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Welcome to Mike Redmond's home on the Weird Wide Web!

Greetings, Earth People. I'm Mike Redmond. Not the baseball player. Instead of making you guess the rest, I'll just go ahead and tell you who I am and what I do.

  • I'm a newspaper columnist -- formerly the feature columnist for The Indianapolis Star (back when you could call it a newspaper). I bailed out of the place about two years after Gannett bought it, and I still count that as the best decision I ever made. My creditors don't always agree.
  • Now I write for papers around Central Indiana, a magazine or two, and this site. I'm also a public speaker, a teacher, an historical (as opposed to hysterical) interpreter, a farm tour guide, and occasionally, when I can be talked into it, an author. They're all my favorite jobs.
  • This is where you'll find my online column, posted every Wednesday, unless I get ambitious and post it Tuesday. But don't count on it.
  • This is also where to look for news about speaking engagements, new jobs, friends, and stuff that strikes me as interesting. I'll probably throw in a few recipes, too. I get wild like that sometimes.
  • Take a look around. Let's have some fun.

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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Think Of It As Texting, Only With Ink And Paper and Real Penmanship


By now we've all seen the report that says this year's incoming college freshmen are unfamiliar with cursive writing.

Yep. The handwriting is on the wall for handwriting. Cursive, foiled again.

I find people have one of two reactions to this piece of alleged news: "Oh, for crying out loud," or "So what?" Which reaction you get depends on the age of the reactor. Age 40 seems to be the median. Older than that, and they can't believe what the world is coming to. Younger, and they can't believe the old folks are getting their briefs in a bunch over something so inconsequential as handwriting.

As a card-carrying (AARP, library and pinochle) member of the oh-for-crying-out-loud set, I think I know why all of us grayhairs are reacting as we are: Resentment.

 Yes, resentment -- for all those hours in the classroom, making row upon row of loops on-lined paper with a Scripto cartridge pen that turned your fingertips a nice, necrotic blue; resentment for the cramp that would seize your hand somewhere between the 8000th and 9000th loop, wrenching bone and sinew into a useless, shriveled, blue-tipped claw; resentment for the fact that no matter how many loops you made or how many cramps you suffered, your handwriting was never good enough to satisfy your teacher, who insisted - despite all evidence to the contrary - that you, too, could form letters as perfect as the white ones printed on that green border above the blackboard.

Or maybe that was just me. All I know is I was awfully relieved when I learned to type.

It seemed to be different for girls. For example, my older sister Vicky has beautiful, flowing penmanship. For a guy like me, whose penmanship was so atrocious teachers felt compelled to mention it on report cards, it is miraculous. Except it isn't, because just about every woman that age I have ever met has exactly the same handwriting. Bunch of teachers' pets if you ask me.

For older members the pro-cursive crowd, the resentment runs even deeper, because they had to learn the Palmer method of handwriting, in which the writer actually uses his shoulder and upper arm to move the pen around the page. It makes for big, loopy handwriting that was all the rage until they discovered its dark secret. You know how great-grandma has gotten sort of lopsided as she has gotten older? That drooping right shoulder is worn out. It's the ticking time bomb of the Palmer method.

Kids, of course, don't understand what the fuss is about. It's handwriting, which they stopped using years ago. Pen and paper might as well be chisel and stone. They don't write. They text. The teachings of the Palmer method have been reduced to how fast one can type on a miniature keyboard using only the thumbs.

I text, too. But fossil that I am, I also carry a fountain pen. It forces me to slow down, to think about what I am saying, to form the words - and my thoughts - carefully.

Texting is just the opposite. Texting is blurting, usually expressed in some weirdly abbreviated mutation of English. Using cursive, with a real pen and real ink, is writing. Even with penmanship like mine, which caused more than one teacher to swear under her breath.

Why do you think they call it cursive?

Tue, August 31, 2010 | link 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I'm Here To Pump Me Up

No one is going to mistake me for Arnold Schwarzenegger. For one thing, I'm not fool enough to be governor of California, a state which has proven innumerable times to be ungovernable. Also, I am not exactly built like ol' Arnie, all bulging biceps and chiseled chest.

But I have dreams.

No, not about trying to herd cats, also known as working with a legislature. I mean about getting all muscled up, or at least as muscled up as one can get at my advanced years.

It is toward this end that I recently spent the better part of three days putting together a large, expensive and rather intimidating home gym in my garage.

Oh, I should probably mention that it was during the heat wave, when temperatures outside the garage were in the mid-90s. And no, the garage is not air conditioned.

Now, when I call this machine intimidating I am not exaggerating. It came in seven boxes, big ones. And heavy. Just moving them from the delivery truck to the garage added two inches to my upper arms.

Inside the boxes were confusing pieces of iron which, when assembled, would create one of the world's finest home gyms. However, they were accompanied by instructions that went beyond confusing to inscrutable. One look at them had me wondering why I didn't just get a Richard Simmons DVD instead.

