Category Archives: Blogging

Castoffs, Misfits, and Misused Words

Words, like clothing, become castoffs when they don’t fit, when they’re worn, or when style changes shift. Outdated words in a conversation may soon be forgotten. Misused words in electronic formats and print copies haunt the writer like a closet full of misfits.

Under wraps indicates a secret project or one withheld from the public, but “undercover” means a secret investigation involving spies.

Lay low means to intentionally hide or stay out of sight. Laid low (past tense) indicates that a person was out of action from circumstances.

Off the radar, often used to identify lack of presence or communication or action, sounds like a missing person’s report. Off the grid indicates one who functions without input from others, but some conversationalists—and writers—use it to indicate standoffishness.

Long, long ago I puzzled over “tootle-do,” when visitors misused the British saying of “tootle-oo” for goodbye to other travelers. It was our home. We weren’t leaving. They were.  I had no trouble distinguishing that saying from Toora-Loora-Looral, the Irish lullaby to sing a baby to sleep.

Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater,” has endured five centuries.  A catchy phrase, but who would do that?

“To each his own,” some say, but the English translation of the Latin Suum cuique to imply personal preferences was aimed at the disparity of wealth vs. poverty. Hmm. Perhaps that is fitting because some writers use worn out, trite phrases for current publications when there is a wealth of new words waiting to hit the page.

Words

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Thoroughly Broken at the ATT Store

Last week I blogged 2+2=5 at the ATT Store. This is the postscript, “Read my next post to see how my interrogator left me thoroughly broken.”

Slippy Pants looks at the screen where my name blazes alone. She approaches me but doesn’t sit as she had with all the previous customers. She looks down at me. “What can I do for you today?”

    Wikipedia

“My modem quit. I need to buy a new one,” I said.

Slippy Pants (SP) takes on a role similar to O’Brien, Winston’s interrogator in George Orwell’s 1984. “How old is your modem?”

Me: “Six years old. I bought it in this store in 2012.”

SP: “What kind is it?”

Me: “ATT.”

SP: “I mean what type?”

I hand her the note with the information I had copied from the Device Manager file on my hard drive.   She draws her heavy blackened brows together. Her ruby mouth painted larger than her lips frowns into a deep scowl. “I can’t read that.”

I stare at the associate young enough to be my great-granddaughter. “Oh, I guess  you can’t read cursive.”

SP: “Oh yes, I can read cursive. Just not yours. It’s messier than most.”

Chastised—broken—I read the details aloud.

SP: “Never heard of that modem.”

ATT probably stopped selling it when she was in ninth grade.

SP peppers me with more questions. “How do you connect? Is it dial-up? Broadband? Do you have to use the yellow cord?” Before I can respond, she says “One minute while I check something.”

SP stops Smiley, the other associate still assisting the puzzled man with the iPad. “A quick question,” SP says. She hands the cursive note to Smiley. “What kind of modem does she need?”

Smiley reads my written note, or perhaps she overheard the conversation and pretends to read it. “The standard modem.”

SP: “I wasn’t sure because she doesn’t know how she connects to the internet.”

Me: “Wi-Fi.”

SP: “Oh.” She turns to Smiley. “Does the regular modem work with wireless?”

“Yes, it should work with all connections,” Smiley says. She hands the note back to me without speaking, an apology in her eyes softened by wisdom.

“I’ll be right back,” SP tells me. She tugs her pants up, strides to the back room, and returns with an unmarked plain brown box. She processes my credit card and hands me a receipt, staring at my silvery hair. “Keep the receipt in case this modem doesn’t work, and you have to return it.”

Why wouldn’t it work?

SP continues her lecture. “But first you have to call the number on the instruction sheet.” Staring at my hair again, she says, “If they can’t help you, they will send a technician to your home. But, you’ll have to pay for that.” She thrusts the box into my hands and turns toward the exit. Dismissed like a misbehaving child, I follow. She pushes the door open and says, “Have a nice day.”

I leave not only convinced that 2+2=5 at the ATT store, but with my confidence to install a new modem thoroughly broken.

Side by side on my desk, the identical Net Gear/ATT modems remind me of an old perm commercial, “Which Twin Has the Toni?” With no curls to guide me, I’ll keep the twin with the green lights. The one on the left will go to the hazardous waste recycling facility.

