Category Archives: Reading

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Legally bland

For most of yesterday, I had no name, only a number – 23. Juror #23.

While my number was unique, I’m fairly certain my attitude about jury duty wasn’t.

Part of me hoped to get out of serving altogether, to not disrupt my work schedule, inconvenience my clients, or sit still and unplugged for hours. The other part of me craved a front row seat to a steaming courtroom drama. Surely the other 349 in the pool were feeling the same way.

I’d been called to jury duty only once before, in 1992. I wasn’t chosen then either; but I remember two things about that day.

The first:  More than a few of us were reading A Time to Kill, John Grisham’s first novel. The book had come out three years earlier, but it had gotten little attention until Grisham’s next legal suspense thriller, The Firm, came out in ’92. Jury selection was a central part of A Time to Kill and those of us who arrived with paperback in hand were dying to be selected. The second thing I remember:  Even though I wasn’t selected, I felt sequestered. A full work day at the courthouse without any contact with my office was nerve-wracking.

As I prepared to report for my civic duty this week, I failed to consider the technological advancements of the last two decades. I somberly told my friends, family and clients they’d not be able to reach me. I even put an out-of-office notification on my e-mail.

How sick was my disappointment to be allowed full use of my smart phone? To learn that the jury room had free wi-fi? To see a dozen computer stations available for any use ranging from e-mail to Solitaire? That’s no fun.

While I awaited assignment to a courtroom, I made my own fun – mostly by counting errors in the orientation video. (By the way, Montgomery County, the translation of voir dire is not “to see [and] to hear.” It is “to see [and] to say.”)

I listened in on my fellow jurors’ cell phone conversations, rolling my eyes as they overstated the drama to their loved ones and colleagues. I could only imagine their exaggerated tweets.

Finally, I was assigned to a courtroom where I was sure there’d be real action. The judge outlined some basic facts about the snoozer of the case—a personal injury incident taking place four years prior. He conducted the obligatory voir dire, which revealed nary a trace of conflict.

And then the judge spoke: “Madam Clerk, may I borrow your stapler?”

And then I was dismissed.

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Matched set

A Boxing Day in the life of a word nymph:

She didn’t hit the mall at all this week, opting instead to stay home and gorge herself on fattening leftovers. She contemplated why a family of two—expanded to four for the holiday—needed three pecan pies, seven pounds of ham (after having cancelled her ham order when another appeared on the doorstep), a large turkey breast, two smoked salmon filets, two crates of oranges, and infinite cookies, truffles, nonpareils, candied nuts and salted caramels. She is now prepared for the Blizzard of 2012, when she’ll be cast in the role of Snowman.

She’s not just stocked with with comestibles, but with readables as well. She received several new wordie books this season, so prepare for meaty discussions on such things as Anguished English. Meanwhile, though, we find her struggling with storage:

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m the lucky recipient of a panoply of reference books on all things wordish. Readers from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Rome, Georgia, have sent me their treasured tomes, which I’m proud to display prominently in my office.

I have two bookcases here, one devoted to fiction and frivolity and another to my profession and my hobby, so intertwined that they mingle well on the shelves.

About halfway through this year, my collection of communications-related material officially exceeded its shelving capacity. I knew that a set of nice bookends would allow me to expand stylishly to the top of the bookcase.

When Santa was unable to process my request for bookends, perhaps because they were too heavy for the sleigh, I took matters into my own hands. For years I’ve considered what kind of decorative bookends would suit me best. This is where you come in.

For background, I almost feel as though I should take you on a tour of my office, much like Vanity Fair’s monthly spotlight on the contents of various celebrities’ desks, but I’ll save that for another day. For this exercise, let me say simply that my office features two predominant themes, reflecting my interests in the written word and international travel. There is also a host of old family treasures and several pieces of hand-made pottery of varying origin.

After Christmas I embarked on an online dig for the right bookends. I have a pair waiting in an Amazon.com shopping cart. Right now, they’re my first choice but, before I finalize the deal, I’d thought I’d solicit your input.

Here’s the space in which they will go, followed by five finalists. Which ones do you find most suitable for a well-traveled, slighly off-balance word geek?

The space

A to Z

Leaning Ladies

Porch of the Maidens Acropolis

Roman Colosseum

Stop Hand

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Filed under Hearth and Home, Reading

Stream of unconsciousness

It’s interesting where roads lead. Sometimes a little free association can take us down an amusing path to sparkling treasure.

For me, the starting point was ballroom dancing. As a freelancer, my flavor of the week can be just about anything; this time, it’s dancing. Often when I start a new writing project, I go to sleep with ideas swirling about, in hopes a few will collide and stir creative copy. Other times, it’s just dust.

While listening to the radio on Sunday, I sang along with Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” as I had a thousand times before. It’s a beautiful song. This time, though, I wondered what in the world it meant that “We skipped the light fandango.” I thought about it. Could the phrase be a variation on “trip the light fantastic?”

