Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Few Grammar Rules

Sunday night, a few people mentioned their desire to improve their knowledge and understanding of grammar. I thought I'd post a few rules that are easy to remember and hopefully will be easy to apply.

1. Punctuation inside quotation marks = ALWAYS put commas and periods inside quotation marks. All other punctuation depends on whether the text inside the quotation demands its use inside or outside. For example, a question mark goes inside the quotes if the quoted material is a question, but the question mark goes outside the quotation marks if the material inside the quotes is not a question (i.e., Did the girl say, "We want to go home"?)

2. Only use a colon if you could put a period in place of the colon.
We went to the store for three items: eggs, bread, and milk. (correct)
She asked for: eggs, bread, and milk. (incorrect)

3. Active voice is preferred by most editors.
Cain killed Abel. (active voice)
Abel was killed by Cain. (passive voice, not preferred)

4. The serial comma seems to be preferred, though this changes over time. The serial comma is the comma after "and" in a list.
While on vacation, we went shopping, ate at restaurants, and played games. (preferred)
While on vacation, we went shopping, ate at restaurants and played games. (not preferred)

5. Introductory adverbial clauses take a comma.
When we go to the movies theater, remember to bring a blanket. (correct)
When we go to the movies theater remember to bring a blanket. (incorrect)

If you find this to be helpful, let me know, and I'll see what other rules I can share.

July 22 Meeting Agenda

JULY 22 Agenda
Open Sharing
Accountability check-in
Assignment review

New assignment:
In 1500 words or less, use the following elements in an essay (fiction, non-fiction or poetry): Cruise ship in the setting, Freedom as a theme and incorporate the phrase "Dance like no one is watching." I liked how we did it before, if that's okay. Post it on the blog by midnight, Saturday, July 21. In the labels, include your name, "assignment" and any other labels you want to add.

Advent Devotional
We discussed writing a daily advent devotional, possibly to be distributed through the Women's Ministry.
*Discuss and plan the advent devotional schedule.
*Make assignments.
*Brainstormed ideas (so far): Jewish background, stress, traditions, difficulties, aspects of the nativity
*Action: Sarah talk to Jenifer about devotional (printing, distribution)


Saturday, June 23, 2007

Summer in Somerset

I was about ten years old when Granny invited me to spend two weeks of the summer with her. My brothers weren't invited, nor my parents, just me. Given the throng of our cousins and large family that typically gathered at the South Texas ranch, to be there by myself and have Granny's undivided attention was a real treat.

I'm sure we ate beans and tortillas every meal, I really don't remember. But I would remember if it had been something different, as that's the only meal Granny seemed to serve, period. And we all loved it. I especially loved the tortillas... big surprise.

Each day we walked up and down the dirt road from the house to the big oak at the highway. I forget how many laps made a mile, but Granny knew, and we walked 3 miles every day. I don’t remember constant conversation on those walks, though we would not have been at a loss for words. Being outside in nature was soothing for her, therapeutic, and she simply appreciated a slight breeze, the tall green grass that didn't have to be mowed, and swaying mesquite trees that provided pockets of shade in the sprawling front lawn.

We swam in the pool each evening and performed water ballet routines under the watchful eyes of cattle and horses grazing just beyond the barbed-wire fence. Granny's long, slender body every bit as agile as mine, I thought of her as a modern day Audrey Hepburn. Hair pulled back from her face, cheekbones prominent even without rouge, I can still see her sitting gracefully on the side of the pool with the silver Somerset water tower and huge oak trees framing her silhouette.

Granny told and retold stories, and I listened with delight, even when I already knew the ending. I’m sure I told my share as well. Granny appreciated stimulating conversation, so much so that she could dialogue with, laugh with, and even argue with animals out of necessity to keep her mind sharp. Even though I offered a mere decade of insight, she was interested in my thoughts and opinions on things like politics, relationships and movie stars.

