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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Word Wise Wednesday

This might be my last WWW post. It's been fun. But I'm running out of ideas. And I feel like, with my limited time to write, I'm only writing about punctuation or grammar lately.

We'll see. Even with my limited knowledge, I continue to be devoted to correct punctuation and grammar (though, I'm sure I'm often ignorant of correct usage). Even in text messages! But my initial mission of wanting to rid the world of grammar abusers might have been overly ambitious. (That wasn't really my mission, I guess, but it does make me so sad to read the horrendous English that people post on facebook these days.)

Also, I have to return Eats, Shoots and Leaves back to the library. Surprisingly enough, I've been able to renew it a few times. No one else had put a hold on it! Imagine that! You really should read it.

Anyways, I definitely wanted to cover the colon which Lynn Truss illuminated beautifully for me:

"Expectation is what these stops (punctuation marks) are about; expectation and elastic energy. Like internal springs, they propel you forward in a sentence towards more information, and the essential difference between them is that while the semicolon lightly propels you in any direction related to the foregoing, the colon nudges you along lines already subtly laid down." pg 100

" A colon is nearly always preceded by a complete sentence, and in its simplest usage it rather theatrically announces what is to come. Like a well-trained magician's assistant, it pauses slightly to give you time to get a bit worried, and then efficiently whisks away the cloth and reveals the trick complete." pg 103

As an example she gives the following sentence punctuated in three ways:

"Tom locked himself in the shed. England lost to Argentina."

Above, these may or may not be related. Just two facts in the past tense.

"Tom locked himself in the shed; England lost to Argentina."

The semicolon conveys that these sentences are related, yet not necessarily in a causal fashion. We can't be sure that Tom locked himself in the shed because England lost to Argentina. These two things could simply be on a list of things "that really got on the nerves of someone else. 'It was a terrible day, Mum: Tom locked himself in the shed; England lost to Argentina; the rabbit electrocuted himself by biting into the power cable of the washing machine.'" pg 112

"Tom locked himself in the shed: England lost to Argentina"

The colon makes it crystal clear. Tom locked himself in the shed because England lost to Argentina.

I thought this was a fabulous example of punctuation usage and also how various marks can influence the interpretation of a sentence. Hopefully you will find it equally helpful!


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Recipes!

I recently tried a new recipe: Blackened Tilapia Baja Tacos
This was delicious. The only thing is that it should probably be accompanied by some sides to make it more filling. I just made the tacos and I thought we'd have leftovers but we ate them all. Peter ate 5. John also gobbled this up.

I also finally made the Blueberry Cheesecake that I'd been wanting to make since we picked blueberries in June. It was delicious. Though I don't quite know if it will go on my list of favorite cheesecakes to make. It didn't knock my socks off.

Finally, I would like to share a quote with you that was spoken by my dear husband this past weekend:

"I just can't get enough of these British country living shows!"

This he uttered completely of his own accord. I suppose I should preface by saying that we started watching a series on Netflix called Downton Abbey. It is part of the PBS Masterpiece Classic series. We became absorbed. It is set, as you might have guessed, at an English country estate on the eve of WWI. It is a delicious drama about the ruling class, their servants and all of the social mores that that simultaneously keep them divided and make them necessary to each other.

It was so good and well done! The last episode left us unusually cliff-hanging. So, we searched and found that there's a series two coming in the fall.

All that to say, this is one of the reasons that I love Peter! He's also partial to Jane Austen (more British country living stories). Not to detract from his manhood, I should say that he's also a fan of the Bourne trilogy. (But really, is it not a truth universally acknowledged that a man (single or otherwise) in possession of a good intellect must be partial to Jane Austen?)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Word Wise Wednesday: The Semicolon Revisited

If you never properly grasped the correct usage of the semicolon or colon in school it might have been because your English teacher was really there to coach volleyball. But it might also be because many, many people debate correct usages. Many famous and talented authors use, even idolize, those marks. Others, equally famous and talented, think that their use will precipitate the end of the world. So, if you never gained proper command of them, it may just be because no one else ever has either. Or, rather, the usage regarding such punctuation is extravagantly subjective. It seems one of the only consistencies in the English language is that someone is always arguing over one point or another.

That said, I thought that Lynn Truss gave such a clarifying explanation of these two marks in Eats, Shoots & Leaves that I'd like to write about them here.

I've already written that you should use a semicolon when connecting a list separated by commas and you may use it to connect two related, complete clauses. Those are the technical rules.

