Thursday, June 30, 2016


About a year ago, the bishop of our diocese came to visit our congregation. He had one more year till retirement, so his thoughts had turned to downsizing. When he said that word, downsizing, a wave of reaction rolled through the congregation. Many of us were either in the process, contemplating the process, or had—thanks be—gone through it and lived to tell the tale. Our emotional responses ranged far and wide: humor—dismay—refusal to deal with it.

The bishop’s anecdote to illustrate his problem with downsizing went like this. He had begun with a simple task—going through a drawer where all his tee-shirts were stored. These were tees from church camps, walk/run/limp events, and other commemorative times. There were so many, he had to count them. He discovered 28 of these tee-shirts. In one drawer.

He had us in the palm of his hand. Who among us has not opened a drawer/closet/box and discovered enough (whatevers) to clothe a large third world village?

My first reaction on such a discovery is along the lines of “Holy moley, where did all these (whatevers) come from?”

(Obviously, I am immediately disavowing any knowledge, let alone ownership, of the proliferation of whatevers.)

My next reaction—guess I better do something about that. (Still putting it off.)

Next—okay, how many whatevers do I keep this time around? (Yes, sad to say, I’ve been through this scenario so many times I know just what to do.)

Finally, I confront the crux of the matter—do I really really really need any whatevers at all?

(You might consider standing in front of a mirror and looking yourself in the eye.)

As the title of today’s post suggests, Sorting may not be the issue. It’s all the Etc. that goes with it.

My current need—never mind the whatevers—is cleaning carpets. Sounds simple—move furniture, rev up the old carpet cleaner, and have at it.

But in my case, 31 years of living at the same address equals a lot of accumulation. To name a few categories: clothes, of course; books; CDs and DVDs; video tapes (back in my early dinosaur days); dishes and furniture; to say nothing of fabric and yarn.

Before you start visualizing one of those houses you read about in the tabloids—you know the ones, head-high stacks of Stuff with narrow paths for navigation from room to room—before your imagination runs amok, please let it be known that I do donate clothing, books, and the good old etc. to various places in my community. We now have a used-book store (they come and go, but this one seems securely with us), whose proceeds go to the local animal shelter. Our library has a monthly book sale, so anything I donate that the selection committee doesn’t want to put in circulation goes into the sale. Our Goodwill collection center and store welcome donations of all kinds (this is a great place for the good old etc.)

To make my energy go a long way, I took some time to analyze the situation. (This is also a delaying tactic, but a worthwhile one.)

I’ve narrowed the situation down to three ways to assess it, depending on your temperament and circumstances:

I’ve already made some discoveries about my own inclinations.

First, if I view it as a Project, it’s height, depth, breadth, and overall weight makes me feel weak. I am dwarfed in its shadow. My only recourse is to run like the devil’s at my heels.

Second, if I break the project down into Tasks, I’m likely to get something done. Today’s example was finding a place for two boxes that have been living in the bedroom for weeks (or maybe months). This involved some shifting of other items in two closets, but the whole task was done in less than an hour.

Third, I am often Time-oriented. If I have a whole morning, what I do, no matter how small a task, may take the whole morning. But if I have only an hour, I can get my head around that amount of time. My downfall here is not utilizing the 10-20-30-minute segments that come my way. (Well, I do utilize them, but mostly to brew and drink a mug of coffee and read another chapter of my current book.)


If you’ve been accumulating Stuff for a number of years/decades, you may already have your coping strategies mapped out. Garage sales work for lots of folks. Church and charity rummage sales appeal. My city has a spring clean-up week--we're encouraged to put out practically anything we don't want (there are a few no-nos); much of this abundance is scavenged and never ends up in the landfill. A two-point event.

One strategy I sometimes use is hiring someone to help me move Stuff. I have to do the sorting and discarding, but I'm willing to pay for the heavy lifting. This is especially practical for working in the garage, where the dust of the ages has invaded boxes stored there. (And I suspect the boxes have multiplied on their own--not sure how that happens, but maybe it's none of my business.)

