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Monthly Archives: February 2013

Digesting

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As I sit here in a carb coma from tonight’s two-lasagna dinner, wondering what on earth to write about, The Daily Post comes to the rescue again. Rather than posting a writing prompt today, michelle w. offered up some wisdom about maintaining a healthy blog:  “A healthy blog is like a healthy colon.” Of course, that metaphor could be followed down numerous avenues, but her focus was on regularity. It seems, for the most part, blog followers are less concerned with the frequency of posts on their favorite blogs than with a regular schedule. Posting too frequently, especially if the content is, “I’m too busy to write a real post,” can kill off readership just as surely as posting too infrequently. Statistics show that regardless of whether they post once a day or once month, successful bloggers maintain a loyal following by establishing a manageable schedule and sticking to it.

I set myself the goal of blogging every day in 2013, and barring any extreme circumstances, I intend to stick to that. Instead of needing to establish the frequency of my writing, my challenge is scheduling what to write. There are obviously days when I have more time and creative energy, and can set down some quality (I hope) words and/or photos on the page. But on those days when the words don’t flow and I haven’t captured any decent snapshots, I need a back-up plan. Reading through the comments inspired by The Daily Post’s tip, I see that some bloggers like to follow a “recipe” so both they and their readers know what to expect and when. For example, each week a blogger might have two poetry days, a kid’s story day, one flash fiction day, one mash-up (any topic, any style) day, and two photo-only days. They’ve chosen a mixture that accommodates their creative needs but also does not interfere with the other demands of daily life–they know they’ve budgeted a couple “easy” days, and if they are on a roll with one genre, they save the extra pieces for a time when the well has run dry. I had been toying with this type of plan, but feared that it would be cheating somehow. Now that I know other bloggers swear by following a formula, I’m anxious to spend some time this weekend scouring their blogs for inspiration to build a schedule of my own. Thanks, DP, for giving me food for thought…

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Remediation

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If you ever want to find out how much you don’t know about a subject, try to teach it to someone. Four years of teaching English to adult ESL students has highlighted enormous gaps in my knowledge of the finer points of my native tongue.

For example, why do we say “an imposing medieval Belgian city gate” rather than “a Belgian medieval city imposing gate?” Turns out, there are some hard and fast rules governing the order of adjectives when more than one is used to modify a noun. I just know one way sounds right and the other doesn’t. I don’t remember anything about any rules from twelve years of English classes in various public schools, so when my students questioned me about adjective order last week I had to come home from the lesson to ask Google. Thank goodness I am living in the internet age, because a lot the answers I need in order to satisfy my students’ curiosity are not to be found in any of my grammar books (or maybe they are, and I just can’t locate them because I don’t know the correct grammatical jargon to use when searching the index).

Can you find the gerund in the first paragraph? Don’t know what a gerund is? Don’t feel bad—neither did I until two years ago when my Japanese students were struggling with them. A gerund is a verbid (a non-verbal word derived from a verb)—it looks like a verb with an –ing ending, but acts like a noun in the sentence. See it now? It’s teaching. It seems like I probably should have learned about gerunds when I was diagramming sentences in my high school grammar class, but I swear the term didn’t ring a bell. And as to the rules about when to use a gerund or when to use an infinitive as the object in a sentence…ummmmmm. Let me Google that and get back to you.

It’s become abundantly clear that I don’t know very much about English grammar. As a result, I have mailed a request to the Virginia Department of Education for permission to take a linguistics class in the process of renewing my elementary teaching license. While I don’t expect eight year-olds to ask the same probing questions about morphology, syntax, and phonology as my adult students, there were enough English language learners in my previous third grade classes that I think I could find more successful tactics to help them conquer this tricky language if I had a better understanding of its structure myself. For now though, I’m off to ask Google why the “present perfect” is actually used to describe an event in the past.

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2013 in How It Is, On Me

 

Nightmares

100_9550Today on The Daily Post: Describe the last nightmare you remember having. What do you think it meant?

Funny you should ask that. I had a nightmare just last week, one that recurs with disturbing frequency, but with no perceivable pattern. In this nightmare, I am always on the ground, although the locations are never the same, and I look up at the sky to see a jumbo jet (sorry, I don’t know my jets well enough to say 747, 767, 777) in obvious distress. Sometimes the plane fights to gain altitude before nose-diving, and sometimes any attempt at recovery has already been abandoned and the jet is headed full speed for its disastrous rendezvous with the earth. The people (if there are any) near me on the ground when I spot the falling plane are almost always strangers and rarely do they show what I would deem an appropriate level of concern about the impending disaster; only once was my husband nearby, and on that occasion I lost him in the confusion. Only sometimes can I hear the plane’s engines as it drops out of the sky, but when I do, it is a fearful screaming noise that haunts me for days afterwards. Almost always, I have to run to escape being struck either by the plane itself or by debris hurled from the epicenter of the impact. Without fail, I wake up before seeing the wreckage; I’ve never witnessed mangled corpses or dazed survivors stumbling from a burning debris field.

In last week’s version of this nightmare, I watched from an unfamiliar porch as a large silver jet with engines howling like banshees cruised over the treetops then struggled valiantly to regain altitude. For a moment, it looked like the pilot was going to be successful, pushing the plane sharply skyward a couple thousand feet, but suddenly there was a large-scale champagne cork-type explosion about where the boarding door of the plane would be. Seconds later, I watched as shimmery silver raindrops hurtled toward earth, growing larger and larger, until I could discern that they were cans of Diet Coke travelling at terminal velocity. As I ran for cover from the shower of deadly missiles, the plane, obviously defeated by the explosion of the beverage cart, reached the crest of its climb and began to free fall. When I awoke, sweating and panting, a number of unsuspecting bystanders had been killed by the savage storm of twelve-ounce aluminum cans, but, as always, I did not know the fate of the passengers or crew of the downed jet.

