Monday, April 28, 2008

Grammar Monday: Don't Quote Me

Ah, quotation marks. Much like apostrophes, quotation marks are often misused and overused. There's even a blog devoted to inappropriate quotation mark usage, which I know some of you already read and enjoy. I'll leave it up to that blog to show you some excellent examples of how not to use quotation marks and just focus on appropriate uses.

Appropriate uses for quotation marks are as follows:

1. When quoting something someone said. "I wanted pear, not cherry," he remarked. "Were they out, or did you just forget?"

2. To indicate a title of a song, short story, article, essay, poem, work of art, or television series. I currently have "Hey There Delilah" on repeat even though the whiny tone sometimes gets to me. We watch "Grey's Anatomy" on Fridays after it becomes available online.

3. To refer to a particular word or phrase. Note how I used a comma following the word "apostrophes" in the second sentence. You may use the word "faux" in place of the word "false" if you prefer it. In these cases, it is not necessary to use quotation marks; italics will work as well.

4. To express sarcasm or doubt. They claimed to be "making cookies" all afternoon, but what they meant is that they were out shopping.

Most other uses of quotation marks are inappropriate. The same simple rule that applies to apostrophes applies to quotes, too. If you're not sure if you should use them, don't. Or at least ask someone for help.

Next week (because it turned out to be more time consuming than I thought it would be to explain it, and I'm out of time) I'll address how to use other punctuation in reference to where quotation marks are placed.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Mary's Cook-O-Rama

Every year for the Passover seder I attend, I am in charge of making the charoset. My hostess likes to flatter me and tell me that it's so good it could win an award, but I really don't think it's all that special. It's not that hard to make; it just takes time. So this year when she went on and on about how good it was, I just smiled and nodded and said thank you, and then somehow ended up volunteering to make enough for another seder, one with 100 people in attendance. Each person eats at least a quarter of a cup of charoset, and it doesn't take much mental math to figure out that that's a whole lot of fruity goodness.

So I got started. Five minutes into it, I sliced neatly through the tip of finger and into my fingernail. Still, I pressed on (after bandaging my finger and washing the knife, of course), and ended up with this:

for the charoset

Oh, how nice. I then ran it all through the food processor, grating the apples first and adding some grape juice and cinnamon at the end. Then it looked like this:

charoset

Which, actually, doesn't really look that appetizing.

Even less appetizing? How my kitchen looked at the end:

post-charoset carnage

Somebody spilled some raisins and did not bother cleaning them up right away. I don't know who that might have been, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't the cat.

Don't worry, I cleaned it all up eventually, just in time to roast my own red peppers and make a whole new mess, along with some of this:

i also made this

That's Dijon Potato Salad with Roasted Red Peppers and Turkey Bacon, made especially for my dad's sixtieth birthday dinner. I had a little extra that wouldn't fit in the bowl, so I served it to Jarod and called it dinner. It has all four food groups in it, so I figure it's close enough.

After all that hard work, I figured I deserved a reward. Nothing says reward like a tiny sundae:

the reward for a job well done

Well, unless it's an enormous sundae, but I didn't have enough ice cream for that.

Happy Saturday, everybody.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Seriously, Pennsylvania?

From this article:

About one in five Pennsylvania voters said the race of the candidates was among the top factors in deciding how to vote, according to exit polls, and white voters who cited race supported Clinton over Obama by a 3-to-1 margin.

I know that it's the way some people still are, but what really gets me is that people still admit that they're racists. Sickening.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Just in Time for Earth Day: The Marymuses Recycling Guide

I hate throwing things away. I got it from my dad, who got it from his mom, who got it from living through the Great Depression. However, I also love to organize and keep things relatively tidy (it doesn't need to look like a museum in here, but it doesn't need to look like a trash heap either), which means that I can't keep everything, even if I might be able to use it someday. I need to be able to part with things in a way that is good and and useful and gentle to the earth.

Luckily, I live in a day and age where there are options.

I'd like to start by pointing out that the options I'm going to present to you are not as convenient as most Americans prefer. We live in the land of the convenience store. We want things hot, we want them now, and we don't want to have to fuss with portioning things out ourselves. However, if you are serious about wasting less and recycling (and reusing) more, you have to devote a little bit of time to it. My suggestions are not going to take forever, but they will take longer than you may be used to. I think you'll find, though, that your level of satisfaction at having done so well will far outweigh the inconvenience.

The first step to having less to throw out is to, well, simply have less. I will admit to being guilty of buying things because they are on sale (who can pass up such a good deal?) or because they, ahem, looked really cool. I am slowly breaking myself of that habit. While it is fantastic to pass things on to those who will use them (which I will discuss later in more detail), it is also fantastic to be able to be a bit more selective about things we will pass on later. I feel much better dropping off things of quality which are still in good shape than dropping off a shirt that was so cheap to begin with that it's about to fall apart. Plus, all those dollars I spend on unnecessary items add up. I could do a lot more good by buying less, thereby spending less, thereby having more in my bank account to do something meaningful, like sponsor a child in need.

