Archive for the ‘Rants and Raves’ Category

Overtaking Galloping Mediocrity

Monday, October 4th, 2021

Inside the Pacific County Courthouse at Oysterville, c. 1890

Last week, when a former teaching colleague arrived carrying two café mochas and a double shot iced espresso for Nyel, we spent a lovely hour sipping and “catching up.”  Such as we could.  Since she is no longer living in the area, and Nyel and I have more-or-less confined ourselves to quarters, “catching up” didn’t really involve much.  Not until we got to news of Pacific County.

There seemed to be quite a bit to tell in that arena, at least according to the most recent issues of the  Chinook Observer.  Most of our “reporting” centered on two items — the Commissioners’ difficulty in coming to consensus on policies relating to Covid immunizations for county employees for starters, and the ongoing resignations in the County Prosecutor’s office which could eventually involve Governor Inslee stepping in.  Both situations worrisome and both with cloudy implications and many unanswered questions.

“Galloping Mediocrity at its best!” our visitor said.  I whooped with laughter and THEN the coup de grâce:  “You coined that phrase years ago, Sydney.  Don’t you remember?”

Absolutely not.  No recollection at all.  “What was it in relation to?” asked I.

Pacific County Courthouse at South Bend, c. 1940

“Pacific County and its governance.  That’s all I remember,” was the reply.

I’ve wracked my brain since that conversation.  It’s been more than twenty-five years since she and I worked together, so what in the world could that have been about?  Nothing really comes to mind,  but then mediocrity is always hard to remember.  Harder still to overtake, apparently.


Just call me Sydney-the-Unwilling…

Friday, September 17th, 2021

Vilma Silva as Julius Caesar, Oregon Shakespeare Festival 2017

Maybe it’s an age thing — as in getting set in my ways.  Or maybe the world has just begun changing faster than I can keep up.  Whatever the reason, I’m definitely losing my “willing suspension of disbelief”  — you know,  that “intentional avoidance of critical thinking or logic in examining something unreal or impossible in reality, such as a work of speculative fiction, in order to believe it for the sake of enjoyment.”

I first ran into my wall of unwillingness several years ago at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.  I don’t remember the specifics — it was one of Shakespeare’s history plays, maybe Henry IV Part I or II — and one of the commanders in battle was portrayed by a woman.  Fair enough.  But the character was also portrayed AS a woman with pronouns changed to fit the circumstances.  What was not changed was that she had a wife at home.  All okay in my book except that these were really-o, truly-o historical characters and in real life the commander was a man, not a woman.

Uwe Kockisch as Guido Brunetti

My actor son Charlie was with us on that trip and we discussed the situation at length.  He gave me the “insider’s take” on the possible reasoning of the director etc.  I could not (Charlie might say would not) change my mind.

I’ve been thinking of my “unwillingness” lately in a somewhat different context.  Nyel and I recently learned that author Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti and his Venetian cohorts have become stars of a popular television series.  We were elated!  Next to Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, Leon’s Brunetti is our favorite detective.

We’ve watched two episodes so far and are debating whether to see more.  The series is set in Venice (as are the books) but with a German cast speaking German and with English subtitles.  That was my first hurdle.  Try as I might to tune out the German, I do hear the words I recognize (thankfully, in this case, not that many) which is jarring in the extreme.  Plus none (read not one) of the characters is as Donna Leon so carefully developed them — at least not as far as Nyel and I are concerned.

Alfred Molina as Chief Inspector Armand Gamache in the new “Three Pines” series

As with Louise Penny’s books, each of the Leon characters have become very real to us.  Leon has portrayed them minutely and consistently in twenty-three books.  We’ve watched them change and grow over time.  The television series are NOT those characters although they are co-opting their names and their situations.  We can but hope that “Three Pines” which begins in December, also on Amazon Prime, will be more faithful to the images in our heads.

I feel a bit like a child who loves Winnie-the-Pooh might feel if the beloved old bear suddenly became a reindeer and was speaking Swedish.  My world with regard to Brunetti is off-kilter and I am definitely Sydney-the-Unwilling.

But for the grace of God…

Wednesday, September 15th, 2021

An Internet Photo

As I read the front page news this morning, I was selfishly SO glad that I am long retired and not having to work during these treacherous times. I am pretty much out of the school loop — most of my teaching colleagues have now retired and I don’t have any close connections who are teaching or being taught.  So I’m unsure whether or not there are “choices” — as in can a teacher opt out of the classroom and into a virtual learning situation this school year in OBSD?

