The New Colossus

The New Colossus
By Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

This, of course, is the poem inscribed on a plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty. It is a stirring, moving testament to the ideal of and belief in the United States as a haven for newcomers. The last few lines are quoted frequently; they come up in almost any discussion of immigration.

Yet today, terrorism and wars and natural disasters are creating not only a crisis of refugees, but also a climate of fear. In that climate, some Americans seem to think Lady Liberty ought to lay down her “torch of world-wide welcome” in favor of laying bricks to build a wall. In that climate, I’m not sure that glibly repeating Emma Lazarus’s words is all that helpful.

Continue reading

Categories: Family | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Write This Way

We were traveling, so I almost missed it. Yesterday, January 23, was National Handwriting Day. Given the current trend away from teaching cursive writing in schools, it would be easy to assume this is a new observance, started by concerned calligraphers, Palmer Method purists, and letter-writing grandparents who are afraid their grandkids won’t be able to read anything sent to them except the numbers on their birthday checks.

Nope. National Handwriting Day has been around since 1977. It is observed, not by accident, on the birthday of John Hancock. (You remember him, right? He’s the Founding Father whose elegant, oversized signature is front and center on the Declaration of Independence. Unfortunately, the story that he said something like, “King George will be able to read that without his spectacles” turns out not to be true. But his name is still used as a synonym for “signature”—as in “Put your John Hancock right here on this line.”)

Appropriately, then, I wrote the first draft of this post with a pen, on the wide-lined notebook paper that I stock up on every fall during back-to-school sales. I can’t say I did so in honor of John Hancock or National Handwriting Day. Nor as some sort of statement in favor of cursive writing. I just prefer to write that way.

Continue reading

Categories: Odds and Ends, Remembering When, Words for Nerds | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Yarn Yoda and the Force

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

I don’t know whether my grandson Henry, at age five, can quote Yoda’s advice to Luke Skywalker from The Empire Strikes Back. Chances are he can.

I assume this because long, long ago, in a theatre far, far away, I remember watching Henry’s father watching the original Star Wars movie when he was about a year younger than Henry is now. He didn’t fidget; he didn’t talk; he didn’t get drowsy even though he had just finished a huge Thanksgiving dinner. He sat enraptured through the whole film, meanwhile munching his way steadily through a big bag of popcorn that he should not possibly have had room for.

Here and now, in this galaxy, Star Wars has come around again. This means a whole new universe of toy light sabers, action figures, and other galactic merchandise.

Including Yarn Yoda. Continue reading

Categories: Family | Leave a comment

The Perfect Christmas Tree

Because our neck of the woods includes actual woods, it’s a tradition for many people to cut their own Christmas trees. (And where did that expression come from, anyway? Why isn’t it the “head of the woods” or the “heart of the woods” or even the “left elbow of the woods”? According to informed sources, aka Google, this phrase apparently came to be used for a small local area because “neck” was a term for a narrow strip of woods. Which, really, could just as well be called an “elbow.”)

But never mind that. In this part of the world, for a mere ten bucks, you can get a permit from the Forest Service to go out to the Black Hills National Forest and get a tree. This involves finding the perfect tree, cutting it down (unless you’re Paul Bunyan, a tree saw is probably safer than an ax), and hauling it home. (Don’t forget the rope or straps to tie it to the top of the car or secure it in the back of the pickup. Trees have been known to escape.)

These tree-cutting expeditions, of course, are perfect opportunities for spirited family discussions about exactly what constitutes the “perfect” tree. Continue reading

Categories: Family, Living Consciously | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Leaving the Lights On

Even by the standards of an early-morning person like me, 8:30 p.m. isn’t really late. But in the short days of late November, when you’ve just staggered off of an airplane at the end of a day that started 20 hours earlier on a different continent, 8:30 p.m. can feel like the deep, dark middle of a very long night.

But the plane landed promptly, my friends were at the airport to pick me up, and when we turned from the dark street into the dark driveway of what I expected to be our dark house—there was light. My daughter had stopped by to turn up the thermostat, and she had left the porch light on for me. Plus the light inside the entryway, plus a lamp shining warmly through the front window.

The impact of this simple gesture went far beyond the practical kindness of making it easier to lug my bag up the steps and unlock the door. The light allowed me to walk into a warm, bright haven instead of a cold, dark house. It made me feel safe and welcomed me home.

And I was reminded of one of the stories my father told. Continue reading

Categories: Family, Living Consciously | 4 Comments

If Only Miss Muffet Had Known This

A few days before Halloween, eeriness is in the air. Even on NPR. Driving across the state last week, I heard some very scary things.

The most frightening was a “Science Friday” interview with two arachnologists who were terrifyingly enthusiastic about spiders. I had never before heard anyone use “spider” and “adorable” in the same sentence. They were especially excited about the peacock spider, named for the bright colors and pattern on its body, which according to them is not only adorable but is also gorgeous.

