Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Book Review: Sunday, December 29, 2013: Learned Optimism

As Madame L mentioned when writing about the weird word "rumination," she has been reading "Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life," by Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D.

BTW, Madame L is not as impressed with Dr. Seligman's doctorate as he apparently is. Madame L places exactly as much value on a book written by someone without the advanced degree as on one written by a doctor of philosophy. In fact, Madame L notes here that Dr. Seligman's Ph.D. seems to have made him think he has to write more and more words, include more and more details, fill up the pages with statistics and study results...

...when all he had to do was write, "Yes, it's true, optimistic people are happier and more successful in business, friendships, and life in general; and you, too, even if you've learned some pessimistic habits, can learn to be optimistic, happier, and more successful."

Madame L is really glad she didn't pay much for this book because that's really all there is to it. She got it used at a garage sale or thrift shop or some such place, and skimmed through it lickety-split.

And, because she thinks exactly that highly of the book, she hereby offers to give (not loan, but GIVE!) her copy of the book to any of her Dear Readers who would like to skim through it, too. Just write a comment below or send Madame L an email if you're interested.

In addition, Madame L would love to hear what any of her Dear Readers, or their dogs, cats, and/or parrots have to say about taking a happier and more optimistic approach to life. (Or their fish, if they have fish, and if said fish have learned the secret to fish happiness and have shared it with them.)

Here's Mada's three-step approach to a happy and successful life:

Mada could have a Ph.D. in happiness and human relations if he really wanted one.
1. Squawk every morning as soon as you wake up, and frequently throughout the day, so your humans will know you're there. (They need to know you're there so they'll feed you and give you clean water. And they'll forget about you unless you squawk.)

2. Make cute little clicking noises and let your humans scratch your head a couple of times each day, so they'll keep loving you, so they'll come and feed you when you squawk, instead of yelling back at you. (They need to be reminded constantly of how cute and cuddly you are because they're frankly not all that bright.)

3. When your humans offer you food that you don't particularly like, accept it graciously in your beak before dropping it on the floor. That way they'll think you're polite as well as cute. (They need to realize you're smart, too, but you don't need to let them know you're way smarter than they are.)

Friday, December 27, 2013

Weird Word of the Week: Rumination

Madame L loves this word for its vivid cow imagery. Mostly the word is used nowadays as in this Wikipedia definition: 

"Rumination is defined as the compulsively focused attention on the symptoms of one's distress, and on its possible causes and consequences, as opposed to its solutions. Rumination is similar to worry except rumination focuses on bad feelings and experiences from the past, whereas worry is concerned with potential bad events in the future. Both rumination and worry are associated with anxiety and other negative emotional states."

But, as Madame L mentioned, the word in the past was used to refer to the digestive process of cows and other ruminants, as in this Wikipedia definition: 

"The word 'ruminant' comes from the Latin ruminare, which means 'to chew over again'. Ruminants are mammals that are able to acquire nutrients from plant-based food by fermenting it in a specialized stomach prior to digestion, principally through bacterial actions. The process typically requires regurgitation of fermented ingesta (known as cud), and chewing it again..."   The diagram on the left gives a rough idea of how the ruminant's stomach is organized.

Madame L most recently read this word "rumination" in a book called "Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life," which she will review soon. Reading this book, Madame L realized why the word "rumination" is used in psychology to refer to this process of focusing compulsively on problems and bad experiences without working through to helpful solutions. 

On the other hand, the cow does eventually finish with its cud and swallow it. Maybe human ruminants do, too. 

But who cares? The point of this book is how to learn to be optimistic, not to ruminate over what happens to people who can't even summon the courage to do more than ruminate. More, later.

Thursday, December 26, 2013


Dear Madame L,

Have you ever heard of Rather than my trying to explain it, I invite you to check it out, and if you like what you see, tell your readers about it.

Here's a link to get you started:

Your sister in creativity,
Dear Ellen,
Thanks for the question! Madame L had heard of Kickstarter but had never thought she would have any interest in it, until she followed your link and found a local project she wanted to support.
Madame L pledged her five dollars to the project and was pleased to see that many other people did the same, so the goal was met and project was funded.

Thanks again, Ellen, and Madame L hopes her other readers will contribute further suggestions for Madame L to check out, and, if they've had any experience with, to please share those experiences with all of us.


Madame L

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas! --- What Shall We Give?

Madame L hopes all her Dear Readers are having or have had a very Merry Christmas!

Madame L hopes none of her Dear Readers care about the recent "discussions" (polemical rages) on conservative TV and radio talk shows about the color of Santa's skin, whether Jesus Christ was white or a man "of color," and whether Christmas is being ruined by godless liberals.

