Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas Wordoku

Here’s my Christmas Wordoku. For directions: see Wordoku, posted last month. I’m still waiting for a solution to that one. Give it a try! It’s fun!

_ _ C _ _ K _ _ F

F _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

_ _ E _ _ A C _ I

K A _ _ _ _ _ F T

_ C _ T A I _ E _

R E _ _ _ _ _ A C

I _ R C _ _ E _ _

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ U

C _ _ R _ _ F _ _

The Christmas clue word is: F A T R U C K I E

Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 23, 2007


When I was a kid I went outside to play after school every single day. Even when it was bitter cold, I went sliding on Malat’s hill or skating on Bassett Creek. I couldn’t wait to get out of my school uniform and into my snow pants and I didn’t come home until it got dark.

I still love being outside, but somewhere along the way I lost the love for being outside in the cold. It probably started when I suddenly began refusing to wear tights to school because they were not cool and stubbornly insisted on walking to school with bare legs. It probably was reinforced while waiting in line on Hennepin Avenue in my mini skirt for movie tickets to see Sidney Poitier in To Sir with Love and Vanessa Redgrave in Camelot. Baring one’s legs and standing or walking in sub-zero wind chills should be mutually exclusive events, but tell that to a teenager.

This year I have decided to make peace with the cold. After all, I live in Minnesota and it’s cold here for six months out of every year so I might as well learn to like it. Last spring I began walk/jogging along Theodore Wirth Parkway every day, and I’m planning to keep it up all winter long.

Today was a little tough. The temperature was near zero and a bitter wind was determined to wreak havoc with the falling snow before it reached the ground. The flakes that hit me as I crossed the railroad bridge on Golden Valley Road were not the soft, fluffy stuff of fairy tales, but sharp, piercing needles of ice that hurt as they pockmarked my face. Fortunately, I wasn’t running into the wind most of the time. Still, I think it might be time to dig out Colin’s old skiing goggles for days like this.

The amazing thing is that I did not slip. There is a sheet of ice under the new snow that didn’t give me any trouble at all. I credit my Yaktrax and I thank my friend, Denice, for telling me about them. I got a pair for $20 at Dick’s and they’re worth every penny. There was only one other runner out on the parkway with me this morning and he was leaving Yaktrax footprints, too.

Yaktrax are made of an elastic material called polyelastomer and steel coils. They fit right over the sole of the shoe, are lightweight and surprisingly comfortable, and are easy to put on and take off. The strips of elastic that fit across the bottom of the shoe are covered with steel coils that provide traction. I think Yaktraks work something like chains on snow tires. Instead of slipping on the ice, they provide stability as they scrape against it. I recommend them; I haven’t enjoyed winter this much since I was a kid.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


According to Merriam-Webster, “w00t” is the 2007 word of the year. It isn’t in the dictionaries yet and it can’t be used in Scrabble because the middle two letters are actually numbers (double zeroes: 00), but it is the word to watch.

W00t is an interjection, popular with on-line gamers, that expresses joy, happiness or excitement. Sometimes, but not always, it is used after a big win. Saying “w00t!” is a little like saying, “yay!” It is what my oh-so-hip husband will exclaim when he reaches into his Christmas stocking next week. “W00t! Once again Santa brought me socks and underwear!”

When w00t does not include double zeroes and is written “woot,” it is considered to be an acronym for “we owned the other team,” and to have the same meaning as w00t. Words that use a combination of letters and numbers are popular in on-line gaming, but apparently both w00t and woot are used. W00t (with the double zeroes) may be the 2007 word of the year, but I’m guessing it won’t be long before woot (with the double o’s) is an acceptable Scrabble word. W00t!

Thursday, December 13, 2007


I remember learning vocabulary words in English class when I was a freshman in high school. I can still recite many of them: hackneyed-commonplace, ostentatious-showy, etymology-word study. Peggy sat across the aisle from me in that class, nervous about our vocabulary quizzes every week. Mari sat in front of me, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and ready to go. We all wore uniforms: navy blue blazers with white blouses, blue plaid skirts and the ever-so-attractive navy blue saddle shoes that we referred to as combat boots. I’ll never forget the morning when I asked Mari if I could borrow a pencil before the quiz. She reached into the blazer pocket on her right hip to get one for me and let out a blood-curdling scream that distracted the entire class. Unknown to Mari I had taken my retainer out of my mouth and slipped it into her pocket, just before asking for the pencil. She got into trouble with Mrs. McPhee for that one, instead of me. Sorry, Mari!

