“All the really good ideas I ever had came to me while I was milking a cow.”    Grant Wood

“It’s a bizarre but wonderful feeling, to arrive dead center of a target you didn’t even know you were aiming for.”
Lois McMaster Bujold

I didn’t mean to retire; it just happened. After working in Asia for twenty-two years, I decided to come home to the U.S. I knew the transition from teaching at elite American schools to U.S. public would be too drastic, so I signed up with an agency that finds jobs at private schools. I did several Skype interviews, but received no offers even though I heard phrases like, “you’re an excellent candidate,” “you have quite the range of experience,” and “that’s the best answer I’ve ever heard for that question.” With no job or even the promise of one, I packed up and moved my belongings to Arkansas. I had sold my home in Washington in the spring. The things I deemed too valuable to give away or sell, I placed in storage. Basically, my life was contained in boxes. Once on American soil, the interview process seemed easier, certainly the time difference was minimal if it existed at all. I ended up with two offers and the promise of another, but each one was either in a huge expensive city or a crime-ridden hot place in the middle of a desert. I was sorely tempted by the challenge of the desert place and think I would have loved working for that principal, but in the end, none of the positions afforded me enough money to live and to travel to see Ken more than the three times a year I had been visiting him from overseas. Wanting to spend more time with him was a big reason I left my six figure job, that and I was pretty worn out from teaching. That last year had been a doozy since I was given students with special needs instead of students learning English. I expended enormous amounts of energy which was worth it—it is always worth it to help kids learn and feel better about themselves.

But now, I find myself living at a much slower pace, in a country setting, with a wonderful partner who pampers me. I discovered I had some income available through a couple of sources and set it up. I got my Arkansas driver’s license, registered to vote, and bought a car. I started telling people I retired. It was official. says the meaning of the word retirement differs depending on the context. It can mean to retreat as in warfare; to withdraw to some place, especially for the sake of privacy; to leave an occupation; and to put out in a baseball setting. Definitions 2 and 3 fit my situation although a case could be made for definitions 1 and 4. Ha!

Fast forward (and it does feel like it went by quickly despite Covid 19) one and a half years. I love being retired. While I could sleep in, I usually don’t. Instead, I sit on the front porch swing watching my birds come to the feeders while throwing the ball for the dog. Or sometimes I rock on the back porch using my binoculars to scan the snags and hay bales for red-shouldered hawks, bluebirds, and meadowlarks who are hunting for breakfast. The backyard is quite often filled with activity: at least three species of woodpecker are picking at the suet, Northern cardinals eat the black sunflower seeds, and the house finches—about four families’ worth—perch on the white millet feeder. On the ground, squirrels, chipmunks, and hispid cotton rats scavenge the leftovers.

Our house is surrounded on three sides by open lots, two of which get mown for hay. How to describe our view? Bucolic or pastoral? Both words fit this view because pleasant aspects of the countryside are there to behold and cattle do graze on the lots. I prefer the word pastoral despite my love of cacophonous words. (I think this is so because bucolic sounds too much like bulimic.)

I read—a lot. In August I completed the Sealey Challenge which was to read a book a poetry each day in August. Non-fiction, fiction, and poetry fill my shelves, both actual and digital. The creation of the Kindle was the best thing ever for a book lover like me who also lived in a foreign country and who traveled frequently. It has turned out pretty well for Amazon, too, since with just one click, a purchase is made. These days I am taking greater advantage of the ebook library systems I have access to. There’s something about having a stack waiting for me to dive into that is satisfying. According to Wikipedia (always a go-to, if not the most reliable source), “Tsundoku (Japanese: 積ん読) is acquiring reading materials but letting them pile up in one’s home without reading them. The term originated in the Meiji era (1868–1912) as Japanese slang. It combines elements of tsunde-oku (積んでおく, to pile things up ready for later and leave) and dokusho (読書, reading books).” Maybe I’m just dokusho since I do read the piles of books eventually.

I enjoy taking photos of birds and writing poems about them. I spend a great deal of my time writing, mostly poetry. I’ve gotten very involved with the Poets Roundtable of Arkansas serving as their newsletter editor and coordinator for their collegiate contests. I joined the Master Naturalists and am their continuing education coordinator. Somewhere in there, I decided to learn how to make jewelry and open an Etsy shop. I’ve learned many new words (findings, bails, rondelles) participating in these activities which makes me very happy.

