A Small Thought for Today…

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Is Pope Francis Uh-Mazing? Apparently Only Halfway…

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I was buoyed today by Peg at Peg O’Leg’s Ramblings. In honor of tax day, she reposted an earlier musing. With her Me No Like-y Tax, she says, “each time the word ‘like’ is used, except to express a preference or to compare things, it will be taxed.”

Being a writer and a bit of a grammar freak, I’m all for it. I once snatched a marker from my daughter’s purse in the middle of Wal-Mart so I could correct a glaring apostrophe lapse on one of their signs. Emily abandoned me in the toothpaste aisle, my marker thrust toward the lights in triumph, but I felt, I knew it was my sworn duty to uphold the standard in this Apostrophe-Challenged World. After all, it’s not the first time I’ve caught Wal-Mart flubbing one of their signs.

But because apostrophe errors are widespread, I had to chill – my self-imposed burden became too much to carry alone. It was easier to let that one go and pick a new battle. Mostly.

Not AmazingEnter AMAZING. Misused apostrophes are now a mosquito bite on the scene compared to this pervasive, overused adjective.

Dictionary.com‘s definition of amazing is “to overwhelm with surprise or sudden wonder; astonish greatly.”

I was driving along the other day when I heard a radio ad for The Mineshaft Restaurant outside Milwaukee. Hmmm, I thought. Wonder if this place is worth the drive? After the radio announcer called it “The amazing Mineshaft” at least four times during the 30-second commercial, I decided I just couldn’t go there.

Crying over pieNot because the food isn’t good – I’m sure it is. I’m sure the wait staff is efficient and the place is clean. But when the waiter puts your meal in front of you, will you be speechless because of the astonishing way the pasta has been arranged on the plate? Will the pie bring you to tears? Probably not.

Others are noticing this amazing epidemic. The Huffington Post jumped on the bandwagon, and CBS News went so far as to suggest that amazing be banished. There’s even a Facebook page dedicated to Overuse of the Word Amazing.

The other night I was watching Steven and Chris on CBC. They’re engaging and fun, making fashion and food appealing and enjoyable. Their style consultant dressed her models in spunky spring fashions, then went on to call many of the ensembles amazing. She even called some of them uh-mazing.

The only truly uh-mazing thing I’ve heard lately is when Pope Francis kissed a relic holding the dried blood of St. Gennaro, turning part of the blood to liquid. And the poor guy only got credit for a half-miracle, because not all the blood liquefied. Apparently he didn’t kiss hard enough. Bummer.

So I’m with you, Peg – it’s gotta stop. Not sure if taxing is the answer, but I’ll keep my marker ready just in case…

Grandma Hits the Slush Pile

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Early last year, I sent a short story to Guideposts magazine. It was a pared-down, cleaned-up version of a story about my grandma that I submitted sometime back in 2012 or so that they rejected. It was such a nice rejection letter that I couldn’t get too mopey about it – at least for long, anyhow.

Not me. Really.

Not me. Really.

But that letter made me rethink the story. Ever pick up an earlier version of something you wrote and think Good grief! What was I thinking?? It’s kind of like that shudder you get when you find an old picture of yourself from the Age of Big Hair. Yeah, you know what I mean.

That first story didn’t have the oomph it needed.

So early last year, I dug grandma out of the slush pile, dusted her off and started rewriting. I tightened everything up and tweaked until the cows came home. Then I sent the story in again.

And didn’t hear anything. For weeks…and months…

Hello? Hello?

Hello? Hello?

I just about shrugged it off for good when I got a call from a story editor at Guideposts. They liked the story and wanted to work with me to make it fit the magazine’s style.

It took a few days of back-and-forth emails and phone calls, but we ironed things out, and throughout, the Guideposts team was upbeat, professional and helpful. It made me recall a few stories I’ve submitted to other publications that have been hacked up and changed so completely that I hardly recognized them as my own work. Guideposts modifications stayed true to my story while it loosened the feel to fit their magazine. It was a good experience, one I hope to repeat soon.

