American Sign Language

On February 23, 2014, I recalled sitting on the train — waiting to pull out of the station. Three young girls (probably high school) bustled in and sat in the 4 seater ahead of me. They began conversing animatedly. Laughing. Giggling. And I watched. Fascinated.  What caught my attention was — they didn’t make a sound. One of the girls was deaf. And the three were mouthing words to each other and using sign language.  They were fast.  And fluent. 

I am reminded of that post given the recent press conferences and political offerings – which often include a person who is “signing” for viewers who are hearing impaired. 

American Sign Language (“ASL”) originated in the early 19th century at the American School for the Deaf in Hartford, CT.   Today, it is used by nearly a million people.  I have two friends who are conversant in ASL:  one of my partners and my former priest (both Eagle Scouts by the way).  

Watching these three young women “talking” was a wake up for me.  Since then, when I have lunch at my desk (which is often), I will sometimes log onto an ASL site just to stretch my small brain.  Do yourself a favor.  Check out   And learn a bit of ASL.  There are many YouTube opportunities to learn ASL.   It is neat and valuable to creak open this door.  

I have a special reason to look into ASL.  You see my father was clinically deaf from World War II.  And he never learned ASL.  And neither did I. . . . .  

Back Pain

There are times when I get out of bed in the morning that my lower back pain is so intense that I can barely move. It sometimes takes a couple minutes to put on a my Jockey Juniors and a pair of sweatpants to head downstairs for breakfast.  From what I hear, there are a lot of back issues going around.   Mine have been diagnosed as spondylosis (i.e. arthritis).  Recently – sciatica pain was added to the mix.  

It’s interesting that once I get up – and moving around – the issues subside and the back pain distills into a dull ache.   And soon, I’ll be hoofing off to the train station.  Or heading off to the golf course  

What has helped immensely is physical therapy.  And stretching.  Before getting out of bed, Donna and I are often doing stretches.   But I want to share one – that has so far scotched the sciatica pain.   It sounds simple – but I lay on my back and raise one knee up to my chest.   And pull.  And with the leg that is flat – I stretch it downward.  With toes up.  It’s almost like the sciatica is going “no no no!”   And the pain abates.  

It’s interesting too how sugar, gluten and alcohol are all known to exacerbate the pains of arthritis.  That said, I can’t say I have fully ditched the occasional Oreo, the spaghetti carbonara or glass of red wine.   Maybe if the pain gets really bad. . . . .

April Fools!

I think we all need a smile.   Here’s a repeat from August 30, 2011.

The first mention of “April Fools Day” as being on April 1st was in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in 1392 (in the “Nun’s Priest’s Tale“).

Jonathan Swift (1665-1745) was the foremost prose satirist for the English language. And he was also a twinkle-in-the-eye practical joker who authored a doozy of an April Fools’ prank bringing the tradition to a whole new level. In February 1708, using the name “Isaac Bickerstaff,” he published an article solemnly predicting that John Partridge, a local author of astrological almanacs, would die at 11:00 p.m. on March 29, 1708. All of London held its collective breath. When the fateful day arrived, Swift – still writing as Isaac Bickerstaff – penned a moving obituary announcing the death of Partridge at 7:05 p.m. — four hours earlier than predicted.

Of course Mr. Partridge was very much alive – and outraged over Swift’s prediction and the false reporting of his death. Because the story of John Partridge’s demise was printed on April 1st, there was ignition and lift off for a new – and more creative – breed of April Fool pranks. I think I’d like to have Jonathan Swift join Aristophanes and me for that very special dinner. . . .


[A repeat from September 4, 2016] Does anyone hitchhike anymore?  I can’t remember the last time I saw someone standing on the side of the road.  Arm extended.  Thumb pointed up.  

When I was at Augustana College in Rock Island, when I wanted to go home, my options were to take the train (to the tune of twenty bucks) or hitchhike.  I nearly always chose the latter option.  My modus operandi was to Magic Marker a sign “Augie Student to Chicago.”  And on the back “Augie student to Mt. Prospect.”  And I’d stand on the street outside my dorm.  Hold up the sign.  And stick out my thumb.  And always got a ride.  And I lived to tell the tale. 

The first rides would usually cart me off to Interstate 80 and drop me off.  There, I’d stand at the entrance ramp looking forlorn and holding my sign.  And I was always picked up.

Once (Scout’s Honor) a big tractor trailer stopped.  I hustled up and climbed in.  The driver said “I’m sick and need to sleep.  If you wanna drive, I’m going to Route 47.”  Soooooo I traded places with the driver.  He shifted a few of the floor gears and off I went piloting this 48 foot rig.  The driver conked out instantly leaning against the door.  At Rte. 47, I slowed to a stop.  My “passenger” woke up, took over and I hopped out, walked to the down ramp and held up my sign. 

Hitchhiking was so popular back in the day that Marvin Gaye wrote a song with the title “Hitch Hike.”  The song was released in 1962 in Gaye’s “That Stubborn Kinda Fellow” album.  In 1965 the Rolling Stones released their own version.  Listening to this music does bring back memories. . . . .  

Port Wine

Port (Vinho do Porto) is a “fortified” wine that comes from the Douro Valley in the north of Portugal.  The Douro Valley was established as a protected wine area (or appellation) in 1756 making it the oldest wine region in the world.  The wine received its name from the port city of Oporto – hence “Port.” 