We stayed up until wee hours of the night, and I mean really wee hours... we read aloud to each other from her stash of books filled with quotes, quips and jokes. She laughed loud and long at the jokes I read... as I would come across ones that amused her, I read them over and over again, her laughter never subsiding. She loved the written word, and in those midnight hours we celebrated the beauty of poetry and prose alike.

Granny told me later the highlight of our time together that summer was when we went to her weekly painting class, and her teacher recognized me as her granddaughter. "You must be here with Gladys," he said when he saw me, though I’d never met him before. Granny got a kick out of the fact that our resemblance was so strong.

I look back on that summer with great tenderness, grateful for the time Granny poured into me, and for the intimacy that comes with shared interests. And grateful for a strong resemblance...

The Toddler’s Guide to Summer Vacation: The Bathroom Amusement Park

Summer is here! All the Blue’s Clues are reruns and it it’s too darn hot for Mommy to drag herself off the couch and play with you outside. So as a healthy, active toddler you need to have options. Your parents may be planning a summer vacation for the family, but it will probably be filled with long rides in the car, pinchy-cheek family reunions and other things that are “good for you” and not any fun. What’s more fun is creating your very own playland, all from the comfort of your own bathroom.

First, there’s the “big potty” itself, with all its cold, splashy water. It’s a perfect home for your rubber duckies or Mommy’s cell phone. For added fun, make sure the big potty is unflushed before stirring it with your toothbrush. The big potty is also ideal for sticking any body part into. You can wash your hands in there. When your Mommy no long finds that quite as horrifying as she did the first time, you can stick your leg or face into the bowl. But there’s more to the bathroom than just the big potty.

There’s also the toilet paper, all glorious and white on its easy-to-use roll. What better way to spend a hot summer day than unrolling the paper as quickly as possible? While you’re at it, go ahead and wrap it around your feet a few times so that you fall when you try to walk and hit your head on the bathroom floor. If falling down and getting a little sympathy lovin’ isn’t your thing, you can always settle for eating the toilet paper or seeing how much of it will fit into the toilet bowl and then retrieving the wet, sopping mass and throwing it on the floor.

Finally, and most importantly, is the potty chair. Which brings us to the only rule in your bathroom wonderland: You must never, ever go pee pee on the potty chair. A lot of fun can be had telling Mommy that you need to go potty. You can even mean it sometimes (but really only sometimes or it’s not quite as amusing). The important thing to remember is to hold the pee pee inside until Mommy gets your diaper off and sets you on the potty. But don’t go yet. Make sure to find a reason to get off the potty before you go pee pee. Perhaps you can cry because last time you used the potty chair, it played music and scared you. Or maybe you can simply get distracted, wander off and refuse to sit back down, thus turning potty time into a prime opportunity for power struggle, which you know Mommy doesn’t want for fear of scarring you for the rest of your life. Possibly the most effective way would be to have Mommy’s phone ring while you are on the potty chair so that she turns her back, thus giving you ample time to get off of the potty chair and go pee pee on the newly-mopped bathroom floor. A word of advice: It is always a good idea to go pee pee near the potty (but never on it unless the lid is closed), so as to give Mommy the impression that you understand enough about the potty chair for her to keep scooping you up and scurrying you in there every time you coyly call out “Potty.”

Options for the bathroom are myriad, don’t forget about the laundry hamper, the scale and, of course the trash can. The important thing to remember is that the amount of fun you have will be in direct proportion to the havoc you can wreak.

It is our hope that this guide will provide you with all the information you need to begin your summer of fun.

Stay tuned for Chapter Two:
The Under-the-Sink Chemistry Set (You can eat it, too!)
Ok everyone, the code to my blog identity is broken! I posted under my blog name and its out there. It's my first post to someone else's blog and Tina told me how to do it anonymously, but I thought I might as well get it out there. And who am I kidding anyway, I only have 3 posts to my blog! And yes, I realize my 10 post goal was very ambitious...but I'm sure we'll talk about that at our meeting. And also, I'd like my name and not my blog name to post at the bottom sometimes - how do I do that?

