I frequently take cabs in Chicago.  I have found that the lion’s share of cab drivers are Pakistani, Indian, Nigerian, Ghanan and. . . . Romanian.   There seem to be quite a few young men – and a few young women – from Romania who are driving hacks.  And most of these, rather than coming from Bucharest, are from Transylvania. 

Romanian is one language on which I haven’t a clue.  So I inevitably ask questions of the drivers to pick up tidbits of information.  Romanian I have learned is a Romance and not a Slavic language.  It is derived from Latin and is most closely-related to Italian and Spanish.   It often causes a stir when I get in a taxi, do a quick diagnosis of the driver, and ask “What part of Transylvania are you from?”  Gets ’em every time. . . . .

1913 “V” Nickel

The Liberty Head five cent piece (the “V” Nickel – because of a Roman numeral “5” on the reverse) was made from 1883 to 1912 and was America’s second “nickel.”   In 1913, the United States Mint produced Liberty Head nickels but they were never intended for circulation.   Colonel E. H. R. Green (the son of the famous Hetty Green) owned 5 strikes of the 1913 nickel.  These five rarities have since been dispersed to collectors.   See  

Around 1960, I was a Boy Scout and I worked on the Coin Collecting Merit Badge.  The merit badge counselor was a man named Herman Noll (he lived in Mt. Prospect, IL).  He had an amazing collection of coins (he actually gave me some for my collection).  I remember him telling me that his father was an employee of the U.S. Mint that produced the 1913 “V” Nickel.  His father took a few — apparently beyond those belonging to Mr. Green.  Mr. Noll never told me where the remaining 1913 nickels were or what had been done with them.  A recent posting suggests the value is $3,000,000 for one nickel . . .  I wish I’d asked a few more questions . . . .      

Here’s a toast to. . . .

When Benjamin Franklin was the emissary to France, the British Ambassador led off with a toast to his king.  “To George the Third, who, like the sun in its meridian, spreads luster throughout and enlightens the world.”  Not to be outdone, the French minister declared “To the illustrious Louis the Sixteenth who like the moon, sheds his benevolent rays on and influences the globe.”  Finally, Franklin rose and lifted his glass and offered “To George Washington, commander of the American armies, who – like Joshua of old – commanded the sun and moon to stand still and both obeyed.” 

Here’s looking at you, kid. . . .  Cheers!

Humor – the Best Medicine

On March 14, 2005, I delivered a paper to The Chicago Literary Club entitled “The Best Medicine”  The paper delved into the history of humor – from the Biblical Genesis 17:17, to (my favorite) the first stand up comedian – Aristophanes – “Old Baggy Pants” (448 B.C. to 385 B.C.) to “Heeere’s Johnny” Carson. 

In December 2001, the British Association for the Advancement of Science conducted a survey of the worlds funniest jokes.  After months of studious analysis (I wish I’d’ve been part of that group), they concluded that one joke was the funniest ever.

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson pitch their tent while on a camping expedition.  In the middle of the night, Holmes nudges Watson awake and says:

Holmes:  Watson – look up and the stars and tell me what you deduce.

Watson:  Holmes, I see millions of stars and I wonder if some of them have planets like earth where there may also be life.

Holmes:  No, Watson – you idiot!  Someone has stolen our tent! 

The Perfect Meal

My idea of a perfect meal is spaghetti carbonara with grilled onions, fresh parsley, peas, pancetta and a glass or two of a Barolo or Brunello. Divine. The perfect day is sunny and 80 degrees — playing golf with friends.  The perfect evening is spent with my family — having spaghetti carbonara. . . . .   

Spaghetti Carbonara — Serves 3 (generously) – 4

 1/2 lb. Pancetta (or Canadian Bacon), diced

2 cloves garlic, sliced

olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped, preferably Vidalia

Peas (to taste)

1 lb. Spaghetti

3 eggs

Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

lots of coarsely ground pepper

2 tbls. Chopped Italian parsley


Instructions — Bring pot of salted water to boil.   Dice pancetta and sauté in olive oil (5-7 minutes) over medium-low heat; sauté garlic but remove when softened but not brown.   Do not over-brown the pancetta.  Drain most oil.   Sauté chopped onions in oil with pancetta and add a little more olive oil (about 2 TB.).   Break eggs into serving bowl and whisk well.   Add coarse black pepper, peas and minced parsley.   Cook pasta al dente.   Drain pasta but do not rinse and immediately add to bowl and toss quickly, mixing well to cook the eggs.    Toss in a heaping ½ cup grated cheese.    Turn pancetta mixture onto pasta and mix well.    Serve with grated cheese.  Thanks to Carol for this great recipe!



