Monthly Archives: November 2009

Poinsettia Time

Poinsettias are a popular symbol of Christmas in North America. The name is pronounced poin-set-ee-uh and spelled with an ia at the end of the word, not just an a as thousands on the Internet would have you believe (poinsetta). Nor is there an extra t (pointsettia) as thousands more believe. The poinsettia is native to Mexico and Central America.  It was first brought to North America in the 1820s by the first United States Minister to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett. Poinsett was a physician and amateur botanist who went on to be a co-founder of the National Institute for the Promotion of Science and the Useful Arts (a predecessor of the Smithsonian Institution)  among other things.

There are now over 100 varieties of poinsettias. They come in single or double form, with solid-coloured or marbled leaves, and in many shades of red, pink, salmon, cream and white. I love visiting the greenhouses at this time of year to see their poinsettia selections, although choosing just a couple of different varieties to take home is difficult.


Filed under Christmas

Black Friday

Happy Black Friday to shoppers in the United States. I hope everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving yesterday.

We don’t have a shopping event equivalent to Black Friday in Canada. Boxing Day, on December 26th, used to be a big day for finding bargains, but in recent years the majority of retailers have begun putting most of their stock on sale long before Christmas anyway, and the stores here don’t tend to offer the big loss leaders that I see advertised in the U.S.

I’ve come to appreciate Christmas shopping late at night, and early in the morning, although I’ve never been browsing the aisles at 3:00 or 4:00 a.m.  There’s hardly any traffic on the roads, barely any shoppers in the stores, and no one in line ahead of you at the check-out. Several years ago I went to my local 24-hour grocery store around 11:00 p.m. on December 23rd to do my final grocery pick-up before Christmas and realized it was an excellent time to be there. I enjoyed strolling the aisles without having to manoeuvre around dozens of others, humming along to the Christmas music and chatting with the staff who, also relieved that the store was deserted, were cheery.

When Walmart began staying open all night in December of last year, I went shopping there one evening around 11:30 p.m. Again, perusing the stock in peace and picking out the latest toys was a relaxed and pleasant experience.

Yes, I enjoy shopping late at night at this time of year, but I enjoy it because there’s scarcely anyone else there …

Black Friday crowd.


Filed under Miscellaneous

Glee Works for Me

Have you tuned in to see the television show Glee yet?

The Fox Broadcasting Web site describes it as a series following an optimistic teacher “who – against all odds and a malicious cheerleading coach – attempts to save McKinley High’s Glee Club from obscurity, while helping a group of aspiring underdogs realize their true star potential.”

A well-written, witty musical comedy, Glee features a very talented cast performing several songs in every episode. The series’ music has really taken off, with a first CD already on the shelves. A few of the show’s covers of well-known songs have been declared “better than the original” in this household.

Glee has also provided us with some very touching moments between the toe-tapping and chuckles; it’s a nice change from the usual police procedurals and hospital dramas filling the evening airwaves.

Glee airs on Wednesday evenings at 9:00 p.m.

Read more about the show here.

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Filed under Miscellaneous

No Future at This Shop for Me

I asked a friend how her weekend had been and she responded “I was so angry at one point! I went to Future Shop …”. Uh huh. I knew exactly what she was going to say because I’ve been there and experienced the same phenomenon that she did. When women of a certain age enter Future Shop electronics stores, they become invisible. Yes, I said invisible: hidden, unseen, imperceptible to the eye of a human sales clerk. If it had only happened to one woman at one store, I would have just believed it to be rude sales staff at that location ignoring the woman. But when it happens at different stores to different women, there’s only one logical conclusion: a nasty curse has been placed on the entire chain of stores that renders middle-aged women undetectable. The curse can be broken by getting a sales clerk to look you directly in the eye, but that’s easier said than done. If you are determined to shop at Future Shop anyway, here are some suggestions that may help you to receive some attention.

1. To indicate your genuine intent to buy, sing “money, money, money, money” while dancing down the aisle throwing real bills into the air. The other customers will no doubt turn to stare at you, causing the sales clerk to also look your way and accidentally make eye contact. Considering that young employees are generally unfamiliar with the concept of actual cash though, this ploy may be ineffective even if they can see you. Still, singing “debit, debit, debit, debit” while waving your card around just doesn’t have the same pizzazz.