“Rod Run, Hilltop cases fuel peninsula Covid concerns” said the headline.  Somehow, the Rod Run didn’t surprise me — it seemed an “accident” waiting to happen, and while Nyel and I enjoyed sitting out in front of the house Sunday afternoon watching the cars parade by, we weren’t one bit tempted to go to Wilson’s Field to get up-close-and-personal this year.  But Hilltop!  OMG!  Educators and students are there by mandate I think.  I don’t believe there is a choice.  I SO wish readers who are better informed than I would weigh in.

An Internet Photo

On Monday, OBSD Superintendent Amy Huntley confirmed that two Hilltop individuals have tested positive for the virus. While the positive cases would typically result in just a handful of students being sent home, Huntley said the circumstances of this situation meant that about two-thirds of the 7th grade class were close contacts of the infected individuals.

“Out of an excess of caution, and to provide the best instruction possible, we switched the 7th grade to remote learning the rest of the week,” Huntley said in an email. Vaccinated students and others who were not designated as close contacts do not need to quarantine or get tested, and can continue with their normal activities, she added.

“An EXCESS of caution”?????  My mind boggles.

An Internet Photo

Meanwhile, according to Pacific County Health Director Katie Lindstrom, just a few weeks into the school year there have been Covid related cases in just about every school in the county.  Selfishly. I’m glad I no longer depend upon a paycheck from OBSD — a paycheck that apparently would depend upon my putting myself (and possibly others) in danger every day.  My heart goes out to all of those who are caught up in this mess.

Would that our tax dollars earmarked for “education” could be redistributed for a while so that home supervision could be provided for students of working parents.  So that we could continue virtual learning.  So that we could buy time for finding ways for kids to socialize without being put at risk.  So that our front page headlines weren’t about the most precious and vulnerable of our population.

Re: should-bes of the Sunday after Labor Day

Sunday, September 12th, 2021

Wedding Picture, Sunday, September 13, 1987

I really like Fibonacci numbers.  I love their sequence in which each number is the sum of the two preceding ones: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144… It’s the predictability that I find comforting.  And I never cease being amazed at how they also appear in nature — in the arrangement of leaves on a stem or the branching of trees or in the positioning of a pinecone’s bracts.   In fact, I think it was during an environmental education class at Coyote Canyon State Park in CA back in the 60s that I was first introduced to Fibonacci (1170-c.1240-50) the Italian mathematician from the Republic of Pisa.

Charlie’s Birthday/date — Wednesday, May 30, 1956

I wish he had extended his mathematical wizardry to our calendar.  Perhaps he could have figured out how to make the days and dates more predictable.  As in, why couldn’t my birthday have ALWAYS been on a Friday? After all, we are supposedly celebrating our birthDAY not our birthDATE.  I’m sure Signor Fibonacci could have re-adjusted Julius Caesar’s changes to our calendar so that little kids (and moms and dads) could plan ahead for their special day.

What brings all this to mind is that Nyel and I were married on September 13, 1987 — a Sunday — at a surprise ceremony during the 3rd Annual Oysterville Croquet and Champagne Gala.   In my mind, today should be the day we celebrate our 34th wedding anniversary.  But… no.  Obviously, Fibonacci was not consulted and so, if we remember, we’ll celebrate tomorrow. On a Monday!  So wrong, doncha think?  So very very wrong.

And, furthermore, the Sunday after Labor Day was sunny for every single one of our sixteen (or was it eighteen?) croquet galas.  I’m not sure that has been true since, but maybe Signor F. could have factored the weather in, as well.  Or perhaps John Dalton, 18th century British weather pioneer could have worked on that problem.  Just sayin’…





Ole’s Nook again — in my email!