Vocabulary quizzes are still in vogue at my kids’ high school today, and my son, Colin, who is now a college junior, readily admits that they actually helped him on his SAT tests. My daughter, Somer, a high-school sophomore, has taken to posting “Words of the Day” on a small dry-erase board on our refrigerator. I love it! I get out my bifocals to read her small print and spice up our dinner conversation with as many words from her list as I can. I am sure once her friends hear about this they will be clamoring to join us for an evening meal. Not!

This week Somer has taken a different tack. There is only one word on the dry erase board: "Finals". She says that it is a noun meaning, “a particularly harsh form of torture, particularly used on children.” She says the root is the Latin word “final” (fee NAL) meaning “death.” So dramatic! Where does she get it?

Needless to say it is Finals’ Week. It is time for students everywhere to strut their stuff, to show what they know in one, last, comprehensive examination in each class. Frankly, I kind of miss those days. As an adult, there aren’t so many concrete ways to measure our progress. Final exams didn’t kill me and they may have done me some good. After all, I still remember some of the vocabulary words on Mrs. McPhee’s test.

Sunday, December 9, 2007


I have been thinking about my comment yesterday that the ability to tell a good joke is an asset in all walks of life (see: steward). Our priest is an example of that. He keeps us entertained with a good joke every now and then, like this one after Mass this morning.

Jew: “You stole all our commandments.”
Catholic: “True. But we didn’t keep them.”

Truth is, the ability to tell a good joke is an asset in most walks of life, but there was a time in my own life when it wasn’t helpful at all.

In the summer before my senior year of college, I was working at the Chamber’s Belt Factory in Phoenix, AZ. I was employed to stand at a table and paint the edges of belts with black ink. If some of the ink accidentally spilled onto the front of the belt, it could be carefully removed with a rag before it dried; but if some of the ink accidentally spilled onto the inside of the belt, it left a permanent stain that decreased the value of the merchandise. It was tiring, tedious and surprisingly stressful work. The quality of my inking could determine whether a belt went to Marshall’s or Macy’s and the supervisors were always on the lookout to judge if someone was ruining too many belts.

There was one other requirement that made the job almost unbearable for me. We could not talk to our co-workers at all. We were required to remain absolutely silent and I am not the silent type. There was a woman stationed at my table directly across from me who did not have a problem with this. She was as proficient as a robot, and she didn’t make a sound. She would grab a stack of belts from the cart on her left, stand them on edge on the table in front of her, tilt them slightly toward her, hold them steady with her left hand while she dipped her sponge into a bowl of ink with her right hand, spread the ink across the edges of the belts with just the right amount of pressure to avoid a spill, return the sponge to the ink, tilt the belts slightly toward me and repeat. She would then flip the belts over onto the just painted end, repeat the entire process and place the finished belts on another cart to her right. Though she was only about six feet away from me, she never looked across the table at me and she never said a word. She just worked her magic on one stack of belts after another.

I spent most of my first day wiping the ink off of the leather and painting belts that would end up on somebody’s discount rack. It was really difficult to get the angle of the belts and the pressure of the sponge exactly right. Once I, more or less, got the hang of it, the silence got to me and I decided to talk to the lady at my table whether it was against the rules or not. I figured a joke would be a good icebreaker.

“You’re really good at this. You must have quite a few years under your BELT!”

No response.

“Want to go out for a few BELTS after work?” Trust me, it’s not hard to come up with belt jokes when you have nothing but the companionship of belts for hours on end.

The robot looked at me as if I were an alien. No smile. No comment. There was definitely, no laugh. I would have been happy with a groan.

On subsequent days, I tried:

“You make this job look like a CINCH!”

“If you don’t answer me today, I’m going to BELT you one.”

“I think this silence rule hits way below the BELT.”

In the end, I was making the jokes for myself. I didn’t even expect a response. I should not have been devastated when I was fired, but I was.

Years later, I heard a belt joke that was actually funny:

“What did the number 0 say to the number 8?”
“Nice BELT!”