The second step to having less to throw out is to buy items that are not overly packaged. Those individual yogurt containers are sure nice, and no one will argue that having several flavors in the fridge is kind of awesome, but in most areas you cannot recycle those yogurt containers (more on this later). It's fabulous to have pre-packaged, single-serving size snacks, but there's a lot more packaging in the box of 100-calorie-pack Cheetos than in just one single bag. If you're like most people, you probably have a lot of those small yogurt cups stacked up in your cabinet. Why not use them to portion out single servings of yogurt or fruit that you've bought in larger containers? The bags you get at the store to carry your goods home are also unnecessary packaging; reuse or recycle the ones you have and start bringing your own reusable bags when you shop.

The third step to having less to throw out is to pass on things that others might be able to use as opposed to just throwing them away. I contribute to my local Goodwill store and am also a member of the local Freecycle organization. We've given a number of things we weren't using to others who need them, plus have gotten a couple of good items that we needed. I'm also a big fan of yard sales.

The fourth step to having less to throw out is to recycle like mad. We are fortunate to have curbside recycling. Generally, curbside recycling programs take paper, cardboard, cans (both aluminum and steel/mixed use, such as those that vegetables and soups come in), and numbers 1 and 2 plastics (look for the number in the middle of the recycling symbol). For the rest of my recyclables, I go to a local recycling center that, in addition to taking the items we get to leave on the curb, also takes glass, aluminum foil, scrap metal, batteries, electronics, and styrofoam packaging products. Any of the aforementioned products is set aside for recycling. Even if it's small, like a clothing tag, it is set aside. Everything that curbside recycling will take is put in our blue bin and everything else is organized next to it. I have one paper bag for each color of glass (clear, brown, green), a reusable box for electronic equipment and batteries, and another bag for foil. Larger items are set next to the rest or boxed (as in the case of packing peanuts). I found my recycling center by simply googling my city name and the words "recycling center." In the Kansas City area, you can do a search for your local center by going to Recycle Spot. Enter in your county/area, and it will give you a list of local recycling centers. Click on the name of the center, and you will find a list of items they accept.

The more recyclable containers you choose to purchase instead of things that cannot be recycled, the less you'll send to the landfill. Check your plastics to make sure that they're 1 or 2, as most areas do not take 5 and 6 (such as yogurt, cottage cheese, and margarine containers) (not that I advocate using margarine, but that's a whole other post). We still purchase yogurt and cottage cheese, but in larger containers which we then reuse for leftover storage. My bulk items from Whole Foods (such as rice, whole wheat pastry flour, and hazelnuts) come in bags which I reuse the next time I go.

The fifth step to throwing out less is to compost. This is more difficult if you are living in an apartment setting, but I bet if you ask around a bit, you'll be able to find someone who has a yard or a garden who can make use of your food waste. We compost all our food leftovers, peelings, tea bags, coffee grounds, etc., and that alone has cut down on our trash significantly.

The final step I'll offer on your journey to throw out less is to use reusable or recyclable packaging when you take your lunch (or when your kids take theirs). This is a pretty simple step. For Jarod's lunches, I pack things in plates and bowls and send regular silverware. This is practical for him since his lunch does not have to be compact, but if it did, we would probably invest in an insulated lunch bag and glass containers with lids, such as these. You can often find these items at thrift stores, which is a win-win.

There is, of course, always more you can do, but these are the basics. These are the things that are possible for everyone to do if we will all just make a little more effort to make it happen.

Happy Earth Day!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Grammar Monday: Two for One

Shiz recently made two Grammar Monday request, one being a discussion of conciseness and the other being an explanation of active and passive voice. (Shiz apparently wants you to be well-educated.) Because the subjects are, in my opinion, related, I'm covering both of them today.

Being concise is important when you want to say what you mean, including necessary details but leaving out all the fluff. To be concise is to be succinct. Say what you mean and get on with it. This is particularly important when it comes to things like business correspondence (whether it be e-mails between staff members or more formal communications) and classified ads. You want to give the recipient all the information they need, but you don't want it to get lost in the shuffle of extra words and ideas. To do this, using active voice is necessary.

Active voice is very direct. Shiz drove the car. I took the chocolates. We need more tape. I would like to discuss the proposal with you. There's a person/place/thing (noun) which is doing an action (verb). Shiz (noun) drove (verb). This is the front door way of saying something. It is direct and no-nonsense.

