WordPress Meets the Press Gang

Through the medium of WordPress, several bloggers are offering me some unusual prompt words for today. I even had to look up three of them to be certain of their meanings.
Ragtag Daily Prompt: HARDIHOOD
— boldness, daring, courage; self-confident audacity

Word of the Day: URGES
— (noun): strong desires or impulses.
— (verb): to repeatedly or insistently try to encourage or persuade someone.

Your Daily Word Prompt: RECONDITE
— Difficult or impossible for the ordinary person to comprehend, as a DEEP subject
— Referring to something little known or obscure
— Hidden from sight. Concealed

Fandango’s FOWC: SCUTTLEBUTT
The original meaning of this word has provided the track for my train thoughts this morning.
Scuttlebutt: a ship’s water butt – a cask holding the day’s supply of fresh water. And since this was where sailors gathered to drink and exchange gossip, the word eventually included the gabfest that went on around the scuttlebutt.
The old oaken cask (scuttled butt) has been replaced by the office fountain or water cooler and the term has come to mean “gossip and rumors that circulate.”

THE ADVENTURES OF JOHN SMITH

One day my great-great-grandfather John Smith sat visiting with his youngest son, Moses, and John was telling Moses what happened when he was nine years old that shaped his entire future. Fortunately for me, Moses’ youngest daughter happened to overhear the conversation. A few years ago I able to track down this long-lost relative, in her late 90s and still of clear memory. She shared this story with me:

As a nine-year-old boy John was walking down the street in an English city – he thought it was London – when a couple of sailors from the British navy grabbed him and hustled him onto a ship in the harbour. This was one of the press gangs that worked the English port cities, kidnapping boys and young men to serve on the ships. John must have been a husky lad; I can’t imagine they’d grab a puny little guy who might not survive the rough sea life.

So who was this lad and what were his origins? Was his name actually John SMITH, or did the sailors tack that label on him, possibly to deflect inquiries? From info on his death record, John was born circa 1828. Young boys in those days likely weren’t so informed about their family history or even their location – perhaps he’d never even been to school. Was he from a caring home, or were his parents down-and-out sorts? Maybe he was an orphan, just a street urchin that happened to wander too near the port? Was John’s father a Swedish sailor, or why does my DNA show that I have 9% Scandinavian ancestry when I find so little in my known family tree?

If our children go missing, it’s a tragedy. Did John’s family search for him? Was he hidden from the authorities – or did any authority ever check on ship’s crews or search for missing boys and young men? After all, press gangs operated with the collusion of the Crown. I try to imagine the recondite lives these fellows lived as captives of the British Navy: the possible abuses, the hard labour, primitive medical care, rickets and scurvy, wild storms, dim prospects of deliverance. I have to admit I’m living in one of the best eras ever.

For the next four years gr-gr-grandfather was held on that ship, working as a cabin boy, never allowed to set foot on shore. I can picture him gathering around the scuttle-butt with the other sailors, hearing their tales of the sea, of exotic ports, of ships that went down in storms. Did John have a natural hardihood, or was he terrified in this new setting? I’m sure he had the urge many times to escape this forced servitude and find his family again – if he had any – but he was never allowed ashore.

When he was fourteen the ship docked in Halifax harbour and somehow John managed to escape. He told his son Moses that the sailors turned the ships guns on him as he was fleeing, but he made it into the woods and hid there in the forest until the ship sailed away. From Halifax he made his way to southwestern Ontario and worked as a labourer; in time he managed to buy a farm near Listowell. To the best of my knowledge, he never again had contact with any family in England.

Around 1855, when he’d have about twenty-seven, John married Ruth Dobson, a young woman from a very religious home. Her parents were John & Ruth; her brother Jonathan grew up to become a well known Methodist preacher. Ruth called herself a Methodist and John listed himself on all the Ontario censuses as an Unbeliever. Their oldest daughter, Mary – my great-grandmother – was born in 1856. Their oldest son, William, apparently became a policeman in Toronto. Mary, as Mrs Sam Vance, moved west and lost all contact with her Smith relatives.

