A few words about words


Last week at softball, I was chilling out — sitting on the ground — and one of my teammates remarked that he can’t sit “Indian style” anymore, due to bad knees.

I felt obliged to tell him: “You don’t have kids, so you don’t know this, but sitting like this is now called ‘criss-cross apple sauce.'” He looked bewildered by this statement; I rolled my eyes in response.

Of all the new iterations and terms scrubbed clean of race, creed or culture, this one is the most perplexing. What is offensive about sitting Indian style? I understand why phrases with negative connotations, such as “Indian giver,” have faded away. But there’s nothing disparaging about sitting cross-legged on the ground.

And who played Dictionary God and replaced the term with criss-cross applesauce? What the hell does applesauce have to do with the way a person sits?

I cracked open my laptop and clacked away. Some internet digging unearthed a few nursery rhymes which refer to pureed apples, including:

Criss-cross, applesauce

Spiders crawling up your back

Spiders here, spiders there

Spiders even in your hair

Cool breeze, tight squeeze

Now you’ve got the shivers

I also found this one:

Criss-cross, applesauce, no one else can play with us. If they do, we’ll take our shoe and beat them ’til they’re black and blue… criss-cross applesauce.

Boy, that last one is catchy and it certainly gets the message across…

Anyway, at some ill-defined moment in the last 20 years, teachers taught kids, “Criss-cross, applesauce, give your hands a clap. Criss-cross applesauce, cross them in your lap.”

And with that, “Indian style” was quietly retired.

As for that term, its origins are murky. While it sounds like an obvious reference to the way Native American Indians sat on the ground, some challenge this theory. They believe its roots are British, and relate to people of India, seated in the lotus position.

Who knows? What is clear is that it’s no longer part of the classroom vernacular.

I mentioned this to Martin and he said, “By that rationale, that’s the end of the song, ‘Walk Like An Egyptian.'”

I looked that up, too. Apparently, the writer of this 80s hit composed the lyrics after watching people walk awkwardly to keep their balance on a pitching ferry, which reminded him of ancient Egyptian figures.

I told Martin that he can listen to “Walk Like An Egyptian” until someone releases a PC version entitled, “Walk like a person from the ancient kingdom in North East Africa, as they are depicted in hieroglyphics.” Or maybe a re-release related to the impetus of the song: “Walk like an off-balanced individual aboard a boat.”

Both of those choices… really suck.

They make me want to take my shoe, and beat someone black and blue.

Worn-out old work boots, isolated on white.




If “hodophobia” is the is the fear of traveling, then I suffer from “hodophilia” — a strong desire to hit the road.

Really, it’s a disorder and I blame my parents (always good to blame them for everything). They planted the seed, by dragging me on their jaunts through Eastern Bloc countries in 1970s. We’d fly on a dodgy, patched-up plane, owned by a now-defunct charter company, and that thing would cough and sputter across the Atlantic, before depositing us in a Western European city. Then my parents would rent a tin can on wheels, and we’d wade into various Communist countries where vacationing Americans were a rare species.

I took the hook. Now I’m afflicted with traveler’s itch: I believe that passports shouldn’t nest in drawers. They should be cracked open and stamped violently by a passport control officer who barks, “reason for your visit!?”

Which isn’t how they behave in Ireland.

My passport was supposed to ride the pine for a year. But I caved 3 weeks ago and Martin caught me in the act… making a call to an airline customer service agent. I tried to disguise the conversation with airport code — “Yes, I’m calling about EWR to SNN, for 4, departure Feb 19…”

Martin wasn’t amused but he knows my track record. I’ve bolted twice to Ireland in February. It’s just this time, I was sneaky and last-minute. I hastily stocked-up on provisions (this year’s requests from overseas: tuna fish, Heinz relish and bras). And I crammed a couple of suitcases full of clothes, collected the kids’ freshly minted passports and off we went.


So here we are in Eire, letting me get my travel fix — to smell Ireland, taste it, and see it again. And all the while, I’m planting the seed for the next generation of hodophiles.

They are already on their way.


Ditching the Itch


Poison ivy is a bit like having kids with head lice: it’s impossible to grasp the misery without firsthand experience.

I always nodded sympathetically when parents shared lice-laden anecdotes, but I didn’t comprehend the gravity until our kids got it.

Poison ivy is a similar beast.

For decades I basked in the fact that I didn’t “get” poison ivy. And I never bothered to distinguish it from other greenery. (Though Martin made it his personal mission to educate me. I was a lousy student, but learned to respond correctly when he gestured at shiny leaves and said, “Okay, now what’s that?”)

I’d seen poison ivy welts and heard itchy tales of woe. But to me, the rash looked like a nuisance, not a serious affliction.

All that changed when I abruptly received notice: My immunity to Toxicodendron radicans had expired.

A few weeks ago — while riding — I was lashed by poison ivy dangling among tree branches. Welts slowly surfaced on my arm and neck.

It was still in the nuisance phase when we arrived at Snowshoe for Xtreme Hike.

“Take a bath in bleach,” one hiker advised after checking my arm. “That’ll stop it.”

Bathe in bleach? How much bleach do you use?”

The guy shrugged. “A cup, maybe two. As much as you can stand.”

At the time, scorching myself with bleach sounded asinine.

But seven days later, I was ready to drink battery acid if it would help.

Weepy welts spread like lava, creeping north and south, shoulder to wrist, and up toward my chin. Blisters also migrated to my other arm. If I sat still, I could feel them emerge. (Writing proved a challenge because my oozing arms adhered to my laptop.)

Ultimately, steroids saved me. But during those days of itchy insanity, I visited websites devoted to poison ivy — and noticed a dearth of medically-sound answers to my questions. Every source trumpeted the obvious: “If you think you have been exposed, wash areas thoroughly within 10 minutes…”

But few sites offered much on managing welts once the damage was done.

I never discovered why scalding water on poison ivy welts evokes an intense feeling of euphoria. (Every medical site condemned hot water for a slew of reasons.)

And I couldn’t confirm whether or not little kids are immune. (As a toddler, Hadley ate poison ivy leaves, and the pediatrician told us that children aren’t allergic to the plant until age 6.) I searched for supporting science, but only found that pediatricians rarely see it in young children.

I did stumble on a poison ivy primer with some neat facts here. And there’s valid info and horrifying stories at

My welts are now faded shadows of themselves. But suffice to say, I feel your poison ivy pain. I get it.

Yet on the misery scale, I’m not sure which is worse: a case of poison ivy, or a houseful of licey kids.

Tough call.