Out of the mouths of babes
Zoo Lou of St. Paul: “It’s been said that out of the mouths of babes, who are honest and innocent, comes wisdom.
“But Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. — poet, physician and father of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. — had his own version of this sentiment: ‘Not only out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, but out of the mouths of fools and cheats, we may often get our truest lessons.’
To Mr. Holmes’s résumé, I would add ‘visionary.’ With all the buffoonery and skulduggery going on in this country, we are certainly learning ample lessons from fools and cheats.
“So it was refreshing to read the article in the Sunday Pioneer Press (11-18-18), in which first-graders from area schools shared what they were thankful for. Their imagination and sincerity were truly heartwarming, even if some of the spelling needed a little work (including ‘breth’ for breathe, ‘becos’ and ‘bcuss’ for because, and ‘vacashins’ for vacations).
“All the letters were wonderful, but a few really impressed me:
“‘I am thankful for love, because love is really important.’
“‘I am thankful for kind people because rude people aren’t nice.’
“‘I am thankful for creativity! I think creativity is great! It is my favorit activedy when I am bord.’
“‘I am thakful for bats becose they can eat mosquitoes.’
“‘I am thankful for virtue because it makes the Earth a safe and good place.’
“To all these young writers: Thank you for restoring my faith in humanity. And don’t worry about a few misspellings. That’s how you learn!”
Kathy S. of St. Paul: “Sarah Silverman just said, on ‘The View’: ‘What are we? We’re kids plus time.’
Life as we know it
The Gram With a Thousand Rules: “Subject: This was no picnic.
“I was sure that I was going to be kidnapped if I agreed to go on a picnic with a kindergarten classmate. (I know; I had watched far too many Shirley Temple movies.) Little Janet just wanted to be my friend, but I wanted nothing more to do with her. She was a demanding, bossy little thing and had plagued my existence throughout my last six months of morning kindergarten, so when her mother called my mother and invited me to go along that Sunday, I rebelled. A fat lot of good it did me. Mother gave me a gentle lecture about being kind: The poor little girl is an only child; I could certainly give her a little pleasure for a couple of hours.
“My eyes were red from weeping when they arrived to pick me up. The mother was the devoted, hovering kind of mother — and the dad? Well, the dad was a big, intimidating guy who already looked ticked that he had been talked into this picnic idea with his wife and his spoiled kid, and now he was going to have to endure this red-eyed whimpering kid, too? Off we drove — probably I would never see my happy home again — and that was the day I learned that other fathers could swear.
“By the time we arrived out in the country for the picnic, the dad was in full steam and I was doing my best to stop my blubbering . . . until I walked into a thorn. It stabbed me in the side of the leg, and as the mother tried timidly and ineffectually to pull it out, I opened up in a full-throated bellow. That did it. The exasperated dad had had enough. He ordered us all back into the car, and in his haste to get this sobbing injured child back to her parents as quickly as possible, he managed to slam my fingers in the car door.
“That was the moment when I really felt sorry for the poor man. Neither one of us wanted to be there in the first place, and in a way, his Damn-it-all-to-Hells and his Jumping-Jehoshaphats had tended to lend a bit of hominess to the entire misguided debacle.”
This ‘n’ that
From Al B of Hartland: (1) “The Lewis’s woodpecker was described by Alexander Wilson and named after Meriwether Lewis, who first saw the bird in 1805 on the Lewis & Clark Expedition. This woodpecker forages like a flycatcher and flies somewhat like a crow. It has a gray collar, pink belly and dark green back. It breeds from British Columbia southward to central California and New Mexico, and eastward to western South Dakota.
“It rained, sleeted, snowed and everything in between as I watched the suet feeder near Rochert (Becker County), Minnesota, where a rare Lewis’s had been reported. A downy woodpecker sampled the suet. Then a red-bellied woodpecker flew in and out quickly. A juvenile red-headed woodpecker, with a brownish head, flew to the suet and chowed down big-time. By far, the most common birds eating the suet were yellow-rumped warblers.
“The Lewis’s woodpecker flew in. I had great looks at the bird. I smiled.”
(2) “I was on a ferry in Alaska when someone told me that she had never been to a McDonald’s restaurant.
“‘Ever?’ I asked. This was like discovering a Bigfoot, albeit one with tiny feet.
“‘Not once,’ she answered.
“‘Do you have grandchildren?’ I asked.
“I knew it.”