Oct 19, 2020:
My dentist’s office just called about my appointment tomorrow. Can’t just walk into the office now, must wear a mask, etc. Yes, my activities are being restricted and everyone is fearful of COVID – and who knows what the economy will do? Scuttlebutt has it that a vaccine is in the works, but may take awhile yet. Yes, these are uncertain, fearful times – but as I let my thoughts drift back through the years to young John, hiding in the woods near Halifax, totally alone, with only his own hands and hardihood to provide for him in this new land – I can’t complain about my lot!

So I’m sitting here this morning enjoying my coffee, playing with these new words, and wondering about my DNA results – all because “John Smith” acted on his urge to escape and jumped ship in the Halifax harbour circa 1842. Hope you’ve enjoyed hearing great-great-grandfather’s story.

The Worst Ever!

For Goodness Sake, Read History (Part 2)

A few days ago I received an interesting phone call from some lady wanting to share a few Bible verses with me. She started out by quoting Jeremiah 29:11-12, then began talking about having peace during these troubled times. Especially with this pandemic – the worst that’s ever been!

Reader of history that I am, I reminded her of the Black Death. In the 1300’s the Bubonic Plague was brought back to Italy by sailors returning from the orient; it subsequently swept through Europe in several waves and wiped out about a third of the population of the western world. A person could argue that Covid-19 could have been as bad; however, we’ve taken extreme precautions and also have access to an infinitely better health care system.

Plus, our lot is easier because we have less corruption. I read once that in some Italian cities men were hired to go house to house and bring out any that were diseased. These toughs were given free rein to “diagnose” and haul away anyone they didn’t like or demand payment – in whatever form – from the home’s occupants. Occupants unwilling to pay risked being tossed on the cart with those already infected and/or dying.

Pardon me, but the only reason anyone can say this is the worst pandemic in history is because they don’t know history. Even the Spanish ‘flu was worse, as health care was limited and whole families sometimes died. People may be pretty panicked now, but there’s nothing like the superstition of the Middle Ages. No one has resorted to self-flagellation as some did during the Bubonic plague, going from town to town whipping and slashing themselves to gain the sympathy of the gods in hopes of averting the plague.

Climatic Disaster and Famine

Last night in Bible Study we were going over Joseph being sold into slavery in Egypt and Pharoah’s dream, which Joseph interpreted. (Genesis Ch.41) Joseph predicted seven years of plenty, followed by seven lean years. According to the Bible account, this was a widespread catastrophe. It dawned on me that the drought and famine in Egypt would have been a lot like our “Dirty thirties” years.

People in the Thirties may have said, “This is the worst climatic disaster in history,” but I suspect there have been various climatic disasters before that one. Most of us have never heard about them. In most cases records weren’t kept; the accounts became simple folklore.

Thankfully, the Great Plains people learned a lot from those dry years; farming practices have changed drastically since the drought and soil moisture conservation has become a priority.

As to the Middle East famine, Joseph was able to guide Egypt through those years and preserve his own family as well. But over all, the land that was once a breadbasket is now desert sand.

Buying, Selling, and Lessons Learned

One good thing is that Egypt didn’t have a stock market to crash like ours did in 1929. In that sense the Thirties delivered a double-whammy here in North America. Then with a war looming — things must have looked pretty bleak indeed to our grandparents.

In the 1920s the sale of stocks was booming, investors were making piles, and bankers came under pressure to make collateral-free loans to wannabe stock-buyers. All these new players drove the price of stocks up, but seasoned traders were keeping a nervous eye on the trading, knowing stock prices had to level off and maybe even drop.

