How Much Food is Wasted Each Year?

alex atkins bookshelf triviaAmerica is the land of plenty, particularly when it comes to food. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American household spends $7,023 per year on food. That can be broken down into groceries ($4,015) and dining out ($3,008). Now let’s do the math. Since there are about 125.82 million households in the U.S., the total amount that the Americans spend on food is a staggering $883.6 billion per year. That’s a lot of food. In fact, it is so much food that 40% of all food produced in the U.S. is not eaten. An average of $162 billion worth of food is wasted each year — that’s right: a billion with a “B.”

Food waste is a huge problem in America. Consider these sobering statistics presented by the American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI): broken down by household, the average American family throws out about 25% of the beverages and food that they buy each year. A family of four, for example, wastes about $1,350 to $2,275 worth of food each year — which means that all the labor, water, and fuel that went into growing and shipping that food is also wasted: a loss of over $162 billion per year. To combat food waste, the AFFI is encouraging consumers to buying frozen food and frozen prepared meals, as well as freezing leftovers, meals, and ingredients.

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Living Descendants of Famous Writers

alex atkins bookshelf triviaIt fascinating to think that there are living descendants of famous writers still living among us. Understandably, some live in obscurity to avoid the prying lens of the media, but some are quite proud of their lineage. Here are a few famous relatives of famous writers. Do you know of any more?

Louis Victoria Tolstoy (born 1974), who goes by the stage name Viktoria Tolstoy, is a popular Swedish jazz singer. She is the great-great-grandaughter of legendary Russian author Leo Tolstoy (1828 – 1910), best known for his lengthy novels War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877). The other great-great-grandaughter is Alexandra Tolstoy who is a socialite, providing fodder for the British tabloids. Tolstoy was married to Sophia (Sonya) Andreevna Behrs; together they had 13 children; however, only eight of them survived childhood.

Richard Melville Hall (born 1965), who goes by the stage name of Moby, is an American singer, songwriter, record producer, and DJ. He is best known for his electronica and house-music influenced work. In an interview, Moby stated that Herman Melville was his great-great-great-grand uncle. Herman Melville (1819-1891) magnum opus, Moby Dick, is considered one of the Great American Novels. Melville married Elizabeth Knapp Shaw and they had four children.

Mark Charles Dickens is the leading supporter of the Charles Dickens Museum in London. He is the great-great-grandson of Charles Dickens and is considered the head of the Dickens family of direct descendants. To date, there are more than 300 living descendants of Charles Dickens (1812-1870). In February 2014, 40 Dickens descendants gathered in Portsmouth, the city where Dickens was born, for the unveiling of a life-size bronze sculpture honoring his 202nd birthday. Several of his great great great grandchildren gathered around the bronze statue for the obligatory selfies, including Tom Dickens, Lydia Dickens, and Oliver Dickens. The youngest descendent to attend the event was Joe Robinson, who is the author’s great-great-great-great-grandson. There are several authors in the family: Monica Dickens (great-granddaughter) has writing more than 30 novels and Lucinda Dickens Hawksley (great great great granddaughter) has published several bestselling nonfiction works. Mark’s nephew, Harry Lloyd, is an actor and has appeared in Game of Thrones and Robin Hood. Charles Dickens was married to Catherine (Kate) Thomson Hogarth and had 10 children.

Michael Tolkien, a children’s book writer, is grandson of J.R.R. Tolkien(1892-1973), best known for the popular fantasy novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Mariel Hemingway is an actress and model; she is the granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), legendary author of The Old Man and the Sea and The Sun Also Rises.

Christopher Merlin Vyvyan Holland is a Oscar Wilde scholar and editor of The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde. He is the only grandson of Irish playwright and poet Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), best known for The Importance of Being Earnest and The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Anna Chancellor is an actress who plays Caroline Bingley in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. She is the high-times great niece of Jane Austen (1775-1817), author of the aforementioned adaptation, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, and Emma.

Benjamin Cheever and Susan Cheever are both successful writers. They are the children of American author John Cheever (1912-1982), best known for his short stories and the four novels that make up The Wapshot Chronicle.

Canadian Dacre Stoker, author of Dracula: The Undead, is the great-grand nephew of Irish author Bram Stoker (1847-1912 ) who wrote one of the most famous gothic novels, Dracula.