A more nuanced idea explained Truss is that the semicolon should convey expectation:

"The semicolon tells you that there is still some question about the preceding full sentence; something needs to be added... The period tells you that that is that; if you didn't get all the meaning you wanted or expected, anyway you got all the writer intended to parcel out and now you have to move along. But with the semicolon there you get a pleasant feeling of expectancy; there is more to come; read on; it will get clearer. " pg 100

Another quote:

"The semicolon has been rightly called 'a compliment from the writer to the reader'. And a mighty compliment it is, too. The sub-text of a semicolon is, 'Now this is a hint. The elements of this sentence, although grammatically distinct, are actually elements of a single notion. I can make it plainer for you- but hey! You're a reader! I don't need to draw you a map!' By the same token, however, an over-reliance on semicolons- to give an air of authorial intention to half-formed ideas thrown together on the page- is rather more of a compliment than some of us care to receive." pg 108

I've really found my study of the semicolon very fascinating. I have learned that the use of the semicolon is really an art form and that punctuation can be nearly as important as word choice and syntax. I'm happy to have learned this. Yet, I know my limits. Punctuation may be an art form and, unfortunately, most of us aren't going to be Picasso. Actually, I don't even aspire to be that guy painting trees on PBS. But one day I would like to write a novel. It's on my "bucket list," you could say. I figure that at least knowing how to use a semicolon is a small step in the right direction. And if the novel doesn't work out, I'll at least be able to drive my children to become math majors with my ruthless editing of their papers.

Next week, the colon!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

John the Lion




Peter recently got a new camera with video capabilities! Here's a short video of some of John's tricks.

On Sunday he learned to roar. I'm trying to teach him that roaring is what a lion says.

A friend was over Sunday and I was explaining to her how John learned to roar.

"Peter was changing John's diaper and..."

"... growling at John?" She questioned.

"...yes. I suppose that is what happened." I said.

For some reason it sounded awfully strange as I started to explain it but, there you have it. Peter was roaring while changing John's diaper and John imitated it. Is that unorthodox diaper- changing behavior?

You can also see John answering other simple questions and doing the signs for down and more.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Word Wise Wednesday

This post is the story of how I lost all faith in the public school system. Okay, that's a little overly dramatic. I haven't lost all faith in the public school system. Just most of it. And it wasn't all lost because of this episode either. But it is true that I have had this chip on my shoulder for the last 10 years.

Enormity. Do you know what it means? If you don't, you're in good company that includes ivy league educated presidents and English teachers alike. Aparantly no one knows what it means except a few devoted "wordies" around the web that like to make lists of the most commonly misused words in the English language and people like me who have had the meaning etched into my memory because of a bad experience in high school. So that makes 10 of us.

When I was writing papers in high school, much like I do today, I often scoured the thesaurus to see if I could find more sophisticated words to use beyond my everyday vocabulary which, these days, consists of mostly the phrase: "John, no!" (You can see how writing would quickly become limited with only those words at my disposal!)

So, I knew that when I used the word enormity in a paper in 10th grade that I was describing some monstrous evil. Yes, it means monstrous evil. I can see why people might think that it means enormous. The two words share some of the same letters. And, according to dictionary.com com, one of its meanings is enormous. So, I can see where people might be confused.

This is another raging debate in the word world. Some only acknowledge the definition "monstrous evil" (and those in that camp are quite vehement). Some acknowledge both meanings. Most neither know nor care. But if you're like my high school English teacher you think that it only means huge and you shame young high school students who may have a bigger vocabulary than you.

So, that's what happened I was shamed in front of the entire class for using a word correctly! It was a very quiet day in class where everyone was writing. The details are fuzzy now so many years later. But I found myself at her podium flabbergasted that she was so loudly critiquing my paper and word choices in front of my peers who, of course, were all listening intently! Could she not have used an inside voice?

But really, the critique is not what bothers me so much. What really gets my goat is that she thought that enormity means huge. Well, it might mean that, though, I contend, and I am not alone, that that is not its primary meaning. But some words in the English language have more than one meaning! And thank goodness for that! So, when I said that John had tears running down his face, you don't jump to the conclusion that he's been mauled by a bear and will require extensive reconstructive surgery! Because tears and tears (rips) are different! Even though they're the same! My point is, should she not have known that words can have more than one meaning?! And, I daresay, shouldn't she have known the definition of enormity, being an English teacher?! And, I'll acknowledge, no one can know what every word means, so maybe if she couldn't know the definition, shouldn't she have at least been less enthusiastic in her criticism when I was maintaining that I knew what it meant?! Do they just let anyone off the street teach high school English?

