Give Me Black and White

Have you ever wondered how difficult it would be to learn the English language if you hadn’t been brought up with it? I’ve never thought to much about it, because thank goodness, I was indoctrinated into it from birth. But even so, as a writer I have daily moments of doubt. Did I use the correct word in that sentence? Should it be between or among, that or which, lay or lie, who or whom? Can I use two tenses in the same sentence? And maybe my most perplexing dilemma…when do I use a semi-colon and not a comma?

I’m a “black and white” kind of person. I like absolute rules… not those on a flex schedule. What kind of rule is it if it’s only followed at certain times?  I abhor rules that have the phrases: in most instances, probably, and or  permissible, within their context. How are writers to know whether to use a comma after an introductory phrase when the rule makers tell us it’s permissible to omit it if the phrase is brief. Is brief one word, two words, three words? I prefer a rule that says…do it or don’t do it.  Then there are the rule makers that say that placing a comma after an introductory phrase depends on the writer’s sense of rhythm. Everyone in my line dancing class would agree I have NO rhythm at all, so that rule is of no use to me.

How do new learners of the English language learn all this stuff, when I, as a 62 year old veteran, am still Googling any number of “English” questions on a daily basis and or texting my niece who is an English major?

And then there’s the issue of words used to describe various things. For instance, let’s look at words to describe groups of animals. It would seem logical to me that every group of animal on four legs should be called a herd and all birds should be a flock, fish should be a school, and insects should be a swarm. Wouldn’t that be tidy? But, you guessed it – no rules apply. Cattle congregate in herds, rhinos in a crash, hippos in a bloat, and pigs in a drift. Bass gather in a shoal, cod in a lap, goldfish in a glint, and herring in an army. A group of butterflies is labeled a flight, gnats are a cloud, and flies are a business. And get this – game birds travel in a covey, ground birds in a flock, and sea birds in a wreck. To complicate things even more, geese on the ground are a gaggle, but when they are flying they become a skein.

It all seems quite complicated to me. I can’t imagine what it seems to someone that is trying to learn English as a second language. However, on the political side of things, it is my opinion that folks relocating to our country need to learn our language. I don’t ask for perfection – just a work in progress. And, we are all that. I’m convinced I will still be a work in progress until the day I say goodbye (farewell, so long) to this world and hello (hi, howdy,greetings) to a new one.

Keep on readin’ and I’ll keep on writin’.

 

 

 

Waxing or Waning on the Outhouse Door

Last evening while traveling home from Nebraska on I-90 through South Dakota, I was leaning back in the passenger seat with not a lot to do. I had already used  all my thread I had along and could no longer work on my needlework project. When dusk began to override daylight, John Grisham had been put aside too.

It was then that I noticed the thin sliver of a moon making its appearance at the top of the darkening sky. With no pressing issues to occupy my brain, the small scientific portion of my mind began to exercise. Was this a waxing moon or a waning moon? At some point in time I had read about each, but it must have been stored in the deep gullies of brain matter and smothered with more urgent knowledge – maybe how to distinguish an Eastern bluebird from a western bluebird or ten tips to cooking the perfect Thanksgiving dinner.  I asked my husband if his gullies were less deep, but apparently not.

With all this pondering about waxing and waning moons, I began to wonder which one it was that took a place on the  old outhouse doors. And why did outhouse doors have one in the first place? From personal experience I am certain that not all outhouses did have a moon. As a kindergartener I spent a lot longer in the old schoolhouse outhouse than I had planned on when I had asked to be excused. When the rusty lock on the outside flipped down and locked me inside, I had ample time between unheard screams of “help” to study every characteristic of each bare board that made up the rustic shelter.

With the use of laptop computers and smart phones, there is not a good excuse to remain ignorant, so this morning with a cup of coffee on the stand beside me, I settled into my large comfy chair and opened the laptop. My first ambition was to find out what a waxing and waning moon is. I learned that waxing means increasing; a waxing moon is in the process of becoming a full moon. Waning means decreasing; a waning moon is in the process of becoming a new moon. In the northern hemisphere, a sliver of moon in the shape of a backward “C” like we saw last night, is a waxing moon and is on the journey of becoming a full moon on January 11th. Had it been in the shape of a true “C” it would have been a waning moon.