2. Set up signs in front of the store entrance saying Mature Women’s Day and post a couple of your friends there to stop anyone not fitting that category from entering the store while you shop. With no other customers to distract them you may be able to get the staff’s attention, although you might still only be visible in a semitransparent, shimmering sort of way.

3. Wrestle a sales clerk to the floor and sit on his chest until he looks you in the eye. While definitely the most satisfying solution, remember that the young man won’t initially be able to see who is forcing him to the ground and, in his terror, he may put up quite a struggle. Plus, the police, who can always see you, normally frown on this type of action.

4. Have a coven of witches, fairies, gypsies and everyone else you feel might be helpful join you at the entrance to your local store on a busy Saturday afternoon and work together to try to lift the curse forever. Do it for the benefit of middle-aged women everywhere who have money to spend and would like to blow it on electronics.

If none of those options work out, do what my friend and I did and take your business elsewhere.


Filed under Miscellaneous

Elf Yourself

The stores are setting out their Christmas produce, light displays are being arranged, and, perhaps most important, Elf Yourself is up and running for another season.  A free holiday e-greeting produced by JibJab Media Inc., Elf Yourself premiered in November of 2006.  Since then, millions of people around the world have uploaded photos of themselves with their friends and family and produced videos of their loved ones frolicking as “Disco” or “Country” elves or in the “Elf Classic” that started it all. The new offerings this year are “Hip Hop Elves”, featuring modern break dancing, and “Singing Elves”, who perform a medley of holiday music.

I elfed myself and my family last year and got quite a kick out of watching us disco dancing together. With four styles of dance to choose from this year, it’s just like being on So You Think You Can Dance … while dressed in an elf costume … without the danger of being assigned the dreaded quickstep … or having to expend any actual energy.

‘Tis the season to spread some cheer. Click here to  elf yourself .

Here’s a video of JibJab’s recent “elf invasion” in New York City to promote the 2009 launch of Elf Yourself. Note what appears to be a werewolf in the crowd enjoying the show.

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Filed under Christmas

F is for Foliage

If you Google images for the word Foliage, you’ll find thousands of pictures of lovely leaves. If you Google images for Foilage … you’ll find thousands of pictures of lovely leaves.

The correct spelling of the word  used to describe a cluster of  leaves is foliage, from the Latin word for leaf, “folio”. However,  the l and i in foliage are reversed so regularly that the word is on many Top 100 lists of English words most often misspelled and mispronounced. The misspelled version  is used in a myriad of Internet pages.  You can even shop for Foilage T-Shirts, Posters, & Other Gift Ideas at

There is a definition on for foilage that claims it is an expression for bling. Man check out the ride – foilage.”

So according to that definition, this might be considered foilage:


I think this should definitely be designated as [tin] foilage:


The following photos are of autumn foliage in Southern Ontario. Many of the pictures were taken at, or near, the shore of Lake Ontario.









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Filed under Grammar by the Letter, photos

E is for Effect

If you ask around, I think you’ll find that most people have at least one word that they’re inclined to look up in the dictionary every time they need to use it. For whatever reason, some words just don’t seem to stick in the old noggin, even if their meaning and spelling is really not difficult. I have two of those words: effect and affect.

Whenever I have to decide which one of them to use, I send the request for clarification of their meanings to my brain for processing. Ker-chug, ker-chug, ker-chug – you can practically hear it, like that noise your computer makes when the hard drive is running low on space and it seems to take forever to pull up what you want. Finally my mind spits out the correct word and, just my luck, there are dead pixels in my brain’s monitor right where the first letter should be, so that the answer comes up looking like this

which is not at all helpful because I don’t have any trouble with the other letters in either word.

For anyone else who finds the difference between effect and affect hard to remember, here is the most basic difference between the two words.

Most of the time affect is a verb. It generally means “to influence” or “to change”.

I am adversely affected by snowy weather.

Most of the time effect is a noun. It generally means “a result or consequence”.

The snow had a dangerous effect on the roads.

The information I find most helpful is that effect is used whenever any of these words precede it: a, an, any, the, take, into, no.  These words may be separated from effect by an adjective.

For a more detailed description of the uses of effect and affect, and to try a practice quiz, go to this site:

Since my brain monitor cannot be repaired or replaced, I suspect that I’ll be looking up effect occasionally for the rest of my days. And that’s okay, because sometimes it’s best just to admit that you’re not sure and consult an expert; that’s what dictionaries are for.


Filed under Grammar by the Letter