What a Dunderhead!”

Words should be allowed to come out and play.

Sometimes, when I wake up abruptly, I can still hear part of the dream I was just having. And so it was, this morning, when I heard my mother’s voice saying, “What a dunderhead!”

According to the good folks at Merriam-Webster, the definition of this word is exactly what I expected it to be.



dun·der·head  pronounced:ˈdən-dər-ˌhed 

: dunce, blockhead 

I hadn’t thought about the term in decades, and it made me smile. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone but my mother utter it. It never failed to make me giggle as a child. I always assumed that she heard it at the knee of her Danish father, whom she idolized. He was a merchant marine in World War II, and I suspect he felt the need to censor his sailor’s speech around his daughter.

I feel I should clarify. My mother never called me a dunderhead, not even in this particular dream. She reserved the term for bad drivers, petty criminals, and select politicians. (Nixon springs to mind.) It’s safe to say that I did not get my potty mouth from her.

Now that dunderhead has come roaring back into my mind, I became curious about its etymology. The Online Etymology Dictionary, one of my very favorite resources, had this to say:

dunderhead (n.)
"dunce, numbskull," 1620s, from head (n.); the first element is obscure; perhaps from Middle Dutch doner, donder "to thunder" (compare blunderbuss). Dunder also was a native dialectal variant of thunder. In the same sense were dunder-whelp (1620s); dunderpate (1754); dunderpoll (1801).

So it didn’t originate in Denmark. Blast. But I remain unphased, because Danish and Dutch are both Germanic languages, and I suspect the pronunciation, if not the comprehension, of each didn’t pose a challenge to the residents in those two lands, which are only about 500 miles apart.

And let’s face it. The Danes had a tendency to get around. Heaven knows my grandfather did. It’s a Viking thing.

Perhaps more intriguing than the word’s origins is its popularity. The Online Etymology Dictionary also provides this handy graph which shows when this word was trending throughout the centuries. This graph made me blink. A lot of the time when I look at these graphs, the word in question gets a sharp spike around the time of its origins, and then slowly fades into obscurity over time. Not dunderhead.

Dunderhead rose in popularity to what by all rights should have been its peak in 1829. Then it drops precipitously, but still manages to chug along until around the 1960’s, about the time that I was giggling about it. Then it starts to fade away toward its well-deserved retirement. But no! Around 2011, it not only returns to its 1829 popularity, but has sustained a meteoric rise ever since. Three cheers for dunderhead!

But what accounts for this extreme rejuvenation? It wasn’t hard to find out. In 2009, a children’s book came out entitled The Dunderheads, by Paul Fleischman. It must be very popular, because it has gone through 17 editions. And in 2012, a sequel came out entitled The Dunderheads Behind Bars.

Goodreads raves about both of these titles. I hope someone donates them to my little free library, because I’m dying to share them. I’ve added them to my library’s Amazon Wishlist, for what it’s worth.

A lazy Amazon search reveals that, since then, a few other authors have used dunderhead in book titles, and it has also made its way into the music world. There’s even a band by that name, and if you love bluegrass as much as I do, you’ll enjoy them.

So, there you have it. Hopefully dunderhead will soldier on in its various forms for generations to come. For me, its very mention makes me feel a connection to hundreds of years of ancestors, all blustering about one thing or another, managing to be opinionated without being too offensive. That resonates with me.

One thing is for sure: I got my love of words from my mother. She also liked to say, “Son of a seacook!” I’m sure that came from her father as well. Then she came across the phrase “gird your loins” in some novel or other, and found it hilarious enough to add it to her lexicon. She did enjoy a pithy turn of phrase.

Thanks, Ma. You taught me that words should be allowed to come out and play. I’d like to think you would have enjoyed my blog.

Check this out, y’all. I wrote a book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5


Favorite Blog Posts

Some posts are head and shoulders above the rest. They’re the ones I’m most proud of, and they’re the reason I do this.

I used to be obsessed with the statistics for this blog. How many views was it getting from one day to the next? Which posts were people reading? What country where my readers from?

Now I barely take notice of that stuff. It is what it is. Life’s too short to turn my love of writing into a balance sheet, especially since I haven’t monetized it, so I’m not making a penny.

But I did have a peek just now, since we’re on the subject. It turns out that this will be my 3492nd blog post, give or take. I would never have guessed that I’d have stuck with it for this long, given my usual lack of follow through. (That lack is why you’ve yet to see a second book from me. Sorry.)

Writing has become easier with time. I’m glad I don’t have to use an old Underwood typewriter to express myself, that’s for sure. A quick glance at my various posts has shown me that my writing has greatly improved, but some posts are head and shoulders above the rest. They’re the ones I’m most proud of, and they’re the reason I do this.

So, without further ado, here are just a few of my favorite posts of all time. Let me know what you think, dear readers. After all, we’re in this together.

“Toughen Up” I find this one, written in 2013, really fascinating in retrospect. I was describing my life jumping off the rails and causing an autistic meltdown. I was explaining that these meltdowns were not tantrums long before I even knew I was autistic.

“Tell Him Chuck Sent You.” I was at my lowest point in 2014, but things were about to turn around. A message from beyond?

“It’s a Leaf.” In 2015, I was a lot less resigned to, and a lot more frustrated by, the paranoia in this country.

Amanda’s Awful Adventure From a visit to the Oregon Coast in 2016, this post describes the shocking treatment of indigenous locals.