On “Black Tuesday” Oct 29, 1929 someone(s) got so nervous he/they dumped thousands of stocks on the market. Others investors saw this and figured, “Ah! Someone knows something. Prices are going to drop. We’re selling, too!” Sixteen million shares were thrown on the market that day and more during the rest of the week. By Friday the market was flooded with shares no one wanted to buy. The rest is history.

In the 1990’s the US government, under pressure from builders, increased the sale of new houses by urging bankers to give collateral-free loans with very low interest rates. Mortgages were contracted right and left; new home buyers gave the housing market the shot in the arm builders were hoping for. But when those mortgages came up for renewal at the regular interest rate… The rest is history.

The housing market crash and ensuing depression didn’t hit us as hard here in Canada because a) Canadian bankers are far too cautious to make collateral-free loans and b) you can’t legally walk away from a mortgage you’ve contracted here in Canada. If the mortgage holder defaults, the bank may repossess and sell the house but the holder is legally liable to pay whatever is still owing.

Fifty years from now will someone again come up with some new purchase people must make and urge bankers to make low-interest, collateral-free loans so people can have this new necessity? And it will lead to another depression? Or will our descendants read these histories and learn that this hasn’t worked well in the past?

The Little Home

by Edgar Guest

brick-wall-1850095_640
Image: Pexels  — Pixabay

The little house is not too small
to shelter friends who come to call.
Though low the roof and small its space
it holds the Lord’s abounding grace
and every simple room may be
endowed with happy memory.

The little house, severely plain,
a wealth of beauty may contain.
Within it those who dwell may find
high faith which makes for peace of mind
and that sweet understanding which
can make the poorest cottage rich.

The little house can hold all things
from which the soul’s contentment springs.
It’s not too small for love to grow,
for all the joys that mortals know,
for mirth and song and that delight
which makes the humblest dwelling bright.

From the book, Collected Verse of Edgar A. Guest,
©1934 by the Reilly & Lee Co

 

Limited Interests

air-balloon-festival-954908_640
TanteLoe — Pixabay

The Ragtag Daily Prompt today: WINDBAG
The Word of the Day Challenge: FUTILE

My response shall be this tale.

The Ornithologist

At the family picnic our cousin Devern’s new bride, Chloe was warmly welcomed by everyone in our extended family circle. At the picnic table I noticed that she sat next to great-uncle Herb, so I sat across from them in case she needed a little help. Uncle Herb wasn’t the greatest conversationalist.

As we all enjoyed our food, I heard Chloe ask Uncle Herb, “So, who do you think will win the presidential election this fall?”

Oh dear.

His noncommittal response was, “I won’t even try to guess.”

She seemed taken aback; nevertheless she made another stab at it. “At this point it’s pretty hard to predict, I guess. Who do you think Joe Biden will choose as his running mate?”

“I doubt it will matter much. Politicians are all about the same.”

Looking a little miffed, Chloe glanced at me and I gave her a sympathetic smile. She didn’t know Uncle Herb yet.

I leaned forward. “Say, Uncle Herb, I saw a bird in our yard yesterday, small and brownish with a lighter breast. It had a short tail that kind of stuck up. A wren, wouldn’t you say?”

“Oh, yes. Very likely, if its tail was short, somewhat blunt, and pointed up. A dusky flycatcher is small and brown, too, but its tail’s longer, more tapered. House wrens and duskies both have a ring around the eye and you may confuse the two by that, but the dusky is slightly larger, 5 3/4”. Also, duskies have a rather yellow belly and clear white wing bars, where the wren’s belly is creamy and its bars, on both wings and tail, are smaller black and brown. Look more like ripples. However, the upright tail will give the wren away every time. And its song, of course.

“Now, as to what kind of a wren… If its back was definitely brown and barred, it was a house wren. A sedge wren is much like a house wren, slightly smaller, only 4 ½”, but it doesn’t have that distinguishing thin ring of white around its eye. Also, a sedge wren’s throat is whiter and the belly more orange. Did you happen to get a good look at its throat or belly?”

