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« September 2004 | Main | December 2004 »

w October 26, 2004

Happy Hour, Happy Parents

I have a new hero, and her name is Christie Mellor. Ms. Mellor has penned a delightful and caustic book entitled The Three-Martini Playdate: A Practical Guide to Happy Parenting, and I have literally laughed myself to tears while reading it.

In a nutshell, Mellor is trying to puncture the insane notion that children, simply by virtue of being a genetic product of their over-indulgent parents, are the center of the universe. That children DO grow up and when they do, and have their own, vastly more entertaining lives, you need to have one of your own, and it's not going to appear out of thin air. I won't spoil any of the howlers by listing all my favorite one-liners and passages, but I do have to include my favorite three "Do-It-Yourself After-School Enrichment Program" activities:

1. Delicious Snacks for Mom and Dad
2. Chemistry in Action! The Gin Fizz
3. Letting Mommy Nap 101

For a while, I wondered if I was somehow neurotic about insisting that Bean stick to a regular and relatively early bedtime, but as I made dinner, sipping sherry, and reading the end of my new favorite book, to the sounds of beautiful silence from the monitor...I knew we had made the right decision.

Martinis, anyone?

Oh, and before I forget, here's what a FIXFAX is: Scottish word for a framework or pillory, which had a variety of forms. All had holes for the necks and wrists of those convicted of such crime as sales fraud, bad debts, and fortune-telling. This device was known by such nicknames as the thewe (for female penitents, who were called "babes in the wood"), the penance board (for the religiously inclined), and wooden parentheses (for intellectuals). The fixfax was placed in the town square, where passersby could jeer and pelt the confined with dangerous or humiliating projectiles. The practice was not completely abolished in England and America until 1837 and 1905, respectively.

Word du jour: TOONIOPERTY

by Heather Hoffman at 8:36 PM

w October 19, 2004

Winter S'mores

But first, what means "Monk and Friars"? Words used in the eighteenth century by printers to describe errors in their craft. Pages that contained smudged or blotted letters were called monks, while letters that were deficient in ink and therefore too light were referred to as friars.

So I have discovered Winter S'mores. Okay, they don't taste quite as cool as the ones made over the summer campfire at Yosemite, but they're pretty good for a rainy night in October.

Winter S'mores a la Hoffman

Line a baking tin with foil (easy clean up); lay out as many graham cracker squares as will make a single layer. Cover with mini marshmallows and either chocolate chips or squares of a chocolate bar. Top with another layer of graham crackers, bung into a preheated 350 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes, depending on your oven. Squash down slightly once you remove them to smash the marshmallows and chocolate together. Shove into maw.

Word of the Day: FIXFAX

by Heather Hoffman at 8:59 PM

w October 18, 2004

Mot du Jour

I'm far too into my cups to do more than tell you the meaning of today's word and present a new one. Forgive me, it's Monday.

FLITCH: From Old Teutonic flikkjo, a side of an animal--now only pork--that had been cured. According to records, a fourteenth-century noblewoman in the Sussex County town of Dunmow, England, attempted to encourage marital contentment by offering a prize called a Dunmow flitch to any man who would swear that for the past year he had not had a household brawl or wished himself unmarried. The flitch became a symbol of domestic happiness, but, according to local records, only eight of these prizes were awarded over the next five centuries.

Wrap your minds around MONKS AND FRIARS. Think not literal. Harry Chukkers.

by Heather Hoffman at 9:05 PM

w October 17, 2004

A Non-Forswunkeish Weekend

We have been utterly slackish this weekend, which was pleasant, particularly with the first winter storm coming in last night. Did go up to San Francisco briefly to look at an open house in the Glen Park neighborhood; we couldn't quite put our fingers on what we liked about the area until we drove down the world's most unassuming street. There is something about the trees and the coziness of the houses, mixed in with the unpretentious yet completely useful shops...in a way, it felt a bit like Boston or Philadelphia or some similar East Coast city, which sat right with me. On the other hand, we were pleased to see that we were the only heterosexual couple with children at the open house...clearly Glen Park is not seen as a hidebound bastion of conservatism, which is nice. So, we shall see. First we need to endure a little forswunkitude and get this house ready to show. And what, pray tell, is "forswunke"? Well....

Middle English past participle of forswinke, "exhausted from physical exertion," most commonly in the performance of household chores. Terms with similar meanings included dwang and snool, "to oppress or exhaust one's vital energies by overwork," while tireling denoted a person who was easily fatigued by physical exertion. The sixteenth-century toilful was used of a hardworking individual or one who was characterized by toiling, and the related verb thripple meant to "to toil ceaselessly." Titteravating was an early dialectic variant in eastern England for "tiresome."

Word for Monday: FLITCH

by Heather Hoffman at 10:45 PM

w October 12, 2004

Buzz Buzz Buzz

Hallowe'en costume ahoy...went and picked up the fixin's for Bean's bumblebee ensemble today. We're going for the faintly makeshift (i.e., not Martha) version this year, and indeed, as long as I can get away with it. That being said, I think she'll look pretty cute. And all this for under ten bucks.

