Teach a Man to Ghoti

April 6, 2009

The English language is extremely difficult to learn. Many of us who have been speaking it for decades still get tripped up trying to pronounce a word we haven’t seen before. And that is a situation that is more likely to happen than not. The Oxford English Dictionary lists over 600,000 definitions and the list keep growing.

Besides having a ton of homonyms (words that sound alike such as to, two, and too) which have totally different meanings, there are many words that are spelled the same, but have different meanings based on how they are pronounced. A good example is found in the following sentence: “Farmers work their fields to produce produce.”

I apologize for not being able to credit the person who played with the English language’s nuances to produce the word in the title of this post. I learned about this word many years ago and have been unable to locate the source.

Now that I’ve given you all these hints, you should be able to recognize the word. Ghoti.

Do you need more hints? OK. Let’s begin with the first two letters. The ‘gh’ combination has the same sound as the ‘gh’ in the word ‘enough’.

Still need more help? The ‘o’ has the same sound as the ‘o’ in the word ‘women’.

Surely you’ve figured it out by now.

Just in case, the ‘ti’ combination at the end has the same sound as the ‘ti’ in the word ‘nation’.

So, it is safe to say, “Give a man a ghoti and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach the man to ghoti and you’ll feed him for life.”


Me and Kerri

January 27, 2009

The popularity of a recent post I wrote about the Pop Rocks and their rendition of a Pittsburgh Steelers fight song leads me to believe that people enjoy stories about youngsters.

Some of you might recall a young lady who won everyone’s heart during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Her name is Kerri Strug. It’s difficult to believe that she was seventeen or eighteen years old at the time; she looked much younger. In any case, I couldn’t help comparing her career ambitions with my own. So I wrote an article about our similarities.

I’ll blow off the dust and let you take a look at it. Feel free to let me know what you think.

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When I grow up, I want to be just like Kerri Strug. Actually, Kerri and I have a lot in common already. She’s a petite female gymnast; I’m a rather large freelance writer. She’s a teenager; I’m a member of AARP. The only difference is that she’s won a Gold Medal; I’m still striving for my first major victory.

Perhaps our differences are more significant than I’m willing to admit. But we do have much in common. Each of us spends hours practicing to perfect our skills. Then we display those skills for a panel of experts. Kerri’s experts are called judges; she performs routines for them. My experts are called editors; I submit articles to them. Each of our “performances” consists of a beginning, a middle, and an end. Everything we present must be executed flawlessly in order to have the most positive impact on the experts.

On the surface, the similarities would appear to end right there. Kerry has been highly successful. I haven’t. However, there is one more similarity that I believe is the most important. We both perform at our best during practice… and somewhat less than our best during the heat of competition. The reason is simple. The pressure of knowing we must perform at our best for judges/editors makes it difficult to do so.

Kerri’s hard work and experience have diminished the disparity between her practice sessions and her “live” performances. I hope to do the same. I’ve studied Kerri, as well as a number of other athletes, to see what I could learn from their successes. One of the things I’ve noted is the use of slogans. “Go for the gold!” has a nice ring to it, but I like the rhyming ones better. “Back the Pack!” is great… if you’re from Green Bay. “Sack the Pack!” works well for those from other cities. The one I like best is “Refuse to lose!” which has been used by a number of professional and amateur teams. The  embarrassing thing about “Refuse to lose!” is that most of the teams that have adopted it lose anyway.

I decided I needed a slogan. I wanted something to remind me to do my best at all times – not just when I’m practicing. After careful consideration, I chose “Expect the Check!”  It’s a phrase that gives me confidence as well as incentive.

As with many things in my life, I couldn’t stop there. I came up with a slogan for each phase of my performance – as well as a few general ones. Hopefully they’ll help me write my best when it counts the most and I can begin to “Stash the Cash!”

My slogans for the basics of my craft are:  “Plant the Slant,”  “Flux the Crux,” and “Seal the Deal.”

Plant the Slant reminds me how important it is to write a clear concise opening. If I want to grab an editor’s attention, I must use an interesting approach to quickly get to the point of my article. In gymnastics terms, this is the mount. Whether Kerri is using a springboard to mount the balance beam or I’m using a bit of humor to introduce my topic, we both have to jump into our routines in an impressive manner. If either of us wobbles during the initial phase, we lose points and lower the expectations of our audience.

