Friday, April 30, 2010

A act of kindness


"No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted." You've heard that quotation--it's the moral of Aesop's fable about the lion and the mouse. Don't ever doubt that it's true.

Earlier this week I was having one of those days. Not much sleep, too much caffeine? Check. Misunderstanding with spouse? Check. Dog had an accident in the house? Check. Child got sick? Check. One of those days.

Then, to top it all off, I got out my wallet to pay for a purchase and discovered that my driver's license was missing. On any other day, this would have been annoying. On a day like this, it felt like too much to bear.

Honestly, I wasn't sure when I was going to be able to go to the DMV and get another license. Luckily, I had a photocopy of my license, so I put that in my wallet and crossed my fingers.

And then yesterday there was an envelope in the mail. It was addressed to me, but the name in the return address was one I didn't recognize. "What on earth could this be?" I wondered.

You guessed it. It was my driver's license. No note, nothing else in the envelope. Just my license. Apparently a kind man found my license and simply copied the name and address from my license onto an envelope and popped it in the mail.

Little could that man have known how much I needed his act of kindness this week. He couldn't have known that, along with my license, he was sending me a sliver of sanity. A portion of peace. A serving of strength. He couldn't have known how much I needed it.

But God knew.

And once again I fall to my knees, grateful.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

English teacher: how to use lie and lay


Time for a quick lesson with the English teacher!




Several readers have asked me to explain how to use the verbs lie and lay--and no wonder, because this can get tricky. Here's the scoop.


Obviously the word lie can mean "to tell an untruth." When this word is used, the conjugation is simple: present tense lie; past tense lied; past participle lied. No problems.

**Stop right there for a minute. Did you feel a little sick when I used the word "conjugation"? It's not a big deal, really. Conjugation is simply the word used in grammar for the listing of the different forms of a verb. A verb's conjugation is the list of the forms of the verb for present tense, past tense, and past participle. The past participle is the form of the verb that you would use in conjunction with an auxiliary or helping verb. Sometimes it's the same as the simple past tense; sometimes it is different. For example, the verb eat: Conjugation is eat, ate, eaten. I eat breakfast every day (present tense); I ate three cookies yesterday (past tense); I have eaten a whole bag of chips (past participle).**

More confusing is when the word lie means "to recline." That's what we'll tackle here.

Here's a simple but important rule: to lie means "to recline"; to lay means "to put in place." In the present tense, the word lie never requires a direct object and the word lay always requires a direct object.
Examples:
  • I'm tired; I think I'll go lie down.
  • Lay the book on the desk, please.
Got it? In the present tense, lay requires a direct object. You have to lay something down. Remember those hippie phrases "Sock it to me" and "Lay it on me"? Well, they may have sounded stupid, but they were grammatically correct.

I think we get confused with lie and lay because there is some weird overlap in the conjugations of the two words. Obviously the present tense of lay is lay, but that word is also the past tense of lie. Eeek!
  • Go lie down right now. (present tense)
  • She looked tired earlier, but she lay down for awhile and is now feeling fine. (past tense)
The past tense of lay is laid. The word laid always requires a direct object.
  • She laid the pile of clothes on the bed.
Most people use laid as the past tense of lie, don't they? But the word they really need is lay.

Just for reference, here's the conjugation of both words:

Present tense Past tense Past participle
lie lay lain
lay laid laid

When was the last time you heard someone say, "If she had lain down when she first started feeling sick, she might not have been so ill"? It just doesn't happen very often. Most of us don't ever use the word "lain," even if it is correct. And you know what? It probably doesn't matter very much. I love to use words correctly, of course, but once again I come back to my philosophy that the purpose of language is communication--and our communication is probably not hampered too much by failing to use the correct past participle of the verb lie. So here's my advice: learn to use the present and past tenses correctly, and don't worry too much about the past participle unless you really have a strong desire to be precise or you're speaking or writing in a situation that demands perfect usage.

Here's a little quiz:
  1. Go __________ (lie/lay) down.
  2. __________ (lie/lay) down your burden.
  3. He was very sleepy, so he __________ (lay/laid) down and rested.
  4. She __________ (lay/laid) those things on the bed and left the room.

If you filled in the blanks with 1. lie, 2. lay, 3. lay, and 4. laid, you're doing great!

Now I think I'll go lie down for awhile.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Going on

Some days I feel so tired that I don't want to get out of bed. I don't want to get up and face another day made harder than it should be because of my own mistakes and failures. Do you know what I mean?