The vision thing
Including: CAUTION! Words at Play! (And: Not exactly what he had in mind)
Semi-Legend writes: “Subject: A Puzzling Toast.
“I do the ‘secondary’ crossword puzzle in the STrib, the one created by Timothy Parker, as a warmup to doing the New York Times crossword in the Pioneer Press.
“Parker’s on November 15 had this clue for 25 down: ‘How tie games are played.’ The answer seemed to be ‘TOASTANDOFF.’
“‘Toast and off,’ I muttered. ‘Never heard of it.’ I made a note to check the origins of this strange expression.
“Then I noticed the puzzle theme: ‘I’M PRESENT.’ Thematic answers started with FROM or TO.
“Ah! ‘To a standoff.’
Everyone’s a copy editor!
Or: Not exactly what Senate Republicans had in mind?
Donald: “Subject: A sticky situation.
“The article on Page 2A of the November 10th Pioneer Press had this headline: ‘House Democrats pick Hortman for new Speaker.’
“This was the first sentence in the fifth paragraph of the piece: ‘Senate Republicans are still in control and stuck with Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka.’
“That could be open to interpretation.”
Friendly Bob of Fridley reports: “As I headed into the outlet mall in Eagan, a young couple was headed out. I would guess they were probably in their early 20s, and looked to me to be the picture of health, with a definite spring in their steps. But as they walked by, I heard the young man say: ‘Man, I am bushed. I hope no one chases me, because if that happens, I’ll just fall to one knee and beg for mercy.'”
The sign on the road to the cemetery said “Dead End”
Electronic Board of the Church on Lexington in Shoreview Division
Our Official Electronic Board of the Church on Lexington in Shoreview Monitor — Red’s Offspring, north of St. Paul — reports: “Subject: Taking the chill off.
“The latest message on the electronic board of the church on Lexington in Shoreview:
“‘WHEN IT’S COLD OUT
“‘WARM OTHERS WITH
“‘ACT OF KINDNESS’”
Our theater of seasons
A quickly outdated (November 14) email from Bloomington Bird Lady: “Subject: Must be warmer, the critters are out!
“So glad to see an actual 40 degrees out there! Also: a black cat looking longingly up at the birds in the platform feeders — just ready to make a gigantic leap! Sorry, kitty, I just had to chase you away.
“Yesterday there was a medium-sized opossum harvesting the fallen seed from the leftover snow. Since possums are omnivores, seeing one is a good thing, as this is the time of year for mouse invasions. (They look so much like a gigantic rat — tail and all.)
“Always dismayed to find traces of mice. A friend said ‘Mouse Magic’ would be the answer to these little pests. The box has about 12 tiny sealed bags to open and put wherever you’ve had problems: cabin, garage, kitchen, etc. These smell of peppermint, which mice don’t like. Just remember to replace the used bags in a few months. Much better than spring-type traps, or sticky traps — both rather inhumane solutions. Other people I’ve told of this remedy must have tried it, as the price went up this year. (What else is new?)
“P.S. Enjoying the lack of nasty political ads? Way too ugly; glad they’re gone!”
There’s nothin’ like a simile!
B. Dazzled of South St. Paul: “Subject: A melange of metaphors.
“Heard on MPR this morning: ‘I didn’t want to talk to anybody, so I melted into the woodwork like a chameleon.'”
The flu to end all flus? (responsorial)
Babe of Burnsville: “Subject: 1918 flu.
“I think my paternal grandmother was also greatly impacted by it. As she died long before I was born, I could not ask her, but in all the pictures I have seen of her, barring the wedding portrait, she looks pretty grim. She had all the ‘usual’ hardships of the time: e.g., losing an infant child, hard physical work on the farm, no electricity, etc. But she also lost two adult children to the flu: an 18-year-old son who died of it in boot camp; then, a few days later, a 36-year-old daughter.
“According to Dan’s statistics, it seems that perhaps one in 25 people worldwide died from that pandemic. Hard to imagine.”
The Great War (cont.)
Dawn Everling writes: “This is a letter from King George V to the American soldiers, dated April 1918. Soldiers and sailors got this when they landed on English soil.
“My grandfather, Mason Pierre Johnson, sent this back to his parents after he arrived in England: ‘From your Soldier son somewhere in Ingland. Had a nice trip – a little sick. M. P. J.'”
Leading to: The highfalutin amusements
Norton’s mom of Eau Claire, Wisconsin: “Subject: Lutefisk???? Really!!!
