If you’re a regular listener of “Morning Edition” on National Public Radio (NPR), then you’ve probably wept and laughed – but mostly wept – after listening to the weekly short segments of oral histories known as StoryCorps.
NPR marked the 10-year anniversary of StoryCorps this past week, featuring daily segments of oral histories NPR had aired in the past, including “where are they now?” updates. It was almost too much to bear.
But I’m not above getting my knickers in a twist when it comes to the UK’s favorite royals, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and the birth of their new baby.
The baby’s name is George Alexander Louis, and his official title is “His Royal Highness Prince George of Cambridge.” He’s third in line to the British throne.
Some Americans were all “Whaaa?” about the name “George,” saying it’s stuffy and old fashioned.
I think it’s excellent.
The choice of name wasn’t even a surprise. “George” was the 2-1 favorite according to British bookies, who raked in $2.46 million in baby name bets alone, which averaged about $10 per bet (source).
But I am surprised at how much I like the name. Then again, I shouldn’t be. I’m used to it.
My oldest brother’s name is George, my father’s name was George, and his father’s name was George. They weren’t George Holder III, II, and I, however, because they each had different middle names. Also, I think because my grandfather didn’t like the idea of creating a “Jr.” or a “II” and neither did my dad.
[Side-note: Three Georges is nothing compared to the six Marys in my immediate family! It’s similar to George Foreman naming his five sons “George,” ironically… I’ll save explaining the Mary madness for another post.]
George is a good name. It’s also a fairly common surname. It’s short, easy to pronounce, and strong.
It has fun female derivatives: Georgette; Georgia; Georgina; Georgiana.
It’s old. Wikipedia says the name derived from the ancient Greek word γεωργός (geōrgos), “earth-worker” or “farmer,” which became a name in Greek: Γεώργιος (Geōrgios), or in Latin, Georgius.
It’s multi-national. In Spanish, George is Jorge; in Italian, it’s Giorgio; in German, it’s Georg, Jörg, or Jürgen (“J” pronounced like “y”); in Russian, it’s Yuri.
In French, the name is plural, I don’t know why and Google is no help. I also think it sounds the best: “Georges” is pronounced “Zhorzh.” It rolls off the tongue like a fine French Bourdeaux.
Georges Pompidou is one of the great French names. Pompidou was Prime Minister and later President of France in the 1960s and early 70s. Today he’s probably best known for the eponymous and ugly Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, which is a library and modern art museum whose exterior looks inside-out.
“George” is distinguished – some of my favorite famous people – both real and fake – are named George.
George Washington, George Eliot, George Carlin, George Harrison, George Clooney, George of the Jungle, Curious George, George Oscar “GOB” Bluth and his father, George Bluth, Sr.
Then there’s the Seinfeld character, George Louis Costanza, famously played by Jason Alexander. Take away “Jason” and “Costanza” and rearrange the other names, and we’re back to the royal baby’s name!
I say not. I say the Cambridges are huge Seinfeld fans… Who isn’t?
But nooo, royalists would argue. “George,” “Alexander,” and “Louis” are names that hold personal and historical significance for the British royal family.
So far, there have been six King George’s atop the British crown, starting with George I who ruled from 1714 to 1727. Thus the name became popular and habitual among the royals. And let’s not forget that St. George is the patron saint of England.
“Alexander,” it’s been speculated, was perhaps chosen as a nod to the three kings of Scotland who bore the name, as well as the strong association between “Alexander” and “The Great,” as in the ancient Greek ruler.
“Louis” may well have been chosen in honor of Louis Mountbatten, who was the uncle of Queen Elizabeth’s husband, Prince Phillip. Mountbatten was assassinated by the IRA in 1979 – royal names evoke triumphs as well as personal tragedies.
But I say poppy-cock to all that talk of historical significance! I still think the royal baby was named after George Costanza.
Why? For one thing, the royals can afford to follow Costanza’s ethos of laziness:
Instead of doing a wash, I just keep buying underwear. My goal is to have over 360 pair. That way I only have to do wash once a year. – George Costanza, Season 2 of Seinfeld
And – let’s face it – there’s this:
My father was a quitter, my grandfather was a quitter, I was raised to give up. It’s one of the few things I do well. – George Costanza, Season 4 of Seinfeld
Ain’t summer grand? It brings us warm, long days with lots of sunshine and greenery and outdoor fun…
…and millions of blood-sucking mosquitoes.
That’s right. This Debbie Downer is duty-bound to warn you about the biggest buzz-kill of the season.
No, not me.
The mosquito, a.k.a. Culicidae or “little fly.”
But warning – the title of this blog post is misleading. This post is not terribly informative, and I won’t offer a list of ways to avoid mosquitoes, either, since I’ve recently sworn off the evils of list posts (but I do offer links to more info below).