By contrast, passive voice is indirect. It is often more wordy, and thus less concise. The person who drove the the car is Shiz. The girl who took the chocolates is me. More tape is needed by us. The one who would like to discuss the proposal is me. This is the sneaky, back door way to identify who did something. The who (or what) doing the action is not the subject of the sentence. With passive voice, you must read the whole sentence to find out who did the action.

In general, and particularly when being concise, it is best to use active voice. Passive voice is reserved for those times when you would prefer to reveal something at the end. If in doubt, use active voice. Passive voice can be lovely in good literature and cultured conversation (or, ahem, blogs written by those who have an affection for run-on sentences), but it can bog down communication otherwise. Active voice is much more easily understood.

Of course, being concise doesn't just involve using active voice instead of passive. It also requires that you cut out unnecessary details. Consider the following examples of e-mails regarding transportation to work:

Dear Mr. Boss Man,

Since tomorrow is Earth Day, I feel that it is important to conserve fuel, and in an effort to do just that, I will be joining with many others who are of like mind and will be riding my bicycle to work instead of driving. Because I am doing my part to save the earth, I will possibly be a little late, as I have not ridden my bike-to-work route yet, and I don't know how long it might take. I could end up being early, but it's hard to tell. In any case, I hope you will forgive me if I am late since it is for a good cause. If it will help, I will stay late to make up for time lost by my potential late arrival.

Sincerely,
Long-Winded Employee

P.S. If you would like to join in the Earth Day efforts, perhaps you might consider riding your bicycle to work or perhaps carpooling.


I have a feeling Mr. Boss Man is rolling his eyes at this. He may not have even read the whole thing if he's busy. It may look short, but the information is presented in the most roundabout way possible. Here is the more concise version:

Dear Mr. Boss Man,

In honor of Earth Day, I will be riding my bicycle to work tomorrow and may arrive a bit late. If I am tardy, I will stay late to make up for the lost time.

Sincerely,
Concise Employee


We all like to explain ourselves, but I assure you that Mr. Boss Man (or whomever has to read and filter his e-mails) will appreciate the direct, brief communication.

Any questions? Please do remember that tomorrow is Earth Day. Start something new! Jarod and I will both be bicycling to work, and the kids and I will take the bus from their school back home. If you have something planned for Earth Day, we'd love to hear all about it.

Edited to add: I stand corrected. Please refer to the comments for a little more guidance on passive voice. Sco makes an excellent point about one of my examples, so please make note of that.

Next week: QUOTATION MARKS! Don't even try to pretend you're not excited.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Do As I Say AND As I Do, Except in Special Circumstances

It's kind of funny, really, that I punished Jack for being sneaky tonight right after I wrote that post about the same standards applying to both adults and children, because later I totally pulled one over on Mary Liz. But it was, uh, for a good reason, and not because I wanted to eat twelve snacks before dinner. (This is an ongoing battle with Jack; it will be nearly dinnertime, and I'll let him have something small to tide him over, and then as his mom walks in, he'll grab a snack and eat it very quickly, then ask her for another one before she notices the snack wrapper he's still holding in his hand. To this behavior I say loudly: DO NOT WANT.) I was sneaky for what I consider to be a worthy cause: because I want to preserve the magic of childhood.

Mary Liz lost a tooth tonight during soccer practice. We brought it home in a plastic baggy, and she repeatedly grilled me about why I didn't even notice that she'd lost her tooth before she told me. For the record, A) she told me as soon as I was within earshot, and B) the tooth space was not visible unless she opened her mouth wide, Reach-toothbrush-fliptop-head style. I set it on the counter where the cat wouldn't push it off, and at bedtime I asked her if she wanted to put it under her pillow tonight for the tooth fairy, or show it to Mom later and put it out for collection tomorrow night. She opted to put it under the pillow tonight because she wanted, "to try an experiment." The experiment was to see if there would be money under her pillow even if her mom didn't know. This way, she reasoned, she'd know the truth about whether or not the tooth fairy is really just your parents. Fair enough, I said, and then she made me promise, pinky swear even, that I would not tell her mom and ruin it for her. I keep my promises, so I didn't tell her mom.

I did, however, tell Jarod, who happened to conveniently be around for the evening, and he told her mom.

