Tag Archives: family


Cousin Cate arrived this morning in a whirl of clouds and wind. My family tends to arrive unannounced and always with gifts. Cate arrived with a basket of delicious cheeses and some fascinating creatures she found in the Netherlands. (Once they’ve been categorized and observed, they shall be viewable in the Vivarium.)

Silas put out a delicious spread, including the cheeses brought by Cate, and she regaled us with tales of her latest travels and why the citizens of The Hague not-so-subtly requested Cate to vacate their city. This brings us to today’s word.

Tyromancy (noun) is a form of divination based on the observation of cheeses, especially as it coagulates. It is derived from the Greek tūros for cheese and manteia for divination.

In the Middle Ages, the shape, number of holes, and patterns of mold were often used to foretell money, love, and death.

And, according to the website occultopedia.com, in some villages, young ladies would divine the names of their future husbands by writing the names of prospective suitors on pieces of cheese. The one whose piece of cheese grew mold first was deemed the true love match for the maiden.

Fool proof, right?

Cousin Cate has never hidden her divination talents, and it seems that many people in modern society find this upsetting. The Hague is not the first town she’s been run out of, and it won’t be the last.

And I don’t need a piece of cheese to know that.

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In the middle of a rousing pie tasting post Thanksgiving dinner, the boiler in the house decided to call it quits. It appears to have disintegrated instantaneously and is now a pile of rusty dust in the cellar. I have created a replacement boiler from leftover parts from the flying machine, but it will only hold for a few more weeks.

Thusly, the house has been rather chilly in the winter air. Yesterday’s “wintry mix”, which I believe is a modern meteorologist’s fancy term for “intermittent wet downfall”, exacerbated the bone-chill that has permeated the house. Hot mulled cider was had, and I once again appreciated my penchant for pogonotrophy.

Pogonotrophy is a noun which means, quite simply, the cultivation or growing of a beard.

The word hails from the Greek word pogon for beard  plus trophe  for nourishment, growth. Quite literally, pogonotrophy means beard feeding.

Incidentally, pogonology is the study of beards and pogonotomy is a delightfully fancy word for cutting a beard; shaving.

You’ll notice that many men in colder climes enjoy pogonotrophy, and I must say, my family is full of bearded men, and has been, from time immemorial. Some people consider a beard a sign of virility, and interestingly enough, most giants, gnomes, and satyrs are bearded.

Bubo’s favorite hunting tree has a poem carved in its trunk, and it seems an appropriate verse for today’s discussion:

The bearded man stands outside.

Why do you stand outside, bearded man?

Stay warm, m’dears. If you can, work on that pogonotrophy.

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Mordecai and I spent yesterday replacing some of the roof shingles above the Vivarium. We were so very lucky when it came to Superstorm Sandy – the house sustained very little damage and the grotto only collapsed a little bit. A number of shingles came disappeared in the storm, and I am relieved we repaired the roof before this new winter storm. Athena (a formidable winter storm name) has brought strong winds and snow to Brooklyn, and I am happy to be inside my dry house with a glass of port.

Mordecai whipped up a huge batch of his home-made super glue for the roof repairs. We can’t seem to find the nail guns, so we used our old hammers and hand-tooled nails from Silas’s stash. (Don’t ask why Silas has a stash of hand-tooled nails. It’s best you don’t know.) Mordecai’s glue contained, naturally, isinglass.

Isinglass (noun) is a transparent gelatin made from the bladder of certain fish (often sturgeon) and used to make glue or a clarifying agent. Isinglass can also refer to the thin, transparent sheets of mica used in wood- and coal-burning stove door windows.

Isinglass probably originates in the folk etymology. From the obsolete Dutch huizenblas, which is from the Middle Dutch huusblase, from huus for sturgeon plus blase for bladder.

The first known usage of the word was in 1535, and my family has been making Isinglass as far back as there are family journals. In fact, one of my great great great great grandfathers was named Isinglass. Rumor has it that he has a bit of a kleptomania problem, giving new meaning to the term “sticky fingers”.


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I woke this morning to a loud crunching in my bedroom. I opened first one eye and then the other, slowly and warily I must add, because in this house, you really never know what is behind a sound.

It was Bubo, naturally, snacking on a grasshopper. Where she got a grasshopper in Brooklyn I don’t know, but she was happily munching on the poor creature. To be honest, the sound made me hungry for extra crispy bacon, so Silas is cooking a large spread for the humans in the house.

Bubo’s morning snack brings me to today’s word.

A hopperdozer is a device for catching and destroying insects (specifically grasshoppers). It consists of a high-backed sheet of metal with an iron tray attached that is dragged (on sled runners or wheels) through grass and fields containing grasshoppers. The grasshoppers jump up and then hit the high back, then they fall into the tray which is filled with kerosene or a poison that kills them.

An agricultural term, hopperdozer most likely is derived from hopper for grasshopper and doze or dose for dosing the bugs with poison. This etymology is, of course, inexact. A largely obsolete tool, the hopperdozer no longer enjoys infamy in the fields.

It is incredibly fun to say, however. Unless you’re a grasshopper. Then it must be terrifying.

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