Friday, February 25, 2011

Help for troubled times

I've been going through a tough time lately.

I've wished for calm waters and smooth sailing.

Photo courtesy of SportmansHabitat.com

Instead, events in my life and the state of my heart have combined to form the perfect storm.

In the midst of the storm, I ran across a nugget of wisdom I want to share. I hope it will help you as much as it's helped me this week.

From The Me I Want To Be by John Ortberg:

Peace doesn't come from finding a lake with no storms.

It comes from having Jesus in the boat.


Do you ever have times like this?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

English teacher: quotation marks

It's Thursday--time for me to put on my English teacher hat!


Several readers have asked me to explain the correct usage of punctuation marks and quotation marks. Like many of the issues I'll tackle in this series, this particular problem affects only our writing. We have no problem with punctuation issues when we speak--we use our voices to indicate pauses, emphasis, etc. But when we write, we depend upon punctuation in order to communicate clearly.

Quotation marks are used for several purposes, the most common being the enclosing of dialogue. In this case, the use of quotation marks allows the reader to know that what she is reading is a direct quotation from a speaker. Quotation marks are also used to mark special terms that need to be set apart in some way. For instance, you may need to indicate that you're using a term ironically, or that you're using a term that is in fact a quotation from another source, even if you're not citing the source at the time you use the term. And quotation marks are used to enclose the names of small works of writing, such as the titles of songs, articles, and episodes. (Larger works would be marked by underlining, boldfacing, or italicising.)

The problems with the use of quotation marks usually stem from a writer's not knowing how to include ending punctuation marks along with quotation marks. There are a few simple rules to help:

  • Place commas and periods (full stops) INSIDE quotation marks.

Examples:

"I'm so glad you can come to the party," said Rachel.
"It sounds like fun," answered Susan. "Thanks for inviting me."

Special note: If you need to include parenthetical material after the direct quotation, simply enclose the words of the quotation in quotation marks, list the parenthetical statement, and then place the closing punctuation. For example: Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6).

  • Place colons and semi-colons OUTSIDE quotation marks.

Examples:

I've never listened to all of "Stairway to Heaven"; I always turn it off before it's finished.
The singer listed four key elements to what she calls "The Road to the Grammies": talent, dedication, perseverance, and good breaks.

  • Question marks and exclamation points should be placed inside the quotation marks only if they are part of the quotation (that is, if the actual quotation is a question or an exclamation). If the whole sentence, not the quotation, is the question or exclamation, simply enclose the quotation with no ending punctuation and place the question mark or exclamation point outside the quotation marks.

Examples:

"Can I help you?" asked the clerk.
Does the receptionist always answer the phone by saying, "It's a great day at Johnson's Fitness Center"?


"I can't wait!" shouted the boy.
I am so excited that RCA is going to re-release my favorite Elvis song, "How Great Thou Art"!

  • Sometimes you'll want to include a quotation inside a larger quotation. For instance, you may be writing out what a person said, and part of what she said is an item that should be in quotation marks. In that case, you use single quotation marks (same keyboard stroke as the apostrophe) to enclose the inside quotation and regular quotation marks to enclose the entire quotation.

Example:

"Have you seen the 'Serenity Now' episode of Seinfeld?" asked Amanda.


I hope this is helpful to you. As always, I'd be happy to answer any specific questions you may have. If there's a grammatical issue you'd like for me to write about, please let me know. If there's a particular question you'd like for me to answer right away, email me (richella (at) gmail (dot) com).

Thursday, February 17, 2011

English teacher: how to use affect and effect


Time for another lesson with the English teacher! 



 Today I'll address a reader question:

Q: When should I use the word "affect" and when should I use "effect"?


That's a great question. These two words sound so much alike that they cause a good deal of confusion for writers. Like so many issues I'll address in this series, the words are no problem when spoken; only when written are they troublesome.

First let me explain that these two little words both have primary and secondary uses. First we'll talk about their primary uses. If you can get this usage right, you'll be on target with these words 9 times out of 10.

Affect is a primarily used as a verb that means "to act upon" or "to influence."

Examples:

The number of registrants will affect our decision of where to hold the conference.
The dreary weather affects my mood.

Effect is primarily used as a noun that means "something produced by a cause; a result."

What will be the effect on conference location if we get more than 500 registrants?
This dreary weather is having a bad effect on my mood.

Perhaps the easiest way to remember this rule is with the simple mnemonic RAVEN:

Remember: Affect is a Verb; Effect is a Noun.

Those are the primary meanings of the words. If you can keep those squared away, you'll be doing great!

As for the secondary meanings, the usage is reversed.

