VanHaren: What’s so fascinating about cards?

I have five different solitaire games on my phone, and I play each of them at least once every day. My favorite game is one called “Spider,” but I also play “Crown,” “Tri-peak,” “Pyramid” and “Classic Solitaire.” The hardest to win is Classic; the others are all about equally hard.

The only other card games I play are cribbage, bridge and “Hand, Foot and Toe,” which I’m told is sort of like Canasta. It’s interesting to me that in some games, like bridge, the suits are important, but that’s not true in some other games.

So I got to thinking about the suits; why are there four suits? And why are they called spades, hearts, diamonds and clubs? The next logical step: Do some research. “OK, Google, why are there four suits and how did they originate?” (You talk to your smart phone, too, don’t you?)


VanHaren: Seven-buckle galoshes were an essential winter accessory

Dear readers: Another busy week of appointments and health issues, so I’m offering another “oldie” from March 2008.

Do you remember galoshes?

Isn’t that a great old word? I don’t think I’d heard anyone use it for a long time. Then one day a week or so ago, I saw a reference to a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta I wasn’t familiar with (“Thespis” — anyone know it?), so I looked it up on the net. And there in a stage direction, I found this statement: “ [During chorus, enter Diana, an elderly goddess. She is carefully wrapped up in cloaks, shawls, etc. A hood is over her head, a respirator in her mouth, and galoshes on her feet. During the chorus, she takes these things off and discovers herself dressed in the usual costume of the Lunar Diana, the goddess of the moon.]”


VanHaren: 'Uncle' was card player while 'aunt' took cookie recipe to grave

We called them “Uncle Albert” and “Aunt Annie,” even though they were not directly related to us. Albert and Anne Konitzer lived across the road from us on Konitzer Road south of Oconto Falls. We were surrounded by Konitzers in those days, but only one of the families (our Uncle George, Aunt Irene and their 15 kids) were directly related to us. Aunt Irene was our dad’s younger sister.

But to my sister Joyce and me, Uncle Albert and Aunt Annie were “special” relatives. They were also Joyce’s godparents. They were a generation older than our “regular” aunts and uncles, contemporaries of our Grandpa VanHaren, who lived with us on the home farm.

Uncle Albert and Aunt Annie’s son, Greg (the best man at our parents’ wedding), took over the family farm about the same time our parents took over the VanHaren homestead. They remodeled the family home, and Uncle Albert and Aunt Annie lived in an upstairs apartment in the house until they passed away in the mid-’60s.


Roger VanHaren: Snow and cold snap remind us of other bad winters

“The weather outside is frightful …”

As I’m writing this, the outside temperature is minus-27, and the wind chill factor is making it feel like -50. Frightful! I’m thankful that I don’t have to be out in the cold for any amount of time, but I did go out to fill my bird feeders because the frenzy of activity out there has been nearly triple what it has been leading up to this cold snap. Perhaps some of our neighbors have not braved the elements to fill their feeders, so all the birds are making their way to our yard.

I was outside for less than than 10 minutes in the knee-deep snow. Mother Nature dropped a foot of the gorgeous white stuff, and the wind has piled it up drifts in the back yard. It’s well above the tops of my boots. I was wearing cotton-lined leather work gloves, and by the time I’d finished filling the feeders, my fingers were so numb that I was having trouble holding on to the scoop.


VanHaren: Another foray into the world of words

Fair warning: If you aren’t a “wordie,” and you don’t want to waste 10 minutes reading about words, it’s time to pull out now, because we’re about to wander into some new territory.

Last week, I wrote about ablaut reduplication, an unwritten linguistic rule that almost everyone follows without even thinking about it, and I raised the possibility that I might want to tell you about some other kinds of reduplication. Well, here we go.

Remember I explained what reduplication was? Well, you’ve probably forgotten by now (because I said there’d be no quiz). So here’s a definition: In linguistics, reduplication is the expressive repetition of a single word, or the pairing of a word with another of similar sound or spelling. So we looked at word pairs like ding-dong, ping-pong, etc. Remember?