While I am retired, Ken is not. When the afternoon rolls around and he comes home, we move to the backyard to take in the sunset which is usually spectacular. Just as the light is diminishing, we see bats fly around in their random fashion. It turns out I should have been teaching my science students an additional word along with diurnal and nocturnalcrepuscular. There are animals (bats for example) that come out during dusk and dawn. Crepuscular can also refer to anything related to twilight and dim light. We often see crepuscular rays as we watch the sky turn from yellow to orange to pink, and as we rack our brains trying to name each nuanced color. As much as I love words and as many as I know, sometimes I can’t find the one I want, but I keep trying. I guess that’s the poet in me or maybe the logophilia.

Life Has Changed

Gasoline is under a dollar a gallon in some places. People are staying home in droves. The air is getting cleaner. Animals are reclaiming habitats. Sea turtles are laying eggs in record numbers. The collective technical skills of the nation have soared. Zoom has become a verb and a household word. “Dogs and cats living together.” (Just had to slip in one of my favorite lines from “Ghostbusters.”) Even so, more people are spending time in nature and around the dining room table with their families. Students are learning and teachers are teaching in ways that are new and different for many. The presidential race has been knocked off the news. It is Co-vid 19 information 24/7. Despite all of this change, the disruption in my retired life has been minimal. I don’t go to my monthly poetry group meetings, Saturday Master Naturalist classes, or lunches with friends. I only go to the grocery store when I need something and I wear a mask when I do go. I’m still making jewelry, reading, playing with the dog, observing birds, taking photographs, and writing. I’ve replaced some of my “normal” live educational interactions with Zoom webinars to learn about book publishing from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and from Audubon, more about birds. A pleasant change is I get to have lunch with Ken since he is working in his basement office.

This year living full-time in the United States for the first time in over two decades has been eye-opening. I have learned a lot about this country that I wasn’t aware of: the number of children and families who don’t have enough to eat is astounding; the number of people who live pay check to pay check is staggering; and the racial divide is wider than the Mississippi River. True, I live in the south, but from what is reported on the nightly news, these statements describe most areas of the U.S. In contrast to that bleak picture, it is heartening to see workers who are usually underappreciated being appreciated for a change. I am worried that Americans’ memories will be short and that once things aren’t so dire, they’ll forget about the store clerk and the teacher. They won’t remember how many students get free or reduced lunch and just how sketchy life is economically for small businesses and many, many families. I’m keeping my fingers crossed they’ll surprise me.

Along with improving their technology skills, the general public is getting an education on epidemiology. Since this is a fanzine/blog about words, let’s break that one down a bit. The suffix –ology means the study of. Epidemia is from the Greek and means prevalence of disease. For the uninformed, it could be a steep learning curve in terms of, well, terms. Isolation vs quarantine, for example. From the Latin, insalatus means made into an island. Quaranta means forty in Italian. The former means to keep the well away from the unwell while the latter means to wait it out alone to see if the person exposed to disease becomes sick. For pandemic and epidemic, we turn again to the Greek. The root -demic means people of a district. The prefix epi- means on, upon, near, at. The prefix pan- means all. An epidemic is a disease that affects many persons at once and spreads from person to person in a localized way. When you decide which word to use, it is a matter of scale. A pandemic is essentially an epidemic that has spread across many continents. As doctors discuss possible treatments and governors talk about medical needs, the words respirator and ventilator are frequently mentioned. Respirators are masks; ventilators are machines. Both deal with the respiratory system. –spir means breathe while vent stems from the Latin ventulus, “a breeze,” which comes from ventus, “wind.” (This is a good time to give a shout-out to If you don’t know it, it is a great place to learn words. My students and I used it a lot.) Other words in the news are disinfect, virus, and vaccine. According to the online Cambridge Dictionary, the definition of disinfect is to clean something using chemicals that kill bacteria and other very small living things that cause disease. Hmm…that last bit makes me wonder about virus. Just what is a virus anyway. It causes disease; it’s a very small thing. Is it living? According to Encyclopedia Britannica: Virus, infectious agent of small size and simple composition that can multiply only in living cells of animalsplants, or bacteria. The name is from a Latin word meaning “slimy liquid” or “poison.” Viruses are powerful agents that can mutate and lie dormant in a living body. We also know it can “live” on surfaces for various amounts of time. Even so, viruses can’t reproduce without a host. Bacteria is different; bacteria can be killed; viruses cannot. It is impossible to kill something that isn’t living. So this is where it is a bit confusing. Viruses on surfaces can be killed; in your body, the virus is using your cells to reproduce and survive. The treatments must not kill the host cells to the point where the host is adversely affected. A vaccine is a medical treatment to reduce the chance of getting a virus. Back when doctors were fighting small pox, a vaccine was created using cow pox virus, so the word vaccine comes from vaccinus, vacca, Latin for cow. A vaccine uses a live, but weakened strain of a virus or a killed virus to help the host develop antibodies which builds immunity against the virus. Antibodies are disease fighters in our immune systems. Vaccines are developed to help prevent hosts from contracting the disease the virus causes. It takes quite a while to develop a vaccine. The virus and the disease it causes must be studied so that scientists can mimic it. Then the vaccine must be tested on host subjects to determine its effectiveness and to see if there are side effects. The world is impatiently waiting for a vaccine. The progress in developing one is moving forward at a rapid pace, where rapid pace means by year’s end. In the meantime, we can keep busy learning words.





