It’s an onomatopoeic day

2012.12.14.onomatopoeiaI do love a bit of onomatopoeia. But I don’t like experiencing it first-hand. Achoo!

Of course, since I’m home, snuggled under my duvet, experiencing the agony of a cold, there is a lot of onomatopoeia going on.

I’m sneezing: Achoo!

I have a runny nose: Sniff, sniff

I’m drinking soup: Slurp

I’m cat-napping: Zzzz

And I’m complaining: Grumble

But I’m sure that I’ll be better soon. And then I’ll be laughing (haha) once again.

A case for the interrobang

2012.09.24.interrobangToday is National Punctuation Day in America—a day to celebrate the amazingness of punctuation. Today also marks the start of Social Media Week—a world-wide event looking at social media’s impact on modern-day society. To that, I’ve decided to combine both celebrations into one post by making a case for a very social media-ish bit of punctuation: the interrobang. I mean, who wouldn’t want to read a post about the interrobang‽

An interrobang is a non-standard form of punctuation that combines a question mark and exclamation point all in one adorable little bundle. It was first conceived by Martin Speckter in the 1960s for use in advertisements, but it never caught on. The idea was that it could be used when asking a question in an excited manner, expressing excitement or disbelief in the form of a question, or asking a rhetorical question.

As I’m sure many users of social media—and social networking sites in particular—have seen, the use of multiple question marks and exclamation points at the end of comments and posts is standard all over the Internet. And whilst exclamation points are often overused these days (guilty!), they do help to convey a bit of emotion and meaning when communicating electronically. And when you’re trying to convey disbelief or sarcasm, sometimes it becomes necessary to use two bits of punctuation at once. Right‽

At the same time, social networking sites—specifically Twitter—limit the number of characters allowed for posts, meaning that brevity must be used. But with brevity, meaning can sometimes be lost.

When you combine the need for multiple punctuation marks to convey meaning and the need for brevity, it only makes sense to double-up on punctuation. You agree, right‽

And so, I make the case for the interrobang. I think we need to celebrate this little guy and give it the revival it deserves. We need to embrace its aesthetics. We need to revel in its ability to convey meaning and intent. And why not start today‽

To use it, you can enter the codes or you can copy-and-paste from here [ ‽ ] or your computer’s character map. Just make sure you use it!

Now, go spread the word, OK‽

Dusty books

A couple of years ago, a friend took me to Glasgow for a surprise that would really excite my ‘geeky side’. As we made our way to this secret place, I wondered what it could be. My friend knew of my love of books and printing and typography history, so I thought we might be going somewhere to see an old printing press or a collection of ancient manuscripts.

Wrong. He was taking me to a Doctor Who exhibit. Which I must say, was really awesome and cool and it did appeal to my geeky side. But it wasn’t a pile of dusty old books.

However, I travelled to Manchester for a wedding yesterday and this morning was whisked away by a couple of friends to show me The John Rylands University Library. And do you know what they have there? Well, they have old printing presses and a massive collection of ancient manuscripts and books.

It seems that when they’d visited the library previously, they instantly knew it was a place I’d love. And they were oh-so right!

I don’t know what to tell you about the place. It was all just so perfect. The original building opened to the public on 1 January 1900 and has since undergone refurbishments—including the addition of a modern section that houses a visitors’ information centre. The two sections have been paired so wonderfully, and the old and new work so well together. I couldn’t help but look at the fine details of the original building as I wandered down the halls.

There were a couple of old printing presses on display in the massive hallways, too. They were beautifully presented and I was easily able to sneak around the back of one to get a good look at the entire piece. (I don’t know if you’re meant to do that, but there wasn’t a sign saying I couldn’t so…)

Oh! And there was a great display with some fragments from ancient copies of the Old and New Testaments. Wow. Talk about impressive. There were several other bibles and science texts open behind cases to view, too.

But once I got into the reading room I was truly in awe. Down the centre corridor there were displays of ancient (and not-so-ancient but still old) books showing different binding styles. I was so excited to see the quality of goatskin-bound books with finely tooled lettering. Equally impressive were some of the vellum-, silk-, and wood-bound books. I mean—Wow!—what beautiful pieces of art.

In the rest of the reading room were standard glass-fronted display shelves filled with books from the library’s various collections. I honestly don’t know how I can give the collection the praise it deserves. It was amazing. The only thing I didn’t like was that I couldn’t touch or smell the books. That would have been heaven for sure!

Yes, another trip is needed. Only next time, I’m going to go with a letter of reference so that I can attempt to get my hands on some of the books. Maybe a Gutenberg Bible. The library has one of only 21 surviving complete copies. Oh yes, that would be amazing.

 

Journalist? Blogger? Writer.

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks working on a paper that asked if there should be regulations or laws to distinguish between what professional journalists and ordinary citizens can write. And that led me down all sorts of paths, thinking about issues of blogging, journalism, and the media’s general place in society.

I’m not going to bore you with all of the arguments and conclusions from my paper or with my thoughts on the state of modern-day information sharing. Instead, I’ll just give a little bit of insight to the topic for those who want to know some of the things I think about when I’m doing academic snobbery stuff.

If you really want to hear my views, we can discuss them over a pint of ale—your treat, of course, because I’m a starving student.

So, here goes!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or maybe if you’re living in America) you’ve probably heard about the Leveson Inquiry here in the UK. The inquiry was prompted by the phone-hacking scandal by the News of the World and will have (already has had?) a drastic impact on the future of news reporting throughout the UK—and maybe even a knock-on effect for other nations around the globe.

As a blogger who is also a trained communications professional with experience as a freelance journalist, I find the question of ‘who is and isn’t a journalist’ pretty interesting. I mean, am I a journalist? Or am a just a blogger who once was a journalist? What about other bloggers? Are they journalists? Can they be? Should they be?

Right now, there are debates happening around the world—and around the World Wide Web—about the differences between bloggers and journalists, and whether or not someone would need special training and a license to be a journalist. There are further debates around the idea of creating regulations or laws distinguishing between what journalists and ordinary citizens can write (i.e.: bloggers, users of social networking sites, those commenting on blogs and news sites).