Me & My Hoe

“You’re going to pay me what?!” I was upset my Dad was going to pay me, his own daughter, the same wage as his hired hands. There were absolutely no jobs to be had in my small town that summer and I was left to my last resort – my Dad’s cotton farm. The only bright side was that I was off to camp the second half of the summer. Until then, it would be my sucker-for-a-best-friend, Casey, (how I convinced her to work too is still a mystery) and our enemies – the weeds.

The job consisted of driving down row after row of cotton and killing weeds. If we were lucky, we only had to shoot the weeds with our spray gun, but depending on what kind of weed it was, we would have to hoe it. And of course we didn’t have to hoe the small weeds, just the ones that were taller than us.

The first day my Dad issued us each a hoe and a 3-wheeler. Naturally Casey being “company” got the better of the two, but that wasn’t saying much considering they were both well over 12 years old. My Dad had a knack, or so he thought, for rigging things to make them last longer, and both had no doubt seen his barn’s operating table more than once.

My 3-wheeler had a 1970’s style logo on the side that read “The Avenger.” I had met this beast before. I was four years old and my eight year old sister took it upon herself to let me drive The Avenger…by myself. I suppose she assumed I knew what I was doing because she failed to mention the basics, for example the brakes. I took off down the long, dirt road that led up to our house and as I panicked, I went faster. My joyride ended with a crash into the parked cow trailer and The Avenger directly on top of me. I managed to survive that encounter, but would I be so lucky this time?

As it sat before me with its handlebars stretched out like ears of metal ready to bake in the afternoon sun, I knew it was going to be a long 6 weeks. And did I mention that at this point it had no brakes and a turning radius of a semi? It was not my vehicle of choice, for sure, but it was better than footing it through the field with my hoe.

Days turned into weeks and we soon got into a routine on the farm. When a good song would come on our walkmans, we took dance breaks in the rows of cotton. Each day we had beanie weenies and a sandwich under the only tree in sight. We’d fill our water jugs and have water fights with the hose from Dad’s trailer tank until we found out it previously contained pesticide. Yikes.

All in all, it was a good experience for me to learn about this part of my Dad. But brainpower for me was lacking on the farm. As Dad put it, “Andi, you’re a smart kid, but out here you’re an idiot.” And he was right. That summer I managed to lose three hoes, run into the tractor with my 3-wheeler and run out of gas in the middle of nowhere on more than a couple of occasions. But at 16, this poor track record couldn’t keep me down because I was off to be a camp rat for the rest of the summer to make mischief of one kind and another

Greyhound Goes To Disney World

All teenagers go through phases, and during the summer of 1988, I happened to be going through my no-flying phase; I refused to fly on airplanes because of a bad flight I had endured on a previous vacation.

Unfortunately, the timing of this phase could not have come at a worse time. That summer, my family decided to take a trip to Walt Disney World in Florida; it was to be our first “real” vacation that wasn’t centered on visiting relatives.

After leaving me behind on several other family vacations that involved flying, my family decided that summer that they would do whatever it took to get me to Disney World. My mom has a bit of a driving phobia, so driving to Florida was not an option. We researched taking the train and quickly concluded that was not an option because it took over three days to travel each way. The only other option was taking the bus. And so we did, not knowing how adventurous the trip would be.

My mom, sister, and I boarded the bus in our small town for our first big stop in Houston. We quickly saw that a different class of passengers awaited us. We tried to avoid the prison and mental hospital escapees who seemed to abound at the Houston bus station. They were easy to spot because they were still wearing their jumpsuits and gowns. But, as much as we tried to avoid the weird people, I ended up sitting next to some pretty scary people. And the ones I didn’t sit next to still made their presence known.