I always considered trip the light fantastic to be ritzy and glitzy, from another era. I’ve never found occasion to use it in conversation, and certainly never understood where it came from or what it even meant exactly. (For you younger readers, it means to dance nimbly or lightly in a pattern.)

On Monday I woke up mulling my latest writing challenge. Might there be a place for tripping the light fantastic? I looked it up to ensure I understood the meaning and origin of the expression. Good thing too because I learned that, not only did it come from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, but “tripping the light fantastic” was sixties drug lingo.

I continued searching. And I found a most delightful poem by John Milton, L’Allegro, published in 1645. It’s 150 lines long; I’ll share just the first excerpt that popped up:

Haste thee, Nymph, and bring with thee
Jest, and youthful Jollity,
Quips and cranks and wanton wiles,
Nods and becks and wreathed smiles
Such as hang on Hebe’s cheek,
And love to live in dimple sleek;
Sport that wrinkled Care derides,
And Laughter holding both his sides.
Come, and trip it, as you go,
On the light fantastic toe;
And in thy right hand lead with thee
The mountain-nymph, sweet Liberty;
And, if I give thee honour due,
Mirth, admit me of thy crew,
To live with her, and live with thee,
In unreproved pleasures free …

Don’t you just love it?

Later in the poem, I found bonus words I’ll tuck away, should I ever be hired to write about beer:

To many a youth and many a maid,
Dancing in the chequer’d shade;
And young and old come forth to play
On a Sunshine Holyday
Till the live-long daylight fail,
Then to the spicy nut-brown ale.

So here’s to A Whiter Shade of Pale.

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Women’s lib

This goes out to the ladies out there.

Fire up your Kindle, visit the library, dash over to Barnes & Noble, however you hook your ladyself up to a good read, and get The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted And Other Small Acts of Liberation, a collection of short stories by Elizabeth Berg.

You might know Elizabeth Berg. She’s written more than 20 books. Some years ago, my mother gave me a copy of What We Keep. I started reading it to a hospice patient and loved it. Well, I loved the first few chapters anyway. My patient passed before we finished and I’ve had trouble picking it back up.

While I was browsing in a bookstore with my sister-in-law this summer, The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted called to me from the shelf.

It’s not a diet book or a self-help book or even a poor-me chick book. It’s a rich collection of hilarious short stories, each funnier and more touching than the last. Not every chapter has to do with food, but Berg’s characters do a lot of living—for better or worse—at life’s table.

One chapter is simply a letter from a woman to her granddaughter, instructing the girl on “How to Make an Apple Pie.” The chapter is 12 pages long–and one of the most entertaining recipes I’ve ever read.

So what’s with the book title? Each chapter includes, implicitly or explicitly, one small act of liberation. You don’t always see it coming but, before you turn to the next chapter, a well whaddaya know, along with a sweet bite of inspiration, will pop. There’s even a section in the back for book club discussions.

Do pick up a copy. I promise you’ll find it delicious. And, if not, you’ll have yourself one peach of an apple pie recipe.

Gentlemen, join in the fun. You might even get a chuckle or two. Or rack up a few sensitivity points with your sweetie.

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Hello, nose. Meet grindstone.

No dessert until I finish my dinner.
No TV until I do my homework.
No shopping until I clean out my closet.
No new blog posts until I turn in my writing projects.

Sorry, I just had to put these declarations in writing. In front of a community of witnesses.

Actually, the grown-up version of that first one should be: No dessert if I finish my dinner. As far as those others go, it’s time to ramp up the self-discipline. I’m grateful to have a busy work schedule this Fall; much of it entails lots of writing.

Given looming deadlines and a busy travel schedule, it’s hard for me to justify writing recreationally. So, Word Nymph may have to put down her feather pen a little more often, so she can concentrate on her day job.

This also means that the new fall TV schedule will have to go on without me. I had even blocked out time from 1:00 to 2:00 this afternoon to watch the final episode of All My Children, so that I could write here about how the serial had changed since the last time I watched it (30 years ago), but I just can’t justify it. Books and mags remain neatly stacked for my return. Fall fashions will await me at Lord & Taylor, as the next personal project, making room in the closet, stands in the queue behind other obligations. I might even have to sit out National Punctuation Day this year—it’s tomorrow and, alas, I’ve made no preparations.

However, the work does yield good travel tales, as well as opportunity to observe regional language differences. Maybe I can weave an epic tale when things settle down.

While you may see less of me around here, may I rely on you to stay in touch?

Please post a comment now and then, and tell me what I’m missing:

  • How did All My Children end? Did Erica Kane find happiness? Is there peace in Pine Valley? Is Susan Lucci finally free to overindulge in Boston creme donuts and Popeyes chicken and biscuits?
  • Who’s interviewed in Vanity Fair’s latest Proust Questionnaire?
  • Is the bow blouse still (back) in fashion and will I still be able to get one?
  • Has Mark Zuckerberg caved to public outcry and put Facebook back the way we like it?

