Monday, May 31

Memorial Day

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

"Render therefore to all their due. . . tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor" (Romans 13:7, KJV).

For some reason I've always loved that verse. On Memorial Day, it makes sense. On this, of all days, it is good and right to recognize those to whom honor is due.

Memorial Day was first called "Decoration Day." After the Civil War, a special day was set aside for decorating the graves of Union soldiers who had died during the war. And then there were more wars, so Decoration Day was expanded to include decorating the graves of soldiers who died in World War I. Then World War II. Then Korea. . . .

So many graves to decorate.

Finally the name was officially changed to "Memorial Day." It's not nearly so common for us to go to cemeteries and put flowers and flags on graves any more. But we can still remember. We can still give honor to whom honor is due.

But sometimes we forget. Memorial Day weekend is a busy time. We're excited to kick off the beginning of summer, and Monday is more a holiday that makes a three-day weekend for us than a day for special remembrance. A day off work, a day for cookouts and pool parties.

It occurred to me, though, that there is one group of Americans who always remember. The servicemen and women who are still living never forget to honor their fallen comrades. I was named for my mother's brother, Richard. He's a veteran, a Purple Heart recipient. He could have been one of those for whom this day is set aside, but he survived. Believe me, he never forgets to honor those who did not survive.

To all those who have fallen in the service of our country, we give honor. We pause to think just how much we owe to those brave men and women who have given their all. We remember.

And we are grateful.

Thursday, May 27

English teacher: how to use "a lot"
and "all right"

Boy, Thursdays seem to roll around quickly! Time for me to put on my English teacher's hat.

Today I'd like to begin a discussion of words that can present special challenges to writers. There are some words that we use often and easily in conversation; they just seem to roll off our tongues. So we use them in our writing, too, but they don't roll off our fingertips quite so easily.

A prime example of this is the term "a lot," meaning a large amount or often. We use this term a lot, don't we? (Sorry. I couldn't resist.) It really is a useful term. You should know that it is TWO words: a lot. It's not "alot." That's not a word. Now, "allot" is a word; it's a verb meaning "to divide into portions," but it doesn't give us much trouble.

If you're talking and someone is listening, they'll never know if you say "alot" or "a lot." But if you're writing, you should know that the correct way to write this expression is "a lot." Two separate words.

The same thing is true for the expression "all right." This is the correct spelling of the term, although you may often see "alright."

Now the question of the day: does it matter? Well, that's really for you to decide. I'll state my thinking on grammar once again: grammar is simply a tool for using language, and the purpose of language is communication. If you write "alot" or "alright," your readers are probably still going to understand what you're saying. So I wouldn't put these errors at the top of the list of importance. But if you're writing something that you need to make sure is just right, you should know the correct spelling. When I learn the proper use of a word, I like to make a habit of using it correctly, even in settings where it may not seem to matter. After all, it takes no more time to write words correctly than to write them incorrectly!

As always, please let me know if you have a specific question about English grammar. I'll be happy to help if I can!

Tuesday, May 25

All in one

They're finally in bloom. Hallelujah.

Could all this beauty, all these different colors, really come from the same plant? Amazing.

As I arranged these for a bridal shower, I started thinking about the bride. She's pretty; she's sweet and kind; she's incredibly intelligent; she's funny; she's thoroughly modern in some ways and touchingly traditional in others. Amazing.

Wasn't it kind of God to make so much of His creation an echo of the depth and complexity of His being? He could have kept His goodness all to Himself. But He chose to share it with us.

What a gift.

Sunday, May 23

Same old furniture, brand new space

My last post featured photos of our old house--one we sold in February 2005. In March 2005 we moved into our current house, which is where I hope we'll live for a very long time.

We bought this house as it was being built. The builder took us on a tour as it was nearing completion, and he reminded us of a feature we'd nearly overlooked. Our basement is a "terrace level" space that includes a bedroom, a bathroom, a large family room, and an exercise room. As we toured the space, he said, "Don't forget this room is pre-wired for a home theatre."

Can you imagine how long it took my husband to find a purveyor of A/V equipment?