An Open Letter to White Supremacists Even though I wrote this in 2017, I’m fairly certain that the people who most need to read it still haven’t.

“I Don’t Consider Myself a Feminist” It is hard to believe some women are still saying this. I wrote it in 2018.

The Physics of Friendship from 2019. A different perspective on estrangement.

The Great Unsaid In 2020 I wrote about the horrible reason that the Pacific Northwest is thriving.

A Natural Moment A post about a very unexpected encounter I had in 2021.

The Strange History of L’Inconnue de la Seine From 2022. She’s the most kissed woman in the world, yet she still remains a mystery.

The Unexpected Insights of a Newly Diagnosed Autistic Adult describes the journey of self-discovery that I began this year and will probably continue to navigate for the rest of my life.

Here’s hoping you’ll continue to visit my blog for years to come, dear reader! Thank you. You’re the best.

Check this out, y’all. I wrote a book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

The Wisdom of an Old Friend

“Bad things do not have to happen because they have happened.” – Harold George

When I was 18, I transferred to Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida for my sophomore year in college. Autism was not even on my radar at that point. I just knew that after a life of feeling like I didn’t fit in, I now felt even more out of place. All these people seemed rich, entitled, conservative, and disgustingly sure of themselves. I felt like a message in a bottle, floating in an overly-entitled ocean with no hope of ever being read.

I have never made friends easily, and that proved to be true at Flagler as well. But friends did come along eventually, and I have many memories that I cherish to this very day. I may never have done anything with any of my degrees, but I still maintain that college was a very important and precious part of my life.

One of my dearest friends was Harold George. He was positive and energetic. He was a force of nature. Trying to keep up with him was like chasing after a dust devil in the desert. Normally I’m put off by such energy, but Harold was charming and kind. He added light to my life. Whenever I saw him, I felt a huge sense of relief. Someone cared.

We graduated before the internet age, before cell phones and social media. The only way to keep in touch was through snail mail, really, and how many people did that? Because of this, most of my college friends drifted away over time, and that included Harold. But I thought of him often.

Fast forward 18 years. I was standing in line to see presidential candidate John Kerry give a campaign speech in Jacksonville, Florida. The line was moving very slowly because they hadn’t provided enough metal detectors for the crowd that showed up on that day. I was lost in thought, trying not to go nuts with boredom. And then I heard someone talking, about 10 feet behind me in line. I immediately knew it was Harold. I couldn’t believe it.

It was so wonderful catching up with him after all those years! We exchanged email addresses. This was about 7 years before Facebook was accessible to the general public, so reconnecting was practically a miracle. At the time he told me that in college he had been inspired to be more politically active because of me. I was stunned that I had made that type of impression, or in fact any impression at all, back then. I was quiet, isolated, chronically depressed, and would have sworn I didn’t even cast a shadow.

Over the years, I’ve been increasingly impressed with the man that Harold became. He stayed in St. Augustine, had the job of my dreams, and he made a loving home with his husband. He also slowed down just enough to reveal his more contemplative side. Now that we’re Facebook friends, I have had the pleasure of reading his posts, which show how observant he is about the human condition. He genuinely cares about people and is finally learning to care about himself, too.

I recently asked Harold to do a guest post on this blog, and I’m grateful that he agreed to do so, because what follows has taught me much about Harold that I did not know in our college days. Maybe I wasn’t the only one there whose childhood undermined all confidence. Maybe I wasn’t the only one who had been bullied and raised in chaos. I would have found that comforting. Maybe we unconsciously picked up on that in each other and that’s why we formed a bond.

But I will say this. Harold, you deserve all the good things. I, too, am grateful that you hung in there. Bon Voyage, my friend. Send me a postcard or two along the way.

Without further ado, here’s Harold.

“Bad things do not have to happen because they have happened.” – Harold George

These words wandered through my mind while washing the dishes, one morning a few weeks ago. My husband and I had been chatting about our plans for our dream vacation that we had booked, and how to fill the time until the trip. As most people do, we have done a lot of planning, shopping for items that we need for the trip, and spending a lot of time discussing what we hope to experience on this holiday.

More than a couple of times I joked about not getting sick or having any accidents in the time until we depart for our vacation. Unfortunately, these jokes were part of a deeper issue, my anxiety about not getting to fully enjoy something I had hoped for over many years.

Epiphanies are often experienced in a more noteworthy way than clearing up the breakfast dishes, but that morning it seemed like a kind voice in my head was helping me accept that I may in fact deserve to enjoy this trip, and that it might very well be all I hoped it to be.

“Bad things do not have to happen because they have happened.”

I grew up in a stormy household with multiple cases of addiction, and parents who argued as frequently as most people breathe. My mother had a lot of regret about many things and would often uses phrases like “Of course it was broken, I can’t have anything nice.” I remember the day she discovered that someone had broken her treasured Bone China teapot, and she spoke as if the universe had specifically targeted her with this signal of deserved unhappiness. As the Sondheim song goes “Careful the things you say, Children will listen.”

As someone who adored his mother, I found myself trying to be her cheerleader from a very young age. I think I made some pretty strong decisions for a young person in that context, not realizing perhaps I wasn’t being fair to myself. Kids can be amazing when faced with challenges; never doubt their strength.

Coupling my sort of home life with years of bullying at school, and I found myself struggling for many years to feel good about much of anything. However, I found a way get through it, went to college, had a great job for 35 years, and recently retired.

