Pittsburgh, You’re Too Nice to Be Unhappy


C’mon Pittsburgh, what’s your problem? Seriously.

It wasn’t all that surprising that some piece of convoluted research by the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that New York City is the nation’s unhappiest city. Of course it is. Being domiciled here is designed to make you unhappy. Even furious. You take your life in your hands crossing the street because angry cab drivers are pissed off that you are using their roadway. And you return the favor as you slowly walk in front of them, glaring. Yesterday, my subway was halted by an announcement that someone needed medical attention. Passengers were annoyed that someone had the temerity to pass out on their train. There are eight million of us crammed into buses, trains and apartments. We pay $15 for a sandwich and have to argue for an extra pickle. It’s one seething metropolis, all right. We love it…

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“The Truth About College and Getting a Job”

Yesterday, I traveled home across 2/3 of Pennsylvania. The day before that, another 5-hour journey: getting to the job interview near York, PA. Tomorrow: a sixty-mile trek up I-79. If the highway is a beast, then I have been slaying it!

Speaking of which, here’s a neat comic which a Facebook friend originally posted, and which I’m re-posting here:


Nice to see at last a physical representation of what it feels like to go hunting the twin Krakens of school and employment…

Where Do ‘They’ Come From, Anyway?

I’m re-reading part of A History of the English Language (Baugh and Cable, 5th ed.) this morning. The authors provide a nice, if sometimes technical, approach to the history of English, from its lost-in-the-mists-of-time conception in Indo-European to its true birth as Old English. They then trace its evolution from Old to Middle to Early Modern (Renaissance period) to Modern, blasting a number of myth-conceptions and revealing startling truths along the way…

For instance: to whom does English owe more–the French/Spanish/Italian/Latin contingent (Romance languages) or the Germanic contingent (including, obviously, German)? Though classed as a Germanic language, English is often perceived as a pseudo-Romance language, thanks to its heavily Latinate/Frenchified vocabulary. In other words, we English speakers don’t build new words the way kids build with Legos: instead of stacking five words together to create a new one, we tend to say, “Never mind!” and either borrow from Latin or (as is often the case these days) dicker with the word’s usage/part of speech.

Hence “Facebook” morphs from proper noun into verb, “impact” morphs from verb into noun, and words like “Clorox” can be noun, verb, adjective, or adverb. You can use “Clorox,” you can “Clorox” the spaghetti sauce off your countertop, you can gaze in proud accomplishment at your newly “Cloroxed” kitchen counter, or you can…Well, you know what, I can’t think of an adverbial usage right now, but I’m sure there is one, and that if it doesn’t exist just yet then someone will surely invent it.

Anyway…English doesn’t act like German so much in the way we build words, though there are clear syntactical ties between the two languages. However, , German still has all its inflections (word endings) whereas English lost its. We used to be just as complicated as German, boasting many word endings (“en,” for example, as in Chaucer’s famous “He is wise who himselven know”) and multiple pronoun-forms to cover our cases.

Brief detour: ever wondered where we got words like “thee,” “thou,” and “thy?” These are our archaic, case-sensitive answers to what is these days covered by two words: you and yours. In a sentence such as, “I shall tell thee once only,” “thee” indicates objective case: that is, “thee” is the object of the sentence, who is under the command of “I,” the sentence’s subject. On the other hand, in “Thou lost thy mitten,” “thou” is now the form of you that indicates “you” are the subject of the sentence,” while “thy” indicates that the mitten is yours and nobody else’s.


…Yeah, took a little while for me, too. In any event, we’ve lost most of our inflections, but the reason this happened isn’t so much the 1066 Invasion as it is the several-centuries earlier incursion of Danes and Norse (aka: Vikings) into England.

How did the Vikings change our tongue? They did it by bringing with them new words (egg, freckle, sister, window)–and also words that rarely get swapped much between languages, such as pronouns and conjunctions. We have them to thank for our plural pronouns “they,” their,” and “them,” and also for the subordinating conjunction “though.”

Up until the Conquest, Viking settlement meant that England was effectively a bilingual country. In the north and east (and in Scotland), where the Vikings primarily lived and governed (known as the “Danelaw”), Old Norse and Old English mixed together. But these languages’ words were so similar, except for their endings, that eventually the people ditched these endings altogether, thus removing the last barrier to understanding.

Afterwards, when the French showed up, new sophisticated vocabulary entered the English lexicon. But the French had very little, if anything to do at all with the development of our syntax. If we have drifted syntactically from German, it’s because of inspiration from another Germanic language rather than a Romance one. Still, English owes much of its development to both Romance and Germanic sources, and without them, it certainly wouldn’t be what it is today.

Simeon’s Restaurant Accident: Ithaca, NY

The town of my alma mater made the news in a horrific way last night. Around 4 p.m. yesterday afternoon, a car hauler appears to have lost its brakes while coming down E. State Street, one of four steep roads leading into Ithaca. The hauler sped down E. State, slamming into Simeon’s Restaurant at the edge of the Commons, killing one person and injuring seven. For more news/details, see http://ithacan.org/ and http://www.ithacajournal.com.

This crash, whatever its cause, raises an issue which is very easy to overlook: the danger posed by runaway trucks. Ithaca sits in a valley sheltered by Lake Cayuga and multiple hills/small mountains sporting narrow steep roads and not one runaway truck ramp that I can recall. In a sense, the town is a set of bowling pins, and any truck that loses its brakes on a hill the bowling ball. A similar accident happened in Pittsburgh (another town surrounded by steep hills) in the early 1980s, when a potato truck lost its brakes on Green Tree Hill and barreled its way into the city via the Fort Pitt tunnels and bridge. Four people died and seven were injured in the lobby of the Federal bank building at Stanwix Street and Liberty. (See Pittsburgh Press article, circa 1989 at http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1144&dat=19890824&id=PEg0AAAAIBAJ&sjid=w2MEAAAAIBAJ&pg=4561,5351099).

In any case, my thoughts go out to the people of Ithaca this morning. Please send all the good vibes you can their way.

Just Finished Student Teaching


Long time, no see!

It’s been a busy past four months, but now I’ve come out on the other side of it all thinking one thing: “Darn–that went by too fast!”

I’m going to miss those seventh and eighth graders with whom I’ve worked since January; I’m going to miss my cooperating teacher as well. Not that I have much down-time in which to pine: I have a seminar this morning, graduation practice, and a final exam. But I did put the going-away cards on my windowsill, and I tacked up student notes on my wall. The kids wrote such sweet things: it really does feel amazing, when kids tell you that they feel you have made a difference in their lives.

The more I teach, the more I want to teach. I’ve found my calling.


Eagles Make a Grand Re-Appearance: Pittsburgh, PA

Hi all,

Pittsburgh has a new mascot. Instead of steel, it is…


On a hilltop in Hays, not far from Becks Run Road and West Carson Street, a pair of bald eagles is busy raising its chicks. Two are here–one is on the way–and you can watch the new family live at the Pixcontroller website:


Also, our Hays nest made the NBC Nightly News last night:


This is exciting stuff, especially if you’re old enough to remember how scarce these birds once were. When I was a little girl, bald eagles were very rare in Western PA; certainly, they never turned up  anywhere near Pittsburgh! Today, they often frequent our more remote, wooded, river-dotted regions.

But to have a pair make its appearance within sight of the city proper is a gift indeed!

Hays Parents

Mama and Dad Hays (Pittsburgh Post Gazette)


Fierce Hays Mama

Mom defending the nest from a raccoon (Pixcontroller)


Hays Parents Feeding Chick

Mom and Dad “beaking”/feeding chick (Pixcontroller)