Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Reigning Over the Reins

Faulty headline noted

Kennedy camp reigns in Bloomberg adviser Kevin Sheekey’s Senate seat lobbying efforts

(Headline on a New York Daily News article)

Oops. That should be "reins", not "reigns." Reins are the long straps on a horse's bridle that a rider uses to guide and control the horse. When a rider reins in a horse, he brings it to a stop, as the Kennedy camp would like to do with Kevin Sheekey.

A monarch reigns. After all the recent talk about the Kennedy dynasty and the entitlement to public office that the Kennedys supposedly feel, I wonder if the headline writer made a Freudian slip.

The NY Daily News article tells of efforts to "muzzle" Kevin Sheekey, who is described as New York City Mayor Bloomberg's "pitbull." Caroline Kennedy's advisers are afraid that Sheekey's high-pressure advocacy is hurting her bid for Hillary Clinton's soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat. The advisers are trying to rein in Sheekey's efforts.

Perhaps the headline writer didn't read Zane Grey westerns as a child. In Grey's fiction, cowboys reined in their horses nearly as often as they pulled out their guns. An example:

The cowboy reined in his horse, listened a moment, then swung down out of the saddle. He raised a cautioning hand to the others, then slipped into the gloom and disappeared.

(from page 54 of Desert Gold by Zane Grey)

On the frontiers of Zane Grey fiction, it didn't rain much. If anyone reigned, it was the cowboys. They had firm control of the reins.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Telephone Service in 1950

A phone in every home, Bell urged

I pulled a few National Geographic magazines from 1950 off the shelf and looked through them this evening.

It was interesting to see the ads that Bell Telephone System was running. I noticed two frequent themes: 1) We're a big company, so you can count on good service, and 2) If you don't have a telephone, you need to get one.

Here are the texts of two persuasive ads of the second sort:

Big Value At Low Cost

The telephone is a big bargain in security, convenience and good times for every member of the family. Just in the steps it saves, it more than pays for itself. Its value in emergencies is often beyond price. Day and night, every day, the telephone is at your service. And the cost is only pennies per call.

Advertisement by the Bell Telephone System, in The National Geographic Magazine, January 1950.

Service That Never Sleeps . . . Whatever the need or the hour, the telephone is on the job -- ready to take you where you want to go, quickly and dependably. Telephone service is one of the few services available twenty-four hours a day -- weekdays, Sundays and holidays. Yet the cost is small -- within reach of all . . . Bell Telephone Service

Advertisement by the Bell Telephone System, in The National Geographic Magazine, February 1950.

In 1950 -- the year of these ads --  62% of American households had telephone service (source). Most of those households were served by party lines.  Many of the rural party lines were owned by small locally-owned telephone companies that had no affiliation with Bell at all.

The Bell ads show sleek black desk telephones with rotary dials, but the telephones I remember from the 1950s had crank handles. We didn't have telephones with dials in rural Rock County, Nebraska, until the mid-1960s.

- - - - - - - - - -
Prairie Bluestem: Rural Party Line Remembered

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Best Wishes for a Happy Christmas

And a healthy and prosperous New Year!

Dear friends,

It's Christmas, whether or not the preparations are complete. What a relief!

For me, it's been a very busy season. I'm tired and a little frazzled, but I'm looking forward to attending a Christmas church service, exchanging gifts, cooking a nice family dinner, and then a quiet Christmas afternoon of conversation, movies, and games.

And there will be sweet memories of dear family members and friends and the Christmas celebrations of other years. How could we ever forget them?

When I look back at the last year, one of the highlights for me has been Prairie Bluestem and its readers. I've enjoyed your comments and e-mails.

I've known some of you for many years, and I've only recently met some of you through the blog. Old friend or new, I appreciate your company as we go down the road.

May God bless you this Christmas. As Tiny Tim put it, "God bless us every one!"


You might enjoy the Christmas series I wrote a few years ago: Ghosts of Christmas Past.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Icy Roads

Schools cancelled

The recent ice storm was persistent. On three successive nights, a new layer of freezing rain fell. School was cancelled for three days in a row.

To be precise, during the last week before Christmas, school was held on Monday and school is planned for Friday (tomorrow). It will be a wild day with the kids super-excited for Christmas. I'm glad I won't be there.

Ugh, Norovirus

Down and out with stomach flu

I've had an violent case of stomach flu. I suppose it is norovirus.

It started about 48 hours ago, in the evening. I was sick all night long. Dennis went to town yesterday morning and got me a bottle of Emetrol. I took most of it yesterday. It seemed to help more than the ancient Nausene tablets we had on hand.

I stayed home from work yesterday, and today was my day off, so I stayed home again today. I've been lying around the house, still recuperating. I do feel much better, though hardly back to normal.