I know that God is good and will provide everything I need, but sometimes I am in need of some encouragement that I can in fact do the work I am called to do. Sometimes the task of building a home--a safe haven for my family, a soft nest to cradle them, a secure launching pad for them--seems too daunting.

But look what I found in my garage, on the shelf where I store extra pantry staples:




Do you see it? Look closer:




I wasn't expecting to find a blessing in the box of canned tomatoes. But there it was. A reminder that I am not the only one hard at work. We work together, we parents of all kinds, and we can encourage one another on our journeys. Thank God.

--Gratefully unwrapped with Emily at Chatting at the Sky

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Bar stool transformation


I'm excited to share with you a project that's been on my mind for quite awhile. Back in February, I wrote a decorating dilemma I was experiencing. I had three excellent barstools--very sturdy, very comfortable--but very boring. After receiving lots of good advice, I decided that I should take the plunge and paint those babies. . . and I finally got it done.

Let's pause for a moment to reflect upon the incredible transformative powers of paint. Makes your heart swell just to think about it, doesn't it?

Here's one of the stools before:



And after:


I'm sorry for the poor lighting.  It's been rainy all week, but I just had to share my finished project!  Here's another look at the whole stool:



I spray-painted the stools with Rustoleum's Specialty Lacquer. This stuff has strong fumes, so you must use it outside, but it provides a beautiful finish. Then I distressed the edges by sanding with coarse sandpaper. The seats I reupholstered with fabric I found at my local discount fabric store--$7.99/yard.


A couple of close-ups of some of the distressing:




I am a happy girl. Here are all three of them:



In context in my kitchen (again, sorry for the bad lighting):




Now I have three excellent barstools--very sturdy, very comfortable--and not at all boring!  What do you think??

I'm linking to these wonderful parties:



Thursday, April 22, 2010

English teacher: how to use quotation marks



Thursday morning greetings, my friends! Time for another little English grammar lesson.



Several readers have asked me to explain the use of quotation marks. I'd be happy to!


Quotation marks are used for several purposes, the most prominent, of course, 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, leave it in the comments section. If there's a particular question you'd like for me to answer right away, email me (richella (at) gmail (dot) com).

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The way to a man's heart

It's not just a myth, you know. Men love for women to cook for them. Even men like my husband, who is an excellent cook himself. And there's something about wearing an apron while I'm cooking that makes me feel especially feminine and flirty.

Sandy at Reluctant Entertainer continues her "Home Is. . . " series today with a party about wearing aprons in the kitchen.



Now, I know that aprons are first and foremost practical. I mean, they're worn by butchers and bricklayers as well as by chefs. And sometimes I wear an apron just to be practical--an ugly, shapeless old thing that serves only to keep splatters off my clothes.

But my favorite aprons are my sweet little over-the-skirt aprons--the ones that tie around my dainty little waist and protect my beautiful skirt while allowing my pearls to show. You know the ones?

Like this red one I found on eBay. Look how cute it is:



And notice the detail on the pocket. All my skirt aprons have one pocket, on the right side. Good thing I'm right-handed.



Or this darling one that my grandmother made for me as a wedding gift, 25 years ago. See how she painstakingly embroidered a design, cross-stitching in just the white squares?



Or this little number. My mother told me that aprons like this were called "hostess aprons," and they weren't intended for day-to-day wear, but to wear when having guests. I found this one at a garage sale. My red-headed self couldn't pass up this Irish cutie.



And look! It's reversible!




Wearing aprons like these makes me want to make my husband something special. The truth is that my husband is actually a better cook than I am. He can create the most delectable culinary masterpieces. But when it comes to desserts--well, that's my department. And I don't suppose there's anything he likes better than pie. Here's the recipe for one of his favorites. The recipe is fairly long, but it's actually pretty simple to follow. And the results? Guaranteed goodness.

Coconut Cream Pie

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups milk
4 eggs
3 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups flaked coconut
1 baked pastry shell

Bake a pie shell according to your favorite recipe (or do as I do and use a Pillsbury All-Ready pie crust).

Separate the four eggs. Place whites in mixer bowl; place yolks in a heat-proof bowl.

For filling, combine sugar, flour, and salt in a heavy saucepan. Gradually stir in milk. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Reduce heat; continue to cook and stir two minutes more (use a timer!). Remove from heat.

Beat egg yolks slightly, then gradually mix about one cup of the hot pudding mixture into the yolks to temper them. Stir egg mixture back into saucepan. Bring pudding to a gentle boil. Cook and stir two minutes more, then remove from heat. Stir in butter, vanilla extract and 1 cup of the coconut; stir 'til well-combined. Set pan of pudding aside.