I’m sure it seems like a bit of a boring topic to some people, but any regulations or laws that are created around these issues can be far-reaching. They can change the way news and information is presented to you, but they can also change the way in which you are able to share information. And each time we make a law that restricts an ordinary citizen’s ability to receive or share information, we move further away from the ideals of a free press—and of free speech.

But, back to me. Am I a journalist? No, not really. Even if I end up doing more freelance writing for news outlets, I don’t know that I’d feel like a journalist. But I like to think that I hold myself to the ideals of journalistic ethics. And I like to think that my readers find me to be trustworthy. Of course, that’s easy to do when I just write silly rubbish about my own life—my integrity and trustworthiness might be questioned if I attempted to become an investigative blogger.

Me? I’m a just a writer. Not a famous one, and probably not a very good one, but a writer none-the-less. (OK, I’m a blogger, too, but first-and-foremost, a writer.)

Moleskine inspirations

I write. In fact, I think it would be fair to say that I’m a writer. And as any good writer does, I carry a notebook with me everywhere I go so that when inspiration hits, I am prepared!

In recent years, I’ve found myself carrying small Moleskines with me—whilst leaving my larger notebooks (and journals) at home. I’ve found them useful tools for jotting down thoughts and ideas (many of which get transferred to my larger notebooks) but also for the purpose of shopping and to-do lists.

And to serve as a constant inspirational tool, I’ve taken to adding an inspirational quote on the cover.

Today I found myself calling a new book into service, which means a new quote.

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.
~ Sylvia Plath

Yes, I’m feeling inspired. In fact, I almost feel a poem coming on…

Minor chord

I love a good minor chord. I love minor keys and minor scales. I love a bit of musical dissonance. Unexpected notes; unexpected lyrics. They’re wonderful to me.

My musical tastes have always been varied, but I have to admit that I tend to lean toward smaller bands—mainstream is great and all, but it’s just a bit too, I don’t know, too predictable for me. I like a song with a bit of interest to it.

My favourite song of all time? Well, that would be “Eve of Destruction” by Barry McGuire. I like that it was banned from the airwaves. I like that it uses the word ‘coagulating’.

The bands that I list as my favourites (with the exception of Styx) are not headlining acts. Well, not in the mainstream at least. I like the little guys who play music because they like music. They write lyrics that make me smile because they’re writing them for them—not for a big-time record label.

Of course, this means I almost never hear my favourite bands on the radio. But that’s what my iTunes collection is for—a collection that boasts more than 8,400 songs at the moment.

Now, you could feel sorry for me not being able to hear my bands on the radio, but the cool thing about listening to the minor league of the music industry is that when I go to concerts I’m not there with 20,000+ other people. I’m there with a couple dozen or a couple hundred. Oh yeah, that’s awesome.

My next concert will be Billy Bragg who is playing in Edinburgh this Sunday. It’s bound to be a bigger crowd than when I saw him in Seattle (where there were about 100 people in the audience) but it’s not going to be like the crowds I’ve been to for concerts at The Gorge or The Tacoma Dome.

Yep, when it comes to music, the minor leagues win my vote. And quite often, they even use minor chords and dissonance when they’re singing to me.

National Grammar Day

It’s National Grammar Day here in the fantastic United States of America. Are you as excited about that as I am? No? Well, I suppose I didn’t expect you to be. But I am super-duper excited!

I thought long and hard about what to write about for this celebratory day but I couldn’t find the right angle. So instead, I’ll just share some random thoughts.

To start with, you’ve maybe noticed that Just Frances is not written in my best ‘grammar-ific’ style. I try to keep it all very conversational here—and that means run-on sentences as well as incomplete ones. It also means that I start sentences with conjunctions and end them with prepositions. And I don’t care!

My decision to write in such an informal manner came as I thought about my audience. Not that I think my audience can’t handle full-on formal writing, but because my audience is family and friends so ‘casual conversation’ just seemed more fitting. Plus that, I’ve been accused of being a language and grammar snob for quite some time, so I thought I’d leave that to my professional life and my linguist forums and blogs where people love my wordsnobbery.

Of course, the awesome thing about being oh-so-casual-and-conversational here is that I can say things like ‘wordsnobbery’. Which is cool. (See, I did more of that casual stuff by starting a sentence with which. This is fun!)

[A note about my professional life for those who care: I am a communications professional and get paid to write and edit. Yes, believe it or not, I really do! I love my job and I love linguistics in general. But this, as I said, is my personal blog so I’m keepin’ it casual. Yay!]

Blah, blah, blah… Let’s move on now.

For a while, I thought about writing about the differences between American and British English. But then I realized that no one who reads my blog probably cares about the differences. So then I thought that, at the very least, I should point out that I’ve decided to work toward[s] incorporating more and more British English into Just Frances—in the form of spelling, grammar, and punctuation, as well as idioms and word usage. Of course, this just means that I probably seem quite illiterate to some folks. And that’s OK. (My decision to do that is so that I can brush up on the language before I move back over this summer.)

Oh! And I guess that I should devote a paragraph to my mantra about English being a living language. The basic idea is that the rules for grammar, spelling, and punctuation that we use now are not what we used 100 years ago and aren’t what we’ll use in another 100 years. Our language has evolved—and will continue to evolve—forever.

At best, our language is a theory. However, there are certainly rules and best practices in place that should be adhered to. But you can fudge that, too. I mean, I don’t follow all of the rules here and that’s OK. But I wouldn’t dare write like this at work or for any official business. There’s a time and a place to break the rules, after all. So, txt spk on the net all u wnt. However, please refrain from the use of non-standard English when preparing your monthly reports for your manager.

And now, I’m sure you have a stack of sentences you want to diagram and infinitives you want to split, so I’ll leave you with a couple of quick thoughts:

The old rule ‘I before E except after C’ is a lie. There are too many exceptions for it to be a rule. So please stop teaching it to your children.

It is acceptable to use an Oxford comma (also called a serial comma). You just need to use it consistently and in accordance to the style guide approved by your industry or organisation.

And finally, check out some fun language books such as:

Happy National Grammar Day to you!

