Sometimes I Do Other Things

Five minutes with the eclipse

August 21. The word is eclipse. Eclipses are a big thing for me. Here’s a list of ones I’ve seen in my lifetime (so far)

  • 7 March, 1970. Southern California. around 40% School made such a fuss.
  • 10 July, 1972. SoCal again. Around 20%  There was minor fuss.
  • 26 February, 1979. East-central Indiana. 70% Fuss. School. Shadowboxes. Science!
  • 30 May, 1984. Annular eclipse, east-central Indiana. Near 80% School ignored.
  • 10 May, 1994. Annular. Chicagoland, Illinois. Near 100%, but never full darkness. I remember seeing mentions on local news and in the papers. Nothing major.

I made a point of getting outside to view all those events, but I’ve never seen totality. Never saw night come in the daytime. Never saw the moon pass fully before the sun in front of my wondering–and vision-protected–eyes.

Side note, yes, there’s a gap in my list. An eclipse was visible in North America in 1991, but…well, I missed it.  I’m sure it happened, but the internet wasn’t the major event-reminder-hype machine it is today, astronomy was at its media nadir, and I wasn’t paying close enough attention. Solar coverage was under 20% where I was anyway, so…meh.

Anyway. All those eclipses, but never a totality. Until now.

<cue dramatic music>

Barring disasters/disastrous traffic and weather permitting, I’ll finally see the moon swallow down the sun later today in southern Illinois.

Not taking pictures. Not going to live-tweet or post to Facebook or anything. Blessings and admiration to all who do–you’re generous to share your experience as it happens. Me, I am not a talented enough multi-tasker to attempt experience and description at once. But I’ll write about it later, I promise. After.

In the meantime, if you’re in any area that’ll see more than 30% coverage, it will be noticeable. Freakish-noticeable. Try to peek outdoors for at least the few minutes when the moon passes overhead. Even if it’s cloudy. Even if it’s nasty. And if you can’t…well, the internet is a thing, and NASA will be broadcasting the eclipse totality zone from all over the country. EVEN FROM SPACE.

Chances to marvel at nature’s biggest light & shadow show do not come along every day. Take the opportunity. Stop and marvel at the wonder of being in the world.

But do NOT look straight at the sun, not even a little. Please don’t. The internet will show you why not, in gruesome detail, if you insist on checking, but time spent on the horror stories is time better spent looking up videos of past eclipses to ooh and ahh over.

That’s what I’ve been doing. I am VERY EXCITED. Have I mentioned that?

Until later….

word provided by Nature.

Five minutes with peregrinations

August 16. The word is peregrinations. That is to say wanderings, travels, journeys…

This is the perfect word for today. I exchanged wedding vows with my hero Spouseman on August 16th, 1986.  For those not inclined to count, this anniversary marks thirty-one years of wandering together, hand in hand, (and occasionally at each other’s throats) rambling through life and across the country.

We do a lot of road trips. Given a choice I would drive nowhere, but I love auto travel. Navigating and reading maps and scenery-watching, all that is fantastic fun.

Unplanned travel is my favorite kind. I love road trips of the classic variety, where being in motion and experiencing new things is the focus, not the destination.  The BEST of the bestest trips are the ones with no pre-planned destination at all–but that’s not as simple as it sounds. Unplanned travel takes a lot of planning.

Maps are critical to unplanned travel. So is travel food. (It isn’t a road trip without Funyuns, Cheese Nips, and Mountain Dew. I don’t know why, but this is a true thing.) I must pack all the clothes for all the possible activities. . And there must be a travel pack with all the necessary personal items, first aid supplies and suchlike. Because, you know, all travel is wilderness travel and there will be no possible way of purchasing anything necessary anywhere on the road.

That last is a total lie, of course, but it took me decades of traveling as an adult to shake the childhood conditioning.  I think my love of spontaneous exploration is in part a rebellion against the  planning, documentation, and regimentation drama that went into every single family trip. But that’s another story or ten.