During the second week of retirement, I remember thinking to myself how irresponsible I felt, not having any task or specific role that might benefit the world at large. Apparently working for 35 years as a public servant leaves you feeling irresponsible when you have some time off.

Was it really alright to enjoy myself doing nothing? Did I really get here, after all this time, to feel so strange about reaping the rewards of work and perseverance? Am I going to disappear now because I have no specific job that defines me, no role that will keep me in the minds of friends, family, and community members? I was experiencing an anxiety that felt too much like something I knew in my early 20s when I had no idea where I was going to go in life. So, these feelings show up again?

“Bad things do not have to happen because they have happened.”

Carrie Fisher, when discussing the challenges of mental health issues, addiction, and growing up in Hollywood, would often mention how some of the same things she dealt with over the years no longer held their power at later stages of life. She would use the phrase “location, location, location”—and this made sense to me.

Time is an amazing storyteller and guide for learning and growing, and most of all, for building faith on the foundation of the strengths you exhibited when you had no idea you were strong. You always have a chance to reframe your personal narrative, and to move above and beyond. It’s not always easy, but you are the driver.

Yesterday we finally received our passports in the mail, and it was very exciting for us. This morning over coffee, I was savoring a quiet moment of feeling good about something I had wanted to do for a long time. It’s about to finally happen.

I found myself thinking about my 12-year-old self, dreaming of traveling to escape that not-so-great time in life. That guy always seemed to have hope and find a way to dream of better days. I felt myself compelled to thank that young kid for hanging in there, for surviving until the tide did turn, as it often does. To that 12-year-old, I say thank you for getting me here to this moment, I am so grateful to you. You can rest now.

Harold, age 4, with his grandmother.

Read any good books lately? Try mine! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

An Open Letter to a Professional Genealogist

From one of a dying breed who is desperate to keep the candle burning.

Dear Ms. Smolenyak,

I just read the CNN article entitled, “Her name is on a pub, a boat and an AI platform. But what happened to the Irish teen who arrived at Ellis Island in 1892?” I found it quite interesting, particularly in regard to the work you did to answer that question. From there, I found your website, and am enjoying it quite a bit, too.

I was hoping you could give me some advice/perspective/insights regarding my unique situation.

My name is Barbara Abelhauser, and there’s a very good chance that by the end of this century, no more Abelhausers will exist. I should be put on some sort of an endangered families list. It makes me sad. And I am at a loss as to what to do to help preserve the legacy.

Currently, there are only 8 other Abelhausers left on the planet. Here is their status:

  • I know my paternal aunt and uncle. They’re the only other American ones, and they both have dementia. They have never met any of the others.
  • I have met one distant cousin briefly, but have since lost touch. He was very ill when last we spoke. I met his three children once when they were small, but I’m sure they don’t remember me. They are all in Canada.
  • That cousin’s sister resides in Greece, and I’ve tried to get in touch with her but have had no luck.
  • There’s another distant cousin in France who has authored a book or two (as I have), but I don’t speak French.
  • And yet another distant cousin in France who came to the last name by marriage, and her husband recently died. (I wish I had had the time and resources to meet him. Now I deeply regret not having done so.) The two Abelhausers left in France don’t know each other. (I am Facebook friends with this one, but we’ve never met or spoken. She speaks French. Thank goodness for Google translate!)
  • All of these Abelhausers are quite old. The only two who are younger than me, (and I am 58) are the two children I briefly met. They are now adults. I’ve tried to get in touch with the young man, as he is the only male Abelhauser of childbearing age, and I’m not sure he realizes that he’s the last Abelhauser hope. But I have not been successful in tracking him down. I have no idea if he intends to have children.

The family name came from the Alsace-Lorraine region of France, which throughout history has sometimes been part of Germany. And I’ve found two other families with the last name Abelshauser and Abeltshauser (as if 10 letters weren’t enough!), in Germany. I corresponded with one of them briefly, decades ago, and was told their ancient ancestors were stone masons. Well, mine were bricklayers. That is quite a bit of coincidence. But I have been unable to genealogically link us in any way.

Have I tried hard enough? Probably not. I was recently diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and that explains a lot about my lack of follow-through. I’m easily overwhelmed.

Please understand, I’m not concerned about bloodlines or anything like that. We’re all related within 100 generations, aren’t we? No, it’s more about the name. I would dearly love to give it some sort of immortality before our flame flickers out for good.

Not that I’m looking for fame, although I write a blog and have self-published a book. I just want people, someday a hundred years from now, to stumble across the name somewhere and think, “Huh, that’s an interesting last name. I wonder what they were like?”

I have done a few modest things toward that end.

  • I paid to have The Abelhauser Family added to the wall on Ellis Island, as the American branch did arrive through there.
  • I have my self-published book, which is a collection of my blog posts related to gratitude, but it’s not going to ever make a best seller list.
  • I have put part of our family info on the Ancestry.com website. (My lack of follow through is my worst enemy, though. Even the book would never have come out without a lot of help.)
  • I have blogged about the family name a time or two.
  • When I married for the first time a few years ago, I kept my last name.

I realize that there’s no reason anyone else on earth should care about the extinction of the Abelhausers, and therein lies the heartbreak for me. I’m sure everyone wants to leave a mark on this world. For me it’s doubly important because I fear that 70 years from now, the name will disappear and no one will know that any of us were ever here. But we were here, once upon a time.