100 random things

My friend posted a list of 100 random things her daughter wrote about herself out of boredom and I thought I’d give it a shot and create my own list. So, if you’re not already bored, this should help…

100 Random Things about Just Frances

  1. I am the preantepenultimate Cook Girl.
  2. I enjoy showing off my vocabulary skills.
  3. I cringe when I see incorrect grammar, spelling, and punctuation. But I only correct errors when I’m being paid to do so. [To clarify: I generally correct the errors in my mind, but only tell people of the errors when I’m paid or otherwise requested to do so.]
  4. I think that demonstrating the ability to change a vehicle’s tires and oil should be a compulsory part of passing a drivers’ license test.
  5. I wear glasses and will never get eye surgery because I like that the glasses obscure the fact that I don’t wear makeup.
  6. I’m a distance runner. (Well, I dabble in the sport at least.)
  7. I am Catholic.
  8. I joined the school cross country team because the coach asked me after church in front of my dad and the priest. How could I say no?
  9. I have never felt at home in my hometown.
  10. I am proud of my small town red neck roots.
  11. I found my true place of belonging in Scotland nearly 10 years ago.
  12. I am returning to Scotland later this year!!
  13. I am rubbish at math[s] and I don’t care.
  14. I am correct handed (also known as left handed).
  15. I believe that there is a conspiracy in the works by right-handers who are jealous of us amazing lefties. Even pens are made with righties in mind! (But not all of them!)
  16. I have hazel eyes that are more on the green end of the spectrum, but wish that I had truly green eyes.
  17. I pretend to be happy even when I’m sad.
  18. I can’t fake tears; I’ve tried.
  19. I am dyslexic. (Yet I edit things for a living. Ironic!)
  20. I had speech therapy as a child.
  21. I am the co-inventor of the term SUBS Syndrome and hope that one day the term is widely used to describe the condition of sudden, uncontrollable bursts of sarcasm.
  22. I honestly believe that the media is helping to perpetuate ignorance in our society. The biggest culprit being the “news” media.
  23. My master’s degree will be in media and culture, so I’ll get to do a lot of research on this very issue!
  24. I once sang on stage with Pat Benatar who was opening at the Gorge Amphitheatre for the Steve Miller Band. Really. True story.
  25. I’m a little bit country and a little bit rock-n-roll all at once.
  26. I like candy, but I could live without chocolate.
  27. I love to fly!
  28. I prefer the aisle seat on airplanes.
  29. I say a prayer asking God to guide the hands of the crew and to keep us safe in our journey; and I ask that if His plans don’t include our survival that He comfort our loved ones. I do this for every take off and landing because something compels me to.
  30. I try to order low-sodium meals on the plane and drink lots of water so that I’m refreshed and non-puffy when I arrive. I even wash my face 2-3 times on long flights to/from the UK. I think it helps the jetlag. But that might not be true.
  31. I can’t decide which movies I like better: The Godfather series or the Monty Python movies.
  32. I have polycystic kidney disease. It’s a genetic condition with no cure. But some smart people are working to find a cure!
  33. I have a blood disease called idiopathic thrombocytopenia purpura. Even the haematologists who study it don’t know much about it. Which sucks for me.
  34. Despite my medical maladies, I think I’m mostly healthy.
  35. I dream that my doctor will one day say “To live a long and healthy life you must eat lots of good steak and salty, deep-fried foods, drink lots of wine, and smoke.” Of course, if I hear those words I know it’s time to find a new doctor.
  36. I cry myself to sleep at least once a week.
  37. I recently ended a friendship that I didn’t want to end. I’m sure it will be one of the reasons I cry myself to sleep over the next few weeks.
  38. I haven’t slept through the night since Paul died.
  39. I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever sleep well again.
  40. I thought that I was ugly growing up because one of my sisters told me over and over again that I was. (Funny, we all look alike!)
  41. I thought that I was stupid growing up because a couple of my teachers said I was.
  42. As an adult, I’ve learned to love myself and know that I’m good looking and intelligent.
  43. One of my Paul’s friends told me that I’m a great person and I’ll find someone new when I’m ready—but that I’d have better luck if I’d dumb it down a bit. (Said person has likely never been married for a reason.)
  44. Several of Paul’s friends have become my friends and I don’t think I could have survived the world without him without them.
  45. I didn’t go on my first date until I was 20 years old.
  46. I married my first true love.
  47. We were a month shy of our 4th anniversary when he died.
  48. I try to be happy and enjoy life because I know it’s what Paul wants for me.
  49. I sometimes think that I’ll meet someone new and fall in love and get married again and I know that Paul would be OK with that. But I can’t be bothered to date because no one is good enough for me.
  50. Thinking that no one was good enough for me is what gave me a reputation for being an overly-picky dater in my 20s.
  51. Being an overly-picky dater meant that when I did land a man, I got the best one on the market!
  52. A stupid woman once told me that the reason I can’t have kids is that God thinks I’d be a bad mom.
  53. I have been a foster mom for a little over six months now—so at least the State of Washington thinks I’d be a good mom!
  54. Paul and I planned to adopt two adorable children before he died.
  55. Sometimes I’m heartbroken that I may never get to be someone’s mom.
  56. I have 17 nieces and nephews and 2 great nephews.
  57. It irritates some of my sisters that their children want to be so much like me.
  58. I’ve had green hair. And pink, purple, blue, yellow, orange, jet-black, and bleach-blonde. Sometimes multiple colours all at once!
  59. My favourite colour is green.
  60. My first car was a 1978 Ford Granada.
  61. My friends and I sanded it down, primed it black, and then painted a big yellow smiley face on the hood and flowers and peace signs all over the body. It was awesome.
  62. I passed my driving test on the first try.
  63. I taught Paul how to drive.
  64. I’ve taught some of my nieces and nephews how to shift gears. (But please don’t tell their moms!)
  65. I have a fascination with butterflies and have since I was a young child.
  66. I have a butterfly tattoo.
  67. I played clarinet in the school band.
  68. I am training for the Loch Ness Marathon.
  69. I am a Pisces.
  70. I was born in the Year of the Tiger.
  71. I don’t believe in astrology stuff.
  72. I will be 37 years old on Monday.
  73. I don’t really like to make a fuss about my birthday.
  74. I have read dictionaries and encyclopaedias for entertainment since I was in junior high.
  75. I don’t like romance novels because they make me uncomfortable.
  76. My friends think I am a prude.
  77. I try never to use profanity because I think it’s vulgar and shows a lack of respect. (But sometimes it slips out in a heated moment of upset.)
  78. I taught myself how to knit and crochet but can only make basic things like scarves and afghans.
  79. I like root beer.
  80. I don’t really care for Coke or Pepsi.
  81. When I was in my late-teens and early-20s, I’d hang out at the local 24-hour diner with my friends drinking coffee and eating cheesy fries with ranch dressing. It was awesome!
  82. I am considered a computer and gadget geek by my family and friends.
  83. I love Doctor Who, but I hate SciFi.
  84. I define SciFi as anything I don’t like.
  85. I always like to have the best gadgets in the room. Sadly, some of my new friends are gadget geeks with better incomes so this is hard to do now.
  86. I love my family.
  87. I am going to miss my cat, Schrodie, so much when I move to Scotland.
  88. I am going to miss my family so much when I move to Scotland.
  89. I used to have Mork & Mindy suspenders (braces) when I was a kid and I wish I still had them now.
  90. I loved Weebles as a child. They were awesome they way they weebled and wobbled but didn’t fall down!
  91. I always wanted tassels on my handlebars when I was a kid. But not so much that I got them as an adult.
  92. My favourite toys growing up were a telescope, a microscope, a rocket kit, and an electric circuit board kit.
  93. I don’t like gold-coloured jewellery.
  94. I like dirty martinis with extra olives.
  95. I drink my coffee strong and black with no sugar.
  96. I am excited about starting grad school in September.
  97. I am afraid that I am ruining myself financially by going to grad school.
  98. I am convinced that going to grad school will fix me emotionally and mentally.
  99. I am excited about my future for the first time since Paul died.
  100. I feel guilty for being happy about this new life, even though I know Paul would be happy for me.

