Category Archives: Humor



It’s  International Talk Like A Pirate Day.

Why?   Best reason of all:   Just because it’s fun!

Quantum Physics and Driving

It was a beautiful, but hot, August day.   Having tested my ability to drive following a summer spent with my right foot in casts and orthoboots, I borrowed my son’s beat-up college car to drive myself to work.   Freedom, at last!  I always knew that my city had a poor public transportation system, but until I was forced to find alternative transportation, I didn’t realize how bad it was.  Unable to bike or to walk, I was forced to rely on others.

At the first stop light, my phone rang.  Without any thought, I picked it up and began chatting with a friend.  I slowed for a school bus stop but barely noticed when the bus turned right as I turned left.  I had been a passenger along this route for months, had memorized nearly every aspect of the scenery as husband, son, mother, or friend transported me to work on a daily basis.  There was the neatly maintained red brick home, like all the other neatly maintained homes in the neighborhood, except for a chain link fence surrounding the house on all sides, including barricading the front door.   There was the two-story house that had been designed to be in a Tudor style; it’s owners had painted all of the faux wooden “beams” in vivid colors as if it were a Victorian Grand Painted Lady. There was a house with three minivans, one undrivable, in the drive, and a Splash and Play in the front yard.  There was the mansion on the north side of the road, seated at a distance from the road at the top of a hill.   It backed up to a creek where my friend Carrie and I used to play when we were nine years-olds.  Sneaking through the back fence was scary, thrilling, and freeing.  Our reward:  a large grassy field filled with wildflowers that we thought was unseen from everyone in the world.  Lying on the ground, looking up at the clouds, we felt that we were the rulers of the universe.

I knew this road.  Knew the houses, knew the hills, knew the hidden drives and the narrow shoulders. I knew this road, just like the main streets to the north and south of it, connecting two main highways and the quickest route to avoid the morning interstate congestion. I knew it as part of my world for decades.

I continued talking on the phone, discussing the current anti-inflams prescribed by my orthopedist with my pharmacist friend.  The phone call ended abruptly when I exclaimed — well, you can fill in the blanks!

The one thing about this road I didn’t know was the speed trap; vanquished all summer by heat and humidity, it had reappeared on this, the first day of school.

“Do you know how fast you were going, mam?” the officer asked.

The first response that came to mind:   “No, but I know exactly where I am.”

Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle: physics never fails. Not realizing speed limit signs as part of the landscape frequently does.

The forest of fighting trees

One of the scariest moments for me as a child was watching the fighting trees in The Wizard of Oz.  Trees with evil faces!  Trees that talked!  Trees that would scold you for picking parts of them off their trunks!

That such a forest existed seemed entirely plausible to me because I believed that the trees in our neighborhood, though not mean, grouchy trees like those Dorothy encountered, had personalities. Especially on windy days when the branches would bend and groan, I would be careful not to get too close.

For the last few years, while driving through the different neighborhoods in the city, I have seen tress that bear resin pieces that resemble faces on their trunks. Although they remind me of the Free Apples scene in The Wizard of Oz, I think they’re a bit stupid and I have never understood why a property owner would want to place these on their trees. I’ve often wondered if the faces came to life and spoke for the tree, if the tree might not object for having a piece of weather-resistant plastic nailed to its trunk.

The other day, when walking along the greenway, I realized that one of the house that borders the trail — the trail is little more than a sidewalk at that point, running adjacent to their property– had several trees with these resin faces. Along with the security cameras and the “NO Trespassing” signs, these faces may have been placed as a modern-day equivalent to the sign that warned Dorothy and her friends to “Turn Back While You Still Can”.

The wise old man of the trees


The one looks a big weary of guarding the place.

Is his name Wilford Brimley? Does he want some oatmeal?

While they may have been put there to serve as a warning, they just make me smile. There are about 20 trees in the parkway that have these decorations attached. I wouldn’t think of harming any of them. After all, those branches may just spring to life and grab me.

Curious, I searched for a site online that might have information on these resin faces. “It’s easy to add character and personality to your trees” one site claimed. No, thank you! I think I’ll stick with the real thing. My trees already have personalities. Some of them even seem to have faces. I found this natural version further down the greenway, on a trail section that is a bit more wild.

Nature's own Tree Face

Note: Don’t get upset with me over the You-Tube video title. I didn’t title it and wouldn’t slap a vegan any more than I would slap a tree.