Lately I’ve  considered just moving away, leaving all those whatevers intact. This may yet be the way to go.

I’ll let you know.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

APOSTROPHES – More Ways to Use (and Misuse) the Apostrophe

Back in September 2014—remember that day?—I promised you another post on the use of the apostrophe. Or as my esteemed Topic Generator calls it, “the misuse of the poor, misunderstood apostrophe.”

So here 'tis. (Hey, you’ve had about 18 months to recover from that lesson.)

Are you ready? Pencil sharpened? Notebook open to a clean page? Ear wax cleaned out? Eyes open and focused? Feet off the desk?

Two more uses of the apostrophe: (1) as a contraction, to show letters left out (on purpose); and (2) to show plurals in certain cases. (As a bonus, I’ve thrown in a couple of Misuses that you might be unaware of.)

If you never put pencil to paper again in this life, you’ll use contractions—mainly in speech, if you’re still speaking to people.
     (A) Some contractions are more easily understood in speech, for example:
     “If you’d’ve let me know, I’d’ve been there to help you.”
     “She shouldn’t’ve tried to do that by herself.”

Set out in non-contraction form, they read as follows:
     “If you would have let me know, I would have been there to help you.”
     “She should not have tried to do that by herself.”

Both sound more formal, even distant, without the contractions. In speech, we can contract quite a bit and get away with it.

          (B) Then there’s the more easily recognized contraction that comes along, even in somewhat formal writing: can’t, won’t, don’t, didn’t, and so on.

I’ve noticed a growing (alarmingly growing, I might say) tendency to ignore the apostrophe in emails and on Facebook. My first comment is this: If your life is so busy that you can’t add one more little key stroke (‘) to a word that needs it, then you might want to consider taking some time off from social media.

My second comment is this: Some words have different meanings when the apostrophe is lost: cant and wont are two examples.

     Cant – affected singsong or whining speech; the private language of the underworld; insincere use of pious words.

     Wont – accustomed, inclined, apt

Why does this bug me? Because I don’t know—for certain—what the writer means. Because the communication that I assumed would take place in the written material has broken down. And because I hate having to do a double-think to puzzle out your meaning if this isn’t for a course that leads to a higher degree.

      (C)   There’s another use of the apostrophe to show something is missing: to mark the omission of the first two digits of a year (Class of ’58) or a period of years (the ‘70s generation).

Okay. That was (1), (A), (B), and (C).

Here’s part (2) – plurals of numbers, letters, and abbreviations.

According to my Diana Hacker resource (I call it the Grammar bible), using an apostrophe to show plurals of numbers (8s), letters (Js), and abbreviations (TVs) is not necessary.

There are two more things to say about apostrophes: Misuses. (NOTE: Do not accept Misuses as a challenge. We have ways of finding out about such things.)

Do not use apostrophes to show plurals of nouns that are not possessive.

     Some student’s are given special parking permits. (Use students, no apostrophe.)

Do not use apostrophes to show possession in pronouns that are already possessive: its, whose, his, hers, ours, yours, and theirs.

Now you have it—the entire enchilada on the apostrophe. Or as much of the enchilada as you’re likely to need in the future.

If you crave further tuition vis-à-vis apostrophes (or anything else grammerish), look up Diana Hacker’s website:
     Grammar exercises>punctuation

She even has exercises you can do.

Hope you come back next week. We’ll have some fun. 

In the meantime, watch those apostrophes!

Thursday, June 16, 2016


1. the treatment of disease or disorders, as by some remedial, rehabilitative, or curative process: speech therapy.
2. psychotherapy.
3. a curative power or quality.
4. any act, task, program, etc., that relieves tension.

Before we go further, this is not a medical advice article. If you need professional help, you should search for it. My intention today is to offer some thoughts on #4 above--relieving tension, bringing back a feeling of well-being. 