Affect can be used as a noun. It's a term used in psychology and psychiatry regarding a feeling or an observed emotional response.

Example: He presented with a flat affect, prompting his physician to suspect a mental illness.

Effect can also be used as a verb, meaning "to bring about."

Example: We are hoping the switch to computerization will effect real improvement in our record-keeping.

Does that clear up the affect/effect question for you? If not, let me know in the Comments section and I'll take another stab at it. And as always, I ask you to please let me know if you have other grammar questions. I'd be happy to help you if I can! You can leave me a comment or email me at RichellaP (at) gmail (dot) com.



Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Dinner for Real

Last week I asked if anyone would be interested in an ongoing series devoted to real dinners for everyday life. Lots of people said they would be interested. To be honest, I was surprised that there were so many people who share my difficulty in coming up with dinner ideas. I've always felt terribly deficient in the area of meal planning and execution, but maybe it's a more common hardship than I thought!

This series will be dedicated to sharing real recipes for real dinners for real people in real life. Nothing fancy, nothing prize-winning. . . but also nothing that hasn't been taste-tested by real people.


We'll start with one of our favorite kinds of food: Mexican.  I'm not sure that what we call "Mexican" is particularly authentic, but we like it--simple fare that's not too expensive.  Maybe it's more Tex-Mex than Mexican.  Or maybe it's just what we like since it usually involves meat and cheese.  Anyway, here's one of our favorites:  simple enchiladas.

You can cook meat specifically to use in enchiladas, but this also a great way to use up leftover chicken or beef.  We especially like chicken enchiladas, and I simply pull chicken apart with two forks to stuff the enchiladas.  Here's how to make them: 


Simple Enchiladas

First, spray a baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Pour some canned or bottled enchilada sauce (I use store brand red sauce) into the pan.

In the microwave, warm some tortillas. We prefer flour tortillas, although I think corn tortillas are often preferred for enchiladas. Use whatever you like.

Wet the warm tortillas a bit with the enchilada sauce. That way they won't tear when you roll them.  (See how the tops and bottoms of the tortillas are cut off?  That's because my tortillas were a little too big for my baking pan!)



Place some of the chicken, a bit of the enchilada sauce, and some cheese inside each tortilla.  
Roll up.

Place rolled tortillas, seam side down, into prepared pan.  
Pour remainder of enchilada sauce across top of tortillas. Sprinkle with more cheese if you like (I always do).


Bake 30 minutes or more, until everything is hot and melty and yummy.



My kids love these, and I have to admit that I really like them, too. They're not fancy, but they taste really good. We like to have rice and beans with them, and my husband usually likes to have some salad as well.

Now, what do you think? Is this a recipe you think you could use? Do you have a recipe you'd like to contribute? I'd really like this series to be a collaborative effort. Would you like to write a guest post for this series? Or would you prefer that we do a recipe linky party? Please let me know! And may your dinnertime be blessed!

Monday, February 14, 2011

A love story

Today is Valentine's Day. A day for celebrating love. A day for exchanging of gifts and exchanging of cards and exchanging of sweets and all-around heart-encircled, pink paper-wrapped, warm, fuzzy love. So today I want to share a love story with you.



Once upon a time (isn't that the way all love stories start?). . . .

Actually, this love story starts with a bad story. The story of a lady who worked for years as a nurse. Back before the precautions now undertaken routinely, this lady nursed the sick and the dying. And from one of her very ill patients, this lady caught hepatitis C.

Of course, this nurse had access to very good medical care, and she received good care. But the hepatitis C didn't go away. Over time, the disease did irreparable damage to her liver. The damage was gradual, though, so the nurse continued to live as full a life as possible. Eventually she was placed on the list for a liver transplant, but her ranking was not high. Her liver still worked well enough that other patients always ranked higher.

Finally her liver function became so bad that she was a higher candidate for transplant. Many years had gone by, though, so by this time her age knocked her back down the transplant list. She was not old, but she was past the age of being a prime transplant candidate. Finally, her physicians predicted that she had only 18 more months to live. It was obvious that she would not reach the top of the transplant list before her liver reached the end of its functionality.

So her family began seeking a living donor for her. The liver is a marvelously designed organ. Amazingly, it can regenerate itself. Half a healthy liver can grow into a whole liver. The patient's family hoped that one of them would be able to share a liver with her. What a great gift to share life with a beloved sister or mother!

But no one matched. None of the family members was able to share. And time marched on.

Finally, the family decided to open the search. They put forth the need and invited anyone who might be interested to inquire about becoming a living donor. The eighteen months of life were dwindling, and a transplant was the only hope.

