Try to remember.

I was always an excellent speller, missing only one or two on a typical test, and often getting perfect scores, but one time the teacher dumped a wowser on us in the weekly list: “arithmetic.” Ten letters, with a tricky vowel sound – the whole class groaned. Nonsense, she said, and wrote out, on the blackboard, “A rat in the house may eat the ice cream.”

Thus began my first exposure to the mnemonic device, or memory trick. Remember the sentence and you could remember how to spell “arithmetic,” by using the first letter of each word. Colors in the light spectrum? Roy G. Biv. Notes on the musical staff? “Every good boy does fine” for the lines, “face” for the spaces, and the good boy “deserves favour” if you’re British. The Great Lakes? “Homes.” And of course, we all know the planets in the solar system, in order, because we all know “My very educated mother just served us nine pickles.” I’m sure that’s been reworked since the demotion of Pluto, and will be reworked again if the new ninth planet delivers on its promise.

Ask me how to spell Cincinnati, and I’ll answer “one, two, one,” because that’s how I finally mastered the tricky interior consonants – one N, then two Ns, then one T. I still see Cincinnati misspelled in books and in national publications, less so since spell-check.

Anyway, I’m a big believer in mnemonics. This year I’ve been volunteering as a homework tutor in an after-school program one day a week, and Tuesday I worked with a boy studying for his religion test. I never went to Catholic school, but I took CCD classes one day a week after heathen public school, so my knowledge of basic doctrine is there. We did a sample test together: Which two sacraments can only be received once? Four pairs followed. I taught him the first rule of multiple-choice testing: First, eliminate the obvious wrong-os, i.e., the ones with Eucharist or Reconciliation as one of the choices, because Catholics receive those over and over. I got the feeling no one had ever taught this third-grader about the process of elimination in test-taking.

This is when I feel the most despair, and see an opportunity to actually teach something. These kids are wonderful but, as you’d expect in Detroit, disproportionately disadvantaged, in so many ways. They know the words to crappy songs on the radio, but don’t hear the rhythms of the written word, because few have been consistently read to. They’re tested all the time, but lack test-taking skills. Worst of all, learning is accompanied by rote rituals that strip all the pleasure out of it. It’s not enough to answer “Who wrote most of the Declaration of Independence?” with “Thomas Jefferson.” Rather, grasp your pencil in your fist and write, “The Declaration of Independence was written by Thomas Jefferson.” (Or, worse, “The person who wrote the Declaration of Independence was Thomas Jefferson.”)

I see the need to get students accustomed to writing in complete sentences, but when a writing assignment asks a high-school student, “What do you think of X?” and the automatic first line of the answer is, “I think X is…” we’re doing it wrong. The other day a bright high-schooler and I talked about Eleanor Roosevelt. The study guide asked students to explain why the first lady was controversial, and she dived back into the chapter for the facts she’d need to marshall for her answer. I told her to put the book down and we talked a little about Hillary Clinton and the things people say about her – that she rode her husband’s coattails to power, that she meddled in affairs she had no business in, etc. I told her people had said these things about Nancy Reagan, Michelle Obama and pretty much every first lady in my lifetime. I asked whether this said anything about those women as individuals, or about women in general, and about Eleanor Roosevelt in particular. You could see understanding dawning over her face, and people? That is a wonderful thing to see. She went back into the chapter for her facts, but now she understood not just what she was looking for, but why.

I am not a teacher, I have no skills in teaching. I’m not always a very good explainer. I’m not creative about dreaming up new ways to impart knowledge. But when I read Mother Goose and A.A. Milne and Beatrix Potter to little Kate, I held her on my lap and jiggled my leg in time to James James / Morrison Morrison / Weatherby George Dupree / Took great care of his mother / though he was only three. And today? She plays a rhythm instrument. Coincidence? I THINK NOT.

After we settled on the correct answer to the religion question (Baptism and Confirmation), we matched details of various rituals to their symbolism and significance. Why do converts put on white garments? Why do priests baptize with water? He knew most of them, but was having a hard time with the laying on of hands. It signifies the power of Christ, the book said. Hmm…the kid’s dad is a boxing trainer, so I told him to connect the power of Christ with the power of a punch, delivered? Through the hands. Mnemonics!

Even though Jesus wasn’t much of a brawler, even when he was kicking the money-changers out of the Temple.

On to the bloggage.

Speaking of people who didn’t learn well in school, an atrocious rewrite of a TV script, featuring the fun neologism “rigamortis.”

I guess my old newspaper’s new letters policy is that they’ll run any old crap that comes over the transom.

My local Trader Joe’s is nothing like this. Is yours?

Skating into week’s end, I am. We all are. Happy Thursday.

Posted at 12:15 am in Same ol' same ol' |

90 responses to “Try to remember.”

  1. Sherri said on February 4, 2016 at 2:36 am

    You mean your TJ isn’t crowded with long lines to check out? I took the advice in the article and stopped shopping at TJ’s because I was tired of the chaos.

    The LTE isn’t quite as random as it seems. Uranium isotopes decay; the process produces a “daughter” isotope. Eventually (over a very long time and 14 generations) uranium decays into a lead isotope. It’s totally irrelevant to the situation in Flint, however.