If you’ve lived this long beyond the beginning of the 21st Century, you’ve seen a proliferation of therapies available.

If you have had surgery or are waiting for surgery to replace/repair some body part, you may have had Physical Therapy both before and after.

If you’ve been inactive for a time, you may need Occupational Therapy to help you become independent again.

Most of us have had antibiotic therapy at one time.

And if your needs are emotional or spiritual, there are therapies to help you rebound: music, art, crafts; outdoor activities; writing, especially journaling; working with youth, or the aged, or the handicapped, or the illiterate.

Many years ago one of the most active elder women in my church shared her secret to continued good health and commitment. When her husband died, her family doctor said, “Get involved in something.” He wasn’t telling her not to grieve—he was telling her to work through her grief in a positive activity. She had been an elementary school teacher before retirement, so she began to work in areas of the church that involved teaching. The last position she held before she went to live with her daughters was working with adults who were training to be lay ministers who assisted with all manner of needs in the congregation.

A friend of mine is going through a time of grief for a recently deceased family member. Her usual beloved activities are sewing and writing; she now feels as if she’s “going through the motions.” But she’s still doing them.

A family member has a degenerative illness that could have resulted in “retirement from life” but she’s chosen to continue with her normal activities as long and as well as possible.

My own experience with those times I want to crawl into my cave and pull the hole in after me have made me look for what I love about my life and focus on that for a time.

Here are some thoughts on therapies we may have hanging around the house:

Music – If you play an instrument, do that. Who cares if you can’t hit the right notes? It’s for yourself you’re playing. Or, sing—talk about not hitting the notes! That’s one I struggle with but I do continue to find joy in making a joyful noise.

Don’t sing or play? Put on a CD or turn on a radio or TV show or find tunes in your phone resources or check out YouTube on your computer. Music is literally everywhere. Let it wash over you. Feel it. Dance, if your feet tell you to. (It’s okay to listen to your feet from time to time.)

Art – Art isn’t just the visual arts—Art comprises painting, sculpture, writing (also music, but that’s a separate category today). My painting looks pretty bad—though if I were 6 years old it might be pretty good. Clay isn’t my medium. Writing is my thing. . . I write in my journal every day. I write emails. I write letters (the old-fashioned kind on paper that go in envelopes and have to have stamps and addresses and get dropped into boxes outside the post office). I’ve been known to write poetry. And if all my handwritten lists had been preserved through the decades, I’d have a tremendous body of work—not publishable, but definitely voluminous. 

Remember, we’re not looking for a letter grade here—we’re achieving something outside any grading system.

I can’t claim all my writing is art, but it functions in the same way—it allows me to explore things I’ve experienced, what I’ve felt, any meaning I can glean from it; and it rids my physical body of the effects of negative feelings simply by writing those things down on paper. (This is why many therapists—the professional kind with framed certificates on their walls—include journaling in their advice to people going through rough times.) You don't need to take a class to write a journal; just get some paper or a notebook, your favorite writing stick, and...well, start.

I am ready to try a new thing: coloring! If you haven’t seen the wide variety of coloring books/journals/calendars, you’ve been shopping in the wrong department, because these are all over the store: with the books, in office supplies, and on end caps near nothing related. These art coloring books feature intricate designs. All you need is the book (or whatever) and some colored pencils. Some include pencils so you buy a ready-made kit. Adult coloring has been popular for a few years. (I’m always slow to get into the act.) I’m told it’s a great stress-buster. Sounds good to me.

Crafts – You don’t have to be a basket weaver to experience the joys and satisfactions that come from making something with your own hands. My dad was a carpenter; he built houses, but he loved best the finish work that made the house look complete. His satisfaction came from the precision needed to make a house with good proportions (he designed from scratch on the backs of old envelopes), walls that were plumb, windows and doors of the right size for the house and placed in the proper places for the space they occupied.