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The Written Word is the Work of Art Nearest to Life Itself

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsA written word is the choicest of relics. It is something at once more intimate with us and more universal than any other work of art. It is the work of art nearest to life itself. It may be translated into every language, and not only be read but actually breathed from all human lips; — not be represented on canvas or in marble only, but be carved out of the breath of life itself.

From Walden; or Life in the Woods (1854) by Henry David Thoreau, American poet, essayist, abolitionist, and transcendentalist. Thoreau explains his inspiration for living in a cabin he built near Walden Pond: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived… I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” Mohandas Gandhi considered Thoreau “one of the greatest and most moral men America has produced.” Legendary American poet Robert Frost added, “In one book… [Thoreau] surpasses everything we have had in America.”

Memoirs in Six Words

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsInspired by the urban legend that Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to write a story in only six words — to which he submitted: “For sale, baby shoes, never worn.” — SMITH magazine invited its readers, several years ago, to submit six-word memoirs. Here are some notable submissions by writers, famous or obscure:

I asked. They answered. I wrote. (Sebastian Junger)

Seventy years, few tears, hairy ears. (Bill Querengesser)

Watching quietly from every door frame. (Nicole Resseguie)

Forest peace, sharing vision, always optimistic. (Jane Goodall)

Catholic school backfired. Sin is in! (Nikki Beland)

The psychic said I would be richer. (Elizabeth Bernstein)

I still make coffee for two. (Zak Nelson)

Oldest of five. Four degress. Broke. (Kaitlin Walsh)

Followed white rabbit. Became black sheep. (Gabrielle Maconi)

Danced in Fields of Infinite Possibilities. (Deepak Chopra)

Mistakes were made, but smarter now. (Christine Triano)

Amazing grace: born naked, clothed others. (Mark Budman)

Followed rules, not dreams. Never again. (Margaret Hellerstein)

Struggled with how the mind works. (Steven Pinker)

I was born; some assembly required. (Eric Jordan)

I recognize red flags faster now. (Barbara Burri)

Afraid of becoming like my mother. (Jocelyn Pearce)

My life’s a bunch of almosts. (Shari Nonnin)

Couldn’t cope so I wrote songs. (Aimee Mann)

Thought I would have more impact. (Kevin Clark)

I lost god. I found myself. (Joe Kimmel)

Still lost on road less traveled. (Joe Quesada)

I couldn’t protect me from myself. (Patrick Eleey)

My life is a beautiful accident. (J. D. Tenuta)

Wandering imagination opens doors to paradise. (Rebecca Perlstein)

It was worth it, I think. (Annette Laitinen)

Came, saw, conquered, had second thoughts. (Harold Ramis)

Saw, interpreted, mourned, hoped, then preacher. (Douglas Rushkoff)

Born at 23, childhood doesn’t count. (Krissy Karol)

Perpetual work in progress, need editor. (Sherry Fuqua-Gilson

Age grows, I’ve finally accepted me. (Kate Mammolito)

Aging late bloomer, yearns for do-over. (Sydney Zvara)

Many hands have kept me afloat. (Nick Flynn)

Saw the world; now where’s home? (Hannah Silverstein)

Traversing Earth together, chasing elusive answers. (Paul Barber)

Always working on the next chaper. (Milan Pham)

Next time — better parents, better hair. (Ruth Romano)

Educated too much, lived too little. (Dan Vance)

Tried everything once, few things twice. (Ed Zevetski)

I’d rather be watching a movie. (Lawrence Levi)

I have done it all. (Aaron Knoll)

Woke up, fell down, exited sideways. (Jim Clupper)

Explained Hitler, Shakespeare. Couldn’t explain self. (Ron Rosenbaum)

It’s like forever, only much shorter. (Pete DeVito)

Still trying to impress my dad. (Shoshana Berger)

Nature, nurture, lost, found, lost, found? (Sarah Saffian)

You must be fifty to understand. (Henri Breitenkam)

Internal age does not match external age. (Carol Smith)

What is your six-word memoir?