Now if I can only get her to say "Buzz buzz buzz" a la Jim Belushi.

On to the Word of the Day...Piggesnye. It's a little off topic for the festive season, but here goes: Term of endearment for one's sweetheart, literally "cute little pig's eye, " from Chaucer, who is credited with inspiring the tradition of sending love notes on St. Valentine's Day. In earlier times, boys drew girls' names from hats, or, alternatively, the first person of the opposite sex one saw on this day became one's valentine for that year. The Church tried to graft a religious holiday onto this annual event by substituting saints' names, a practice that proved unpopular and was abandoned in the sixteenth century. These rituals were influenced by the old belief that birds chose their mates on this day.

Next one, kidlets...FORSWUNKE.

by Heather Hoffman at 7:48 PM

w October 10, 2004

Groggy Weather

It's not quite groggy yet, really, but it *is* at least autumn, according to the calendar. And of course, I'm sure you are all chomping at the proverbial bit to find out what means "grog-blossom". Only one person ventured a preliminary guess, and I have to give props to my friend "Empress of the Universe" for coming pretty close.

So...GROG-BLOSSOM: Vulgar eighteenth-century expression for a drunkard's nose, the redness of which was caused by dilation of the blood vessels from consumption of alcohol. By itself, grog meant "rum diluted with an equal part of water," not served straight, as once was customary. The unpopular admiral Edward Vernon offered this watered-down drink to his crew in 1740 in an attempt to reduce on-board intoxication. The crew nicknamed him "Old Grog" from his oft-worn cloak or breeches, made from grogram, a coarse-textured woolen fabric.

I have to give the non-plagiarist shout out to Jeffery Kacirk, author of "Forgotten English Knowledge Cards", published by Pomegranate Press. It's in Rohnert Park, CA.

The current word is PIGGESNYE.

by Heather Hoffman at 5:02 PM

w October 08, 2004

Pumpkin Hunting

This afternoon we (Bean and I, my sister in law and father in law, and possibly Gene) are going in search of the ever-elusive Hallowe'en pumpkin.

I know. It was a joke, son.

I think we'll go over to Half Moon Bay, they usually have the best pumpkin patches; at the least, the pumpkins seem closest to their natural habitat, and it's also much cooler. Something you East Coasters probably don't understand in relation to "OCTOBER"...but welcome to California. This year I also plan to allow her to actually eat the candy she receives for trick or treating...some, not all. The rest goes in the freezer for Mummy's enjoyment.

Word of the Day: GROG-BLOSSOM

What does it mean? Tune in tomorrow, but I'll accept guesses in the interim.

by Heather Hoffman at 9:04 AM

w October 07, 2004


The $64,000 question, of course, is what exactly is "frigerifick"...and why the hell is Heather talking about it? Well, in the interest of trivia based edification, I thought I'd have a "Word of the Day" segment on Huzzah. Since I started with a title that already lurks in the dark recesses of half-remembered colonial history, I present "Forgotten Words", courtesy of a card pack my parents picked up for me in Colonial Williamsburg.

Today, I will edify you as to the meaning of word forgotten. In subsequent posts, you're going to have to keep reading at least until the next day to be enlightened.

FRIGERIFICK: Adjective borrowed directly from Latin, perhaps as late as the mid 1600s, that denoted cooking, freezing, or cold-producing. Frigerifric
was used originally in scientific writing and later in general literature. The word frigidarium--a cooling room adjacent to a Roman bath--was borrowed from Latin, as were its companion words, the temperate tepidarium and the hot caldarium.

by Heather Hoffman at 5:49 PM

w October 01, 2004

Bookz Bookz Bookz

I was recently enjoined to join in with an exemplary organization by a lawyer-type friend of ours (yeah, I know, a GOOD lawyer...amazing): In2Books. This is a Washington, DC based non-profit that aims to ramp up not just literacy, but a love for and of books in elementary school kids in the DC area. Basically, schoolkids are matched up with adult "penpals" and read the same pre-chosen books throughout the year. Not only do we read the books together, as it were, but we also write letters back and forth talking about the books, our reactions to them, etc. What is so brilliant about this is the multitude of benefits for BOTH parties. The kids realize that reading is fun, informative, engaging, whatever. They also learn how to write effective letters, use both their imagination and their analytic skills; most importantly, I think, they find out that there are even more adults out there that actually care about them and their ideas.

I had to create a "visual profile" and an introductory letter to a generalized student population, which was actually a lot of fun, but the biggest thrill came just a few minutes ago when I found out the names of my penpals and what books we might be reading together. I was pleased to see that fifth graders, at least in DC, appear to be learning about colonial America and early government. THIS I can talk about ad nauseum. Those poor girls, sigh.

Gene can attest to my glee, though...and my realization that I miss teaching in a way that is truly visceral, and really, almost painful. I know that I'm doing the right thing by staying at home with Bean for now, but I do hope that one day I can get back in the classroom, wherever and however that may be. For now, though, getting to talk about fun books with ten year olds is a pretty damn good substitute.

by Heather Hoffman at 8:30 PM