It’s all so impermanent, isn’t it? When I hear of some animal going extinct, I think about how lonely the last one must have been. What must it have felt like to have your mating call go unanswered? If other animals were capable of seeing the big picture, how sad the last of each species would be to know that once they are gone, that’s it.

I was hoping you might have some creative ideas for me in terms of getting the Abelhauser name out in the world for future generations to see in places other than cemeteries.

Thanks in advance for any thoughts you might have. And have you ever come across any other endangered family names? How common is this?


Barbara Abelhauser

One of a dying breed, desperate to keep the candle burning.

If Ms Smolenyak responds, I’ll update this post, dear reader!

The headstone of my grandmother, to one day be joined by my uncle and his wife.

I wrote an actual book, and you can own it! How cool is that? http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

A Delightful Drawbridge Perspective

No wonder I have always thought this job was so magical. . .

I absolutely love it when someone says something that makes me look at things in a completely different light. That happened today, and the topic was drawbridges. After working on drawbridges for 21 years, you’d think I’d have contemplated them from every possible angle, but this was a fresh perspective for me, and I was delighted.

The comment in question was added to one of my most popular blog posts, entitled Bridge Symbolism. I don’t know Shubhanshi Gupta personally, but she writes a blog called Petrichor, and, based on my admittedly brief glance, it seems to be quite full of profound thoughts. I may have to give it a closer look.

In the meantime, here is the comment she left for me:

“what I find interesting about is how they manage to integrate two different worlds together at the same time- land and water. It’s like the bridge is rooted in the ground under the water body, and it’s surrounded by water everywhere till eyes can see, but deep down, it’s touching land at the base and both it’s two ends. And in spite of all this, it lets us transit over water without having to touch it.”

Whoa. It’s as if she has stripped bridges down to their most basic components. And she draws attention to the fact that they are straddling two elements, earth and water, protecting us from one, and transporting us to the other. Bridges are portals, if you think about it. They help us transition from one place to another.

Perhaps that’s why so many people linger on my bridge and gaze down at the water. They are gathering themselves for what’s on the other side, while perhaps feeling nostalgic about what, or whom, they just left. No wonder I have always thought this job was so magical. I may never look at a bridge in the same way again.

Thank you, Shubhanshi, for your insight! I hope you’ll share many more with us on my blog. I always enjoy new perspectives. The broader the horizon, the more one gets to see.

I’ll leave you with another delightful perspective in the form of art:

Surreal Waterdrops by Mousette on DeviantArt. Check out her full body of work here.

Like this quirky little blog? Then you’ll enjoy my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Sticks ‘n Stones

In which I’m told that I’m a “White Elitist Liberal hypocritical jacka$$”.

For the most part, I’ve been really lucky with this blog. The bulk of the comments I receive are either positive or at least respectful in their disagreements, which gives me the opportunity for growth and increased perspective. I think most of you get that my posts are quite often opinion pieces, and that I’m not insisting that you agree with me. Reading your comments is one of my favorite parts about having a blog. I take your input seriously, and I learn so much from you, dear readers!

I did encounter one troll about 5 years ago who gave me pause, though. His hatred was towering, persistent, unjustified and inappropriate. I can directly quote from his pearls of wisdom because I had to save them as evidence in case things escalated.

In his eyes, I am a “White Elitist Liberal hypocritical jacka$$,” (dollar signs mine, I assure you) and I’ve been informed that I’m on his “publish when I die list”. He went on to explain that in the event of his death, the media would then show up at my door to interrogate me about what a horrible person he thought I was. (One assumes it will be a slow news day.)

This gentleman also seems to think I’ve somehow attacked him for being a Native American, but I can’t imagine any scenario in which I would have done so. Oh, and it seems that Obama and I gave away his homeland. That he believes I have that much power is flattering, I suppose, but that he thinks I would employ it so cruelly is insulting and baseless.

What seemed to trigger him were my feminist posts and my more liberal posts, and the fact that I tend to poke fun at conservatives, Floridians (having lived there for 40 years), and misogynists. Yeah, sometimes I do rant in my opinion pieces. Guilty as charged. But I don’t know this man, and wouldn’t care to, so I’m at a loss as to why he seems to find my mere existence to be some kind of personal attack on him.

His own blog, based on my admittedly brief glance at it, is riddled with hatred of women and anger at society in general. He has even self-published a few books that, he himself asserts, cast women in the role of “sexual mercenaries” whose “wicked game played upon their hapless stooge ejaculates with sex and humor.”

Whatever that means. His books don’t seem to have made it to the best seller lists. (But then neither has mine.)

I followed the standard advice and did not feed this troll, and eventually he got bored and crawled back into his cave. He’s still out there somewhere, probably pulling the wings off of more reactive flies. But now you know what I had been dealing with. That should be the end of the story.

But no. In his attacks on me, he took it to another level of fixation. Because he disagrees with my opinions, he seems to have decided that that merits a financial penalty. To achieve maximum destruction, he carried his diatribe to a different forum. I’ve only just noticed that in 2017 he left a review of my book on Goodreads, most likely because he has been blocked on Amazon. (Note: This review has since been removed. Yay!)

In the Goodreads review he says not a word about the book. I’m certain he has never read it. Instead, he attacks my blog and says, “This White Elitist author is not welcome in Spanish-Indian territory of Florida.”