Words’ Worth

I didn’t go to kindergarten. It wasn’t mandatory then. I had a stay-at-home mom and both of my parents read to me. My dad used to read bible stories to me before I fell asleep. I don’t remember deliberately learning the meanings of words. I suppose I asked what a word meant if I didn’t know. Once I started school, I practiced reading with a speed reader machine. I was good at it. Phonics was a daily occurrence as was the pledge of allegiance and the routine fingernail check. We recited the long and short vowel sounds: a, aah, e, eh, i, ih, o, aw, u, uh. We studied word families. I learned all of the ate family words, for example, and then moved on to the ite family. As I moved up in grades, I began to learn root words and their meanings via spelling lists. I was expected to know how to spell the words as well as define them and use them in sentences.

My learning shifted from memorizing words out of context to knowing and using terms (the word for the words even changed) in specific subject areas. Science, math, and social studies were loaded with their own language. English, too, had grammar, sentence, literature, and literary terms. And of course, the better reader I became, the more words I learned from books.

I’ve spent much of my teaching career helping kids better their vocabularies. I’ve also spent a fair amount of time researching methods meant to make that an easier job than it usually is. I discovered there is no single way to teach vocabulary effectively. The whole language movement swept in early in my career, shoving phonics to the background and in some instances, out of the classroom all together. It became not only acceptable, but kids were encouraged to invent their own spelling of a word. The important part was they felt free to write, to get their thoughts down on paper; the fact that few could understand what they were trying to communicate was insignificant. Spelling and vocabulary lists disappeared. Students created their own lists of words as they needed them. My students had words on index cards connected by a ring with them as they wrote. (This method from Sylvia Ashton Warner, I learned when getting my masters.) They learned Greek and Latin word parts, too, because I remembered how much knowing those roots and affixes helped me in the upper grades. We spent time figuring out words from context. Mine was a multi-pronged approach. Some might say scattershot. Kids increased their vocabularies and that was what mattered most.

I am strolling you down my memory lane because I am curious as to how you learned your vocabulary. Were you a whole language kid or were you a vocabulary list kid?

I love crossword puzzles and have done them as long as I can remember. I owe a lot of my vocabulary knowledge to them. I’ve always been a writer, seems like, so words are my jam. I’m a poet, too, which means spending hours with a thesaurus in search of the perfect word. Being a life-long (at least so far) learner means new words present themselves frequently. Studying birds and mammals of Arkansas or the night sky has garnered me at least five new words (crepuscular, dimorphism, bolide, extirpated, melanism). I read a ton and that pastime is still a great source of new vocabulary as well. I think it is important to have the right word for whatever thought I want to express. (Another article regarding this is forthcoming.) How about you? What is your thinking on the importance of vocabulary? Are you still picking up new words? If so, how are you going about gaining them? I’d love to hear from you.

New Position

I have been sleeping on my back these days–something I almost never did. Sure there were those occasions in a sunny field that I may have dozed off or while lying in a hammock in the backyard, but generally, when going to sleep at night, I turn on my right side before drifting off. I can sleep sitting up—that gets proven night after night in front of the television—but I remember times when I was “back-flat” in need of sleep and just couldn’t do it. What’s changed? A few things actually and as a former science teacher, it troubles me not to be able to pinpoint the one factor (variable, if you will) responsible. I retired, (something that keeps popping up in these articles), I am sleeping beside a partner again, I am sleeping on a large waterbed, and my carpal tunnel is bothering me.

For ten years, I slept on a couch, not a pull-out couch, just a couch. I lived in a studio apartment in Taipei, Taiwan and that was my bed as well as my awake sitting area. It was wide enough for me to sleep on my back, but it seemed more natural and comfortable to turn toward the padded back and tuck in that way. When I visited my home in Washington, I slept on a king-size bed and often started out on my back, spreading out my arms and legs, enjoying the space, but always ended up turning on my side before succumbing to slumber. In the economy section of airplanes, I was forced to sleep sitting up but even then, I’d angle my body, turning as much as my seat belt would allow.

