Take back the words

This post, while inspired by the Daily Post prompt: Morphing. Is a bit off topic with regard to the actual prompt.

Last Sunday’s paper had an article about the words that are being removed from the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) commonly used as part of college entrance criteria here in the USA. I knew every one of the words they were removing, and was saddened that we are letting some of the richness, and nuance of our communications go.

It is probably a sign of our times. When I was taught to compose many, many years ago, we were encouraged to use a variety of words, it was considered bad form to repeat the same ones over and over again. Say it once and say it right. Add more, different words to deepen meaning and make the message more accurate. In the age of the internet and search engine optimization we are encouraged to try and use key words as often as possible to raise the ranking.

It matters more how many times a computer search engine plunks your content down in front of searchers than whether they get an accurate idea of what you are trying to say. Ironically, at the same time, we are using media that limits the number of words and  characters we have available to communicate (e.g, twitter).

To use a minimum of words to get maximum meaning we need to know a wide variety of nuanced words. Instead we seem to be letting them go.

A couple of examples from the past few decades: “gay” and “tea party”.

Why let go of feeling gay (happy, joyous) in order to have a euphemism for homosexuality? If homosexuality is okay then it is okay to say “homosexual”; why do we need a euphemism? I think the euphemism “gay” makes homosexuals sound a bit shallow, which is not my experience.

We have a Christmas “Tea” at our church because some folks  didn’t want to use the phrase “tea party” since it had political  implications (the Taxed Enough Already political party was in the headlines). My thought (obviously I am a rebel) was that there is nothing wrong with having a Christmas Tea Party, and we shouldn’t surrender an accurate description of our event (which is a party with music, decorations and other celebratory  features that take it beyond the British tea as a meal definition) to a bunch of political yahoos. We use more words on our advertising, we have to say “fun and festive” since we can’t just say “party”. The political upstarts should be the ones who have to come up with a different description (refraining here from judgmental suggestions). Obviously I lost the debate…discussion…argument.

I think people should go to college. We should all learn more, but reducing our vocabulary and the richness of our language isn’t necessarily the approach we should use to opening those doors wider.

Language does change, but maybe we should fight it a bit. Maybe we need to up our vocabulary game instead of dumbing* it down.

*Dumbing is not approved of by my spell checker, even though the phrase “dumbed down” is fairly common. Hmmm….

 

Luxury. What is a luxury?

Today’s prompt:

Keeping up with the Jones’s: Tell us about the one luxury item you wish you could afford, in as much detail as you can. Paint a picture for us.

This really got me thinking. The Google defines luxury thus:

lux·u·ry
ˈləkSH(ə)rē,ˈləɡZH(ə)rē/
noun
1.the state of great comfort and extravagant living. “he lived a life of luxury.

Here is a facebook post I made a few years ago:

A flush toilet, hot shower and clean hair are my favorite luxuries but they do not make up for the sorrow of saying goodbye to friends. We are back in Nairobi now, clean and fresh, but a little sad.

 

KSM-20120226-Luxuries-01-720pxThis sums up my view of luxury. I do like to be clean and have comfort, but people matter to me more. The toilet and “shower” available in the village  was this:
These were, in fact, luxurious compared to what most people who lived there had, and I was darned happy to have them.
Today the back of my legs are hurting because of yard work I am doing to make our yard less hospitable to mice (see Mouse Droppings). It would be a luxury to not feel my legs, and yet it is a luxury to have a yard and garden…and a car. It is even a luxury to have legs that work, and they are sore because my life is really pretty easy.
I am not sure what the Jones’s have…or don’t have, but I am pretty happy with what I have and don’t feel like there is anything I really want, although less achy legs would be nice.

 
Keeping up with the Jones’
 

Sink or swim…or walk on water?

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…okay it was just Boston, but when I left Seattle to go to college the farthest east I had ever been was the Grand Canyon in Arizona. I was a college student who needed a summer job, badly, something decent that could both pay the rent and allow me to save something toward the next year’s expenses, and, as a bonus, would be a good stepping stone to life in the real world.

A friend helped me with my resume and its distribution. She called the shots about what got put down, I am an insecure nerd and felt like, after two years of engineering school, I knew nothing (studying engineering can have that affect on you, even if you get good grades).

So I got a job in a summer internship program with the government. I was thrilled and a little nervous until I got to work that first day…then I was absolutely terrified.

I was to work writing computer programs in Pascal. I took a class in Pascal my first semester in college and got an A-. So why the fear? The minus was because I had never successfully run a program on a computer. I was, probably more so thirty plus years ago, good at logic and got every point possible in that class where no computer skills were needed. I totally understood the theory…and totally could not control a computer.

On paper I looked qualified, actually more qualified than the others since they had learned other programming languages (FORTRAN was the heavy hitter in those days for engineering disciplines). I needed the job desperately, so with a combination of shear desperation and a little luck I taught myself how to control a computer in about three days.