And that's why I'll never forget the definition of that word. It's a pity that there really aren't very many opportunities to use it in everyday conversation. I suppose I could say: "John, it's an enormity to disobey your mama!"

Monday, August 15, 2011

National Breastfeeding Month

This time last year I wrote a post during National Breastfeeding Month; John was on his way to becoming the biggest 4 month old in the world courtesy of mama's milk (since that's all he was eating at the time.)!

These days he's no longer the largest baby in the world. And while I did enjoy having a huge chunk of a baby, I suppose it's a good thing for him to level off the growth charts. I'm sure it's awfully hard to buy pants when you're the largest boy in the world.

Anyways, I was reminded about National Breastfeeding Month again yesterday when I came across this article.

The article discusses that many hospitals don't give women practical support for nursing. I worked at a hospital whose policies were downright antagonistic to breastfeeding, I thought. The babies had to be taken to the nursery within an hour of birth. It was very difficult to do all of the post-birth things, let the mother and father and family hold the baby, take pictures etc, etc, etc and nurse the baby all in one hour. The babies remained in the nursery for at least 4 hours. It is totally unnecessary for healthy babies to be away from their mothers for that long. I will never work at a place like that again if I can help it.

Anyways, this got me thinking about what I would tell a new mom who planned to breastfeed. So, I'm sending this unsolicited advice over the interwebs for anyone who might be interested:

1) Educate yourself

Don't count on your OB/pediatrician/nurses/lactation consultants to have the information that you need. OB's and pediatricians are not necessarily experts on lactation. As for nurses, frankly, when I was a nurse working in labor and delivery, most of the girls I worked with, myself included, had never nursed a baby. When patients asked for my help, I could only regurgitate what I had read. Lactation consultants are a great resource but may not always be available. When I was in the hospital with John I was eager to speak to one. She came by when I was in the shower and never returned. Hopefully the medical professionals who are involved with the labor, delivery and care of the baby will be helpful to nursing mothers, but that doesn't mean you should go in unprepared. Educating yourself also means finding out what kind of policies the hospital has in place for you and the baby after birth. For example, contrary to the hospital where I worked, the hospital where I delivered John was very friendly to nursing mothers. The babies did not ever have to be away from their mothers after birth. John did have to go to the nursery because his glucose was low. But parents could go into the nursery. Peter and I gave him his first bath there. And after his blood sugar rose to normal, he returned and stayed with me the whole time, and I nursed for what seemed like 48 hours straight (It was all kind of a blur).

2) Know your community resources

When you leave the hospital, know where you can turn when you encounter challenges. In my opinion, the greatest resources are other nursing mothers. La Leche League has consultans that you can call. I did call one of them once. They also have meetings where you can meet other moms. I believe you can also make appointments with lactation consultants at the hospital where you delivered, depending on the hospital's policy, I guess. This was true where I delivered John.

3) Give it time

Even though nursing was pretty easy for me, there was an adjustment phase. It definitely got easier as he became more alert and his feedings spaced out. But this took about 1 month to 6 weeks.

There is a way in which breastfeeding is very natural, as in that is the way it is done in nature. Yet, it's actually a learned behavior for both mom and baby, and for many it does not come "naturally." For me, breastfeeding actually did come very easily. But even I had my challenges.

One thing I often heard was that breastfeeding should not hurt. Well, okay. In my experience it wasn't excruciating but it wasn't comfortable either. The first month was a big adjustment. That's part of the reason I sought out a lactation consultant while I was in the hospital after having John. Thankfully though, I had read so many books that I was confident that he was latching on well so we kept going and things eventually improved. These helped with the soreness.

Later on, he had some reflux. He would cry and arch his back and wouldn't nurse. My pediatrician was able to help with this issue.

And finally at around 2.5 or 3 months, John started to have more input into his feedings. At first I timed him 30 minutes (15 on each side) so that I made sure he had long enough to get adequate milk, including hind milk. Around 3 months, he wouldn't nurse that long and he also wouldn't nurse as frequently as I had been initiating feedings. This wasn't a problem, per se, but it was an adjustment and I didn't really know how to take it at first. I wanted to make sure that he was getting enough but I couldn't force him to eat. This was when I called a la leche league person.

All that to say, even when it's easy, you don't always know what's going on! But being prepared and knowing who you can go to for help certainly makes a difference. After nursing for 15 months (I just weaned him about a week ago), I can say I had an incredibly positive experience! There is nothing sweeter than holding a soft baby so close. And once they start moving, feeding time might be the only cuddle time you get!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Fat Lip


John with a fat lip

John is 15 months today. I think it was a good day for him. Though there was an episode in the middle when he fell flat on his face while running at top speed (top speed for him) and busted his bottom lip, which you can see in the picture above.

