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Word Origins and Expressions

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Bits & Pieces Column

Helpful Chitchat

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Evelyn J. Mocbeichel

 

 

I find the discovery of the origin of many of our standard expressions fascinating. The root seldom comes from where we expect. Each time I learn about one, it becomes another “trivia notch” on my belt to share.

If you are a fan of old Westerns, as my dad was, these expressions could be heard regularly in John Wayne movies and other films of that era. A cowboy would saunter up to the bar and ask for a “shot of whiskey,” which was the drink of choice back then. Why was it called a shot? In the Old West, a .45 cartridge for a six-gun cost 12 cents; so did a glass of whiskey. If a cowhand were low on cash, he would often give the bartender a cartridge in exchange for a drink. This became known as a “shot” of whiskey.

What about when a ranch was sold and the contract was known to be “ironclad” between the buyer and seller? Where did the term “ironclad” come from? It came about from the ironclad ships of the Civil War. It meant something so strong it could not be broken.

A more somber expression, when someone “bought the farm” was synonymous with dying. During World War I, soldiers were given life insurance policies worth $5,000. This was about the price of an average farm back then, so if you died, you “bought the farm” for your survivors.

Speaking of living in a farmhouse, back during colonial times the expression “dirt poor” comes from that time period when the floors of houses were literally made of dirt. Only wealthy people had some kind of flooring such as slate or wooden planks to cover the walking areas of their home. So if a family had only soil on the floor, they were known as being “dirt poor.”

One expression I’ve used for years is to wish someone a good night’s sleep and to “sleep tight.” I learned that this term went back to colonial times. Back then, beds were made with a wooden frame with ropes tied across the frame in a criss-cross pattern. A straw mattress was then placed on top of the ropes. Over time the ropes stretched, causing the bed to sag. The owner would then tighten the ropes to get a better night’s sleep. So to sleep tight meant that your bed didn’t sag and you were able to have a comfortable sleep, which makes sense!

March 29, 2017 |

The Circus — Another Iconic Memory Fades Away

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Bits & Pieces Column

Helpful Chitchat

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Evelyn J. Mocbeichel

 

As a child, for me spring not only signaled warmer weather and budding flowers, it was when the circus came to town! Each year we went to see the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Madison Square Garden. As we sat in our seats, I didn’t know what to look at first with all the action going on before us! It was a three-ringed event with so much to see, both on the ground and on the high wire.

Flash forward to 2017, and the TV news announced that the circus is now in its final stages of touring. Reports stated that declining sales, transitioning the elephant acts out of the program and mounting operating costs all contributed to this major decision. Now, before the last show, our daughter plans to take her children ages five and seven for a visit. She purchased tickets to a show when it comes to her state in April. Remembering her excitement at seeing the circus as a child, she wants her children to have that same experience before it closes. On another level my daughter shared a thought in the literary sense, as she always likes to increase the children’s vocabulary with new words and idioms. She laughed and said to me, “if they don’t go to this multi-faceted three-ring show, how will they understand the expression, it is a real circus in here?”

 

Memories

Think back to your childhood and the activities you recall that still leave a warm memory in your heart. Even simple pleasures like making a campfire on the beach and toasting marshmallows, or going apple picking in the fall impress children. My mother still talks about how her father took her to Yankee Stadium to watch the Yankees when she was only five years old. They lived in the Bronx at the time and could walk to the stadium, “but would take the trolley back home after the game.” Now some 80 years later, mom recalls how a hot dog was only ten cents at the time and a soda was a nickel. Everything we do with our children is a memory created for them to cherish.

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has two traveling shows that will be appearing around the country till the end of the year. To see their schedule, visit: www.ringling.com

March 22, 2017 |

Your Real Age is Only a Number

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Bits & Pieces Column

Helpful Chitchat

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Evelyn J. Mocbeichel

 

 

Years ago a magazine had a quiz to “test your real age” and asked readers if they were aging faster or slower than their peers. Have you looked at peers the same age as you and think, “Boy do I look pretty good compared to so and so?” Or is it the other way around when you think you look old and tired and wish you had the energy of someone your same age? Naturally most of the quiz focused on health issues, like blood pressure, eating habits, exercise, alcohol consumption or smoking.

Another section talked about companionship as a factor in leading a healthy lifestyle. How many friends or relatives do you see during the month? Is your circle of friends varied and wide enough to offer you the type of companionship and interaction that broadens your interests? Or have you found one friend and simply feel comfortable because you do not have to go out of your way to understand and learn about the interests and habits of another group of friends? This might be a friendship of convenience and become boring and mundane after a while.