This is the point at which I learned about the patient. Because the patient is a friend of one of my best friends, Sonya. And this is the point at which Sonya told me that she was being evaluated as a possible liver donor.

Now, Sonya is one of the busiest people I know. She serves in campus ministry. She serves on the board of a Christian school. She has three children of her own, one of whom just had shoulder surgery a few weeks ago. Her only daughter is about to graduate from high school. She has a lot on her plate: surely no one would expect her to consider becoming a living organ donor. Of course not.

And no one expected it, but Sonya felt compelled to offer. After she passed the initial round of evaluations, she felt compelled to consider it further. And after she was determined to be an ideal candidate, she felt compelled to go forward.

So today Sonya is in Chicago, waiting and praying with the family of her beloved friend. Tomorrow morning, Sonya will be the first of two people to be placed under anesthesia. Tomorrow she will undergo surgery to have half her liver removed. Tomorrow her friend will undergo surgery to have her own diseased liver replaced with half of Sonya's healthy liver. If all goes well, Sonya will spend this busy springtime recovering from the pain of abdominal surgery and then recovering from the fatigue of losing half her liver. It will be a hard road.

But because of Sonya's sacrifice, her friend will have a chance at life.

That's a love story. Somehow, in the midst of the Valentine's Day hoopla, it's easy for me to think of love as something that I should be receiving. It's much too easy for me to think that I deserve flowers or chocolates or jewelry. It's easy for me to forget that real love is all about giving.

But Sonya's story reminds me of the greatest of all love stories. It's an echo of the story of Jesus--not a story that Jesus told, but one that Jesus lived. Jesus told his friends, "Greater love has no one than this: that someone lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). And then he demonstrated that love by doing that very thing.

That love lives in Sonya's heart. That love is what compels her to give. That love is wrapped in gauze, not in fancy pink paper. But that love is real. That love is worth celebrating.

Happy Valentine's Day, my friend.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Table transformation: turning a cheap table into a cool accent piece

Years ago I needed a table to set beside the chair and ottoman in my living room. It needed to be small, just big enough to hold a drink or a magazine. Nothing special. This $24.99 TJMaxx special filled the bill:



Not a bad little table, really, but over time the purplish-brown color got to me. And the speckled finish. See the speckles?



I grew weary of the speckles. Still, the table was just the right size, and I liked its graceful lines. And I didn't want to spend any money to buy another table.

Meanwhile, on my 25th anniversary trip to Paris last year, I found this pretty little cushion cover.


It's a lovely little tapestry that I found at one of my favorite places in all of Paris: Sainte Chapelle. I like the pop of the French blue, and I like having an item I use everyday remind me of that special trip. So I decided to take a cue from my pillow and turn my little table into something that looked as if it had come from Grandmere's attic. If I had a Grandmere.

First the table got a coat of blue spray paint. A little garish--okay, a LOT garish--but headed in the right direction.


Then I sanded the edges for a distressed look. . . and stencilled a fleur de lis pattern on the top. . .then sanded some more. . . and finally added a coating of Valspar Mocha glaze to tone down the color and to add a bit more patina.

And now my humble little table has gone from this:



to this:



And here it is in its place in my living room. Now that I've seen this photo, I think I need to do a bit more glazing on the legs. That'll be easy, though.


Up close and personal so you can see it with its inspiration pillow:



What do you think? Would you want to curl up beside my fire and set your drink on my little blue table?

This transformation was especially fun because I spent $0 on it. I had a can of blue spray paint, the fleur de lis stencil, gold craft paint, and the glaze all in my stash. So I spent a little time but no money.


I'm joining some fun parties with my table. Check these out for more inspiration!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Dinner for Real: A new series? Please vote!

I'm betting I'm not the only person in the world who likes to read cookbooks as if they were novels. Or who loves to collect recipes for yummy things like appetizers and elaborate desserts. Give me an ingredient list that includes sour cream or cream cheese, and I'm a happy girl.

But while I LIKE to read recipes for yummy foods that I'll make only a few times a year, what I NEED to read are recipes for what to fix for dinner. Just for my family. On any given Tuesday.

I've been thinking, "I wish somebody would post recipes for good, dependable, weeknight meals--dishes that are picky-eater tested and that don't require exotic ingredients. Just plain old normal food." And then it occurred to me that--well, what do you know?--I am somebody. I could do it!

So I'm proposing a new series: Dinner for Real. Every Tuesday.

What do you think? Would you read it? Would you want to contribute to it? Would you want an occasional linky party for it?

I'll go first by reprising the recipe one of our favorite foods, something that's good enough for company but also simple enough for every day.