I’m mostly here to whine about mosquito bites.
As I write this, I’m dying to scratch the latest bite on the tip of my left elbow… The one I got – along with three other mosquito bites – after I spray-soaked my arms and legs this past weekend with Off! Deep Woods® insect repellent containing 25% DEET.
Which ought to be called “On!” Because the mosquitoes in my tiny back yard pay little mind to silly insect repellent.
Before I am sued by the SC Johnson Company, let me emphasize that it was me, after all, that the mosquitoes feasted on as I pruned and weeded my small plot of ground. It’s well known that mosquitoes are attracted to some people more than others.
Mosquitoes love me. The female ones, that is, because they’re the ones who suck blood so they can develop their eggs. They’re so happy to have me back on the east coast. They made it clear during my first summer back in the D.C. area three years ago, after I’d lived in Southern Arizona for over a decade.
I went for years in Tucson without experiencing mosquito bites. Mosquitoes are there, but only for a few weeks during the summer monsoon season, and in relatively small numbers.
So when I moved back to the swamp-like conditions of the Washington, D.C. area, mosquitoes swarmed on me that first summer like white on rice.
I’ll never forget it. I would spend maybe five minutes outside watering flowers at my new place in Alexandria, and walk inside feeling the sting of several bites.
The bites swelled, a lot; I could practically watch the pink welts form on my legs and arms.
I visited my hometown in Pennsylvania one weekend that summer. I remember one of my sisters recoiling at the sight of bug bites patterned across both of my legs like polka dots.
“Are you sure that’s not a rash?” she asked.
I learned to rush through my flower-watering routine outside; I used bug spray but it didn’t seem to work. Mosquitoes still bit me – they followed me inside, too, and kept biting. I remember the day a mosquito came inside the house and bit me on the side of my face.
It was my low point of that summer – I felt like I had been branded, like the big, dumb, fresh piece of meat that I’d become to the buzzing blood-suckers of Old Town.
I couldn’t understand it; I grew up on the east coast and I don’t remember ever reacting that much to mosquito bites in the past.
But while living in the desert, I learned a thing or two about allergies, and I knew that the itch of mosquito bites is your basic allergic reaction (to the mosquito’s saliva).
My working theory – unverified due to laziness – is that I’d lost much of my tolerance to mosquito bites during my years in Arizona, but that my tolerance would return over time.
That’s proven to be mostly true.
These days, I use less insect repellent and it works a little better. Or, I just cover up. In the early mornings when I come home from the gym, I make sure I’m wearing long sweat pants and a long-sleeved windbreaker before I water my flowers outside. It looks stupid, and it’s hot, but it’s been my best defense.
I’m more hopeful after the news of last week. There’s a simple way to keep mosquitoes away while you’re relaxing outside – run a fan, preferably an oscillating one.
Mosquitoes hate wind, and apparently they’re slow suckers whose top speed is only 1.5 miles per hour. So they’re easily thwarted by a fan, plus the fan disperses the carbon dioxide we exhale that attracts mosquitoes.
This gives me hope that I can entertain on my back patio without anxiety – I’ll just pull out a tacky drugstore-bought fan and blow hot air on my guests!
I kid about mosquitoes. But the truth is, mosquitoes carry numerous deadly diseases – malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever – that kill millions of people every year throughout the world.
Americans are not immune to the risks. Mosquitoes can spread several types of encephalitis here. West Nile Virus, though not as serious, is a growing problem since it first appeared in the U.S. in 1999.
So do make efforts to protect yourself from mosquitoes by using insect repellent, and minimize their risk by eliminating factors like standing water near your home. You can find more information here, here, and here.
Don’t just be a Debbie Downer like me. Take control of mosquito threats, and make the most of summer. It really is a great time of year!
As you know, Dear Reader, I am not above writing “list content posts,” otherwise known as list posts (see here, and here). Like this very post you’re reading now.
They’re blog posts like “7 Tips for Successful Container Gardening” or “6 Things You Need to Know About Facebook Privacy.”
List posts are considered blogging gold by online content creators and marketers. They’re often cited as a no-fail method to engage readers and build interest.
After all, people like to-do lists and they like titles with numbers in them, which tell them exactly what – and how much – to expect in a post.
Like the title of this post… You’re hooked already, right?
That’s the conventional wisdom. One of my rules for living a more authentic life, however, is to never trust conventional wisdom. (Stay tuned for my upcoming list post on “Five Reasons to Ignore Conventional Wisdom”!)
So I’m here to tell you that list posts are bad, very bad. At best, they muddle your thinking, at worst, they pitch you into a shame-spiral of failure and underachievement.
Here are four reasons to stop reading list posts – today! (Yes, this is all very meta.)