But all of that changed when I sold my home and retired to Arkansas.

I am much more relaxed now that I don’t teach anymore. Being relaxed may contribute to sleeping in a different position. You might think sharing the bed with someone would push me to the edge, but that is not the case. Perhaps I’ve become assertive in my retirement, staking claim to my half of the bed! And it is a big bed—a king-sized water bed. Sleeping in a heated water bed could be a big factor in my new position since it cradles its warm self around me, adding to my sense of security, although my partner gives me most of that sense of security.

I call the position I sleep in now the Frankenstein because I am flat on my back, arms at my sides with hands open, and legs out straight. When I was teaching, I decorated my classroom a lot for holidays and Halloween was no exception. I used to hang a cardboard cut-out of Frankenstein’s monster on the wall, and it is this image I remind myself of when sleeping. This position has proven to be the one that keeps my carpal tunnel at bay. I am a fist clincher it seems. There are scads of photos of me as a little girl with my hands balled up and placed in my lap. (If you are wondering if I am an angry person, I am not.) So this idea that I need to keep my hands open and flat while asleep is something I am working on. Even when I turn on my side, I remember to flatten my hands under my pillow or under my cheek. I wear the braces (mine are blue, my favorite color) and they help a lot, but they are most effective when in the Frankenstein position.

How does this connect to my theme, Logo-phi-lia? Sleeping in this position actually has a name and it isn’t Frankenstein. The word is supine. I think most everyone is familiar with the term, prone, supine’s antonym, but you almost never hear anyone describe a person as lying supine. No, rather, the description is wordier—lying on his back or flat on her back. While sleeping supine pretty much guarantees I’ll snore, it is the recommended position to keep your face from wrinkling. So there’s that.

I didn’t come upon the word, supine, until several years ago when I was searching for a word for a poem. I like the sound of it. I like that it has “pine” in it which can take you into a forest or relate an emotion. Supine is just a cool word, much cooler than prone, in my opinion. When I think of the word prone, I think vulnerable, but in fact, wouldn’t you be more vulnerable to attack, let’s say, when lying on your back with all of your organs just a sword slash away from disembowelment? If you are prone, the attacker has gluteus maximus to saw through before hitting anything too vital. Although, I suppose a swift slice of your spine would result in a critical situation.

Supine has another meaning according to Merriam-Webster online: failing to act or protest as a result of moral weakness or indolence. I’m not sure why in our current political climate this word hasn’t become more popular as it seems to fit some of our Congressional leaders rather well.

See if you can work supine into a conversation this week or perhaps welcome it into your bed tonight.



Words About Birds

One of my new favorite activities is bird watching. I haven’t ventured into the field much. Mostly I observe from the front porch or through the kitchen window. Ken hung three different suet feeders, a seed feeder, and a very clever feeder he made out of a piece of cedar. I like calling it the “cedar feeder.” He drilled several holes in a section of cedar where I put suet, and then he hung it up in a tree. The birds like the natural perch it gives them as they eat the suet.

In early fall at an outdoor women’s weekend, I was lucky enough to see pileated woodpeckers and bald eagles and to hear a barred owl do his who cooks for you, who cooks for us all call. Back at my usual observation post, I witnessed masses of European Starlings land in the trees in the yard one morning. The sound of them all together was something you couldn’t ignore. The dipping and changing direction of starlings is called murmuration. It looks a lot like a wave undulating. We’ve since had grackles come en masse. It’s like listening to a couple hundred friends meet up for the first time in years.

When the Bradford Pear was full of berries, it was visited by the cedar waxwings in what was a mass attack. It was amazing to watch as the birds seemingly took turns, moving from higher branches to lower ones, sort of like rotation in volleyball. They came three different days and when they were done, there were no more berries.

On a late December trip through the Mississippi Delta on the way to Memphis, I watched as Canadian snow geese lifted off of the rice fields. Like a white sheet being raised up by the wind, the birds flew skyward. Not long after that scene, I saw mass flocks of cowbirds, red-winged blackbirds, and grackles do the same thing time and again.

I am getting pretty good at identifying birds, too. I can confidently identify nuthatches, titmice, chickadees, robins, Eastern bluebirds, doves, cardinals, blue jays, mockingbirds, juncos, downy woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers, pileated woodpeckers, northern flickers, grackles, crows, vultures, and cedar waxwings. Sometimes I am right about house finches, phoebes, wrens, sparrows, and hawks.

