Monday, July 16, 2018

Why Grammar and Punctuation Matter

It's not a scintillating title, unless it's read by someone like me: fascinated with the art and science of written communication.

This is me:

  • I spent the majority of my time in grade school finishing my regular work as quickly as possible so I could get to what I really loved doing: reading and writing plays and stories.
  • I took the grammar and composition course in high school FOR FUN! 
  • I resurrected the literary magazine because I was sure my fellow students were as obsessed as I was with wanting to write beautiful prose. 
  • I aced my honors creative writing course in college, and I especially loved it because there were only eight students in the class and I, therefore, got more attention from the instructor. 

For me, powerful written communication must include correct punctuation and grammar. It's the only way to clearly say what you want to say. It's your job as the writer to craft words into sentences that clearly and accurately convey your ideas. Grammar is the method by which you string words together coherently to make sentences and paragraphs. Punctuation gives the readers clues as to your true meaning. Failing to utilize even the most rudimentary grammar and punctuation skills means you expect your reader to somehow glean your meaning through a form of telepathy. It's a risky business; most of the people I know, including myself, are terrible telepaths.

I would never critique anyone's grammar or punctuation in a casual email, text, or social media post. But the sloppiness becomes an issue when the mistakes are repeated over and over and morph into bad habits. When I was on Facebook, I noticed punctuation trends sweeping across the digital landscape. For instance, I watched with horror as people quickly became convinced that apostrophes are to be used to make words plural. Now I see it everywhere in real life, and it makes me shudder every time. And don't get me started on the horrific (but often unintentionally hilarious) misuse of quotation marks. Or the way more and more people slap a comma into a sentence when they feel it's where the reader would take a breath to emphasize the next few words. That's not how commas were raised.

I have a friend who is a successful businessman. He's smart, savvy, and a good guy. One day, he proudly posted an image of his new business cards on a social media account. I immediately noticed a common spelling error and privately messaged him about it, concerned that his reputation for excellence would suffer from such an obvious mistake. He messaged me back and told me that he'd ordered a gazillion cards and didn't want to order new ones. He said the error would be our little secret. I didn't say anything about it after that--it's his business, after all--but I guarantee it won't be our little secret. Someone is going to notice, and they won't be impressed, and he might lose business because of it. I know I regularly quit reading articles by professionals when I realize they couldn't be bothered to re-read their text or get an editor to do it for them. It just tells me the author is sloppy and doesn't pay attention to details. Why should I listen to someone who is supposed to be imparting valuable information but can't be bothered to make sure they're doing it as clearly as possible? If a 500-word article is so poorly written, I would never buy one of their books or subscribe to one of their newsletters. Sloppy professional writing makes me crazy: I can't stop mentally editing, and then I completely miss the point they're trying (poorly) to make.

I think that the joy of cleaning up poor writing and allowing the author to express his/her ideas in the clearest, most coherent way possible is why I love to be an editor. There's a real thrill in helping someone communicate valuable information in the best way possible. I'm a total nerd that way. But I also understand how hard it is to write. How many of my blog drafts sit, languishing in their digital limbo, because I became disgusted with my lack of ability to write the way I want to? Answer: most of them. Even now I'm tempted to erase this entire post. It's like an itch you can't quite ignore.

So why do grammar and punctuation matter? They matter because the written word is one of the most powerful ways through which we communicate with other human beings. These rules aren't arbitrary, even if they change a little over time, and they are tools in making that communication as clear and understandable as possible. They aren't difficult to learn, but I suppose that if fewer and fewer people know them, it won't matter so much if they're used at all. But then we regress in our ability to communicate. That's what makes me sad.

A note: I do want to point out that different people write differently. Husband was reading this over, and he mentioned several places where he would have created two sentences out of one or added slightly different punctuation. He would have been correct in how he changed it, as well. I acknowledge that there are different styles of writing. But you have to know the rules before you can play with them, as any good cook or actor or athlete knows.


Hello. I'm a grandmother.


I'm a grandmother a couple months earlier than we all expected.