Nanny and her quest to preserve the magic of childhood: 1
Kids' quest to find out actual truth about mythical beings: 0

Do As I Say AND As I Do

One of the things that has been hardest to learn as a nanny is how to practice what I preach, but it is one of the things I believe most firmly in. While there are certainly some privileges that come with being an adult, I think those things are fewer than we'd like to think. The most powerful way to teach children is by example. I tell them that they must eat a decent serving of nutritious food before they get a treat, and so I must do the same, even if I would prefer to just eat an entire can of Pringles and follow it with an M&M chaser. I say that only people who behave nicely get to have a Starbucks treat, so if I lose my temper and snap at someone, I do not get a treat when we go. I say that if we cause someone else inconvenience, we apologize, so when I lose my keys because I was being careless and we have less time at a fun spot, I apologize. More than once. I emphasize that it is right to admit when we are wrong and correct the situation, even if it was an accident, so if I am wrong, I say so and do my best to make things right again. This is particularly hard when it is a tiny person who is in the right. There are few things that are harder than admitting to a three-year-old that I made a big mistake, that they were right, and I was wrong. It is humbling, truly. But how else will they learn how to admit when they are wrong if I can't show them how? How else will they learn to make a sincere apology, even when they don't feel like it, if I don't do it first? I have had some people tell me that they cannot go back on what they have said, even if what they said was wrong, because it would destroy the authority they have. Their children would find them to be fallible, and then what?

Well, then they will learn to be human beings. Then they will learn that everyone makes mistakes, and that the important thing is to do your best and to make amends when you've failed. They will learn that if their grown-ups can tell the truth, they can also. The only reason this is hard is that we hold on so tightly to our pride, to our false need to be right. "We are all wrong sometimes," I say to Jack and Mary Liz when they have gotten in trouble and are feeling down about what has transpired. And when I say it, I hope i've been honest enough with them that they understand that "all" means me, too, even when I forget to say it out loud.

At least, that is what I'm aiming for.

Well, that and a few more sticky kisses before they start being embarrassed by my requests.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

I Think What I Need is a Good Dose of the BBC

It's rare that there's something I like on one of the two gym televisions I can see from the StairMaster. It seems that the person who sets the channels usually wants to watch sports, sports movies, or (oh, dear) FOX News. From time to time the new selection will be switched to something slightly more palatable, like CNN, but even they have their weak spots. For example, lately it's only switched from FOX to CNN when Nancy Grace is on, which, seriously? NO. I do not like her. I can only read the captions and see her facial expressions, and still I can tell that it's 100% sensationalism 100% of the time. Which is true of most news stations in general, I suppose, but Nancy Grace really takes the cake. Watching that show causes my heart to beat irregularly and my breathing to near hyperventilation, and I'm sure you can imagine that this is not good when one is on the StairMaster. I have to look away to the other television or at my screen, which is slowly ticking off the seconds until my workout is complete. The screen-staring option is usually a little much for me, I'll admit, as the quickest way to get done with a StairMaster workout is to do your best to forget that you're on the StairMaster at all. So tonight I watched the end of a football movie starring Keanu Reeves and Gene Hackman, and then TBS does what TBS always does, which is to start the same movie over again right away. So I saw the very end and the very beginning of this movie, but didn't catch what it was. And this whole paragraph? Is just a lead in to my question: does anyone know what movie that is? Is it good?

...

An old friend recently asked me to do a little tutorial about recycling, which I am quite happy to do, but have been lazy about so far (probably because I am exhausting myself trying to win some sort of recycling contest that doesn't even exist). So I'm putting this here as a place holder of sorts, to say that, yes, I will do it, and please leave mean comments if I don't get it done by Monday.

...

I also have plans to do a little something along the lines of better eating (no partially hydrogenated oils or high fructose corn syrup! more whole grains! less sugar! more fruit!), which I will not disclose details about yet, but which we (Jarod is in on it, too) hope will be fairly high on the awesomeness scale. We've been thinking about this and planning for it since Christmas, but somehow got stalled; apparently I need a place holder for that, too. Feel free to bug me if I don't get to it, all right?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Grammar Monday: Cause and Effect

My husband brought to my attention the frequent misuse of the words affect and effect. This is an easy one! Well, if you know the difference between a noun and a verb, that is.

The word affect is nearly always a verb, while the word effect is nearly always a noun. In fact, if you are one who struggles with knowing which one to use, I highly doubt you would have occasion to use the less common forms, so for our purposes we will ignore that there is an alternate meaning for either word at all. Affect is a verb. Effect is a noun. I will now demonstrate correct usage of both words by telling you a little story about the time I came home from Pakistan with a raging infestation of head lice.

The effect of using too much head lice shampoo was chemical burn on my scalp. My mom hoped the effect of all those treatments would be the complete eradication of scalp-eating insects, and it was. The means by which we eventually reached the undesirable effect of major dandruff, while at the same time reaching the desired effect of insect death, is that my mom was afraid that the first two treatments wouldn't affect the eggs enough in order to kill them, so we went in for round three. In fact, the initial treatment did not affect the bugs as much as we had hoped at all, which is where the problem started. They only seemed a little tipsy when they fell off my head onto the towel. As tipsiness in lice was not the effect we were going for, my dad was called in to do a second shampoo rub-in, which we hoped would affect them a little more drastically. The desired effect was reached, as the head lice that were then falling off were completely, stone-cold dead. Deceased. We saw nary a live bug for the next two weeks, but my mom was a little nervous that the shampoo's effects lasting, so she requested that we do one final treatment just to be sure. We did it, and the effect was large bits of my skin coming off. Did it affect the eggs, or were they dead already? We will never know. But it sure makes for a good story...

