Friday, December 30, 2011

Grammar Wars

Grammar is changing. And it’s not just the Oxford comma (which you can pry from my work over my cold dead body). Scads of commas are disappearing from usage. Lately, I’ve seen Saturday December 31 everywhere. (It makes me want to grab a sharpie and add the comma between Saturday and December.) And then there are dialogue commas: “Aren’t you hungry Bob?” (Beep! Noun of direct address alert.) And what about interrupters like “however, of course, etc.” that aren’t offset with commas? I want to smack the advertisers/writers over the head with The Chicago Manual of Style.

In the last year or so, I started seeing these grammar faux pas more and more, even in books published by the big three houses. And a niggling suspicion started. So I asked a fellow grammar lover who also has been writing for a big six publisher for years about the grammar “mistakes.” She confirmed my suspicions, style sheets* were changing.

I want to rage against texting and ignorance, and I want to extol the importance of semi-colons. And not because I’m some Luddite grammar freak (which may be true, but isn’t the point). Good grammar promotes readability. And clarity. And shades of meaning. And will keep the zombie apocalypse at bay. (Oops, that was a little over the top. Sorry.)

Anyway, I’m thinking of starting The Grammar Board. It’ll be like the language academies that promote linguistic purity, but we’ll guard grammar purity... Except part of the reason I like English is its fluidity of expression, the way it responds to culture and change. Hmm. Maybe I’ll just stick to writing whiney blog posts.

*If you’re not familiar with style sheets, they’re “sheets” (booklets) that many publishers/newspapers/magazines give to their authors to keep the grammar (sometimes even politically charged word choice) consistent throughout their publication. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Writer's Fix

I don't have a real post for you today. I'm staring down the end of the first big edit to the sequel of Screwing Up Time. Nineteen single-spaced pages left. My goal is to get this edit finished before the new year. I'm not sure if I can do it because we're actually on vacation. And today is my birthday. But I'm still planning to edit--I'm a writer, it's what I do. Besides if I don't get some writing done, I develop a nervous tick. So, back away from the writer in the bubble and let her get her editing fix.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Mystery of Reading

In our house, we have readers. They fall into two categories. First, we have the I’ll- read-books-in-any-format-currently available—iPod, Kindle, hardback, or loose leaf paper. And we have the you-can-have-my-hardbacks-when-you-pry-them-from-my-cold-dead-fingers readers. I used to be the latter. I love to hear the crack of a spine when a book is opened for the first time. I love the scent of the binding glue. And I love the feel of crisp paper under my fingertips. I love all those sensory experiences. A lot of people do, which is why hardbacks will never die.

But e-readers have a mystique that can’t be denied. There’s no sensory attraction; no bookish smell, no crisp feel, no sounds. But I can carry a whole library in my purse. I can still underline and take notes. I can adjust the font for my aging eyes. I can read on the treadmill without using rubberbands and paperclips. (Yes, I used to attract stares at the gym.) I can read books by authors whose novels are great, but couldn’t find a home with the big three houses (publishers).

However, none of those things are really the point. The reason I love my e-reader is the same reason I love printed books. It’s not the medium. About thirty seconds into reading, I don’t even know whether I’m turning a pages or pressing a button. Instead, I’m fencing a rogue, hunting a killer, or flirting with Mr. Darcy. (Sorry, Cal, but every woman flirts with Mr. Darcy.) And that’s one of the real reasons that people read. We travel through time and space to be another person, to think other thoughts, to be brave against all odds, and to feel other people’s pain and joy. That’s the part of reading that will never change. It’s why reading and writing will never die. 

Friday, December 23, 2011


Earlier this week my son Matthew got a Winter White hamster, whom he named Rumpelstiltskin. He's the cutest, friendliest ball of white fur. He has one fault. He's an escape artist.

He escaped from his cage early this week. And while we weren't able to find him, it was okay because he got bored and climbed back into his cage while we were searching for him.

