Friday, December 2, 2016

Mental Blocks

I take a small but smug pleasure in being a good speller and in avoiding most grammar pitfalls.

I know how to use both the apostrophe and the semi colon.

I know when it's "she and I" and when it's "her and me."

But there are some things I just cannot get into my brain.

There's a town in northern Washington state.  One of my friends has relative there, another has a sweetheart up there, and it's a fairly popular destination for outdoorsy vacationers.  

It starts with a B.

And I can never remember what it's called.

It's not Bainbridge Island.  Not Bremerton.  Not Bellevue.  Not Burlingame or Burlington or Brattleboro.  Not Breitenbush.  It's--I have no idea.  I'd have to go look it up, or text someone.  If it comes to me while finishing this post, I'll let you know.  

I can do who/whom, and I really don't see why anyone would confuse their/they're/there if you actually know what any of those mean.  A high school teacher set me straight on it's/its, and when my roommate proofread my senior thesis, she finally got me to be more careful about my to/too placement.  But it took me until a few months ago to get a handle on lay/laid/lye  I read an article that explained that Clapton's "Lay, Lady Lay," while poetic enough in its way, is grammatically incorrect.  She's lying on the bed, not laying (although clearly he's hoping to get laid, but that's another issue).  So now I at least have something to refer back to when I get stuck.  Still, it's far from natural or instinctive.

Then there are the spelling issues.  These are the words that I now spell by typing in approximations and letting spellcheck do the rest:
  • silhouette
  • souvenir
  • ouvre
  • hors d'euvor the one that means appetizer, which I can't even get spellcheck to help me out with here
Whelp.  Clearly I have trouble with French origin words that use "ou" in them.  

And that town...Barcelona.  Burbanks.  Babylon.  Barbados.  Crap.  I'm seriously going to have to look it up, just so you don't have to.  

Bellingham!  Seriously, though, why the hell is it so hard for me to remember that?  

What are your mental blocks?  What words tend to escape you, which spellings continually confound you, which grammar error do you make over and over?  Or am I alone in this?  Please tell me I'm not alone in this.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Diversity Spotlight Thursday: Novels in Verse

"Diversity Spotlight Thursday" is a lovely new meme put together by Aimal of Bookshelves & Paperbacks.  The set-up is pretty simple: each week you post one book you've read, one on your TBR, and and upcoming release.  All of these, clearly, should fall under the umbrella term "diverse," with special emphasis on "own voices."  Overall, I don't tend to be aware of books that aren't out yet, because, um, they're not out yet?  So instead I'll usually add one I discovered just for this post--maybe it's a newer release, or maybe it's an under the radar find.

I've looked at books by Latinx authors about Mexican American teens, and I've looked at books about characters on the autism spectrum.  This time I'm taking my inspiration from Jacqueline Woodson's Newbery honor memoir in verse, Brown Girl Dreaming and Kwame Alexander's Newbery awarded novel in verse The Crossover, to share three more novels in verse by and about African Americans.

A Book I've Read and Recommend:

My Seneca Village by Marilyn Nelson

This book is set in New York City in the 1800s, in a neighborhood called Seneca Village.  Doesn't ring a bell?  That would be because the area was torn down to create room for Central Park.  Using census records and other data from the era, Nelson has created characters whose stories intertwine and overlap over time.  I especially enjoyed how she created "stage directions" before each poem, adding a visual sense that can be lost in many novels in verse.  

 A book on my TBR

Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes

Not strictly a novel in verse, this book is about a high school class whose teacher invites them to weekly open mic poetry slams.  The general consensus on Goodreads seems to be, "Well, I thought it wasn't all that great, but my students LOVED IT."  Hmm.  Maybe she wrote it for the students, not their teachers?

An upcoming interesting looking book

The Death of Jayson Porter by Jaime Adoff 

from Goodreads:
Sixteen-year-old Jayson Porter wants to believe things will get better. But the harsh realities of his life never seem to change. Living in the inland-Florida projects with his abusive mother, he tries unsuccessfully to fit in at his predominately white school, while struggling to maintain even a thread of a relationship with his drug-addicted father. As the pressure mounts, there's only one thing Jayson feels he has control over-the choice of whether to live or die.


Monday, November 28, 2016

Five Free(ish) Gift Ideas for those Secret Santa Exchanges + Five Fun Finales

The delightful bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish host this weekly list challenge.  If you want to quadruple the size of your TBR AND find a bunch of great book blogs to follow, head on over and check them out!

The topic this week is "Holiday Gift Guide Freebie."

I kind of love Secret Santa exchanges.  My first experience was in fifth grade, when my Camp Fire group drew names.  I do not remember a thing about the gifts I got, but I remember how happy I was to end up with my good friend Selene's name.  I remember two of the things I did for her, both of which have been in my Secret Santa arsenal (there's a weird juxtaposition of words--at least I had the sense to not just use the initials of Secret Santa) ever since.