Flux the Crux reminds me to massage the message that is the body of my article. Every sentence must stand on its on merit while inviting the reader to move onto the next. The sentences must flow smoothly to form a logical progression. If I use a simile, an analogy, or an anecdote, the words within them (as well as around them) must fit perfectly.

For Kerri, this means combining back-flips, handstands, somersaults, and other moves in a fluid, coordinated fashion. She must be in total control of her movements at all times and cannot hesitate between moves. If she stops for too long, she loses points. If I get bogged down in a sentence, I lose readers.

Writers can also lose points if we fail to complete a move, seem unsteady or disorganized, or move onto something else without a smooth transition. The body of our routines must be carefully choreographed and flawlessly executed.

Most importantly, the body must flow naturally from the opening. The core of the performance must extend from and enhance, the promise of the introduction. The opening sets the expectation level; the body must meet or exceed those expectations.

Seal the Deal has a double meaning for me. First, it reminds me to finish my article with a flourish – making sure to tie up any loose ends and affirming that the flow has continued gracefully throughout the composition. Second, it reminds me that this is my last chance to sell the story. I must persuade the editor to buy my work and, at the same time, leave him or her wanting more.

For Kerri, this is the “dismount.” She knows that a flawless performance can go for naught if she stumbles on her landing. She must end her routine with the same strength and poise as she started it. She must land solidly on both feet to demonstrate, beyond doubt, her skill and control. I must do no less.

While these three slogans keep me mindful of the fundamentals of writing articles, they do nothing to relieve the pressure of trying to impress an editor. I had to come up with something more. Once again I made a connection with athletics. The Nike commercials urge us to “Just do it!” That seemed like a good place to start.

I’ve often read about athletes going into a “zone” where they forget about everything except performing. They let their bodies take over and just go with the flow. It can be best described as almost a Zen state of meditation. They don’t think about what they’re doing, they just do it. Yogi Berra, the former New York Yankee’s catcher, described the Zen of hitting by saying, “If I thought about hitting a baseball, I could never do it.”

With these thoughts in mind, I came up with two more slogans: “Ignore the Score,” and “Block the Clock.”

Ignore the Score reminds me to simply write the article without trying to make it perfect. Thinking about whether or not an editor will buy my work gets in the way. I have to push those thoughts aside and simply write. Later, as I polish the work, I can allow myself to consider what an editor might think. But during the initial drafts, I can do much better if I allow myself to simply enjoy putting my thoughts down on paper.

Block the Clock is my way of avoiding what I call the “Charlie Brown Syndrome.” From time to time, Charles Shultz had his main character being asked to do a book report. Inevitably, Charlie Brown opens the book to the last page and says something like, “Two hundred pages! I’ll never be able to read two hundred pages!”

Deadlines can have the same effect on writers. “July 11th! I’ll never be able to complete this assignment by July 11th!” A deadline is just one more distraction that hinders my efforts as a writer. Therefore, I ignore it.

Fortunately, I’m not a procrastinator. I can afford to not think about deadlines… as long as I don’t miss them.

On the other hand, the only deadline Kerri Strug faces is just prior to a routine. Once the judges have acknowledged that it’s her turn to perform, she has a specified time limit to prepare herself mentally. Then, off she goes.

Kerri Strug may be young enough to be my daughter, but I’ve learned a great deal from watching her. The most important lesson is that while hard work and experience can’t be overlooked, they’re not enough. To win a Gold Medal, one must do whatever it takes to eliminate distractions and perform at the highest level possible.

Finally, I recognize I have one advantage over Kerri. My performances don’t depend on the condition of my body. This is extremely fortunate. I doubt editors would be impressed if I had to stuff my 270 pounds into a skimpy unitard.

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To get an update on what Kerri has been doing since her Gold Medal award performances in Atlanta, visit her web site.


Giddy it is!

January 19, 2009
Creativity - Pittsburgh Style

Creativity - Pittsburgh Style

Believe it or not, a friend sent me the above photo last Wednesday. I wasn’t as confident as the person who created that computer enhanced image. In fact, my confidence didn’t surface until Roethlisberger took a knee to end the game.

I vaguely remember the first time the Steelers earned a berth in the Super Bowl. I know I had to have been far more excited. I think it’s human nature to get really excited the first time we experience anything good. After that, it’s still enjoyable, just not quite the same.

The only thing that makes this year’s success more meaningful is the fact that all the football experts agreed at the beginning of the season that Pittsburgh had the toughest schedule in the league. When you look at the teams in the playoffs, there were only a few that Pittsburgh did not face during the regular season.