Wow! That was hard! Are you still reading? You deserve an award for that!!

Edited to add: Since folks have been asking where/what their award is, I feel it’s fair (OK, not fair but cheap) for me to say the award is knowing me that little bit better. Sorry it’s so lame! (But thanks for reading!)

A dialect vlog

I’ve decided to take part in the ‘Dialect Vlog’* craze so today you get to see me on camera. Yay!

Here’s how it works: I have a list of words to read and a list of questions to answer. The idea is that someone studying linguistics can map the differences in dialect from one region to the next. I’ve included the words and questions under the video for you to follow along—or for you to use in creating your own Dialect Vlog.

[I’ll spare you my ramble about the differences between languages, dialects, and accents—but please know there are differences between the terms.]

Here is a Dialect Vlog from a woman who grew up in the Pacific Northwest! For those linguists in the house who may wonder what the deal is with my dialect/accent, it should be noted that whilst I grew up in a rural community in Central Washington, I suffered through a couple years’ of speech therapy as a child, lived in Scotland for a spell as an adult, married an Englishman, and have a daily influence of British English through my addiction to EastEnders and regular conversations with family and friends in the UK. So, I offer my apologies for skewing the results!

Aunt, Route, Wash, Oil, Theatre, Iron, Salmon, Caramel, Fire, Water, Sure, Data, Ruin, Crayon, Toilet, New Orleans, Pecan, Both, Again, Probably, Spitting image, Alabama, Lawyer, Coupon, Mayonnaise, Syrup, Pyjamas, Caught

  • What is it called when you throw toilet paper on a house?
  • What is the bug that when you touch it, it curls into a ball?
  • What is the bubbly carbonated drink called? soda
  • What do you call gym shoes?
  • What do you say to address a group of people?
  • What do you call the kind of spider that has an oval-shaped body and extremely long legs?
  • What do you call your grandparents?
  • What do you call the wheeled contraption in which you carry groceries at the supermarket?
  • What do you call it when rain falls while the sun is shining?
  • What is the thing you change the TV channel with?

If you decide to take part and post your own dialect vlog, please let me know so that I can check out your video!

* I don’t know who started the concept or created the questions and word list and to be honest, I’ve not tried to search that hard. If you know where this started and can provide me with that information, I am happy to give complete credit where it is due.

Coccydynia

Remember how I told you I went cross country skiing last week and didn’t fall once? Well, I wish I had fallen once, because it was the second fall that caused current state of coccydynia.

The first two days after my coccyx injury were spent driving; often on compact snow and ice making for a very bumpy—and sore—journey home from my holidays. The next two days were spent relaxing at home. Still sore, but not as sore as I’d been. And slowly, I began to forget about my injury.

But the problem now is that I am mostly pain free. Which means I forget about my poorly tail. Which means I keep standing up without thinking about it. Which means that I am causing myself more pain.

I’d planned to go for a training run this week to prepare not only for my marathon but for the Freeze Your Fanny 5K. But now, instead of worrying about freezing my fanny, I’m complaining about a pain in it.

Yes, this post is all about the pain in my arse.

And that picture, if you wondered, is me pointing to my fanny the first time I ran the Freeze Your Fanny 5K in 2008.

Feeling dotty

I’m still struggling with the sadness that came over me yesterday. Not in an “I’m still sad” way but in a “Big episodes of grief really wipe me out” way. So I decided I’d take it easy and doodle for a bit after dinner.

The evening’s doodles are really more dottles; which is about right since I’m feeling a bit dotty today.

Which makes me smile because dotty is a British slang term for mentally unbalanced, eccentric, or amusingly absurd—all terms that could be used to describe me most days.

Blagenda

WooHoo! I made a trip to the homeland this weekend to make blagenda with my folks and one of my sisters. Her kids and my foster daughter got in on the action, too.

We used an old family recipe that was brought over from Ukraine when my family emigrated/immigrated* a couple of generations ago. I don’t know just how old the recipe is, but it’s certainly a traditional dish for people of ‘Germans from Russia’ heritage.

If you’re wondering, blagenda is essentially a pumpkin turn-over or tart. It’s a basic short pastry filled with grated pumpkin then it’s baked for a bit. Growing up, we always had it as a savoury even though some families would add sugar and cinnamon to make it a sweet dish. This year, we gave the sweet-side a try and made a few with cinnamon and sugar ourselves.