This morning he disappeared again. And so we built a cute ramp leading up to his cage with raisins on it. But he hasn't turned up yet. Thankfully, we don't have to worry about Jezebel (our black Lab)--she doesn't like hamster snacks. Though I do wish she'd sniff him out for us, but she's already met Rumpel and thinks he's beneath her attention.

So our wish for Christmas is to find Rumpelstiltskin.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Baking Day?

As I troll my favorite blogs, I see beautiful photos of Christmas cookies. Exotic ethnic cookies. Decorated gingerbread men. Or cookies filled with nuts or jam.

I look at the cookies and feel guilty. I haven’t baked a single cookie. I don’t feel sorry for myself, I don’t really like cookies. (I know, everyone tells me I’m crazed.) But I only eat cookies to be polite. The only sweet I eat with regularity is dark chocolate—but that’s not really a sweet, it’s a fourth food group.

But I feel guilty because my kids have no cookies. Shouldn’t they be indulging in cookies during Christmas break?

I can make ethnic cookies. I have a stroopwaffle-izer. Of course, the last time I used it, I had to reset the circuit breakers for the entire house. The electric cookie press was from the Netherlands and the person who rewired it for US current obviously made a mistake.

I won’t be making gingerbread because I hate it. It tastes too much like molasses.

That leaves the cookies filled with nuts or jam. I don’t understand the jam thing. I mean, the bright red jam makes the cookie look pretty, but then it tastes like toast. No jam cookies. Nut cookies. Yeah, I could do those. When I was a kid my mom used to make Russian teacakes every Christmas. I suppose I could do those. Or I could assign one of my four minions to make them. Yeah, I could get “good mom” points without having to bake. Time to rally the minions!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Did I feed the dog?

Just so you know, never plan family surgeries back to back to back. And never do them just after you finish several weeks of chicken pox. Because if you did that, afterwards you’d be drooling on yourself.

In all fairness, I didn’t plan them. They were scheduled for me. But I was silly enough to think, “At least, we’ll get it all taken care of all at once.” After all, it’s just some down time and TLC afterwards. We could handle that.

But I forgot to consider that there might be the possibility of multiple special diets. I already have a child with a gluten-free, casein-free diet. Then add liquid diet. And a high fiber diet. And you end up with three people, none of whom can eat the same food. I spent a lot of time cooking. And I was tired, so things got confused. Like the blender whose motor I almost burned out making the smoothies with too many frozen strawberries. Or that batch of homemade cream of potato soup that I put in Tupperware and left on a hot stove. It didn’t fair well.

But I was over tired for a reason. Both post-surgical sufferees were on heavy duty narcotics, but not on the same dosage schedule. It wasn’t a big deal during the day, but nighttime was a different story. Especially when I realized that heavy narcotics don’t allow the proper decision making capabilities.

Me: Okay, here’s a list of your medicines and when you have to take them. See? So you need to take the Vicodin now.

Sufferee: Uh, did I just take it? Or do I still need to take it?

Me (realizing sufferee had narcotics brain): Right. Why don’t I be in charge of your meds?

So Cal and I are tired from getting up during the middle of the night for the first couple of days to prevent the sufferees from overdosing on narcotics. Of course, I realized the kids would have medicines, but I didn’t think one would have six and the other four. Managing ten medicines takes a spread sheet. (Another reason the person on Vicodin could not figure out what to take when.)

But I think we’re through the worst of it now. And no one has any lasting damage. Except maybe the dog. Though she’s not complaining. I suspect she whined her way into multiple meals—when you’re tired, you can’t remember if you fed the dog.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Mason-Dixon Shopping Redux

Today I's participating in  Blog Deja Vu. (We repost a blog from years ago.) I've decided to repost a blog I wrote it almost three years ago because it's gotten a tons of pageviews over the last couple of years. I hope you enjoy it.