Make meringue by mixing egg whites with 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar. Beat with electric mixer until soft peaks form (about 1 minute). Gradually (about one spoonful at a time) add 1/2 cup granulated sugar. Beat at high speed until stiff peaks form (about 4 minutes).

Spread pudding mixture into pie shell. Pudding will be very thick. Spread meringue over pudding mixture. Be sure to spread the meringue all the way to the edge of the crust to prevent shrinkage. Sprinkle remaining coconut over the meringue.

Bake at 350 degrees about 12 minutes or until golden brown.

Since the pudding in this pie is very thick, it can be served while still fairly warm, which is the way my hubby likes it.

You can head over to Sandy's to read all the fun apron stories. But first, tell me: do you like to wear aprons yourself?

****Special Announcement: I'll be hosting my VERY FIRST linky party on Friday, May 7. Please come back on Friday to read all about it!!*****

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Decorating Solutions


My friend Amanda from Serenity Now is quite a party-giver! And she's at it again, hosting one of her wonderful "Decorating Dilemmas and Solutions" parties. This one should be especially fun, since it's taking place on Amanda's birthday.

I want to share a few inexpensive decorating solutions I've found recently. Now that it's spring, I'll be hosting some fun gatherings at my house very soon. One is a bridal shower for a beautiful bride. I really wanted a plain white tablecloth for the shower, and I've struggled to find an affordable one that's big enough for my table. But one day I was in a local thrift store, and look what I found:



White linen drapery panels. Beautiful fabric, yards and yards of it. And just $5.00 per panel. I brought it home, washed it, cut off the drapery pleats, and hemmed the edges with hemming tape.

My new tablecloth has already been pressed into service, covering the altar table at church for Easter. (Unfortunately, it didn't get pressed before it got pressed into service, but that's life.)



Another upcoming party will be a casual dinner for lots of friends, with paper plates and plastic utensils. And look at this fun solution for holding the utensils:



Did you know that you can use chalk to write on terra cotta pots? I can just see these used for an herb garden. . . maybe four of them labeled "Parsley," "Sage," "Rosemary," and "Thyme." I saw this in a magazine--I'm pretty sure it was Country Living--and tried it for myself. It works!

The centerpiece for my porch table will include these hydrangeas. They're dried hydrangeas from last year. They had lost their color, so I spray-painted them!



Not a bad pick-me-up for free!

Amanda's party is a great place to share any decorating dilemmas you might have and get feedback from other bloggers. . . or to share any fun decorating solutions you've recently discovered. Visit Amanda to join the fun (or just to say "happy birthday")!

****Special announcement: I'll be hosting my VERY FIRST linky party on Wednesday, May 5! Please come back on Friday to read all about it!!****

The hand of God

This week I find myself full of gratitude as I reflect upon this same week two years ago. Two years ago tomorrow, my son had major open-heart surgery.

I guess all open-heart surgery is major, now that I think of it. But this was really big. My son needed to have his ascending aorta removed and replaced with a cloth graft and his aortic valve replaced with a stainless steel valve. That's a lot of work to do on one boy's heart. And there was a lot of fear in the heart of the boy's mom.

Believe me, I clung to the promises of God as the surgery approached. I knew that Jesus promised to be with us always (Matthew 28:20). I knew that I could do all things through Christ who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13). I knew that God had the power to keep His promises. I would meditate on the faithfulness of God; I would picture the rainbow that God set in the clouds when He promised Noah that He would never again destroy the earth with a flood (Genesis 9). God could and would keep His promises; I knew it.



What I didn't know was how He was going to do it.

Now, two years after the surgery, I love to reminisce about the way God used people to keep His promises. Like the pediatric cardiologist, a friend of ours, who just happened to be the attending physician in the hospital that week, and who took such special care of our son. Or the nurse, one of our dearest friends, who cleared her calendar of all activities so that she could stay with us throughout the surgery and even go with us into the ICU. Or the group of family and friends who gathered in the surgical waiting room to keep us company and cheer us on. They were the ones who were there when the surgeon's assistant called to tell us that they had made the incision. I took that call, said "Thank you" to the assistant, hung up the phone, and fell apart, bursting into tears. My loved ones circled around me. One of them said, "Let's just pray right now," and they did--out loud, in front of everyone else in the waiting room--and I was sustained.