Sian developed preeclampsia and was hospitalized for a couple days because her blood pressure started shooting up so high. When medication and magnesium sulfate didn't bring it down, the doctors decided to take the baby via C-section.

I was a little too late to the hospital to see Sian before she went into surgery. I had spent most of the previous day at the hospital, but the doctors and nurses were so certain that Sian would be able to keep the baby inside for a few more days that I didn't stay overnight at their apartment. I really like sleeping in my own bed, and their apartment didn't have air conditioning and was 95 degrees F. Tell me how you can sleep while you're sweating out your weight in fluid.

(Husband has since rigged up a frame in which he set a window air conditioner, which was difficult because he couldn't put any nails or screws into the sill and because he had to work around a tall metal slider rail in the second-story window. But he did it. It took him 12 hours of building, traveling, and fixing, but he got it done, and now the kids have some air conditioning. I'm not sure how they survived that apartment up to this point!)

Nathan called me early the next morning, and I could tell he was tense, even though he always keeps himself calm and measured. I hopped right into the car and started driving, but he called again to ask where I was when I was still 20 minutes out and stuck in traffic, and this time I could tell he was about to explode with anxiety.

By the time I got to the hospital, Sian had already been wheeled into the surgery, and I was told to wait in Sian's room. About 15 minutes later, she was wheeled back in on her bed, and I spent a while helping her come to grips with the fact that she was no longer pregnant and that she is a mom and has delivered her first child. She also had the shakes, which is totally normal after childbirth, so the nurse and I got her all wrapped up in warm blankets and I stroked her head and told her how proud of her I was. Nathan went with the baby to the NICU to make sure everything was okay there before coming back to make sure his wife was recovering.

The good news is that both mom and baby are going well. While Sian's blood pressure continued to spike dangerously high even after the delivery, it has since started to come down. It's still really high for her, but they're thinking of discharging her tomorrow because it seems to be on a downward trend.

My new grandson, Tyler, is so tiny. He was only three pounds and 15 inches long, propped up in his little box in the NICU. When I saw him, he had a breathing tube down his throat, along with a bunch of other feeds and wires stuck to his wee little torso, arms, and legs. But for such a peanut of a kid, he's got some seriously long fingers and toes! I told Sian and Nathan that they need to get him piano lessons as soon as he can sit up on his own. You can't let fingers like that go to waste!

The breathing tube has since been removed, and Tyler is breathing fine on his own. His nurse is feeding him breastmilk through his feeding tube (Sian has been extracting), so he's getting excellent nutrition. While he has developed a bit of jaundice and is on antibiotics for inflammation or infection, neither of these things is abnormal for a preemie. He'll probably be home in about eight weeks.

What's absolutely lovely is that he wiggles and responds when he hears Sian's or Nathan's voices. He knows his parents.

I reassured Sian that in 15 years, Tyler will be eating her out of house and home and will probably be taller than his dad. No one will be able to tell he was so eager to be born that he came a couple months early. For now, she's very lucky to have such an attentive, caring husband. He adores her, and he's obviously fallen in love with his tiny little son. Plus, she has parents, siblings, aunts and uncles and cousins, grandparents, and a great-grandmother who are all praying for her and Tyler.

I'm a grandma! It's a pretty sweet feeling.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Pageant Winner in the House!

After a very exciting pageant, Sophia was crowned the new queen of our city. She's the one in the lovely green dress, below, flanked by her two sweet and talented attendants.

I suspect Sophia competed mostly for the sparkly crown. Well, and the $2000 scholarship and the other great prizes. But mostly the sparkly crown. Like her mom, she's kind of drawn to sparkly things.

To get that scholarship check, though, she has to show up to a number of events throughout the year, culminating in crowning a new queen next July. What's funny is that one of Sophia's very good friends won the crown last year. She is a year older than Sophia, and Sophia has been following her in theater since they were both in elementary school. Fortunately, they were never jealous of each other, even as they auditioned for many of the same roles. We have a picture of them together from when Sophia was in sixth grade (about age 12) and Kat was in seventh grade; Sophia played Sleeping Beauty the younger, and Kat played Sleeping Beauty the elder in the same play that year.