In the middle of the night, we were awakened in Mobile, Alabama, during a driver change. The first replacement driver who stepped on the bus received an update from the outgoing driver--something about a guy who was high on drugs who had locked himself in the bathroom and would not come out during the ticket check. The replacement driver quickly disappeared. We then waited for hours for another replacement driver and for the police to arrive and drag the armed man out of the bathroom and off the bus, while we all sat in our seats. I don’t think that we slept the rest of the night because of how scared we had been.

On the way back from Disney World, the “clientele” seemed to improve, but we still did not sleep. We had an evangelist sitting behind us who preached all night to a non-English-speaking Vietnamese man. And the air conditioning vents leaked a mysterious red, sticky substance that was later determined to be Kool-Aid.

Somehow, despite all of this, the bus adventure of 1988 did not usher me out of my non-flying phase. Instead, that phase raged on for many years and outlasted my family’s desire to accommodate it. With the bus adventure of 1988 firmly imprinted in my mother’s and my sister’s memories, they couldn’t quite bring themselves to risk their lives on another vacation by bus just for me.

What I did on my Summer Vacation Essay or 500 words, give or take 1000

The infamous “What I did on my Summer Vacation Essay”, I’m not sure I was ever assigned that one. Suddenly I see myself in Junior English. I was 16, flat chested, boyfriendless, wanting desperately to have the whole fitting popular feeling behind me. And it almost was, but only almost because there I was sitting in my name brand jeans thought I probably spent all my birthday money on. I am also pretty sure that I woke up at least an hour before school started to get my hair just right. I am still clueless with what to do with makeup but that never stopped me then. I wish I had had enough sense to throw on those old comfy jeans. The ones with the holes in them ( not on purpose), a soft t-shirt and pulled my hair into a ponytail……but that wardrobe would have to wait until college.

But back to my 16 year old self, English was just a class. Not one I particularly looked forward to either. If anyone had asked my favorite subject I never would have said English. I dreaded the essays and sentence diagramming. I did look forward to the reading lists, although , I tried not to appear too eager. I complained as much as the rest as the class, but at home I read them. Cover to cover. Usually well before the deadline. I hated homework of read chapters one and two. I read books, like I later learned to drink beer. Fast until I finished. I couldn’t stop at the end of chapter two. I needed to know what happened like I needed another drink.

And I liked the excuse to read, at this stage I of felt like I needed one. Reading was kind of cool for a while. Me and Ramona Quimby were the best of friends in elementary school. I also went through a slightly embarrassing Babysitters Club phase, but am pleased to report that the Sweet Vally High Twins and I never clicked. Sometime in junior high those books seemed babyish, and replaced with talking on the phone, listening to music ( really bad music I might add) and learning how to French kiss. So when we got our reading lists every year I dug in.