I know that the term "home theatre" conjures images of fancy spaces with tiered seating. In our house, "home theatre" refers mostly to the equipment. Once the equipment was paid for, there were no funds for making the space fancy. So instead of tiered theatre seating, I needed to make the space work with the same old sectional sofa we'd had for years.

I wanted to change the look into something more fitting for the new space. . . but I needed to do it with very few dollars. My friend Renee' has very good taste and understood the look I was trying to achieve, so I took her with me to the fabric store, and we found fabrics to make new throw pillows for the sectional sofa and new floor pillows. I simply measured my old pillows and sewed new covers for them using same technique I described in this post. I bought a covered-button kit at JoAnn's and added a button to two of the pillows. What a difference a change of pillows makes!

The old floral painting wasn't going to work for the walls in this space, but I didn't have money to spend on the kind of cool art I wanted. The solution? Movie posters from We chose posters representing some of our favorite series of films (remember, I have three teenage boys). The posters cost less than $20 apiece. I had them dry mounted and framed in simple black frames.

To round out the room, I found a $20 coffee table at a thrift store and painted it black. Then found a cool lamp for the side table at Target. Done!

(It's hard to get good photos in this room because it's pretty dark. The room has six French doors and windows, so there's plenty of natural light, but those are covered by wood blinds lined with black-out shades. Makes a great place to watch a movie but not such a great place to take pictures.)

Our media room is now one of our favorite spaces. The fact that it contains no expensive or fancy furniture or art has turned out to be a good thing. Believe me, when you have 16 thirteen-year-old boys watching an action-adventure movie, you don't want expensive decor. You just want fun.

Do you have a space in your home that's just for fun?

I'm linking to these great parties:

Friday, May 21

How do you feel about color?

I was taking a trip down Memory Lane this week, looking at photos of our old house. We moved into our current home five years ago this spring. I took photos of our old house on the morning before it went onto the MLS.

You know how real estate experts often advise that you de-personalize your house and "neutralize" the colors before you list it for sale? That tends to be good advice, and the folks from whom we bought this house had done just that; everything was pretty beige when we moved in. But the first thing I did was to paint EVERY ROOM in the house. Want to take a look around?

Foyer (which leads to kitchen ahead, dining room on left, and library on right. How I loved my black banister!):

Dining room (It was really red. My favorite part was the subtle striping on the walls. I did this by painting the whole room with flat paint, then I taping off stripes and painting every other stripe with high-gloss paint in the same color.):

Study (Including Snickers, the beagle. We did a Ralph Lauren "leather" faux finish below the chair rail in this room.):


Kitchen and breakfast area (Bright green, anyone?):

Bonus room (with Snickers again):

Upstairs hall (with another glance at the black banister):

Master bedroom (How many pillows could I get on one bed??):

Child's bedroom (He loved his lighthouses back then.):

You can probably tell that I did NOT "tone things down" before we listed our house. I de-cluttered and cleaned, but that's about it. And our house sold the day it was listed.

What I learned from this experience is that buyers do not object to color. They just want color to be used in a way that makes sense. I can share two tips with you about choosing color for your rooms:
  • Use a very neutral color in spaces such as hallways.
  • Make sure that the color you paint a room coordinates nicely with any adjacent rooms.
Several of the photos above give a peek from one room into the next. I liked the way all my colors worked together. I tried to use fabrics and accessories that would work in several different rooms. And it all made good decorating sense to me. The colors in my current house are a little more subdued; the colors above are all choices I made back in 2002. Still, the guidelines for successful color selection don't change very much over the years.

If you're afraid of color, I recommend visiting a paint store and checking out a paint fandeck. Bring it home and walk around your house, looking for paint chips that work with your rugs or upholstery. Then hold those paint chips all together and see if you like the way they look. Do they make a pretty palette in your hand? Are they pleasing to you on paper? If so, they'll probably be pleasing to you on the wall. You can always buy a sample pot of different colors and give them a try.