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For further reading: Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs edited by SMITH Magazine

A Book of Boners Illustrated by Dr. Seuss

alex atkins bookshelf booksSay what? Dr. Seuss illustrated a book of boners? That’s right — Dr. Seuss, early in his career, illustrated a book of boners. (Hey — you have to break into the business somehow.) But wait — before your prurient mind races along too far down one path amidst muffled chuckles, let’s clarify what a boner is in the context of the mid 1900s. To a lexicographer, or an epeolatrist (a fancy word for word lover or word enthusiast), a boner is a stupid or silly mistake that is amusing (today, they are referred to as “bloopers” or simply “dumbass mistakes”). Secondarily, the definition is that other thing you first thought of. Insert blushing emoji here.

Returning to the first definition, boners especially when read out loud are as Southerners say “dang funny!” And that’s what prompted Alexander Abingdon in 1931 to publish a collection of funny boners in a little book, titled appropriately Boners, illustrated by Dr. Seuss for Viking Press. The subtitle of the book read: “Being a collection of schoolboy wisdom, or knowledge as it is sometimes written, compiled from classroom and examination papers.” Alrighty, then.

The book was an instant bestseller, rising quickly to the top of the publishing charts. Clearly, the public was eager for more boners. Abingdon was pumped — he didn’t have to work too long and hard to extend that first collection of boners. He simply went around a school, from teacher to teacher, asking: “If I show you mine, will you show me yours?” Accordingly, Viking Press obliged by disseminating several sequels: More Boners and Still More Boners were published in 1931; Prize Boners for 1932 was published in 1932; Bigger & Better Boners, illustrated by George Maas, was published in 1952. It if weren’t exhausting enough to read all those boner books back to back, Blue Ribbon Books of New York published The Omnibus Boners in 1931, 1940, and 1942. Basta with the boners!

But that wasn’t the end of boners. More than six decades later, Viking Press published a newly redesigned and retitled version of the original Boners. But this time, the editors had a bone to pick with the title. They sensed that the cultural shifts since the 1930 had ushered in more political-correct, priggish, and rigid sensibilities. Thus, the public would not stand for such a salacious title, especially one illustrated by Dr. Seuss that might confuse children and adolescents (“how is it possible that the pen that drew Cindy Lou Who, Horton, or the Cat in the Hat, also drew a boner?” Yikes!). Fortunately, the esteemed editors had the good sense to publish it with the following innocuous — and less ambiguous — title: Herrings Go About the Sea in Shawls. And to be crystal clear, they added the subtitle: “…and other classic howlers from classrooms and examination papers compiled by Alexander Abingdon.”

Here are some samplings from the original Boners. To borrow a phrase from Sean Spicer, former beleaguered White House press secretary, “You can’t make this shit up”:

Shakespeare wrote tragedies, comedies, and errors.

Epics describe the brave deeds of men called epicures.

Homer wrote the Oddity.

In conclusion we may say that Shylock was greedy, malicious, and indeed, entirely viscous.

Cassius was a vile selfish man who was always doing his best to make his own ends meet.

An epitaph is a short sarcastic poem.

In Christianity a man can only have one wife. This is called Monotony.

Solomon had 300 wives and 700 porcupines.

The inhabitants of Moscow are called Mosquitoes.

The chief occupation of the inhabitants of Perth is dying.

Water is composed of two gins. Oxygin and Hydrogin. Oxygin is pure gin, Hydrogin is gin and water.

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The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations

For further reading: Herrings Go About the Sea in Shawls by Alexander Abingdon
The Revenge of Anguished English: More Accidental Assaults Upon Our Language by Richard Lederer



Write Your Obituary And Live Your Life Inspired by It

alex atkins bookshelf educationIf you are fortunate, you will have at least one high school or college professor who contributed immeasurably to your life. I can recall one college professor, Fr. P., a brilliant, witty Jesuit who taught one of the most popular classes on campus: Moral Philosophy. In all my years in the academe, he was the only professor to receive warm applause on the first day of class and a heartfelt and resounding standing ovation at the end of the semester — bringing him and eventually us to tears.