Fortunately the schools from which the other members of the intern team were coming, MIT and Tufts, were a little later getting out than mine (Boston U) and I was able to get the manuals for the Apple III and had sole access to the computer we were to share for a few days. Between that and the project taking shape a little slowly I was able to get up to a speed where no one ever knew. They even thought I was pretty sharp!

While I managed to learn to control a computer and the experience left me with a rather stubborn attitude that I can and will make computers do what I want them to. I never did actually get to liking, or completely trusting, computers.

The problem I had with that first, and only, programming class was that the delimiter on my account was set to a semi-colon. In Pascal all commands are separated by semi-colons, nothing can work if there are no semi-colons. I would type in a program, it was letter perfect and copied from the text book and the computer would remove all of the semi-colons! The problem baffled many people and was eventually figured out by an upper-classman who really needed me to get done so he could use the computer (this was before the PC and long before it was ubiquitous for college students to have computers…we were expected to have typewriters).

So I swam, but it felt an awful lot like I was walking on water, even though I worked pretty hard to get the result. I gained a lot of self-confidence in my ability to figure things out, with a lot of hard work. I am also a lot less shy about asking for help. I wonder if I could have gotten an A + in that class if I took it today.
Sink or Swim

 

Mouse Droppings

Ah, the magic of the New Year, time to hit the restart button on a healthy life style after the decadence of the holiday season. This year I have scoped down my hopes for the future: I don’t care how much I weigh or how I look. I just want to be able to drive without stinky air being blown at me. It is a resolution about health, but not in the usual way.

The Monday before New Year’s we were headed over to my dad’s to pick up the remnants of the Christmas festivities. I started to back out of the drive way when…what was that noxious smell?

Mice had decided to hole up in my car engine, specifically the ventilation system to get out of the cold weather. Yuck. Yuck. Yuck. (One “yuck” is inadequate.)

My husband dismantled the glove compartment, vacuumed and cleaned at the cabin air filter (dislodging some of the droppings onto the blower in the process) and washed at various other spots he thought might be helpful. The earliest we could get it into the dealership to have the vent system cleaned out was yesterday. I spent the week driving around, in pretty cold weather, with the glove box on the floor of the passenger seat and my windows open.

I don’t need a luxurious lifestyle, but this really isn’t adequate.

I tend to take a live and let live approach to wildlife…until they cross a line. Believe me they are across it. I won’t say I have no mercy, but darned little. My New Year’s resolution is short term: get the back yard cleaned up so our little friends will migrate elsewhere and I can park in my driveway again. I sure hope it can be achieved.

Resolved

I Fear Another Year has Passed

Fearless Fantasies
If I had no fear it wouldn’t change things much. I am scared of lots of things, but have long since learned to suck it up and soldier on. Fatigue and lack of inspiration are much more limiting to me. This year’s holiday season is a good example of that.

This year I felt “blah humbug” . I like many things about the Christmas season…and I kept trying to get my jingle on.

I got poinsettias and decorated the hearth.

KSM-20151229-Hearth-01-720px

I went to the Gingerbread Village. It was about Star Wars. Felt a bit commercial…and, while clever, many things were a little creepy and violent. Sort of like current events.

I decorated with evergreens.We even got the tree a week earlier than usual.

I baked. The smell was helpful. The inevitable mess less so.

KSM-20151223-Cookies-01-720px

In search of holiday spirit I put together one of my Ravensburger Christmas jigsaw puzzles and read Christmas stories out loud…to the cat.

Everything was jolly but there was something missing. Maybe it was the sad, sad events related to terrorism. Or the feeling I often have that they should rename the holiday “consumer-fest”. The perpetual bombardment of advertising makes me numb…and got me feeling a bit rebellious. I didn’t want to buy anything.

On the plus side we had nice family gatherings, it is nice to see folks, even if it is only once a year.

The holidays are winding down. The ham bones from Christmas Eve’s feast are gently simmering, on their way to becoming New Year’s Eve’s split pea soup.

As always, I seem to think that the week between Christmas and New Year’s is going to be longer than a normal week and expect to get more done (my husband has that week off). Alas, it is just as short as any of them. A few chores done, a few things put away and…poof it’s gone. Just like 2015.

Happy New Year!

Apology to a Suitcase

Detail of the Seattle gingerbread village: underground Seattle complete with stuck tunnel machine and money going into the tunnel. 204 holiday Season, Seattle.
Gingerbread view of Big Bertha-Money going down the drain.

After reading the paper this morning I was filled with remorse. On my last trip to China I called you Big Bertha, after the boring machine (tunnel boring not tedious boring). The paper had an article about Big Bertha. They think it will finally start work again after 2 years of repairs. It was wrong to call you after that machine.