Last night at a New Year’s Party, one of the guests was from Scotland. And since it’s always fun to listen to someone with a cool accent, lots of discussion ensued. At one point, someone marveled to me about how large the United States is and how similar the people of each state are to each other. That got me to thinking. Granted the difference between each state is minimal compared to say the difference between Germany and France, especially in language. (Though I will point out that when I was a child living in a small town in Georgia and then moved to Hawaii where some people spoke pidgin English, I could've been in a foreign country—I couldn’t understand a word some of my classmates said. That’s where I developed a “polite I-have-no-idea-what-you-are-talking-about smile,” which has served me well as a pastor’s wife.) But, back to the issue. In order for someone to say there isn’t too much difference between states, they clearly have not recently moved from New England to the South.

There are so many differences that this might be a recurring blog theme. But the first topic is: Shopping. When we first moved here and walked in to the local grocery store, the cashier called out, “Good Morning!” My son Luke turned to me and said, “Why is that lady talking to us—we don’t know her.” I said, “I think she’s being friendly.” Luke looked suspicious; he didn’t believe me.

But it’s not just the friendliness. Once when I was in the local Connecticut Walmart, I found a coffee maker that had all the important features—it could make coffee and wasn’t too expensive. But, there weren’t any coffee makers in boxes, only the model on the shelf. So, I tracked down a saleswoman and asked her if she could find out if there were any extras “in the back” or if I could buy the floor model. She nodded and made other noises and gestures to indicate she understood my request. Then, we waited. We contemplated the floor. We studied the other coffee makers, toasters, waffle irons, and long metal sticks with whips on the end whose function we didn’t quite fathom. Then, the kids decided that since there was nothing better to do, they’d play tag. Not good. So Cal took them on a tour of the store. By the way, if you don’t already know, kids do not enjoy a tour of Walmart. And still, I waited.

After the tour was finished, I decided to “find” the salesgirl. I was a woman with a mission. I drew up my mental picture and hunted her down. And I found her. Before I came in for the kill, she must have had some primal instinct to turn and she did. She saw me—and took off running. Yes, as my kids can verify, the salesgirl ran away from me. Foolish girl. I’ve been running since I was 14, which is many, many years ago. If I’ve been running through four kids and a fortieth birthday, I can catch anything. When I had her cornered, she shrugged, gesticulated, and made vaguely hostile guttural noises that meant, “This is a bad day for me, go find your own stupid coffee maker.”

Fast forward to the South. I’m at BiLo, the local grocery store that (despite the “lo” in their name) charges way too much but is close to my house so I shop there anyway. I am buying yogurt-vanilla handsoap for the church bathrooms.
The cashier, handling the soap container, says: “Umm, umm, I love the smell of vanilla. Honey, does this soap smell good?”
Me: “Uh, I don’t know.” So, I unscrew the top and take a deep whiff. “Yeah, it does.” I hand the open bottle to the cashier. (Don’t forget there’s a long line of people behind me with whom I am trying very hard not to make eye contact.)
Cashier: “Oh, this does smell good.”
Me: “And it’s on sale.” Oops, I’ve now involved her in conversation—this is going to take a while. The people behind me now hate me.
Cashier: “How much is it?”
Me: “Uh, I don’t know.” She takes the receipt.
Cashier: “That is a good price. I’m gonna have to get me some of that.”
Me: Trying to avoid the gaze of people behind me who surely must be wishing instant death on me for taking so much time, “Yeah, that would be a great idea.”
Cashier: “Y’all have a great day, baby.”
Me: Though I am sure there’s only one of me and that I am not her infant, I say, “Thanks. You too.” At this point, as I gather up my things, I cast a furtive glance over my shoulder at the long line. Each and every person is completely unconcerned by my long conversation with the cashier. They are in contemplation mode, and even one lady may be vaguely irritated that she now can’t finish the People magazine article on Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

On my way to the car, I ponder their patience. If I’d been in line behind a chatty soap buyer I would have been tapping my foot, making guttural noises and thinking, “Buy your soap and get on with it. I have things to do.” And Ariel would have said her standard, “Be patient, Mom. This is the South.”