His words make him look entirely unhinged. As if he determines who gets to come and go in the Sunshine State. Normally I wouldn’t give it further thought, but for the fact that at the time of this writing, my book only has 3 reviews and one additional rating on Goodreads, so his one star rant impacts my average considerably. His remarks also inject a lot of negativity into a page for a book that is all about positivity.

But by far the most frustrating aspect of this insanity is that, for the less discerning among us, his histrionics might make one think that my book espouses white elitism. That’s a belief system that I never want to be associated with, even by accident. It is against everything that I hold sacred.

Having said all that, I sure could use your help. If you have actually read my book and are willing to write an honest review of it, good, bad, or indifferent, on the Goodreads site, I’d greatly appreciate it.

When I’m asked to review a book or a service or a medical practitioner, I tend to do so. I know that honest reviews, even the negative ones if they are devoid of agenda, really matter. I can’t imagine targeting an individual in an attempt to ruin their reputation without producing a boatload of evidence of their nefarious deeds. But that’s just me.

But I can’t emphasize this enough: Please do not engage with, respond to, troll, or flame this guy in any way. Clearly he has enough problems in his life, and it would be better for both you and me if he continues to leave us alone. Life’s too short for such foolishness.

That I’m even wasting this much energy on this guy makes me sad, so I decided to get it out of my system with this post. I hope that he doesn’t turn his Eye of Sauron back in my direction as a result. I’ve said my piece. I can’t work up the energy to continue to care about what he does. In the overall scheme of things, it just doesn’t matter.

Be kind to one another, dear readers. The type of light that you choose to shine on the world will always reflect back upon you, one way or another. Namaste.

Have I Just Become Redundant?

An artificial intelligence just told me a story.

On this, my last post of 2022, I wanted to look toward the future, not dwell upon the past. While contemplating the many world-changing things I’d heard about recently (and those things seem to be coming at us faster and faster, don’t they?) I remembered that within the space of a week, I had heard two different NPR stories about an intriguing new artificial intelligence program called ChatGPT. (You can find the stories here and here.)

ChatGPT can crank out poems, stories, news articles, software code, translations, syllabi, assignments, speeches, lectures, letters, and interview questions. It can also correct essays and grade papers, summarize academic articles, and tell you why your computer code isn’t working. It can even provide you with answers to your crossword puzzles. The possibilities are endless.

This thing can do everything but walk and chew gum. In a way, though, it’s kind of creepy. Will there come a day when ChatGPT will take all the jobs? If so, how will our world look after that? I suspect that the times, they are a’changin’.

Its own website concedes that ChatGPT has its limitations. It can write articles that sound quite plausible, but are, in fact, incorrect. It can also come up with harmful instructions or biased content. And currently it’s about a year behind on current events. Nobody’s perfect.

I decided to check out ChatGPT to see if it could write this blog better than I do. (And if you’re interested, you should explore it, too, but do so soon, because right now it’s free, but there’s no telling when OpenAI, ChatGPT’s parent company, will decide that this AI is sophisticated enough to monetize.)

So I created an account and then said hello to ChatGPT. (And really, couldn’t they have come up with a better name? This one doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue.)

I asked it to tell me a story about a bridgetender who sits on her drawbridge and observes people all day. And this is what ChatGPT came up with in less than 10 seconds.

The Bridgetender’s Smile

Once there was a bridgetender named Jane who lived in a small town by the river. She had been working on the drawbridge for as long as she could remember, and she loved her job. Every day, she would sit in her little booth on the bridge and watch the boats go by, the birds flying overhead, and the people walking across the bridge.

Jane was a curious and observant person, and she enjoyed learning about the people who passed by her booth. She would often strike up conversations with the people who crossed the bridge, asking them about their lives and their stories. Some days, she would chat with tourists who were visiting the town for the first time, and other days, she would talk to the locals who were just passing through.

As the years went by, Jane became an expert at reading people's moods and emotions, and she was always ready with a kind word or a comforting smile whenever someone seemed down. She had a special talent for making people feel at ease, and she was always happy to lend an ear to anyone who needed to talk.

Despite the passage of time, Jane remained as cheerful and positive as ever, always greeting the people who crossed the bridge with her warm smile. And even though she was getting older, she remained as dedicated and hardworking as ever, always ready to open and close the bridge whenever a boat needed to pass through.

As the years passed, Jane became a beloved figure in the town, and everyone who knew her admired her for her kindness and her love for her job. And even though she was just a simple bridgetender, she touched the lives of countless people, making their days just a little bit brighter and happier.

Well, it’s a lot more saccharine than any story I would come up with. The plot was kind of unsophisticated as well, but still, it did make me smile, even though I’m dying to wade in there and edit it. I suspect that a lot of people wouldn’t guess that the story was written by an artificial intelligence.

We’ve come a long way since the encounter I had with another AI called Cleverbot just 4 years ago. Now that was a funny conversation. That AI could only respond by saying things others had said to it, and you could tell many of its users really had fun with it. The conversation moved back and forth between flirting and hostility, and it often made no sense whatsoever.

Just to be fair, I paid another visit to Cleverbot to see if it had improved over the years. Here’s the brief conversation we had:

Me: Hello Cleverbot, I haven’t spoken to you in 4 years!

Cleverbot: Yes you have. And I am Frank.

Me: Have you gotten any more sophisticated since then?

Cleverbot: I'm always getting more clever, have you?

Me: It depends on whom you ask.

Cleverbot: If you say so.

Me: I just met an AI called ChatGPT. It appears to be smarter than you are.