Here’s a link to the story on their website. As an added bonus, you even get a huge view of my head right at the top of the page! Thankfully with no big hair…

Getting the Fizz Back

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This morning I read the latest blog post on The Simply Luxurious Life. In “How to Live a Courageous Life,” blogger Shannon Ables shares 11 points on how to live courageously vs. living with a security mindset.

fizzFor the past few months, I’ve been reassessing my blog. It lacks fizz, so it’s time for a change. I originally started my blog with the hope that it would serve as a business platform for my writing.

baby-yawnWhile that was a secure goal, it didn’t allow enough of my personal writing style to emerge. It kept me playing safe, sharing things like writing tips and grammar rules. Can you say yawn? And you, my trusty and loyal readers, suffered.

So I’m switching things up. Just the idea feels fresh and interesting. It’ll still be original writing, but you’ll be reading more of “me” – thoughts, ideas and opinions. I know that last one worries my husband – he’s convinced I have way too many opinions already, so maybe sharing them with you will spare him the agony of listening to them. Ha! Just kidding, babe!

Sheldon

Not your best side, Sheldon…

Heck, if I’m bored, you might even hear about our geriatric Golden Retriever whose incessant paw licking drives me up a tree, or read a witty post about Sheldon, a stray cat who somehow got a key to the house and pops up in unexpected places.

What’d I tell you? Things will get interesting…

How Do You Get Recombobulated?

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I’m not a fan of airport security. I don’t know many people who are.

We recently flew from Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to catch our connecting flight to Tampa, Florida.

I was in pre-vacation mode, ready to let my hair down in the sunshine when I spotted a sign hanging just past one of the checkpoints at Mitchell Airport. I actually stopped and did a double-take, then started laughing. Recombobulation Lighter

Recombobulation Area?? What a hoot!

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “discombobulate” as “to upset or confuse.” I decided “recombobulate” meant “to clear up or reassemble.”

Seems I wasn’t the only one to notice this cool sign with the made-up word. In the July, 2008 edition of the Journal-Sentinel, the sign – and the reaction it caused – got its own article.

And travelers can identify, including Melissa Fullmore, who called airline travel “a stressful time.”

I agree! In Atlanta, I got barked at by a security guard for not staying with my carry-on during the screening process.

“Stay with your luggage, ma’am. Stay. With. Your. Luggage!”

Right after that, another guard pulled me aside and swabbed my hands. She didn’t even tell me why – just pulled me aside, told me to hold up my hands, and scratched some paper thingy over my palms and swiped it under a scanner. I tried to keep my cool through all this, but really, when they can’t even tell you why you’re being singled out, I started feeling all prickly inside and decided to ask.

Seems the scratchy paper thingy was “a precautionary measure to detect explosive residue, ma’am.”

The last explosive thing that happened to me was when I gave birth to our last child, almost 17 years ago. Sigh…

At that point, I really needed a Recombobulation Area, but large as it is (4,700 acres) Hartsfield-Jackson didn’t even have one single teensy corner set aside to get recombobulated.

It’s always fun to find new words, and I’d like to thank Susie Lindau over at Susie Lindau’s Wild Ride, who came up with some pretty cool new words for 2015.

Eventually, I got recombobulated on my own, and we made it to Florida in one piece.

St. Petersburg Florida is known for its beautiful weather

St. Petersburg, Florida

The Schoolhouse is Burning

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After 20 years of living in our house, I’ve gotten used to life in the country. Milk trucks lumber by on their way to the next farm; cows cross the road at predictable intervals, and metal-hauling trucks from a nearby plant barrel past the house on their way to the highway.

One night last week I was sitting on the couch reading, when my husband thought he heard a car door slam. He went to the window to check. Seconds later he yelled,

“The neighbor’s house is on fire!”

Schoolhouse 1 Dark

Man, that shock got me up in a hurry! After we watched for a few seconds, we realized it wasn’t our neighbor’s house burning, but an old brick one-room schoolhouse nearby that a man was renovating into a workshop. Flames towered over the burning structure, and trees were illuminated like skeletal fingers in the deep dark.

It was frightening.

We dialed 911. The dispatcher said that others had called, and rescue teams were on the way. Within a few minutes, our local fire department headed up the hill toward the schoolhouse, which by then was fully engulfed by raging flames.