Tonight was the first night the three girls started their official duties as the new city royalty, with a car show, BBQ, and karaoke contest in the city park. They didn't have to wear formal gowns this evening (phew!), but they do have to have some security with them at all times, which is sad. Sophia came home and reported that many of the men at the park kept asking how old they were, and when they were serving up hamburgers and hot dogs, they were asked if kisses were also on the menu. Now I'm not so thrilled about her being royalty. It didn't occur to me that having a crown on your head made you such a target for dirty old men, and it was a good thing her dad wasn't there.

Becoming royalty in our burg is small potatoes compared to winning at state, national, or international pageants, but I'm proud of Sophia for the effort she put in. She worked really hard on choreographing and perfecting her dance for the talent competition, and she practiced for the interviews, as well. She was fortunate to know some people who were familiar with pageants and helped her prepare, and I think that made a huge difference in how she presented herself. Also, that dress! It was a show-stopper. No one else wore a green dress, and that particular shade of green in that iridescent silk is my absolute favorite color in the world. I had many people stopping me for days to ask about that dress.

Sophia has no plans to compete in further pageants. She's satisfied with this win, and she has other things she wants to do. For now, though, she'll really enjoy the duties that come with being pageant royalty, and she'll very much enjoy getting that check next year.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Around the House

This is the first time in years that I haven't had writing deadlines hanging over my head. Having a true vacation has been wonderful, though I'll eventually have to scrape up another freelancing job. My last contract job fizzled, though it didn't have anything to do with me or my work. The short story is that there was a management shakeup at that company, and everyone there is either jumping ship (including my liaison, Clint, and my brother) or figuring out where they fall in the new and confused hierarchy. So glad I don't work in the corporate world!

The good news is that my brother's new marketing manager job at Perfectly Posh means we benefit from the largesse of product samples. It's not like my brother is going to use all the creams and lotions and face masks and soaps that they give him, so he hands them off to us. As a household full of girls, we are extremely grateful.

Since Husband also has the summer off, we've had goals: the front yard; pulling out all the carpet and re-flooring the upstairs level with laminate; writing for fun; making flutes (Husband); and refinishing a lovely thrifted dresser (me).

The front yard is partially completed, with planting containers put in and walkway pavers being set Still to go: weed cloth, rock covering on the ground around the planters, selecting plants, and populating the planters.

I think insisting on growing a green lawn in the desert is simply stupid. Don't get me started.

I plan to put a mix of flowering culinary herbs and ornamental vegetables into the long planter and into the "rockery" on the right, as they get full sun most of the day. The whiskey barrel in the middle will have something showy and flowery. I'm still deciding what that will be.

Since the above picture was taken, Husband decided to rip out the boxwood hedge and the spiky red hedge around the side of the porch and put an L-shaped planter in their place. The boxwood is gone now, and Husband and my FIL are busily leveling out the planters and pavers in order to go get the two tons of rocks they've ordered for the ground covering.

The laminate flooring for upstairs has been purchased (an amazing sale for 22 cents a square foot!), as is the underlayment and the tools for putting down the laminate. Bonus: Husband just purchased a used table saw in extremely good condition for an extremely excellent price, which has been one of the things on his wish list for ages, and which will be very handy in cutting the boards to fit.

Husband has perfected a process of making tuned, clear-sounding pentatonic-scale flutes in 30 minutes. He uses a food-grade, completely non-toxic plastic for the mouthpieces since he's making the flutes out of PVC and didn't want to take any chances that the plastic might be dangerous. He's even started an  account and started making YouTube videos on the basics of the flutes.

I'm working on the dresser. This is the "before" picture. I'm covering the drawer fronts with a pretty contact paper I purchased and will paint the body and legs a glossy white. Pardon the weeds where the driveway has dropped. They have been dealt with firmly and thoroughly.

All this and I've lost 30 pounds and a ton of inches since late March!

