Tuesday, March 30, 2010

What Is That Word?

I learned a new word this week. Let's see--I'll use it in a sentence. Shades of fourth grade here. "I try very hard not to be uxorious, since I believe man needs to be his own man, even after marriage. There. Just better not let my wife Wendy read this.

Uxorious means excessively submissive to a wife.

Though I enjoy writing, I sometimes have trouble finding the precise word. I admire those people who have an extensive vocabulary. But I don't even know what to call them. There has to be a word. It's not verbose (given to wordiness) or articulate (able to speak clearly). There has to be a word for someone who knows a lot of words. I just don't know what it is.

It's like Steve Martin said in one of his comedy routines: "Some people have a way with words and some people, uh, not have way."

I have just enough vocabulary to get me by. For example, Good Friday of this week is a day of fast and abstinence for us Catholics. I know that abstinence has to do with portioning out meals and not snacking. Wendy tried to tell me that abstinence meant something else. I could have gone along with her thinking but I don't want to be uxorious. Boo-yeah--used it again!

But, darn, how do you describe somebody with an extensive vocabulary? Hmmmm. Time for The Googler (Cue superhero music). Let me search the exact phrase "having an extensive vocabulary."

Wow, over 74,000 hits. Let's see . . . Free extensive vocabulary download . . . How to build an Extraordinary Vocabulary Tonight (may check that out later) . . . Improving Your Vocabulary for the ASVAB - For Dummies (checked and ASVAB is Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Batteries) . . . What's a word that means "knowing a lot of words?"

That's it!! The Googler shoots, he scores. I click on that link. Betsy14201 says the answer to that question is erudite, word maven, vocabulist, logophile. Is that right? Merriam Webster says erudite means "learned", logophile means "lover of words", vocabulist is somebody who creates a vocabulary, and word maven is two words. I just want one.

Hea, maybe I could create the word myself. OK, from now on, a person who has an extensive vocabulary will be called a "wordaloter." Now all I need to do is file a patent. I mean a copyright. No, that's not right either. What do they call it when you're proposing a new word for the dictionary?



Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Health Care Then

A Long Time ago is a self-published book by a woman who grew up in rural mid-Michigan at the beginning of the 20th century. I read it since I knew of the woman, a Mrs. Robinson who lived less than 50 miles away from my home town of Bay City, Michigan. My grandparents bought a painting she created and are mentioned in the book.

The book contains recollections of her youth, much of it in the horse and buggy era. It's liberally sprinkled with poems, anecdotes and stories, both charming and sad. You forget sometimes in this day of modern conveniences and 21st century technology how difficult life was for families living a hundred years ago.

I couldn't help but be struck by the vast differences in health care as it was practiced back then, before Medicare and specialized medicine, before emergency medical technicians and childhood inoculations. Living out in the wilderness, a trip to the doctor was only made "if it was a matter of life and death." Sickness and injuries were not uncommon. Neither was premature death.

Mrs. Robinson learned about folk remedies first-hand when, as a girl, her leg became impaled by a steel pike at her farm. No trip to the doctor for the wound, only a long convalescence. For treatment, one neighbor told the author’s mother “to put live coals of fire on a fire shovel and put black wool from a sheep on the coals and hold my leg over it. So we did, to no avail. Someone else said to wash it out with skoak root. That didn’t help either.”

She eventually recovered, but with a bad scar on her calf for the rest of her life.

Doctors themselves didn’t always have the answer either way back when. When Mrs. Robinson’s daughter ingested some deadly nightshade seeds, the doctors were quickly called. Two of them arrived at her home to find the young girl barely conscious. They pumped her stomach to no effect.

In the author’s words, “They did all they could and went away and left her to die. “ The next day a neighbor suggested giving the deathly ill child some castor oil. That worked. The girl began vomiting and eventually recovered. Mrs. Robinson credited the neighbor with saving her daughter’s life that day.

People of that era put their trust in prayer too, as much as they did doctors and medicine. Mrs. Robinson was a deeply religious woman who credited the power of prayer from a local congregation with helping her to recuperate from one serious illness that had herself at death’s door.

But not all her stories ended happily. Three of her sisters died within a few years of eachother, each leaving a large, mostly young family. And after her own son complained of being ill, she checked on him after doing chores to find him lifeless in his bed. The doctors never could figure out why he died.

It is amazing to realize how far medicine has come. And as this week has shown, not only in the treatments themselves but in how medicine is financed and delivered. You just have to wonder what is going to happen in the next hundred years.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ah, Spring. TV Time!

I just finished doing my homework here. I'm learning about the Terriers, the Bearkats, the Gaels and the Spiders. No, not characters in a children's book. They're basketball teams in the NCAA tournament which starts this week. I'll be watching more b-ball on TV the next few weeks than I watch in a year.

What I learned is that none of the above teams is likely to make it very far. Makes sense since even the nicknames aren't likely to leave opponents terror-stricken. Well, maybe spiders, but you just have to step on them.

No, my favorite Michigan Wolverines didn't make it this year. Our cross-state rival Michigan State Spartans did, however, and their fans are becoming more obnoxious over their recent athletic success.

Two MSU fans separately have counted out the numbers of days since a Michigan team last beat Michigan State in basketball or football. Numbers in the hundreds, I guess.