When did it become too much work for people to write instructions? Who decided that instead of put-this-here, put-that-there, tighten-the-bolt-instructions, we could do just as well with exploded drawings of the object to be assembled, accompanied by a note that said - I am not kidding - to be sure to do things in the right order, or the pieces wouldn't fit properly?

Let's recap. In essence, I was being told to put things together in the right order, but that I would have to figure out for myself what the right order would be. Evidently, they're real jokesters at the home gym factory.

To make things even more entertaining, each box contained about 4,374 St. Anthony Pieces. That's the name I give for the little doohickeys that are guaranteed to jump out of your hand and roll under a workbench or down a drain. I call them St. Anthony Pieces because I always find myself reciting the prayer to St. Anthony of Padua: "St. Anthony, St. Anthony, please come down, something's lost and can't be found."

How many times did I recite the prayer? Let's just say that for a while I had St. Anthony on speed dial. And as far as I know, he's still out there looking for a couple of washers and a four-inch stove bolt.

What I'm trying to say is it wasn't easy. What with the heat, and the goofy directions, and occasional attacks of "Holy Moley, how am I going to pay for this thing?" it probably took me three times as long to build my gym as it would have taken a normal person. I think. If I ever meet a normal person I'll ask.

But nothing worth having comes easy, and I know my gym is worth having. I know I'll feel better and, I hope, look better because of it. If I ever start using the thing, that is. Right now I'm resting. Building a gym is quite a workout. Like governing California.

Tue, August 24, 2010 | link 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Break Some Eggs, Break Some Rules



Every so often I get this impulse to break the rules.

OK, so maybe it's not "every so often." Maybe it's just "often." What can I "say?" It's the way I'm "wired." I break "rules." Particularly, you can see, where "quotation marks" are concerned.

Anyway, the impulse du jour involved me running out to buy a pound of the best bacon I could find, frying a bunch of it in a cast iron skillet, and then frying two eggs in the remaining bacon grease for what is known in my family as a "Grandma egg."

This is in honor of my grandmother, Marion McKenzie, who to my knowledge never fixed a breakfast egg any other way. She would crack the eggs into at least an inch of bacon grease and spoon the hot fat over the top of the eggs to set them. And talk about breaking the rules, for egg cookery at least: She did it not on a low flame as the books recommend, but with the burner turned up beyond ‘high" to "smelting."

The result was a cardiologist's nightmare - an egg so delicious, glistening with a slight sheen of bacon grease, as to require a wanted poster at the heart clinic post office. It flies the face of all the rules of good eating, cardiologist-style.

Then again, most modern eating guides, cardiologist-style and civilian, ignore a simple, universal truth: Everything tastes better with bacon grease.

This principle is well-known to those of us who grew up in the era when moms and grandmothers kept a can of bacon grease on the back of the stove, and likely as not had some lard around the house as well. Oh, my. Don't get me started on lard. I have been known to wax rhapsodic about chicken fried in lard and pie crusts made with lard, which likely as not will segue into a concerto about potatoes fried in goose fat, and before you know it I'm sitting down at some restaurant ordering Wesson's First Symphony, the Deep Fried Everything.

So back to bacon grease. Its amazing powers of enhancement have few limits. Ice cream, I suppose (although there is bacon-flavored ice cream out there, so I am prepared to concede that one). I love biscuits baked with just a dab of bacon grease on their tops. Onions fried in it are heavenly. My mother used it with the aforementioned and much-beloved lard to fry chickens. What bliss.

A young friend recounts how she once baked a cake from a recipe that called for oil. Knowing no better, she used the oil her mother kept ... yes, in a can on the stove. It contained an amalgam of fats - olive, canola and other - and a generous amount of bacon fat.

"Best ... cake ... ever," she said in a near-swoon.

This is how I feel about Grandma eggs. I don't eat them but about twice a year, which may account for some of their attractiveness. And you can't discount the nostalgia factor, either. Close to forty years gone and I still think of my grandparents practically every day.

Which means that, despite what my cardiologist says, some things that are bad for the physical heart are good for the spiritual one. In moderation, of course. I mean, "moderation."

© 2010 Mike Redmond. All Rights Reserved.

Tue, August 17, 2010 | link 

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What's In A Name? Some Lux For Bentley, We Hope


I used to joke that if I had a son I would name him Edmond. Edmond Redmond. Much laughter would follow. OK, maybe a couple of nervous chuckles.

Anyway, I see now that my joke is small potatoes indeed compared to some of the Laff Riots people are hanging on their kids these days.

For example, according to (as they say on TV) our good friends at, one of the hotter new baby names for girls is Lux.

Yes, Lux. Like the unit of measurement for illumination. Or the Latin word for light. Or soap: "Hi, this is our daughter Lux, and over there is her brother Castile."

That's not as much of a joke as you might think. The number one trendy new boys' name is, in fact, Castile, like the soap, except it's being spelled Castiel.

But wait, as they say on TV. There's more!