Speaking of running at top speeds, the boy never stops. He never sits down. He is so very busy! It is exhausting just watching him! But this is a very fun age (as usual, I always say that.) He continues to improve his motor skills: he runs, climbs, stomps his feet, claps his hands, spins around, throws a ball. He loves to put things in other things and then take them out.

Still no verbal words but he's signs "more," "down," and "please." I'm not concerned about the lack of words because I know he understands a lot. When asked "how old are you?" he holds up his pointer finger. When asked "where is your head?" or "did you bump your head (which he often does)?" he pats his head. He can follow commands like "sit down," "go get a book," "put such and such into such and such."

Responding to "how old are you?"

Responding to "Where's your head?" in quite a dramatic fashion

Though he is lengthening out and getting skinny, he still loves to eat. Fruit is his favorite: peaches, melon, berries, bananas. He loves fruit. He will eat veggies with some coaxing. He also likes eggs and cheese. But he'll eat just about anything.


He still takes two naps, one at 10 am and one at 3 pm (I love this). He goes to bed at 8 pm. He now has a "lovie," pictured above. He's had that little thing in his crib since he was born along with a few other small toys. But he's recently shown a preference for that particular one. He carries it around while sucking his thumb.

He also loves to stand on that footstool that you can see above. Today Peter dubbed it the "death stool" because it frequently topples over. He has yet to hurt himself (and I really don't think he will hurt himself, it's like a foot off the ground...). I just asked Peter if we should admit on this blog that we let our son climb onto and topple off of a "death stool." He replied that his parents let their children do it. This stool used to be at his grandparents' house. When they would visit, all the kids would climb on and fall off. So the death stool is an established Ness Family Tradition and we must respect tradition! Besides they all turned out okay (most of them).

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Word Wise Wednesday: Punctuation Never Looked So Cute

I just got back today from San Antonio. I originally went for my 10 year (!) high school reunion last weekend, but ended up staying for longer than I had originally planned. I was keeping my mom company while my jet-setting sister flew off to soak up some sun in Miami. I am worn out! I don't know why. It's not like I was super busy or anything, but travel always seems exhausting. I hope to write about my reunion soon. I'm so glad I went. But for now I'll leave you with this:

This is the dress I almost bought to wear to the reunion. It is a dress from a website called Modcloth and guess what it's called? Declarative Imperative! It's basically a dress of periods, people! Or, as they say in England, full stops. How fun is that?! I bet you didn't know that punctuation was so fashionable. Here's the description of the dress online:

"Although all punctuation marks certainly fill irreplaceable roles in structure, the most hard-working of all must be the full stop. Parsing out paragraphs into digestible chunks of information or adding. extra. emphasis. for effect, these simple dots tirelessly devote themselves to enhancing our understanding. In their honor, you've decided to festoon yourself in a flock of full stops fancifully frolicking on this fetching frock. Although some may favor the flashiness of exclamations and others may prefer the ambiguity of the interrogative, you prefer elegant simplicity. You'll be making just the right statement in this declaratory dress. Period."

Though this might possibly be the perfect dress for me, in the end I didn't buy anything new because I am cheap. Actually, I wore a skirt that I bought in high school. I think that skirt is about 12 years old. Gotta love vintage!

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Word Wise Wednesday: Semicolon. Let's be honest; you don't know how to use one.

The idea for this little grammarrific series that I'm trying to do came to me one day when I was consulting dictionary.com. They had an article discussing the "maddening and mysterious" semicolon.

Truly, it is maddening and mysterious. Some think it is superfluous in our punctuation lexicon. Others think that its use, when mastered, elevates writing to new heights. I suppose I am more apt to agree with the latter. However, I'm not one of those people who can use the semicolon masterfully. Perhaps one day.

There was one semester in college in which I thought that I thoroughly understood the semicolon. Consequently, I eschewed all other forms of punctuation and composed papers using the semicolon almost exclusively. Needless to say, I unwittingly proved to several proof readers that I understood it not at all.

So, when venturing into the nebulous universe of semicolon usage, I think a good guideline is this: You don't have to use it. Unlike the comma or period, it is never necessary. So don't use it unless you're certain that it's correct. You might even want to refrain unless you can be sure that it adds something to your writing.