My son also likes to build and has made a number of items, large and small (a quilting frame for me and miniature furniture for Christmas tree ornaments, to name a couple); he can sew a dress for his granddaughter or a pirate costume for his grandson; and he’s a creative cook. Plus he has a day job.

Sewing and other fiber arts seem to run in our family—I make quilts and knit; all my children can knit, though a couple of them have given it up in favor of other pursuits; two of them make quilts; one loves to decorate; one crochets. We get a sense of accomplishment from our work, yes; but there’s more to it than that. While we work on our project, we focus outside ourselves, and our thoughts and good wishes run to the person who will receive the gift we are making. Getting outside ourselves is probably the best gift we can give anyone, including ourselves.

Origami frogs
Cooking—and creating a new recipe—can be a drudge, or it can be exciting. Take your favorite old recipe and give it a new twist. If you’re bored with your current recipe box, look online for something different to make. There are more cooking blogs than you can shake a wooden spoon at.

If your ideas run in different paths, take up stained glass or origami. Then teach it to someone else.

Outdoor Life – I’m not a gardener, and my birdwatching is limited to whoever comes to my feeders. But I do walk. Formerly I walked outdoors, early in the morning, in residential neighborhoods—my day was brightened by the changing seasons and the beautiful flowers, shrubs, and trees I saw. My spirits were lifted by the knowledge that people cared enough to take good care of their little patch of Planet Earth. Best of all, I had all the joy and none of the scratches, mosquito bites, or aching back pains.

I’m told, though, that gardening is one of the greatest activities for losing yourself. Kneeling on the ground to weed a bed of annuals can make time seem to stop. There’s nothing but the flower bed, the trowel, and you.

Helping Out – So many opportunities abound that there’s no excuse for not helping someone, somewhere. Schools in my neck of the woods welcome volunteers (many are retirees) to read to the children—or, perhaps, have the children read to the volunteer. If you’re not up for that, you can help out wherever you’re needed—make copies for the teachers, move stuff that needs moving, sort books and magazines, ask the librarian what you can do for him/her.

One of the local churches used to have a literacy program to help adults who can’t read. Reading is not only a skill, it’s a confidence builder. If a person can read the job applications they fill out, they feel more able to fill the position.

Another type of literacy program uses readers to record books on tape (nowadays they’re books on CD, but the old name sticks).

The hospital needs volunteer docents to show people where the various departments are (yes, there are signs, but if you’re in bad shape or grieving, you may not even notice there’s a sign; tunnel vision applies here). Other docents take folks from one place to another in wheelchairs. Or they serve at volunteer desks to sign patients in and point them to the next available clerk to register the patient.

My own helping out is done in my home—and sometimes at my fabric-and-craft store (buying trips)—when I cut out kits for blankets and pillow cases, or sew them myself. I prefer to work alone; it’s my time for meditation and for giving thanks. Once a week I work with my sewing/knitting group at church and my focus expands to each of the members and her life. I will not miss my Friday morning time with the sewing ladies. It’s a life-enhancing group. What better way to get out of my own way and celebrate the good things of life?

The above is not a comprehensive list of possible ways to help yourself out of a blue funk or lessen the toll grief takes on you. You will have your own ways to deal with life as you live it. Just keep celebrating the good things.

Thursday, June 9, 2016


If you've followed this blog for a while, you've no doubt gleaned that I'm a list maker.

(Please don't walk away . . . this isn't about lists. Well, not exactly.)

For me, a list is a kind of doodle. Nothing as elaborate--or meaningful--or entertaining--as the ones created by the Google-folk. (Be sure to check out today's on Phoebe Snetsinger.)

A list gives me a place to make some kind of order out of thoughts, or images, or events, or projects, or . . . .

Yes, order. 

Today's blog comes to you courtesy of my very own personal Topic Generator, a person who knows me well and (scary thought) knows how I think. The topic today is: Why I Like to Read British Mystery Writers.