I still wonder, sometimes, exactly how God will keep His promises. It's easy for me to search the sky, looking for the giant Hand of God at work in the universe. But I know now to look, also, at the simple hands of men and women who offer themselves for His work.

And I am overwhelmed with gratitude.


Monday, April 19, 2010

The case of the mysterious noise

I've always been a reader.

When I was a girl, I loved nothing better than to lose myself in words. I would read anything--magazines, newspapers, cereal boxes. I'd like to say that I kept myself busy reading Shakespeare and Jane Austen. But the truth is that my favorite things to read were girls' mystery books.

Oh! Nancy Drew! That titian-haired 16-year-old, with her loyal friends Bess and George, and her blue convertible! I would go anywhere with Nancy. And Trixie Belden! I loved Trixie. I pictured myself as a member of the Bob-Whites of the Glen. I wanted to hang out with Honey and Jim and the others. And Cherry Ames! Oh, my goodness--a beautiful girl who trains to be a nurse and solves mysteries along the way? Does it get any better than that? I could see myself in my white uniform and cap, chumming with Ann and Gwen, solving mysteries left and right. I positively reveled in the stories of friendship and mystery-solving.

I'm guessing that these early heroines of mine are the reason that I spring into action immediately any time there's a mystery in my house.

Yesterday afternoon, my husband and I picked up our 16-year-old son from school. He'd been away for several days on a trip to a robotics tournament. We helped him carry in his bags and stood in the kitchen, listening to his stories and imagining the fun of his adventures. But then my ears picked up a strange sound. "Do you hear that?" I queried my husband.

At first no one else caught the mysterious noise, but I was certain I was hearing something. It sounded like an electric motor, straining and about to die. "Listen," I said. "Be quiet. Listen. Do you hear it?" The guys were now on board. The sound was faint, but distinct.

The others said, "What could that be?" I, on the other hand, began my quest to solve the mystery. Into the laundry room: nothing amiss there. Outside to the air conditioning unit: no. Upstairs to the bonus room: nothing. Down to the basement: no problems. Into the crawl space: nope. Up, up, up to the attic: nada.

Finally, back to the kitchen, where I could still hear the noise. The problem was in the kitchen; I was sure of it. I had ruled out all other possibilities. But what on earth? I stood in various places throughout the room and discovered that it was definitely more audible in one corner. The corner close to the refrigerator. Oh, no. I groaned inwardly at the prospect of emptying the refrigerator and paying a steep bill from the appliance repairman. But it wasn't the refrigerator, either.

At this point my heart had begun to beat faster and my mind was racing. Something was wrong somewhere, but I couldn't figure it out. What could it be?

And then my 16-year -old grabbed his suitcase, unzipped it hurriedly, and yanked out his shaving kit. "My electric toothbrush!" he announced triumphantly.



Aha.

Sure enough, the toothbrush had been knocked into the "On" position and was whirling like crazy. My son pushed the power button and all was quiet. Mystery solved.

Well. Every girl detective gets help from her assistants, you know.

Now I'm curious (of course): did anyone else live vicariously through these books? Were you a girl detective in your dreams? Please tell me!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Springtime on the porch

I love porches. I love springtime. I love porches in the springtime.
I did not, however, love the way my porch was looking in the springtime:


Ick. Globs of pollen and a bonus dead bug.

Luckily, I remembered that I had purchased these on sale back in the height of flu season:




We never needed them for medical purposes, so I still had a full box. Believe me, these babies work like a charm for keeping pollen out of your nose while you dust and sweep and vacuum and wash away the pounds of yellow dust that have accumulated on your porch.

After all, when the view from the porch is looking like this:



you want to be out there enjoying it!

I especially love eating at the table on screened porch. One of my favorite centerpieces for that table is a pitcher of hydrangeas. My hydrangea bushes are growing beautifully, but it will be several more weeks before they produce flowers. I had some hydrangeas that I dried last year, but they'd lost all their color and looked sad. So I dug up some blue spray paint from my stash, and look!



Not fresh, but not bad for free!

How about you? Are you a porch person? Have you spiffed yours up for spring?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

English teacher: how to use who and whom


It's Thursday again. . . already? How do the weeks go by so quickly?! The calendar doesn't lie, so it's time for our weekly visit with the English teacher.





Do y'all hate English teachers? When you think of your own English teachers, do you just cringe at the thought? My friend Bonita Lillie recently pointed out that many would-be writers become paralyzed when they hear "the voice of their inner English teachers." Ugh! She's right! That image is one of a teacher who is always prodding students to perfection, rapping their knuckles when they make mistakes.