For just a moment I wondered if that would have made the robot smile. I doubt it. Being able to tell a good joke is an asset in most lines of work, but it’s not worth diddly squat at Chamber’s Belts.

Saturday, December 8, 2007


My son wasn’t one of those “ha, ha,” funny little kids, but I think he was always interested in humor. I probably first noticed it when he was still in pre-school and his big sister got hooked on knock-knock jokes. One of her favorites was the familiar:

“Knock, knock.”
“Who’s there?”
“Dwayne who?”
“Dwayne the bathtub. I’m dwonding.”

Colin had a lesser-known favorite of his own:

“Knock, knock.”
“Who’s there?”
“Book who?”
“Book. Are you reading enough?”

Now, of course, the book knock-knock wasn’t funny, but I laughed anyway, so my darling, earnest little comic thought it was hilarious. I laughed the first time I heard it and I laughed the one-hundredth time. Moms are like that. I appreciated then, and I appreciate now, how well he was able to imitate the form of the Dwayne knock-knock joke, even if his made-up version made absolutely no sense at all. He had no idea why Erin’s joke was funny because he was too young to understand it, but he was doing his level best to play the game and get a laugh.

Knowing how to tell a joke well can be a nice attribute in any walk of life. Even the presidential candidates are quoted with their favorite jokes in this morning’s StarTribune. My favorite is the one Mitt Romney tells about his wife:

Mitt: “Ann, did you in your wildest dreams see me running for president?”
Ann: “You weren’t in my wildest dreams.”

Today my precocious little jokester is a charming young man of twenty-one, with a good sense of humor and much better material than the book knock-knock. Last weekend I had the pleasure of watching him bring his comedic wit to the character of the steward in Into the Woods on his college stage. I was also pleasantly surprised when I read his biography in the program.

“I’ve played a few roles in Columbia theater now, the Steward was the only one that was too hard. Nevertheless, I had a great time, made some new friends, and am glad my mom is here to see me.”

Feeling all puffed up about my mention in the program, I failed to read his bio carefully and missed his joke.

“I’ve played a few roles in Columbia theater now, the Steward was the only one that waS TOO HARD. Nevertheless, I had a great time, made some new friends, and am glad my mom is here to see me.”

Funny people usually make good company. It warms my heart to know that my son is one of them.


1. I’m glad the Spigs were able to put “qi” to good use on the Scrabble board. Count me in for your next tournament.
2. Thanks, Emily, for teaching me a new portmanteau word and educating me on SPAM. This is a timely topic, with eleven employees of Quality Pork Processors in Austin, MN suffering from a rare neurological disease after using compressed air to clean brain matter out of hogs’ skulls. Makes me want to rush right out for a can of Spam.
3. I’ll keep my euphoria in check the next time I play “qat,” Colin. It sounds like seriously dangerous stuff and I hope the Somalis who are now living here left it in Africa. Most of the Somali men I see are either driving cabs or collecting money in parking lots. It would not be a good thing if either group became manic or irrational from chewing qat, although it might make a funny comedy sketch.
4. The etymology of the word steward is "sty," meaning pigpen + "ward," which can mean guard. Can we say, then, that flight attendants and palace stewards are employed to guard pigpens?
5. After years of writing stuff and filing it away without any feedback, I really, really appreciate the comments.
6. One more clue for the Thanksgiving Wordoku. The top line is EFWORMAYL. I guess my earlier clue wasn’t very helpful since the “E” was in the original puzzle. Duh! Coming up: Christmas Wordoku.

Monday, December 3, 2007

qat, qats

Here is another valuable “u-less” “q” word: “qat,” a noun which also has a plural form: “qats.” It is a tropical evergreen shrub that can also be spelled “kat” or “khat” and is pronounced KOT. The plant, which is primarily found in Africa, contains a natural amphetamine that is considered psychologically addictive. Chewing the leaves can produce feelings of euphoria and stimulation. One source indicates that ninety percent of Yemeni men regularly chew qat and that its production and distribution have been a source of conflict between Yemeni and Somali societies.

One of the words I played during my losing Scrabble match in Florida (see: qi) was an evergreen shrub, but it was “yew,” not “qat.” Interestingly, the yew is a symbol of sorrow or death, while qat apparently provides euphoria and stimulation. Next time I’ll play the word qat, instead of yew, and hopefully feel euphoric when the final score is posted on the refrigerator.