Together, ten mostly volunteer fire departments clogged the road, with water-supply trucks slowly making their way toward the blaze to unload.

it was a bitterly cold night, with a steady blast of wind that blew licks of fire into the air. A sheriff stood at the bottom of the hill, waving orange glow sticks as he directed traffic.

In the middle of all that organized chaos, I realized how many people came together to fight a fire for someone they probably didn’t even know. They labored in the freezing cold for hours, unable to save the schoolhouse.

I don’t know how much longer the local newspaper will have photos up, but here are a few.

It’s not the first time we’ve had a fire in our neighborhood, either. A few years ago, another neighbors’ house really did burn. It was an old structure, formerly a dance hall and bar, converted to a private home. It went up like straw before our eyes.

The schoolhouse fire was the end of a different era, though. Another neighbor was born in and grew up in a large white farmhouse across the road from the schoolhouse. Before he died, he told me that he used to walk across the road to school, then back home again where his mother had lunch waiting. I imagined children, running around the school yard in the noonday sun before being summoned by a clanging bell, back to their desks.

It was the only schoolhouse for a few miles around, and children walked down our road to get there. Here’s what things looked like the next day.

Schoolhouse fire the next day 2

Why You Will Fail to Have a Great Career

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Blogger and literary agent Carly Watters recently shared a TEDx Talk by Larry Smith, Professor of Economics at University of Waterloo. In it, he discusses why people will fail to have a great career, and how passion plays a role in it. The video has gotten over five million views, and here’s the link:

 

dreams

I’ve talked about finding your passion before – I still think the phrase itself is overused, simply because it sprinkles fairy dust on an ideal instead of giving practical facts for pursuing a concrete goal. And how often do you hear about how much hard work is involved in pursuing your passion, assuming you’ve first identified it?

wall of blocksLarry Smith comes across as curmudgeonly in the video, but if you can put that aside, he has a few really good points. He puts a new spin on the whole “finding your passion” idea. Smith even says that people who’ve found their passion still won’t have a great career, because they’re living a life of excuses that build a wall of blocks between themselves and their true career. They’re hiding behind lofty ideals that mask fear.

Check it out and let me know what you think, both of the video and about the idea of “finding your passion.” Have you found yours? Are you actively pursuing it? If so, share how you got there!

Arte Johnson

Verrrry interesting…

 

 

Weird Word Wednesday!

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Thanksgiving is just around the corner, so I thought it would be fun to share a holiday-related word. Get ready, because it’s a doozy! Today’s Weird Word is:

Marshmallows are often used in holiday baking and cooking

Don’t choke on your turkey – it’s just the botanical term for marshmallow. Before I get off track, Althea officinalis comes from the Greek word althein, “to heal.”

Way back when, juice from the roots of the actual Marsh Mallow plant were cooked with egg whites and sugar. The resulting gelatinous mixture was then whipped and set to harden, making a candy that eased the pain of sore throats.

The marshmallows we eat now don’t contain any Marsh Mallow at all. They’re basically sugar, syrup and chemicals. But don’t tell my grandma that!

Sweet Potato Casserole

Sweet Potato Casserole

When Thanksgiving rolled around, she went all out – turkey, stuffing, cranberries, brown-and-serve buns with butter, apple pie, pumpkin pie, mincemeat pie, and my all-time unfavorite, canned yams with browned marshmallows on top.

Can you say ack? Ack, ack, ack! 

Every time that dish rolled around, I fought the gag reflex. Something about the squishiness of the yams combined with the fake puffy sweetness of the toasted marshmallows just set me off.

And sure enough, one of my uncles would “conveniently” pass the dish around one last time and make sure he set it right in front of my plate, where it would torment me the entire meal. Was that a marshmallow winking maliciously at me??

s'mores are a fun summertime treatEven now, I’m not a fan of Althea officinalis. When summertime rolls around and we make s’mores, I omit the marshmallows, virtuously calling them “Diet S’mores” and eating myself silly on chocolate. And when people toast their marshmallows long enough for them to turn black, it’s the Thanksgiving Gag Reflex all over again for me.

