Not the cereal, the coins: the Lincoln pennies that were minted from 1909 to 1958, with the wheat sheafs on the reverse where modern pennies show the Lincoln Memorial. I collect them, and have a big box with a few thousand of them floating around, plus a couple of collection books which are complete except for ten proper pennies and two famous errors, as follows:

1909 VDB S

1909 S

1910 S

1912 S

1914 D

1915 D


1922 plain (an error in the minting)

1923 S

1924 D

1931 S

1955 double die (an error in the minting)

I should note that I started one of my collection books when I was about 12 years old, and only finished it recently. It’s a low octane interest, but when the itch arises, I always scratch it, because there’s something oddly satisfying about sitting down with a newly acquired roll of Wheaties and reviewing it to see if there are any missing coins from the collection contained therein. I used to be able to do it without assistance, though these days I need a magnifying glass to make the dates and mint marks visible to me.

I sent my niece and nephew 500 Wheaties each this year, along with two collection books, to see if they’ll take to coin collecting as well. It’s a good time to get a Wheatie collection wrapped up these days, since in 2009, the Lincoln Memorial version of the penny becomes obsolete (every 50 years, they change it up), making it the next fun collectible. Which is good, because I can buy a Lincoln Memorial collection book and spend the next 30+ years playing with it as I have with the Wheatie book, since ultimately it’s the searching for the pennies that’s more rewarding than the finding of the pennies.

Though I wouldn’t complain any if my quest ended with an unexpected 1909 VDB S.

The Greatest Carol

I believe fervently that the greatest film version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is an animated one first aired in 1971, directed by Richard Williams and executive produced by Chuck Jones. It is a truly terrifying, no holds barred rendition of the tale, and a beautiful work of art to boot, based on Victorian-era illustrations. I can distinctly remember being traumatized at a young age by several scenes in the holiday special, most especially when Jacob Marley removed his head scarf, letting his jaw drop to his chest (left), and when the Ghost of Christmas Present lifted his cloak to reveal the groveling figures of Ignorance and Want beneath (right). Not surprisingly, I guess, this particular version of the story seems to have fallen off the list of favored Christmas classics fairly quickly, and it doesn’t even appear to be available officially on DVD or VHS. I did, however, find a complete version of it online, here: A Christmas Carol (1971). Watch it while you can.

Hit Hard (Updated)

No heat or power since Thursday night, a basement that’s full of water from sump pump failure, many trees down, turning our whole backyard into a disaster area. We stayed in the house the past two nights, but after spending three hours hauling stuff out of the basement and into the garage this morning, we gave up. I turned off the water main and drained all the interior water pipes to preclude freezing and cracking risks, and we fled to a safe, warm haven for us and the cats. The most important thing is we’re all safe and healthy, but it’s still sad to ponder what we’re going to find when we return to our home, whenever we are able to do so. Plus, I start my new job on Monday. How’s that for the work transition from hell?

Update: Still no power as of 10 PM Saturday night. We are still in our safe haven, but had the chance to go out to dinner with Katelin tonight after her performance at the Darrow School Revels, an annual holiday event there. I got misty-eyed as the kids sang songs about pushing back the darkness and celebrating the warmth of the holidays. I consider it a blessing that Katelin has been warm and safe at school through the ice storm. She didn’t need to go through what we’re going through. Tomorrow afternoon we plan to return to Latham and see what’s happening in the house. Katelin is supposed to be home for the holidays on Tuesday. I’m hoping we have a warm place for her return. It’s easy to take such simple pleasures as warmth and comfort for granted. Spending two nights in a freezing house reminds me what a gift warmth is during Northeastern winters. I hope those reading this report are doing so from warm spaces, and that you go hug someone wherever you are and be thankful for warmth, safety and companionship. They’re all gifts.

My 20 Favorite Albums of 2008

While the album is a dying musical construct in these days of individual songs-on-demand, I still believe in it as an artform, and typically purchase at least seven or eight albums each month in their entirety, along with the occasional songs-on-demand for chestnuts that I just have to hear for some reason. As I’ve done since at least the early ’90s, I present my Best Albums of 2008 for your consideration in early December, because I believe that for anything to make the list, it has to be able to spend a month in steady spins on the stereo, so things that are released in December get lobbed into the following year. I don’t generally like to do them in strict numerical order, since nothing really separates the #16 album from the #17 album, in any meaningful sense. So in clusters of greatness, here are what I consider to be the year’s best offerings, with handy links to the bands’ websites in case you’d like to investigate further.


The Midnight Organ Fight by Frightened Rabbit


Santogold by Santogold

Zero Hits by The Gang

Alopecia by Why?

Forteit/Fortune by Crooked Fingers

Inside the Human Body by Ezra Furman and the Harpoons

Little Death by Pete and the Pirates

Dig Lazarus Dig!!! by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Imperial Wax Solvent by The Fall


4:13 Dream by The Cure

The Week That Was by The Week That Was

Ego Trippin’ by Snoop Dogg

Mega Breakfast by The Chap


The Secret Machines by The Secret Machines

Hometowns by The Rural Alberta Advantage

Shall Noise Upon by Apollo Sunshine

Gift of Screws by Lindsey Buckingham

Object 47 by Wire

Lust Lust Lust by The Raveonettes

The Odd Couple by Gnarls Barkley


When Marcia and I first started hanging out together back in 1987, we regularly played Scrabble, and have continued to do so on an on-and-off basis for the ensuing 21 years. When we started playing regularly, we purchased the original first edition of the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary (OSPD). At some point soon thereafter, Marcia went through the book manually and hand-wrote a listing of all of the legal two letter words (knowing them all is crucial for serious competitive Scrabbling), because this was back in the dark ages before the Internet pipes reached our homes, making such information readily attainable at the click of a mouse.

For over 20 years, we’ve played with that same original issue of the OSPD, using the same basic list of 85 two-letter words contained in the original book. This situation changed about a month ago, when I realized that there had been three subsequent editions to the OSPD over the years, and I went out and bought the latest, Fourth Edition, which suddenly gave us 16 two letter words that we’d not been allowed to use to date:

AB, AG, AL, ED, HM, KI, MM, MO, NE, OI, QI, UH, UM, YO and ZA.

Having played with these new words for a few weeks, I have to say that I feel dirty and compromised by doing so, especially the words QI and ZA. When the powers that be decided that these words should be admitted to the dictionary, they should have reduced the point value of the Z and the Q to 8, from 10, making it equal in value to the J. It just seems wrong for the Q and the Z to be so easily playable now. If you get stuck with one or both of them at the end of the game, it’s no big deal: odds are that there will be an open I or A on the board and you can fob them off for a easy 11 points, no sweat, no hassle. You no longer have to hoard U’s either, since there’s an easy way to play a Q without them. This feels wrong. I do not approve on some sort of purist, philosophical basis.

Frankly, if they were going to tinker with the dictionary, I would have preferred that they create the Whale Song version that would allow me to play words like EEEEEAAI or AAAAIEEEOO. That’s useful. More than ZA or QI anyway. I would also welcome the Orc Dictionary, that would allow KRZXBRJG and RGGBUZJK to be played. That would also be useful and legitimately challenging. No longer would a rack full of all vowels or all consonants be of concern, when you knew the languages of whales and Orcs.

I’ll keep my eyes out for those revisions, but until they come out, I’m not updating from the Fourth Edition of the OSPD, because I feel pretty sure that the Fifth Edition is going to include such exciting new two-letter words as QJ or ZK. I want no part of that. None whatsoever.