The years are simply melting away and we never seem to find the time to meet with friends we promised to see. Some might only be an hour away, yet the weeks turn into months. How many times have you received invitations to social events, like showers, weddings, graduations, reunions, barbeques, or anniversary parties, and you come up with an excuse not to attend? How many times do you talk about having guests over, but then your children’s sport schedules get in the way or plans to stain the deck take priority?

Now at the age of our circle of friends, many of them are helping out their newlywed children on home repairs or babysitting grandchildren. Often the grandparents babysit while their adult children are off on cruises or weekend getaways. Some friends gripe at this chore, but accept so their “kids won’t get mad” if turned down. It seems unfair and perhaps inconsiderate when the babysitting is constant and overdone.

Little steps along the way to improve our health are not difficult to achieve. This article explained when all these good habits are put together, the positive end results are worth far more than the effort it takes to do them.

 

March 15, 2017 |

Recording Treasured Family Recipes

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Bits & Pieces Column

Helpful Chitchat

By Evelyn J. Mocbeichel

 

 

I have become more diligent in recording old family recipes. Utilizing a computer, it is easier to store and preserve recipes, sending a printout when another family member is searching for one in par­ticular. When my husband’s family came from Eu­rope, they brought with them the wonderful traditions of their homeland. Most of these reci­pes were made “by heart” and not written down. Luckily, some of the younger generation started to record the recipes by watching their parent or grandparent as the food was being prepared.

My mother-in-law was pleased when we were first married and I asked her to teach me to make my husband’s favorite dishes. I watched her cook, wrote down exactly what she did and bought the same ingredients, yet it never tasted the same as when she made it. Mine was good, my husband would as­sure me, “but not as good as my mother’s.” This didn’t bother me because I agreed with him! Realizing I can come close to the original is now all I can be con­tent with, and the most important fact to remember is that we have the recipe ready to pass along.

One cousin was a great resource for any recipe we wanted to find. She had a special computer program that listed thousands of recipes and also included the family’s traditional ones. She found fascinating web­sites that fit any ethnic back­ground and used them to supply a host of new and interesting recipes from the region our in-laws were from. We both had enjoyed practicing these and reporting how everything turned out. Think about the food you remember eating at Grandma’s or a favorite aunt’s house.

My husband’s aunt had an easy recipe for making delicious potato dumplings. I wanted to learn how to make them and asked if I could make a mini-video the next time she made them. What fun we had in the kitchen as her husband sat and watched, making funny comments. It was an enjoyable afternoon where we learned an old family recipe and enjoyed the meal after it was cooked.

Don’t let your treasured family recipes be forgotten over the years. Watch how they are prepared, take down notes, and practice it yourself. You’ll be amazed how the mem­ories of childhood can be re­lived and enjoyed all over again the mo­ment the aroma of that certain food reaches you.

 

 

March 8, 2017 |

Be Prepared — Just in Case

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Bits & Pieces Column

Helpful Chitchat

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Evelyn J. Mocbeichel

 

 

My family teases, calling me a worrywart because I tend to think of situations that may arise that are often rare or infrequent.  It is just that I would rather be prepared then caught off guard.  For instance, one daughter practically lives in flip-flops during the summer and says they are comfortable for driving and even shopping. While this may be true, I simply do not trust that the small rubber section that goes between your toes won’t break at an inconvenient time. My suggestion, just in case, is keeping an extra pair of shoes in the car as backup. The same could apply when wearing delicate dress sandals.

A vital issue is being prepared for a car emergency. Many drivers don’t belong to an auto club to call upon. A co-worker shared this story. Cell phones were just becoming popular, but had no features with which to store information. The woman had just moved to town and didn’t know the phone numbers of any local service stations that could come to change a flat tire. Luckily her husband was able to leave work to come help. After that, the woman went to two service stations and picked up their business cards to keep in her wallet, just in case.

Of course there are more instances when the weather is cold and snowy when we may be caught unprepared. One time my cousin left a friend’s house after a dinner party only to discover it had snowed about five inches while she was visiting.  Luckily, about a year earlier she had purchased a folding, lightweight shovel, just in case she came out to the car and had to dig herself out. Now the shovel came in handy.  She also kept an old pair of boots in the car in case she was wearing heels or non-weatherproof shoes. Snow gloves and a knit hat completed the emergency wardrobe changes she kept in a small duffle bag. Quickly slipping into the more sturdy boots, warm hat and gloves, she was able to dig out just enough snow to get the traction needed to move the car out of its spot.