For the Birds?

Apparently, many people were upset after reading William J Broad’s article
How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body, in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. I missed the original article, but saw enough headlines by the end of the week that I decided I needed to read it. After all, what if I was missing out on something valuable, if for no other reason than to keep me from not returning to yoga classes. Even though I haven’t been in — ummm….let’s see…three years?

When I started yoga a few years ago, I initially thought that it could help me recover from a serious foot injury that had left me in an orthoboot — something more akin to a 5 pound metal bucket than a boot — for five months and needing a cane to keep my balance when walking. I think I secretly held out hope that I might also recover my 19-year-old self — or at least her body — that took Yoga for PE credit in college, and then continued to go to the class twice a week the following semester, even missing out on dinner and the dorm community’s ritual of watching M*A*S*H reruns before the evening news, because there were a few cute and seemingly cool guys in the class. Turns out one was a real stoner and the other two were there to pick up cool, cute girls — cool, cute girls who were not me. The yoga helped for a while, but mostly just the tree pose which my physical therapist had also shown me without calling it “Tree” and without telling me to envision my chakras while standing like a tree. Months after standing in tree pose in my office during lengthy conference calls, my foot began to feel like its old self and I began to believe that dreams of wearing fashionable heels again in the future might really come true.

But I didn’t keep attending yoga classes. I stopped going when my instructor recommended that I seek treatment from an “alternative holistic” who would do some sort of non-invasive bloodletting of my foot while drinking tea. I really wanted to tell her about how I had had a Lisfranc injury which didn’t happen too often but, interestingly — at least to me — was named after Napoleon’s gynecologist. I thought this was a funny oddity. Napoleon’s gynecologist that is, not the injury. Ms. Yogi just sniffed about the medical establishment. I asked her if she had a cold. I don’t think that she missed me. I never found out if the holistic practitioner drank the tea or if I would.

Several weeks ago, another blogger pointed me towards this article by Sarah Miller Why Yoga Can Be So Irritating, Although You Should Go Anyway in The Awl. I laughed so hard I almost choked on my coffee. Instead I spit it through my nose. I’ll get some good stretches in when I get around to scrubbing the coffee stains off the wall. Good thing I wasn’t doing a head stand at the time. I recognize most of these yoga class-related issues. But, in fairness, I should point you to Miller’s follow-up (also in The Awl) to the NYT article: Six Reasons to Ignore the New York Times Yoga Article

Despite this, I am considering returning to a yoga class. I can’t say whether it is good or bad for you. Like most things, you should know your limits — and it shouldn’t take the wisdom of an advanced yogi to know them. Chances are, if you want to scream in pain or giggle uncontrollably, you probably aren’t in the right place to do a specific pose. If you must find an excuse, be sure to tell the class that you aren’t in the right place — then ignore their hugs and well-wishes that you make your peace with the pose.

My limits, as far as I can tell, involve being careful that my lunch doesn’t make an expelling noise while doing downward facing dog. And finding a place in the classroom where I won’t be downwind of others with the same issue. Or learning to really relax during the relaxation at the end of class, rather than being so concerned that I might fall asleep and begin to snore. And finding the place in room with the best access to the air conditioning. Along with no mention of alternative wacko bloodletting practitioners, if I could have these things, I think I could do yoga classes again.

On the other hand, though, I look around and wonder if yoga isn’t just for the birds:

What's the name of this asana?

>Celebration of Life at Six – OR – I love my nephew, but my sister can never read this post!

>Imagine a cinematic depiction of the most nightmarishly chaotic child’s birthday party.

Now imagine that the scene lasts twice as long as necessary in this hypothetical movie: the audience has understood the point; it’s time to move on.

Nothing could be that bad, right? But, for the sake of expanding one’s knowledge — or just to experience some party-crashing fun — extend the scene into complete steadycam coverage of the 90-minute party. Except, here is the catch: while it may be theatre, it isn’t film and there are no funny outtakes.

That is the how I spent my evening.

Kindergartners running rampant in the house. Toddling babies moving too quickly for their grandmas to catch them in a non-infant proof house with steps leading into every room. Food choices consisting of cold, greasy pizza and chocolate-dipped fruit arranged like flowers on plastic GIJoe spears stuck into a Sponge-Bob bucket. Drink: no sugar (good), no caffeine (bad), and wine in a jug so large, so Brobdingnagian, that it makes the extra-super, super-sized Tub-O-Coke at the QuikMart look like an palate-cleansing aperitif.