I guess I’ve got a lot more New England (or maybe it’s the Dutch “use each and every minute effectively”) in me than I thought.

So it's been three years. And do I like shopping in the South? Ninety percent of the time, yes. I love that the pharmacist knows me by name and asks about the kids. I love that he looks over the prescription and says, "Honey, you don't want to be spending $350 on this prescription. You call your doctor back and tell him you want a prescription for medicine A and medicine B--they'll do the same thing and only cost you $18." And he's right. 

And the other 10% of the time when I'm in a big hurry and the person ahead of me in line is recounting her third cousin's surgery for a hangnail...then I take a deep breath and try to avoid muttering imprecations. I tell myself that it's a good time to work on the plot of my next book. And if that doesn't work, I can always try to cultivate an interest in the latest People magazine. Now I finally understand why the magazine are in the checkout line. I thought it was for impulse buys, but they're really for Southerns who are waiting in line. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Weird Al Treat

Today's the last surgery day this week. (My mom's surgery went well. And Ariel's recovering--though pain management issues made multiple trips to the pharmacy necessary.) We have to be at the hospital at 5:30am for Luke, so once again I don't have an exciting blog post. But I do have a treat. If you're my age, you may remember Weird Al. If you don't, you're in for a treat. Enjoy!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Cello Wars

With the surgeries all starting today (we found out that two friends in the area are also having surgery this week), I don't have time to write a regular blog post. But I did want to leave you with something to enjoy.

Friday, December 9, 2011


Today's blog post is short. I have one million and one things to do today. And I can't really procrastinate on any of them because next week is really crazy. Next Monday my mom (who lives in the area) is having part of her spine fused. On Tuesday my daughter is having all four of her wisdom teeth removed. On Wednesday my son is having surgery on his tailbone to remove a cyst.

The most exciting thing today is that it's my grandmother her 93rd birthday. I embroidered pillowcases for her.

Okay, so the lighting's not great--the pillowcases do match. As I was working on these, my daughter fell in love with embroidered pillowcase when she saw these. I let her pick out a set that I'll make for her birthday. After I bought the set she liked, I noticed that they were really complicated. I've never even heard of some of the stitches involved. I guess it's a good thing that her birthday is in April.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Milk Cartons & the End of Western Civilization

I think there’s a serious flaw in our college system. Especially in engineering departments. I think the accreditation boards need to get involved. Where are the good old days when engineers knew how to design a functional Christmas tree stand that didn’t need a dipstick (see here)? Or city storm drains that don’t flood our street? I could see an occasional design flaw. But lately everything has them. Even milk jugs. It used to be that milk came in waxed cardboard containers with spouts that folded out. You could pour milk without spilling a single droplet. Then, came the big plastic gallon containers. They weren’t quite as good, but with a little care in pouring—no problem. Now my milk comes in plastic rectangles with a rounded opening on a recessed end on the top. And they don’t work.

If you’ve ever poured milk from one of these monstrosities, you know that it “blubs” milk. No matter where you position your cereal bowl, when you tilt the carton, the milk will splat on the tablecloth. At first, I thought it was me. You know, pre-coffee and pre-cereal I don’t have the best mental function. Then a friend was at the house and I tipped a new milk carton to fill my creamer—the milk blubbed all over the counter. The woman said, “Don’t you hate that.” And in that moment, I knew it wasn’t just me.

So I complained at the Costco where I buy my six gallons of milk a week. (The checkout person always asks me if I’m a cheese maker. I say, “I have four adult/teenage kids.”) Anyway, the Costco manager explained that the weird containers save money because they ship better. He seems to be missing the point that at my house they lose my money—every time I open a container, 20 cents of milk ends up wasted and I have to wash a tablecloth. He didn’t seem to be concerned.

