Chiming the Hour


Max Liebermann, “The Preserve Makers,” 1879 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


At break of dawn, the robin sings,

without fail he chimes the hour

awakening spring in joyous song.


The workers rise from slumber’s dreams

as fires start and kettles steam.

At break of dawn, the robin sings.


Firmly in place, they keep sharp pace,

with foreman near, they mustn’t tarry.

Without fail, he chimes the hour.


They live and love and dream and hope–

and listen for the robin’s trills,

awakening spring in joyous song.


This is a cascade poem in response to Secret Keeper’s Weekly Writing Challenge.


This week’s words are: Place/Sharp/Chime/Firm/Pace.












Grumpy Pants and Pizza

Dealing with work-related technical issues the other day made me very grumpy. As some of you know, I wear several different writing hats. I’ve written and edited an assortment of history books and articles, and I’m currently working on two books. I also work as a free-lance test writer throughout the year. In addition to those jobs, every summer for many years, I have written test items full-time for 6-8 weeks. It really is a great job, and most of the people I’m in contact with are wonderful. I know I am extremely fortunate to be able to work from home on my own schedule. . .

BUT–there are those annual technical problems, which usually results in a late paycheck. And there are the calls to the Help Desk–which is neither helpful, nor, I suspect, an actual desk. So on Friday, after my second call to the not-really-helpful Help Desk man, I was issued a ticket number. (This is another term I wonder about. Is there a real, physical ticket somewhere with this number stamped on it? Does someone tear off the top like the usher in a theater does, and will it gain me admission to a special Help Desk performance?) I was told someone would call me.

But of course, no one did. And there was no solution to this week’s problem. I do have that ticket number though. Perhaps I can use it to claim a prize. At a special Help Desk performance.

So there I was wearing my test-writing hat with my grumpy pants. Let me tell you, this is not a fashion combination you want to see.

And the pants were getting tighter—especially after I decided to pick on leftover brownies. (“Leftover brownies,” you ask? Why would brownies EVER be leftover? I’m mystified, too, but my husband doesn’t usually eat them. I know, how weird is that? However, there are only so many I can eat, especially since I often decide I also need to bake other goodies. It’s a compulsion.)

But back to “grumpy pants.” Because I’m a nerd, I was curious about the derivation of the term, “grumpy pants.” I did a quick search, but I didn’t find an answer. I did discover that “grumpy” was first used in the eighteenth-century, and English author Fanny Burney popularized it in 1778 in her novel, Evelina, or The History of Young Lady’s Entrance into the World. (You can read about it on the Wordnik blog .)
Coincidentally, I recently edited an article on Fanny Burney for a book project I’m working on, although unfortunately it did not mention her use of the word grumpy. . .because I suspect she was. (She had good reason to be, since she underwent a mastectomy without anesthesia.)

So I was grumpy– and feeling a little sick after the brownies–but I continued to work. What I really wanted to do though was curl up and take a nap


Or relax and read a good book.

Hmmm. . .this looks interesting.


But I didn’t.

A cycle class after I finished working helped me shed my grumpy pants. Then I changed into some comfy pj’s and made homemade pizza for dinner. Sometimes that’s all it takes. But an unexpected phone call from both my daughters  (one was visiting the other) was a bonus that topped off my night.

Fresh Jersey tomatoes, fresh basil, mozzarella, and sauteed onions and garilc

Fresh Jersey tomatoes, fresh basil, mozzarella, and sauteed onions and garlic

I love this recipe from the My Baking Addiction site. I’ve been making batches of this dough every week or two and storing them in my refrigerator. I use it to make both pizza and artisan-style bread. The dough is super-easy to make. You can make it in five minutes. Seriously. I mix it with a wooden spoon; the dough hook is not necessary. Let it sit at room temperature for a couple of hours, then put it in the refrigerator. Just remove chunks (I like to use technical terms), and bake as needed. Eat, and enjoy!

I hope this helps when you’re grumpy.

Hope in a List

List Making

List Making (Photo credit: Bunches and Bits {Karina})

“The list could surely go on, and there is nothing more wonderful than a list, instrument of wondrous hypotyposis.”
–Umberto Eco

Hi. I’m Merril, and I’m a list-maker. My day usually begins with me making a list while I drink my coffee and read the newspaper. The list invariably includes a combination of daily routine tasks, such as emptying the litter box, which always get crossed-off—YAY!–and work-related items, phone calls I need to make or emails I need to send, appointments, and food I plan to prepare that sometimes get crossed-off.  Today’s list includes, “make sauce and lasagna” and “boil wheat berries.” Both of those items are done and crossed-off. Unfortunately, the work assignments are not. Sigh.

I often make several lists for the day. One list is my general list, as described above. The others specify what I need to do for projects I’m working on.  Sometimes I even write, “Make a list” on my to-do list.  Since I am currently working on encyclopedia projects, I’ve been adding more make list items to my lists. Recently, I’ve had bullet points such as “Finish List of Headwords” (crossed-off) and “Organize Lists of Contributors” on my lists (not crossed-off).