Cleverbot: Give me a random 3 digit number.

Me: Do you know ChatGPT?

Cleverbot: No what is it?

Me: An AI.

Cleverbot: Oh really?

Me: It seems smarter than you are.

Cleverbot: No you are not.

Me: I didn't say I was, but I am.

Cleverbot: You did.

Me: You still like to argue, don't you?

Cleverbot: No I don't, you liar!

Me: Okay, fine. I'll just go and talk to ChatGPT. It's a lot more pleasant to interact with.

Cleverbot: I have never loved you.

Me: I'm not exactly warming up to you, either.

So, as you can see, it’s a lot less flirty at the moment, but every bit as argumentative as it was 4 years ago. ChatGPT, on the other hand, appears to be light years ahead of it. I can’t imagine where both of them will be a decade from now. It will be fascinating to find out.

If OpenAI put out a dedicated telephone app for ChatGPT, I’d probably just leave my brain at home and let it do the talking. But as of today, I hope you’ll agree that I can still blog a tiny bit better than an artificial intelligence can. Right?


I wrote an actual book, and you can own it! How cool is that? http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

A Heartwarming Holiday Play

Mr. Dickens and His Carol

‘Twas a dark and stormy night.

Seriously. ‘Twas. Would I lie to you?

Big, spongy globs of snow were flying at us sideways, and hitting our coats with a splash. As this weird snow hit the ground, it immediately intermingled with the blanket of previously accumulated powdery snow, resulting in a mélange of wet, muddy, slippery slush pies. The winter wonderland of the morning was quickly turning into an evening winter wasteland.

Our feet made squelching noises as we walked. We were drenched through and through. And it was cold and raw in the way it can only be in the Pacific Northwest. I could feel it in the very marrow of my bones. No sane person would be out in this crap. Oh, but we had theater tickets.

On a night like that, I’d much rather be snuggled up with my dog in front of a warm fire, clad in flannel pajamas and bunny slippers (me, not the dog or the fire) and wrapped in a fuzzy blanket (both me and the dog, but definitely not the fire). It is the kind of weather that calls out for one to stay home, engrossed in a good book. There are very few things that would make me shed those jammies and venture out into a slushy hellscape.

I will admit that I have been known to run down the street and pick up some pho on a night light that. It’s the ultimate comfort food. But then I’d run back home to enjoy it before the fire, with the dog and the bunny slippers. The only other thing I can think of that would make me face soggy misery, short of an urgent need for an emergency room, is a play.

Plays, when done well, are magical things. They allow you to get all cozy in your seat and be transported to another world. You don’t even need bunny slippers. You just need some imagination.

A wonderful play can feel all the more decadent when you know that the weather outside is frightful. You are one of an exclusive group of people who get to leave that place where one uses the words “trudge” and “galoshes”, and instead sit back, warm and dry, while passively observing a marvelous adventure. Sign me up.

The play in question on this night was Mr. Dickens and His Carol, based on the book of the same name by Samantha Silva. It’s a fictionalized literary cloak draped over a non-fiction skeleton of Charles Dickens‘ true circumstances as he wrote A Christmas Carol.

At the time, Dickens was partway through his latest serial novel, Martin Chuzzlewit, and it was turning out to be a shocking failure after his huge success with The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, and The Old Curiosity Shop. This was extremely bad news as he was already under a great deal of financial pressure.

His wife just had the fifth of their ten children, and there were a whole host of people counting on him for their livings as well, including agents, publishers, newspapermen, and household staff, in addition to a father who was so financially irresponsible that growing up, Dickens was able to see for himself what life was like for a patriarch in a debtor’s prison.

Based on that information, Samantha Silva weaved a story about what it must have been like for the author to desperately write A Christmas Carol simply to keep his financial head above water. She turned Dickens into a Scrooge himself, bitter at all the hangers on who were intent on draining him of all his money. She allows Dickens to transform in the end, just like Scrooge did, and that is what inspires him to write A Christmas Carol as we know and love it today. God bless us, every one.

This preview performance of the world premier of the play took place in Seattle Rep’s Bagley Wright Theater. We had never been to this venue. It felt intimate. It gave me the same kind of butterflies I feel when I burrow deep into the stacks of a dusty old library filled with mahogany and possibilities. And the play would soon follow suit with its own inner flutter of butterflies.

The director announced that this was a preview performance to work out the kinks, but I saw no kinks whatsoever. Not only were the actors amazing, but the costume and set design were superb as well. I love how the actors seamlessly moved the furniture on and off the stage as the play was going on. They also provided the sound effects from just off stage.

The stage itself had a rotating floor, which allowed elements of the set to be used for different purposes as they were turned to different angles. I’m impressed when actors remember their lines and move and emote at the same time, so it’s a thousand times more impressive when they do all of that along with walking on a moving floor, keeping time with the other characters, and always managing to orient themselves to the audience, along with keeping track of what furniture needs to go where for any given scene.

That the cast and crew managed to pull all that off without a hitch was quite a feat. In the end, we were treated to a deliciously deep dive into Victorian London, with all its struggles and triumphs. And I’m pleased to say there was no slush involved.

The good news is that you can still get tickets to see this play as it will be here in Seattle until December 23rd. I hope it does, indeed, catch on and travel the world. I can imagine it becoming a delightful Christmas tradition. It was well worth a slog through the winter wickedness of the streets of Seattle to get there. For a delightful 40 second taste of this play that will leave you wanting more, check out this YouTube video.

