Wine words cover a lot of territory

wine glass clip artHave you ever been at a wine tasting and found yourself lacking in fresh and original ways to describe the stuff in your wine glass? This post is for you. I recently worked on a wine book in which the author, a renowned wine expert, had to think of distinctive ways to describe burgundies. After all, a wine can’t just be good or bad—it is described in specific terms, such as forward, stemmy, spicy, or balanced. All the words in italics are pulled directly from the guide book for your personal use.

First, be sure to swirl that swill in your glass a bit, stick your nose in it, and take a drink. Then nod your head slowly as if you’re contemplating and say, “It has impressive fruit, a cool intensity, and a lovely finish.”

Now you give it a try. The following phrases are guaranteed to make you sound like a connoisseur even though many seemed to me to have nothing to do with wine:

good follow-through

a little ungainly at present


positive at the end

Some sound suspiciously like backhanded compliments: will still improve, good for what it is, plenty of personality, attractive if unpretentious, funky but unstylish, and quite chunky but no lack of elegance.

(I personally hope I never drink a wine that’s considered chunky unless it’s sangria with some fresh fruit floating in it.)

Although one could usually distinguish the positive from the negative, it was not always clear what these terms really meant. I mean, what does austere taste like? And do I want to drink something that is getting hollow, quite firm, or slightly raw?nose clip art

The nose itself was described in a number of ways: soft nose, stylish nose, faded nose, unforthcoming, and really quite shitty on the nose. Okay, I think I can assume that the last one is probably not a keeper.

A few could have been describing articles of clothing—loose-knit, unformed, and an absence of velvet.

My favorites? Seductive, quite evolved, long & luxurious, exotic on the palate, elegant, harmonious, gloriously profound, having plenty of depth and class, showing energy and distinction, and hinting at richness underneath. Come to think of it, those words also describe the perfect man…

Then there were those that sounded more like someone describing an ex-boyfriend or a bad date: backward, unexciting, a bit aggressive, not much backbone, a little one-dimensional, better at the end than on the attack, flat, a touch sweaty, or loose at the end.

Which begs the question: would you rather drink a sweaty wine or have a dinner with a sweaty dinner companion?


30 poems…day 28


Day 28: They’re just letters…

The name of the church where my choral group is performing—the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley—puzzled me. It would seem like a reasonable name except that the church is in Kensington, not Berkeley. I mentioned this oddity to my friend, Ruby, who said the name used to be the First Unitarian Church, but as long as she’d known it, it had been in Kensington. I was curious, so I looked up the church’s history on their website. Indeed it was originally on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley back in 1891, but moved to Kensington fifty years ago. So why didn’t they change the name to First Unitarian Church of Kensington? Ruby suspected that the initials of that name made it problematic.

Think about it.  It would certainly make it more difficult to refer to it in the shorthand way that organizations do. The url address would be embarrassing at the very least. The current one,, is blessedly innocuous.

Apparently the congregation voted to change the name in 1996, but it was not because they wanted to include the name of the city where they are located. They dropped the “First” and added “Universalist,” signifying a merger of sorts.

Anyway, the whole issue of initials got me thinking…

The Berkeley Fire Department Blues

When I said that I worked for the fire department

You responded, “BFD?”*

Well, maybe it’s not a big deal to you,

But it certainly is to me!

*For the uninitiated, BFD is short slang for “Big Fucking Deal.” My apologies to readers who might be offended by a reference to such vulgar language, but you can’t really tell the joke without it.


Overflowing with meaning

I’m not blaming my father-in-law. I’m just saying that the two events roughly coincided: his moving into our house and the toilet in the downstairs bathroom overflowing. In any case and absolutely no blame assigned, after ten minutes with a mop that I disposed of immediately following the whole hazmat operation, I felt ready to start life anew.

However there is a force of nature that goes like this: if you are expecting houseguests, your chances of experiencing a plumbing emergency go up by 1000%.

My darling daughter is home from her first semester at college, and for her birthday two of her close friends took a bus up from SoCal and her boyfriend flew out from Massachusetts to stay with us.  Cue toilet back-up.