The Arizona Cardinals are one of those teams. However, during the next two weeks the sports channels will be filled with stories outlining the connections between the two teams.

I’ve been pulling for the Cardinals ever since they drafted Larry Fitzgerald out of the University of Pittsburgh. I’ve also wanted to see Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm do well.  Whisenhunt played his college ball at Georgia Tech and Grimm was another Pitt player.

While I have lots of reasons to want to see the Cardinals do well, they are out-weighed by my loyalty to the city of my birth… the City of Bridges… Old Smokey… Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

On February 1st, I’ll be pulling for Mike Tomlin, Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Willie Parker, Troy Polamalu, and the rest of the crew.

You can take the boy out of Western Pennsylvania, but you can’t take Western Pennsylvania out of the boy… even if he is a senior citizen.


On the Lighter Side

January 15, 2009

I vaguely remember listening to the rather large radio that occupied our living room – and attention – prior to the advent of television. Not unlike my bride and I, my parents had their favorite shows and they’d make sure they were home with the radio warmed up when those shows hit the airwaves.

Fibber McGee and Molly, December Bride, Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, and the Bickersons were among the more lighthearted shows. The Green Hornet, The Shadow, and The Inner Sanctum were some of the more dramatic and action-packed programs.

From time to time I’d still be up when the big band musical shows came on. Those shows were typically broadcast live from a ballroom in some hotel.

That’s another thing that has changed dramatically during my lifetime. There were a number of well known bands that were contracted to play at specific hotels for years at a time. Other famous bands toured the country, but they didn’t put on concerts at theaters and arenas the way today’s artists do. They appeared at hotel ballrooms.

While today’s concerts might find some couples dancing in the aisles, most attendees are content to sit (or stand) and listen to their favorite singers and bands. But back in the day… you’d better be wearing your dancing shoes, and some fancy duds, when you went to listen to Tommy Dorsey or Paul Whiteman. The ballrooms had large dance floors and they were well used.

In hindsight, some of those musical radio shows could be fodder for satire. That’s exactly what Guy Marks thought a few decades ago when he recorded his famous “Loving You has made me Bananas.”

And now, without further ado, Jim’s Journeys is proud to present the world famous impersonator, Mr. Guy Marks…

I think listening to Guy Marks has made me bananas.


Mamma Mia Too!

January 14, 2009

A few months ago my bride and I went to see the movie version of “Mamma Mia”. I understand it came to life as a Broadway play and was then made into a movie. I had been led to believe it was a ‘chick flic’ and a real man wouldn’t go see it without kicking and screaming.

So after I finished eating my quiche, I had a chat with Wayne Giglia at a Nostalgia rehearsal. He said he and his wife had seen it the night before and he loved it. So, rather than kick and scream, I invited my bride to dinner and a movie.

As we were leaving the theater I said, “I haven’t laughed that hard since “Smoke on the Mountain”! (For the uninitiated, “Smoke on the Mountain” is a stage presentation dealing with the Saunders family and Gospel singing in a Southern Baptist Church.) In my book, it is a must see.

So, why am I telling you all this? Simple; the entire basis of the screen play “Mamma Mia” is the music of ABBA – a Swedish group that was hot a few decades ago.

That tells me that I could have the same success simply by taking an album from one of my favorite groups and writing a screen play based on the songs.

I’ve gone through my collection of CDs and picked two sure-fire winners. Boney M and The Snake Brothers!

With Boney M, I’d call my play “Daddy Cool” and have the opening scene take place on a river as we played “Rivers of Babylon”. “My Friend Jack” would be in the background as we introduce the leading man – Jack Nicholson! Yes! That’s the ticket!

Now, as for the leading lady, the background music would be “Bahama Mama”. Now, who could I get to play that part? Do you think we could get Rosie O’Donnel to say, “Hey Mon!” when she first spies Jack?

So, maybe that won’t work.

Let’s look at the Snake Brothers. The main theme song would have to be the “South Jersey Waltz”. One of the songs on one of the  CDs I have is “Tyin’ Knots in the Devil’s Tail”. This would allow us to introduce the Leeds Devil as a central character. After that, I’m not sure.

I’d definitely want to bring in “A Child’s Lament for the 90’s”, but I’m not sure how I could work that in. Could the Leeds Devil be singing, “Mamma, please don’t make me get a tattoo!”?