I suppose I picked up the virus at work, probably from handling money. It truly is filthy lucre. I remember that I ate a cookie in the break room without washing my hands. Ack! I won't make that mistake again.

In fact, the cookies could have been where I caught it. Someone with dirty hands could have been groping around in the cookie tin. Yuck!

According to the websites, I may still be contagious up to a week after I start feeling better. There's no way I can stay home from work that long, so I will wash my hands carefully and often to prevent spreading the virus. Dennis and Isaac haven't caught it from me yet, and I hope no one else will.

Moral of this story: Wash, wash, wash your hands -- and suspect other people of not washing.

Monday, December 15, 2008

First Winter Storm of 2008-2009

Icy roads expected

As the solstice approaches, winter is upon us. Saturday's weather forecast suggested we might have freezing rain on Monday. On Sunday, a winter weather advisory was issued for Monday and Monday night.

Now it's Monday, and the weather has arrived. The temperature is 31° and light rain is falling. The weather advisory has become a Winter Storm Warning. An inch or more of sleet, ice, and snow is expected over the next 18 hours.

I was supposed to work from 10:30 am to 6:15 pm today. As I was ready to walk out the door, a  manager from my store called and begged to change my schedule to 2:30 pm to 10:15 pm.  A co-worker has cancelled. She drives about 20 miles to work and she is afraid the roads will be bad tonight.

I reluctantly agreed, though I live nearly as far from work as the other woman does, and my roads are not nearly as well-traveled. Furthermore, I have to be back at work early in the morning. There is no justice in this, and I probably won't even get a thank-you, but I guess I'll survive.

I'm feeling cranky -- have you noticed? Little things on the radio are irritating me. For example:

  • The Pajama-grams commercial -- are men so easily manipulated by fantasies? I suppose they are.
  • Are there really people who would pay to have stars named after them?
  • Anyone who says "incentivize" a dozen times in 30 seconds should have shoes thrown at them.

On the bright side, I have plenty of time before work today to take Grandma's box of Christmas candy to the UPS store. I'll even have time to go to the antique store to look for one of Isaac's Christmas presents. (No, I can't tell you what it is. Isaac does read the blog.)

I hope my northern readers have been able to stay inside and avoid the sub-zero wind chills today, and I hope my northeastern readers have electrical power, or at least, reasonable hope of power restoration soon.

And I hope all of you are giving the weather the respect and caution it demands. If you don't have a winter survival kit in your car, please assemble one that's appropriate for the potential dangers you face on your roads.

Related post:
Prairie Bluestem: Ready for Winter?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Biggest Moon in 15 Years

Spectacular moonrise

Have you noticed that the moon seems large and bright tonight? It's not your imagination. Tonight's moon is closer that it has been in 15 years. It won't be this close again until 2016. High tides are expected.

You can read more about this astronomical event in the National Geographic news:
Sky Show Tonight: Biggest, Brightest Full Moon of 2008.

I took this photo in Hopkinsville when I left work about 5:00 pm. The moon was clearing the treetops on the eastern horizon. I should have waited for the cloud to pass across the moon's face, but I was impatient.

The house in the photo was the clubhouse for the Skyline Golf Course until it closed six or seven years ago. Now it's a sports bar. But years before its rather frivolous modern history, it was a farmhouse, just a mile or two southeast of Hopkinsville.

The house has a name, but I can't remember it. I've searched all my Hopkinsville history books twice and can't find it.

I would have looked it up in the Kentucky New Era archives, but sadly, the Kentucky New Era made their archives inaccessible in a recent facelift to their website. Their puny little search engine now only gives results (including classified ads) from the last week or two.

If you know the proper name of this old house, please let me know.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Conflicted about Christmas Candy

With the temptation, a way to escape

I'm looking forward to Christmas, except for the Christmas candy.

The last few years, I've made a big box of homemade candy and sent it to my mother-in-law before Christmas.

Mama Netz used to enjoy making lots of candy and giving it away at Christmas. Now she is 93, and she lives in an assisted-living home.

It's hard to think of gifts for her, but she does enjoy having the candy to share. Part of the gift is that I use her recipes to make some candies that she used to make.

It's only about 2-1/2 weeks until Christmas now, so I need to get the box in the mail.

However, I'm reluctant to start because I like candy too much. It's hard for me to resist sampling the dipped chocolates and fudges and mints and so on.

I don't want to gain any weight or elevate my cholesterol or triglycerides, because I'm at the end of my prescriptions. I have to go back to the doctor within the next 30 days, and I hate it when he lectures me.

Yes, the doctor worries me more than the actual state of my health does. His nagging has affected me. I used to enjoy making candy instead of feeling guilty and worried about it!

Here is my plan. I'll make as much candy as possible on the next three days and send the box by UPS on Friday. Then I'll make all the candy plates for friends and neighbors, and I'll deliver those right away, too.