I am sure readers can think of hundreds of cases like this where a little forethought makes sense. Whether it is an extra twenty-dollar bill hidden in the fold of your wallet, or an extra gallon of water held in the trunk of your car, planning ahead makes sense.

 

 

March 1, 2017 |

Escape to a World of Orchids at New York Botanical Gardens

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Bits & Pieces Column

Helpful Chitchat

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Evelyn J. Mocbeichel

 

 

Are you tired of the snow, ice and howling winds of winter yet? There is a place to escape into a tropical environment that is breathtakingly gorgeous. The Orchid Show: Thailand opened on February 18th at New York Botanical Gardens (NYBG) and runs through April 9th, 2017. The show is an homage to the wealth of orchids, acclaimed tropical gardens, renowned orchid breeding, and rich cultural history of Thailand, home to more than 1,200 native orchid species. Visitors to the landmark Enid A. Haupt Conservatory will be transported on an epic journey that engages all of the senses and underscores the allure and intrigue of these exquisite beauties.  Visitors will walk through the climate controlled hot house, offering the feeling of being in the midst of summer warmth.

Orchids

The allure of orchids has been with me ever since I was a young girl reading a comic strip called Brenda Starr, Reporter that ran daily, with a full color page on Sundays, continuing the adventures of this vibrant, beautiful reporter. The Brenda Starr series was a mystery and romance, with a modern woman as its lead character. The strip ran from 1940 through 2011 with Brenda, known for her flaming red hair and being similar in appearance to the 1940s film star Rita Hayworth. Brenda had a mysterious boyfriend, Basil St. John, who reappeared in Brenda’s life throughout the storyline. Basil wore a patch over one eye, was ruggedly handsome, and was famous for growing exotic black orchids. Basil, in his orchid greenhouse, was repeatedly woven into the storyline as part of the unknown of why he held these exotic flowers in such high esteem.

Anniversary

 The NYBG celebrates its 15th year of spectacular orchid exhibitions with The Orchid Show: Thailand, a country that in the last century has become the leading exporter of cultivated tropical orchids in the world. Native and hybrid orchids alike have become synonymous with the nation. This year’s exhibition will feature an astonishing array of blooming orchids in a lush tropical garden, including a rainbow of vanda orchids, whose large patterned blooms are widely popular in Thai gardens and homes. The show culminates in a jaw-dropping scene of a large arched facade in the style of a traditional Thai pavilion, festooned with hundreds of exquisite orchids.

NYBG is located at 2900 Southern Boulevard, Bronx, NY 10458 and is accessible by car or train.

Peek at the breathtaking beauty of some of the orchids present in the show by visiting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9YYPdmPZq0g&feature=youtu.be

February 22, 2017 |

Iconic Film Couples

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Bits & Pieces Column

Helpful Chitchat

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Evelyn J. Mocbeichel

 

 

What makes a memorable movie besides the story line?  Often it is the chemistry between the two lead characters that drives the film into classic status or being highly acclaimed for years after it was made. Just think of the 1939 Academy Award-winning film Gone with the Wind and the relationship between Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler, starring Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable. It’s impossible to picture any other couple in these roles, especially the last scene where Butler walks out the door and tersely says, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” For that time period these words were almost scandalous.  Think about another old time movie, the African Queen, made in 1951. Billed as a “drama/romance,” the two leads, Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, were the only two that could have sailed through those treacherous waters, making the journey believable during this WWII classic film.  Once again Bogart was part of an unforgettable pair when he starred earlier in the 1942 Casablanca. His leading lady was played by Ingrid Bergman in this war-time romance and thriller, and the chemistry between the two made the film the long-time classic it remains.

TV Couples

One of the most popular comedy series that remains a favorite during reruns on channels devoted to old-time programs has to be I Love Lucy. This series was the perfect combination of “screwball” slapstick comedy where viewers were able to watch a real-life married couple work together every week in a successful show. A popular western series starred a married couple entwined in a different adventure each week; at our house we never missed a weekly episode of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, which also starred their horse Trigger.

How many iconic couples can you guess from the simple hints below?

1. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton began their romance making what film?

2. What cartoon couple shared an Italian dinner, where they kiss after nibbling on the opposite ends of a strand of spaghetti?

3. Pretty Woman paired which two actors in this romantic comedy/drama?

4. Rose and Jack, star-crossed lovers in a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, sailed together on what famous ship?

5.  Demi Moore contacts her late husband played by Patrick Swayze in what movie?

Answers:

 l. Cleopatra

2. Lady and the Tramp

3. Richard Gere and Julia Roberts

4. Titanic

5. Ghost

February 15, 2017 |
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