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  2. Deborah said on February 4, 2016 at 4:04 am

    Great post Nancy. Mnemonic devices helped me remember things in school, some I still remember, like the capitol of Bulgaria is Sophia. Because when I was in the 9th grade the actress Sophia Loren was quite popular and she had bulges in all the right places (bulges for Bulgaria, get it?). And you have to just remember Hungary’s Capitol is Budapest but you Remember Romania’s is Bucharest because of the R. And on and on. A few years ago someone at work asked me what the Capitol of Bulgaria was and I was thrilled to be able to answer correctly when no one else around knew. Why does spell check keep capitalizing capitol?

    I love Trader Joe’s. I wait in line so much longer at other stores. The aisles are too narrow though so getting around with a big cart can be a pain. The one I go to in Chicago has a choice of small carts if you don’t have that much to buy so it’s easier.

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  3. Dexter said on February 4, 2016 at 4:07 am

    I first heard of TJ’s when some old blogger-pals from LA began chatting about their local Trader Joe’s, which we do not have here. My daughter has been keeping me in TJ staples for years, however, as she shops in the store off I-270 in the Dublin Sawmill Road shopping center. Several times a year she buys Bay Blend coffee beans, and for Christmas I get a huge basket full of all sorts of goods, like a big jug of maple syrup, different types of rice, tea bags, orange and apricot marmalades, salsa, much more. I have yet to enter a Trader Joe’s store, but I always vow I will…the one time I tried I simply could not find the damn store. It must have been tucked around a corner because I was in the right shopping center.

    I have always , though somewhat reluctantly, accepted the fact that some people are naturally good or great at some things but are just totally out of touch with many other aspects of life…it’s just the way it is. A few examples follow: I never forgot the day many years ago Vidal Sassoon was on a talk show and he knew nothing…absolutely nothing—you’d have thought he was a moron, not a world famous hairdresser, businessman and philanthropist. My working career was spent mostly in warehouses and factories. It was almost a rule that if a man could not spell or discuss basic politics or had never-ever read even one book, why, that guy was a sure-bet to be the go-to guy to tear into broken machines and fix them, or go home and re-build or maintain every appliance and motor vehicle in his possession. Maybe he could also build a house, wire it, do the plumbing …everything. I was a good speller as well…I just knew how to spell, it came easily to me, and I went to spelling bees twice, representing my school. When we’d go play around my friend’s dad’s classic Harley Davidson knucklehead and they began talking and pointing to parts of the engine…I was lost…a total ignoramus.
    I could not have defined mnemonics until I read this column. For me, when I learned the names of the Great Lakes and had to write them down, I just pictured the layout and wrote the lake-names down. I suppose it helped I had visited four of them when I was a pre-schooler on family vacations.
    A friend went to a Jerry Lucas seminar in FWA once…Lucas was a memory expert who taught some system to people. My friend wanted to become a better card player. I guess the old basketball player / memory expert was legit.
    I know of a 50 year old man who can never discuss a movie because he watches it and instantly forgets the entire plot and screen-action he has just seen. Without even trying, I have found myself on blogs detailing scenes in movies and TV shows like the entire show is emblazoned on my brain. Anything needs fixed I have to hire it out, though. You should have seen the goddam mess I made when I tried to change a headlamp on a modern car last month. I take back the slam, Vidal Sassoon-in-heaven…we’re moron-brothers.

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  4. ROGirl said on February 4, 2016 at 5:26 am

    TJ’s has lost its luster for me since they first opened around here. These days I go to TJ’s for wine, their selection and prices are really good. They still have unsalted sunflower seeds, which I like, so I get those too. I used to buy different cheeses, but every one I liked and wanted to buy again would be discontinued. That happened probably 3 times, so I stopped trying. Most other items are available elsewhere at lower prices. Aldi is a good alternative, it’s actually owned by the same German company, and their prices for virtually the same items are better than TJ’s. They have things that TJ’s doesn’t carry, but their wine selection kind of sucks.

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  5. alex said on February 4, 2016 at 5:57 am

    Rigamortis. Shit, even my autocorrect won’t let me write it.

    Every good boy deserves fudge. So said the choirmaster of my boys’ school, and coming from that lilting old sissy queen it raised more than a few titters from those who liked to joke about butt sex. Needless to say, as a mnemonic device for me it represents subversive lewdness as the antidote to enforced primness and propriety. Or what’s rectal about rectitude.

    No Trader Joe’s in our town, even though people have been petitioning for one. The company won’t come right out and say it, but they can tell, probably by reading the opinion page of the News-Sentinel, that Fort Wayne isn’t classy enough to support one of their stores. While we don’t lack for fauxhemians who want to show off exotic labels, the company doesn’t want to deal with nine out of ten people who will be whining to the customer service desk that the store doesn’t carry Twinkies or Doritos or Maxwell House Instant.

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  6. David C. said on February 4, 2016 at 6:18 am

    Mnemonics never worked very well for me. It always seemed like with a mnemonic you have two things to remember the memory device and what you actually want to remember. Maybe it’s my dyslexia. I have to memorize things by brute force, mostly by writing things down and testing myself to see if I’ve remembered. Then putting it aside for a couple days and testing myself again to see if I’ve retained. It’s cumbersome as hell.

    The only thing we buy at Trader Joe’s is their California Estates Olive Oil. It’s milder than European and less likely to be cut with other oils, I’m told. I leave the rest alone. It’s mostly gussied up versions of the same stuff you can get at the supermarket.

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  7. Connie said on February 4, 2016 at 6:47 am

    My Trader Joes is never as bad as described in the article. My TJ go to is their chicken broth.