I wish all of you a Happy Thanksgiving – may your day be filled with family and food, and an abundance of health and good cheer. Just skip the marshmallows, please.

For those of you who thrive on Althea officinalis’s squishy softness, here’s the recipe for Sweet Potato Casserole.

 

 

Quit When You’re Ahead???

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I like Lands’ End clothes. There. I said it.

Lands' End has very warm vests

My LE vest collection

I’m not obsessed; that sounds stalker-y and decidedly creepy. Rather, I prefer the benign-sounding “appreciate” to describe how I feel about the quality of their clothes, the color selections, and the fact that their customer service people are downright friendly.

Why, just yesterday I placed a reorder and the customer service lady and I ended up chatting about the little village where I live and its proximity to the lake. What’s not to like about that?

Almost made me want to order another pair of pants as long as I was at it!

I also read the humorous and informative View from the Lighthouse, Lands’ End’s blog. I’d love to write for them someday, given my interest in clothes and my enjoyment of words; for now, I’m content to hear what their writers have to say.

Imagine my surprise when “Bob, an actual writer here at Lands’ End” wrote about his experiences with knowing when to quit in his blog post “Seams Plausible: How Many…How Long…How Many…”

gingham shirts are a fun alternative to regular dress shirts

My LE gingham shirt collection…

Seems (or is that “seams?”) Bob and I share a problem. No, not when to stop buying Lands’ End gingham shirts (see photo at right…) but when to quit it with the words.

It’s so hard – sometimes the words just flow, a veritable Vesuvius of vocabulary, and I end my writing day in a semi-comatose state, fairly drooling over my keyboard. Words march, like a picnic under attack by an ant hill, across my screen.

Then the new day dawns, and I revisit the scene of my crime. I’m shocked, shocked I tell you, by what I’ve spewed on the page. Why did I get so windy? Who wants to read all this garbage?

Thankfully, help is available. The Daily Muse has five great suggestions, one of which is to be ruthless. “Chop some of those words, sentences and paragraphs,” they say. It “will help make sure that the true meat of your piece is what shines.”

Lands' End is known for their cashmere sweaters

My LE cashmere sweaters

They also advise eliminating all the adjectives and adverbs, but jeez, isn’t that going a bit far? I think I’ll save that exercise for my next piece, and order a few more cashmere sweaters instead…

Bob, a writer at Lands' End

Bob, a writer at Lands’ End

In the meantime, I’m glad someone else out there can identify with me. Thanks a lot, Bob, and here’s to happy writing!

 

Weird Word Wednesday

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Welcome to Weird Word Wednesday, a wonderful time when words highlight the folly in our lives.

Today’s word is karoshi, a Japanese word meaning “death caused by overwork or job-related exhaustion.”

This morning I was listening to Dave and Carole at 96.5 WLKH in Milwaukee. They discussed the Wall Street Journal‘s article “New Office Flashpoint: Who Gets the Conference Room?”

http://wklh.com/dave-and-carole/conference-room-conflict-101514/

Seems there are way too many meetings in corporate America, with all sorts of people abusing conference room privileges: they kick out underlings, overstay their allotted time, or take up temporary residence, treating the room as if it’s their personal office.

Sounds stressful, doesn’t it? Thankfully, all this isn’t causing karoshi in the halls, or at least not that I’ve heard of. But I can see how all this bad behavior could contribute to job-related exhaustion.

Sometimes meetings are unproductive and unnecessary

Is this your office?

Dave and Carole shared a statistic that said meetings shouldn’t have more than seven people and last longer than 90 minutes. That’s about 60 minutes too long for me!

The WSJ article went on to say that “senior executives are spending an average (of) 28 hours in meetings each week, and middle managers spend about 21 hours.” That’s enough to cause karoshi by itself!

In “5 Simple Steps to More Efficient, Effective Meetings,” Victor Lipman goes further, suggesting that preparation and a pared-down attendee list go a long way toward streamlining meetings.

My favorite item on Lipman’s list is #4: Don’t start one second late. Stragglers will soon get the idea that the world will keep spinning without them, and you’ll develop a reputation for promptness.

No speaking meeting

What kinds of meeting mismanagement is your office prone to?

Is this causing exhaustive karoshi?