Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Created luck has continually amazed me even though I orchestrate it

Many times in my life I have decided it was time to do something and began looking into the steps to make it happen.  And there in the search for how or when or where is the answer as though it was just lurking there waiting for that moment when I looked up.

This happened quite recently when my husband and I decided it was time to replace our old van with a newer vehicle.  (Note: we never buy brand new).  It is not a whim that magically appears in our minds and bang it all comes together.  If you have heard of the word "Grok," created by Grandmaster Heinlein, you'll understand what I mean.  It takes pulling all the threads together and understanding the moment.  Those kinds of epiphanies happen to me on a regular basis -- or rather when I am ready, it happens.

So this past weekend my husband and I went to go look at a vehicle.  We had some cash with us and the title to that old van.  We decided before we went out what our limit was and that our plan was to drive out with the van but return driving another vehicle, newer, stronger, far less warn out (though our van was well cared for, just tired).  Suffice it to say we came home with the Suburban we had left to check out and paid exactly what we planned.

This wasn't a miracle or magic or luck.  My husband searched the local used car dealers and local owner sellers looking for exactly what we wanted.  He warned me two months ago to start siphoning out enough money from our regular checking account to result in a specific sum in the savings account.  I did my part; he did his.  He learned what we could buy for the funds we had, we discussed how far we could push our finances, and I saved and together we avoided purchasing unnecessary things.  Then he searched for a Suburban that fit all the parameters.  So when we headed out the door that day with cash and title in hand and directions to a specific dealer, we had done all the prep we could.  What didn't work out?  Well, we didn't get the color we would have preferred, and it didn't get forty miles to the gallon.  Somethings you have to accept (color) and somethings well, dream big, but don't be unreasonable.  It gets better mileage than the old van, and it will pull heavy things when we decide to pull heavy things.

What does this have to do with writing?   Do your homework. Write, plot, develop, know what you are doing in your story and look into all the possible ways that you can make your dream come true: Smashwords, Amazon, NaNoWriMo, etc.  Do your job and when you have it all together, head out the door with your plan in hand and follow it.  Don't rush into things you are not ready for, but don't sit about hoping it will just happen for you.  All things take time, whether we are taking note of the passage of the moments or not.  So whatever you are desiring:  prepare, plan and proceed.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Semicolons and colons: easier than you think

Write down these simple rules.
Colons and semicolons are probably the most misused punctuation there is, and it is not because they are complicated.  The rules for the semicolon and the colon are both few and easy.

To make things simple, let's establish some terminology.  Sentences are words placed in sequence with a capital letter at the start, end punctuation at the end and a complete thought in the middle.
I cried.
I cried buckets of tears that flowed down my face, dropping off my chin in rhythmic pats on my slacks.
Before I cried buckets of tears that flowed down my face, dropping off my chin in rhythmic pats on my slacks, I visited my father's grave.

All of these are sentences.  Each one of them contains an independent clause which can stand alone.  I have underlined the part of the sentence which is the independent clause.

So when I refer to a sentence, I mean the whole kit and caboodle.   When I say independent clause, I mean the part that has a complete thought and can stand alone.  Now let's talk about these rules.


Rule #1
Use semicolons to combine independent clauses that are highly related.
Dogs are the ideal companion; they will forgive their owner just about anything.

Mondays I remind myself the week will be over before I know it; I don't always believe myself.

Rule #2
Use semicolons in lists of items that have internal punctuation.

First I will show you a list with the standard "items in a series" comma in use.
Example: I dropped by my neighbor to ask for two cups of sugar, two cups of flour and a pat of butter.

Look what happens when I add some details to my list.

Example with internal punctuation: I dropped by my neighbor to ask for two cups of sugar, one brown, one white; two cups of flour; and a pat of butter.
I needed the semicolons because I added information regarding the sugar that needed to be separated from the flour.  The information added would have become part of a list of items, and a rather unclear list at that.  It only takes one addition of internal punctuation to require the semicolons to be present, and they follow through the entire list.