Earlier this year, I logged on to to prowl around and look for relatives (Danish and Swedish).  The site seemed interesting – and ample – so I signed up.  My wife, Donna, saw what I was doing and to date has logged more than 11,000 hours on  Not really but she has traced her family roots back to Ireland, Poland, Germany and heaven knows where.  She is decended from William Bagnal Harvey who had his head lopped off (stuck on a pike outside Wexford courthouse) for helping to lead the Irish insurrection against the British in 1798.  On a trip to Northern Ireland a few years ago, we met a university professor who offered a course on this 1798 uprising.  When Donna revealed  her heritage, the man quickly grabbed her hand — and kissed it.  Slowly.  Royally.   She liked that .   Hmmmm . . . . maybe I can learn a lesson from this. . . .

Mizar and Alcor

When I was a Boy Scout, I was on the staff of Camp Napowan in Wild Rose, Wisconsin.  I worked in the Nature Area.  One of the merit badges I taught was astronomy.  Twice a week, at around 10:00 pm – when the sun’s last wisps of light had dipped below the horizon and darkness ruled – I would gather those working on their Astronomy Merit Badge to gaze at the stars above.  Camp Napowan was in the middle of nowhere – blessed with no light pollution and a clear and amazing view of stars, planets and nebulae.   

To get the evening off on the right foot, it was often the middle star of the handle of the Big Dipper (Ursa Major) that I would first mention to the gathering.  “Look carefully” I would say.  “What do you see?”  After a few seconds, the Scouts would begin to say that there were actually two stars — not one. 

2,000 years ago, Arabs would use that middle star of Ursa Major as a test of sight.  Why?  Because there are actually two stars:  Mizar and its fainter companion Alcor.  “Horse” and “rider” in Arabic.  If you could see them, you were thought to have great vision.  In Japanese mythology, Alcor was the “lifespan” star.  If one could not see jimyouboshi, they would pass away by year’s end.  

If you have a chance to go to some place where when the sun goes down, the lights don’t shine, take a look and see if you can see Alcor.  Bring binoculars too.  By the way, a popular Japanese manga (comic) says if you do see Alcor, you will pass away by year’s end.


Bobby Jones

Robert Tyre “Bobby” Jones (1902-1971) was one of the greatest golfers of all time.  During the 1920’s, Jones won 13 major championships  including golf’s coveted “Grand Slam.”  Jones was also an attorney (which still gives me some faint hope that I con combine my day job with my favorite sport). 

During the crucial opening round of the 1925 U.S. Open, Jones was addressing his ball, getting ready to hit.  Suddenly, he stepped back and called a penalty/stroke on himself because he had seen his ball move.  In golf, if you address the ball and it moves, it counts as a stroke.  No one but Jones had seen the ball move, but he still insisted on taking the added stroke.  Jones went on to lose the tournament — by one stroke.  When he was praised for his honesty, Jones responded testily “you might as well praise someone for not robbing a bank.” 

Integrity has its own rewards which can be quite personal (since our reputations live long beyond our days).  I find vignettes like this inspiring since they demonstrate the character that we can all aspire to.   And achieve.


I am concerned about the environment and especially the conservation of water and energy.  My first blog entry relates to this subject and poses a suggestion for conserving water (that frankly I’ve never seen before) — All you have to do is  Just Turn it Off!   In my opinion, this simple but catchy phrase can grab hold, make a difference and provide a basic education on water conservation for all.  More importantly — what’s not to like?            


Water.  We can’t live without it.  Yet there’s only so much of it on our planet.  And more than 95% of the water on our planet is salt water.  Thus it is natural that we would want to conserve our precious supply of fresh water, to use it sparingly and to keep it potable. 

Most of the water that enters our homes literally goes down the drain – into the sewer.  So what can the average person do to conserve fresh water and to preserve this valuable commodity for future generations?  JUST TURN IT OFF. 

By just “turning off” the water when it is not in use, you save gallons of fresh water every day.  If every person in America saved one gallon of fresh water daily, that translates to a savings of hundreds of millions of gallons of fresh water.  

So what can you do to help?  Just remember — JUST TURN IT OFF. 

●  When shaving, instead of leaving the water run, JUST TURN IT OFF.  And turn it on to rinse the razor as needed.

●  When taking a shower, turn on the water – get it to the temperature desired – stand under the shower and then JUST TURN IT OFF.  Soap down while the water is off. Frankly you will probably get cleaner than if the water just continues pouring down the drain.

●  When rinsing dishes, instead of leaving the water run, JUST TURN IT OFF and turn it on to rinse the next plate or pan. 

●  When watering outdoor plants and shrubs, make each drop count.  Use an on/off nozzle so that when moving from one plant to the next, you can JUST TURN IT OFF. 

●  Toilets should provide a flushing choice for disposing of liquid and solid waste. 

●  Rely on Mother Nature to water the lawn.  Use sprinklers only when necessary.

●  Wash only full loads of laundry. 

Let me know of any ideas you have to conserve water or energy! 

Coming soon —

©2011 by Scott Petersen – all rights reserved