One last thing: in my continued effort to cure my ongoing and sometimes horrible fatigue, I've ordered a magnesium glycinate supplement that has great reviews. I have made and used my own magnesium oil (magnesium chloride) before, and I try to eat magnesium-rich foods, but I'm heading into the realm of oral supplementation because I am desperate. While losing weight is making my clothes fit better and my butt not as wide, it hasn't helped my energy levels. There was a slight energy bump right at the beginning, but--as it always goes--that went away and my fatigue returned full-force. Discouraging. I'm so tired of being exhausted. Hopefully, this is the summer that yields the cure.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Main Headlines

It's been a while, hasn't it?

Strangely, holding down a couple jobs and being a mom has kept me busy. You know I don't like being busy due to my natural laziness. I enjoy activities mingled with time to sit and think and not be running around, so I take those moments when I find them.

Now is one such time, although I am multi-tasking by also cooking dinner. I know you're impressed.

So, because of the time gap, this post is going to be newsy.

First of all, thank you, Magazine Fairy, for the Better Homes & Gardens subscription. I love to look through those glossy pages and fantasize about decluttering my house and making it two-page-spread worthy. It may never happen, but a girl can dream.

And now, an announcement: I'm having a grandson! It's a boy! I admit I was kind of hoping for a granddaughter because a) she would be the oldest daughter of an oldest daughter of an oldest daughter of an oldest daughter of an oldest daughter (all living), and how cool would that be? And b) cute little girl clothes! But I am thrilled to contemplate loving and spoiling a little grandson this year. Sian and Nathan won't tell us the name they've picked, but that's ok. I wasn't planning on monogramming anything yet. But I'll start loading up on diapers and onesies soon.

Poor Sian has been so sick. She's still able to function because she only took one class last semester and goes to her part-time job in the afternoon, after she's got her morning sickness a little more under control. Finals are over, so she's looking forward to the day she can quit her job in preparation for giving birth. But the girl is nauseated just about all the time. She says her growing baby bump is worth it, though, and I totally agree. I went through that six times, and I wouldn't give any of them back. Most of the time.

My son-in-law, Nathan, switched his major from applied physics to computer engineering, and he's loving it so much more. He's very brainy, which is totally the type of guy I expected Sian to marry. He works as a tutor in the computer engineering department, and he's very much in demand because he has the ability to explain concepts clearly while also being encouraging to his tutees. He's not at all condescending. He is also taking very good care of my pregnant daughter, so I love the guy to death.

Gabrielle got herself into the honors program at her university and even wrangled a scholarship, so she's pretty happy about the decreased financial burden. She's decided to switch from video game design to animation because she loves the animation side so much more than the coding, although she is good at the coding part, too. She designed a new lynx mascot for Husband's elementary school, so that's something else to put into her portfolio. Every time she comes to visit, we sit and talk and she shows me her newest stash of funny memes she's saved for me. I usually end up laughing so hard I can't breathe, which delights her. I think my kids find it gratifying to see me gasping for air and making little squeaky noises, unable to talk, and wiping tears from my eyes because I find something so ridiculously funny.

Gab would really, really like to meet Mr. Right. For some reason, she tends to attract the boys that turn into stalkers almost as soon as she says something nice to them. I keep telling her that she's just been unlucky that way, and that there really are guys who aren't creeps out there. There are, right? It's been so long since I've been in the dating scene that I don't know how difficult it is anymore. Do the kids still date? Or do they just "hang out." Or "talk," as in "oh, I'm talking to someone right now." Sophia is "talking" to a boy right now, but even she isn't sure if they are dating exclusively or what.

Speaking of Sophia, she's done a splendid job of saving money to go to England this summer. She and Elannah are planning to go and spend a few weeks staying with each of the aunts and uncles that they have scattered around England and Wales. Husband and I have been encouraging the idea because when else will it be so convenient for them to travel like this? Plus, with all their aunts and uncles and cousins willing to put them up and show them around, it's the perfect way to get an up close and personal look at the land of many of their ancestors.

Elannah just took the silver medal for humorous monologue at State drama competitions. (I have to get her to perform her monologue again so I can record her and put it on here.) She's nearly finished with her dental assistant certification, as well, which means she can take our dentist up on his offer to let her do an internship to complete the program. After she graduates from high school, she's planning on going to Dixie State University, which has one of the best dental hygienist programs in the country, despite its reputation as a party school. She and Sophia are both going there, so they'll room together and keep each other out of too much trouble. Elannah may or may not go on to dental school, while Sophia plans on majoring in business marketing.