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Tonight on CBS

In 1990, and 1992, and 1994, and 1996, and, oh, yeah, in 1999, I traveled overseas with a group called Teen Missions. Tonight, CBS is airing a documentary about Teen Missions on 48 Hours. I'll be watching, and I invite you to watch as well. I have no doubt that the view from the outside will be quite different from the view from the inside. That I now disagree with some of their tactics, particularly in terms of evangelism, is true. That I feel that the positive outweighs the negative is also very true. Teen Missions does a lot of excellent work around the globe, serving others and truly helping those in need. Before it was even on the radar of most people, Teen Missions had already recognized the need for help with AIDS in Africa and had set up orphanages specifically for children whose parents had been taken by AIDS. In 1994, one of the films that we showed in Tanzania addressed some of the myths surrounding AIDS, such as that having sex with a virgin will cure you. That was fourteen years ago, long before any celebrities launched AIDS in Africa awareness campaigns. They were ahead of their time, and not because they were trying to get the scoop on something and get ahead of someone else. They were ahead of their time because they genuinely care about people. That is exemplary, regardless of how you feel about their particular beliefs and how they choose to express them in language. Their actions speak louder than their sometimes cheesy words. They care for those in need around the world, but also for the teens they are sending out. I felt that care; I know it is heartfelt and true.

For me, what Teen Missions gave me was a broader sense of who I was, and am, in light of what the whole world looks like. My understanding of global issues and culture was cultivated during those summers away. I would not be the person I am, with the heart I have, without the influence of those trips. Teen Missions grew my mind and expanded my heart. It opened up the world to me, truly. I don't know if you'll see that on this documentary, but I hope you'll see it in the way I live.

Tune in to CBS this evening at 8/7 Central to take a look. Take it with a grain of salt, and please ask me questions if you would like to know more.

You Probably Shouldn't Take Advice From Someone Who Wears Sunglasses at Night

And yet I am about to offer some, and I am wearing sunglasses. It is very much nighttime. And no, I am not kidding.

I rarely wear my glasses because I see better with my contacts and the glasses, due to the steep prescription, are heavy and give me a headache. I even wear my contacts when I sleep. However, from time to time I feel like my eyes might like a little fresh air, so between pairs of contacts I usually wear my glasses for an evening and then the next morning until I have to leave the house. I actually like my glasses a lot, so it's no big deal.

Except, of course, when I can't find my glasses.

If it hadn't been for something in my eye that was causing significant discomfort, and the fact that it was well past time to change contacts anyway, I would have just waited. Instead, in my rush to stop the pain, MAKE IT STOP!!!, I pulled the contacts out before I even checked to see if my specs were at hand. I reached up into the cabinet, felt the case, and pulled out the glasses. Which, oops, were my sunglasses. I reached up again, expecting to find a second case, but it wasn't there. I put on the sunglasses and dug through every handbag I'd carried in the last month, and still, no spectacles. I faintly remembered putting them in the car, thinking that they would be better off there, because the one thing I cannot do without corrective lenses is drive. Well, that and read even the top row of the eye chart, but what I mean is that I'm pretty good at getting around half blind. I just can't operate a vehicle like that.

Normally I would just run out to the car and rifle through the glove compartment, but tonight that's not possible. The car is with Jarod. In Minneapolis. So for now, it's sunglasses or blindness. I choose the sunglasses.

...

And now for the advice. It has come to my attention that there are a great many little tricks I use as a nanny that are simple and effective, but that might not be common knowledge. I've long heard the cries of "Mary, you should write a book!" but let's face it, the last thing any bookstore needs is yet another book about child-rearing. Have you seen that section lately? It's ridiculous. Instead, I'll just pass on little tidbits here. If you know anyone who might be able to use what I've got to offer, feel free to direct them my way. If not, these will just be our little tidbits to share. If you have kids, you might want to try some of these hints. If you don't, you might want to just skip this part or file it away for later. Or you might want to use them on random children who are behaving badly in public, but I really don't recommend that unless you like to cultivate bitterness and hatred.