“My mom was extremely proud to be full-blooded Norwegian, and referred to the fact often. Her dad came to the United States from Norway as a teen, and both of her mom’s parents also came here from Norway. That made me half-Norwegian, and the rest was a mix: German, English, Slavic, a touch of Irish — that information coming from my dad and my paternal grandmother.
“When the chance to get a DNA test done through a well-known genealogy website came along, I was willing to pay the fee to see how the results would match what I’d been told by both sides. My results included 50 percent Scandinavian, which I assumed to be Norwegian, and a mix from my dad’s side, confirming pretty much what I’d been told.
“I received an update from the website a couple of months later. I was kind of shocked to see that the ‘Scandinavian’ was broken down into 38 percent Norwegian, with a mixture of Swedish and Finnish to complete that 50 percent. My first thought was one of thanks that my mom wasn’t still on this earth to learn about these new results — although it had thundered a lot the night before I received the update, and I thought perhaps that had been Mom showing displeasure with the company that provided the results and their conclusions about her ancestry.
“The bottom line of all of this is that I am half-Scandinavian, at least till the next update — which my smartphone apparently knows, as the other day when I was messaging someone on my phone, I was given these suggestions for the word I wanted to type in:
“Apparently my smartphone isn’t all that smart. It should know that I would never end that sentence with lutefisk! Lefse, yes, but lutefisk never.”
The Workshop Chronicles (update)
From IGHGrampa: “I finished that elf well before Christmas. It turned out pretty well. Now I have four figures to put out front for Christmas display: Santa, Mr. Elf, Frosty, and Rudolph.
“Now I’m thinking of maybe a little elf mother with her elf children. I doubt that I will find a picture on the Internet to use. I may have to draw it myself, which will be a real challenge.”
Gma Tom writes: “While I am no way in the same category as Mounds View Swede, I always enjoy his incredible photos and thank him for sharing.
“His photos from his son’s visit to a Japanese Garden in Portland prompted me share a few of the photos taken during my recent visit to Japan, also showing more color than I expected to see.
“I enjoyed shirt-sleeve weather and did not appreciate coming home to this early ‘snow.'”
His world, and welcome to it!
Tim Torkildson: “Subject: The Beach.
“There is something about a beach, freshwater or ocean, that pulls me irresistibly into a good and generous mood. Find me on the beach anywhere in this distended world, and I’m liable to treat you to the best meal available in a hundred-mile radius, or offer you a string of pearls, or at least build a sand castle with you. Whatever is fine and decent in my usually crabbed and crusted soul expands like a Ja-Ru Magic Grow Capsule whenever the shore is near.
“Growing up in Minneapolis, I often walked or biked down to the Mississippi shore around the Hennepin Avenue Bridge. Now gentrified, homogenized, and sterilized, the Mississippi shoreline 50 years ago was an overripe, pungent, fascinating landscape of lazy carp gulping sewage direct from large brick tunnels, littered with bed springs and beer bottles, and smelling of peppery weeds and urine. Waves slapped at the speckled, gritty shore as coal and grain barges majestically sailed past in water that was a peculiar kind of brown — more of a stain than a color, with diesel rainbows wavering on top of it.
“Sitting on an elm stump, I watched the crows and pigeons wheeling in the pale-blue sky over the water as the sluggish tugboats thumped sullenly by. There was always something interesting to pick up on the shore. Snags of driftwood. A large leather boot with a black rubber sole. Solitary burned-out headlamps bobbing in the backwash. And slack rusted steel cables that ran out of the river and up the steep wooded riverbank to who knows where. I yanked them out of the muck in a vain attempt to see what mysterious objects they were attached to, but never succeeded in finding an end point. They were dangerously untwisting with age, with individual steel threads broken off and forming vicious pointed spikes. Only the mercy of the water gods kept me from jabbing myself and perishing with septicemia.
“I also cavorted on many a lakeside beach in Minneapolis, always on the lookout for minnows, tadpoles, turtles, and frogs. Dragonflies perched on the cattails, owlishly observing my efforts to corral a shiner in my cupped hands. As a boy, I always felt oppressed with useless and capricious rules imposed on me by hordes of adults, but when I was by the water, those same stifling ukases always seemed remote and unenforceable. I grew up believing that the beach meant freedom.
“When I arrived in Venice, Florida, at age 18, to attend the Ringling Brothers Clown College, I was met with a tantalizing and intoxicating smell that curled my toes. Saltwater!