Joseph is doing so much better. The poor boy has been through the wars with his eczema, allergies, asthma, and anxiety. We recently saw an expensive allergist, and she put him on a regimen of salt baths and salves that has almost completely healed his skin. It's so wonderful not to see him scratching and scratching at open sores all the time, and he can finally sleep at night. We also found out that he's been using the wrong inhaled steroid for his level of asthma for his entire life. Once that was fixed and we got the right medicine (for which the doctor also gave us a coupon for a free year, which is fortunate because this stuff is tres expensive!), he's barely needed to use his rescue inhaler, which is a huge improvement. While he is very allergic to environmental allergens (trees, grass, weeds, etc.), he's not allergic to soy, dairy, eggs, or nuts. That's a huge sigh of relief. Now that we're getting his allergies, asthma, and eczema under control, we can work on getting his weight down. His weight ballooned after he had to take several courses of steroids for severe asthma attacks, and he's very self-conscious about it, poor kid. I'm sure losing weight will boost his confidence and help get his social anxiety more under control.

Little Gary is his bright, resilient self. He is finishing up fifth grade, and he's excited to finally be at the top of the heap in his elementary school next year.

Husband has been making flutes. He's perfected a template, so he can finish a PVC flute in about 90 minutes. They have good sound and are in tune, so once he figures out how to reduce production time even more, it might be lucrative for him to sell them. He's enjoyed doing that.

As for me, I won't be crying when the school year is over. Driving a preschool bus is probably one of the easiest jobs in the world, and my bus aide and I get along very well; but, like any job, it gets a bit tedious after a while. I'll enjoy taking a break from that for the summer. I plan on writing a book over the summer, so it will be good mental exercise, and then driving the bus again in the new school year will be a nice change.

I have kept up with writing work to a certain extent. I just completed a manuscript evaluation, commissioned by someone who somehow heard about me and tracked me down on behalf of her husband. She paid me what I asked for, as well! Regular blog writing for my main client is on hold, however, as they go through a management shakeup. My brother no longer works there, and my liaison also moved to greener pastures. I've never met or talked to the guy who was paying my invoices, and last I heard, he was trying to save his job and figure out what he does now that everything's gone topsy-turvy. It makes me quite glad I don't work in the corporate world. I haven't looked very hard for more freelance work. I've been tired.

The best news for me is that I have been losing weight. My friend and health coach signed me up with the program I'm doing, and while I was a little skeptical that it would work for me (one of my core beliefs was that it would work for everyone else except me), I had seen her and others lose weight and then keep it off for years. So I tried it, and I've now lost 15 pounds in the first 30 days. I'm pretty happy about that. I have a long, long way to go, but this has been positively easy. I'm never starving, I don't have to count calories, and I don't have to do strenuous workouts. When I sat down and calculated my weight gain, I was absolutely stunned to find out I'd gained 60 pounds between 2010 and now--just eight years--and I was already about 30 pounds overweight before that! That's horrible! I believe it started when Husband was diagnosed with leukemia and I started really stress eating and my adrenal glands cracked under the strain. After that, things were just even more out of control, and I quit trying, except when I did some crazy diet and then gained the weight right back. I hated looking in the mirror. I hated buying clothes. I even got to the point, sometimes, when I was convinced that I was so ugly that going outside would be a travesty against the other people of the world. That was the devil on my shoulder, I know, and I fortunately didn't fall for that particular lie--at least not for very long--but I was disgusted with myself and my body and had no idea what to do.

So this is definitely a positive step for me. I sleep better now (Husband says I don't snore anymore), I have more energy, and my clothes are getting pretty loose. I'm still fat, but I'm also excited knowing the fat is steadily coming off. By the end of the year, I should be forced to buy a whole new wardrobe of skinnier clothes. I might not hate looking in the mirror, either.