This first tip is a simple one. Kids like to be prepared. They like advance warning, especially for unpleasant things. I find that I can often avoid a battle of wills if I just give fair warning. For example, Mary Liz loves to pick out her own clothes, and she is very picky about them. She likes all shades of pink, she likes stretchy knit fabrics, and she wants to be comfortable. Bascially, anything that is not a cotton knit does not pass muster. If she is asked to dress in something that she does not like, she will resist mightily. She will argue, she will bargain, she will refuse outright. However, if I let her know in advance that she will have to wear something she doesn't like, she is often quite cooperative. I usually preface the discussion with, "I am going to tell you something that you will not like, but you are not going to be allowed to argue about it. I am telling you so that you know ahead of time." Then I outline what she must do. In the case of clothing, it goes something like, "There is a special occasion coming up, and you are going to have to wear something you don't like. It will be fancy, and it will not be stretchy. Because this occasion is formal, you have to wear a formal dress. We will try on the dress Aunt Lisa sent you, and if that fits, you will have to wear that one. If it doesn't fit, we will go to the store, and I will show you a few options. You will only be allowed to choose one of those options, not anything else." I then reinforce that I know what she normally likes to do, and that other times she will be allowed to do that, but that this time it's just not an option. "I know that you like stretchy dresses best, and you like to be able to pick out what you get to wear. Most times you get to do this, but this is one time that you are not going to be able to." Then I ask if that makes sense and encourage her to think it over so that she's ready when the time comes to do the unpleasant task. "Does that make sense to you? You don't have to do it right now, but I'm letting you know so that you can think about it so that it won't be a big deal when you have to do it." I will field questions if there are any, but usually I try to avoid this because it often turns into a bargaining session, and this is an issue that is not negotiable. I then drop the subject entirely and move on to more pleasant topics.

So the basics, to break it down, are:

1. Warn the child that what you're about to say is something he or she won't like.
2. Let the child know up front that it's not something he or she can argue about.
3. Outline the requirements of the situation.
4. Reinforce that you already understand the child's preferences.
5. Remind the child that it's not something they have to do right away, but that you are giving advance notice so that he or she can get used to the idea.
6. Answer any brief questions while remaining firm that it's not a negotiable situation. If the child tries to bargain, simply state that it's not negotiable and don't say another word about it.
7. Move on to other topics.

When it is closer to the time for the child to do the undesirable task, I usually offer a brief reminder. "Remember when we talked about choosing a dress to wear to the special occasion, and how you were going to have to wear something that's not your favorite? We're doing that today." I will then give a specific time if possible, according to age. If a child is fairly young, it's best to just say "after lunch" or "before storytime at the library," but if it's an older child, you can use clock time. When the actual time comes, most children are resigned to their fate already and will do it willingly. The only snag I've run into is if a child has been allowed to bargain his or her way out of something at the last minute in the past; then they will fight you the first few times you do this, thinking that if you let them have their way before, they can fight for it again. Stand firm, remind them that you discussed it before, and that it's not negotiable. If this is a new technique, it is best to use it for smaller issues at first, those things that will afford you lots of time to wait out their protests. Once they know you mean business, the advance warning will be enough to allow everyone smooth transition into whatever unpleasant task lies ahead.

Any questions?

Monday, April 07, 2008

Beauty and the Alcoholic

If you're looking for Grammar Monday, scroll on down. I just couldn't resist posting a second time because today was full to overflowing with high quality life experiences.

First of all, Jarod took our car to Minneapolis, which means that I do not have a car at my disposal for the week. I am borrowing the extra car that Jack and Mary Liz's family owns in order to transport them to and from school on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, but for my own frivolous errands, I'm on the bus, baby. Aw, yeah. And the bus is already giving me some sugar. Well, if you call having the privilege of sitting next to an alcoholic who wants to chat "sugar," and I do! I so totally do!

By the time we reached 39th and Main, the bus was packed, so random my-age-ish white dude who reeked of stale cigarettes and liquor sat down next to me. I did my usual half smile as in indication that, yes, it was fine with me if he sat down, but I guess he took that to mean that I also wanted to chat it up. He started in on his sad story of how he didn't mean to drink that much yet (it was just past noon) but that somehow he had, and here he was on his way to meet his sponsor, who was not going to be happy about it and would probably send him to detox, and I was midway through my inner eye roll when I realized that I could just dismiss him as a weirdo or I could engage with him and tell it like it is. I must have been channeling my friend Nicole, who just says what she thinks to the alcoholics, hoboes, and ne'er-do-wells that strike up conversations with her, because I just started letting him have it. I told him that if he couldn't control his drinking once he started, then maybe he shouldn't start at all. He told me that I don't know how it is and I shot back that yes, I do know how it is, and the way it is is that he can't handle liquor, that it's ruining his life, so he just needs to set down the bottle. There were a few brief recesses from talk of his alcoholism when he'd say amusing things like "Robert Smith said he wouldn't tour again, but now he IS because money is a powerful motivator," and, "You have a strong resemblance to Natalie Merchant...you can take that as a compliment," (I did--I have always liked Natalie Merchant) but mostly he wanted to tell me about how he was meeting his sponsor and that his sponsor was going to be mad. I told him that his sponsor had good reason to be mad, that whatever reprimand he gets, he deserves. I bet that poor guy wished he'd never sat down next to me, especially after I started telling him that he either needed to give the bottle of vodka he had in his bag to me so I could throw it away, or he needed to throw it away himself. "I can tell you my answer to your request right now, and it is NO," he snarled, "It makes me feel safe to have it in there."