Orchestrate the scene to a soundtrack of a performance by STOMP! with harmony provided by a lively Labrador, located in the laundry, with a wood door as a washboard accompaniment, capable of performing simultaneously in two distinct voices: a high-octave yelp and a window-rattling, basso profundo woof.

And, to think that the sugar wasn’t even introduced until the last half hour, served suitably, if not predictably, atop store-bought chocolate cake.

As we left the party, I turned to my recently injured son, hobbling out to the car without crutches, and asked: Got Vicodin?

For more party snarking, surf over to Cake Wrecks and laugh while you rubber-neck at some other party disasters.

>What I need

>Now that’s some title isn’t it? Wouldn’t life be simpler if we were all better at stating clearly what we needed? And discerning between what we truly need and what we want? I was told recently that I was receiving lessons in patience and humility.

But, to not be so serious, I followed Courtney’s lead in letting Google tell me what I need. The rules are: Type “your name + needs” into Google. Although I got myriad hits the first time, the following list is a blend of various combinations of my name in the search criteria. The results are usually fun, but a few were like horoscopes — could apply to anyone but hit very close to home at this moment.

Google says I need:

– bodyguards (Only if that crank phone caller the other day really does know where I live.)

– to write a description of herself (Look around here, people.)

– a duck to keep her company (Huh? What? Nothing to quack about.)

– a home where she will not be left alone in a yard (Apparently because of my feral background.)

– dental emergency treatment (As opposed to emergency dental treatment?)

– to either be rich or famous or navigate a confusing legal process (Two of these things belong together; one is not like the others.)

– your help on using this (I’m happy if you read and laugh along with this.)

– to learn to be gentler and less of a perfectionist (Ahem. Cough.)

– to make up her damned mind (Whatever. Give me time.)

– a French tutor (Preferably a handsome one in Paris…)

– issues addressed on the level of feelings (Abandon stoicism?)

– to blog, read a blog, or at the very least keep an open blog mind. (I’m doing that!)

– repair (The recent xrays & MRI confirmed that!)

– verbal encouragement (Or written, in comments.)

– a team (Of experts in something or other. No doctors or lawyers please.)

– to retire soon (I’d like to by age 50, but that’s only happening in my dreams.)

– focusing (I embrace my adhd tendencies.)

– a shot of helium or something (How do you write that to signify a wee little voice?)

– to renew my commitment (Ahem. Cough.)

– so much light (Even when it isn’t winter. Light = Joy. We all need lots of it!)

– a job (A different one, I’m assuming.)

– a group of at least 6 people, a room big enough to hold the group and a time span of at least 2 hours (And you wouldn’t believe what I could do with that!)

– to keep her “Praise Jesus” routine in her church and spare her morning show audience. (I don’t have a show & I’d never make it as a Pentecostal. I’m more faith+ scripture+reason than scripture+faith+emotion. Hands down, so to speak.)

– to be where the action is (As long as it doesn’t involve high speed vehicular chases, violence, or anything scary.)

– needs more lips. So she’s not Catherine-Zeta Jones, but she’s got a nice, approachable smile nonetheless. (No comment!)

– has got to go! (Well said. The end.)

– to stop now! (Sometimes I have to be told twice!)

I think I should stick to a spiritual director for guidance on what I need, rather than the Google Oracle!

>Colbert & Penn & Pinsky & Poetry

>A million giggles….. Meta-Free-Phor-All. Colbert’s tribute to National Poetry Month.

And to think that some say that poetry is dying…..

Loved the reference to Pat Benetar! Loved all this.

As Spicoli would say “Oh Yeahhh!

>Playing Pirates

>Litlove recently wrote an interesting post regarding the idea of “play” in our lives. I’ve been thinking about this for the last week or so, considering how ‘play’ and reading intersect, particularly when one is reading a book that is a so-called easy read. But, I’ll have to postpone that post about the concept of play in the interest of the real thing. I feel I must inform those of you who may not be in the know that tomorrow is an international holiday of sorts, dedicated to this very idea. It exists for one reason: to have fun.

Ayyyy. It’s the annual Talk Like A Pirate Day.

Here are some links for you land-lubbers:

First, if you are unaware of Talk Like A Pirate Day (hereafter refered to as TLAPD), read about it here.