So, back to the first week of English III. You already have most of the background, but what you don’t know is that I was more than a bit guarded. I didn’t like letting people in. Really in. Being vulnerable wasn’t exactly safe in my family and well not that safe for anyone in high school period. That being said I would have killed for our first writing assignment to be “what I did on my summer vacation”. Surely I would have written something amusing or satirical. I doubt I would have truly written about our beach vacation where more than likely my parents screamed at each other, I got 3rd degree burns and most of my family got drunk and passed out. Possibly even me. I can’t remember that summer in particular but they were all pretty much the same. Not to say there weren’t any warm memories from those summer beach retreats. Surprisingly there are many, but at 16 you kind of gravitate towards the bad stuff. The melancholy teenager hanging on to anything to give her a thick wall to build around herself. Yes, I would have written something light and clever and given it a really zingy title. I was well known for my zingy titles. Instead Mrs. Lampo asked us to write not one silly essay but a collection of private personal ones. I believe it was called a “me book”. I cringed as she described the assignment. Now, as a teacher I can see what she was trying to do. She wanted to get to know us. Who we were, what we liked, how we wrote, how to reach us. The problem was, I was 16 and she was one of them. A grown up. A teacher. A mom of a kid in our class. She was not to be trusted. How could I write all these essays on who I was, my strongest influences, the things I was most proud of etc.. Maybe later in the year. Maybe by April or something when we had a chance to feel each other out. Not now. Not the first week. I can picture her clearly. She was about my mom’s age. Short, with short dark hair. She was always very smartly dressed, much more stylish than my mom and with her toes perfectly pedicured. She always seemed a bit shifty to me. She had this large mole on her face that I couldn’t help but stare at as she lectured. It was about the size of a dime and I swear it got bigger as the year went on. It has made me really self councious about my own mole. I keep thinking about having it removed all because of the time I spent making fun of hers in the 11th grade. She was probably a pretty good teacher, although she made me uneasy. Usually good teachers fall into one of two categories: cold, hard and feared, but eventually that fear turns into respect and the cold starts to warm. This would be Mrs. Holmes my 6th grades science teacher and first F I ever received on a test. Next would be the warm and encouraging type. You learned so much simply because you wanted to please them. This would be my 10th grade English teacher, Mrs. Prejean who introduced me to Anne Sexton on the first day ( no damn summer vacation essays from her either). I wouldn’t have memorized that ridiculously long Friends, Romans, Countrymen speech for anyone else. Mrs. Lampo didn’t quite fit into either category. I suppose she was hard, but not especially challenging. I didn’t warm to her, nor did I truly respect her. I did, however, like to argue with her. This was her fault of course. She introduced our poetry unit with this long flowery speech about how no opinion or interpretation of a poem could be wrong. There were no dumb questions or bad observations. Once again, as a fellow educator I can see what she was trying to do. She wanted to create a safe atmosphere for us to speak up and discuss. The only problem with that was she announced to my class that my observation was dead wrong only 15 minutes after her flowery speach. I didn’t burn with shame, instead I took it as a challenge. Maybe this challenge was just what I needed to motivate me to prove myself to her academically or maybe all it motivated me to do was toilet paper her house and leave an egg in her mailbox with a threatening note about Thoreau.

Back to my first week assignment…These personal essays had a cold fearful grip on me. Usually my writing process involved mulling the topic over for a bit and then pouring it all out on paper the day or so ( or occasionally the period) before it was due. I didn’t proofread or spellcheck. I finished them in a flurry and handed them in. I think I was afraid if I gave them a proper reading I would be too embarrassed to even have them graded. My spelling was not something to be envied. I never quite got a great grasp on grammar either. To this day I couldn’t tell you what a gerrand is. I somehow managed to get As, although my papers were usually heavily marked with red.. These essays were different. I was supposed to reveal something about myself. To her. To someone who could be my mother…and that would be the last person I wanted to be unguarded around. Sometimes I still feel that way. I briefly just considered making it all up. Some fictional crap that would satisfy her little assignment and still get me a good grade. It might even be fun, making things the way I wanted them to be instead of how they were. I also considered doing what I usually ( yes still) do when I am a bit uncomfortable and guarded…being funny. Writing decent essays, but not digging in. Keeping them on the surface and full of satire. The struggle was I couldn’t do either. It felt like I would be cheapening it somehow. I didn’t trust this Mrs. Lampo or her mole. It was still too early to tell if she would earn my respect, but I realized the writing already had. That it didn’t just get to scratch the surface or be passed off as a joke. That it was bigger than my fear. So I did it. I wrote about my fears and my hopes and my proudest moments. I put it all on paper and fearfully turned it in. Who it was this 16 year old girl thought she was. I saved one of those essays. I think it is in my high school box up in my parent’s attic. I did get an A. I can’t remember if it was really any good or not. I didn’t sign up to be my high school newspaper editor or go on to pursue a degree in journalism. I didn’t spend all my free time writing short stories instead of watching 90210, but it did teach me that this writing stuff was real. It had to be vulnerable, and it was most certainly to be respected, big hairy mole and all.

What I did on my summer vacation...

No need for alarms that morning. Adrenaline sounded off like a bugle, calling my body to attention. The smell of freedom tickled my ten year old nose as if it were a fresh pot of coffee awakening my parents. That day kicked off a summer of playing outside with friends, riding bikes and running in sprinklers. It also marked the first summer I was allowed to stay home by myself. My mom arranged for me to play with friends all day and check in every hour with a family friend who lived in the neighborhood.