Because I was still recovering from my recent encounter with the downstairs bathroom, my husband took on plunger duty this time, gallantly missing parts of the Fiesta Bowl to ensure that I would not have to buy yet another mop. (It’s possible that Stanford lost to OSU because he was not constantly there to provide moral support.) Although there was no mess to clean up this time, he issued a warning that until further notice, the downstairs toilet was off-limits.

Which is fine, but the other toilet is in the bathroom that happens to be located in our bedroom upstairs. Consequently, throughout the night we had a number of teenagers tiptoe ever-so-quietly across the corner of our bedroom to reach the only safe toilet. Usually I sleep like a rock, but for some reason the back-and-forth activity was unsettling, and I had a rather fitful night’s sleep.

I called a plumber the next morning, and he arrived exactly when he was supposed to. He flushed the offending toilet several times without any mishap whatsoever. He asked me to take him to our “clean-out.” I felt stupid that I didn’t even know what he was talking about until it turned out that we don’t actually have one. Without a clean-out and without evidence of a clog in action, there was nothing he could do but hand me his card with instructions to call the moment a clog occurs, at which point, he said, he will return to augur.

I was unfamiliar with his usage of augur. I knew this word in a completely different context:

In Roman times, an augur was someone who foretold the future

 augur (v.) – to divine or predict, as from omens; prognosticate; to serve as an omen or promise of; foreshadow

So I looked it up. What I couldn’t tell from his speech was the spelling, which turned out to be auger:

auger (n.) – device consisting of a shaft with a broad helical flange rotating within a cylindrical casing to force bulk materials from one end to the other, also called a snake
 Being an editor I am all too used to people using nouns as verbs and vice versa, so I was not too thrown by the plumber’s use of this noun as a verb. For all I know, it’s a standard use of the word in his line of work.
But I am a little uneasy, knowing that at any moment, something horrible could, well, bubble up. I’m sure it’s a matter of when and not if. It’s almost as if there’s this dark cloud hanging over our house, foreshadowing imminent doom. Maybe there’s a connection between augur and auger after all…

What’s in a name?

Apparently the Pope isn’t all that busy these days, as he has taken time to make a proclamation concerning baby names: families are directed not to name their children after “celebrities, fruit or popular sports cars.” (No word on how he feels about giving babies the names of vegetables or unpopular sports cars, but something tells me he wouldn’t be fond of Zucchini or Fiat either…)

I happen to think that giving a person the right name is important. I remember the hours spent considering and discarding names before my only child was born. My husband favored the name Beryl. Being the elementary school teacher, and therefore privy to the mindset of a second-grader, I immediately pointed out that Beryl would turn into “Barrel of Monkeys,” “Barrel of Laughs,” and worst, “Barrel of Lard.”

I also didn’t want to give our child the name of any student I’d ever had because I wanted our child to be the only, or at least the first, child I knew by that name. Which is not only pretty ridiculous if you think about it, but also rather difficult, considering I’d already taught for nine years before having a child. And I’d taught in Santa Cruz where I’d had Oriana and Genesis; and in the era of no class-size limits, my Felton kindergarten class had a roster of 36 kids’ names that all had to be crossed off the list.

At our baby shower we still had no names chosen, so we put out a suggestion box. We had done something similar at a party many years ago when we had a new kitten who needed a name. Throughout the evening people would write their suggestions on a big piece of butcher paper hanging on the wall for just that purpose. Our good friend Don—who as a bird lover didn’t actually have much use for cats—had offered the name Godzilla, and it was the winner.

Of course nobody suggested we name our child Godzilla, but there were some interesting ideas, Walt Beebop and Georgia Gaga being among the more creative.

In addition, we had to figure out the last name and all the implications, intended or not: Do we choose one or both? If one, whose? If hyphenated, which comes first? What will happen when she partners up with someone with a hyphenated last name and they need to give their child a last name? But that’s a whole different blog post…

In the end we selected Kylie as our girl’s name and Fifer as our boy’s name. And Kylie claims to be quite grateful to have been born female if only to avoid what she considers a horribly unacceptable name. I’m glad she likes her name, but I wonder if she had been a boy if she’d feel the same way about the name Kylie and be totally okay as Fifer. We’ll never know.