"Safe? Seriously? It makes you feel safe to keep a bottle of the stuff that is ruining your life in your bag all the time? That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard, and you have until 12th and Main to change your mind and hand me that bottle." He went on with some nonsense about how his answer was NO and he would not change his mind, so I took the liberty to remind him that Robert Smith changed his mind about touring, that people change their minds all the time, and if Robert could do it, so could he. His mouth gaped open at my audacity, both for asking him to hand over the bottle and for comparing him, a mere mortal, to Robert Smith, who is some sort of musical god. I raised my eyebrows at him; it was the best response I could come up with.

In the end, of course he didn't hand me the bottle. Our whole section of the bus was listening in, probably shaking their heads at my futile attempt to make an alcoholic hand over his stash, but whatever. I didn't really care. As I exited the bus, I reminded him that he could still throw out the bottle himself and start detox sooner than when he checked in to whatever rehab facility his sponsor drove him to. As I slipped out the back door, he was vigorously shaking his head to indicate his firm no, but he called out, at the last minute, as a peace offering of sorts, "Hey! Wow! I really like your shoes!"

Uh, thanks?

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In less amusing news, I got my first pedicure of the season today, even though the temperature barely crossed the springlike threshold of fifty degrees. I chose today's nail salon based solely on the name, Star Nails, which is the name of the place I frequented (and adored completely) in Connecticut. I came away pleased; I have found my nail place. Rachel, who had the idea to get pedicures today in the first place, said that she liked it okay, but it lacked good atmosphere. She'll try out some other spots, but I will go back to Star Nails all spring and summer. I care less about atmosphere than I do about the fact that the man (a man! again!) who did my nails was gentle and professional, that I saw him put the tools in the sanitizer with my own eyes, and that I also witnessed him disinfect the foot bath tub. Good Job + Good Sanitation Practices = Complete Pedicure Satisfaction. I see no reason to take my chances trying out any other salons.

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In addition, I also got my hair cut and highlighted today. It's a little bit sassier than it was before, but not so much that it looks too hip for the likes of me. It's just right. And I know you'd like to see a photo, but the lighting in my house in the evenings is good for mood, but not so good for photographs, so you'll just have to wait. Patiently. If you're really good, I might even take a photo of my super cute pedicure as well. You'll feel so jealous that you'll want to go get a pedicure of your own, and I hope that you will. There's really nothing like a fresh set of brightly colored toes to make you feel all springlike, regardless of the outdoor temperature.

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Over and out; it's time for bed.

Grammar Monday: Nonstandard is a Nice Way of Saying Incorrect

So many small mistakes, so little time. Since my time is limited, and I need to spend a lot more of it either admiring my pedicure or admiring my new, sassier hairstyle, I will jump right in.

To begin with, a lot is two words, not one. A. LOT. Not alot. This is a very common mistake, made by many people who I think are otherwise fine, intelligent individuals. Please, all you fine, intelligent individuals, KNOCK IT OFF. You are making me crazy. It would make me feel a lot better if you would just use your spacebar.

Second, the word irregardless is listed in the dictionary as "nonstandard," but in fact it is a double negative and therefore incorrect. Because English is a living language, it grows and changes, and words like this end up in our dictionary simply because they are used quite frequently. The dictionary chooses to define words such as this as "nonstandard" versions, but I'll just be up front and tell it to you straight. It's not correct. The correct word to use is regardless. The ir is not necessary because you already are negating the root word, regard, by using the suffix less. Don't waste your energy typing those two extra letters.

Finally, it is not all right to use the word alright. I blame the growing use of this nonstandard form on liner notes. U2 is a major culprit, and I'd have a serious grudge against Bono if he weren't doing all those nice things for people in Africa. Again, English is a living language, growing and changing, but this is still a slang version. The formal form (otherwise known as "the acceptable form for edited works") is all right. Take the energy you were formerly using to type the two extra letters of irregardless to add the extra L and the space in all right. See how nicely that works out? It all evens up in the end.

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I've run out of questions for Grammar Mondays, so if you have questions of your own or have just noticed something that drives you crazy, please drop a note in the comments or send an email to marymuses at gmail dot com.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Girls! Girls! Girls!

