • Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
  • A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
  • Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
  • Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
  • A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
  • Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
  • Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
  • Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened ways
  • Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
  • Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
  • From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
  • Trees old and young, sprouting a shady boon
  • For simple sheep; and such are daffodils
  • With the green world they live in; and clear rills
  • That for themselves a cooling covert make
  • ‘Gainst the hot season; the mid forest brake,
  • Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms:
  • And such too is the grandeur of the dooms
  • We have imagined for the mighty dead;
  • All lovely tales that we have heard or read:
  • An endless fountain of immortal drink,
  • Pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink.

May we all open our eyes to the daily joys and wonders, the sweet dreams and sighs of lovers, the hugs from our children, the tears of our best friends. Nothing lasts forever, so grab it with gusto . . . and know when to let go.

Words, Sweet Words

This week saw a first: the Scripps Spelling Bee had a tie! This happened after the final two contestants each spelled 12 of the championship words without mistake. Then, in a dramatic moment, one of the fellows misspelled his word: CORPSBRUDER (a close comrade). A gasp went up as the bell announced his failure to spell the word. The last man standing then proceeded to misspell his word: ANTEGROPELOS (waterproof leggings). At that point, the judges, who were almost out of championship words, declared the bee a tie and each fellow received a trophy and $33,000.


2014 Scripps Spelling Bee Winners

I always find this interesting because I dearly love words. Some words are more favored over others. For instance I truly love the phrases high jinx and doo-dah, and the word mellifluous. Great words can be found in some unexpected places. For example, my class in medical terminology uncovered such fabulous finds as acetabulum, trichotillomania, myelomeningocele, and on and on. And doesn’t the word proctologist sound just like it should? The amusement over medical terms has created several lists defining these terms. For example, a list from some imaginary “Redneck Medical Dictionary” lists the following definitions, to cite only a few: bacteria = back door of hospital cafeteria; artery = study of art; protein = in favor of youth; rectum = nearly killed ‘em.


I like the sound of the word nebulous for some unknown reason. I used to pepper my sentences with it whenever it fit (which was amazingly quite often). One day a friend instructed me that I was overusing the word and no one knew what it meant anyway . . . and (knife to my heart) it made me appear holier-than-thou when I used it. I suppose it made me sound pseudo-scholarly, which phrase I like for its hissing sounds. It is so much more fun than pseudo-intellectual, which I could never be since I am truly so outrageously intelligent. If you don’t believe me, you should have asked my mother. I really had her fooled.


The Fabulous Crab Nebula

Speaking of pseudo, Starbucks has created an entire vocabulary that has us thinking we have made friends with our inner Italian. We toss such words as macchiato and frappuccino around with such abandon, continuing with our java-Italian by requesting that drink to be “grande . . .  no, no . . . make that venti . . .  no, no . . .  what the heck . . . make it a trenta!” Such moments make me sad that I left my soccer shin guards and my beret at home. Food, in itself is an entire United Nations of terms: vichyssoise, borscht, aperitif, flan, bouillabaisse, schnitzel, and farfalle.

I have always believed that one should never talk down to children. So I spoke to them just like I would have chatted with an adult. This led to a Kodak moment in the grocery store with my three children. The store was crowded with Saturday’s parade of working moms, pushing carts down the aisles like a platoon. My children sped on ahead of me rounding the end of the aisle and moving down into the next. I could hear their voices and whining from one aisle over. Within seconds, Stacy, all of three years old with hands on her hips, came to head of the aisle and shouted, “MOM!” which caused every woman in the aisle to look up. When she found my face she screamed: “Make the brothers quit antagonizing me!” Suddenly all eyes were on me; I’d like to think this was with envy over my toddler’s precocious vocabulary, but a few stares had an edgy look as if they might turn me in to DCFS for child abuse by use of highfalutin’ language. By third grade, her teacher told me in confidence that she had a better vocabulary than most of the parents of her classroom children.


Interestingly enough, it wasn’t Stacy, but Scott, my middle child, who became fascinated with words. He would look words up in one of those HUGE dictionaries that lived in the back of his Latin class. Then he would spring those words on me, much like the kids in the spelling bee. “Use it in a sentence,” I would say, with a confounded look on my face. When his Latin teacher, a jolly and patient Jesuit priest, retired he gave Scott the big old dictionary. I will always love him for being so special to Scott and acknowledging that Scott was, indeed, a sesquipedalian. And that, my friends, is my most favorite word.


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