Rule #3
Use semicolons when combining clauses with conjunctive adverbs and transitional expressions.
Conjunctive adverb - I intended to get home before my husband to organize his birthday party; however, he left work early.
Transitional expression - My husband thought I was planning a surprise birthday party; on the contrary, I was much too exhausted to contemplate the endeavor.


Rule #1
Use a colon after independent clauses when what follows is an appositive, a list or a quotation.
Appositive - There are days of the week when I can't wait for the weekend: Monday thru Friday.
List style #1 - There are three things I must remember to buy: potatoes, red food coloring, and a bandana.
List style #2 - You must bring the following to the senior parade float party: potatoes, red food coloring and a bandana.  (The word "following" is a clear hint.)
Quotation - Who hasn't heard of Hamlet's famous quote: "To be or not to be, that is the question"?

Rule #2
Use a colon after independent clauses when what follows is an explanation or summary.
My brother can be such a ninny: he told my new boyfriend I was allergic to flowers when I am actually only allergic to carnations, and he brought me roses.

Rule #3
Use a colon after the salutation in a formal letter.
So not for the following:
Dear Aunt Sally,

But after the following:
Dear Mayor Sindsey:
How bad is that?  Three simple rules each.  The key is knowing when you are dealing with independent clauses, which I underlined in each sentence.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Things my dogs do that make me laugh

Life with the ladies
  • Lacey (the chocolate) jerks up, ears alert and forward, nose twitching.  Cagney  (the blonde) runs through the kitchen with deep questioning growls.  How could she even know what the other one was doing in the living room.  And nothing was happening anywhere.
  • My husband is out and will be gone for several hours with no definite time of return.  Three minutes before he pulls into the driveway, my dogs start running from window to window, pushing the blinds aside in front of the sliding glass door and all around noisily announcing that he will be home soon.  They don't stop until he has walked inside the door.  How will I know if there is going to be an earthquake if this is how they behave when he just pulls into town?
  • When Lacey wants to go out, she sits next to me, taps me with her paw, and when I look, she leaps straight into the air, flips both rear feet high up on one side and lands like a bucking bronco.  No matter how many times I ask if she has to go out, she will just sit and look at me like I am deranged.  Apparently, she does not believe in repeating herself.
  • Outside Cagney is the aggressive dog.  Inside Lacey takes control.  What did they do, draw up a contract?
  • Cagney runs around the backyard with her bottom tucked nearly beneath her, tail practically non-existent, a regular golden blur.  Lacey races the same track, legs flying out to her sides, tail out like a flag tail deer, ears flapping and beats Cagney to the door.  How?  She has so much wind drag she should be taking air and circling the yard.
  • When asked if she wants more water, Lacey gives me her paw.  Cagney shoves her nose in her water dish. If I ask Lacey again if she wants water, Cagney will put her nose in Lacey's water dish.
  • Lacey sleeps with my daughter.  In the morning, if my husband or I try to let her out, she will not exit the bedroom until our daughter climbs out of bed and walks her into the hallway.
  • We know who pooped in the wrong place because one stays in one place and the other walks around leaving a trail.
  • Lacey will not use the back steps, even if it means taking a header every time she goes out and must leap from the doorway to the brick pathway below, avoiding the three steps down that would be so much safer.
  • My daughter's bedroom is up a flight of thirteen steps.  It took Lacey six months before she learned to go down the stairs without ending up a ball of tumbled dog at the base.  Going up was no big deal, even exciting, but heading down in the morning, well, it was a good thing Cagney was willing to catch her at the bottom.
  • Cagney gets the greatest kick out of my husband. All he has to do is grab the back of the dining room chair and lean it toward him.  Cagney will spring to her feet and go into attack mode, a wide-mouthed grin spread across her long snout.  Don't get me started with how she reacts if he pulls his t-shirt up to cover his face below the eyes.
  • When Cagney pretends my husband is a burglar (t-shirt collar pulled up to his eyes), Lacey will nip at Cagney's feet until she agrees to play with her instead of him.
So what are your four-pawed friends doing to keep you content and entertained?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

What has reading done for me?