Now, with that straight in my mind for the time being, my curiosity still kept me captive with the question of the crescent moon on the old outhouse. Come to find out, years and years ago, a crescent moon was placed on the women’s bathrooms, and a star or sunburst was placed on the men’s. The moon stood for “Luna” and was a symbol of womanhood. The male counterpart was “Sol” symbolized by the star or sunburst. The women’s bathrooms of old were better maintained than the men’s. The outhouses with the stars and sunbursts became in such disrepair that they soon became a thing of the past. Both genders began using the same building. For whatever reason, my research claims that most of the moons placed in the doors were waning moons, but no explanation is given as to why. Maybe waning moons were easier to cut out with the types of saws they used – that’s my theory.  The practicality of a moon in the outhouse door was that it allowed for some fresh ventilation and enough light to tend to business.

There were many outhouses that didn’t have the good fortune of a moon in the door. I  remember back to 1960 to that outhouse I was imprisoned in south of Osmond, Nebraska. It had no moon, no ventilation, and no light. I was never so happy to see my brother when Miss Libby finally sent him out to check on me.

Until next month, keep on readin’ and I’ll keep on writin’.

Giving without Expectation

Christmas is known as the season for giving, and indeed it is. Not only do we give gifts, but we also give away smiles as we meet strangers on the street. We willingly drop our extra coins into the Salvation Army’s red buckets. We bake goodies and distribute them to our neighbors, pastors, co-workers, and friends. The Bible tells us in Matthew 6:3-4 that giving secretly is the best kind of giving. But when you do a kindness to someone, do it secretly – don’t tell your left hand what your right hand is doing. And your Father who knows all secrets will reward you. (Living Bible)

From this verse came the idea of introducing a “mystery provider” or “MP” into the sequel of “Bound by Secrecy” that I am currently writing. This month, because it is the season for giving, I am choosing to give my readers a glimpse into a scene of my book. In this scene the town folk of the small town of Hooper are most curious about who among them might be the “mystery provider.” Enjoy the scene and hopefully I can “give” you the book in its entirety by the end of 2017.

***

Bob was one of those patients that Doc wished every patient might resemble. He had a concern for others that went beyond the usual. It made him snicker as he remembered Laurel Reever complaining that it was faster going through the Wal-Mart check-out line in Kansas City on Christmas Eve than it was getting to the counter at the Co-op here in town. Bob had at least two or three questions to ask every customer. He wasn’t a busy body – just concerned.

Doc tucked the chart beneath his arm and entered the room. “Hey Bob. Seems as if you are following me around town or I’m following you.”

Bob grinned. “Things are sure abuzz over there at the Red Rooster today with all the talk of the mystery provider.”

“Ah, come on Bob. You’re the mystery man. Admit it. I won’t tell a soul. “

“I’m honored that you think so Doc, but it’s not me. With the way the world is going, it’s real nice to have something like this happening – it gives folks a reason to smile.”

Doc had to agree, and it would be just like Bob to do something to make folks happy. He’d done it in the past – like that frigid January day when he passed out wool socks to the road construction crew working on the old Sumalac Bridge down by the highway. Doc wasn’t convinced the mystery man wasn’t this guy sitting on his exam table; even if he denied it. It would be just like Bob to want to carry his game out a while longer and make a few more people happy. Doc could appreciate that. Maybe it was Bob, maybe not. But, ever since the various anonymous gifts started showing up around town, folks were smiling more. There was cheerful chatter and speculation about who the generous giver could be. The gifts weren’t expensive, but always useful to the person that received it. More times than not, the gift went to a person that needed a hand up in some way. The talk at the Red Rooster this morning revolved around the new axe handle that was left beside Jim Miner’s wood shed. Jim lived across the old tracks and made enough money cutting wood to keep food on the table. Somehow, the anonymous giver must have gotten wind that Jim’s old axe handle had finally split in two. Yesterday, Jim had carried the new custom made axe handle down Main Street, showing everyone how his name was engraved into the oak piece. It was finer than any axe handle a person could buy at Bomgaars Ranch Supply .

***

This season, let’s consider giving an anonymous gift to someone that could use a hands up. There’s no more joyful giving than that which is given without an expectation.

Until next month…keep on readin’ and I’ll keep on writin.’

Grandma’s Sinister Alarm Clock

At the writing group I attend we are often given writing prompts. The leader will say, “I want you to write whatever comes to mind after I give you the following  sentence.”  We have about 10 minutes to finish the task. It’s not a lot of time to scribble down some thoughts that you hope sound intelligible, because – you  may have guessed – after the time is up we go around the room and read what we have written in front of some pretty polished writers.

At the October meeting we talked about “fear and anxiety”; the symptoms of both, and how each of them has the potential of doing some strange things to our minds and bodies.  We discussed the difference between the two. I concluded that I do not like what either one does to me. Whether it’s fear or anxiety, I eat to much ice cream (or whatever sweet happens to be available), don’t sleep, and loose all concentration on anything but the problem. I wish I could go to bed, cover up my head and make it all go away – which I’ve tried, and it doesn’t work.

