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Sometimes I Do Other Things

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

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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

Five minutes with ballet

July 19. The word is ballet.

Nutcracker. Mikhail Baryshnikov. White Nights. These are things I think of when I hear the word ballet. I picture ranks and swirls of people moving in concert so fluidly and so gracefully they might well be a flock of birds or a school of fish. Speed and power, discipline and a severe, stripped down beauty in unison. The floofy costumes and the extremes of it have never appealed, but I confess I do love me some glitter hair gel.

I wanted to do ballet with a terrible fierce want when I was little, like oh, sixish. I didn’t want to be a dancer, exactly. Perform? NONONONONO. Did Not Want.  I especially didn’t like tutus. (Scratchy!)

But the spinning and stretching and being allowed to move? Getting to wear soft shoes and tight, smooth unitards like the people on Star Trek wore? A special place to belong, with gleaming slick floors and spicy smells, and mirrors everywhere?! (I have a fascination with reflections) All that AND the opportunity to be praised for doing things right?

Oh, how I wanted that.

Later roller skating, martial arts and gymnastics were added to the list of “things lucky other kids get to do.” Why did I never do them? I knew from Adult Talk around me that they were Expensive Distractions From School, and also (I was told later) my parents “never knew I had any interest.”

As it turns out, avoiding those activities was likely a good thing for my health. Given my body’s invisible limitations and the lack of knowledge/caution in those long-ago days before genetic testing and studies on the ways exercise affects young, developing bodies….I would have ended up  bent like a pretzel with joint injuries by college.

Still and all, when I see dancers their beauty has an added magic for me: the fantasies of a road not taken.

 

 


Word provided by Cathy Torgerson

Five minutes with conspiracy

July 17. The word is conspiracy.

I used to love a good conspiracy theory. The veils of fiction that drape themselves around real events will always draw me in. I adore a good story, and at root, that’s what every conspiracy theory is: a narrative that explains “facts”  in a way that better please the theory’s creator than boring old reality does. Like oil slicks atop the surface of a puddle or mirages on hot pavement, these confabulations are seldom pretty but often mesmerizing.

Real conspiracies are, I think more rare than the theorists would have us believe. The amount of long-term large-scale collaboration and secrecy required for conspiracies like chem-trails and the like would be inhuman.

See, humans are super-good at keeping secrets for short time periods but lousy at keeping them for long ones. As the saying goes, three people can keep a secret if two are dead…maybe. The truth will out and all that. It may take a lot of blood and sacrifice, but someone will always dig to the bottom of things. Humans are nosy, and knowledge is power. Someone will always want to spread power to the people.

Hah. How many trite saying did I get into that paragraph? Don’t know. Can’t pause to count. ONLY FIVE MINUTES.

ANYway. Conspiracy theories scare me these days. Not the confabulations themselves–those are still amazing windows into the minds of their makers and wondrous tales of weirdness. No, what terrifies me is the number of people who have lost all ability to analyze dazzle & razzle and mistake narrative polish for substance and verifiable data.  “It makes sense” is not a proof. “I can see how that would work” is not a truth test.

The way people have lost the ability to tell truth from fiction has become too widespread too quickly to be natural. I suspect a plot.

 


word provided by Margaret Kozlowski Jarosz

Five minutes with cromulent

July 12. The word is cromulent.

Spoiler alert: I looked this one up long, long ago, because it is a fun word, and I wanted to know why I’d never heard of it. Answer: it didn’t exist before the mid-90’s, and didn’t get into regular usage until the late 00’s.  I can see why it’s gaining in usage. Just saying it is fun. Go ahead, say it. You have to roll it around in your mouth. krom-you-lent.

It sounds serious and scholarly and important…and yet..what does it mean?

Turns out it isn’t a real word or one that has a meaning. Cromulent has no definition. As far as I can tell, it was deliberately created without one. I consider it no more  or less legitimate than any other  word, but it is (as far as I know)  the only one specifically designed to be obscure.

It was created for The Simpsons, which is to say born in humor, raised on sarcasm, steeped in facetious silliness. Nothing about the Simpsons can be taken seriously, but that’s why it’s such a seriously good humor-mirror for society.

The thing that makes cromulent most fascinating (to me, granted, and I am easily amused) is that it shows off the Emperor’s new clothes of language. It’s a grammatical white space that makes other words show up better. Even though it’s meaningless itself, meaning can be inferred from all the words around it. So really, it means everything.

That is so cromulent!


word provided by Beth Waggoner Patterson

Five minutes with custard

July 11. The word is custard.