    I had my first Aldi visit after moving to the metro area and have just learned there is a new one going in near my office. Near the new Tim Hortons.

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  8. Alan Stamm said on February 4, 2016 at 7:05 am

    Oooh, oooh . . . [waving right hand] . . . over here, Ms. Derringer.

    Let’s go back to something you said a little bit ago — that bit about not being a teacher or a very good explainer sometimes. That seems . . . how shall I say . . . too modest (yeah — that’s it. Not wrong, too modest.)

    See, Ms. Derringer, I think that journalism stuff you do is like teaching and explaining without textbooks or white boards or lesson plans . . . isn’t it in a way, right, kind of?

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  9. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on February 4, 2016 at 7:16 am

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  10. Suzanne said on February 4, 2016 at 7:38 am

    Agree, Dexter, about your assessment of certain people. My in-laws, for example. Mostly all successful, professional people, but can’t spell worth crap. I rejoiced a few years ago that my mother & father-in-law sent mr a birthday card and actually spelled my name correctly! It only took 30 years!
    I’ve also known plenty of people who could, as Dexter said, build a house themselves or tear their car engine apart & put it back together, but also sink a small fortune into gold nuggets because Glen Beck said it’s the only way to save yourself from financial ruin (true case). Or some women I was talking to a few years ago, including several teachers, all hard working, responsible citizens who couldn’t tell me within 50 years when WWI took place. It always astounds me.

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  11. adrianne said on February 4, 2016 at 8:33 am

    Thanks for the fun refresher on mnemonic devices. I’m afraid with Siri and other “help” devices, these old-fashioned approaches are fading in the rear-view mirror. Sounds like your students will benefit from the reminder, though.

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  12. Connie said on February 4, 2016 at 8:37 am

    I have always been the queen of spelling.

    The best thing I ever figured out about learning stuff when I was a kid was figuring out the magic of how to multiply by 9. Why didn’t the elementary teacher teaching me multiplication ever tell me about that?

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  13. alex said on February 4, 2016 at 8:42 am

    And what is the magic of multiplying by 9? I only learned it by rote via multiplication tables. And as a mnemonic device in the third grade, they played a record and we’d sing the multiplication tables.

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  14. beb said on February 4, 2016 at 8:59 am

    I agree with Alan Stamm, about you being a good teacher and that good journalism is about explaining things well.

    And speaking of explaining, could someone explain why it’s “explain” but becomes explanation without that i?

    Also what’s it with TV reporters saying something happened on the east side, when the east side of Detroit covers about sixty square miles.

    I can’t spell for carp but in my old age I find that if I sound out a word in my head I can get pretty close to the correct spelling. Sometimes to help I’ve started mispronouncing certain words. Vehicle, for example. In everyday speech it sounds like “via-cull” but if I sound it as Ve-hick-cle I can remember that silent h. Pneumonia, though, is anyone’s guess.

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  15. beb said on February 4, 2016 at 9:02 am

    The sum of the two numbers in the answer always equals 9. 9 times 4 is 36. 3+6=9.

    or maybe it’s 9 x 4 equals 9 x 10 – 4. That seems complicated but it just says move the decimal point to the right and subtract.

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  16. nancy said on February 4, 2016 at 9:02 am

    You haven’t seen me trying to explain multiplication then, Alan.

    Times tables are one of those things I almost believe in rote learning for, or at least as part of the solution. My older siblings both went to Catholic school through 8th or 9th grade, and describe chanting them out loud while the nuns walked up and down the aisles. A generation later, the daughters of a friend did a whole spoken-word routine on parts of speech that was dead-on. The teacher was famous for using it year after year; it must have worked for some of them.

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  17. nancy said on February 4, 2016 at 9:07 am

    Heh-hey, beb, you said you couldn’t spell for “carp.” The English language has more exceptions than rules. Why does glamour lose its U when it becomes glamorous? People used to marvel when I told them I studied Russian. Big deal — you learn the alphabet in a week, and after that all the spelling is phonetic and there’s little irregularity. Six cases, yes, but that beats having to simply remember gendered nouns. I recall David Sedaris’ essay about learning French, in which he pointed out that the word for “vagina” is masculine. Oh, OK.

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  18. Kirk said on February 4, 2016 at 9:15 am

    Five Cats Got Drowned At Euclid Beach. That’s the sharps or the flats or something else musical, as taught by my music teacher in fifth or sixth grade.

    She Has Made Earrings Often is the Great Lakes in order (sort of) from west to east.

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  19. Connie said on February 4, 2016 at 9:44 am

    Beb said: The sum of the two numbers in the answer always equals 9. I will add that the first number of the result is one number less than the number by which you are multiplying. 6 x 9 = 54.

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  20. Connie said on February 4, 2016 at 9:44 am

    And I will add my voice to Alex’s about fudge. Although as a child I didn’t find it funny like you did. 🙂

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  21. Snarkworth said on February 4, 2016 at 9:49 am

    I’m with David C on mnemonics. I remember either visually, or through connections. ROY G BIV has frack-all to do with rainbows. I’m better off visualizing a rainbow than trying to remember Roy.

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  22. Icarus said on February 4, 2016 at 9:54 am

    I was never really taught many mnemonic devices. The word Bundles messed me up in the first round of a spelling bee in 3rd grade. And Trader Joe’s lost its luster for me once Marianos came to town. Any older folk remember A&P?