But I have found that the more I aim for total self-sufficiency–without  the more smoothly the later peregrinations will go off.

And when in doubt, or if anything is going wrong, buy MOAR TRAVEL SNACKS.


word provided by Theresa Sterbis

Five minutes with incontrovertible

August 14. The word is incontrovertible.

“I do not think that word means what you think it means.”  Inigo Montoya Princess Bride.

I know, I know, he said that about inconceivable, not incontrovertible, but both words suffer the same “it sounds impressive, so I must toss it in as an exclamation” issue.

Incontrovertible is not a synonym for accepted, commonly-known, or fervently believed, even if that is the way I often hear it used in casual discussions. “We live in a world where lizard people control civilization,” Some Random Person will say in my hearing. “I know this to be true because internet! It’s incontrovertible!”

Uh. No. NOPE. Incontrovertible means inarguable. UNDENIABLE. A fact so true it can’t be amended, modified or converted in any way. Period. For a point to be incontrovertible, it must stand up to rigorous challenge and all too many things people insist are incontrovertible are in fact, baloney.

I think it’s a symptom of this modern life. When blatherskites hornswoggle people right and left with shameless lies and outrageous misbehavior, trust  erodes fast and critical thinking is tossed aside in favor of gut feelings. (RARELY a good idea when dealing with analysis)  People are not willing to accept much as incontrovertible–and that’s a problem, because many things really are.

Beliefs can’t be incontrovertible, but facts are still facts. No, really. Facts =/=opinion.

That’s incontrovertible.

But it is a truth that needs to be universally acknowledged that a powerful person in possession of no conscience whatsoever can obfuscate even the most incontrovertible facts completely.  Smoke and mirrors make everything look malleable.

And that’s sad.

word provided by Quincy J Allen

Five minutes with hornswoggle

August 9. The word is hornswoggle.

Another word to bring on the smiles, unless, of course, one has been hornswoggled.  Which is to say, you’ve been cheated, fooled, had the wool pulled over your eyes, or suchlike.  

The verb “to hornswoggle” sounds so much friendlier than swindle or defraud. And I think it sounds classier than plain old cheating.  It definitely looks more handsome. Cheat is an ugly word, as ugly as the deed itself.  There’s a multi-syllabic implication of cleverness involved with hornswoggle, but with a dash of down-to-earthiness, like it’s an ordinary thing that could happen to anyone. No one is always the clever winner.

I don’t know that I would rather be hornswoggled than cheated, but maybe I wouldn’t feel quite as stupid after it happened? Hard to say.

It’s another old word I would love to see revived, though. I giggle whenever I imagine all the television talking heads and web pundits saying it instead of cheat (or even better, in place of all those times they use fake as a verb.)

I am, perhaps, too easily amused. But I’m honest about it.

Word provided by Cynthia Snell

Five minutes with blatherskite.

August 7. The word is blatherskite.

Hee. This word. It slithers greasy and slick off the tongue. Perfectly evocative of the kind of the kind of person the word describes. For those unfamiliar with blatherskite as a term, here be the definition according to Grandiloquent Word of the Day, which is where I first learned of it.

Blatherskite (BLATH•ur•skyte)
-Someone who speaks at great length without saying anything important.
-A person who talks at great length without making much sense.
-A person who blathers on a lot.

From Scots, alteration of blather skate, from “blather” or “blether” – blather + “skate” – a contemptible person
First Known Use: circa 1650

(GWOtD has a Tumblr and a Facebook, and I recommend them for fun times with words.)

ANYway. It’s an old word that deserves more modern usage, it really is. It’s a fun word describing the un-fun kind of person to run into at a party or to have to endure as a commencement speaker. I’m pretty sure being a blatherskite is a requirement for anyone who looking for a career in infomercial hosting or reality show participation.

And national political punditry of course. Blatherskites all over the blogosphere, oh, yes.


Word provided by John Gardner

Five minutes with a turtle

August 2. The word is turtle.