“Um.. No. It was in the bushes and…”

“Too bad. Now, marsh wrens are slightly lighter in color and clearly distinguished by a line above the eye, going from the beak to the back of the head. Winter wrens are smaller than a house wren, though; a house wren is 4 3/4″ whereas a winter wren is only four inches. But winter wrens nest in the pine forests of northern Canada, so you’ll rarely see one here, except in migration. They don’t have a clear line above the eye, either.”

“I hope I get another chance to see it.” I also hoped to think of some topic that would stop Uncle Herb’s ornithological flow.

Suddenly he turned back to Chloe. “What kind of birds have you observed?”

She searched for an answer. “Er… Robins. I’ve seen robins.”

“Robins?” Uncle Herb looked puzzled. “Is that all? Surely you’ve seen other birds.”

Chloe got that deer-in-the-headlights look. “Uh… And pigeons. And sparrows. I’ve seen lots of sparrows.”

“Are you referring to native sparrows or English sparrows?” His tone was rather demanding.

Uh-oh! I knew where this was going.

Sadly, poor Chloe had no clue. “Is there a difference,” she asked.

“There certainly is.” The glare Uncle Herb gave her would have frosted the Sahara.

Seeing her wilt under his disapproval, I jumped up and said, “Want to come with me, Chloe? I think Mom’s ready to set the desserts out. I think she’ll need our help.”

“Sure!” She sprang from her chair and hurried to join me. We headed for the food table and stood beside it, since desserts weren’t being set out yet.

Chloe sighed. “I had no idea he’d be so passionate about sparrows?”

“Yeah. You’ll get the cold shoulder talking politics with Uncle Herb, but he’s a real windbag if you get him on the subject of birds. I guess we all know him by now and humor him if we can, or find somewhere else to be if he gets going full throttle. Don’t worry. You’ll catch on.”

Chloe chuckled. “Guess all families have them. Once my Uncle Tim gets started on state versus federal authority he can expound for hours. We’ve tried redirecting him but it’s futile. He has to wind down on his own.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” I gave her a big grin.

Wren in shrub cropped

Blogs That Invite Visitors to Stay

Sue’s Jibber-Jabber daily word for today is ENCOURAGE.

Offering Readers the Easy Chair

We all have our friends, right? The folks we like to hang out with. Goths look for other goths; artsy people seek other artsy types; deep thinkers and conservative types try to find other bloggers whose posts give them another look at the serious side of life.

Those of us who blog have set them up to appeal mainly to the type of readers and followers we hope to attract. In this post I’ll make some suggestions on how we can encourage our first-time visitors to settle down and stay awhile.

Right Off the Bat

The things that will draw new readers initially are our post titles, categories and tags. In this post I want to offer a few thoughts on appearance: the “scene” that hits a reader’s eye the minute they land.

Terse Titles

It’s great if you can do catchy titles, but if not, at least keep your titles short and to the point.

The title you choose for your post, with hyphens, becomes your post’s address (slug) on the internet. Be it “florida-trip-white-out” or “we-were-headed-for-disney-world-but-got-caught-in-a-snowstorm-in-kentucky-and-spent-three-nights-in-a-school-gym-before-heading-home.

I could have titled this post “Some of the Things a Blogger Can Do to Present and Attractive Appearance to Other Bloggers Coming to Visit.” And that’s way too long!
I could have titled it “Inviting Blogs.” Too brief and unclear.
“Attracting Visitors to Your Blog” would have worked, but this post isn’t so much about attracting. It’s more about offering guests an easy chair and a cup of coffee, then conversing easily with no pressure.