Port became popular in England in the early 1700’s when England and France were at war – thus depriving the Brits of French wine.  Merchants tried importing wine from Portugal but the long, rough ship journey – in extremes of temperature – would often cause the wine to spoil.  A bit of brandy was added to “fortify” the wine before shipping and voila (or I should say ai esta) the wine arrived in good order and with a slightly higher alcoholic (about 20%).  Today, aguardente (like brandy) is added to this classic dessert wine (best served with cheese). 

The ongoing British involvement in the Port trade can be seen in the names of many of the shippers (Cockburn, Dow, Warre, Taylor, Croft and so on).   There are different kinds of Port (white, ruby, tawny, crust) but the king of Ports is the Vintage Port.  My old pal David and I used to enjoy a small squidge of Port – following family dinners.  Ahhhh. . . .  But do not expect to enjoy a Vintage Port if it is less than 15 years old and you are over 21. . . .    


One of my primo recipes is Swedish pancakes.  On January 31st, I shared the recipe along with a picture of Chef Popi and his admirers.  I don’t use sugar in the mix.  I use honey.  Honey to me is more purely sweet and adds a subtle, gentle sweetness to the flavor.   In fact in baking (or even sauteing onions), when I have the choice, I use honey.  A healthy dessert that I make for myself is Greek yogurt, almond (or peanut) butter topped with honey.  How sweet it is!  

We all know that bees make honey but did you know that honey is the result of continuous regurgitation by the bees?    It goes up and down until it reaches a desired consistency then “Splat” it goes into the honeycomb.  Interestingly most microorganisms don’t grow in honey (low water content – .6%) thus honey normally does not spoil — even after decades or even centuries of sitting around (that’s true) just like Twinkies which have a shelf life of 37 years.  Honey gleaned from different flowers and plants results in varied flavor and qualities.  Honey is a healthier choice than sugar as it contains no cholesterol. 

Our ancestors were collecting honey 10,000 years ago.  The Old and New Testaments refer to honey (Judges 14:8 and Matthew 3:4) and the Qur’an devotes an entire Surra to honey (al-Nahl; The Honey Bee).  Sore throat?  Honey in hot water.   Cuts or scratches?  Honey (if no antiseptic is available).  MRSA bacteria?  Honey (New Zealand Mānuka).  Good stuff, honey.        


[A repeat from August 2, 2013]  You meet someone you know in a faraway place. Wow! What a coincidence. You run across someone that shares your name. Whoa! What a coincidence.  We’ve all had that moment of coincidence when we slap our forehead and go “that’s pretty cool.” 

I’ve had my share of coincidences but none more profound than happened when I was dating this girl I’d met on a blind date.  Donna.  I was in law school and she in grad school.  Donna had a subscription to the Lyric Opera.  One seat in the upper balcony.   I asked her where she sat.  “Maybe I’ll come join you one of these evenings” I offered.  She handed me an old ticket stub and I stuck it in my pocket.  A few weeks later, a night class was canceled and I had the evening off.   I thought tonight’s Donna’s opera night.  So – I’ll go to the opera.  I walked over to the Lyric’s box office and was directed to the 7th floor (as I recall) where there was a ticket office.   I pulled out the dog-eared ticket stub and handed it to the woman behind the counter.  “I’d like to get the seat next to this one for tonight.”  The woman looked at me like I was an idiot.  “Sir, tonight is Rigoletto.  We’ve been sold out for six months.  And we have a loooong waiting list.”   At that moment, the stars and planets fell into alignment.  The sages of the ages seemed to nod in somber agreement.  Just as I was about to turn around and leave, a woman walked from behind a partition and said “here’s a cancellation.”  And handed the woman I’d been talking to a piece of paper.  The woman looked at it.  And then at my ticket stub.  “Oh my. . . .” was about all she could say.  The cancellation was precisely, exactly, the seat next to Donna’s seat. 

The woman looked at me.  “I know we have a waiting list but I’m not sure I could give this to anyone else. . . under the circumstances.”  And she sold me the ticket for Rigoletto.   I arrived late.  The lights were out.  And I sat down, waited a brief moment and grabbed her leg.   She jumped and let out a whoop like Gilda, the soprano.  And the rest – as they say – is history.  What a coincidence. . . .   

Saturday Lunch

Saturday lunch is the quirkiest meal that I have during the week if I am not golfing.  It has been for years.  Why?  Because I never know quite what to have.  I usually end up grazing in the refrigerator and pantry and slapping together some odd bodkin agglomeration of whatever I can find.  Frequently PB & J on crackers.   If I find nothing if interest, I may dash out to the local food mart and snag a few pieces of spanikopita.  Regardless of what I have, Saturday lunch has rarely been satisfying.  A few years ago, however, all that changed.  A fork in the road. . . . . 

There is an old adage that if you give a monkey a typewriter and enough time (and paper), he will eventually tap out a serviceable poem or intelligent article (see  Well after decades of trial and error, this chimp came up with a winner of a Saturday lunch. 

I sliced a baguette thinly.  Then spread a layer of Champagne (or honey) mustard, added some smoked salmon, a wedge of fresh avocado and some crumbly chive goat cheese.  I nuked it for about 30 seconds and – voila!   It was a Saturday lunch destined for the time capsule.  I made extra and served it to Donna and she immediately asked for the recipe.  That was a true endorsement of my creation. 

From then on, I have been scrupulous about keeping these treasured ingredients close at hand.  And I can’t wait for Saturday lunch.  Whether or not I’m golfing. . . .