Given the season, the interview focused on scarier critters, the black widow and the brown recluse. The scientists were quick to explain that, even though their bites can be dangerous, these spiders are still adorable because they don’t really want to bite you. The reason? Energy conservation. It takes a lot of body energy to create venom, which of course is intended to paralyze prey so the spiders can eat. Efficient little critters that they are, they’d rather save the precious stuff for their next meal than waste it repelling enormous and inedible humans. They will only bite if they believe their lives to be in acute danger.

If you see a brown recluse spider, it probably isn’t. They weren’t named “recluses” because they run around in public. They prefer their privacy and will be happy to leave you alone if you leave them alone. Their brown violin-shaped body markings are also shared by many other harmless spiders, like the wolf spider. You can easily tell the difference, because wolf spiders have spiky little thorns on their legs and brown recluses have fine little hairs. Also, wolf spiders have eight eyes and brown recluses have six eyes, arranged by twos in a tidy symmetrical pattern.

So if you see what you think is a brown recluse spider, there’s no need to panic. All you have to do is sneak up on it until you’re close enough to count its eyes and see the tiny hairs on its legs. About, oh, an inch away from the end of your nose ought to be close enough. Just be careful not to appear threatening, so it won’t bite you.

Actually, all of this information about the harmlessness and general adorability of spiders was quite useful the morning after I heard it. I was about to step into the motel shower when I realized I was sharing the bath mat with a fuzzy brown spider the size of a Shetland pony. Okay, okay, that’s an exaggeration—it was only the size of a Chihuahua. Just with longer legs.

Well, maybe not quite that big. But big enough that, even without my glasses, I could clearly recognize it as a spider. Big enough that I really didn’t want to share my bathroom with it. And definitely big enough that I wasn’t going to stomp on it with my bare foot or whack it with my hairbrush. Besides being a reasonably live-and-let-live kind of person, I didn’t want to deal with the yuck factor of spider innards all over the bath mat.

So arachnicide was not the answer. Instead, I flapped a hand towel at it, herding it out of the bathroom. It disappeared around the corner. Out of sight, out of mind: problem solved. I enjoyed my shower in privacy.

But when I came out of the bathroom, the spider was just a few feet away from the door. Not moving. It was staying camouflaged against the brown carpet while it caught its breath, I decided.

I detoured around it as I went across the room to get dressed. I detoured around it again when I went back to the bathroom to dry my hair. I detoured around it again when I went over to the desk to check my email. I went to breakfast. I came back half an hour later.

The spider was still in the same spot, looking smaller somehow and not at all threatening. Because it was dead. I swear, I never touched it. I never even got close enough to count its eyes.

The arachnologists forgot to mention one thing. Apparently, it’s possible to frighten a spider to death.

Categories: Wild Things | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

“Have you vertigo?”

Oh, the crystals in your ears can have you leaning on the wall.
The only way you can get out of your bedroom is to crawl.
It’s like an awful morning after, but you had no wine at all,
And it’s all because of the crystals in your ears.

It’s a pain to call the doctor, as upon the floor you sprawl.
And when you finally see her, she’s not much help at all.
“You will have to wait till the pangs abate—and try not to fall.
This is just a glitch with the crystals in your ears.”

You can let it overcome you and just sit right down and bawl,
Or try to see the humor though you cannot stand up tall.
Have you vertigo?” “No, I don’t think so, it’s just down the hall.
It just seems too far with these crystals in my ears.”

Oh, your friends may laugh and tease you if upon their help you call.
As they joke about your weakness they might have a ball.
But the heartless crowd that is laughing now will be left in tears
When their balance fails from the crystals in their ears.

With apologies to songwriter Ted Harris, all the musicians who have recorded “Crystal Chandeliers,” and anyone who has experienced benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, which while it lasts is not the least bit amusing.

Categories: Odds and Ends | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Person to Person

Way, way back in the olden days, when telephones had rotary dials, making a call meant putting one finger (or, for those with thick fingers or manicured nails, the end of a pencil) into the hole by the appropriate number, rotating the dial all the way to the right, letting it spin back to the left, and repeating for each number. Which is why we still often say we “dial” phone numbers, even though touch-tone phones with buttons started replacing rotary phones in the 1960’s.

Back when long-distance phone calls were expensive and not to be made thoughtlessly, you could dial “O,” get an operator, and place a person-to-person call. Not just to a given number, but to a specific person at that number: Mr. Jones in the purchasing department, or Uncle Albert, or your mother. Such a call cost more than a talk-to-anyone call you placed yourself, but if the person you asked for wasn’t in, the call wasn’t completed and there was no charge. A whole generation of college students found this useful. After a holiday or weekend visit home, placing a person-to-person call to themselves at the home number was a free way to let Mom and Dad know they had arrived safely back at school.

Today, the Internet allows us to communicate freely, easily, and almost instantaneously with vast numbers of people all over the world. The very idea of placing a phone call with the help of a human operator—and paying by the minute for it—seems almost as cumbersome and outdated as sending a telegram or writing a letter with a quill pen dipped in ink.