Appearance

The Header you choose gives an instant picture of your style. Definitely something to keep in mind when you’re choosing headers. Consider these two examples:

Dark.SnapShot
Image by SnapShot. at Pixabay

Dark.not.sirridho
Image by sirridho at Pixabay

If you like the dark one, that’s your taste and may suit your subject matter. Your friends may “love it.” Other bloggers are apt to find the dark, colorless heading depressing and rather see the whimsical second one. (I actually like the frog so much I may use him someday myself. 🙂 )

Olla Podrida

Olla podrida is a Spanish word that literally means “rotting pot.” Similar to “pot pourri” in French. Nowadays, both these expressions carry the figurative meaning of “mixture.” Like a hash, stew, or mishmash.

Checking out an interesting title, I’ve clicked onto some blogs that were an instant assault to the eyes. A hodge-podge of sidebars and footers full of colorful ads, badges, and whatnot, with a narrow strip of writing in the middle where the actual post appears. My brain couldn’t handle that confusion. Goodbye.

You may like all that color – but you’ll scare away a lot of first-time visitors because they can’t figure out where to put their eyes. And some people detest blog ADS.

Recent Posts Widget

I always encourage bloggers to install a Recent Posts widget. If you have a Home page, your readers will see smaller boxes with the most recent first six or eight posts you’ve published. But once a reader clicks on one and reads that, then what? They likely have to go back to the Home page to find other posts. A Recent Posts widget appears in the sidebar with a list (up to ten, I’d say) of your latest posts, so they can quickly click and read on.

Publishers Say…

…and it pays to listen
Some of the following ideas on blogging etiquette are my own preferences, while some come from the guidelines of book publishers. I feel these are valid for blog posts as well.

Torpedoed by Typos

Let’s say you write a best seller with an amazing plot and bold and dashing protagonists. You’ve sprinkled it with thrilling plot twists and sympathetic supporting characters galore. You fire the manuscript off to Double Delight, Inc.
And your cover letter starts out, “Dear Aquisitions Editer,”
Your novel is sunk. It will be stuffed back in the envelope and marked “Return to Sender.”

Bloggers are more forgiving and will usually keep reading, but spelling errors grate. Which is not so great. Good spelling and proper grammar are a courtesy to your fellow bloggers.
(I beg of you, please) NOTE:
It’s (it is) likely that a dog will wag its (possessive) tail when it’s (it is) happy.

On the cute side:
One day I was asked to beta read a novel. Though I specifically stated that I never read HORROR or THRILLERS, his was a “thriller” where some teen girls encounter a horror in some castle. He concludes with, “I hope this story will pick your interest.”

It struck me as very fitting that a horror story should “pick” my interest, instead of “pique” it. But I do wonder if his novel is a horror for spelling mistakes. 😉

White Space is IN

So do not…

not…

not…

write long paragraphs…

and be sure to put a space between each.

I’m told that when your manuscript lands on an acquisitions editor’s desk, if they pull it out and see 12 to 15-line paragraphs, they won’t even start. Back into the envelope it goes. “Return to Sender.”

Take a look at any book published in the past twenty years. Attention spans are short. Long descriptions are OUT. Then take a look at the bloggers whose posts you enjoy. How do they write?

I know this is my personal opinion. I’m a feed it to me in small bites type plus I have a problem in long, chunky paragraphs: I lose my way tracking from the end of one line to the beginning of the next. In a book, if I must read it at all, I’ll often use a ruler.

You may be okay with long paragraphs. When I click on a blog post and see paragraphs longer than eight lines I don’t even start – or I skim. For me, six is okay, but eight is max. So my advice will always be:
If you want people to read what you write, keep paragraphs short and posts fairly short. Or break it up into sections. Depending on subject matter, two posts with six to eight paragraphs is better than one with sixteen that no one reads.

Font Size and Style

1001fonts.com has some great fonts you can access. However…

Scriptina Regular
Scriptina made by Apostrohic Labs

AND DON’T CAPITALIZE EVERYTHING YOU WRITE. THE SUREST WAY TO NOT BE READ IS TO DO YOUR POST IN ALL CAPS.

This is getting too long so I’d best quit. 🙂

CalliGravity
Calligravity font made by vin