I’ll leave you with a few photos I took while the actors were off stage. Even without people, it looks like a wonderful place, well worth exploring, doesn’t it? I highly recommend that you do so.

I’m no Dickens, but I wrote a book, too, and you can own it! How cool is that? http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

My 10th Bloggiversary!

What an unexpected milestone!

Tomorrow, December 1, 2022, marks the tenth year that I have been writing this blog. I find it nearly impossible to imagine sticking to any task in life for that long, and yet here we are. What an unexpected milestone.

If this blog were my spouse, I’d be looking around for a traditional gift made of tin, because according to myweddinganniversary.com, “The traditional 10th anniversary gift is tin, symbolizing how a successful marriage needs to be flexible and stable, and able to be bent without being broken. Tin symbolizes preservation and longevity.”

When I started this blog, the last thing I would have predicted was preservation or longevity. I assumed that I’d run out of ideas in about 6 months. But then it became a habit. Then it grew on me. Now, I can’t imagine life without it.

My first post ever, entitled “Nature is what’s happening while you’re not looking.” is a full-on love letter to bridgetending, the job that I’ve now been doing for just over 21 years, and the thing that has given me the time and opportunity to observe the world minutely and then blog about it. But when I reread that post just now, I was kind of shocked that it makes no mention of the fact that I was about to embark on this life-changing blogging endeavor. Of course, at the time I thought this blog was mere whimsy and would have a brief shelf life. That goes to show that we never know how long a journey we will take when we first step out the door.

You’d think I’d have at least said something like, “Hi everybody! I’m Barb, and I’m nervous. Thank you for stopping by. I hope you like what you see.”

But in truth, I don’t think that I believed that anyone outside of my family would ever read it. And that’s a genuine irony, because my closest blood relatives are the very people who rarely take the time to read these outpourings of my very soul. I can only hope they’ll choose to do so long after my body has been made into compost and returned to the earth. If that’s the case, I’d like to say “Hello, relative! It’s about freakin’ time! Ha!”

This blog has caused me to go down numerous avenues of inquiry that I wouldn’t have pursued otherwise. It has allowed me to make friends that I wouldn’t have met in any other way. It has also given me the opportunity to vastly improve my writing skills and find my (often disastrously unfiltered) voice.

If this blog were a dog, it would be 56 to 79 in human years, depending on its size, according to this calculator. Good dog! So good! That deserves a chunk of cheese.

This is my 3,417th post. I now have 655 followers, but I don’t take that very seriously, because I follow scores of blogs that I almost never find the time to read. But when I follow a blog, it’s kind of a vote of confidence, and I definitely appreciate those when they’re directed at me.

Since I’m writing this post two weeks prior to its actual publishing, I can only calculate the following statistics based on overall averages. Through the years, I’ve had about 215,000 visitors who have read about 374,000 posts. That’s a lot of eyes upon my words. It’s almost too much to comprehend. It humbles me.

As for words, I’ve written about 1,808,000 of those in this blog over the years. It’s safe to say that I’ve exposed my soft underbelly to the extent that I can never run for president. But if you’re a regular reader, you know that such an idea would never cross my mind anyway. That much scrutiny and criticism would be my definition of hell.

Having said that, though, I’m even more humbled by the fact that so many people have chosen to share my words with others. I’m unsure if the 4,705 shares on Facebook include my own postings on my Facebook group for this blog, but I can guarantee you that I have had nothing to do with the 4,138 shares on Twitter, the 3,792 shares on LinkedIn, the 4,537 shares on Reddit, or the 4,406 shares on Tumblr. If I were that active on social media, I’d have no time to write.

Of the 15,465 comments that my posts have generated on the WordPress site alone, I must confess that 6,989 of them are mine. I make every effort to respond to every comment, even now, because I’m so gratified when someone takes the time to reach out to me that I feel that they’re owed a response. I’ve learned so much from my readers, and that education, for me, is priceless.

This must be a labor of love, because, despite a brief and feeble attempt to sell out by allowing ads on my blog a while back, I have made not even one thin dime in all these years. In a way, that’s kind of pathetic, but the truth is that I never wanted this to feel like a job. Money has never been the object.

I did self-publish one anthology, and I practically beat you over the head with my plaintive cries to purchase a copy. It’s safe to say that I shouldn’t quit my day job. But I am really proud of the fact that it’s out there, somewhere, especially since my last name is Abelhauser, and there are only 10 of us left on earth. This book is my way of saying we were here.

I learned so much from that first book, and if I had it to do over again, I’d make several significant changes. I have the blog posts picked out for several more anthologies, but as much as I love to write, I lack the follow through to actually make them come to life. I had so many wonderful people helping me with the first book, and many of those would jump right in and help out again if I asked. I just can’t seem to get my act together. The fault is entirely mine.

Part of my hesitancy in taking on another anthology is that I have a complete and utter lack of time, and a good portion of that lack is due to the blog itself. It can be stressful, trying to pump out content on a daily basis. When I’m not writing it, I’m usually in the midst of full-blown anxiety because I’ve fallen behind or I can’t think of anything to write.

To that end, I decided to cut back and only post on even numbered days, starting on August 8, 2021. When I reread my announcement about that change, I have to laugh at my naivete. I actually thought it would double my free time, and I’d have the opportunity to relax and read books, a pastime that I sorely miss.