I read a post by Neil Gaiman recently about the power of reading. And he covered a lot of ground, largely about how reading could  improve society and reduce society's ills.  What he had to say about the benefits of reading resonated with me not just because I am a teacher and a writer but because I have been a reader since I was about eight years old.  I was behind in reading skill as a first and second grader due to all the moving around my family did.  I seemed to keep missing important aspects of reading and math.  I was enrolled in a school in Massachusetts and had the good fortune of having an alert teacher who requested I be given a reading evaluation.

Soon I was receiving reading assistance.  Over the course of a year, I moved from a non-reader to a third grade reader.  When I advanced to third grade, I was already reading above my grade level.  I have two wonderful ladies to thank for my love of reading and for the benefits that came with their efforts.

  • Reading became my safety zone.  Parents argue, and kids don't like to witness what can appear to be the end of family.  For me, it was especially worrisome as I had already seen my father go through one divorce, and it wasn't his first.  I could open a book, and whatever was going on around me faded out of my awareness while what was in the book became all I could see, hear, feel.  
  • Reading increased my vocabulary.  Words I didn't know I learned by context.  It was a challenge to me to stop in the middle of my reading and reread a passage until I felt certain I had a good guess about a word's meaning.  I was a vocabulary Sherlock, digging through all the clues in preceding and following sentences, reviewing the personality of the character speaking, the events around the usage, the tone of the narrator.  Reading made me alert to body language, to the tones of my parents when they spoke to me, the tricks my sister tried to play on me thinking because she was older, I could be fooled.  I learned to look closely at and listen to the people around me.
  • Reading introduced me to figurative language.  I began a personal career of explaining everything with metaphor and simile.  Reading made me a better communicator because I was always looking for a more interesting and clearer way of saying things.
  • Reading made me more tolerant of difference.  I started out reading animals stories.  I loved to read about leopards, otters and beavers.  When I was eleven I entered a wonderful library in the town we had moved to.  I decided to start at the letter A in the juvenile section and read to the end.  It turned out I was in the science fiction shelves of that section.  By the time I had hit Poul Anderson, I was hooked.  A person can't read about aliens without gaining a strong sense of appreciation for the unique, unusual, adventurous.  Burroughs, Bradbury, Carter and Heinlein could drown out anything:  a scary movie, my brother's annoying yelling, parents arguing, anything.
  • Reading gave me a love for science.  For several years I wanted to be an astronaut.  I took high level math, physics, biology, chemistry, and tons of English classes, whether the classes were required or not (when I was in school, few were required.  I could have graduated my junior year).
  • Reading gave me a strong bladder.  "What?" you say.  Well, I never wanted to stop reading.  I would stay until I was going to have an accident then run to the bathroom.  Fortunately, I was one of several children and my father had a good  job.  There were always three bathrooms in the house.  One was bound to be empty when I could stand to wait no more.  Hunger was no different.  I sat reading until I was weak or my mother came looking for me.
  • Reading made me imaginative.  I could plan out a blueberry picking adventure complete with back story requiring we (we being my friends who were not in the least imaginary) locate the requisite amount to save the town from certain death due to a disease cured by a handful of blueberries.  And if they were not to be found, well acorns, strawberries, gooseberries, maple tree seeds that spin like helicopters would make an acceptable substitute cure requiring different procedures but not to worry, there was a reason for everything.
  • Reading helped me decompress (still does): stress, difficult decisions, upcoming events, a bad day, and expected bad day to come, cramps, etc.  Reading helped me relax.  A good book will redirect my brain so I can stop thinking a million things and go to sleep.  And reading can wake me up, too.
  • Reading helps me be a better teacher because of all the things above.  I get excited about the written word.  There are days when my students get excited about it, too.  I can come up with a variety of ways to explain things, I get along with anybody, I can discuss most topics at least generally, some to great detail which helps when I have students not in the least bit interested in grammar and writing, and having a strong bladder can be especially helpful when teaching five periods in a row and the restroom is way down at the other end of the hall.
  • It hasn't hurt my writing none either.
What has reading done for you?  I am sure there are many benefits I have left out.