1.  The e. e. cummings poem [little tree].  I carefully typed it out (on a manual typewriter, people, because this was the 1970s), rolled it up and put some red ribbon around it, and snuck it into her violin case during the school Christmas concert, as we called it back then.  The second grade classes were always assigned to sing a couple of  Hanukkah songs, but that's about as far as our acknowledgement that not everyone was Christian went.    I still use this poem, because it's awfully sweet without being drivel, and it's not as overdone as holiday songs, but you could adapt this to your recipient.  You also don't have to type it.  Computer is fine.  Or calligraphy, if that's how you roll.

2.  Five Minute Fudge.  Which is a bit of a misnomer, since you boil it for five minutes, but it takes approximately three lifetimes for it to reach the boiling point.  Still, it's a lot simpler than "true" fudge, and even if you have to go out and buy the ingredients, it's still going to be cheaper than, say, two pieces of Moonstruck or Godiva.  Added bonus: if you eat a few of the squares, nobody has to know.

3.  Snowflake blitz.  This is one I developed as an adult, but it's still one of the ones I use every single time.  Teachers have doors, secretaries have desks--whatever flat surface your giftee sees often can be absolutely plastered with paper snowflakes sometime when they're not around.  I usually do this one first, so they can enjoy it all week.  Go fancy if you want, or even use the power of the internet to figure out how to make themed snowflakes that relate to your person's interests.  Enlist helpers if you can't get there when your person's not there--having a crew of random people walk up to their space and start taping snowflakes everywhere is an experience in itself.  Don't forget to also take charge of the clean-up!  

4.  Fancy tea-time.  I stole this one from a Secret Santa even when I was teaching overseas.  During one teacher's break time, some students trooped in with a candle, a sprig of holly in a vase, a cup of piping hot tea, and a paper doily to put it all on.  Depending on where you work, the candle may or may not be allowed, but the rest of it is fine.  The Santa didn't even have to give away anything but the tea--the students came back at the end of the period to tidy everything up.  The guy who was on the receiving end loved it, and it encouraged him to use his break time to actually sit quietly and relax instead of frantically grading papers.

5.  Washi tape office set. Okay, so this isn't actually free.  It was sort of free the year I did it because I was using the materials for another project already, so I just used leftovers.  I got a composition book at Dollar Tree, cleaned and stripped the paper off an empty can of beans, and grabbed some wooden clothes pins.  I then covered everything with patterned tape in matching shades.  I might have put magnet strips on the clothes pins as well, or made little tags on pens or pencils.  You get the idea.

I firmly believe that White Elephant and Secret Santa gifts should not break the budget.  The point is to have fun and spread cheer, not to spend EVEN MORE MONEY on people you AREN'T EVEN RELATED TO.  Still, most exchanges have the expectation of a slightly bigger final gift.  This is probably a piece of cake (hey!  that's a gift idea too!) if you are actually friends with your person, but I've had several exchanges with people I couldn't pick out of a line-up, so it's good to have some more general ideas too.  Well, I have a super easy out for most of these things, what with being married to a winemaker, but there are other things one can do.  (Besides--and this is weird--not everyone likes wine.  Huh.)

1.  Speaking of wine, the BEST Secret Santa gift I remember getting were this set of wine "charms."
They actually are silicone, and they wrap around the stem of the glass, then the end slips through the center of the flower.  No clinking, easy to see and differentiate, and they are really pretty.  We actually  just keep them on the glasses all the time.  If I knew my recipient drank wine at all, I'd definitely consider these.

2.  If there's a price expectation of $10-$20, get a few $5 gift cards.  Enough for, say, one car wash, one cup of coffee, and one sandwich.  If it's a work-based exchange, get them at the local places so you know they will be convenient even if you live in different parts of town.

3.  A book.  Duh.

4.  This is more of a un-suggestion, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that unless the person has made it clear that they DO want them, don't give ornaments or mugs.  Because I'll be damned if I ever need another one of either of those.   I'd also avoid anything scented unless you've been offered pretty specific parameters.  
Except this Sandra Boynton mug.  It is always appropriate to give this mug.

5.  Cookies in a jar.  I seriously wish more people would do this for me.  It's a treat, but I don't have to eat it right in the middle of the season of All Treats All The Time.  It combines the simplicity of a mix with the deliciousness of homemade.  And I'm no fan of trend overkill, but this is one case in which it actually makes sense to break out the mason jars.  
And if it's for me, you don't need to fuss around with cute labels and pretty tops.  Just give me the damn ingredients.
Do you do Secret Santa exchanges?  Have you ever gotten a fabulous little gift from a near-stranger? (I actually know the person who gave me those wine charms quite a bit better now, but at the time, we'd barely even spoken.)  Which of these would you most like to receive?  MEN--are all of these too girly?  I really tried to not make it like that, but, well, I'm kind of a girl, so it's my default.