You have never stopped working. You have traveled tens of thousands of miles loaded to the max and all your wheels still roll (one does stick a bit and have to be adjusted now and then). In spite of being dragged around and dropped in some fairly dusty and dirty circumstances you look great, a few wet wipes and vacuuming and you look just like you did when you came out of the box back in 2008. To compare you with an expensive machine that traveled only a thousand feet before needing extensive, and expensive, repairs is wrong.

My excuse is that I like to travel light and you weigh eleven pounds empty. I have never taken a trip with you where you were not pushing up against the airlines’ weight limit of 50 lb. As much as I can lift, and probably more than I should lift, in the awkward ways one lifts suitcases in and out of buses and trains, bending and twisting at funny angles.

Your heavy weight was because you were full of things for people. Books for an elementary school library in rural Kenya, gifts for friends and family. I rarely take you when I travel, only when I have lots to take, yet you have been to New Zealand, Australia, the Netherlands, Kenya (3 times) and China (2 times). You always got where you were going and held up in situations where a lesser, lighter, piece of luggage might have buckled under the load or lost a wheel. Heck, between trips you worked as storage for off season clothing.

Now you sit in my son’s room in China, acting as a wardrobe, probably soon to be reloaded for a return trip to the states. Full of souvenirs and gifts for family and friends…and the love they symbolize. But what should I call you now?

Bixi at Dai Miao in Tai'an.
Bixi at Dai Miao in Tai’an.

Maybe “bixi” (pronounced “bee shee”, give or take, as the “sh” isn’t quite equal to ours) after the stone tortoises that carry the heavy steles on their backs. The steles commemorate important events.

Side note: since the spell checker didn’t like Stele I double checked it and, in addition to being correct, learned that it is the source of the word stellar.

Ripped from the Headlines!

 

Two-thirds

This post is a response to Cee’s Compose Yourself Challenge: Using 2/3 of your frame.

This challenge was a real challenge. I started by having to look up what “Bokeh” meant. If, like me, you are unfamiliar it is where you try to make the background out of focus. Decent article about it on the Nikon web site: Bokeh for Beginners. The article talks about using aperture control to do this so I had to mess about trying to remember how to do that.

The results are here and in the header:

The weather has been dismal so I did some messing about with still life pictures (not an area of particular interest). In doing that I learned that the light in our house on dark grey days makes things look yellow in pictures, so I had to adjust the white balance. I didn’t get it real good, the cat’s eyes should be greener.

On Saturday the dogs were lazy after a walk on the beach.

Left 2/3
Ginger, Left 2/3

On Sunday I decided to venture out to the farmer’s market, since it was only windy. The market was not as photogenic as I had hoped I took several pictures but none really worked. The better ones were of valiant but misguided cherry blossoms, and a curly hazel. It was hard to get focused pictures because of the wind.

The two best from that expedition:

 

To my eye this technique works better for close ups, like the animals and flowers, than for things that are farther away like the curly hazel.  In the pictures I liked better, of Ginger and the cherry blossoms there were items actually at the 1/3 grid points as well as the subject taking up 2/3 of the frame.

Eye of the Tortoise

The gate is the eye, the granite rock formation is the tortoise.
The gate is the eye, the granite rock formation is the tortoise.

At the top of Tai Shan there is a round gate called the “eye of the tortoise”.  The tortoise is one of the nine sons of the dragon.

The gate itself is pretty cute.

KSM-20151018-Tortoise_Eye-01-720pxThe eye of the tortoise is a gate to a viewing area. This is one of the places people come to watch the sunrise (to read about our sunrise experience check out Sleeping Dragon Slowly Opens One Eye). More famously, it is where Confucius came to view his territory, the stae of Lu.

I have wondered about the significance and connection between this formation and the bixi, which are a statue of a tortoise carrying a stele on its back. Mount Tai is a very old place of importance and it would be interesting to know if this granite formation helped shape the mythology of the region.

Yishan Dongzhen Temple, Weifang, Shandong province, China

What do you think?

Eye Spy

Predicting my future: Rain in the forecast

Predicting rain during the winter in Seattle is like shooting fish in a barrel. Here is the forecast from today’s paper:

Windy with rain at times. Rainfall amounts a quarter to a half inch possible. (Note: it has already exceeded that!) Highs near 50. Tonight: breezy with showers likely.

Don’t you love how they differentiate between “windy with rain at times” and “breezy with showers likely”?

My near future looks pretty bleak: it is so dark that it could be 5:00 in the evening although it is about noon, the promised rain and wind have arrived, and in less than an hour I have to go out in it. Drive over, walk my Grandma’s dogs, then take her to a doctor’s appointment, by driving on steep slippery streets…yuck!

The picture shows one lonely outside Christmas ornament we put up between storms.

This post is a response to the Daily Post prompt: Life Line

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