With a quick kiss goodbye, I escaped the house and rounded up Amy, my next door neighbor. Together, we pedaled as fast as we could to Kim’s. To my dismay, her friend Deborah had already come over. I didn’t really care for Deborah, but the excitement of the day soon overrode any feelings of discontentment. Then we encountered our first problem of the summer: Deborah didn’t bring her bike. Never fear! I could ride my mom’s ten-speed bicycle and Deborah could ride mine. At least, I thought that would be okay. I was allowed to ride it, but my mother was concerned that I could just barely ride it. But in her absence, I rationalized that the decisions of summer had been left to my good judgment. So off we went.

Unfortunately, Deborah was not experienced riding down busy streets with a group of friends. After only a couple hundred yards down the street from my house, the first car came upon us. Amy, riding near the back of the line, hollered, “Car!” Kim and I began to migrate toward the side of the road, into a single file line. Deborah, on the other hand, completely freaked out. She jumped off her bike, put the kick-stand down and ran. Normally, I would have found this amusing (and a little strange), but the parked bike was right in my trajectory. Unable to swerve around her because of the upcoming car, I did the only thing I could do: slam on the brakes. I’m still not totally sure what happened next, other than a huge crash leaving me lying on the ground.

I felt a little sore and my knee looked pretty scraped up and was starting to hurt. All I could think of doing was getting back to my friend Kim’s house to clean up. I hopped back onto my bike and rode the additional four blocks to her home. Her mom cleaned my knee out with hydrogen peroxide and called my mother. My friend Amy sat with me the whole time; the other girls said they just couldn’t look at my knee. When my mom arrived, she agreed to take me to the clinic, but didn’t think I needed stitches.

Three layers and twenty-four stitches later, we went home. The following day, my mom hired a sitter for the rest of the summer.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

I am who I am

That is what God told Moses (exodus 3:14)……..and I think it sums it up. That word am has to be one of the most important in the English language. You might argue that “is” and “are” are equally important. I disagree. Is is not personal. It is how someone else introduces you. Are is how you talk about someone else. Am is how you describe yourself. Obviously God did not feel the need to finish the sentence because He is everything. Everything good at least.
I am also a lot of things……although my resume is not as all inclusive as God’s but I am…… a lot of things. A mother, a wife, a child, a teacher, a friend, a sister, an aunt…you get the idea. Most of those are easy to say because they don’t require any desire. I was born, making me a child. I got married making me a wife. I get paid to be a teacher. Don’t get the wrong idea – they all take skill and work….but these are easy ones to admit and accept. There are some damaging I ams out there that I have learned to avoid. There are other I ams that are sort of wishful. Hopeful. Hesitant to come right out and say. I read Bird by Bird and decided that I wanted to be a writer. Notice I said I want to be…….not I am . Technically I am typing here. Using complete sentence ( well sometimes). I am writing……..but does that make me a writer? Of course. But that doesn’t roll off the tongue or pen so easily because it makes too many assumptions. I don’t assume to be good at this. I don’t assume that any one will ever pay me for it. I don’t want to say I am………and allow confidence in this hope or pleasure. I dabble. I blog. I read. Can I just be an amateur writer? I don’t think the word am goes too well with disclaimers. I run, but I see those skinny people in spandex at the gym or in races and think they are the runners and I well……..I am just barely keeping up. I think I have to be good at it to call myself that. Thankfully – the I am a Christian part doesn’t try and follow those same rules. I would look around at church and say those women, the ones with ironed shirts and memorized verses -those are the Christians. I don’t quite have it together….so I must just be pretending. Thankfully, it doesn’t really work that way. I am because of what I believe. I am because I want to be. So on that note, I am a runner, a soccer player, a good joke teller, a photographer and maybe just maybe even a writer.