That sounds like a theme topic for freshman comp--but I'll try not to let it go off on that tangent. What follows is the development of a list I made a couple of months ago, when I was doodling in my journal.

(Ahem) Ready?

British Mystery Writers. They've been in the game since the 19th Century. Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone, published in 1868, is considered the first detective novel in the English language. (See footnote.)

Since that time, the British Isles have contributed scores of mysteries from the pens and typewriters and laptops of writers; here's a list (no special order) of some of my often-reread authors:

Ann Cleeves - currently writing the Vera Stanhope series and the Jimmy Perez series (both main characters are detective inspectors); earlier works featured Inspector Ramsay; and another series of stories were set in bird-watching areas, starring George Palmer-Jones and his wife, Molly, as amateur sleuths.

Agatha Christie - I love Miss Marple--only 12 novels and several short stories about her, but they're exquisite examples of Victorian England carried over into the 20th Century; and several of Christie's stand-alone mysteries have been great--The Pale Horse is the latest one I read; the stand-alones feature mostly amateur sleuths.

Josephine Tey - wrote only 8 detective novels; her main body of work was for the theatre. Her mysteries weren't in series format, though a few featured the same policeman, Inspector Alan Grant. I read her books for the writing style--after many multiple readings, I know the stories well. She is one of the first writers I recognized had a literary style.

Dick Francis - famous for his mysteries set in the horse world--horse owners, trainers, jockeys, accountants, painters--you name it. The sleuth is always involved somehow with horses and is an amateur, not a licensed detective. The current series under his name are written by his son.

Ruth Rendell - wrote psychological suspense, under a pseudonym, that scared me to death. I prefer her Inspector Wexford novels.

R. D. Wingfield - wrote only 6 novels featuring Inspector Jack Frost, Britain's most irreverent detective ever. I practically know them by heart and am still entertained by Wingfield's voice and Frost's bad-boy attitude.

W. J. Burley - lived and wrote about Cornwall, a part of England I'd love to visit. His detective, Charles Wycliffe, worked his way up from Inspector to Chief Superintendent. The stories grow out of the setting--I can't imagine any of them taking place elsewhere.

Colin Dexter - creator of Inspector Morse, working and detecting in Oxford. The current TV series, Endeavour, chronicles the young Morse before he got to his later status. If you like convoluted mysteries, Dexter can entertain you.

Ellis Peters - creator of Brother Cadfael--he also became a TV personality--a 13th Century monk who had been to the Crusades and returned to England to live and work as an herbalist in a monastery. As might be expected, the good Brother's involvement in crime solving agitates some of his superiors.

Jacqueline Winspear (born in England, living in the U.S.) - whose brainchild, Maisie Dobbs, has lived, loved, and solved mysteries in England and Germany during the tumultuous period of World War I through the beginnings of World War II.

Why do I read these authors?

As you can tell by the brief descriptions, I lean toward police procedurals, where the brains behind the solution to the mystery belong to professionals. I especially like the cops who are flawed characters; their humanity often helps them solve the crime. Yet, there's a great deal of attraction created by the amateurs: George Palmer-Jones (no relation), Miss Jane Marple, various sleuths in Josephine Tey's books, Dick Francis's heroes, Brother Cadfael, Maisie Dobbs. After all, if I were to solve a crime, I'd be an amateur. Vicarious crime solving may not be profitable but it is satisfying.

Another thing I enjoy is reading about other countries, and other times. Ann Cleeves brings the contemporary Shetland Islands to life on the page. W. J. Burley's Cornwall is real to me. 13th Century monastery life described by Ellis Peters and the early-to-middle years of the 20th Century in Jacqueline Winspear's novels now seem readily available to the reader.

Another important factor is the writing. No two of the writers in the above list have similar writing styles. They've all developed a way of telling stories that beckons the reader to join in--listen to the tale--help solve the puzzle, maybe. 