Bacon-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin

1 pork tenderloin
1 teaspoon, more or less, steak seasoning such as McCormick's Montreal Steak Seasoning
(Note: I don't actually measure; I just sprinkle it all over.)
Bacon slices

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Sprinkle seasoning over pork.


Wrap in bacon and secure with toothpicks.


Place pork on lightly greased wire rack in an aluminum foil-lined roasting pan. Bake at 425 for 25 minutes. Then broil about 5 minutes or until bacon is crisp. (Pork is ready when meat thermometer registers 155 degrees. Do not overcook!)



I didn't get a photo of the pork after it was sliced because we ate it all up right away!

If you're watching your fat intake, you don't have to eat the bacon. My boys always eat the bacon, but I usually don't eat mine. But wrapping the tenderloin in the bacon really makes a difference in how the tenderloin cooks--it comes out juicy and wonderfully flavorful.

Now what do you think? Does a Dinner for Real series sound like something you'd be interested in? Please leave a comment and let me know!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Easy custom Valentine's cards


When I was a little girl, Valentine's Day was the highlight of winter for me. Mid-February can be such a cold, gloomy time . . . but right in the midst of the winter gloom comes a holiday dedicated to love. And fun. And candy!

I still like to send and give Valentine's cards, but adult-sized Valentine's cards are a lot more expensive than the little greetings exchanged by schoolchildren. I wanted several cards to send to family and friends, but at $1 to $5 each, store-bought cards were out of the question.

Then I remembered that I had several photo cards left over from Christmas:


and in my stationery box I had some blank cards.


So I cut off the Christmas part of the photo cards


and printed a Valentine's greeting on my blank cards. (I have zero graphic design skills. I simply played around with fonts and spacing using my word processing software. My cards are the size of one-half of an 8 1/2" x 11" sheet, so I fiddled with the spacing until the sentiment appeared to be centered in the upper right quadrant of an 8 1/2" x 11" sheet of paper. I did all my trial printing on regular printer paper so as not to waste any of my cards.)

When the cards were printed with the sentiment, I simply used double-sided tape to attach my photos, and

Voila!


Custom Valentine's Day cards!

Hopefully the intended recipients of these cards aren't reading this post; otherwise, their Valentine's cards won't be much of a surprise. There are a couple of our neighbors who weren't around at Christmastime, so I think I'll bake some treats and deliver one of these cards with a plate of goodies. Don't you think that'll be fun?

What do you do to celebrate Valentine's Day?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Blissdom swag giveaway winner!

Good morning, friends! Is anyone else feeling a little slow and maybe a tad nauseated this morning after staying up late last night to watch the Superbowl? I know I am. I think I may have eaten just a few too many game day treats. Oops!



But today is the time for me to pick a winner for my Sharing the Bliss giveaway. I used the random number generator at random.org, and the winning number is


True Random Number Generator 58Powered by RANDOM.ORG

A couple of people had left comments but asked not to be entered in the drawing, so I had to count very carefully . . . but I finally got there. And I'm happy to say that the winner is:

Angie from The Country Chic Cottage!
Angie, email me with your address, and I'll get your package of goodies right out to you!
Thanks to everyone who entered!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

My best Blissdom advice

It's now been a week since I left the Opryland hotel and all the excitement that was the Blissdom conference. No doubt you've seen Blissdom posts all over the place.

This year was my first experience at Blissdom, and I know that there are lots of bloggers who haven't been able to go to a blogging conference yet. I want to encourage you to think about going and to start saving your pennies. And as a rookie who just learned a thing or two, I'd like to share a couple of pieces of advice.

(photo courtesy of Melissa)
  • Build a positive online reputation. Don't worry that you won't fit in at a conference; act right now to make sure that you DO fit in. Before Blissdom I'd only met a few bloggers face-to-face. But I already knew a number of women through our blogs, and meeting them in person was just the icing on the cake. So here's my advice: realize that your online reputation precedes you. In writing your own posts and in commenting on others' posts, a) be yourself and b) be nice. Comment often and be encouraging! Snarkiness and pettiness will come back to haunt you. We all have days when we're feeling grumpy, of course, but I wonder if we'd all be better off if we refrained from typing too much on those days.
  • Find a roommate. Or two or three. I'm serious about this, for several reasons. Obviously the cost of attending the conference will be considerably less if you share your room expense with others. (For the record, our room at the Opryland, including all taxes and fees, cost $149 per night. We stayed three nights. Three of us split the cost, so we each paid just $149 for our entire stay.) Besides the cost savings, having a roommate makes the whole experience more fun--like a slumber party inside a conference. And most importantly, having a roommate will encourage you to be more engaged in the conference. You won't be tempted to slink back off to your room and watch TV or surf the internet--you'll stay and mingle and attend workshops and learn, which is the whole point of attending the conference in the first place.