When identifying a bird, there are lots of factors to listen for and to watch for. The calls of some birds are so distinct, there is no mistaking them for anything else. Phoebes say their names. Mourning doves coo. The downy woodpecker makes a chirpy sort of sound. Jays have a few calls, but all of them are darn insistent so you learn them fast. The shape, size, and curve of beaks can differentiate a finch from a dove; the size of the bird helps narrow the choices. Tails and what a bird does with it is a main identifier. Wrens’ tails are always up, for instance. Bird behavior is fascinating to watch and aids identification enormously. I have learned how woodpeckers sort of bop along a trunk, the white-breasted nuthatch makes its way upside down a branch, and how vultures form a v with their wings when they fly.

Identification is further complicated by gender dimorphism which simply means males and females are differently colored. Most people know that about birds (and some other animals), but probably not the term for it. Gender is clear. Di means two and morph means form or shape. I remember decades ago when morphing programs were all the rage. I’d transform a head shot of my dog into the face of a friend. When morph is used as a verb, it means to change. So in the case of dimorphism, you must remember it is the Greek root the word is using. There are two forms depending on the gender of the bird. Cardinals, currently my most favorite bird, are a great example. The males are brightly colored red while the females are a muted red.

I love this bird watching hobby, but I still have so much to learn. David Sibley has a book coming out in April that I am looking forward to reading. It’s called What It’s Like to Be a Bird: From Flying to Nesting, Eating to Singing—What Birds Are Doing, and Why. For Valentine’s Day, my sweetheart, Ken, bought me a zoom lens for my camera so now I am able to capture those great bird shots. I’ve included a few here. The next time you find yourself in a forest or sitting quietly in a park, take a look and a listen. Enjoy the performance and the pageantry of the birds around you. You won’t be sorry.




Economy of Words

I retired from teaching in June, so now I’m living on a fixed income. I watch my expenses and ask myself need or want questions. For the most part, it is working. I have had to break some spending habits like buying magazines at the grocery store and adopt some others like checking the unit price of items. Living on a budget takes some getting used to.

Another change in my life is I spend more time listening to television, online presentations, and adult conversations. I’ve noticed a prevalent speech pattern: redundancy. Redundancy can be heard from the lips of respectable newscasters to my most intelligent friends. I would be hard pressed to pick which offense is most common.

Have you found yourself listening to a person describe how they collaborated together with someone on a project? Or maybe they were reflecting back on a youthful moment. Perhaps they were continuing on their journey for inner tranquility. Some are more blatant redundancies like big huge and tiny little. Some of us say them because these phrases are part of our everyday language. They sound right to our ears; we heard them growing up. Really. It is the honest truth.

I like the third and fourth definitions of redundancy from

3asuperfluous repetition ban act or instance of needless repetition

4the part of a message that can be eliminated without loss of essential information”

If you read the other definitions, you will see that being redundant can sometimes get you fired. At other times, it can save your life, say while on a NASA mission or after a brain injury. It is fantastic when there is built-in redundancy then. But when we are speaking, redundancy does not help us communicate more clearly. I find it is a waste of words and a missed opportunity to use even better vocabulary.

 One of my hobbies is writing poetry.  I spend a lot of time choosing the right word to express a sentiment or describe a scene. I like to be concise and precise in my verse which is why I look up words in the dictionary to be confident of their definitions. I discovered that I used words incorrectly in the past. For instance, I used ornery for years thinking it was more closely related to being playful when it has a difficult disposition aspect to it. (Merriam Webster says those from the Midwest use it in a more playful way.)

 Returning back to the subject, I thought about explaining the reasons why these phrases are redundant, but I don’t want you to think I am coming from a place of superiority. I became aware of redundancies because I was guilty of using my own. And also, who hasn’t used but still?

Thinking about my new financial situation made me wonder what would happen if we treated words like money.  What if we taxed redundant words? For every lower down or lift up spoken, a quarter goes into the education pot. For every true fact stated, a dollar goes to fund the environment. Hmmm…considering my philosophy of education, rather than being punitive, perhaps an incentive is called for. Dropping down from descend would get you a five percent tax refund! We could make economical use of words a major tax deduction.

Reducing redundancies shouldn’t be difficult. It’s like when you buy a new car and then start seeing that model everywhere you look. Once you are aware of redundancies, your ears will jar whenever they hear them. Most of the time, all you need do is delete one of the words from the phrase. If you mean something is quite large, then huge will work without any help from big. You don’t have to go searching for advanced vocabulary, although as a teacher, I’d love it if you did. I challenge you to start listening for redundancies and maybe try putting yourself on a word budget. Want to share your thoughts? Feel free to respond back to me.