Shortly after noon, Jarod took off for Minneapolis for a week of work stuff up there. Now it's just the ladies over here, one human and three feline. I've always gotten girl cats because I like them better. For one, male cats sometimes end up with enormous heads, and I just don't like the enormous head look. Two, male cats are much more likely to have hygiene difficulties. Three, there's that whole spraying issue. I'll take the girls, thanks. And we'll have ladies' night every night of the week while Jarod is away.

I'll miss my husband while he's gone, but I also recognize this week for what it is, which is an opportunity to organize more stuff in less time. With only one of us around to leave things out and get dishes dirty and require dinner (which, honestly, I don't always require, being a snackity kind of girl), there are a whole lot of little chores that I won't have to deal with. I've already caught up on laundry, planted potatoes, read half a novel, and a finished digging up the lilies from our front yard, and he's only been gone six hours! Imagine the possibilities of a whole week on my own! I might actually get the rest of the basement boxes sorted out and get all the tools put into the toolbox! I quiver with excitement!

For the moment, though, I'm taking a little break. You'd be taking a little break, too, if you had dug up all these:

i fought the lilies, and I WON!!!

There was a moment that I looked out at all those lilies and thought, "Oh, NO. I will NEVER GET DONE NOT EVER WHAT WAS I THINKING?!?!" But then the spirit of the marathoner within me took over and I just kept going. This is the secret of getting any lengthy project done. Just keep going. I remember repeating that to myself over and over again when I looked at the pile of ironing before me at my Connecticut job. And what do you know? I finished all that ironing, all those times, and I still lived to see another day.

You might remind me of this sometime down the road, possibly when I am whining about weeding my garden.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Message I'm Sending

One of the fabulous things about getting married is that, by combining our homes and incomes, it has been possible for me to work part time. For my usual job I put in just sixteen hours a week, and while I do pick up extra jobs when possible, that sixteen hours is the standard. The rest of the time I'm left to my own obsessive compulsive organizing devices, which has mostly been positive. While I'll admit to having had a a bit of a hard time in the beginning, staring down the disorganization of this house and the many boxes of stuff that I needed to put away somewhere, it's been satisfying to see it all come together. I like making a home out of a house, making order out of chaos, creating a soft place to fall at the end of a long day. I am a firm believer that one's living space says a lot about who they are. (Which is not to say that if your living space is not all you'd like it to be that it is a negative reflection on you--perhaps it is just saying that your other priorities are more important than tidying and decorating at this point.) What I strive to say through my living space is that you are welcome here, that you can relax, that we are up for a little bit of everything. My space says that I value what others have given me, that I enjoy where I've been in life, that I like a bit of fun, and that there's no need to be so formal as to use a coaster. I don't even own coasters. I hope it also says that there is joy here; at least, that's what I've felt as each room comes together. What comes out of my mouth, though, goes more like this:

I FOUND THAT IN THE TRASH, CAN YOU BELIEVE IT, OMG!

Yes, that's right, I like things from the trash. In fact, I adore them. Returning home from the gym one night, I noticed that our neighbor, Bill, had set some fine items out in the driveway of his rental property. One thing was a chair, similar to these, but with plastic wheels attached to the legs. "It's a desk chair!" I exclaimed to Jarod, "See the wheels?"

He just drove up our driveway, possibly muttering something about how those renters had disappeared after the police came calling for them, and who knows what was on that chair, maybe they even had a meth lab in the basement. The next day, while he was at work, I walked across the street and rolled it up the driveway, stowing it in the garage. It's not like it was the first time, so I figured he wouldn't be surprised. There was also the occasional table that I made him help me shove in the back seat, and then there was the end table with the built in ashtray, not to mention the small set of shelves that I'm using to stow my arts and crafts supplies. I don't think we even need to mention what I've made him carry upstairs from our basement. All these things, except for the arts and crafts shelves, I've lovingly and somewhat sloppily covered in coats of Restoration Hardware paint. If love came in a can, it would look like saffron, or buttermilk, or dusk. Together with that paint, all my trash finds have become treasures.

Today I have been painstakingly pulling the staples out of the upholstery from the seat of the desk chair so that I can recover it in the cream and soft blue damask fabric I bought for it. The wood is already coated in a buttermilk hue. I've got thick piece of foam to cut for the seat, and I've got the original quilted lining in the wash. All I need now is a staple gun, and I'll be in business. The cat keeps chewing on the needle-nosed pliers as I tug away, and I couldn't be happier.

Perhaps the real message I'm sending is more like, "It doesn't take much, does it?"

Considering that the last thing that brought me this kind of thrill was the time that I organized all the shirts in my closet by color and sleeve length, I think we know that the answer is, "Not much at all."