Although he was advanced in his age, his gray hair notwithstanding, he was a youthful as any undergraduate student. He was lively, engaged, and walked with a bounce in his step; and he was always smiling. He began the course with a dramatic moment: he placed on oversized off-white safari hat with a leather band on his head. The sight of this diminutive priest with a large hat, making him appear like some humanoid lamp, elicited hearty chuckles from the students. Despite his comical appearance, Fr. P. addressed us in a serious tone: “For the rest of the semester I will be your guide through the vast jungle of life. Although I have traveled through it many times, there are still many parts that are unknown. The paths we will walk on are generally narrow ones, carved out by the footsteps of many students that have preceded you. Yet, there are many paths that have not been thoroughly explored; moreover, there are many paths awaiting to be made…” Fr. P. explained that his role as a guide was not to know the answer to every question we asked, but to lead us the foundational knowledge and values that would help us ask the right questions and learn where and how to seek the right answers. He took off his hat, and our fascinating journey of discovery began.

One day, after a engaging discussion on mortality, he turned to the class and captivated us with this lesson: “I want each of you to write your obituary — and live your life inspired by it; if you do this correctly, you will never get lost.” Unfortunately, back then we were sophomores, wise fools, and not having enough wisdom and life experience, we thought that this was a routine homework assignment to be completed in an hour, crossed it off the day’s to-do list, and then promptly forgotten. But the truth is, that homework assignment has pleasantly haunted me throughout my life because it underscores one of life’s great truisms: you are your choices. It is that obituary that I wrote as a young man that has remained mostly unchanged decades later. Like a reliable compass, it has guided my life, through calm and tempest-tossed seas, to bring me to the steady shores that I now walk on. Now with the wisdom of age, I can appreciate the tremendous gift that Fr. P. gave each of us. Perhaps, this was the source of his warm smile: I am giving you something so precious, but it will take you years to find out how important it is, as you discover yourself and the world around you.

I suppose if Fr. P. were still teaching now, given that education has been transformed by the digital revolution, he might approach this exercise a little differently. Perhaps, today, he would say, “Write your word cloud, and live your life inspired by it. ” But no matter how you write it, as obituary or word cloud, it will be your guide through the jungle. And as Fr. P. promised, you will never get lost.

Class dismissed.

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The Wisdom of Yoda
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There’s a Word for That: Qualtagh

atkins-bookshelf-wordsQualtagh (or Quaaltagh) comes from Manx (or Max Gaelic), an ancient Celtic language that is spoken on the Isle of Man. Literally translated the word means “someone who meets or is met.” It is derived from the root word, quaail, meaning “to meet.” The word has three meanings: 1. the custom of going from door to door at Christmas or on New Year’s day, making a request for food or other gifts in the form of a song. The custom is also known as “first footing” and in Scotland, “first fit.” 2. The first person to enter a house on New Year’s Day; the caller is also referred to as a “first footer.” 3. The first person one meets after leaving home, particularly on a special occasion.

The word is pronounced “KWAL tek” or “KWAL tex.” Manx, known for its very idiosyncratic spellings, is considered an extinct first language. As of 2015, it is spoken by only 1,800 out of 80,398 residents of the Isle of Man, a self-governing British Crown dependency located in the Irish Sea, midway between Ireland and Great Britain.

In Northern English and Scottish folklore, the first foot or qualtagh brings either good or bad fortune for the coming year depending on their attributes. Although the qualtagh may be a resident of the house, he or she should not be in the house when the clock strikes midnight. Charles Kightly, author of Customs and Ceremonies of Britain, elaborates on some other requirements of the first-footer who brings good luck: “The caller should be male, preferably of dark coloring… Nor should the visitor arrive empty-handed. A piece of coal for the fire, a loaf for the table, and a glass of whisky for the head of the house are traditional gifts. The first footer enters by the front door and leaves by the back door.”

Read related posts: There’s a Word for That: Esprit de l’escalier
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There’s a Word for That: Abibliophobia
There’s a Word for That: Petrichor
There’s a Word for That: Deipnosophist
There’s a Word for That: Pareidolia
There’s a Word for That: Macroverbumsciolist
There’s a Word for That: Ultracrepidarian
There’s a Word for That: Cacology

For further reading: The Folklore of World Holidays (Second Edition) by Robert Griffin and Ann Shurgin
The Oxford Companion to the Year by Bonnie Blackburn and Leofranc Holford-Strevens
Customs and Ceremonies of Britain by Charles Kightly

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