-—be curious! (and hug a tree)
I’m still learning about the outcomes of COP 27 and will share what I find out next week. Is anyone watching the World Cup? US plays Iran today at 2:00 pm EST. Have a great week.
-—be curious! (and hug a tree)
“Now that everyone has found everybody, would anyone like to buy anything?” asks the sales lady.
The five little monkeys and mama buy dresses, pants, hats, shorts, backpacks, and sunglasses, and then they head for the car.
from Five Little Monkeys Go Shopping
written and illustrated by Eileen Christelow
Clarion Books, 2007
I don’t like to shop. Really. I’m not saying that to take the moral high ground, or because I have everything I want or need, or even because I’m not intrigued by new things. I like the smell, the feel, the look of a crisp, new designer bag, shiny bauble, and better mousetrap as much as anyone, but I’m okay with the same old, same old, too.
If I have to shop, I’d rather find my “new” treasure at a re-sale shop, whether it’s a higher-end consignment store or a flea-market. Of course, part of what draws me to those places is knowing I’m helping to keep a few items out of the landfill. Part of it also, is the thrill of the hunt and success at discovering the perfect “whatever.”
Last week I decided to shop for “new” lunch plates. I decided my perfectly serviceable luncheon-ware was sub-par for the group of women I’m hosting next month, so I headed to the indoor flea market to refresh my cupboard. My daughter calls my “new” wares “shabby-chic,” and I’m very OK with that.
And while most of us bundle-up this time of year and travel to physical buildings to sift through bins, racks, and shelves to find the perfect gift, discover the coolest new gadget, or marvel at the newest fashion, more and more shopping is taking place online.
Jeff Bezos started Amazon as an online book store in 1994. He worked from his garage in Washington state, filling orders, packing boxes, and taking them to the post office himself. His advertising was word of mouth and in just his first two months, Amazon did business in all 50 states and over 45 countries. Amazon's sales were $20,000 per week.
In 1997, Barnes & Noble sued Bezos for claiming Amazon was the world’s largest book store. BN said it was not a store at all due to its online format. The suit was settled out of court and two years later Bezos was named Time Magazine’s person of the year for his success in popularizing online shopping. Bezos kept on selling and expanding his wares. On May 15, 2019, an article in Forbes magazine announced Amazon had surpassed Walmart as the world’s largest retailer.
Many people have heard me say that if you can’t find what you’re looking for on Amazon, you probably don’t need it. Even though I try to avoid Amazon for a variety of reasons, for me, at least, that is a true statement.
With Black Friday still ahead of us, I started wondering why people like to shop, new OR used. Here’s some of what I found out.
Whether shopping online or in person, buying stuff gives most people a sense of control. We have vast arrays of items to choose from. We have cash (or credit/debit) at our disposal. By turning our hard-earned “power of the purse” into physical objects to express our individuality, creativity, or practicality, we can choose to follow the crowd, look for the newest trend or strike out with a style all our own. Shopping can be a heady experience.
Shopping online is convenient. Supply chain issues aside, next-day delivery fulfills our predisposition for instant gratification. (Who even thinks of the people who fill those orders, many times at low pay, long hours, and poor working conditions?)
And watching the mail feeds our need to feel special. It’s exciting, the anticipation.
Opening the package when it arrives is like a private birthday party.
All this is NOT to say shopping is bad, or wrong, or even wasteful (time and money, here). It’s overconsumption that’s the problem.
Our society was built on consumerism. Even bartering goods for services involves the goods. New is sometimes necessary. New creates jobs and keeps people all along the supply chain working.
It is a common misperception that the name “Black Friday” was coined because it was the first time in the year that retail markets moved from being “in the red,” (operating at a loss) to being “in the black,” (turning a profit). Not so.
Holiday shopping frenzies aside, the term Black Friday was first used to describe a financial crisis. On September 24, 1869, the US gold market crashed sending the stock market into free-fall. Prior to that particular Friday, two corrupt financiers worked together to buy as much gold as they could to drive up the price as high as it would go. Their plan was to sell the gold at a high profit and crash the market. The conspiracy was uncovered on that dark Friday in September. The stock market did go into free-fall and bankrupted investors from Wall Street barons to farmers. A Black Friday indeed.