Oh, so many things I could write. Turtles are my wonderful mother-in-law’s little totem critter, the way otters are mine. Their biology is entertaining and strange, the group includes both endangered species and invasive ones…

But I want to tell you about MY turtle.

See, I had a turtle once. For one whole summer. We had recently moved to small-city Indiana from Orange County CA, from a place where nature happened in concrete ditches and was reconstructed through landscaping in high-fenced backyards to a neighborhood where we could walk down a hill into an undeveloped flood plain around a creek. It was a whole different world down there. Jungle-like and overgrown, with thorny plants and seaweed smells, mud and nothing contained–and we were allowed to wander all over it.

Wonderland for a ten-year-old, in other words.

Early the second summer there I found the weirdest looking turtle ever (small, the size of my hand, with big lumpy bumps all down his back)  wandering around the creek bottom. Now, we were a camping family who made leaf pressings and knew wildflower names and trees and had all the Little Golden Guides, so I’d thought I knew turtles. Box turtles and sliders and pig-nosed…nope. He was none of those. He was A Mystery!  I had to take him home with me so I could consult the guide.

Be still my childish naturalist’s heart, he was A SNAPPING TURTLE! How thrilling was that? It was the best thing ever.

I decided I had to have him, even though I knew it Wasn’t Responsible to keep wild animals. “Can I keep him for a little while?” I asked. “Just for the summer?”

My clever parents, who knew dissuading their stubborn daughter from her obsessions was best done indirectly, said, “You can keep him as long as you keep his aquarium clean and feed him. You know he only eats live fish, right?”

Of course I knew, because I’d read my nature book. Looking back, I’m sure my parents expected me to give up and let the turtle go, if not immediately, then in a week or two, but no.

It was summer.  There were lots of little fish in the creek. The fictional kids in my adventure books caught fish to survive all the time. How hard could it be? Not hard at all, actually, although I gave up on the fishing pole after an hour because it was B-O-R-I-N-G, and also midges, flies, and mosquitos.

Hand-fishing, on the other hand, was fun because barefoot and water EQUALS fun, and there were lots of things to look at under the water while I waited. It takes only stillness, I learned, and loads of patience. (I needed practice with both skills, did I mention how clever my parents were? Either way, they won…)

Anyway. I carried creek water two blocks uphill for that little turtle’s aquarium and  caught little minnows with my hands for him all summer. He got a lot bigger, and when it came time for school, I released him down on the grassy creekside where I’d been catching his meals. And that’s the end of that story. Sorry. A bit anti-climactic, I suppose.

Fast-forward twelve years to my first post-college job. Did you know pet stores sell  goldfish for ten cents apiece specifically for feeding to carnivorous turtles, frogs and fish? Maybe you did, but I didn’t. Not until that day I started working in one.

I laughed so hard.

The more you know…

word provided by Amanda Bonnett

Five minutes with bacon

July 31. The word is bacon.

Mmm, fatty, chemical-infused pig meat. Okay, it doesn’t sound quite as delicious when phrased like that. I am a bacon fan.

Not everyone is. Even setting aside those who avoid it for reasons of dietary restriction, which is no small thing, there are those who eschew it for fat-related reasons, or vegetarian/vegan princples, or just because they do not like the taste of it.

That last one is harder to wrap my brain around, because I ADORE the taste of bacon.  Just bacon. I don’t actually like it added to everything, dipped in anything, adorned or accessorized. Just give it to me plain and hot. There’s something about the squeaky, salty, smokish crunch-and-tear sensation of biting into perfectly cooked bacon that no other food quite matches.

It smells pretty unique too. My ideal morning smells like hot sizzling bacon, toasting bread with a hint of berry preserves, and brewing coffee.  Add in a touch of chill damp and resin in the air, the kind of scents you get from being camped under pines near a spring-fed lake, and I’m describing my personal heaven.

I’m not going to drink the coffee, mind you, but I do adore the perfume of it when it grinds. The flavor rarely lives up to the promise of its complex, flavorful smell.