**I'm linking this post to The Paint Challenge at The CSI Project. The CSI Project is the collaborative effort of three wonderful bloggers: Amanda (Imperfectly Beautiful), Beckie (Infarrantly Creative), and Jen (Tatertots & Jello). Each of these women is amazing on her own, and now they've teamed up to Create, Share, and Inspire (CSI). Their new site will showcase wonderful projects and host periodic challenges so that we can join the fun. This week's challenge involves paint. Be sure to check it out!**

Thursday, May 20

English teacher: how to use apostrophes

Another Thursday, another little grammar lesson!

One of my readers asked me to clarify the use of apostrophes. Poor little things--such tiny punctuation marks they are, yet they get misused so often!

Apostrophes serve two important functions:
  1. They're used in contractions to take the place of the missing letters.
  2. They're used to make the possessive form of nouns.

The first use is pretty straightforward; we just need to be careful to place our apostrophes exactly where the missing letters would go. For instance, the words you and all form y'all by removing the letters o and u and putting the apostrophe in their place. So the contraction is spelled y'all, NOT ya'll. Most contractions are common words, such as don't, can't, and wouldn't. Some contractions are made up as we go--we often combine a word plus the verbs is or had. Rules for the use of the apostrophe are the same: use it to replace the missing letters.

She's (she is) going to be late.
I'd (I had) rather not do that.

The second use is a little more troublesome simply because of one of our spelling rules. To form the possessive of a singular noun, you add an apostrophe plus an s.

Did you read Amanda's post?
Kathy is Bonita's new assistant.
He borrowed his brother's car.

In each of these examples, the possessive is formed by adding an apostrophe plus s.

For plural nouns that do not end in an s, you form the possessive just the same way.

She chaperoned the children's trip to the museum.

For plural nouns that end in an s, you simply add an apostrophe after the s.

My sisters' families are wonderful.
The teachers' workroom needs to be painted.
The Smiths' house is on Mapleview Road.

Now here's one of the most important rules for using apostrophes: DO NOT use apostrophes to form the plural of words. For instance, don't write: "I have two sister's and two brother's." No, you don't. You have two sisters and two brothers. NO APOSTROPHE is needed to form the plural of words. Save your apostrophes for forming possessives.

And, of course, be careful with personal pronouns. Apostrophes are NOT used to form the possessives of personal pronouns. They're used to form contractions with personal pronouns, not possessives. For a review of that rule, click here.

I hope this little lesson has been helpful! As always, remember that perfection is not the goal; clear communication is the goal. Please let me know if I can ever answer any grammar questions for you; I'd love to help if I can.

Wednesday, May 19

Home is. . . sharing a family heirloom

Sandy at Reluctant Entertainer is having another Home Is. . . party today. Today's topic is "sharing a family heirloom."

The heirloom I love best is in my dining room. Actually, my dining room is the heirloomiest (that's not a word, but you know what I mean) room in my house. My dining room furniture belonged to my mom, several pieces of my crystal were my mom's, etc. All in all, I don't have many heirlooms: my husband and I both come from families who never had much. But we have a few prized possessions, and to me the very best piece is this:

It's a deacon's bench from my grandmother's little church in Belle Plaine, Kansas.

In 1876, my grandmother's forebears set out from Jamestown, Kentucky to seek a better life in the West. They settled in Kansas. Belle Plaine is one of those wonderful little prairie towns where the biggest attraction is the community swimming pool and the tallest building is the grain elevator. I have such fond memories of spending summers there when I was a child. Life in Belle Plaine was simple and fun, especially since my grandmother was one of nine siblings, all of whom lived close to her. Lots of cousins to play with; lots of aunts and uncles to keep an eye on us and make sure we didn't get into too much trouble.

The deacon's bench is from the church of which my grandmother was a member for all her adult life--the church where my mother grew up, was baptized, got married. I can still imagine the smell of that building. . . a mixture of flowers, old wood, and the damp earth of the deep basement. The old church building was torn down when I was a young woman, but a few pieces from the building were salvaged, including this deacon's bench, which became my grandmother's. My grandmother died in 1999, and this is one of the pieces my mother inherited. Then my mother died later that same year (not a good year, let me tell you), and somehow I was the lucky one who inherited the deacon's bench. I just love it.