I am never consciously aware of feeling particularly stressed out when this nightmare rears its ugly head (although I am definitely sapped and on edge for a few days afterward). Online dream interpretation guides suggest that visions of plane crashes, assuming they are not precognitive, signify that I have set unrealistically high goals or expectations for myself, and that I am doomed to crash and burn in my attempts to achieve them. I do have some ambitious goals (and some even more ambitious timelines for reaching them), and I always have high expectations of myself, but I don’t believe they are beyond my capabilities or I wouldn’t set them.  Maybe my subconscious believes otherwise, and is trying to get me to scale back. Then I fear I’d consciously feel like a slacker, and thereby subject myself to whatever nightmare haunts chronic underachievers.

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2013 in On Me

 

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Balance

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Tutoring.
Teaching English.
Working on base.
Free-lance writing.
Volunteering.
Exercising.
Cooking.
Cleaning.
Laundry.
Shopping.
Correspondence.
Blogging.
Sleeping.

Thank goodness I don’t have kids in the mix of responsibilities I’m trying to balance day to day. Some days run like a well-oiled machine, and I’m able to move smoothly from one task to the next, meeting all my obligations for the day. Other days, I can’t even get one project started, much less finished, because all the other things I need to do are choking my mind like kudzu. Today, the kudzu is winning. Maybe some sleep will help me claw through the vines and start tomorrow on a more even keel.

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Witness

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I, a summer oak, was planted on the grounds of Elverdinge Castle (which was actually a chateau built in the Louis XVI style) in Ypres (Ieper), Belgium, in 1760.  I lived the next 154 years in relative peace, watching various renovations of the chateau, shading the castle park beneath the ever-widening shadow of my leafy boughs, sheltering countless naked hatchlings until they were fledged and strong enough to soar from their twiggy nests, weathering innumerable storms thrown at me by Mother Nature. Then, a storm of a different kind swept into Ypres around 1914, bringing with it the thunder of exploding bombs and torrents of stinging metal rain. The storm raged on intermittently for nearly five years, the worst coming to Elverdinge in winter 1917-18.  The chateau, which was being used by the French and English armies came under attack from the Germans and was burned down. I suffered numerous wounds myself, my bark pierced by fragments of bullets and grenades on all sides. Unlike hundreds of thousands of young soldiers who absorbed the same during that winter’s fighting, I was strong enough to heal, new wood covering my battle wounds. I lived another 77 years, through the post-war restoration of the chateau in 1925, and its eventual occupation by the German army during World War II. When scientists examined cross sections of my trunk after my demise  in 1994, they were suprised by my hidden account of the Great War. The horrors I witnessed were borne silently deep within my oaken heart; I imagine the survivors of the horrible fighting in Ypres carried similar scars within their own hearts.

 

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2013 in How It Was, Observations, True Life

 

Willpower?

imageTrying and failing to resist temptation

I am supposed to be on a diet to undo the damage sustained after fifteen months of packing away any kind of British comfort food set before me.  However, I am currently in Brugge, smack dab in the land of Belgian fries, Belgian chocolate, and Belgian waffles.  The city of Brugge has both a chocolate museum and a potato museum–if there’s a waffle museum, we haven’t found it yet. Within the 1.66 square miles of the canal-ringed old city center, there are more than 40 dedicated chocolate shops, sometimes three or four in a row on the same side of an ancient cobblestone street.  Thankfully, waffle shops and fry carts aren’t quite as numerous, though they definitely aren’t hard to find.  It’s too bad they were not distributing willpower when we entered the city, because rolling around an intravenous drip of the stuff would have been about the only way to save my diet from the warm waffle with ice cream and dark Belgian chocolate sauce I had late this afternoon, right before my dinner of Flemish beef stew with Belgian fries (the waffle shop closes at 6:00 p.m., so we couldn’t risk eating dinner first then coming back for dessert).  One thing I know for sure: I would have regretted leaving Belgium without experiencing its famous cuisine far more than I’m going to regret the extra miles and extra sit-ups the indulgence will cost me in the gym next week.

 
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Posted by on February 16, 2013 in How It Is, On Me, True Life

 

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Off-season

imageMaria paused by the window as she shook the heavy down pillows into fresh cases. There wasn’t much going on two stories below, and to be honest, she was partial to the winter months in this old canal city. The tourists preferred to come when fluffy grey cygnets paddled down the waterways behind their graceful parents and flowers dripped like jewels from window boxes. Winter meant fewer rooms to clean, which meant a back that wasn’t killing her by the end of the day, which was a godsend to her budding relationship with the lusty young artist with the smudgy charcoals, recently come from France to capture the grandeur of the city’s architecture in his sketchpad. Scrutinizing the telephone table beside the neatly made bed, Maria replaced the notepad and pen pilfered by the last guest, then scooped up the dirty linen and closed the door on Room 321 for the final time this week. Once the day’s soiled towels were spinning their way to dazzling whiteness in the bleach-filled drum of the basement’s industrial washer, Maria bundled up, climbed to the hotel’s ground floor exit, and stepped out into the gathering darkness of a crisp winter afternoon, anticipating the ways her creative Frenchman would welcome her home.

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2013 in Fiction

 

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