The Suitcase Lady

Past Blogs


December 3, 2019, 8:41 pm


The other day I was reading and came across the word “toponym”. Being clueless as to its meaning, I looked it up to discover that it literally means a place name … from the Greek “topos” for place and “onoma” for name.

Since I have always been curious about how places get their names, I did a bit of research on Toponymy. Apparently, people can spend their entire careers studying how places acquire and sometimes lose their names.

My favorite article explained the five sources that we humans use to create names for our cities and countries as well as natural features of the land.

The first source is migration history. We bring the old world name to the new world home. In my state of Wisconsin we have Berlin, Paris, New London, Stockholm, New Glarus, Belgium, Luxemburg, Frankfort, Hamburg, Moscow, Denmark, Norway and Scandinavia.

Immigrants also borrowed place names from the original tenants on the land. Wisconsin is awash with Native American names which are fun to say but cause great spelling and pronunciation woes for new residents. Try saying these: Kinnickinnic, Nasewaupee, Oconomowoc, Koshkonong, Ashwaubenon and Mukwonago, (the place of the bear).

The first European explorers in Wisconsin were French voyageurs and fur traders. They left behind a liberal sprinkling of names as well, among them, Fond du Lac, Prairie du Chein, Eau Galle, and Flambeau. It must be noted that our pronunciation of most of these lovely names would cause any French person to cringe.

In addition, the French voyageurs gave us a river and town named “Embarrass”. The canoes of the voyageurs would encounter many log jams in the river so they named it Rivière d’ Embarras, river of obstacles.

Values and aspirations are the second source of place names. These can be subdivided as religious, classical or honorary. Wisconsin has a multitude of saint cities, among them St. Nazianz and St. Germaine as well as three towns named  Harmony, four named Liberty, seven named Union but only one New Hope. And as elsewhere in America, we honor Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe plus legions of other historical figures, almost all of the male gender.

The third category describes specific positive or negative events that have occurred in a place. On the negative side, Wisconsin has Lake Butte des Mort which is French for “hill of the dead” and also Port des Morts or “door of death”, the deadly waters at the top of Door County.

Physical characteristics are described in the fourth category. This huge category gives us a description of what the original inhabitants were looking at….Two Rivers, Beaver Dam, Big Falls, Black Earth, Crystal Lake, Redgranite.

The fifth and final category is cynical or sarcastic. These names describe the physical characteristics of a place but do so inaccurately or deceptively. Think retirement communities, subdivisions and industrial parks. These places are found everywhere…Fox Run with no foxes, Three Rivers Crossing with no rivers in view or Orchard Heights with no trees.

While researching this blog, I came up with a sixth category which I shall call “sheer nonsense”. In 1845, a Wisconsin township had to be cut in half because of a population boom. One half quickly renamed itself  Concord, but the other half couldn’t arrive at a new name. So they put all the letters of the alphabet on slips of paper in a hat and pulled out letters. The first six letters pulled were IXONIA which is why we have Ixonia, Wisconsin. It’s unique in America.

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November 26, 2019, 11:22 pm


It’s time again for turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy and Brussel sprouts, the Peter Pans of the cabbage family that refuse to grow up.

I have roasted many turkeys and freely admit that I have not mastered the art. So many things can go wrong when you are dealing with large, dead birds. For example, my first attempt when I found that slimy plastic bag of turkey parts just before popping the bird in the oven. A close call.

But I am not alone. Several turkey hotlines exist where flummoxed cooks can call for help. The folks at Snopes, the wonderful fact-checking service, asked the hot line experts about the most incredible questions they’ve received. Here are some of their favorite queries.

  • Can you tell if the turkey is done by filling the cavity with popcorn and waiting for it to pop out?
  • How can I find my turkey in a snowbank? The woman had put her bird in a snowbank to keep it frozen overnight but a new snowfall occurred. The advisor could only suggest that future birds be marked with a tall stick and flag.
  • When I carve my bird with a chainsaw, will any leaking motor oil affect the bird’s taste? This was a guy question.
  • Why do I always have to cut off the bird’s legs before roasting? The wise advisor ascertained from the caller that her mother always did that and deduced that the mother’s oven was very small.
  • How do I get the little metal pieces off  my bird? Answer: The next time you clean your bird, don’t use a Brillo pad.
  • Can I put my bird in a Reynolds Oven Bag and put it on my car’s back window ledge to bake in the sun? Numerous other cooks had to be told not to roast birds on the radiators of their apartments.
  • Can I speed up the cooking of my bird by using my stove cleaning cycle?
  • Is my five pound turkey done? It’s been in the oven for 24 hours?
  • I’ve got my turkey thawed and have one question. What number should I set the dial to on my electric blanket? The advisor admits to having been momentarily speechless to that man’s question.