Bacon is much the same way. It ALWAYS smells good cooking, but the results can be disastrous. Our regular breakfast place (the one where the servers always drop off a pot of tea for me as we are seated) is used to me ordering “super-extra-extra-crispy almost burned” bacon.

I know, lots of people like it limp and “juicy.” They’re entitled to eat their bacon any way they want, except when they start being judgy about mine. Then we”ll have to have words.  (Yes, it happens. It’s astonishing, how often I’ve been critiqued for wanting crispy bacon…)

I don’t understand why bacon creates so much controversy, but it definitely does.

word provided by Jim Moy

Five minutes with akimbo

July 26. The word is akimbo.

This word always makes me think of newborn foals and calves, all leggy and staggering around looking for their mothers. It’s such an awkward-sounding word that it projects an impression of clumsy, limb-unsteady staggering.

I feel that way despite knowing it means NOTHING like that. What does it mean?  Rather than make anyone look it up, here’s a paraphrasing:

Akimbo  is the particular word for “standing with your hands on your hips and your elbows turned out”, aka the” disapproving parent” pose or the “proud as a peacock” pose, or many others I suppose, depending on the angle of the chin, facial expression and other subtleties not covered by the akimbo part.

So…not necessarily clumsy at all.

It falls into the category of “words people use in writing but rarely say out loud.” Have you ever heard anyone use it in conversation. I have not, and that’s saying something, coming from someone who regularly throws around terms like electrophoresis, diacritic and animated.

Clamber is another one of those “have I ever heard that?” words. When does one have reason to talk about clambering up or down something? Can you think of any more words like that? We could start a list.

That category is distinct from “words not used as expected.”  I’ve been reading a lot of romance lately, and I confess I am more than a little tired of winging elbows, speared hair, raked skin, and plundered body parts of all kinds.

I should probably start a list of my least-favorite overused phrases too. Just for jollies.

word provided by Lynda Allison

Five minutes with incandescent

July 24. The word is incandescent.

I might have a thing for four-syllable words. They have a beat that appeals. I mean, one can say “lighted from within by heat” with a lot of words. Alit. Glowing. Shining. Fiery.  I could keep going without a thesaurus, but my POINT is that I like the four-syllable version of it best of bestest.

In-can-DES-cent. You could dance to it. Tossing that word into a sentence with a lot of short, brisk nouns really changes the flow and …erm…brightens it up.

The “it’s on fire” implication pleases me too. I am a fan of fire. When I was a camp cook, we did all our meals over open fires, so that meant three to four fires a day (s’mores!) six days a week for ten weeks. Rain or shine, all outdoors. We had a backup pit in the tin-roof dining shelter, but I only remember using it four times in four years. Three times were in one memorably soggy summer.

The rest of the time we made that cook fire roar hard enough to scare off puny raindrops. It wasn’t just for food either. Typically we boiled about 20 gallons of water per meal for washing and semi-sterilize all the dishes too.  (Bleach was also our friend. Better/healthy living through chemistry.)

ANYway. The best part was lighting the first fire of the day. We had a little ritual for banking a fire to be safe overnight. No dousing with water the Girls Scout way, because this was a working pit, not a campfire. We banked it like pioneers, burning it down to nothing,  burying any hot coals safe beneath a heavy layer of cool ash and clinkers at the bottom, then covering the pit with the spark grate.

Our side goal was to go as many days as possible without lighting a match. Kinda like those safety signs. “It has been (X) days since we last resorted to using modern tools.”

Imagine kneeling in the dew of the early morning to dig through smoky dust while still sleepy-eyed and pre-caffeinated, until at last you find one tiny coal withering to nothing at the touch of damp air. Your only tools are sassafras twigs, the power of your lungs, and the skill of your hands. Careful, gentle, as delicate as can be, you breathe life back into that coal until fire leaps free again, newborn and hungry for fuel.

I felt as powerful as any goddess, I swear. Incandescent indeed.

Word provided by Sue Sherman

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