Topping my list of reasons why I read British mysteries: I love the way they end. Not happily, in many cases. Sometimes not even a little bit cheerful. But satisfying, yes, indeed. The mystery is solved, the criminal(s) captured, and justice is served (or will be). In life, we often don't know the ending of an event; and in some cases, there seems to be no ending at all. Mystery novels may have an open-endedness, but there is a sense of a goal attained. As I say, satisfying.

Footnote: You may be wondering why I haven't mentioned Edgar Allen Poe, who is considered the inventor of the detective fiction genre. He was born and lived in the early 19th Century (1809-1849) in America. Mostly he wrote poems, short stories, and some novels; his Murders in the Rue Morgue was published in 1841.

I do read American mystery writers--I'll even tell you about them one day. But not today. Today belongs to the Brits.

(Thank you, D, for your suggestions.)


Thursday, June 2, 2016


When I was very young, small town newspapers often printed notices of local events, such as: The homemakers' club met at Mrs. Morgan's home and Evelyn Smith served cake and punch; Mrs. Jones had visitors from upstate for the weekend and the new baby is growing like a week; the church ladies hosted a lovely luncheon for the new pastor and his wife (full menu listed) . . . .

These always seemed to end with "a good time was had by all."

Local and rural news is rarely printed nowadays in the newspapers I see. We get full-blown journalism about achievements: interviews with 4-H youngsters whose animal/plant/cake won Best of Show or Grand Champion; charity group donations to a community project; news of student excellence in all the county schools . . . .

Styles in journalism have changed, but people still want to read about what's going on in their area, and look for names they recognize--their own peers, or the children and grandchildren of folks they went to school with, the neighbor's family doings.

My recent "good time" won't make the Star, but it was indeed a good time. My Ohio daughter came over to visit. This has become an annual thing--usually at the end of May--when she brings her spade and buckets and digs up rogue ferns (those that wander too far from the bed I prefer them to inhabit) and the wandering surprise lily that insists on coming up under one of my back yard bushes. 

This time she also sprayed my mint, which has grown to intimidating and alarming size, in the hope that the rose bush the mint was "protecting" will thrive on its own. (I have great faith in that rose bush--it was well-established when I moved in 31 years ago, so it should be fine without the mint.)

While all this work was going on, I dug up the few dandelions that love to decorate my mulch and sprayed the poison ivy plants (fewer each year, thanks be). The day grew windy so I postponed sweeping the patio and driveway--whatever I stirred up would re-settle a little farther down or come back to the same place I just cleaned. Been there, done that.

Our visit wasn't all work and no play. We had a good lunch before we began our labors--baked herbed chicken tenders and polenta with parmesan and paprika, plus salad. Oh, and drop scones (gluten-free, naturally) which are best eaten with eyes closed--flavor is wonderful but they aren't much to look at. (Note to self: work on scones.)

After our outdoor work, we came in for hot drinks (the day turned a little cooler than expected) and a long chat about our current projects. She loves to cross-stitch, and also crochets and knits. When she mentioned a couple of baby afghans she'll be knitting, I donated some yarn--actually, two good-sized totes stuffed full, plus a medium-sized tote also full, and a grocery bag just right for a half-finished project. (And before you ask, I still have plenty of yarn.)

My son-in-law always teases her about coming home with more stuff than she took for me. I'm only too happy to share. Besides yarn, I burdened--or, maybe, blessed--her a basil plant ready to harvest and a big swath of Greek oregano for drying. She always gets my plastic boxes with lids from lunch meat and other foods to use in her freezer for her garden produce. My kitchen begins to look less cluttered now.

We caught up on family news, expressed concerns about friends and neighbors. We didn't solve any global issues--but we lifted up all who need help and love in their lives.

We relax. We laugh. We escape whatever stress currently invades our lives. We share our time, our concern, our belongings. And it's okay that we don't get our names in the newspaper.

That's what I call a good time.

May you have good times in your life.