    Also, the check out clerks at TJs are just too excited about their chocolate beans for my liking.

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  23. Peter said on February 4, 2016 at 9:58 am

    Oh gosh – I learned guitar chords with Even A Day Goes By Easy or European Aardvarks Drink Green Beer Enthusiastically. Or Pi – May I Have A Large Container Of Orange Juice Now Please. Or Drafting: TOM Q. VAXY (all other letters are 5 units wide except for the 6 wide letters in Tom Q Vaxy and W, which is 8). Or Trig – (Soak A Toe) Soh Cah Toa – Sine = Opposite/hypotenuse; Cosine = Adjacent/hypotenuse; Tangent=Opposite/Adjacent).

    On an aside, do they even teach that now? Thanks to Autocad, the last time I used Trig was 20 years ago.

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  24. Julie Robinson said on February 4, 2016 at 10:36 am

    Here’s a headline from my Facebook feed: “Google is turning the reigns over to an artificial intelligence expert”. It’s from Time magazine, which I’m about to turn off, since so many of the articles are just click bait.

    Supposedly TJ’s doesn’t think the Fort has enough population to support one of their stores. But with Fresh Thyme, Fresh Market, Earth Fare, Three Rivers Co-op, Health Food Shoppe, and the new place up near Leo, as well as regular grocery stores carrying so much organic, I think they’ve left it too late. There are a few of their products I can’t find locally, so if I’m in Indy I stock up.

    Mnemonics and music have always been a great help to me, but sometimes the songs and jingles muddle things. I’ll be singing The Fantasticks all day now. Try to remember the kind of September when life was slow and oh so mellow…then follow, follow, follow, follow, follow.

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  25. Sue said on February 4, 2016 at 10:53 am

    alex: in a downward column, write 9 – 8 – 7 – 6 – 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 – 0.
    then, starting with the 8, put these numbers in front of the numbers you just wrote: 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 8 – 9
    You will have the answers to the 9 times table from 9 x 1 to 9 x 10. 9 – 18 – 27 – 36 – 45 – 54 – 63 – 72 – 81 – 90. And yes, they all equal 9 when added.

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  26. Bitter Scribe said on February 4, 2016 at 10:56 am

    I would have thought Extreme Unction (“last rites”) would have been one of the sacraments you can only receive once.

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  27. nancy said on February 4, 2016 at 11:01 am

    The question didn’t say there were only two. Holy Orders is another. Anyway, extreme unction is under the category of “anointing of the sick.” Theoretically, you could recover miraculously after E.U. and then get it again when you were really-and-truly circling the drain.

    Hair-splitting like this reminds me of the George Carlin routine about Easter duty and the International Date Line.

    Also, I learned the times-9 trick from a Nancy Drew book, something with “99 Steps” in the title. I just taught it to a kid at tutoring this week. We were just goofing around.

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  28. Jolene said on February 4, 2016 at 11:05 am

    Connie, no! I am the queen of spelling. Not only that, but I achieved this position without effort; spelling correctly comes naturally to me. It still surprises me that there are highly intelligent, highly literate people in the world who frequently misspell words.

    Mistyping, of course, is another thing altogether. It kills me to type in this editor because my overconfidence in my spelling leads me to forget to proofread, which means that I sometimes end up with what appear to be spelling errors, which, of course, I do not make. Still, I soldier on.

    Learning the multiplication tables was traumatic for me. We learned, by rote, the tables through 5 in third grade. The rest we were to learn in fourth grade. But I was moved ahead a year, so I entered the fifth grade without having learned how to multiply by 6 or more or certain things about division. Of course, in my tiny town, everybody knew that I had skipped a grade, and, when I got a terrible score on my first fifth-grade math test, everybody knew that too. I still remember how embarrassed I was.

    The teachers had given my mother materials to teach me these things during the summer, but she didn’t get around to it until just before school started. I also still remember spending an impatient* hour with her and some flash cards. They’d have done better to tell me directly to learn these things before school started. I’m sure I would have, as I liked that kind of memorization, and what else was there to do in the summer? But, alas, I had no idea of the mathematical challenges that awaited me.

    *Impatience was pretty much her modus operandi. Not the best attribute for the mother of six children, but, somehow, we all survived.

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  29. Charlotte said on February 4, 2016 at 11:07 am

    We were sporadic Catholics at best, but when my youngest brother was dying of cancer and our dad had left, my mother decided that I should belatedly do CCD and First Communion. I’ll never forget Sister Bremner teaching us the sacraments, and that they were sacred, and I got a little panicky and asked whether my father was going to hell then. Sister Bremner stopped for a minute, then said that God was very merciful and we had to trust in that — I’ve always been grateful for that. So many of them would have just said yes.

    I come from a long line of serious dyslexics — no one can spell in my family, but all of them know more than these kids in this video — if you want to despair about America’s Youth Today — here’s your chance:

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  30. Connie said on February 4, 2016 at 11:08 am

    Jolene, we shall have to share the title. I also have a compass in my brain, which many of my friends envy. Even when I am lost I know exactly where I am.

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  31. Jolene said on February 4, 2016 at 11:14 am

    Am fascinated by all these mnemonics. Maybe I was daydreaming, but I don’t think I ever learned any of them!

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  32. Jolene said on February 4, 2016 at 11:25 am

    Sister Bremner stopped for a minute, then said that God was very merciful and we had to trust in that — I’ve always been grateful for that. So many of them would have just said yes.