Let's banish that image from our minds, shall we? I wish we could all replace that idea of an English teacher sergeant-major with the notion of an English teacher cookie-baker. Really. I used to bake cookies for my students so that they'd associate yummy treats with learning about grammar.

I've said it before, but I'll say it again: good grammar is not the point. Communication is the point. My aim here is to help you master some rules of grammar so that you feel free NOT TO WORRY about them ever again.

Today I want to answer a question asked by several readers: What are the rules for using who and whom? I'd like for us to take a fresh approach to using these troublesome pronouns.



First of all, why are they troublesome? They ought to be pretty easy to understand. They're the very same as he and him or she and her, and we don't usually have any trouble with those pronouns. Who is subjective and should be used when you need the subject of a sentence or phrase and following a linking verb such as is, am, are, was, were, or be. Whom is objective and should be used when you need an object such as a direct object, an indirect object, or the object of a preposition.

Although those rules are pretty straightforward, we tend to have trouble with who and whom because they are pronouns usually used in forming questions. Questions, also called interrogative sentences, can be troublesome to us simply because the word order is reversed. If you're unsure whether you need who or whom, the best way to figure it out is to mentally change the order of the sentence and decide whether you need a subject or an object.

Examples:

  • (Who/whom) do you want to invite to the party?
  • You do want to invite __________ to the party.
When you turn the sentence around, it's pretty clear that you need the objective form whom to fill in the blank. For instance, you'd use "her" in this spot, not "she."


  • (Who/whom) was your choice in the election?
  • Your choice in the election was __________.
In this sentence, you need the subjective form who to follow the linking verb was.


  • (Who/whom) is going to clean up this mess?
This time, there's no way to reverse the word order of the sentence, because who or whom actually serves as the subject. So that's easy: you need the subjective form who to be the subject of the sentence.


So those are the rules for using who and whom. But I'd like to challenge you on this point of grammar. If you're the kind of person who delights in having everything just right, then go right ahead and use who and whom just as they're meant to be used. For most of us, though, this point doesn't matter too much in our communication. For instance, if I say "Who do you want to invite to the party?" I think you'll understand what I mean even though I've chosen the wrong form of the pronoun. So let's relax. I suggest that, unless we're in a situation that calls for very close attention to detail, let's not worry about this. Let's remember that who is subjective and whom is objective so that we CAN use them correctly when we need to. . . but let's also remember that casual conversation and writing don't often require this much precision.

Here's my mantra (I made my students memorize this!): Language is a gift from God, given only to humans, for the purpose of communication. Did you get that? The purpose is communication. And I think we can communicate clearly and effectively even if just use who instead of remembering to use whom sometimes.

So what do you think about this? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

DIY tray for transporting LEGOs


I have a vague idea that, at some houses, toys are confined to the playroom. Perhaps they even magically pick themselves up when children are finished playing with them. Then the floors magically vacuum themselves and no little pieces are ever left out where a hapless mom could step on them in the middle of the night.




There's no magic at my house. Toys are not confined to any one room, and they do not pick themselves up. To tell the truth, that's okay with me. I like it when my son plays at the kitchen table; it feels very warm and homey to me, even if it does make a mess. But when it's time for dinner, the table needs to be cleaned off.

The toy of choice around here is LEGO blocks. Honestly, you've never seen so many LEGO bricks under one roof. I joke that our house is LegoLand North Carolina. And LEGOs can't just be picked up and thrown into a toy box, you know. If they're built into a model, they need to be transported carefully lest the model fall apart and the LEGO builder be very frustrated.

We've used lots of things to transport LEGO models, including cake pans and cookie sheets. But recently I decided to figure out something better.



I had this old tray that my uncle made for my mother many, many years ago. It was a little rough looking after all these years, but structurally still very sound. First I gave it a coat of black spray paint.

Then I took a shopping bag from the Lego store:



Cute bag, huh? I cut out the artwork and glued it to white paper:

When my Lego art was completely dry, I simply decoupaged it onto my black tray.



So easy, and I love it! And see how neatly a Lego model fits onto the tray?



I'm thinking that my son will be happier to move his sets around now that he has a tray dedicated to that purpose. We'll see how that works out.

So what needs to be transported at your house? LEGOs? Barbie fashions? Polly Pockets? Whatever it is, you can easily make a tray to help move things around!

I'm linking to Kimba's DIY Day, Chris's Show and Share Day, and Marla's Woo Hoo Wednesday. Check out these parties for lots of great ideas!