Saturday, September 11th, 2021

“Ole’s Nook” — Print of Original Painting By Carol Couch

One of the greatest pleasures of writing and posting a daily blog has been the feedback I’ve received from people I know and from many I’ve never met.  Email and Facebook responses come from far and wide and sometimes months or even years after a particular blog first appeared on the internet.  Take this email I received yesterday from Jamie Lee,

Hello! I’ve stumbled upon this site in my journey to discover more about a jacket I picked up at a yard sale all the way down in Phoenix, AZ. I purchased a red coach’s jacket from what I am thinking is the 70s or 80s. It’s got an Ole’s Nook Tavern graphic on the back and it says “Brat” on the front chest area. It’s a great piece and must have an awesome history from what you and the other commenters have included on this page. If you have any info you can give me it would be much appreciated and maybe I could send pictures via email to share :) 

The blog page the writer refers to was written and posted on August 16, 2014.  (In case you are interested, the link to the post is  It received a fair amount of commentary when it was first posted but it was surely a surprise — and a pleasant one! — to receive  yesterday’s inquiry.  Perhaps one of today’s readers will have more information about the jacket and will post it here so we can all share in the fun.

So, come on all you Ole’s Nook fans!  Let’s hear your stories and memories — especially about jackets and other memorabilia!




Having the last word… an overrated luxury?

Friday, September 10th, 2021
I sometimes think of these first and last words when I, myself, write about something I know to be true and my words are called into question.  Mostly that happens in the Letters to the Editor section of the Chinook Observer with reference to something I’ve written in my monthly column, Elementary My Dear.  On the one hand, I’m always gratified to know that I have followers.  On the other hand, there is the temptation to justify or explain what I have said — maybe say it another way so the offended reader will better understand me.

Charles Nelson, Sr. House – Oysterville, 1994

And then I think… “in the beginning” and “amen” in relationship to the words I wrote and blow off the nay-sayer’s comments.  Especially do I bear in mind those other wise words that I grew up hearing when my feelings were hurt… “consider the source.”  And sometimes I wonder if it would be better to draw my column rather than write it — you know, with the thought that a picture is worth a thousand words.  I wonder if political cartoonists, for instance, get less flack than do the writers of political editorials.

And I also wonder why folks with strong opinions often save them up to take potshots at others.  Why don’t they find their own  way to celebrate their memories and ideas rather than by being critical of others? As my mother used to say about such imponderables… “Why’s a hen?”



His arms were up her skirts — to the elbows!

Wednesday, September 8th, 2021

Last Year’s Plums!

There is nothing quite like coming upon the violation of your one and only plum tree!  With all due respect (and love) for Judy Eron’s song, “I Picked His Plum Trees Bare,” seeing such a transgression as it was happening right here a stone’s (or pit’s) throw from our house, did not bring out the best in me.

We were just coming home after erranding to the south and, as we passed the lane (Clay Street), I glanced east toward the bay and saw someone being way too cozy with our plum tree.  Our one-and-only plum tree — actually an Italian prune — that we had purchased, planted in our yard some years ago, and when it suffered failure-to-thrive syndrome, transferred to an area just outside our fence.  For a year or two, as long as Nyel was able, Nyel picked the plums around Labor Day each year.  Last year, with the help of Tucker and his granddaughter Amelia, we harvested enough fruit to divide among us.   This year we’ve been watching eagerly and today or tomorrow, we thought, would be the harvest.

Nyel Harvesting Plums in 2018

I braked, backed up, and headed down the lane just as the plum thief started our way toward his parked (in the lane) car.  His hands were cupped around a half dozen or so gorgeous plums.  OUR plums!  I rolled down my window and called out to him, “I think you have my plums!”

“Really?  I didn’t know…  I live nearby and have been walking my dog here for years.  I’ve never seen a fence around that tree or a private property sign on it…”

It was definitely a dé·jà vu moment.  Forty years of reprimanding recalcitrant 1st/2nd/3rd graders came bubbling forth:  “Why in the world would that be necessary?  Plum trees don’t grow wild around here that I know of.  We planted it!  Those plums belong to us!”

“Do you want them?” he asked.

“Yes!” I thrust my hands out the window and he dumped them in.  We waited until he was gone, then turned the car around and went home.  There were seven plums!  They were delicious!


Signage: is it all in the wording?

Monday, September 6th, 2021

Whitby Abbey and St. Mary’s Church

I spent a fun few hours last night looking at slides from a 1985 trip to England.  Slides!!!  OMG!  Fortunately, they were stashed away with a little hand-held viewer so I could take a look all these many years later.  Why in the world did we have slides made?  Did we have a projector?  Did we actually watch them after the trip?  And, even more curious, did we show them to anyone else?  OMG!