    Sister Bremner had the right impulse. My parents lost a baby when I was about eight or nine. In a church-sponsored summer camp, we were taught that, without being baptized, it was impossible to go to heaven. When I asked if that meant my dead sister could not go to heaven, the minister answered, with some regret, that she could not. I think this was the beginning of the end for me and religion.

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  33. Julie Robinson said on February 4, 2016 at 11:27 am

    Jolene and Connie, I am sorry to say you will also have to share the spelling crown with me. Except for the word rhythm; I have a huge mental block on that word, and always, always have to double check it.

    Spelling came without effort to me too, and to our son, but our daughter had to review those darn lists several times a day and still got lots of words wrong. They were both prolific readers from a young age, which is often an indicator of a good speller. I’ve never seen any studies on this, but I wonder if it’s innate, like math ability, or Connie’s compass. My hubby can visit a place once, then go back years later and still remember his way around, while I’m hopelessly lost. But at least I can out-spell him. Ha!

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  34. Icarus said on February 4, 2016 at 11:27 am

    in this Age of auto-correct, auto-complete, ADD and brain farts, you almost have to give a little latitude to someone when they make a minor spelling infraction.

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  35. Julie Robinson said on February 4, 2016 at 11:31 am

    Jolene, my pastor said the same thing, and it was the end of that church for me. I found one that is much more compassionate. It’s utter rot to think an unbaptized baby is unloved by God. His love and grace extend to everyone. I look forward to being reunited with my pets too.

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  36. St Bitch said on February 4, 2016 at 11:34 am

    “30 days hath September, April, June and November….”

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  37. Connie said on February 4, 2016 at 11:34 am

    Both my husband and my daughter, as well as my school superintendent late father in law, are/were totally hopeless at spelling. Which has made me think it could be genetic.

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  38. john (not mccain) said on February 4, 2016 at 11:43 am

    In middle school I always preferred the RA Heinlein version of how to remember the planets: Mother Very Thoughtfully Made a Jelly Sandwich Under No Protest. That way I got to be cool and refer to earth as “Terra”, plus it includes an “a” for “asteroids”. And by “cool” I mean “extra geeky in a repulsive way”.

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  39. Snarkworth said on February 4, 2016 at 11:48 am

    My father tried to think up hard words to stump me, like naphtha and eucalyptus. When I got them right, he would tell me I was smart. That gave me confidence. Smart dad.

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  40. brian stouder said on February 4, 2016 at 11:50 am

    St B – my mom always said that one! ‘Course, she seemed to know everything; she rattled off answers while watching Jeopardy (think Art Flemming, and then Alex).

    A saying of hers that I heard quite often was “What do they teach you in school, anyway?”

    Of course, she was always, always reading – newspapers, periodicals, novels (usually trashy!) – and so on

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  41. Dave said on February 4, 2016 at 12:01 pm

    I’ve been to numerous Trader Joe’s and never had any experiences like those depicted. They range from the Chicago suburbs to the Northern Virginia DC suburbs, Columbus, Knoxville, Nashville, and two here in Tampa Bay. Never have we encountered such behavior and I may be pilloried for this but I see that the writer’s home store is in Brooklyn. Geesh, I don’t want anyone to mistake me for Ted Cruz, please.

    I never had much trouble with spelling. I never won one of the spelling bees that they would have in elementary school but I was always one of the last two or three standing. None of that ability did anything for me with math, though, a burden throughout all my public school days.

    Knoxville, where our daughter now resides, is roughly the same size as Fort Wayne and has a Trader Joe’s. The fact that the University of Tennessee is there has everything to do with why they have a far more cosmopolitan atmosphere than Fort Wayne ever will. Oh, their daily paper is the News Sentinel, no hyphen.

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  42. Jolene said on February 4, 2016 at 12:12 pm

    Definitely, spelling is hard-wired. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have these examples of effortlessness, on the one hand, and highly literate people with glitchy spelling on the other. No reason that I know of not to think of it like any other talent: Some people are gifted, some people have trouble, and most succeed at a reasonably functional level with some education and effort.

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  43. jcburns said on February 4, 2016 at 12:23 pm

    There’s really nothing “natty” about Cincinnati. That’s how I remember.

    I read the labored takedown of the Trader Joe’s in Brooklyn and came away with: writer with grudge against a particular store.

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  44. Jolene said on February 4, 2016 at 12:43 pm

    For shopping, I’ve become a fan of Instacart and Peapod. I’m not fond of grocery shopping and hate schlepping things from the garage in my apartment complex to my apartment. So, more and more, I have things delivered.

    In my neighborhood, Instacart offers a choice of five stores, and depending on traffic and time of day, delivery can be as fast as an hour or two. For $150/year, you can order as often as you want, as long as each order is more than $35.

    Peapod is affiliated only with Giant and requires a longer lead time, but the service is excellent. They also occasionally offer free delivery and discounts for direct withdrawal from your bank account and for selecting less popular or longer delivery windows.

    I agree, jc, that the TJ takedown was labored. Too much complaining about too small an issue.

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  45. beb said on February 4, 2016 at 12:47 pm

    A while back I read an article about how 3×5 was not the sane as 5+5+5. The correct answer was supposed to be 3+3+3+3+3. Seems they were teaching some kind of numbers theory — arrays, it had to do with arrays such that three rows of five things was not the same as five rows of three things. Whatever the case, it struck me that teaching grade schools about number theory and the non-intuitive properties of arrays as wrong. They’re still trying to learn their numbers tables and you’re trying to confuse them by saying that 3 x 5 is not the same as 5 x 3.