All right, I’ve procrastinated long enough.

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A happy-go-lucky DVD

It’s time for a cheery topic; wouldn’t you agree?

Something that gives me a cheery disposition is thinking about Dick Van Dyke.

While driving around last weekend, I caught an NPR interview with him, in which he also played a round in Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! I grinned broadly behind the wheel, as much as I did when I saw Matt Lauer interview Dick on Today a few weeks ago.

I can’t imagine a soul who doesn’t love Dick Van Dyke. No matter your age, you surely identify with at least one of his many happy-go-lucky characters. I’d be hard pressed to name a favorite – it would be a tie between Rob Petrie and Bert the chimney sweep.

Growing up in a household headed by a funnyman, I identified more with The Dick Van Dyke Show than any other sitcom about a 1960s suburban family. And, while few relate directly to a chimney sweep-slash-sidewalk chalk artist-slash-one-man band, every moment in Mary Poppins in which Bert dances is pure giddiness. Double giddiness remembering my three-year-old singing and dancing and bouncing off the walls to “Step in Time.”

This Spring, Dick Van Dyke published a memoir; even the title is cheery: My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business. That’s going to be the second book I load on my Kindle. 

Dick Van Dyke will be 86 this year—on my birthday, as a matter of fact.

Allow Dick Van Dyke to cheer you up today. Listen to the NPR interview. Watch the Matt Lauer interview. Read about his Lucky Life. Re-watch Mary Poppins or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, with your kids or alone.  Or sing along to The Dick Van Dyke Show theme song (just don’t trip over the ottoman):

The Dick Van Dyke Show Theme Song
(Music by Earle Hagen / Lyrics by Morey Amsterdam) 

So you think that you’ve got troubles?
Well, trouble’s a bubble,
So tell old Mr. Trouble to “Get lost!” 

Why not hold your head up high and,
Stop cryin’, start tryin’,
And don’t forget to keep your fingers crossed.

When you find the joy of livin’
Is lovin’ and givin’
You’ll be there when the winning dice are tossed.

A smile is just a frown that’s turned upside down,
So smile, and that frown will defrost.
And don’t forget to keep your fingers crossed!

If that doesn’t cheer you up, watch one of my favorite DVDs (Dick Van Dykes):

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Meet Mrs. Trumbull

I got a Kindle for Christmas.

Late last night, seven months and three weeks later, I turned it on for the first time.

In yet another battle of man versus very small machine, I won. It took more than three hours, but my Kindle and I are now on a last name basis. It’s such a simple device. How could it have been so difficult?

I won’t go into all the gory details; or maybe I will. It was a  chicken-and-egg, O. Henry, Catch 22 kind of thing. I had to connect the device to a wireless network in order to use it, but my wireless password contains characters that the Kindle doesn’t support. Or so said the nice lady at Amazon’s help desk at midnight last night.

I had spent about an hour reading various chat threads about this technical conundrum and read all of Amazon’s instructions, each of which began with “Connect to a wireless network,” when I finally gave up and called. (After doing business with Amazon.com for 10 or 15 years, this is the first time I’ve spoken with a live person.) She confirmed I had to have the guy who set up my password change it for me. Unfortunately, for him and for me, but especially for him, he is gravely ill in the hospital; I guessed he wouldn’t want to take my call. The only option was to contact the wireless router manufacturer for help. I was two-and-a-half hours into this adventure, and not looking forward to bringing in another party, especially as I expected this would involve crawling under my desk in the wee hours.

The story took a turn. Despite Amazon’s telling me the device could not support my password, I did a little fancy fingerwork and tricked the Kindle into accepting it. I registered it and gave it a name. I don’t know why devices want us to name them; it’s not like they’re our pets, but I went ahead and did it. If my Kindle were a pet, and considering my existing pets are named Ricky and Lucy, and I was still high off a recent Lucy marathon, then it would stand to reason that I name my Kindle Mrs. Trumbull.

I chose a book and ordered it. Lo and behold, the book is now in the good hands of Mrs. Trumbull.

When I saw Midnight in Paris earlier this summer, I promised myself, once I activated the Kindle, I’d re-read some Ernest Hemingway. That’s going to have to wait.

The first book is … drum roll … The Inside Tract: Your Good Gut Guide to Great Digestive Health by Gerard E. Mullin M.D., and Kathie Madonna Swift, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., Foreward by Andrew Weil, M.D.

Why? I won’t go into all the gory details.

I’ll just say my condition didn’t improve with a three-hour dose of tech diff.

 

 

By the way, is it me or would the average adult suffer late-night indigestion upon reading the following message from the Amazon help desk:

When setting up your WiFi, please make sure of the following:

-Your Router is B/G-Wireless Compatible and not broadcasting solely in Wireless-N Mode.
-You will need to know what encryption you have. If you have WPA encryption, your WiFi password will work, however if you have WEP encryption, you will need to use your 8 or 10 character WEP Key.
-Make sure that your router is not filtering MAC Addresses.

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