We made more than 260 of the little guys in total. That’s a lot of pastry rolling and my arms are very, very sore now, having been the main pastry-roller-outer. In fact, I was so busy rolling pastry that I didn’t end up touching any of the pumpkin prior to it being placed in the pastry shells. (The task of peeling, chopping, and shredding pumpkin went to Mom, Celeste, and the kids.)

The recipe we followed is one that my Great Aunt Mary wrote down—but who knows how many times it was copied before then. If you care to give it a go, here’s a copy of the recipe for you, edited for grammar and clarity because it’s what I do!

Blagenda

Pumpkin mixture:

  • 6 cups grated pumpkin
  • ½ cup grated or chopped onion
  • 1½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper

Mix all together and let set ½ hour. It makes its own juice [NOTE: Juices should be drained before placed in pastry but save them and use them as a great soup base. Yum!]. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.

Pastry:

  • 6 cups flour
  • 1½ cup shortening
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup sugar

Mix as you would a pie crust, adding milk as needed, and work well.  Roll out as you would pie crust and cut circles 3-6 inches wide. Place pumpkin mixture on half of pastry and flip the other half over to make a tart. [NOTE: For best results, use a bit of water to help seal the edges.] Bake at 350°F for about 20 minutes or until a nice golden brown. [NOTE: We baked for about 25 minutes – the size of your tarts will impact cooking time.]

[Side note: I was asked to give proper UK measurements, too, but haven’t got the math done yet. I will try to update later in the week but if you really can’t wait, US to UK measurements can be found here: US cups to UK weights (dry ingredients) and US to UK liquid conversions.]

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And—big surprise!—here are a couple of videos of the process for your enjoyment. (The second one is the best!)

[Another side note: After posting a story and video about making pickles, a friend gave me a bit of grief for not having demonstrated the proper technique for washing hands. I’m not going to do that now, either, but will say that you really must wash your hands before (and after) handling food. If you don’t know the proper technique, you can Google it.]

 

* Emigrate and immigrate have two different but similar meanings, if you didn’t know. Someone emigrates from a location and immigrates to a location. So, to use the terms in sentences: My maternal and paternal ancestors emigrated from Ukraine a couple of generations ago. And: My hope is to immigrate to Scotland in the next year.

A-Z poetry (Hey! That rhymes!)

Today’s writing lesson was an A-Z poem where the first letter of each line forms the alphabet in alphabetical order. It was a bit challenging because I often use these writing assignments to reflect on my emotions rather than just silliness, but I do love a good challenge! So, without further ado…

A-Z Poetry
by Just Frances

A long time ago
Back in my past
Cares were light-hearted
Dreams were big

Everything was simple then
Fears were hidden then
Great expectations were in front of me then
Hopes were greater then

I laughed
Just to laugh
Kisses were tender
Love was enough to see me through

My life has changed since then
Now it seems less idyllic

Obstacles seem more challenging
Perseverance seems too hard
Quitting isn’t an option though
Realizing a new future is the only way

Standing still won’t get me there
Through this hell is the only way out
Upon this journey I will one day reflect
Very difficult as it may be

Widowhood has changed my disposition
Xanthippe-type traits appear when least expected
Yet still I believe
Zen feelings will return to my being

Curly

Curl ˈkər(-ə)l (verb) [Middle English crullen, curlen, from crulle, curly, perhaps of Middle Low German origin.]
transitive verb: 1: to form (as the hair) into coils or ringlets 2: to form into a curved shape : twist <curled his lip in a sneer> 3: to furnish with curls
intransitive verb: 1a : to grow in coils or spirals b : to form ripples or crinkles <bacon curling in a pan> 2: to move or progress in curves or spirals : wind <the path curled along the mountainside> 3: twist, contort 4: to play the game of curling

So, I’ve had my hair curled. And how awesome is it that the intransitive verb mentions one of my favourite foods (bacon) and the sport of my favourite (non-native) country (Scotland)?! Yay!

Thanks, Lynn, for making my hair look so pretty!

(Oh, and a shot with pigtails, too. Because I love to wear my hair in bunches these days!)

My favourite things

As part of my effort to take back my lunch time, I’ve spent today’s lunch break composing a little ditty on my laptop just for my awesome readers; who are also some of my favourite things. (Yay! for awesome readers! And yay! for reclaimed lunch breaks. And yay! for whatever else you want to celebrate today!)

My favourite things
as interpreted by Just Frances*

Shiny new gadgets and hooker-red nails
Cool vintage handbags that come in the mail
Pretty red sports cars and fun silver rings
These are a few of my favourite things

Movies with mobsters and friends who are so dear
Martinis and pizza and pretzels and good beer
Acting quite silly and playing on swings
These are a few of my favourite things

Books about grammar and good punctuation
Laughing and smiling and Scotland vacations
Songs that are happy, that I like to sing
These are a few of my favourite things

When the clouds come
When the tears sting
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favourite things
And then I don’t feel so bad

• • • • •

[NOTE: Apparently, my laptop is still set to UK English (not proper American English) from working on school application stuff and has therefore insisted that I have favourite things, not favorite things. And I’m totally OK with that!]

* I’m sure you’ve figured it out, but this is to be sung in the tune of “My Favourite Things”. If you need a reminder, here’s a link to a rendition by Pomplamoose. Yay!

Punctuate this!

Yay! Today is National Punctuation Day. And if you know me at all you know that this is a day I love to celebrate.

So here’s to the proper use of those amazing little marks and their ever-important jobs of clarifying meaning by indicating the separation of words into sentences, clauses, and phrases.

WooHoo!

Apostrophe: Predominately used to indicate the omission of one or more letters (contraction) or for the marking of possessives.

Brackets and parenthesis: Used as matched sets to set apart or interject other or supplementary text.

Colon: As a general rule, a colon informs the reader that the following proves, explains, or simply provides elements of what is referred to before.

Comma: Used to indicate a separation of ideas or of elements within the structure of a sentence.
(And let us not forget the awesomeness of the Oxford comma!)