1. A list post is another list in your life. Don’t you have enough of these already? A list post means another list that you’ll print out or write down and carry around with you in your phone or your pocket. Or you’ll put the list somewhere so that it stares back at you all day – from your desk or your computer screen – beseeching you to act. Mocking you when you don’t.
List posts are the bunny rabbits of online self-help, endlessly propagating advice that pollutes your mind with how-to overload. This creates anxiety and is bad for your health.
Just say no.
2. List posts are addictive. If you don’t just say no to list posts, trust me, you’ll never get enough of them. They’ll never satiate your endless need to fill the empty recesses of your soul with pablum on how to do more, do better, do more simply, do, do, do!
I conducted a quick (i.e. ridiculously unscientific) experiment to illustrate the insidiousness of list posts. I went to Google and started ten searches, each beginning with “10 ways”, “9 ways”, “8 ways”, etc., on down, and these are the first Google-suggested list posts that popped up in search results:
“10 Ways to Make Money on the Side” “9 Ways to Win Powerball” “8 Ways to Bully a Kid in Minecraft” (wow) “7 Ways to Discipline Your Child” “6 Ways to Sunday” (Ok, this is an outlier, and a stupid expression.) “5 Ways to Say ‘I Love You’” “4 Ways of Knowing” “3 Ways of Learning” “2 Ways to Live” “1 Way Trip to Mars” (hunh)
Admit it, you want to read at least one or two of these, don’t you? So do I. But the key is total abstinence. You must go cold turkey.
3. List posts take too much time. Reading a list post takes time. Deciding whether to follow the advice in the list post takes time, saving it takes time, doing it takes lots of time. Imagine all that you could accomplish if you just ignore these time suckers… Wait, don’t imagine, that wastes more time… Move on.
4. List posts set you up for failure. Face it, Dear Reader, you’re never going to follow those five steps to better organize your files, or do those eight easy craft projects to beautify your home, or take those six steps to “change your life now.” Oh, you’ll try. Then you’ll fail.
It’s better to never start.
So declare your freedom and pledge to never read another list post again. Right now. If you do, I guarantee you’ll avoid a lot of grief.
Forget dog days. The “squirrel” days of summer in the D.C. metro area are upon us — hot, sticky, heavy heat that knocks out even the most industrious little rodent, like the squirrel that lives in my back yard.
Here he is on my fence, where he’s normally sitting up all sprightly, his bushy tail twitching like a nervous question mark. Not today. He’s whipped, and you would be too if you walked around in this muck. Temperatures hovered around 90, and humidity hit 80%.
I felt sorry for the squirrel, but not too sorry to stick around and share his pain. The morning after I took this photo, I booked out of Alexandria and drove north to be with my mom for the 4th of July holiday.
Which means this week’s blog is abbreviated, about nothing but a tuckered out squirrel… I’ll resume with a normal post next week.
Come on, June! Which it is? Do I enjoy my dairy this month, or my dairy alternative? If I participate in the great outdoors, aren’t I also risking cancer from the sun?
How can you expect me to think about hunger when you also want me to be aware of steakhouses and candy, and fresh fruits and vegetables, and papaya, and seafood, and soul food,AND loving turkey?
Speaking of loving, how can I be aware of celibacy while also focusing my awareness on children and family? And world infertility? And on INTERNATIONAL MEN?
I love international men, June. Just ask my friends.
Here’s the thing. If you’re so hung up on “effective communications,” why do you insist on throwing this giant list of tasks and issues and food groups at me, at once?
That is not effective communications, June.
Even worse, you only give me 30 days to pay attention to all of it. You should also be National Overwhelming Month, because that’s what I’m feeling right now!
And what’s with the bathroom fetish? Shining a bright light on bathroom reading and potty training is gross.
Oh and thanks for reminding me that I’m allergic to cats, which I love. I’d adopt a shelter cat if I could.
On top of all that, you expect me to smile? That takes some nerve, June. Especially when National Smile Month is from May 20 to June 20 – what is that? I call BS, June, because those dates don’t even constitute a calendar month!
God, you exhaust me. Every time we get together, I end up feeling this way. And all of the downer stuff you want me to dwell on, every year. It never changes.
Your obsession with safety, and diseases and debilitating conditions… Don’t get me wrong, June, I’m very sympathetic to these things. Bad stuff can happen to any of us at any time.
It’s just that one minute you’re up and the next minute you’re down. I never know what I’ll get from you, June. I’m tired of the drama.
So you know what? I think you and I need to go our separate ways. We just don’t work anymore.
My mother won’t like it, since her birthday is in the middle of you. I’ll still visit her and bring her a gift, I’ll just ignore you. Because, June, you don’t really deserve my kind regard and understanding anymore.
I’m moving on.
I’m going to skip you and go straight to July. Now that is one happy, grounded month that knows what it wants – long, hot days when people have cookouts, celebrate the 4th, and go to the beach.