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  46. alex said on February 4, 2016 at 12:54 pm

    I’ve been sitting out this pissing, er, spelling contest long enough. I’m the queen of spelling. Only one to ever ace the proofreading test at one of my former places of employment, and they barely refrained from accusing me of having cheated somehow. After I was hired in they knew I was the real deal and the old boss was sorry to lose me when it was my time to move on.

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  47. Bitter Scribe said on February 4, 2016 at 1:14 pm

    Nancy @#27: Now that you mention it, I remember a memoir written by an NHL player who spent some time in a coma after getting creamed by a puck or a stick or something. (This was back in the days when helmet-wearers were considered sissies.) It was called “My First Last Rites.”

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  48. Deborah said on February 4, 2016 at 1:15 pm

    I am not a great speller, just average. I rely on spellcheck and autocorrect more and more though and I think I’m losing some of my natural spelling ability, what little I had anyway. I do think spelling ability is somewhat genetic, in that Little Bird, her father and her grandfather all made the same general spelling mistakes. That is they put double consonants in words that don’t have them, and single consonants in words that should have doubles. Not every time but often enough that it was/is a recognizable pattern.

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  49. 4dbirds said on February 4, 2016 at 1:17 pm

    My TJs is always busy but never rude. I used to love their frozen “Meat and Potatoes”. Can’t get it anymore.

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  50. Bitter Scribe said on February 4, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    Jolene and Julie: One of the very few things I remember from Greek Orthodox Sunday school is that the question of unbaptized infants was “left up to the wisdom of God.” Either a brilliant bit of theology or a cop-out.

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  51. Jolene said on February 4, 2016 at 1:21 pm

    If we ever manage a large-scale get-together, we’ll have to have a spelling bee! Would be interesting to see how the expression of all this orthographic talent is affected by beer.

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  52. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on February 4, 2016 at 1:22 pm

    Huzzah for Sister Bremner. A couple of weeks ago, a neighbor ended her life. She and her family are all very Catholic; there was some concern over how her services would be handled, and a fellow neighbor asked me to come to the funeral home (which I intended to do anyhow) in case there was no one to handle the prayers at the end of calling hours, which would be followed by a private family committal the next morning.

    In fact, the former priest of our local parish, who had moved from here to the cathedral years ago and was now retired, came, and did the most wonderful funeral home memorial service for the family, which was plenty Catholic even if not at the church building (and he in his clericals), closing with everyone — well, almost everyone — saying a “Hail Mary” in unison. I roughly know the words, but could never match the rhythm the way the other fifty or so in the room did: moving and beautiful.

    As we were leaving, I went up and gave the priest a hug, and told him that I hoped I wouldn’t have to, but that some of what he said I would be re-using if I found myself speaking to the same situation someday (I have before, but have never felt like I handled it as well as I could have). And I thanked him for being there.

    He leaned in, and with indeed a twinkle in his eyes, he said “Jeff, you know the wonderful thing about being retired? You no longer have to worry about boilers, or bishops.”

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  53. Scout said on February 4, 2016 at 1:29 pm

    Spelling is easy for me too, and I always thought it was because I read so much. I may have a crap memory for many things, but I see a word in print and remember it.

    We have quite a few TJ stores in our area, so none of them are ever that busy, although the one closest to me is busier than the others. My parents just moved to Phoenix last year from central PA, where there were none, and absolutely love TJ. My Mom loves the cooking demo and often buys the ingredients being sampled to make for us.

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  54. nancy said on February 4, 2016 at 1:41 pm

    A few years ago, a copy editor from the alma mater nearly threw an ol’-timey spelling bee at a summer festival into chaos, after pointing out that the judge had crowned the wrong winner. There were maybe four people left, and the word was “diphtheria.” The procedure was to write the word in chalk on a slate and hold it up. One person got it right, three got it wrong, and the judge told the correct speller to leave the stage. The editor pushed his way to the judge’s table and raised a protest. The judge stood by his call. It was quite a to-do, especially when the woman who should have won realized what was going on. Can’t remember how it shook out, but I thought it was hilarious.

    Oh, and if you’re wondering: Grabill. Of course.

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  55. Suzanne said on February 4, 2016 at 1:45 pm

    Back when I was a little kid in parochial school (1960s), we were told that an unbaptized baby pretty much sat on the edge of a chute that went straight to hell. If the parents had been regular church goers, then the baby probably heard the Gospel in vitro, so could maybe believe and not be doomed. I am pretty sure they no longer teach this. Because, really? Talk about nightmare scenarios! What if the family is driving to church for the baptism and gets broadsided by a truck? What if the house burns down on the first day home from the hospital before they could plan the baptism? That’s where my mind would go so I’m surprised I wasn’t scarred for life.

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  56. Mark P said on February 4, 2016 at 2:04 pm

    Be My Little General. Brigadier, Major, Lieutenant and General. Even though I worked for an Army contractor I could never remember the ranks of generals until a vet told me that one.