I'll save some candy for the family on Christmas Day, but I'm going to keep it in the shed until then. Anyone who wants to sneak a piece in advance will have to put on a coat, get the key, and go for a little excursion.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Dog News

For dog lovers

Three interesting articles:

And another incident of bad food from China (probably):

Australian Veterinary Association warns poisoned meat causing kidney damage in dogs

Do most pet foods disclose the origin of the ingredients?  I'm going to conduct an investigation on cat food.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Clichés Compiled

List of losers

If you are a person who enjoyed English class in school, or if you want to speak and write better English, take a look at Laura Hayden's list of clichés.

Often we speak and write with clichés because we are lazy. Rather than thinking of original ways to express our ideas, we repeat the familiar, overused phrases that come to mind so easily. Clichés make our writing and speaking dull -- and may suggest that we don't think much.

It takes vigilance to avoid them, but I'm inspired to try harder after browsing Hayden's list.

Cliché can be spelled with or without the accent. I like the look of cliché better, so that's how I've typed it.

20 of your most hated cliches

Marginally related:
Repeating a holiday cliche, a column by Martha Allen which contains an amusing anecdote about her child's reaction to an oft-told Santa Claus myth.

On the same general topic (thanks, Fred):
Oxford Researchers List Top 10 Most Annoying Phrases

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Deck the Halls

Unpacking the ornaments of the season

The Christmas tree is decorated. (Thanks, Keely, Taurus, and Isaac!) It's a new, smaller tree, and the old, larger tree has gone to Keely's house.

At the stores, I've been seeing themed trees -- woodland, gingerbread, jewels and sparkles, etc. If our cheery little tree has any theme at all, it must be "nostalgia."

The Christmas village is on the mantle, and the Santa Clauses have rendezvoused on the old steamer trunk in the hallway. The nativity scene is in its place of honor, atop the china cabinet.

One Christmas curiosity I always enjoy getting out is a very gaudy Peruvian nativity retablo that we were given when we lived in Bolivia. It was made for tourists, and it isn't valuable, but I like it.

The little box is white, outlined with red, on the outside. Under a triangular peak, giant purple flowers adorn the doors. The doors open to reveal a nativity scene, with a Peruvian point of view.

Mary and Joseph kneel, watching over Baby Jesus in the manger. In the foreground, a little boy and girl in Andean costume play the flute and drum. Below the manger, two dogs rest. (Or maybe it's a cow and a donkey -- it's hard to tell!)

 On the back wall of the box, golden clouds and stars dance across a black sky, and above all, the brilliant  star of Bethlehem shines.

The little retablo is a good reminder that the Christ Child and Christmas belong to all the world, not just to people who look and talk like me.

Monday, December 01, 2008

"Puzzle Pages" Workbooks Remembered

Reading seatwork series illustrated by Ethel Hays

In our one-room school, our teachers taught several classes for every subject. The number of classes depended on the grade levels of the current students. Sometimes there were half a dozen grades or more for ten or twelve students.

Usually, the teacher called the classes in order from youngest to oldest. "First grade Reading," she might announce, and the first grader/s went to the bench beside the teacher's desk with appropriate books and papers. After a few minutes of oral reading, the teacher assigned some seatwork and called the next class.

In the primary grades, we always had a page or two to do in the reading workbook, a few pages of practice reading from the textbook, a page in the phonics workbook, and the next page of Puzzle Pages.

Read and write, cut and paste

Puzzle Pages was a reading seatwork series. Besides the part of every page that had to be read, the work usually required some writing and some cut-and-pasted words or pictures from the back of the book. This kept our hands busy with pencils, round-tipped scissors, and globs of white paste. We were also expected to color all the pictures on the pages.

The cover of this Puzzle Pages workbook is exactly like the ones I remember. Just look how busy those children are. And so were we! My husband remembers this workbook, also.

One day, the children in the Puzzle Pages story went to the circus, so we had pictures of circus animals to cut and paste. When the teacher checked my page, she marked the elephant wrong, even though I had pasted it in the right place. She said it was colored wrong. Not having gray in my box of 16 crayons, I had made the elephant purple. Maybe she would have preferred light black.

Ethel Hays, artist and illustrator

ThePuzzle Pages workbooks were published by McCormick-Mathers of Wichita, Kansas -- a publishing company which appears to have gone out of business. Internet searches for "McCormick-Mathers" yield used books from the 1930s through the 1980s, but no website for the company.

The illustrator of all the various Puzzle Pages editions and revised editions was Ethel Hays. Her other work included a comic strip, Flapper Fanny, during the 1920s and magazine illustrations and comic strips during the 1930s. During the 1940s, she illustrated a number of well-knownl children's books, including The Little Red Hen (1942),  Little Black Sambo (1942), The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1942), The Town and The Country Mouse (1942), and others. She also illustrated the popular Raggedy Ann books of the same era.
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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.