Dash: (of which there are two primary types: en dash and em dash; not to be confused with a hyphen)
En dash: Used to show a range of values, relationships and connections, compound adjectives, and to relate parenthetical expressions.
Em dash: Often used for the demarcation of parenthetical thoughts or similar interpolation but also used to indicate an unfinished sentence when a quoted speaker is interrupted.

Ellipsis: Usually indicates an intentional omission of a word in original text but can also be used to indicate a pause in speech or an unfinished thought.

Exclamation mark: Generally used after an interjection or exclamation to indicate strong feelings or high volume, and often marks the end of a sentence.

Hyphen: Used to join words or to separate the syllables in a single word.

Kissend*: A common way to sign off on a message (hand-written or electronic) in the UK – though without the same lovey-dovey connotation it would carry in the USA. x

Period (full stop): Used as the concluding punctuation to most sentences but can also be used to mark initialisms or abbreviations.

Question mark: A mark most often found at the end of a sentence or phrase to indicate a direct question.

Quotation marks: Used primarily to mark the beginning and end of a passage attributed to another and repeated word for word.

Semicolon: Used to connect independent clauses and indicating a closer relationship between the clauses than a period.

* OK, I made up the name for that bit of punctuation, but it’s a punctuation mark that I like and I decided that it needed a name so there you have it: A kissend. x

Hump day haikus

The Squeen, in her most noble and wise ways, has declared that: “Wednesdays, today and forthwith and here-on-after, are haiku Wednesdays.” I’ve thought about posting random things related to haikus (including actually writing my own) in the past but haven’t actually done it. And so now, by royal proclamation, I feel it’s time I address the issue.

I have a love-hate relationship with haikus. I love that it forces the writer to think in a pre-defined pattern, but I hate that school teachers throughout the western world (unintentionally?) don’t explain what that pattern is. As a child I was simply told that a haiku is a three-line poem consisting of a first line with five syllables, a second line with seven syllables, then a third line with five syllables again.

But the reality is that a haiku is meant to contain 17 moras (in the 5/7/5 format) which are not really the same as syllables. Now, I will admit that in the English language we rarely discuss sentence structure in terms of moras, but I feel that this is something that should still be brought to the attention of young minds.

Another thing I love about haikus is the seemingly obscure connections between lines. They are vague and sometimes challenging—especially to young school children. I remember being told to write a haiku (with three lines of 5/7/5) that told a short story or gave a description of some random object of my choice. Which was fun because it was a bit challenging to pick just the right words to get the 17 syllable cap right.

But the reality is that a haiku is meant to consist of a seasonal reference (a kigo) and a cutting word (a kireji). It is true that the English language doesn’t have a direct equivalent to the latter, but that doesn’t seem like a fair reason to not at least explain this difference.

I guess that my love is that haikus are fun and challenging (yes, I find challenging to be fun).

And I guess that my hate is that while western school teachers seem keen to explain that haikus are a form of Japanese poetry, often combining the writing lesson with a lesson in traditional Japanese art form such as gyotaku (fish painting, basically), they neglect to fully give the lesson in how true Japanese haikus are formed.

I suppose that I wish I’d been given the full lesson as a child, which could have included how haikus in English evolved and are their own writing form—distinct from what’s found in Japan but certainly rooted in the culture and history of the original haikus.

But maybe when you were taught about haikus, your teacher went into all of this with you and so you’re at a loss to why I’m whining. And that’s OK.

Anyhow, as a reward for reading this far, here are the two haikus that I wrote today by orders of The Squeen as part of my silliness course, which are meant to address items in my medicine cabinet, which is more of a drawer than a cabinet, but let’s not split hairs…

Fall is in the air
Wood smoke making my eyes dry
Ah,
Visine, my friend

Summer is fading
Factor thirty nearly gone
Cat Crap is ready

And here’s a bonus one just for Just Frances readers:

Autumn is awesome
And Just Frances is awesome
And her readers, too

An illegitimate, homeless transient

I was born as a homeless transient, living in hotel rooms on the road for the first couple weeks of my life. Added to that early start, in the 1980s it was discovered that I was actually an illegitimately-born child. In fact, most of my sisters were illegitimate, as well.

That is a completely factual statement, however misleading it may be.

My father’s new post in the United States Marine Corps saw the family leaving California for Texas. Between the time that the family’s home in California was vacated and I was born, my parents and my two older siblings (for obvious reasons, not my younger siblings) took up residence in a long-stay hotel. Shortly after my birth at Camp Pendleton,* we vacated the California hotel and hit the road for Texas.

That answers the homeless transient part of the statement. Now on to my illigitimate birth.

My parents were married at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Cle Elum, Washington, in June 1969 (the same church I was married in nearly 36 years later). Their wedding was performed by Mom’s cousin, a Catholic priest. Their first-born daughter entered the world about 15 months later. About every two years another daughter was born. But here’s the catch: Mom’s cousin didn’t actually file the paperwork with the county until the sometime in the late 1970s, after their fifth daughter was born.** Meaning that, technically, they weren’t married.

And there you have it. From an illegitimate, homeless transient to a successful, university-educated world-traveler. Who knew!?

(Did I mention that I work in the public relations industry? Yep, it’s all about the spin, babe!)

* It should be noted that shortly after my birth the hospital was demolished. I like to think that it’s because they realized that never again would the building see the birth of such an amazing individual. And being as the building would never be able to top such an event, they decided to build a new hospital. It was the right choice.

** The timing may be a little off so whilst it is known that their sixth (and final) daughter was legitimately born, there is still a question as to if their penultimate daughter was born before or after their marriage certificate was filed.

No “E”

Q: What does a geeky word-enthusiast who’s just cancelled her cable do for entertainment?

A: She re-reads one of her favorite lipograms, of course!

Yes, I’ve just finished re-reading Ernest Vincent Wright’s Gadsby: A Story of Over 50,000 Words Without Using the Letter “E”.

It is the best story I’ve ever read? Certainly not; but it’s one of my favorites because it really does show that language can be fun, entertaining, and quirky. It also displays how someone with a grasp for the language (and with a thesaurus at the ready) can communicate their thoughts and ideas with alternative words and phrases.

I find the idea of challenging the English language fascinating, and enjoy seeing others break out of the normal flow of our language with such success. And let’s face it, Wright certainly succeeded – especially when you consider that the letter “E” is used five times more often than any other letter in the English language.