I have saved my favorite for last. It was the second question the Turkey Talk Lines first male advisor received and he sites it as the most amusing one of his career. A woman called to help him locate a 36 pound turkey. His verbatim reply follows:

“Ma’am, at 36 pounds that is not a turkey… There are two reasons why we don’t carry that size and we can’t locate it for you. One, that is an ostrich. Two, your average oven won’t give enough head space for the turkey to cook evenly.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

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November 19, 2019, 8:50 pm


The masterful writer, Elmore Leonard, said that a writer should, “Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.”

I aspire to be a good writer but admit to totally disregarding this advice. I love exclamation points! Life is a wondrous, exciting adventure and these little symbols are needed to emphasize that fact.

My love of that punctuation mark makes me incredibly envious of everyone writing in Spanish. These lucky people are allowed exclamation points both before and after a sentence, the first one standing on its head. How brilliant is this!

Yet grammarians of English universally lament that the exclamation point is grossly overused. Since I’m a fan of that punctuation mark… really; who can get excited about a semicolon… I searched to see if it had any defenders.

Thomas Wolfe was not shy about his use of that mark and said to his critics, “People complain about my exclamation points, but I honestly think that is how people think. I don’t think people think in essays, it’s one exclamation point after another.”

Well said, but Elmore Leonard, despite his admonition, might have given the exclamation point its best compliment. In his career, Leonard wrote over 40 novels totaling 3.4 million words. His self proclaimed goal would have been 102 exclamation marks for his entire career. The number he actually used was 1,651, or 16 times his limit.

So there!

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November 12, 2019, 8:11 pm


The phrase “getting high” has taken on a new meaning. In the true American spirit of pushing everything to extremes, the tallest residential building in the world just was completed in New York City.

The building sits on “Billionaire’s Row” on West 57th Street and is called Central Park Tower. At 131 floors and 1550 feet, it’s the latest in an epidemic of tall, skinny residential towers that now pierce the midtown Manhattan skyline like giant pencils.

No ordinary mortal could ever take up residence in these exclamation points. Prices in this latest and tallest edition range from a low of 6.9 million to 63 million for a 5 bedroom full-floor unit. The total sales value of Central Park Tower will be 4.4 billion dollars, making it the most expensive residential building in the city.

The Guardian newspaper describes these buildings as “a symptom of a city irrigated with too much money. The world’s population of ultra-high-net-worth individuals….has mushroomed to 250,000 people, all in need of somewhere to store their wealth. More than a third of them are from North America, while those from riskier economic climes favour New York real estate as one of the safest places to park their cash.”

Many of the units in these beanpole buildings will seldom or never see their owners. For those buyers who actually choose to move in, amenities will abound. Central Park Tower has a 7 story Nordstrom store at its base, outdoor and indoor swimming pools, a grand ballroom, private dining room and a cigar bar.

While this flurry of towers is going up, the number of affordable housing units in the city is going drastically down. Ordinary New Yorkers struggle to find a place to live which doesn’t consume their entire paycheck. Perhaps there is a fix for this situation.

Hotels in town charge an occupancy tax for rooms. New York could charge an unoccupancy tax for all nights the owners of these luxury units do not spend in their own beds. Those tax dollars could be tagged for rent subsidies and building affordable housing. It’s high time to find some creative solutions to the housing shortage in all our major American cities.

Here are some views of the high life.

Here are some more “super skinnies” photographed by Peter Little.

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November 5, 2019, 8:04 pm


In America, I’m identified as a Badger Cheesehead from a flyover state. And if you want to throw in an ethnic slur as well, I’m a Bohunk because my grandfather was an immigrant from Bohemia. Even the word “Bohemian” implies some sort of kooky, counter-culture, artsy person.

The world is rife with insults, stereotypes and name-calling. And the best tactic for combating all of this nastiness is to just turn it around, make it a badge of honor.

For example, the term “Badger” for Wisconsin’s residents is a brilliant example of flipping an insult. In pioneer days, miners rushed into our state to get rich by mining Galena lead ore. That first winter they didn’t even waste time building shelters, but slept in tunnels they dug into the hillsides like badgers. The more genteel folk who slept in real houses dissed them with the epitaph “Badgers”. That insult eventually turned into our beloved little Badger mascot of the state university’s sports teams. Merchandise sporting that tough little guy brings in millions of dollars.

The derogatory term, Cheesehead, was coined by Illinois sports fans to insult our Wisconsin fans, especially the Green Bay Packers backers. The word now has morphed to mean anyone from Wisconsin. Since I think cheese is one of the most glorious foods in the world, I’m delighted to be a Cheesehead. I do, however, draw the line at wearing a giant foam rubber wedge of cheese on my head. I prefer to earn my status as a Cheesehead by eating or cooking with cheese almost every day.

And last, being from a flyover State seems unredeemable. However, recent news has given us flyovers the last laugh. An index has just been released on the best places to live to survive global warming. Scientists site states in the Great Lakes region as “probably the safest from a climate perspective”.

In summary, I can eat quality cheese, not burn up, drown or overheat and wear sweatshirts with that cute Bucky Badger on them. Not bad for a flyover girl.


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