Several years ago (and several houses ago), an interior designer friend of mine helped me with a few rooms in my house. It was his idea to put the deacon's bench at the dining room table. I've moved three times since then, but I've continued to use the bench there in every house. Now my kids argue over who gets to sit on it at holiday meals. I hosted a bridal shower a few weeks ago, and we moved the bench into the living room. Three young women sat there throughout the shower. It's pretty beat up, but still sturdy after all these years.

Here are a few more photos of my dining room. The walls above the chair rail are a deep, brownish red. I know, I know. . . red dining rooms are passe'. . . but I still love the color in this room. I guess I'm more of a tradition-keeper than a trend-setter.

How about you? Do you have any prized heirlooms? Join Sandy at Reluctant Entertainer to read about more--or share your own!

Tuesday, May 18

A father's care

Two of my young friends got married last weekend. Their wedding was much-anticipated, a long time in coming. The bride is from a small town in the mountains of North Carolina, and she wanted to get married at home. Luckily for her, "home" is a beautiful family homesite where her father's family has lived for generations.

The weather in North Carolina has been gorgeous lately--sunny and warm, with marvelous blue skies. Last weekend, though, was stormy. We were all hoping that the storms would hold off until after the outdoor wedding. The reception was to be held under the shelter of a massive tent, but the ceremony--the ceremony was to take place in the grand cathedral of the North Carolina mountains, with only the sky overhead.

The storms began rolling in as the guests were gathering. It thundered during the prelude. The clouds intensified during the processional and the scripture reading. And sure enough, it began to rain just after the bride's father had given her away.

The minister was wonderful, getting straight to the point of the ceremony and keeping things sacred but cheerful. The bride and groom were obviously thrilled just to be there. The parents of the groom were poised and peaceful. The mother of the bride was remarkably composed. But it was the father of the bride who took my breath away. He quietly walked up behind the couple and lifted a white umbrella over their heads.

Just after I snapped this photo, umbrellas popped up all around. But in this one precious moment, there was just that one umbrella--the one protecting the bride and groom as they stood before the Lord and pledged their lives to one another. Held by the man who was willing to stand in the rain himself in order to shelter his daughter.

What a picture.

Monday, May 17

Nineteen candles

See that boy? The one on the left?

Or the one on the left in this picture?

Yes, that one.

He's 19 years old today.

Nineteen years ago, he was a brand-new baby. And I was a brand-new mama.

Not that I mind that he has only one more year to be a teenager. Or two more years to be a minor. No, I don't mind at all. Not a bit. I don't miss those days of having a sweet little baby with curly red hair. I don't long for the days when he was a baby in my arms. I don't miss rocking him to sleep. I don't dream of the days when I was teaching him to walk and talk. Or read and write. Or ride a bike. Or drive a car. Oh, no. Not me.

Of course not.

Friday, May 14

A question

Thanks for letting me be honest with you. I appreciate the way blogging gives us a chance, if we'll take it, to be truthful with one another.

A question has been stirring in my mind lately, and I'd like to share this with you, too.

Question: When people see you, what do you want them to see? Or when people think of you, what trait do you want them to attribute to you?

I don't mean to ask what you think is your best or most prominent feature. That's probably pretty obvious. What I mean is what you WANT people to see in you.

Fill in the blank: When others see a picture of me in their mind's eye, I want them to see _____________.

I'll go first. I want people to see graciousness. Not graceFULness, because that's probably impossible. I'm accident-prone, so I don't think that'll ever happen. But I want to be gracious. Why? Because I spent a lot of my early life being ungracious, that's why. I was a champion rule-follower and I was pretty harsh toward anyone who wasn't. So gracious is what I want to be.

What about you? If you're completely honest with yourself, how do you want others to see you? Beautiful? Kind? Fun? Successful? Intelligent? Physically fit? Carefree?

Don't answer by saying what you think you should feel. Tell me how you do feel.

There are lots of great attributes out there. How would you--honestly--fill in the blank?