Madame L hopes all of her Dear Readers will feel the sweet spirit of Christmas today, this week, and throughout the coming year.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Weird Words of the Week: Mutt and Jeff

Madame L was thinking of this expression recently because it's one her dad used to say. Mutt and Jeff were comic strip characters created by cartoonist Harry "Bud" Fisher, according to the A.Word.A.Day website.

Mutt is tall and Jeff is short, and they're both "lovable losers." Nowadays when we use the term "Mutt and Jeff," we can be talking about any pair of comically mismatched characters. One could be tall and the other short, or one could be like Jack Spratt and the other like his wife, or one could be a chihuahua and the other a Saint Bernard.

The Word a Day website also notes that the expression, pronounced "mut uhn jef," is the word for "deaf" in Cockney rhyming slang. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Book Review: December 8, 2013: I Could Chew on This...

...And Other Poems By Dogs, by Francesco Marciuliano: This is one of the funniest books Madame L has read in a long time. It's almost as funny as Dave Barry's columns.

If you've ever wondered, as the back cover says, "what your dog is really thinking when he mistakes your couch for a chew toy," here's where you'll find out. At least you'll find out what Mr. Marciuliano thinks your dog is thinking. And he's probably right.

Sample poem: "Lapdog":

A lapdog
Is any dog
Who wants to be really close
So stop your muffled screams
And your cracking pelvis
And just celebrate the fact
That this mastiff loves you so

Here's another one which reminds me of a certain Boston terrier I love: "I Dropped a Ball":

I dropped a ball in your lap
It's time to play
I just put a ball in your lap
So it's time to play
See that ball I placed in your lap?
That means it's time to play
You can have your emergency appendectomy
Any other day
But I dropped a ball in your lap
And now it's time to play

This author also wrote "I Could Pee on This...And Other Poems by Cats," which Madame L also recommends highly. You don't have to have a cat in your home to get it. You only have to have known one cat in your whole life.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Weird Words of the Day: Fossicking and Gleaning

To fossick is to rummage or to search, specifically to search for diamonds, other gems, gold, or fossils. This word is apparently unique to Cornwall, Australia and New Zealand. It includes the concept of searching in areas that have already been mined, looking for items that have been left behind.

In this sense, it is similar to the idea of gleaning, which is collecting crops from fields after they have been harvested commercially, picking up the remains that are "not economically profitable to harvest," as Wikipedia puts it. Wikipedia also notes, "Some ancient cultures promoted gleaning as an early form of a welfare system, but in reality, it was more of both a community and work-centered - a social safety net for the less-fortunate."

This of course reminds Madame L of the story of Ruth, in the First Testament, where, as another blogger put it, "Ruth’s gleaning [landed] her a lot more than some produce from a field, I can promise you that." And, as we all know, it landed the whole people of Israel the ancestry of their greatest king, David, and of Jesus Christ himself.

Back to fossicking: According to Wikipedia, fossicking in Australia is protected by laws and in some Australian states a license is not required. In some, such as Queensland, a license is required. In other areas, parks and recreational areas have been set aside where anyone can come and fossick for free.

Madame L has done a lot of fossicking in her life, without even realizing it, and she plans to continue doing it whenever possible.

Just as importantly, Madame L is going to make a point of saying the word "fossick" or "fossicking" at least once a day for the rest of this year.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Book Review: December 1, 2013: This Is Improbable (And Dave Barry)

This is the funniest book Madame L has read in a long time (other than a collection of Dave Barry's columns, which Madame L recommends even more highly for pure laughs [see below]).

Madame L found this in Powell's at the Portland International Airport for less than five dollars, and it is well worth every penny. You can also get it at or ask Madame L to loan you her copy. Warning: She'll want it returned because there are so many stories in it about just so many incredible, crazy, and, yes, IMPROBABLE research projects.

There's the research on woodpeckers (how can they keep pecking and knocking on hard wood without damaging their brains?---and, no, it isn't because their brains aren't any good anyway); mites and other critters that are sharing your bed with you; the toothless rule of Louis XIV; dream telepathy (Oh! Oh! Madame L wants to be in that experiment! Please!); memory-enhancing strategies of waiters in Buenos Aires; "Do Dogs Do Calculus?"; hexameter verse recitation; a longitudinal self-study of fingernail growth; and, well, you get the picture.

People have been writing proposals for, receiving funding for, and then performing the most amazing research projects. And, to be selected for inclusion in this book, apparently your amazing research project also has to be of no apparent value, or at least not to approach the value you originally hoped to attach to it.

Back to Dave Barry: He is even funnier. Get this book --- or any book of Dave Barry's columns --- if you can. Madame L found her copy in a Goodwill store in Portland. She doesn't even see it listed on But that doesn't matter, because you can get ANY book of columns by Dave Barry, including on, and laugh your way through the gloomy and stress-filled days of December. You can also get some of Dave Barry's fiction on, and Madame L will be reviewing some of that soon. (Or asking some of her readers to review any or all of those books. Takers? Anyone?)