But, they were fun to look at one last time.  A young dark-haired me showed up in two or three — Nyel not at all, so we know who must have been the photographer.  I’m happy to say that there were no “surprises” — I remember every view and nuance of the trip.  I even remember this sign which was posted in the vestibule of St. Mary’s Church at Whitby Abbey in North Yorkshire:

Melting Ice Cream & Lolly Sticks dropped
in the Church add to the work of the

Church Maid & make this old Church untidy.
Please leave them outside.
Dog owners too are asked to leave
their pets in the porch.
Campers are warned not to sleep
in the Church Yard or on the
Abbey Plain.


I couldn’t help but wonder as I read the words if that sign was any more effective than the informational signs recently placed on the doors of our Oysterville Church.  Our new signs basically ask those who enter the building to wear masks.  In my observation: some do and some don’t.  I wonder if we could sneak in the term “Church Maid” — so much better than “the cleaning lady” and, though it’s not in use on the current sign, is the term we usually hear.  And “lolly sticks” and “untidy” — you do have to smile.  I hope such a sign is still being used at Whitby Abbey and, even more, I hope that visitors pay attention to it.


What’s the feminine eqivalent of geezer?

Tuesday, August 24th, 2021

The third word into the Introduction was “geezer” and I was pretty sure I was going to like the book.  There’s something nostalgic — maybe even warm and fuzzy about that word — that makes me think of Clint Eastwood in “The Mule” or of Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman in “The Bucket List.”  But on the third page in Chapter One came the loooong and boring description of the mining camp near Lewiston, Washington Territory, in 1861.

My inclination to read on became a general survey.  I flipped pages to see if things would improve and when I came across the cannibalism and other horrors ahead, I took the book back to the library.  (In case that’s your particular cup of tea, the book is Snowbound Stagecoach by Lenora Whiteman.)  But I was left pondering the appeal of the word “geezer” and other sobriquets for old men.  “Coot,” “codger,”  “curmudgeon,”  “fogey,” “old-timer,” and “mossback” came immediately to mind — all with sort of affectionate overtones like “gramps.”

Clint Eastwood in The Mule

Interestingly, though, I couldn’t come up with equivalents for women.  When I asked Google, these were some of the choices: battle-axe, crone, biddy, dowager, matron, fishwife, shrike, harridan, widow, and hag.  YIKES!  No warm fuzzies there.  Nothing that conjured up Stephanie Plum’s Grandma Mazur character or any of “The Golden Girls” or even “Miss Daisy” as portrayed by Jessica Tandy.

Why is that I wonder…  Why can’t old women be called by admiring terms equivalent to those for our aged counterparts?  Or is this old broad missing something obvious?

Ruthless is not my middle name…

Monday, August 9th, 2021

Puppets and Marionettes from Long Ago

When it comes to downsizing, I’m having just a wee bit of trouble.  Not with “current-day” (meaning the last 25 or 30 years) stuff — clothes that have lost their mojo; dishes and cookware we never really liked or got the hang of; tools or implements that just need a little TLC to be useful again.  Nope — those things are easy-peasy to recycle to Good Will  or to a thrift store or even to a friend who has an art project in mind.

For me it mostly the written word — books, letters, documents, research notes, news clippings about the family — that I find difficult to part with.  For Nyel, it’s tools and “projects” that he began but has never quite finished — things tucked away in the garage that he still kinda wants to do but…  I don’t know if you call our problem “hoarding” or “inertia” or “terminal nostalgia.”  Whatever it is, our watchwords have become “Be ruthless!”

An Invitation from Gordon in Anguish Languish

The hardest of all are the Years of Whimsy — probably the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s.  They were the years I was beginning to teach, that I had friends among the old beatniks of North Beach and the hippies in the Haight.  They were the years when I moved up here and oversaw the building of my house designed by Noel and constructed by Ossie and his new-to-the-area sons-in-law Wolfgang and Guenter.  They were the days of letters written in Anguish Languish, of costumes worn in and out of Peninsula Players productions, of puppets and marionettes or a jester’s marotte sitting atop the wooden toilet tank (pull chain variety) or peeking out from the books along the shelves in my office.  And they were the years when Nyel and I were newly together.

Re-reading, re-visiting, reviewing are all slowing me way, way down.  But what a lovely and re-invigorating time it is.  Ruthless or not.