Now, for those of us that yearn to unlock the mystery of the semicolon and harness its powers for the betterment of mankind through skillful punctuation, let's start easy:

I think the most simple and easy-to-remember way to use a semicolon is when listing items that are separated by comas. This is perhaps the only case where you must use it. But it's very easy to use in this situation.

For example: "I've traveled to Seattle, Washington; Austin, Texas; and Salt Lake City, Utah."

Or, for a more complex sentence:

"My favorite people include Samuel Slaughterjaws, a famous unicorn hunter; my uncle Wilford, a world champion at mayonnaise eating contests; and Nikola Tesla, the most awesome dude ever to fire a lightening bolt at an angry peasant." (Taken from The Oatmeal.com)

Easy enough, right? This usage is also known as the "super-comma." See? Punctuation is exciting!

The only other hard and fast rule that I have gleaned regarding the semicolon is this: it is used to connect two complete sentences without a conjunction.

Example: My aunt also had hairy knuckles; she loved to wash and comb them. (The Oatmeal.com)

So, why would you use a semicolon between two complete clauses when you could just as easily use a period? This is where the semicolon becomes more complicated and more dependent on the writer's command of it. Basically, the semicolon is used to convey a fluidity, a connectedness between sentences, that the period does not convey. So you must determine in the flow of your writing where you want a complete pause (period) and where you want a moderate pause (semicolon). If you want a slight or no pause, a comma may be in order.

To recap:

Always use a semicolon when separating items in a list separated by commas. It may also be used when connecting two independent clauses where you wish to emphasize the connection between sentences rather than a complete stop. Regarding the latter usage, when in doubt, use another form of punctuation! (This is also my philosophy of parallel parking.)

I'm not yet done with the semicolon; it's like an enigma wrapped in mystery. But for now, if you want more, here is an article that's probably more entertaining and easier to understand than what you just read through! You're welcome!

Monday, August 01, 2011

July Books

I read, or rather, listened to a lot of books in June and July. I signed up for the Houston public library reading club. They were doing drawings for the Nook Color every week. Unhappily, the drawings end tomorrow and I don't think I've won one. Oh well, I read a lot of good books nonetheless!

The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson- Audio Book

This was for a book club. Stieg Larsson is a Swedish writer who tackles themes of right-wing extremism and violence against women in his writing. He wrote a series of crime novels called the Millennium Trilogy, the first of which is The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo. From what I gather, this is a very popular series with a Swedish movie already made and an American movie in the works. I found this to be just okay. I can appreciate that he takes up the banner against violence towards women. But I didn't like a lot of the violence in the book (I wouldn't call it gratuitous but, unlike the Hunger Games which I review below, it is graphic), I didn't really care for any of the characters and I found the crime mystery to be only so-so. So, I don't plan to read any others in the series.

Catching Fire and Mocking Jay by Suzanne Collins- Audio Books

These were also for a book club. These were parts two and three in the Hunger Games trilogy. I would totally recommend this series for those that are up for the violent premise. Unlike the book I mentioned above, I didn't find the violence terribly graphic. For some reason it didn't get to me nearly as much as The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo. Though it was brutal at times, I found it to be a worthwhile and insightful examination of violence and human nature. The first book, The Hunger Games, draws you in with its exciting story. The final two go progressively deeper into the the characters, their relationships and their society while still being gripping tales.

The Laws of Kindness by Mary Beeke

This was a book examining kindness from a Christian perspective. Overall, I wasn't impressed. I didn't find it especially well-written or organized. I don't mean to pan the book. There were some great things in it, but I think there are better books out there.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynn Truss

Loved this! It is a witty, even laugh-out-loud hilarious, book about punctuation and why it's important. Of course I would recommend this.

The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell- Audio Book

This was not what I thought it was when I requested it from the library. I thought it was about Roger Williams who was a devout Puritan Separatist and also an ardent defender of religious liberty and the separation of church and state. He founded Providence Plantation, which is modern-day Rhode Island. Roger Williams was in the book, but it wasn't so much about him. It was a rather scathing portrait of puritans and the author's premise that some of their ideals formed the foundation of "American Exceptionalism," an attitude that has led to the oppression of Native Americans and a host of other peoples and nations throughout our history. As a historical examination, I thought it was worthwhile. Especially since most of us are taught the public-school fairy tale about Pilgrims and Indians and Thanksgiving. As an examination of the Puritans' religion, I wouldn't recommend it. The author, a self-described atheist has an undeniable bias. Of course, as a Christian, I have my own bias. I don't think we can ever totally discard our biases. But I think she has some misunderstandings about Christianity and uses some examples of christian behavior and thought that really aren't Christian at all.