“I spent every spare moment at the beach in front of the Venice Villas, where I shared an apartment with five other students. I relished standing stock still in the sand as the water washed over my feet and they gradually sank into the fine grains right up to my ankles. A canal emptied into the Gulf a few yards down the beach, forming a lagoon where alligators patrolled for little white poodles that old ladies incautiously brought down on their flimsy leashes to exercise.
“There is no breeze to match a saltwater beach breeze. It stiffens the hair and picks at the eyes. Hunger and thirst are magnified into an insane animal lust that can be satisfied only with grilled red snapper steaks, mugs of steaming crab bisque, baked potatoes the size of bowling balls, and flagons of hissing mineral water. (What did you expect? The drinking age in Florida was 21.) A half-dozen veteran Ringling clowns had their winter homes in Venice, and they had me over for such meals on a regular basis; I think they were half-enthralled and half-repelled by the stamina and urgency of my ravenous gluttony. I ate a dozen oyster fritters in one sitting at Swede Johnson’s house — a feat of digestive folly that inspired the old clown to nickname me ‘Pinhead’ for the rest of my professional career with Ringling.
“A few years later, I was in Thailand as a missionary for my church. There are nearly 2,000 miles of beach in Thailand, but Elders on a mission for the Church were verboten to go anywhere near them. A swim in those inviting tropical waters meant being sent home, defrocked and disgraced. So I could only gaze longingly at those luscious beaches from a sanctified distance for two whole years.
“But 20 years later I returned to teach English, a sad and divorced middle-aged waif, and began a steamy love affair with beaches from Kho Samet to Khrabi that soon cured my melancholia.
“On a beach in Thailand, you first rent yourself a large canvas deck chair, at 100 baht for the full day. (That’s about three American dollars.) You station it under a nearby palm tree and immediately send one of the little boys who hang around the beach like sand fleas to the nearest bamboo seafood shack for a banana leaf filled with shrimp fried rice, for 50 baht. Also some green papaya salad that is prepared with a mortar and pestle and concocted with a generous portion of lightly boiled shrimp and raw crab. (It’s a lot of fun to spit bits of crab shell, like a kid spitting watermelon seeds.) After your repast, you stroll down the pure white sand and take a leisurely dip in the water, which is the temperature of tepid soup. Thoroughly refreshed, you return to your deck chair for a snooze. When you awaken, it’s time for another dip, and then, as the tropical sun begins its descent and the breeze freshens to a cooling caress, a lovely girl comes by to offer a foot massage for 200 baht (about six American dollars). At the same time, another lovely young thing may come by to offer a haircut or a manicure. And the kanom jiin vendor stops by to see if you’d like a bowl or two. After your foot massage, it’s time to walk along the beach awhile, looking for bits of brain coral and sea glass to take back home for the whatnot cabinet. Chances are good you’ll run into a not-too-sober mahout with his baby elephant in tow, and for 20 baht you can take all the selfies you want with the cute little pachyderm. Even ride it, for another 20 baht. Time for one more swim, and then settle back into your deck chair as the local Thais start a driftwood bonfire and pour out their hearts with traditional romantic ballads while they pour in gallons of Chang beer.
“One might, of course, meet Someone on the beach in Thailand, and then the night becomes more than gem-like stars and dazzling moonlight that reflects playfully off the gentle waves. Or one might not. If the latter, there is always a nearby pier where the fishing fleet has dropped off a fresh catch of something or other that goes into a communal pot of spicy curry. A bowl of it, with rice, will set you back 20 baht.
“You end the night with a freshwater shower on the beach, which costs all of five baht. And then toddle off to bed.
“Since Thailand has more than 60 school holidays during the year, I had plenty of opportunity to enjoy the beach just as described above. When I had to leave Thailand due to some work visa issues, I felt I was abandoning the nearest approach to Paradise a man could have in this nasty old world.
“It’s been eight years since I left those entrancing beaches in Thailand. Today I look out my patio doors as the snow settles over the gray Wasatch Mountains for the winter. But I’ve got my memories of those glorious beaches —and a bit of brain coral tucked away in the drawer where I keep my stamps, fountain pen, and envelopes.”
Band Name of the Day: No Picnic — or: Lazy Carp Gulping Sewage
Website of the Day, from The Monkey Lover’s Wife of Northfield: This image has exactly 12 dots, but it’s impossible to see them all at once.