Cyndi, Traci, Liberty, and me

I don't want to brag, but I do think I had the best roommates at the whole conference. I got to be the oldest of what I like to think of as a group of three sisters. Cyndi from Walking in His Grace and Traci from Beneath My Heart are real-life sisters, and they welcomed me into their family for the week. I'd never met either of them in real life before, but I'd formed a deep connection with them online. And I'm here to tell you: these online connections are REAL!

If by any chance you don't already read Cyndi's blog or Traci's blog, you should go visit right now. Please tell them I sent you. Tell 'em their old red-headed sister sent you their way!

And one more thing: if you'd like a chance to win all the cool swag I received while I was at Blissdom, click here to enter my giveaway. All you need to do is leave a comment on that post if you want to win. I'll choose a winner on Monday morning!



Have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

English teacher


You may already know that I spent last week at the Blissdom conference in Nashville. I want to tell you about a little moment that thrilled my English teacher's heart.

I was talking with a beautiful woman, Melissa (from the funny yet sublimely lovely blog A Familiar Path). I mentioned my weekly grammar series, and Melissa told me that she was once an English teacher. You can imagine how my ears got all pointy like a retriever's. She went on to say, "My pet peeve is that so many people use a subjective pronoun in the objective case." At this point, my heart swelled within my chest; I think I may have danced a jig on the spot and embarrassed Melissa.




Pronouns are some of the most useful little words in the English language. Can you imagine trying to get through the day without ever using such words as I, me, you, he, she, we, or they? Gosh, our speech would be so stilted without these words!

For the most part, the use of pronouns comes very naturally to us. But Melissa was right: the one troublesome point is knowing when to use subjective pronouns and when to use objective pronouns. Here's the run-down on that point:

You need to use a subjective pronoun (I, you, he, she, they) as the subject of a sentence or phrase or following a linking verb (is, am, are, was, were, be).
Examples:
  • I love chocolate.
  • They left town this morning.
  • This is she. (Think about how you learned to answer the phone!)
Use an objective pronoun (me, you, him, her, them) as a direct or indirect object of a sentence or the object of a preposition. Prepositions are the connecting words used to build phrases that usually describe relationship of some kind. Some common prepositions are about, at, before, between, by, for, from, of, on, to, and with. The word or words following a preposition are the objects of the preposition. When you use a pronoun as the object of a preposition, you need an objective pronoun.

Examples:

  • Charlie bit me! ("Me" is the direct object of bit.)
  • Pam made me a pillow. ("Me" is the indirect object of made.)
  • This book is all about her. ("Her" is the object of the preposition about.)

Now, here's where it gets tricky. When you were very small, you probably said to your mom something like, "Me and Sally are going to ride our bikes." And your mom probably said, "Don't say 'me and Sally'; say 'Sally and I.'" She was trying to teach you that it's polite to say the other person's name first, then say your own name. She was right about that. And she probably had to tell you this rule of courtesy a number of times before you got it. The important part of that lesson was being polite, not using good grammar. But you need to know that you should say "Sally and I" ONLY when you need the subject of a sentence or phrase. If "Sally and I" are serving as the object of a phrase, then you need to switch to "Sally and me."

Examples:

  • Mom baked cookies for Sally and me.
  • Please take a picture of Sally and me.
  • If you have any questions, just ask Sally or me.

There's an easy way to know whether to use "Sally and I" or "Sally and me." Just take "Sally" out of the sentence for a second. Would you say, "Mom baked cookies for I"? "Please take a picture of I"? Or "Just ask I"? No, of course you wouldn't; you would naturally say "me" instead of "I." So if you would naturally say "me," then you should use "me" in conjunction with the other person's name.

Your mom was right: it IS polite to say the other person's name first. But choose to add "I" or "me" based on how you're using the words in a sentence.

Here's an example: "Let's keep this just between you and I." Between is a preposition, so you need an object of the preposition. The correct wording is "between you and me."

Here's a little quiz for you.

  1. My husband and _____ (I or me) just celebrated our anniversary.
  2. I love this photo of my husband and _____ (I or me) from our wedding day.

If you answered "I" for number 1 and "me" for number 2, you're right!

Do you have a grammar question you'd like for me to answer or a grammar pet peeve you'd like for me to address? Please let me know! I'd love for these lessons to be a blessing to you.