    Memory is funny. In a previous life when I was a newspaper reporter, I always took extensive notes. Then when I got back to the office I almost never had to look at my notes to write the story. But it also seemed like the story flowed out of my brain, down my arms to my fingers and then to the keyboard. And then the story seems to disappear from my brain. I’m not sure I could have written the same story again if the computer had somehow lost it. I kept the note-taking skill to graduate school, where it was very useful. Sometimes other students would ask to use my notes since they were so much more detailed than theirs. Fortunately, the contents of my memory didn’t always disappear after I wrote them on exams.

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  57. Sherri said on February 4, 2016 at 2:06 pm

    I’ve always been a good speller, and thought it was because I was a voracious reader, but my daughter is a voracious reader and isn’t that good a speller. What I am also very good at is remembering things; memorizing things was always a piece of cake for me with or without mnemonics, so maybe that’s related to my spelling.

    Speaking of learning alphabets, my daughter studies Japanese, which has three alphabets, and I don’t think you ever finish learning one of them (kanji).

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  58. Minnie said on February 4, 2016 at 2:19 pm

    My husband lays his eccentric spelling on creativity. How uninspired to spell a word the same way every time.

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  59. Sherri said on February 4, 2016 at 2:30 pm

    You say you want a revolution, well you know…you’d better start at the states, before the 2020 census, so that Republican legislatures can’t gerrymander you into oblivion for another 10 years.

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  60. Kirk said on February 4, 2016 at 3:09 pm

    I’ve always been a kick-ass speller.

    Julie@33: I occasionally used to edit music reviews by a guy who always wanted to add an “n” to the end of rhythm. Maybe he thought the term was “rhythmn blues.”

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  61. basset said on February 4, 2016 at 3:59 pm

    Was he a former ath-a-lete?

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  62. Peter said on February 4, 2016 at 4:00 pm

    I thought I was a decent speller until I had to work on a hospital project. I still have problems with ophthalmology and I couldn’t spell that correctly if a gun was put to my head.

    The only problems I’ve had with Trader Joe’s is finding parking – It doesn’t seem like there are that many people in the store, and I never have a problem checking out, but I swear there’s twice as many cars in the lot than there are people in the store.

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  63. Kirk said on February 4, 2016 at 4:14 pm

    Basset@61: Good guess, but no. Talented guy; just couldn’t deal with that word.

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  64. jcburns said on February 4, 2016 at 4:17 pm

    Sammy and I have been to Trader Joe’s locations in a dozen states and we’re convinced part of their algorithm is: pick a shopping center equipped with slightly inconvenient parking. Maybe the rent’s better that way…but it sure seems to be the case at every TJs, including the one about a mile from here.

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  65. Sue said on February 4, 2016 at 4:23 pm

    Suzanne, back when I was a little kid in parochial school (also 60s), Limbo was explained to us as kind of a giant nursery, where unbaptized babies went to stay after they died. It sounded cozy and protected. Must have had a few Sister Bremners in the convent that supplied our teachers.
    Oh, and spelling mistakes? Can happen to anyone:

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  66. Kirk said on February 4, 2016 at 4:37 pm

    If I’m going to give the country back, I sure as hell am not giving it back to a yahoo whose people can’t spell.

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  67. basset said on February 4, 2016 at 4:48 pm

    No wine at our TJ, or in Tennessee grocery stores at all till July, or till next July if they’re within 500 feet of a liquor store… which I’m pretty sure our one TJ is.

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  68. David C. said on February 4, 2016 at 5:09 pm

    St. Bitch, I have to use the knuckle trick to remember the number of days in the months.

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  69. Deborah said on February 4, 2016 at 5:16 pm

    To all the folks who beleive that zygotes are babies. What do they think happens to the souls of miscarriages? Do they go to hell because they didn’t get baptised? How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

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  70. Heather said on February 4, 2016 at 5:21 pm

    I’m a good speller and I try to be cool about mistakes in casual settings like Facebook etc., but I regularly see homonym errors like pique/peak/peek and reign/rein in major publications all the time. It drives me nuts.

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  71. Deborah said on February 4, 2016 at 5:32 pm

    Maybe it’s because I live part of the time in the Southwest but the one that drives me crazy is desert/dessert. I was always taught to remember the double s in dessert stood for strawberry shortcake.

    Also JC you are so right about bad parking at TJs. The one in Santa Fe has the worst lot, really skinny spaces and people backing up willy nilly. I never drive to the one I go to in Chicago, always walk to it but I suspect it’s a horrible situation too. The value you get for wine purchases probably is what makes everyone ok with it though.

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  72. alex said on February 4, 2016 at 5:53 pm

    And didn’t anyone teach the writers coming up these days the past tense of lead is led?

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  73. David C. said on February 4, 2016 at 6:11 pm

    I had an English professor in college who pronounced mnemonic as mem-nonic. I guess he needed a mnemonic for mnemonic.

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  74. Laurie said on February 4, 2016 at 6:42 pm

    If I go to TJ’s in suburban MD near DC, I go only in the ½ hour after it opens, or until 4 during the weekday if I’m off work. Otherwise, I encounter crowding as the Salon write describes, although not quite as much rudeness as is found elsewhere in our area. I can’t relate to “rushing the stage” as if I’m at a religious rally, or to the bizarre and inadequate parking lots. Produce is often lousy unless it is being featured as a new addition. Bouquets and plants can be good, and cheap. I’ve found very few meals I think are great, most seem average, although at least TJ’s seems to aim at minimizing unpronounceable ingredients. Staff’s casual attitudes can be hazardous–I fell in one of their stores because a repair to an appliance was needed and they hadn’t blocked it off. I see it now as an impulse-buy / junk-food / average supermarket dishes dressed up as “healthier” or with a unique twist / pretty-high-quality ingredients to bake or cook with / kind of place.