Marmite, our dog, is currently our only pet. The three cats either disappeared during the Great Cat Lady Debacle a couple years ago (I'll explain more about that later, hopefully) or died of old age (Myles). Joseph is definitely allergic to cats, so we won't be getting any more of those. Fortunately, he's a lot less allergic to Marmite, who is a schnau-tzu (shih tzu/mini schnauzer mix), who has hair, not fur. If we tried to get rid of Marmite, there would be a rebellion and revolution the likes of which have not been seen since 1776. Not that we're going to get rid of him. He is beloved. I've said multiple times that Marmite better never die because I just don't think any of us will recover from that.

Oh, we do have a goldfish that Elannah won at a fair about five years ago. Somehow, that little tiny fish has survived and thrived. He's grown pretty big and has lovely, flowing, transparent fins. But if I didn't feed him and clean his bowl, he wouldn't have lasted this long, since everyone else forgets to take care of him. He has not been named. He is, simply, Fishy. He lives on our kitchen shelf, and he gets very excited when he sees me. If it's a he. It might be a she. I have no idea.

So that's the news, minus the small details. All the main headlines are covered here. If you got this far, well, hello! I'm impressed! And I hope you have an absolutely wonderful day.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A Thrilling Announcement

I'm going to be a grandma.

What a strange mixture of joy and worry that announcement has brought. I'm so happy to be a grandmother to new, precious children of my children. My grandchildren are going to know their grandparents love them to pieces.

But of course I worry for my daughter, too. You never stop being a mother, either. I hope and pray my daughter will be okay. The poor girl is so nauseated all the time. If she's like me, she'll be throwing up for the entire nine months of pregnancy, which doesn't make pregnancy all that pleasant. Fortunately, the end result makes it worth it.

Anyway, the happy announcement came in the form of a phone call from my daughter and son-in-law on Christmas Day because they were spending the holiday with Nathan's parents (we got them for Thanksgiving). Best. Christmas. Present. Ever. I cried. Of course I cried.

Sian is due on September 3rd. I have until then to buy all the onesies and make all the baby blankets Sian will ever need for an army of children.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

I Are Smart

I remember a few months ago that I was driving alone down the road (I even remember which road it was and where on that road it happened), and I suddenly had this overwhelming feeling that I used to be so much smarter than I am now. I could almost remember being that smart--orders of intelligence greater--and I could feel the difference between how much smarter and more intelligent I was then and what I am now. I knew in that moment that at some point, information I took in was effortlessly analyzed, leading me to an accurate big picture forecast because of my clear grasp of all possible details, and that my mind was able to lay out the possibilities before me in crystal clear detail in the blink of an eye.

It was an incredibly frustrating moment. It was like having a strong memory flashback without getting the key details. I knew it was true, but I couldn't remember why or how. The feeling kept slamming into me strongly for a week or so after that, while now it hits me only on occasion. But it was such a significant event that it has carved out a well-traveled neuronal pathway in my permanent memory.

If this is a memory, when was I that brilliant? It certainly isn't in this lifetime, even though I know I'm reasonably intelligent on my best days. Echoes of that "memory" suggest that I still think in the same manner, and that the way I approach and analyze information is part of my core personality; but now it's like my head is full of porridge, and I'm struggling to break through that sticky mess every time I learn or analyze information. Given everything else I know and believe, I concluded that this memory is somehow connected to my existence before I was born into mortality.

Before I had a mortal body, before I was born into this world, I was wicked smart.

That's both frustrating and uplifting to think about. It gives me hope that at some future time the porridge in my head will be gone. Sure, I'll be dead then (or "graduated," as I like to think of it), but I'm not afraid of dying. For now, though, I wonder why I was allowed to have that glimmer. I suspect it was to give me hope and to spur me on to do what I need to be doing in this life. I've been really slacking lately.

Anyway, what brought on this little mental musing was that I was watching this guy on YouTube take stuff I've been learning about for the last few years and assemble it clearly into a step-by-step series of actions. His conclusion is my conclusion, but he doesn't seem to have porridge in his head. He is able to retain what he learns and speak about it very well. I always admire that in a person. I envy it, too, even if my envy is without malice.