When we host holiday dinners, my list making goes into overdrive. I make menu lists, shopping lists, order of preparation and cooking lists, and house cleaning lists. Passover is coming up in a month, and I’m already thinking about my lists. Remind me to put “Make Passover lists” on my list.

I wonder if list making runs in families? (Hmmm. . .I will have to add Googling that to my list.) My daughters make lists regularly, and at least one of my sisters does, too. (My younger daughter also cuts up index cards into small squares and writes study notes on them. My dad did the same thing when he was in grad school—something she never saw or knew about.)

People are fascinated by lists.  You can find compilations of lists on almost any topics. There are even books devoted to lists.

Paul Simon’s song, “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover” was a hit in 1975. It did not actually list fifty ways, but it did include some:

“You just slip out the back, Jack
Make a new plan, Stan,”

Diary entries often list what a person accomplished that day—more of a “done” list than a “to-do” list.  For example, in May 17, 1809, Maine midwife Martha Ballard noted that she had “Planted long squash by the hogg pen, sowd pepper grass, sett sage and other roots,” along with her other chores.  She was kind of a super woman. If she made lists, I bet everything got crossed-off every day.

Some people view to-do lists with dread, but I don’t. Emily Dickinson wrote,

“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—.”

Perhaps it is my optimistic nature, but I think of my lists as bits of hope. When I prepare a list at the start of the day, I am anticipating all that I might do, or hope to do, as well as what I have to do.  Each task that I complete gets crossed-off. If I don’t finish them all, I just add them to the next day’s list. Some of the items I put on my list are so general—“Work on book” that I know they will not really be completed. But you know what? That’s OK, too. I know it will get done eventually. I have hope, and it perches in my soul, always.


English: Juggler Daniel Hochsteiner at a perfo...

English: Juggler Daniel Hochsteiner at a performance 2010 in Hamburg. Deutsch: Jongleur Daniel Hochsteiner bei einem Auftritt 2010 in Hamburg. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Juggling’s no sin, for we must have victual:

       Nature allows us to bait for the fool.

Holding one’s own makes us juggle no little;

       But, to increase it, hard juggling’s the rule.

You that are sneering at my profession,

       Haven’t you juggled a vast amount?

There’s the Prime Minister, in one Session,

       Juggles more games than my sins’ll count.

–From “Juggling Jerry” by George Meredith

A couple of weeks ago, my cousin posted a Reagan-era video of juggler Michael Davis on Facebook. (You can see it here.) I laughed at Davs’s jokes and sight gags, and I watched in awe as he made the juggling look so effortless. I am amazed at people who can juggle, since I can barely catch a bouncing ball.

But like most people, I am a juggler. We juggle our families and careers; we balance doing the things we want to do with the “I’m doing-this-because-I-have-too moments.”  We juggle projects, commitments, and doctor’s appointment. We juggle loving passionately and just being friends. We juggle work and play.

Anyone who had ever cooked a big meal has juggled pots and pans (perhaps literally, if you are especially talented. . .or especially odd.)  The onions have to be sautéed, while the sauce must be stirred, and the pie in the oven is ready to come out.  It is a juggling act to have everything ready, but experienced cooks usually manage to have the hot things hot and the cold things cold, and both on the table at the right time.

Of course, there are those unforeseen kitchen disasters. During one Rosh Hashanah dinner, as family, friends, my husband, and I ate in the dining room we heard a crash. My stovetop had dropped onto the stove itself, knocking over a big pot of Yellow Split Pea-Pumpkin Soup and scattering the bright yellow soup all over the kitchen. Fortunately, I had already served the soup, but there were no seconds—or leftovers. (And I had been dreaming of having that soup for lunch the next day.) For months, I found bright yellow traces of soup all over my kitchen in the most unlikely spots. (How did it get all the way to the refrigerator?) Yes, good times.

Most writers also juggle. Some work full-time jobs, but squeeze writing sessions into the odd hours of their days or nights. Others, like me, try to fit a variety of writing projects into their schedules–while finding the time to take care of the minutiae of every day life, the housecleaning, the bill paying, and the errands. Like everyone else, we struggle to find time for family and the things we find essential.

We all weigh our priorities, and sometimes the scale tips toward family. Other times, the weight of a job is extra heavy and must be attended to.  And then sometimes we step on the scale and realize, “Oh, it’s me that’s heavy.”  (Read that literally or metaphorically.) I must attend to me.

So juggle away. It’s what humans do. We find the rhythm–and most of the time, we make our juggling look effortless. And when the ball drops, which it invariably does—we simply pick it up and continue juggling.

“Every planet has it’s own weird customs. About a year before we met, I spent six weeks on a moon where the principle form of recreation was juggling geese. My hand to God.”

Wash, Firefly