This word feels ugly on my tongue, slippery-slimy and gritty in the middle, which is odd given that custard is so delicious. I didn’t always feel that way. I used hate custard.

I thought it sounded gross, and I loathed the eggy taste (yes, I can taste yolk in baked goods, its why I prefer scones to muffins…ANYWAY) and I didn’t like the mouth feel of the substance any more than I liked the word.

I liked vanilla pudding though — but only the kind that gets cooked, not the instant kind. I was a picky kid.

Chocolate pudding pies will always hold a soft spot in my heart. too.  Why those nasty things? Well…partly because chocolate was a forbidden thing since it unpredictably caused hives, but mostly because that’s what came in the brown-bag lunches we ate in the bed of the pickup truck on the way back to camp after four days padding canoes sunrise to sunup and eating foods chosen more for their ability to survive dunking than their tastiness.

After four days eating rock-hard wheat bread, dense granola, salty cheese, and dried-meat dinners, that first bite of preservative-laden, sugar-rich, flavorful chocolate goop was pure tastiness. So was the first sip of caramel-colored carbonated sugar water, for that matter. And the salty blast of the chips? Nothing better.

So I have always enjoyed puddings but custard was gross, and when I was given desserts called custards I disliked them intensely.

I didn’t even know pudding and custard were (essentially) the same thing until I was given my first cookbook-of-my-very-own as a wedding present and read it cover to cover. (What? That’s weird? Pffft. It wasn’t like I would ever make 95% of the things in it, but I figured it might be entertaining and I was right. Far more informative than all the shampoo bottle labels and candy bar wrappers I have also read in full…again I digress)

The shared ancestry was noted and then ignored, as was the discovery from reading too many English mysteries that “pudding” is actually a more general term for a particular menu item/meal course–not necessarily dessert, and not necessarily sweet.  Wasn’t important to me that what I called pudding was an Americanized label for a particular type of boring custard. Pudding = yum, custard = pass.

Until I was introduced to creme brûlée. Only then did I understand that Real Custard could be GOOD.  Heavenly even. But hey. Open flame and burned ingredients are involved, so my affection for it should not be entirely surprising.


word provided by Debbie Manber Kupfer

Five minutes with gorgon

July 5. The word is gorgon.

So I cheated and looked this one up beforehand, because I didn’t trust my memory on what, exactly, a gorgon was. I recalled snakes were involved. And decapitation, perilous escapes, and being turned to stone. All entirely vague. Species or individual? Monster from birth, or transformed human(s)? No idea. I remembered Medusa was one, and Perseus killed her, and there were consequences. And a Pegasus.

I’m glad I looked into it, because the research dropped me down a long, fascinating internet rabbit hole of mythological information. So much fun. More data, please.

USEFUL information? Pfft. Not really. Or, rather, yes of course, all is fodder for the imagination, but not practically useful. I mean, I’m not banking on the likelihood of someone doing a quiz-on-the-street interview with a cash prize for the answer to, “What is a gorgon anyway?”  Or is it who is a gorgon? (Both, as it turns out)

Gorgons are at the center of a huge complex web of mythos, and their myths are connected to a vast network of other myths. Even the firmer variables — they change people to stone, snakely body parts are involved–have varied radically from place to place, age to age.

So many variations! So I guess there’s no one right  way to be a gorgon. The mutability that shines a light on the evolution of myth over time and the magical way each generation can take a story, layer on new ideas, strip away old ones, change the lessons taught, and put its own stamp on the tale.


Word provided by Luke Green 

Five minutes with armadillo

July 3. The word for today is armadillo.

A group of armadillos can be called collectively a roll or an arrangement. I am not making that up, I spent 45 seconds of my writing time verifying it through internet searches. (I grant there seems to be some disagreement on which, if either, collective noun is correct but it’s the internet, people disagree. Go figure.)

ANYWAY.

Armadillos, or as translated from Spanish “little armored ones AKA “possibly the only animals hit by cars more often than opossums” are a species I just know was created on a Friday afternoon from spare parts so everything on the workbench got used up and no one had to put anything away before the weekend.

Scaled armor, but big ol ears. Long snout, silly little tongue, and an embarrassment of a tail. Oh, and not only the ability to roll into a protective ball of nothing-but-armor, but also timid enough that considers rolling into a ball a preferable defense tactic.

They are, in a word, silly. Ridiculous, even. But they live their lives without fuss, they don’t go out of their way to bother anyone else, and they eat pests.

All great reasons to like armadillos. All great lessons human beings could collectively benefit from practicing. Like, say, on a political level.

And with that, happy Independence Day! (early)


word provided by Susan Smith-Franks

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