Friday, August 1, 2008

Procrastination Vacation!

Ah, summer! It's August, and the fish are calling us. "Come catch us!" they whisper. "Come filet us!" they hint. "Come fry us up in pancake mix and butter!" they suggest. "Come eat us!" they insist. We shan't disappoint them.

Yes, it's time to join what's becoming an annual ritual for my family: fish camp. We find a place on a lake, rent a few cabins and a pontoon boat, catch fish like crazy, and eat eat eat! This year we will have almost 40 people from four generations of the family: my 92-year-old grandmother, still healthy and witty and determined to enjoy everything now that it's our turn to cook; 7 of her 8 children (plus 4 or 5 of their spouses/partners); 10 of her 11 grandchildren (plus 6 of their spouses/partners); and 8 or 9 of her great-grandchildren, from Boy, the eldest at 14, to the newest addition, only 3 months old. It will be quite the gathering, complete with food, cards, food, swimming, biking, food, reading, sightseeing, and I think some food.

So, Dear Readers (all six of you), I am taking a break from this blog. Although my laptop is accompanying us up North, I won't being trying to work. I have no need to procrastinate, and thus no need to spend time here. Besides, half my regular readers will be up at camp with me. Through the magic of scheduled postings, a new photo-of-the-week entry will appear on Monday; if I manage to finish The Pioneers tonight, I might schedule it to appear during the week. But maybe not. The fish are waiting, you see, and I need to get ready.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Word Nerd Sez: A is for ...

Okay, I'll admit it. I'm a word nerd. I don't just mean it in the sense of "words are my tools as a writer and I like to have a full tool box." I'm a word nerd in the sense of "sorry I'm late, I looked something up in the dictionary and got distracted and read the whole section between yak and yerk."

Words fascinate me. I like their precision. There are whole stories in their etymology.* Words are what separate us from the animals; they are uniquely human. So I get lost in dictionaries sometimes. I'm a longtime subscriber to the A.Word.A.Day listserv, and rarely get stumped by the Reader's Digest "It Pays to Increase Your Word Power." Being a word nerd means I also like to share my enthusiasm with others. So for you loyal readers of The Blathering (all six of you), I introduce a new feature: "The Word Nerd Sez..."

In this installment, I begin at the beginning. The Word Nerd Sez: A is for ...


It's only appropriate I begin this feature with a word whose meanings include "alphabetically arranged" or "relating to the alphabet." As you can tell from the pronunciation—ay-bee-see-DAYR-ee-uhn—the word was inspired by the first four letters of the alphabet. Medieval scholars coined the term abecedarium because they wanted a fancy Latin word to describe their alphabet books, and we changed -arium into -arian so it could serve as either noun or adjective.

I love abecedarian games. When Boy was younger, we often dealt with long waits by playing alphabet games such as "pick a subject and name words from A to Z." (It's relatively easy for astronomy—yay, quasar and x-ray!—but harder for subjects like vegetables or car models.) The abecedarian book constitutes a whole genre of children's books, from Sleeping Bear Press's state-by-state series of alphabet books to works by Caldecott winners like Chris Van Allsburg.

My favorite abecedarian work is Edward Gorey's The Gashlycrumb Tinies, a perfect antidote to the sugary saccharine books we sometimes see for kids. I wish I could find my copy (it's a tiny book, and has been swallowed up by one of my overcrowded bookshelves), but to give you a taste, the book begins: "A is for Amy who fell down the stairs / B is for Basil assaulted by bears." I was totally hooked even before I got to the exquisite line: "N is for Neville who died of ennui." I don't think I'll ever pen an abecedarian work, but the word sure is fun to play with.

*Etymology: the study of word origins (from the Greek etumon, true sense of a word + -logy, to speak of or study), not to be confused with entomology, the study of bugs.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

If you tear it down, will they come?

So the other day we were headed to Canada and were detoured from the highway. They've got the roads shut down because they're rebuilding everything in order to provide a better "Gateway" to the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Detroit and Windsor. Of course, being an MDOT project, the detour signs were completely useless and we ended up wandering around Detroit. This is not scary to us, as both of us worked downtown for at least ten years and know that the city's horrible rep is for the most part undeserved. (Unless you're talking about city politics, in which case it's worse than you've probably heard.) Anyway, our version of the detour took us to Trumbull Street, the home of Tiger Stadium, former home of Detroit's professional baseball club.

Now, I'm not a diehard baseball fan. I enjoy live games (and courtesy of my writer's flexible schedule, have accompanied my friend to Opening Day the past six years), and might watch an inning or two if I click by it on the TV, but more likely than not I'm can't tell you the Tigers' record on any given day. I'm not compelled to follow every move of the club or watch every game, as I am with Michigan football. Still, I have a certain fondness for the Tigers. The first local championship I ever witnessed was the Tigers' run in 1984. I actually went to over a dozen games at Tiger Stadium that year, in which they opened the season 35-5 and finished with 104 wins. I remember watching Jack Morris throw a no hitter (on the tiny 10-inch TV in my folks' kitchen), and I was actually at the stadium when the Tigers won their 100th game, making Sparky Anderson the first manager to hit that mark in both the American and the National Leagues. When the Tigers clinched that fourth victory in the World Series, I remember walking out from my apartment on campus and hearing people honking their car horns and cheering. (I also remember the overheated coverage of people in the city "rioting" over the championship. Sigh.)

In later years I was excited to see the Pistons, Red Wings, and Wolverines win championships, but the Tigers were my first experience with sports glory, so I have very fond memories regarding the team and Tiger Stadium. This made what we saw during our detour so sad: Tiger Stadium is being demolished.

Don't get me wrong. The new stadium, Comerica Park, is a lovely facility and has contributed to a revival of that part of the city. But it seems so wasteful to just tear down the old ball park. Baseball was first played at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull in 1896, and Tiger Stadium itself has been around in close to its present form since the late 1930s. After it closed following the 1999 season, however, the park has remained vacant. There is a group that is trying to redevelop the site, preserving at least the field, but it's not guaranteed that they will succeed. Seeing the left field wall come down seems like a blow against all the hopeful things people in this part of Michigan would like to see for the city of Detroit.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Photo of the Week--7/21/08

What can I say? I'm a sucker for beautiful architecture set against blue skies. It was a gorgeous spring day in Paris, way back in April 1999, and here you see the Mr. and the Boy sitting on the steps of the Sacre Coeur Cathedral in Montmartre. Tourists and locals, all enjoying the weather and the beauty of the city. What more could you ask for on a weekend trip?