Today, retail is relatively healthy. According to a Gallop Poll published last month, even though most people are reluctant to say they will spend more this year, Gallop predicts the average American will spend $932.00 on gifts in 2022, the highest amount since 2006.
New or used, online or in person, long-thought-out or last-minute surprise, shopping for yourself or for another special someone, it’s exhilarating to find the perfect gift. It can even be an unmatched set of luncheon ware to share with a small group of new friends.
-—be curious! (and have fun shopping)
Every night, a crowd gathered to listen to the magical melodies coming from the bear and the strange thing.
from The Bear and the Piano
written and illustrated by David Litchfield
Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016
I’m not sure I’d call the family I grew up in a musical family. Mom played clarinet in high school, then went back to it when I was a grown up. Dad played banjo. He did not wear arm bands or a visor, but he loved a good barbershop quartet. And he could sing, too. His clear tenor voice was not flamboyant, but he carried a heck of a tune. My brother sings like him. I’m lucky to have received Dad’s musicality instead of Mom’s. Her singing voice came from her dad, too, and she could not carry a tune in a bucket, as they say. Grandpa, well let’s just say he was great at being the audience!
My grandma played piano. She could sing, but she didn’t sing for me. That was the domain of Gram, my great-grandma. She wasn’t always in tune, but she made up for it with her enthusiasm.
My sister showed talent on her violin. I’m a little sad that she gave it up before she got to high school. My brother is also talented. He played viola with the Cleveland Philharmonic Orchestra. Not quite the world-famous Cleveland Symphony, but still. I just found out he didn’t enjoy playing, and he doesn’t play now, either. I’m a little sad about that, too.
I don’t know why I didn’t try the violin, but when I said I wanted to learn to play the piano, it only took a nano-second for Grandma and Grandpa to have a new spinet set up in our living room. And I found out that Grandma could play, really well. She could sing, too.
All this singing and playing got me thinking about how we learn to sing. Why some of us sing in tune, and some of don’t. I remember Mom telling one of our music teachers that she wished she could sing in tune. She said she heard the tones in her mind’s ear, but when she sang, it didn’t sound the same in her real ear. The teacher told her to listen, really listen, and practice. That didn’t seem like it would work, and in fact, Mom didn’t try it.
But she taught me to sing, in tune. Mom was my Girl Scout leader. She knew lots and lots of songs and sang them for us. We somehow knew how the melodies were supposed to sound, and even got the harmonies right when we sang in rounds. I’ve done a little research on how children learn to sing. I found lots of material, but the experts are silent about out of tune teachers teaching kids to sing in tune. It happens, though. It happened to me.
And so, back to my piano. I liked to play. I don’t have talent, but I had the will to practice. Or maybe I was stubborn. I played adaptations of show tunes for some of my lesson pieces. Sometimes Dad would pull out his banjo and we’d all sing. A violin or two might join in. “On the Street Where You Live” was a favorite. I don’t know what show it’s from or who sang it, but we had fun with it. Dad could even do harmony.
When I knew for sure I would never be a pianist like Vladimir Horowitz, or Van Cliburn, or Liberace, I put my playing aside. The piano sat waiting and when I moved out, my piano came with me.
I haven’t taken lessons again, but every once in a while I get out my finger exercises and an old book or two and plunk around for a little while.
My older daughter played flute and piccolo in high school. My younger daughter played oboe, but I think she liked the band kids better than the band instruments. All my grandkids play music. The viola and flute are getting more musical. Drums, saxophone, and piano amaze me.
My grandsons are musicians. All three of them. I love to hear them play my old piano, but even they couldn’t make it sound like it should. This year, my husband had my piano tuned for my birthday. When the tuner came, I asked if I could watch.
What a fascinating hour and a half! First, he opened up the top, then he removed the wooden piece that holds the music stand. I have seen the inside of my piano before, so I wasn’t surprised. But all those little pieces! All those precise connections! I have a new appreciation.
Besides skill, expertise, and a good ear, piano tuners have loads of patience. Pianos have 88 keys. The keys you play with your right hand have three strings each. Each time you strike a key, a little mallet hits all three strings at once. Each one is tuned precisely so all three are on the same pitch. Then he double-checks by playing chords and octaves. These days he uses a computer program loaded on a tablet instead of the tuning forks I was expecting him to pull out of his bag, but his ear is clearly his most important tool.