So, okay. Here are some different kinds of reduplication:


VanHaren: Pish posh! Why did I not know this?

When this column hits the paper, it will be one day before my 80th birthday. My mom used to say I started talking when I was nine months old, and I have not shut up since. So for over 79 years I’ve been using the English language, and I taught English for 37 years. And yet, before a few days ago, when my friend David texted me a clipping from a BBC magazine (Where did he find it, and why? He was a math teacher!), I had never heard of ablaut reduplication.

Have you ever wondered why we say tick-tock, not tock-tick, or ding-dong, not dong-ding; King Kong, not Kong King? Tock-tick and dong-ding just don’t sound right, do they? I could give you lots of other examples, too. How about dally-dilly, shally-shilly, top tip, hop hip, flop-flip, song-sing, chat-chit, pong ping. They just sound wrong, don’t they?


Mom's remark flushed out old memories

Dear readers: I’ve had a week full of appointments, so I’m resurrecting a column from 2006. Forgive me.

About a year ago, while my mom was in the hospital after suffering from two heart attacks, an incident occurred that I was delighted to hear about. My mom, God rest her soul, was 90 at the time, and even though she was greatly distressed by the heart attacks, she was able to retain her sense of humor. Because she was so weak, Mom asked my dad, also 90, to help her into the bathroom and to stay with her while she did her duty. So Dad took a chair into the bathroom and sat next to her.

Mom said it reminded her of the old days of the “two-holer” out behind the old log house.

When my sister told me this story, I was transported back into the “golden-olden” days of my kidhood. Boy, how that place stands out in my memory!


Oh, to be a Packers quarterback!

I have been a Packers fan since I was a little kid, and believe me, I was a little kid for a long time! I go back to the days of Packers blue and gold. I idolized the Packers that I read about in the Press-Gazette and listened to on the radio.

I played a lot of imaginary football games, too. I was Tobin Rote at quarterback, and I’d throw the ball as high as I could and run under it; Tony Canadeo or Billy Grimes, very sure-handed, would grab the pass and zig-zag across the yard for a record-setting season for the Pack.

I was Jug Girard, the punter, and my object was to punt it over the house. I was Ted Fritsch, the place kicker, kicking field goals over the clothesline poles. Straight-on toe kicker, no soccer style for me. (What did I know about soccer?)


VanHaren column: Are you a soap-saver like me?

Note: Because of the busy-ness of the season, I’m taking a break and re-running a column from May of 2004. Happy New Year to all my readers.

What happens at your house when the soap in the shower shrinks down to a paper-thin sliver? You know, that little wafer of Dove or Dial left after the rest of the bar has been rubbed away. At our house, the Super-Senior Soap-Sliver Saver (that’s me!) springs into action.

Never one to waste things, I take it upon myself to carefully meld that slippery little sliver to a new bar. I hate to throw it in the trash; it’s just as soapy as a regular bar. I can’t stand to see the once-proud sudsmaker, now a pinched, tenuous, slightly twisted form, relegated to sharing its temporary home with a new shiny bar, losing all attention and respect.


VanHaren: Christmas really does last 12 days

When this column hits print, it will be the “Second Day of Christmas,” the second of 12, right? We’re all familiar with the irritatingly repetitious song of that name, but what do we know about the 12 days of Christmas? I did a little research, just for the fun of it, so here are a few things for you to think about, and some reminders about the song.

Dec. 25 – the first day of Christmas, celebrating the birth of Christ. (A partridge in a pear tree.)

Dec. 26 – the second day, also sometimes called Boxing Day (Two turtle doves). It’s celebrated in only a few countries, mainly ones historically connected to the U.K. (such as Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand). During the Middle Ages, it was the day when the alms box, collection boxes for the poor often kept in churches, were traditionally opened so that the contents could be distributed to poor people. Also, the Feast of St. Stephen, a martyr. “Good King Wencelaus went out on the Feast of Stephen.”


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