Of course, challenging the norms and throwing away centuries of lingual evolution are two separate issues… but I won’t get into that today. (Hey, but that’s a rant you can look forward to later!)

I’ve never met anyone who has read the story, so my reading challenge to you is to check it out for yourself. It’s a quick read and available online.

A cup of inspiration

in·spi·ra·tion ˌin(t)-spə-ˈrā-shən, -(ˌ)spi- (noun; 14th century)
1a: a divine influence or action on a person believed to qualify him or her to receive and communicate sacred revelation b: the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions c: the act of influencing or suggesting opinions
2: the act of drawing in; specifically: the drawing of air into the lungs
3a: the quality or state of being inspired b: something that is inspired – a scheme that was pure inspiration
4: an inspiring agent or influence

The smallest things inspire me. I find it surprising at times because one little, seemingly-inconsequential thing can draw the most amazing ideas from my mind. A simple smell can inspire me to write a short story; the sounds of children laughing may inspire me to go outside and play after a long day at the office; a single word might cause my mind to begin composing the next chapter of whatever book I tell myself I’m working on.

I’m inspired to cook after a Facebook friend posts photos of their food. I make appointments for manicures and pedicures after someone I know talks about going to the spa for a day. I schedule golf lessons after hearing my boss talk about playing 18 holes over the weekend. And I go to the gym after my 11-year-old nephew phones to tell me that he’s just been on a training run for the 10K we’re running together in October.

But whilst I find these little inspirations everywhere – every day – I still find myself constantly searching for inspiration.

I search for the inspiration to motivate me to do the dishes. I scour the Internet for inspirational quotes to help bolster a failing smile. I read book after book searching for the inspiration for writing books of my own. And a seek inspiration to just get me from one day to the next.

It’s the searching for inspiration that I find strange. I never needed to search before. But then, Paul was my muse and I suppose I drew much of my inspiration from him – probably without either of us realizing it. 

The inspiration for this post? The side of a disposal coffee cup.

When I’m inspired, I get excited because I can’t wait to see what I’ll come up with next.
~ Dolly Parton

I’m [not] stupid

Plinky asked me to describe the worst teacher I’ve ever had. I figured that since two teachers instantly came to mind, it was a big enough deal to actually blog about.

I can never quite decide which of the two gets the ultimate prize for worst teacher, though my folks would probably say it was my 5th grade teacher, Mr. S., which is possible. But there was something inherently cruel about Ms. I., who was my 6th grade homeroom teacher and English teacher throughout my junior high tenure.

First, there’s Mr. S. He was one of those stern teachers – one who seemed to just hate kids. Maybe it was because he was burnt-out on teaching, or maybe he really did hate kids; I don’t know. My parents didn’t care for him as a teacher because he refused to listen to their concerns about my inability to spell extremely basic words correctly, despite the fact that I always did well on my spelling tests.

But I remember the first time I realized he wasn’t a very good teacher. It was during “silent reading” time when we would sit at our desks and read on our own. Whilst my friends read whatever the “Harry Potter” equivalent of the day was, I had my nose buried in a griping historical biography of some description. (I was very interested in the Russian Tsars at the time and I read every book on the Romanov dynasty that our small municipal library had to offer. Yes, at 10-11 years old.)

You would think that this higher-level reading interest would have been appreciated by a teacher, but instead Mr. S. accused me of not really reading. I couldn’t convince him otherwise, and eventually, he revoked my silent reading privileges, leaving me to sit there silently (and bored) whilst my classmates enjoyed 20 minutes of reading time. Jerk.

Then there’s Ms. I.; she was just plain cruel. She called me stupid; she teased me about the way I spoke; she told me I’d never amount to anything. She almost took glee in pointing out my errors. (She had also teased others in my class, and my sisters before me, but she seemed to save her “stupid” comments for me alone.) Over and over again Ms. I. belittled me in front of my classmates – and in private. I think it was the first time in my life when I’d ever really despised an adult.

However, I should give Ms. I. a bit of credit, since it was her cruelty that made me start reading dictionaries and encyclopedias in an effort to be less stupid. Trying to look smarter also helped me to develop memory tricks so that I could absorb knowledge more easily. But she doesn’t deserve that credit because I’m the one who put in the hard work!

I think that between my early speech difficulties and dyslexia (which was diagnosed sometime in junior high) there was a common belief that I was, in fact, stupid. Coupled with the fact that I lived in a rural community and had a family that couldn’t pay for a university education for me, I suppose that it was assumed that I would be a waitress or a housewife after high school. With these preconceived notions, maybe I wasn’t worth the teaching energy required to help me shine.

OK, you could say that my experiences as a young child weren’t based in reality but rather a child’s interpretation of reality, but let’s remember we’re talking about a small town which means that I’ve had several run-ins with both since leaving school. (Most recently Ms. I. a few weeks ago.) So here’s what I know from my grown-up years:

Shortly after I began attending university in my mid-20s, I was chatting with Mr. S. in the coffee shop and told him how mean he was to me. His response was along the lines of “I knew you were smart and I was trying to motivate you.” (What a load of crap!) But he’s always been kind to me since I became an adult, and was very supportive and encouraging when I was working full-time whilst studying for my degree.

I also remember chatting with Ms. I. one day just before I went to study in Scotland for a year. Her comment was along the lines of “You’re the last Cook girl I would ever have thought would make something of herself.” Stupid [censored]. I will always go out of my way to avoid the woman and it worries me that she’s still out there teaching my nieces and nephews. I just hope that she’s a better teacher to them than she ever was to me.

So, there you have it. I was the stupid kid growing up. (Who knew?)

Thankfully, by the time I hit high school I found some amazing teachers who really put in the time and effort to help me learn. If you think this post about bad teachers is long, just wait; I may decide to post about the greatness of some of the greatest educators I’ve ever known one day. That’s a post that would make Homer’s works look like excerpts from the Reader’s Digest!