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  75. Sandy said on February 4, 2016 at 6:59 pm

    Peter @23: We still teach trigonometry as part of the geometry course. The Soh Cah Toa mnemonic is so much easier than the one I learned: Oscar Had a Heap of Apples. I can’t resist showing my students the trig tables we used back in the day.

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  76. LAMary said on February 4, 2016 at 7:27 pm

    If the TJs I go to were anything like that description I wouldn’t go to TJs. Other than having notoriously stupid parking lots the TJs around here are pretty wonderful. Probably because there are a lot of them. They’re also not new and no big deal so people tend to be pretty laid back about the whole TJ experience. I have four within a five mile radius of my house. Maybe five. I’m not sure about the one on Lake Avenue in Pasadena. Wait, six. I forgot about the one on Arroyo which has the worst TJ parking lot of all.

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  77. Sherri said on February 4, 2016 at 7:35 pm

    On the self-driving car front, Google is now testing their self-driving car in a third city – Kirkland, WA, where it rains a little more often than in Mountain View or Austin, TX :

    Of course, while we get rain often here, we seldom get heavy rain, so this is just dipping a toe in, so to speak. Kirkland is hillier than Mountain View or Austin, too.

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  78. susan said on February 4, 2016 at 7:39 pm

    Remind me why the world needs self-driving cars? They won’t reduce the number of cars. What is the purpose of them?

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  79. Deborah said on February 4, 2016 at 8:11 pm

    Don’t get me started on self driving cars. I don’t get it. It seems to me to be absolutely the opposite of what our world needs now. Seriously, it is the wrong answer to the world’s problems.

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  80. Charlotte said on February 4, 2016 at 8:24 pm

    Sister Bremner (of the Bremner Biscuit fortune) was a gem among gems. She’s much beloved among alumni of the Woodlands Academy of the Sacred Heart in Lake Forest.

    And Deborah — the self-driving cars seem to be part of the “Singularity” movement being pushed by Google — that our personalities and selves will merge with the Cloud and we’ll achieve immortality by uploading ourselves into the internet (?). So you’ll be able to summon your car by thinking and then go to wherever you want without having to bother with driving. The exhaltation of the Self in a way that I find deeply alienating — but I’m a Catholic/Buddhist who hopes that whatever “heaven” is, we all get so slough off our rattle-bag personalities there and merge into some sort of light/glory/energy.

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  81. Jolene said on February 4, 2016 at 8:25 pm

    Here’s Google ‘s FAQ on self-driving cars. They say they want to make getting around easier, safer, and more enjoyable. Most auto accidents are a result of some kind of human error. The idea is to reduce or eliminate accidents that occur as a result of various kinds of unsafe driving. We find it hard to imagine that it could be safe to drive if no one is paying attention, but, in fact, failure to pay attention occurs all the time and leads to many accidents.

    I don’t know enough about how these cars are expected to work to have an opinion about them, but I’m fascinated by the idea. Especially in cities, one could imagine reducing traffic by optimizing travel patterns in various ways. Fuel economy, too, could be improved with more consistent driving patterns, and that would be good for the environment.

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  82. Sherri said on February 4, 2016 at 8:27 pm

    What do you want to bet that a kid at Redmond High saw the story about Juanita High and decided to copycat it?

    But what are you going to do? Do you risk the lives of over 3000 kids by not closing the schools?

    (I live within sight of Redmond High School. Could a Columbine happen here? Of course it could. Is it likely? No, but it’s never likely.)

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  83. Sue said on February 4, 2016 at 8:38 pm

    Basset, what’s the wine in July thing?

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  84. St Bitch said on February 5, 2016 at 12:10 am

    What’s the knuckle trick, David C @68?

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  85. basset said on February 5, 2016 at 12:27 am

    Sue, the law on wine in stores has changed here but the new one hasn’t taken effect yet.

    Sandy@75, what in the hell are you talking about? Managed to stay clear of trig and barely passed geometry, math is mainly about humiliation and failure for me so give me the dummy-level explanation.

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  86. Sandy said on February 5, 2016 at 5:00 am

    Basset, trig is used to find unknown sides and/or angles of right triangles. Difficult to teach with text without drawing you a picture. The sine of an angle is the ratio of the opposite side to the hypotenuse, hence the mnemonic Soh. And similarly with the cosine and tangent ratios. Math is my “thing” but don’t ask me to write a paper, please!

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  87. David C. said on February 5, 2016 at 6:09 am

    St. Bitch @ 84. You make a fist and start counting off the months. January is the first knuckle, February is the indentation, March is the next knuckle, etc. You get July on the last knuckle and start again with the first knuckle at August, etc. The knuckles are months with 31 days, the indentations are months with 30, or 28, or 29. Works well unless you’re a 6 fingered Amish person.

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  88. basset said on February 5, 2016 at 6:20 am

    Something else I’ll never understand, but thanks… just can’t get my mind around it.

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  89. basset said on February 5, 2016 at 6:22 am

    the sine, angle, ratio, all that, I mean. Might as well be in ancient Chinese.

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  90. Carolyn said on February 8, 2016 at 1:20 pm

    Scratch a journalist. Find a teacher.

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