You can catch up on your pirate lingo on the site above. Or, check out A Word A Day, where Ol’ Chumbucket (aka John Baur, TLAPD co-creator along with Mark Summers) is guest wordsmith this week. Today’s word: Buccaneer. More piraty words to follow.

It doesn’t take anything to play along other than a sense of humor, but won’t it be much more fun if you had a pirate name? Your blogging pseudonym could work, but come on! You already have one ‘goes by’ name. Why not another? A legal system acquaintance introduced me to the goes-by term. So much more fun than an alias, isn’t it? A pirate must have a pirated goes-by name!

I played around with potential pirate names. I even used the name generator on TLAPD website. Some choices:

Captain Dread (based on my blogger name)

Or these based on various combinations of first/middle/last names:

Neck-snapper Nancy
The Lone Drinker
Count Plunder
Captain Mary Bonney

But my favorite one is this one, based on what I call my pizza name*.

Gorgeous Jen Smythe

So I guess that makes this my pizza pirate name!

(*A pizza name being a name that is easily understood and/or spelled when placing orders/making reservations. Isn’t used solely for pizza delivery; comes in handy in swanky places too. Those of you who are Smiths or Joneses, might not understand. I had used Simpson as my pizza name for years but it became unusable during the OJ trial years. So I changed it. Years later, when I first met my spouse, I told him that his surname was my pizza name. Some people are very confused when I tell them that X— is not my married name, but my pizza name and there was no need to change it when I married. Maybe I’ll change my pizza name to Smythe….)

Your pirate ship needs a name too. My ship’s name? The Shameful Strumpet. You can find your ship’s name on the same pirate site.

Pirates used to frighten me. The first poem I ever memorized, at the wise age of 5, was all about a pirate: Ogden Nash’s “The Tale of Custard the Dragon”. I wanted to be Belinda, but was so much like Custard. I also wanted that pirate’s “cutlass bright”. Didn’t have a clue what it was, but I knew it had to be something wonderful and scary! You can read Nash’s poem here.

Though I think those guys at TLAP are cool and all, I think they may have missed the pirate boat when it comes to books. Secretly I think every pirate, once he finds his buried treasure would spend all of those pieces-of-eight on books and retire to a nice Caribbean island to read them all. I think maybe I’ll go read Treasure Island. I ended up with two copies last December due to a mis-shipment and the online store would not take one copy back. So, not quite pirate booty, (does a pirate offer to return goods not purchased?), but close enough for this 364-day-a-year land-lubber. Even though they claim pirates don’t read, those pirate guys provide a link to an online version of Treasure Island. What’s your favorite pirate book?

Lastly, here is a link to San Francisco’s only independent Pirate Store, which is online too. Sponsored by 826 Valencia. They be good mates helping sprogs. Go. Support them. Support literacy.

Ahoy, matey!

You Are A Pirate!
You Are A Pirate!

What Type Of Swashbuckler Are You?
brought to you by Maddog Varuka & Dawg Brown

>Physics for Scientists and Poets

>Place: The 12th annual Back-to-School night (for this parent at least):
Setting: 2nd year AP Physics Class
Timing: Mid-way through the teacher’s 7 minute speech


“The text is this book. (Holds up book for viewing) It’s the best text there is. Physics for Scientists and Engineers

“Named so because it’s for, well, scientists. And engineers”.

(Long pause to allow teacher to do a reality check, assessing the following:

a. Parents who are not listening;
b. Those who take this W-A-Y too seriously;
c. Anyone with a dry sense of humor.

Teacher continuing….)

“As opposed to the Physics for Poets and Lovers, which is a much easier text. Too easy for your kids.”

But probably better written! I think. I was the only one who laughed out loud.

Earlier in the day, I had read Jim’s wonderful poem “Contemplating God in the 11th Dimension / String Theory / Mottled Ducks”. In response, I was inspired to write the following poem (now slightly revised) in the comments section.

Jim, maybe one of us should write that Physics for Poets and Lovers book. What do you think?

Twisting Physics Makes a Poem
I thought about writing a poem
about a mobius strip
–or a Klein bottle
for added dimension–
No direction to start,
so I jumped right in
along the thin edge,
around and around,
until I came back to me,
twice as long again
at the beginning
and the end.

If you haven’t visited Jim’s site before, click on over to I Am Big. It’s the Pictures That Got Small. He’s a wonderful poet.