At the time we thought we’d made up the name, only to discover Australian pop star Kylie Minogue shortly after our Kylie was born. And once when she was a toddler and we were hiking in the forest, having seen no humans for a few hours, we ran into a mom calling to her daughter who was just a little older than ours. “Kylie!” she called.

So much for bestowing a unique name.

But I have to say, she does seem like a Kylie through and through, and I cannot imagine her with any other name.

But sometimes I do wonder what Fifer would have been like…

For more on what the Pope has to say about names:

Dirty can be beautiful too

Technically vagina is not a swear word as far as I know, and neither is its cute nickname vajayjay, but the website where I found this extremely fun treatment of a woman’s anatomy is If you go there, you will see more run-of-the-mill swear words done up beautifully. So that’s the context. This is so vibrant and colorful that it made me smile. So I hope it does that for you too.

My top 10 funny headlines (plus 3)

A headline in the El Cerrito Patch made me laugh and read more: “Former Mayor Found with Tarts in Kensington.” Of course they were pastry, not the human female variety. 

It got me thinking about funny headlines. Headlines can provide information and be boring, or they can make you laugh and grab your attention.

And then of course I had to search for more…

Alton attorney accidentally sues himself


Dead body found in cemetery


Ford, Reagan Neck in Presidential Primary

(Ethiopian Herald, 2/24/76)

Red Tape Holds Up New Bridge

(Milford Citizen 7/12/82)

Japanese scientists grow frog eyes and ears

(Daily Camera, Boulder, CO 1/4/00)

Marijuana issue sent to joint committee

(The Toronto Star 6/14/96)

Boy, declared dead, revives as family protests

(The Columbus Dispatch 9/29/91)

Obesity rubs off

(The Cincinnati Post 10/15/03)

Experts: Fewer blows to head would reduce brain damage

(The News & Observer Raleigh, NC 3/9/10)

Statistics on women: Some good, some bad

(Women in Communications 2/76)

That’s what I came up with. (You gotta love Google!) List funny headlines that you find in the comment section.

Not gonna’ let a little road rage turn me around

I was on my way home from a happy celebration—an 8th grade graduation of my former 2nd graders—so I was humming, smiling, and generally feeling positive about the world.

As I turned left into the parking lot of the grocery store to pick up some bread for dinner, I noticed a car jutting out from the parking lot into the left-hand lane. Luckily no traffic was coming in the other direction, so it wasn’t technically in the way. As I passed in front of the car, I turned to look at the driver. Although his window was up, I saw the rage in his eyes as he looked directly at me and formed the word bitch

I clearly had the right-of-way—I was on the street and he was in the parking lot (at least halfway). I hadn’t been speeding or turning illegally. I hadn’t even given him a scolding look for blocking the other lane. (Honest!)

So presumably he was mad because he wanted to get somewhere and I was delaying him a few seconds just by my presence. Road rage rears its ugly head again.

Of course my patient, sympathetic husband said maybe his mom just died.

Hey, my mom died. It didn’t make me a rude or belligerent person.

I could just have well not even turned to see him, in which case I would never have known I was the object of his anger. It’s very possible that I have done so in the past, since I don’t make it a habit to look directly at other drivers on the road. (I do watch for pedestrians, stray dogs, and vehicles—just not the faces of other drivers.)

But I did see him.

Yeah, maybe he’d had a bad day. Maybe they were out of his favorite brand of beer or the cashier had been curt with him. Maybe he lost his job or had credit card debt. Maybe I even looked like his ex-wife who took him to the cleaners.

But I was not deserving of the raw hatred he spewed in my direction. So I made a conscious decision that this would not in any way lessen my lingering feelings of joy from seeing my students graduate. Whatever he was going through would not drag me down with him.

Perhaps that sounds callous. After all, he’s probably not a happy person. But what else can I do but ignore his actions? Or write about them…