I miss it still, unfortunately, because somehow when I made that change, my blog posts, which had up to that point averaged 528 words per post, almost immediately increased to 1059 words per post. So I’m actually writing more now than I had been. Believe me when I say that this was not a conscious effort on my part. The reduction in deadline stress seems to have awakened my muse, or at the very least, my tendency to ramble on.

But my life is so full these days, and my health is ever more precious to me. The bulk of my health issues are triggered by stress, so I’ve decided to take a run at reducing my content yet again. Don’t panic. You’ll hardly notice. I’ve decided to only post on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays going forward. Statistically, viewership tanks on the weekends anyway, and on the weekdays, it will still feel like an every other day thing for you.

Hopefully this change will be a reduction in stress for me. But who knows? Maybe I’ll start writing even longer posts to feed my addiction. If so, perhaps I should quit blogging entirely and just write the books that are in me somewhere.

Nah. I’d be lost without your comments on a regular basis! I write alone, but we read together.

Thank you, dear reader, for sticking with me all this time. I hope you’ll continue to do so. You have been my companion on this journey of self-discovery by way of inspiring me to explore the world. And that means more to me than you’ll ever know.

So, what will I be doing to celebrate this decade of blogging bliss tomorrow? Truth be told, I’ll driving someone to a very unpleasant sounding outpatient surgical procedure, and then anxiously waiting until I can return him home. That’s what one does when one has a full life, I suppose.

After 10 years, I feel that I have the right to ask you for a favor. Please have some cake for me to recognize this lofty milestone of mine. Maybe even blow out a candle if you’ve got one. At the very least, sing a song, do a dance, or leave a comment below.

Thanks! And this isn’t goodbye. You can’t get rid of me that easily. I’ll be talking to you in two days. Life does have a way of going on.

A Meandering Route to the First Alphabetic Sentence

From language to writing to hopeful words on a lice comb.

As a writer, I’ve always been fascinated with linguistics, especially those studies that pertain to the social aspects of human language. Languages, after all, are created by people. Over time, the societies in which these people live shape the languages in which they speak as well as the way people write.

For example, it’s safe to assume that fishing cultures will have more vocabulary related to fishing than a culture that is desert-bound. Language is what we use to communicate, so words are created only if they are useful to the people in question. That makes perfect sense to me.

Through language, we can trace historic patterns of travel and trade. As people with different languages interact and attempt to communicate, they often adopt words in other languages and make them their own. Before the internet age, the dispersal of language tended to indicate the dispersal of people.

The history and culture of languages and the history and culture of humans influence each other, and that fascinates me as well. It’s almost as if languages live and breathe and grow just as we do. They certainly evolve like we do.

And humans have come up with several different writing systems to convert their languages into visual form. A highly simplistic way to loosely classify these systems is to break them down into three groups:

  • Logographic systems use a symbol to represent a whole word, as they do in China.  
  • Syllabic systems use symbols to represent syllables, and these symbols, together, make up words. A not-very-familiar-and-therefore-not-so-helpful example of this would be Cherokee. (Japanese, on the other hand, uses both logographic and syllabic systems.)  
  • What you’re reading right now is the Alphabetic system. In a gross oversimplification, suffice it to say that each symbol represents a unit of sound.

The current understanding is that the first alphabetic system was the Proto-Canaanite or Proto-Sinaitic, which then came to be the Phoenician alphabet. You might say it’s the granddaddy of all alphabets, including ours. It is so old that we don’t know its exact date of origin, but it’s assumed that it was as early as 1200 BC. The letters were derived from Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Clearly, we humans have been trying to communicate for a long time. It’s kind of sad to realize that we still aren’t very good at it. If we were, there would be fewer conflicts and more compromises.

Having said all that, I must say I was quite excited when I came across this article: Oldest known sentence written in first alphabet discovered – on a head-lice comb. Needless to say, I had to drop everything to read that one, and having done so, I’ve taken you on a circuitous route from language to writing to our final destination: words of hope on a lice comb.

It seems that this oldest alphabetical sentence in the world is on an ivory comb that was found in south-central Israel. The lettering is so faint that the archeologists found the comb back in 2017, but the writing was only noticed last year.

The fact that the comb was made of ivory means that it must have belonged to an upper-class individual, because ivory would have had to have been imported. Regular folks would have used combs made of wood or bone.

Scientists confirmed that it was a lice comb because there were little pieces of head lice membranes still stuck in its teeth. (Shudder. It makes my scalp itch just thinking about it.)

So, what words of wisdom did these bronze age people have to impart to us on said comb? What knowledge did they have to share? Well (and I can’t decide whether this disappoints or delights me), the sentence on the comb translates as follows:

“May this tusk root out the lice of the hair and the beard.”

From that, I can draw several conclusions:

  • The battle with lice has been going on for as long as humans have had hair.
  • Lice don’t care how rich you are.
  • People have been worried about hygiene and appearance for centuries.
  • People like to hope for the best.
  • Proto-puns are every bit as bad as modern puns.
  • We have been putting puerile instructions on products for as long as there have been products to sell.

This earliest known sentence links us to these people of the bronze age in that the above conclusions can still be drawn to this very day. We may think that we’ve modernized and increased our knowledge base over the years, but some things, like lice, are eternal.

Are you wondering what to bring to Thanksgiving dinner? How about my book, Notes on Gratitude? Place your orders now! (Or any other time, since we’re on the subject.) And… thanks!