Other entries in the Top Ten Fastest Rising Names Guaranteed To Get Your Son Massacred On The Playground are:

Bentley (a car), Easton (a sporting good company): Zion (a church), St. John  (also a church); Leland (my old junior high school in Bethesda, MD); Kaiden (one of the popular "-den" names along with Brayden, Jayden, and one you REALLY don't want to give a boy, Maiden); Lennon (a Beatle or, if you watch the Lawrence Welk reruns, a sister) and Eoin (a typing exercise).

OK, I was kidding about Eoin. It's not a typing exercise. It's an Irish name, meaning "assortment of vowels thrown together with a consonant on the end." And it's pronounced just as you would think: "Phil."

Now, girls, don't go getting all smug. In the trendy name ... um, trend, you have some lulus. And sad to say, Lulu isn't among them.

Tenley, however, leads the list. And what, you ask, is a Tenley? Supposedly it comes from Old English (also known as Olde Englishe) and means "Dennis' Field," as in "plante the barleye and oates in tenley," I guess. However, its popularity should not be attributed to a surge of interest in ancient agriculture, but to the fact that it was the name of someone on a so-called "reality" show, an increasingly popular entertainment thanks to the growing number of people who do not have what we used to call "lives."

Other entries include Sookie (once a popular name for workhorses, now a TV vampire), Ever (and its twin, After), Tinsley (isn't that a brand of tea?), Kinsley (of course), Everly (a brother), Briella (a small umbrella) and Navi.

Yes. Navi. People are naming their children after big, blue and - this is the important part - imaginary alien characters from an overblown movie. Viewed that way, it's really not that far removed from naming your kids Bugs and Daffy.

I suppose it could be worse. Oh, wait. It is. According to another list, names poised for popularity include Edgar and Julius. Compared to that, Bentley is practically sane.

Actually, I went to school briefly with a fellow named Bentley. He was a 23 year old high school sophomore with a jelly roll haircut and a stunning case of BO. The dude had an entire section of the lunchroom to himself, for the seven or eight weeks he attended school.

 Let's hope the new crop of little Bentleys don't follow his lead, in the academic or personal hygiene departments. Especially the latter. There may not be enough Castiels to set them right.  

© 2010 Mike Redmond. All Rights Reserved.

Tue, August 10, 2010 | link 

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

I Went To Kansas City; Kansas City There I Went


Kansas City, the city of fountains where everything is up to date and they got some crazy little women, beckons to the vacationer with its heady mix of cosmopolitan flair and Midwestern friendliness.

(Sounds like a travelogue, right? Savvy readers will recognize this as the old "Took a trip and is trying to wrangle up a tax write-off by pretending it was for business" ploy. Journalists, particularly columnists, have been trying to sneak this spitball past the Internal Revenue Service for decades, all on the authority of a story that someone, somewhere actually got away with it. Well, who am I to go against tradition?)

During a recent business trip ...


... the great city of the plains showed herself to be at once welcoming, fun and, in what can only be described as perfect for the American family, highly educational.

(The myth further states that the IRS LOVES educational.)

Sometimes known for blues, barbecue and a bawdy past ...

(This is where those "crazy little women" enter the picture -- you know, from the song: "I'm going to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come... they got some crazy little women there and I'm-a gonna get me one." And if you think I went to get me one, you are out of your mind. My mother warned me about women like that.)

Kansas City is now home to some of the finest museums to be found in any American city.

(That part is actually true.)

A personal favorite isn't in Kansas City proper, but in neighboring Independence, home of the Harry Truman Library and Museum, a highly accessible, thoroughly engaging look at the life and times of our 33rd president (although Truman counted himself as the 32nd president, saying there was no need to count Grover Cleveland twice, as is official practice.)

(I love the Truman museum and always make it a point to stop when I'm in the KC area. I'm geeky that way.)

Not to be missed at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and American Jazz Museum, sharing a building at the legendary intersection of 18th and Vine. Entertaining and educational, they showcase some of Kansas City's great contributions to American popular culture.

(OK, so I am totally gooberizing myself here. What can I say? I love baseball, I love jazz, and I love American history. It's like they made these museums just for me. And it's also like I tried to buy them, several pieces at a time, in their respective gift shops.)

If you find yourself with time on your hands and money in your pocket ...

(Unlike me.)

... Kansas City abounds with great shopping, dining and entertertainment as well, from upscale places in the suburbs to Crowne Center downtown  to charming neighborhood establishments, including what appears to be one barbecue joint per three city blocks.

For beauty, fun and selection, though, it's hard to beat the famous Country Club Plaza - high-end shopping in 1920s buildings modeled after the architecture of Seville, Spain.

(It was across the street from my hotel.)

Whether for business ...


... or pleasure, Kansas City is a delightful destination for the American traveler, easy to get to but difficult to leave.

(That's it. My look at Kansas City, or How I Spent My Summer Vacation. Think the IRS will go for it? Me neither.)

© 2010 Mike Redmond. All Rights Reserved.

Tue, August 3, 2010 | link 

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