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Ranking Rankin

I’ve finally read the first book in Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus series, Knots and Crosses. Paul had told me about the series when I was living in Edinburgh – the setting for most of the series – then a couple of years later, we watched a BBC documentary called Ian Rankin’s Hidden Edinburgh after which Paul reminded me again that I needed to read the books. Last Easter we had a conversation about it yet again and I promised him that I would order them and get to reading straight-away. But a couple of weeks later Paul was gone and it didn’t seem important…

Well, I finally got around to ordering the books this Easter and I must say: Paul was right! I really did enjoy the first book and am looking forward to the rest of the series! I was very impressed with the small details Rankin gave to personality traits. Specifically, I am intrigued by the religious conflicts that Rebus has and am interested to see how his spiritual quest unfolds throughout subsequent books. I’m sure that as I continue reading, I will find more character conflicts that pique my interest.

There was one problem I’ve found with the book, and I’m not certain if I’ve read it wrong. Early on, Rankin describes Detective Inspector Jack Morton as 35 years old. On the next page, it is noted that Morton has been a policeman for two decades. Currently, one must be 18 years of age to sign up with the Lothian and Borders Police, the department which Morton and Rebus work for.

In fairness, the book was written in 1987, meaning that Morton would have signed up in 1967. I suppose that there is a possibility that in ’67 you could sign up at the age of 15 or it is possible that Morton began with a different department that allowed for younger recruits.

The other issue I have with the book is not one with the writing, but rather one with the translation editing. You see, I purchased a book that’s been (sort of) copy edited for an American audience. But the copy editor didn’t fully pay attention.

The words and sentence structure are British without a doubt, but much of the punctuation is done in American standards. I say much because there are several places where the editor missed the addition of the Oxford comma. Now, in America different publishing houses opt to use – or not use – the troublesome little bit of punctuation. But its use (or not) is meant to be standardized throughout a publication. In this instance, it’s not. They’ve just thrown Oxford commas in willy-nilly. Very disappointing!

Anyhow, I have two more books in the series and have decided that I will order the next few from Amazon.co.uk so that I can get the original punctuation. After all, I am nearly fluent in British so it shouldn’t be a problem!

To summarize: Excellent start to what’s meant to be an excellent series. Next up: Hide and Seek.

It’s a party for your head

In honor of the lovely Flik’s 13th birthday tomorrow, I am holding a party for my head* this evening. Oh yes, I am! And I dared – or rather,  DOUBLE-DOG dared – the young (er, I mean, nearly-adult) Flik to do the same.

Flik and her friends, being good sports and loving a good party, took the dare. (It should be noted that Flik doesn’t like to wear her hair any way other than down and in her face. Otherwise, the dare wouldn’t have been needed.)

Happy birthday, Flik! I love ya, luv!

*It is a well-known fact that pigtails are just about as much fun your hair can possibly have. So much fun, in fact, that it’s like a party for your head!

NOTE: After writing this piece I decided to check out one of my favorite word-geek sites and was humored by the last paragraph on the entry explaining the etymology behind double-dog dare.

Fortunes

I completely pigged out on Chinese take-away tonight. I mean completely pigged out. I’m sure it wasn’t a pretty site to watch me wolf down so very much monosodium glutamate laden food. But whatever, I have a happy belly for it so that’s all that matters.

Well, that and the fact that in my piggy-ness I enjoyed not one but two fortune cookies. Which means two fortunes. Yay!

Fortune #1:

You would prosper in the field of medicine.”

(Totally not buying into that one, sorry.)

Fortune #2:

Remember three months from this date. Good things are in store for you.”

So, Tuesday, July 6, 2010 should be a good day. I wonder what the good things could be?

I wait with bated (not baited) breath…

Words I hate; Part I

I love words. When strung together properly they can be so powerful. Without words there would be no poetry, no musical lyrics, no mindless blogs…

But some words make me cringe because of their ambiguous nature. Words that mean two things can be especially angering to me when there is no clear way of knowing which meaning is being used. There are some words that you can figure out by context. You won’t easily confuse the word “tire” in the following two sentences:

“If you keep running around like that you will tire out before the party.”

“We need to pull over because we have a flat tire.”

But what about bi-monthly? The definition can be “every two months” or “twice a month”. So, how do you know?

“It’s a bi-monthly magazine subscription.”

Does that mean that I get a copy of the magazine twice a month or every other month? It’s quite unclear. It’s the same question with bi-weekly and bi-annual.

Is that two meetings a week or one meeting every other week? Are there 6 or 24 bottles of wine in that club offer? Do I have to have those medical tests twice a year or every two years?

You can see the problem here, right?

And we wonder why so many people shy from learning English when they immigrate to America. (Which is a separate rant all together, siding with non-English speakers in a Devil’s Advocate kind of role.)

Anyhow…

Building strong bones

Growing up I was told to drink my milk because it was good for building strong bones. I attempted that at the weekend by purchasing a half-gallon of 2%* to enjoy with a box of Cap’n Crunch Berries. (Yes, I intended to eat the entire box over the course of the day. Do you have a problem with that?) Sadly, by the time I went to get the milk from the fridge, I realized the fridge might be on its last leg as it wasn’t as cold as it should have been.

The contents of the fridge were all cool at best, and not wanting to risk anything because of underlying health issues, I threw out most of the lovely food I’d purchased the day before: Fresh chicken, salmon, steak, eggs, and the milk. Hard cheeses and beer got a reprieve and I cranked the thermostat to super cold in the hopes of giving the ancient appliance a few more weeks until her inevitable death.

So, no milk to grow those strong bones… What will I do now?

Wait! Have no fear! I’ve found a solution!

Whilst reading The Scotsman online this morning, I found an interesting article on recent research conducted at the University of California claiming that beer – yes, beer! – may possess bone-strengthening properties due to high levels of malted barley and hops, which are rich in silicon.

Now, not wanting to be one of those people who think that you can build strong bones without calcium, I decided that drinking beer alone would be a silly way to attempt at staving off osteoporosis. No, I would certainly need a combination of beer and calcium.

This is why tonight’s dinner is pepperoni pizza** and beer: It’s a healthy living thing.

*2% milk in America is about half-way between “Whole” and “Semi-Skimmed” in the UK, if you wanted to know that useless bit of information.
**You could argue that eating meat actually increases your risk of osteoporosis, but these claims have yet to be scientifically proven and are still being debated by several legitimate research groups.