Here is how one of my "buddies" put it in an e-mail: "The Spartans haven't lost to Michigan in basketball or football in something like 870 days. Care to comment? Sure I can rephrase that. The Spartans have kicked Wolverine ass solidly for the last nearly three years."

Obnoxious, right? My response:

"Why is MSU enjoying a mini-run against their big brothers in football and basketball? Need you ask? Look around you. You have to see this in a historical perspective. We're having global catastrophes the scope that hasn't been seen before, financial collapse, rioting in the streets, . . . it's the apocalypse, duh."

Well, back to my studies here. I hope to have my NCAA bracket complete by tomorrow. I'm looking up "Gaels" in the dictionary. "A Celt of the Scottish highlands."

I don't think they even play basketball in the Scottish highlands. Put them down as a first-round loser.

My bracket group is comprised of family members, the same family members that comprised our fantasy football league this past fall. I didn't win this past fall, although I also had a fantasy football team in my separate money league that took first place there.

So I took that team's nickname, the Viking Overlords, and used it to name my entry in the NCAA bracket challenge. Go with a proven fantasy winner, right? Let me look up Overlords in the dictionary.

"One who is lord over another or others; a superior lord; a master."

If I weren't so modest, I'd say that described me to a t.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

A Visit With Grandma

I took some flak for last week's blog from a couple people who thought I embellished the truth a little bit. Me? Exaggerate?? Pshaw.

It's not the first time, of course. When I've been challenged in the past on my recollection of events here on this blog, my patent response is, "That's what I recall." I mean, nobody's memory is infallible, right?

Maybe I take after my grandmother a bit in that regard. I visited her this past weekend and she still delights in recounting stories from her youth, many filled with the details of drama and irony of that mark most of a century.

In fact, when I asked my grandmother how old she is as I wasn't too sure, she told me that she's now a hundred years old. That might be a slight exaggeration. I believe she's closer to 98. But when you're up there that far in years, I guess you're entitled to round off.

Some of her other stories may "round off" a detail or two as well. But like my stories, it's obviously what she recalls. And her mind is still sharp. I was told that she might have difficulty remembering me. My sister commented to me recently during a visit that my grandmother couldn't remember her at first. And later she remembered my sister visiting her with "some Marine." That was my sister's husband who was in the Marines more than a couple decades ago.

But as my wife Wendy and I prepared to drive the 100 miles north to Bay City, I was more worried that my grandma might have a comment on my largesse, since I might have put on a few pounds since our last visit. That was about a year ago and I remember being thinner then after all the walking I did on vacation in London. That's what I recall anyway.

Wendy helped me pick out some clothes that would make me look thinner. Then, up in Bay City, father and I drove over to my grandmother's residence (Madonna lived there at one time) which is an assisted living facility.

As we entered her room, grandma was sitting by the window, looking very dapper in a dark brown fleece jacket and white top. She looked at me, then at my father, then at me again. I wasn't sure she recognized either of us, but some of that may be due to her eyesight which she said hasn't been that good lately. Finally, I said, "It's Dave."

Then she remembered. Looking me over more closely now, she said, "You put on a little weight." *sigh* Couldn't she have just rounded off?

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The Joy Of Tax

Is it just me or are taxes getting more complicated each year? I've been wrestling with our tax returns lately. What's the deal with this "Making Work Pay" deduction? Why do we have to fill out a separate attachment to get this deduction? Isn't that why I'm filling out a return . . . because I worked in 2009? If I hadn't worked, then I wouldn't be filling out a return. HelLO people!

The attachment just should be called the "Make Work" form. Just makes it more work to do my taxes. Sheesh.

This is the first year BOTH my sons decided to fill out their own taxes instead of having dad do them. I did ask my younger son Scott to let me review his taxes before he submitted them to the IRS. He didn't think that was necessary . . . until his federal return was rejected. Now he is submitting an amended return and asking me what the difference is between a 1099 and a W-2.

My other son Greg is faring better though I got a phone call from him, he being a bit disturbed that his preliminary figures showed him owing the feds several hundred dollars. "That can't be right," I said and asked him to read me his figures over the phone.

About 20 seconds later I discovered that he made a subtraction error, taking a $1,400 standard deduction instead of the $11,400 deduction he was entitled to. A $10,000 subtraction error is bound to throw your figures off a bit.

So now back to my taxes. I want every deduction I am entitled to. That includes the $140 I spent insulating my attic. I was sure I read somewhere that I could deduct that. But reviewing every line and direction on my 1040A booklet, I couldn't find it. So I Googled. Turns out I need to file an additional form for that.

Just for $140?? Argghhhh!

I took a walk to the local library which stocks all the pertinent tax forms, federal and state, I might use. But they had run out of the form for the home energy credit. A note said an additional supply was being ordered. Argghhh!

After waiting a couple weeks, I returned to the library and this time the form was in. Woo hoo!

Back to my taxes, I filled out the appropriate form, claimed my insulation deduction, then saw a note saying to attach it to my 1040. What, can't I attach to my 1040A? Apparently not. I need to fill out a 1040, which I don't have. Back to the library. Argghhh!

Is there a form we can fill out for the aggravation this is all costing us? I'm campaigning for a "Make Aggravation Pay" deduction for next year.