The New American Standard Bible includes the phrase “do not fear” fifty-seven times and “do not be afraid” forty-six times. God obviously had an easier time saying it than I do doing it.  Instead of admitting to disobedience by not following His commands, I’d like to think God incorporated these words into His Word this many times because He knew there was going to be a large amount of folks that would struggle with this. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!)

After a lively twenty minute discussion on fear and anxiety at our meeting, it was time for our writing prompt. “Write about a time when you were scared, fearful, or filled with anxiety.” I wrote of one of the first fears I can remember and  entitled my short story, “Grandma’s Sinister Alarm Clock.”

I should have been asleep, but my eyes were propped open as if 2×4’s were lodged between the lids.                 Grandma Martha slept soundly in the other bed that occupied her long narrow bedroom. I loved Grandma, but her house was big, old, and had sounds our familiar house did not. A very disturbing sound at this moment was the loud, rhythmic tick of the battery operated alarm clock sitting on the tall oak dresser – not 6 feet from me. In the moonlight that entered through the north window, I could make out the black and white sinister face of the clock. The face wasn’t what frightened me most, however; it only added to the malign voice of the clock…the constant outcry of the tick…tick…tick. How could Grandma sleep with this clock that sounded as if it came straight off an Alfred Hitchcock movie? Any moment now, it was likely to jump off that dresser and onto my bed. It would strangle me with those arms and hands that would magically extend into the darkness. 

Hours later, my six year old imaginative mind finally exhausted itself into slumber.

When I awoke, pleasant sounds of Grandma working in the kitchen drifted into the bedroom. Bright, happy sunlight streamed through the window where just a few hours ago, moonlight had cast an eerie ambiance across the room. I jumped up and hurriedly ridded myself of my baby doll pajamas.  I yanked on my summer shorts and T-shirt. I couldn’t wait to see what Grandma was fixing for breakfast.

I skipped out of the room, oblivious to the tormenting sound of a harmless alarm clock sitting on the dresser.

FYI – Check out the book page for information regarding” Chicken Soup for the Soul – Angels and Miracles”. I am the author of one of the 101 stories.

Until next month – keep on readin’ and I’ll keep on writin’.

 

Fall Reflections

September is one of the most beautiful months God created – at least in our part of the country. I enjoy each season and the diversities they bring. To me, fall not only means trees gowned in beautiful oranges, yellows, and reds, but it also means apple cider candles, cute knit hats in earthy tones, hot tea sipped beneath a light blanket on the porch, and walks down the country lane while savoring the rich woodsy smell that rises from a nearby chimney. It’s a time of preparation as many gather in their garden produce; filling mason jars with green beans, red beets, and yellow corn. What a pleasant and securing sight to see colorful quarts and pints lined up on kitchen counters, waiting to cool before they are carried down to the shelves where they will be stored and readily accessible for the colder months ahead. I do my share of gathering for the colder months ahead, but in the form of books placed on my Kindle or on my shelf. I’ll make sure I have a Tracie Peterson, a Max Lucado, a Debbie Macomber, and a Henry Ripplinger at my fingertips for upcoming cold nights in front of the fireplace.

As much as I love fall, it also brings a touch of sadness to my soul as September 23rd approaches. Just as the fruit of our gardens end their seasons, so it is that my father ended his earthly season on that beautiful fall day two years ago. He was all about making lives easier for those he loved and he continued doing that even up to death. As a nurse, I have witnessed many deaths, and those patients that are dependent on oxygen are very seldom dealt easy deaths as their  lungs often “fight” for every breath in the last hours of life.  I dreaded the time when we would be gathered around Dad’s bed watching this happen to the father that meant so much to us. My brother Dave sat in the easy chair near the window of Dad’s hospital room on the afternoon of  September 23rd.  With no previous warning and no difficult breaths, the cardiac monitor sounded. Dave looked up, and Dad was gone. It was as if Dad was still making our lives as easy as he could, and we were spared the agony of watching him struggle.

His family continues to miss him – his smile, his laughter, his wise words, and his patient demeanor. But it is with great thankfulness that we look back and know we were given a gift for those 85 years when we shared a special husband, dad, and grandpa. Not one of us would wish him back to endure the earthly physical limitations and trials that were appointed him, but oh my, we look forward to that day when we will see him again in his heavenly glory.

Fall marches on and it’s a great season. It reminds me to tell those I love that they are loved.

Until next month – “Keep on readin’ and I’ll keep on writin’.