It will be my favorite month from now on.
At least until the day I look up July’s list of awareness causes.
I know what you’re thinking: One, how could I – how could anyone – complain about spring? It’s like saying you don’t like flowers, or sunshine, or life.
Two, how could I complain about wildlife? I live in the city, although there are plenty of wild animals around, if you look.
Most of the year they’re fine. But in spring, the wildlife around here just bugs me. It’s that time of year when animals are all reproductive and emo and in your face with their needs. They’re selfish.
These are my main complaints about wildlife in spring:
The birds on my street tick me off every spring.
I couldn’t tell you which kind, because most of the year they’re quiet and furtive and I don’t even see them. But in spring, neighborhood birds turn hyperactive and form gangs that wake me up every morning at 4am with their infernal screeching.
These birds don’t herald a spring morning by chirping sweetly.
I like to open my bedroom window at night to enjoy the springtime air. But that also means I have to put up with these feathered-dinosaur brutes on my block. They make such a racket that I have to get up and close my window to go back to sleep. I even run a gray-noise machine in my room to counteract city noises. But I still hear the birds.
I think they know it and they don’t care.
Trashy Bird Squatters
My beef with birds doesn’t end with noise. Every spring, birds take over my small back yard and trash it. Black birds, cardinals, sparrows, and mourning doves – they spend most of their time waging turf battles for nesting spots in my dense evergreen tree.
I always secretly route for the cardinals – yes, because they’re pretty and because I’m shallow – and I’m glad they won their nesting spot again this year (cardinals bring it!). But in all of the tussling, my slate patio underneath the tree gets pelted with a compound of pine sap and bird poop that maybe NASA engineers could remove but I can’t.
The bird poop problem hasn’t stopped there. Lately, some bird has made a perch of the rear-view mirror of my car, which is parked in a space behind my yard in the alley.
“Perch” is a polite word for it. I’ve walked out to find my car’s mirror caked in bird trots. The offending bird somehow projectile-poops across the car door, too, blanketing it with white rivulets of filth. This is wrong.
I spotted the perpetrator one day, a dove I think. I scared it away but by then it had already imprinted on my car: car = crapper. I reminded myself that, as a superior species, I had the capacity to thwart the bird.
I started tying plastic grocery store bags around both rear-view mirrors, to create a slippery surface that the bird wouldn’t want to land on. Like so:
It’s working. But the irony is not lost on me that I’m protecting my environmentally-friendly Toyota Prius hybrid with disposable plastic bags.
Obnoxious Duck Families
These scofflaws are the most irresponsible breeders on the planet. Come spring, mother hens lurch in front of heavy traffic to jaywalk all over the DC metro area, leading their jerky ducklings into mayhem without a care.
Look, I’ll always stop for a duck family; if necessary, I’ll even get out of my car and be their crossing guard. What chaps me is that the ducks know this and never show us commuters any consideration.
God forbid these vagrants use pedestrian walkways and signals, or listen to traffic reports and adjust their route. No. They’ll waddle across the busiest traffic arteries with their fuzz-ball babies tottering behind, wreaking havoc.
Like one morning last spring, as I drove to the mega-congested Mark Center in Alexandria during rush hour. I watched a black SUV five cars in front of me skid to the right as the rest of us slammed on our brakes. Sure enough, in-between the cars halted at odd angles ahead, I glimpsed a brood crossing six lanes of Seminary Road.
Duck families are coercive and I resent it.
They’re the worst! Fuzzy, tiny, squeaky, helpless. One will appear to you one spring day under a bush, alone, just off the sidewalk as you’re rushing to catch the Metro. It twitches and bleats.
You squee and bend down for a closer look. You steady yourself as all of your emotional armor built up over a lifetime crumbles. But you don’t know how to help the baby, so you walk away distraught.
Baby animals are sneaky and manipulative.
But if the squirrel in my backyard ever produced one of these:
It would be game over.
I’d probably tear out half of my shrubs to build a hutch for the mother and baby squirrel. Every day I’d leave them water and a bowl of shelled organic nuts from Trader Joe’s. No acorns for my darling.
I’d use my hand spade to bury some of the fancy nuts myself, so the little one would learn her life skills. But I’d mark the buried spots with party toothpicks so my precious charge could find the nuts easily.
I’d spoil my baby squirrel rotten.
Then in the evening, I’d watch the squirrel hutch from the shadows of my upstairs window. Blowing my hay-fevered nose until it bled, I’d weep tears of joy mixed with shame and tinged with fears for my sanity.
And you wonder why I’m not all woo-woo about spring?
[When you’re not annoyed by selfish wildlife in spring, consider donating to a local wildlife charity that helps sick and injured animals recover and return to their habitat. Find a group near you at: http://www.wildliferehabber.org/]