But one thing hasn’t changed. Every electronic communication we send out—an email, a text, a tweet, a blog post, a shared photo or video, a comment on social media—every single one is still a person-to-person message. Thousands of people might see or read or share it, but each one is a separate human being responding in an individual way. Even an automated robo-call or bot that targets huge numbers of random recipients originates from some real live person somewhere. And all that spam is received by separate people whose irritation and inconvenience is downright personal.

So, on the outgoing side, before you post or text or send any other kind of communication, it might be helpful to stop and consider whether it’s worth sending. I doubt that many of us would go to the trouble and expense of placing an expensive person-to-person long-distance call just to yell at someone or call them an idiot. Maybe it’s not a good idea to do essentially the same thing just because the Internet makes it easy.

And on the incoming side, we can take advantage of one very useful feature of the person-to-person call: If you are the one it comes to, you don’t have to accept it. You don’t have to participate in divisive or insulting messages, crude jokes, drama-stirring incitements to indignation, pseudo-sentimental appeals, unsolicited ads, or anything else you don’t want in your life. Every incoming communication comes with a choice to take it in or ignore it. You can read or view it or not, respond to it or not, disconnect from its sender as much as possible, make liberal use of spam filters, and choose not to waste time and energy on junk. No person-to-person message can be completed unless you say yes to it. You don’t have to be “in” to every piece of spam that comes your way.

Categories: Living Consciously, Remembering When | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Twinkie Pyrotechnics

You have to heat a Twinkie in the microwave for 45 seconds, on average, before it will explode.

Or so I read in the newspaper this morning. No source was cited for this intriguing and slightly disturbing little bit of information, but since it was in the paper, of course it must be true.

Still, an inquiring mind fueled by a wholesome breakfast and a second cup of coffee would like to know more. Such as:

How many trials did it take before researchers came up with the 45-second average? Three? Ten? One hundred? This is important; the more repetitions, the greater the scientific validity.

Was the microwave set on full power? And did the researchers experiment with microwaves of different wattages? After all, as anyone who has ever burned a bag of microwave popcorn knows first-hand, cooking times in different ovens may vary.

Who came up with the idea of exploding Twinkies in the first place? I can imagine two likely possibilities. One involves a college-dorm microwave and a certain amount of beer. The second involves a couple of bored 12-year-olds left unattended in a kitchen.

After the experiment was complete and the results duly logged, who cleaned up the mess in the microwave?

Is exploding a Twinkie properly categorized as scientific research at all? Or should it be considered performance art?

And perhaps most important, who funded this research? A weapons lab? A competing snack food company? A dental school? Or is there some sort of center for the discovery of alternative uses for junk food? (Someone somewhere, after all, had to come up with the idea of deep-frying a Twinkie.)

Perhaps it was the makers of Twinkies themselves. As a marketing strategy, it’s not a bad idea. Admit it: reading this has given at least half of you the impulse to go buy a package of Twinkies and do your own experiment.

Maybe it was NASA. Researchers there certainly have an interest in food that can remain edible throughout long space voyages. Suppose the Cassini space probe had left Earth in 1997 with a couple of Twinkies tucked in beside its scientific instruments. It’s possible the preservative-enhanced treats would have still been in their original condition when, in September 2017, Cassini plunged into Saturn’s atmosphere and disintegrated.

Now that would be a spectacular way to blow up a Twinkie.

Categories: Food and Drink | Tags: , | Leave a comment

The Barefoot Princess

It has been pointed out that everything Fred Astaire did on the dance floor, Ginger Rogers did too—backwards and in high heels.

I was reminded of this recently, watching one of my granddaughters not long before her third birthday. In a pretty pink dress, she was riding her little pink princessy scooter. Not in high heels, of course. In bare feet, with nail polish on each rather grubby toe.

Starting in the driveway, she would charge uphill on the sidewalk—more a slight slope than a steep rise, but uphill nevertheless—driving the scooter as hard as one hard-working little foot could make it go. At the end of the street she would turn, perch on the scooter, and hurtle back downhill. Grinning with glee, her hair and skirt flying, she would go faster and faster, then swerve at the last minute and screech to a halt just before she ran into the mailbox. More Evel Knievel, perhaps, than Ginger Rogers.

Being dressed like a little lady only proved to be a problem once. When she crouched low on the scooter on one of her runs, no doubt trying for maximum acceleration, the back of her skirt wound itself up in the back wheel. She couldn’t stand up until she was untangled by the combined efforts of Mom and Dad.

Who didn’t tell her to slow down, to be careful, to not be so wild, or in any other way to “play like a girl.” They merely suggested that, if she wanted to sit down on the scooter, shorts might be more practical than a skirt. As soon as she was extricated, she took off up the hill to make another run—standing up that time.

It is gratifying to see little girls like my granddaughters growing up in a world where being “girly”—enjoying prettiness and dressing up and all the femininity those things imply—is completely compatible with being strong, playing hard, and taking risks. As well as dealing with and learning from the scrapes and bruises that sometimes result.

What Ginger Rogers did in high heels was certainly impressive. Just think what she might have been able to do in bare feet. With or without nail polish.

Categories: Just For Fun | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.