But this is my worry, a culture who can’t engineer a working milk container will probably never be able to put a man on the moon again. Sigh. The end of Western civilization as we know it.

But maybe this post will make a difference and engineering schools will teach their students “Milk Carton Design.” In the meantime, I take off the tablecloth for breakfast. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Dray of Walters

You may remember Walter (here and here), the brilliant squirrel who lived in the attic and eluded capture for weeks. But after great gnashing of teeth, we caught him and dropped him off in the wilds of Georgia. In fact whenever we pass the huge oak tree where Cal dropped Walter off, we shout, “Hey, Walter!” That should be the end of the story. But it’s not.

The other day Cal and I heard a party going on in the attic. Not just a squirrel running along the rafters. We heard a squirrel rave going on. I’m pretty sure they even had a mosh pit. Cal sighed heavily and went up to take a look. After he pulled himself into the attic (remember we have no ladder, it’s just an angled passageway that looks exactly like a laundry chute), Cal discovered a dray of squirrels. (Yes, I looked “dray” up.) They were partying. Cal yelled at them. They scampered, mocking him with their squeaks. He drove them from the attic. They jumped from the attic vent onto the garden window and to the ground. I was in the kitchen at the time, not realizing what was going on, and it seemed like it was raining squirrels.

Of course, chasing out squirrels in an attic with no subflooring of any kind carries some risk—those two by fours are only two inches wide. Cal fell. Thankfully, he only got a face-full of cellulose insulation. One of my nightmares is that Cal falls through the ceiling and takes the ten foot plunge to the floor. That didn’t happen, but we do have a convex handprint in my office now.

Cal finally solved the problem by covering the attic vents with plywood screwed into the frame of the vents. (We have peak vents now, so the old ones aren’t necessary). Cal discovered that Walter’s buddies had cleverly chewed the vent edges in ways that weren’t visible unless you knew where they were.

Problem solved. Except not. There’s another squirrel in the attic. We don’t know if he’s stuck in there or if there’s another entrance. So Cal will put the trap up there today. Hopefully we’ll catch Walter’s friend and then drop him off at the old oak tree. Of course, if that doesn’t work and there’s another entrance, we could cede the attic to the squirrels and make an Allstate commercial. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Spreading Immunity to the Community

December 3 is a highlighted day on my calendar. First, because it’s my son Luke’s 21st birthday. Yay, Luke! *Throws confetti* But the third is also special because it’s the very last day of the incubation period for chicken pox. Our youngest Matthew had chicken pox a couple of weeks ago.

December 3 was so near that I stopped thinking of chicken pox as a possibility. After all, all the kids had the CP vaccine and all four had CP about 12 years ago. Then, yesterday Ariel showed me her arm. And I saw the spots. Then, she showed me her stomach and her back. And I couldn’t deny it. MORE POX. And then Jacob showed me his stomach and his back. EVEN MORE POX.

When I announced the scourge, Luke fogged the house with Lysol (he’s now the only one of the kids who’s still CP-free). Matthew is concerned that he’s going to get shingles, I’ve explained that having had CP two weeks ago probably would protect him from shingles, but he still carries the bottle of Lysol and sprays every surface that comes into contact with Jacob or Ariel. The scent of Lysol is so strong in the house that I can taste it. Ugh.

What makes this even worse is that both Jacob and Ariel have finals next week. Jake went to class today—he had an assignment due. Ariel emailed her prof and mentioned the CP. I was sure the prof would say, “Don’t come to class.” But her prof emailed back, “I hope you feel better soon. I’ll see you tomorrow at class for the exam.” Um, hello? Can you say contagious disease? I’m sure Ariel’s fellow students were not pleased to see her spotted face. Personally, I belong to the quarantine school of CP containment. But I have a pediatrician whose motto was “You’re just spreading immunity to the community.” Yeah, us and Typhoid Mary.