The keys below middle C are also attached to little mallets. They strike only one string. Each string is tightly coiled and each is gradually thicker as you move toward the lower and lower sounds. That tuning process was faster, but still precise.
So maybe I’m wrong. Maybe we were a musical family. Maybe we still are!
Be curious! (and keep a song in your heart)
Here comes Pete the Cat.
He has a bat and ball.
. . .
“Batter up!” says the Umpire.
Pete goes up to bat.
The pitcher throws the ball.
Pete swings the bat.
He misses the ball.
from Pete the Cat, Play Ball!
written and illustrated by James Dean
My first daughter was born during the World Series, when I still loved the sound of the cracking bat, the pop flies, and even all that spitting! Everything changed the first time my mom came over to meet my new baby. Which game was on? I don’t remember. I don’t remember which inning she interrupted, the score, or even which teams were playing, but it was the World Series.
(First game. The Cincinnati Reds played The Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Boston won, 6-0, but lost the Series three wins to Cincinnati’s four. Thanks Google.)
My tiny infant was in her own bedroom sound asleep, but my mom was appalled to find me watching baseball. I was not attending to my company, her. She came by herself and this was the only time I remember my mom calling herself company, ever. I turned off the game and never went back to baseball or any sport, really.
And of course I never held it against my mom!
But what about baseball? America’s favorite pastime just closed the books on another season. Although I loved to watch the players and learn from the announcers, I never had a firm grasp on most of the rules. And I wondered about the difference between referees and umpires. For example, what’s the difference between a no-hitter and a perfect game? Turns out there are two kinds of perfect games. One has to do with the umpire. The other the pitcher.
First of all, there’s not much difference between a referee and an umpire. Referees are used in football, tennis, and soccer, while umpires are baseball officials. Referees enforce the rules of the game and make sure players are following them. They must make quick, accurate decisions and remain impartial. Umpires enforce the rules of the game and make sure players follow them. They need to make quick and accurate decisions and remain impartial. See what I mean?
Then I wondered, since game 2 was called a perfect game, did that mean the same as a no-hitter? Well, the answer is sometimes. According to BaseballReference.com “a game is a perfect game if it is a no-hitter in which no runner is allowed to reach base, whether by hit, base-on-balls, hit-by-pitch or error.” That has to do with the quality of the pitcher.
But a game is also called perfect if the Home Plate umpire calls every pitch correctly. That’s really hard to do, especially with today’s technology that defines the strike zone (that an umpire can only see in his mind’s eye), the many angled cameras, and the availability of replays. Top all that with balls flying in both directions at around 100 mph. The accuracy of the calls has everything to do with the umpire.
So, we’ll consider the umpire. Pat Hoberg called all 129 pitches correctly in Game 2 of this year’s World Series. It is the only perfect game in the Umpire Scorecards database which dates back to 2015. Hoberg is rated the most accurate umpire in Major League Baseball. He’s been a professional umpire since 2009, when he moved up from the Arizona Rookie League. He’s been working in the Majors since 2015.
Most umpires complete a five-week course of study at umpire school where they learn the rules, mechanics, signals and officiating philosophy. They study on the field and in classrooms. After this training, the best are chosen for the minor leagues and can work their way up to the majors. Some umpires volunteer their services, some get paid a per-game fee, and some are on salary. In 2022, the salary for a MLB umpire with plenty of experience ranges from $110,000 to $432,800.
A passion for the game, the persistence to learn and apply all the rules, an affinity for all the people from the players to the hot-dog sellers and the fans in the stadium and at home, will go a long way toward making an umpire worth his pay.
That’s really kind of a life lesson. Passion, persistence, and practice go a long way to success in any worthwhile endeavor. That and 20/20 vision! the literal kind and the figurative kind.
Life really isn’t fair. But it’s usually not so foul, either. Babies are born, Mom’s come over, seasons turn. A season with a perfect game is achievable, but coping with the curveballs Life throws us is usually the best way to learn about ourselves and each other.
(and follow the rules, with good judgement and compassion)
I'm a children's writer and poet intent on observing the world and nurturing those I find in my small space .