Perhaps I need to look deeper in my CD collection…


Jim’s Inventions

January 1, 2009

I’m sure many people (especially those who have known me the longest) will think most of my inventive ideas are meant purely for laughs… just like the Rube Goldberg contraption in the Myth-busters’ video

To prove that myth wrong, let me start with an idea I’ve been trying to push for decades. The idea is very simple, and one that Al Gore and his pals should find interesting. Instead of piling old tires in giant heaps that occasionally catch fire, let’s transform them into timbers that can be used for landscaping or anything else that can be built out of a sturdy beam that is resistant to termites and most forms of rot.

With the chemical knowledge available today, I would think the old tires could be ground up and re-vulcanized into any shape desired. If the owner of valuable water craft want to protect their investment, they can build a dock out of the stuff. If the boat hits it too hard, it simply bounces off!

The first idea I had as a small child resulted in peals of laughter from my loved ones. We were driving toward Ocean City, New Jersey when I spotted my first motel. After my father explained to me why it was called a motel, I asked why they didn’t have Boat-els.

Please note that many seaside resorts now have docks for their sea going guests.

All right; time to move on to my latest idea. We’ve all seen the commercials for air fresheners, but have you noticed that they are all variations of floral scents? Isn’t it time for the introduction of aroma diffusers for the bachelor pad?

The really crude bachelors are already bathing their premises in the smell of sweaty socks and decaying dirty clothes. Why not cover up those offensive odors with the sweet bouquet of chicken soup?

If a guest were to enter a room and encounter the wonderful aroma of a steak sizzling on a grill, or an apple pie fresh from the over, he or she might be willing to move a stack of junk mail to find a place to sit for a few minutes.

Who could resist the smell of turkey roasting in the oven? How about chicken wings browning to perfection in a deep fat fryer? Bacon or sausage frying in a cast iron skillet is guaranteed to make anyone feel at home.

Let’s face it, if those chemists can duplicate the smell of violets in a meadow on the Rocky Mountains, surely they can duplicate the essence of a pepperoni pizza fresh from the overn.

Depending on who the bachelor is entertaining, the choices would have to go well beyond food. A grease and gasoline mixture would be perfect for the guys from the garage. The scent of sawdust would be most welcoming to the guys from the lumberyard. And what tire mechanic could resist the beckoning of newly vulcanized rubber.

I believe old tires were the object of my serious idea. Since we’ve come full circle, I’ll quit while I’m ahead.


The 2008 Bake Off

December 7, 2008
Grandpa and his helpers

Grandpa and his helpers

My bride and I may be able to plead temporary insanity on this one… but we sure had fun!

We decided to invite Rachel, Maggie, Alexis, Ellie, Emma, and Ariana to help us bake Christmas cookies. The granddaughters arrived at our home around 11:00 AM yesterday and the baking began!

With a short intermission for a pizza lunch, and a longer interlude to allow us to attend a Christmas parade, we found time to bake ginger bread men, sugar cookies, some sort of molded cookies, and the beginnings of raisin filled cookies. We also prepared a batch of my very own ‘shortbread surprise’ cookies. That’s what Rachel, Maggie, and Alexis are assisting their grandpa with in the photo.

By the time we finished our dinner of chicken wings and French fries, the girls were a bit tuckered, so the older girls played some board games while the younger three practiced karate kicks and somersaults. I believe it’s called ‘boundless energy’!

Grandma finished the clean-up while grandpa finished the filling for the raisin filled cookies. Then it was hot chocolate for all and to all a good night… almost. We had one little girl who didn’t want to go to sleep.

Eventually, the sandman did his thing and all has been quiet for the last seven or eight hours. Soon grandpa will begin fixing the pancake and sausage breakfast he insanely promised to do for six of his favorite young ladies.

When we planned this event we had no idea that none of the girls had ever been to a parade. They loved it! They especially loved the fact that almost everyone marching in the parade threw candy to the crowd. I believe our girls gathered about ten pounds of assorted candy and chewing gum.

So, can we question the sanity or intelligence of a set of grandparents who gave up a perfectly good, quiet weekend to entertain – and be entertained – by six girls between the ages of five and twelve? Sure! Why not?

But, was a fun time had by all? You bet there was!

A break from baking

A break from baking

I almost forgot! Our little angels did a great job trimming the tree.

Hopefully, this will be an experience the girls will treasure for many years to come. Isn’t that what grandparents are all about?