Can you read cursive? I aced the test. (Could it be because my handwriting is so poor?) Let me know how you fared.

 

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Orwell’s 2+2=5 at the ATT Store

Original             Cover     Wikipedia

In the second grade, I learned to add a column of numbers. Then, I learned how to add across a string of numbers to reach the same conclusion. In both cases, 2+2=4.  Now, decades later, O’Brien’s question to Winston in George Orwell’s 1984  and the anticipated response that 2+2=5 which means Winston is thoroughly broken resurfaced.

It all began Sunday when the red star topped the Internet Wi-Fi icon in my computer taskbar. No internet. I tried all the techie fix-its. Still no internet. On Monday, suffering heavy withdrawal symptoms, I drove to the local AT&T store to buy a new modem.

I was greeted promptly by a smiling woman seated at a round table similar to an oversized DVD disk next to a man with a tablet. She asked my first name and entered it in her iPad. Another smile. “Violet, there are only two waiting ahead of you,” she said.

I sat at the opposite end of a turquoise faux leather bench from a short man, age undetermined. His hands rested on a cart filled with a large cardboard box sealed with clear packing tape. His eyes darted back and forth to the door as if expecting the police to arrive and confiscate his boxed treasure. A tall, thin man with no socks browsed the iPhone displays. One plus one equals two waiting. But the numbers didn’t add up or across because there were four customers ahead of me.

The smiling team member (make that employee) kept working with the puzzled tablet customer. He looked more confused with each explanation.  The other associate (again, make that employee) left her customer with a more perplexed look than Customer #1.  That employee stood, tugged her stretch jeans upward, pulled her shirt down over the fleshly gap, and called the name of the man with the cart.

Eyes aglow, he smiled and lifted one hand like answering roll call in second grade. Slippy Pants approached him with a wary eye toward the box. He showed her what appeared to be a past due bill, whipped out a thick wad of cash that looked like he had emptied an ATM on his walk to the store—or perhaps retrieved it from the box before resealing it.  She took the cash, entered a key code on a door to a back room, and reappeared minutes later with a receipt. She accompanied Customer #3 to the glass entrance and held the door wide. He maneuvered the cart outside. Then, Slippy Pants returned to Customer #2, the woman on the far bench, and worked with her phone a few more minutes. When nothing was accomplished, Slipp Pants repeated the tugging ritual before she called No Socks. Two plus two equals Customer #4.

No Socks slid onto a vivid orange contoured seat that reminded me of the John Deere tractor I rode on when I visited a childhood friend on a farm. Slippy Pants struggled as she climbed into a seat opposite him at the bistro table.

After another long wait, Smiley mouthed to me, “Thank you for your patience.” She continued to work with her perplexed customer while I waited.  O’Brien was right. Two plus two equals five.

Finally, my turn. I drew the short straw—Slippy Pants.

Read my next post to see how my interrogator left me thoroughly broken.

 

 

 

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Thursday’s Child

Thursday is blogging day for me. Fingers poised on the home row of a QUERTY keyboard, I stare at the blank white sheet my laptop screen. Thursday’s child with far to go hammers at me.

When I was a child—not a great hook, but true—more than a century after the nursery rhyme about fate  the day of the week a child was born, still brought accolades and commiserates.

Monday’s child is fair of face
Tuesday’s child is full of grace
Wednesday’s child is full of woe
Thursday’s child has far to go
Friday’s child is loving and giving
Saturday’s child works hard for his living
And the child that is born on the Sabbath day
Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay.

“She’s beautiful. She must have been born on Monday.” Or, “That kid works hard. He was born on Saturday, you know.” The saddest day for births was Wednesday because the nursery rhyme declared that misfortunate baby to be a child of woe.

What about blogging? Do Monday’s bloggers produce the best looking blogs? Do Saturday bloggers struggle more to monetize their posts? Are Sunday bloggers happier than others?

I chose Thursday as my WordPress blogging day years ago. I try to post about lunchtime in California. I don’t worry about Google Analytics statistics because my goal isn’t about monetizing (Those ads you see are a WordPress tradeoff for a free site). I’m more interested in where you live than how many clicks. Now and then, one of my blog posts will resonate worldwide, but more often within the northern continent.

There are dozens of posts about the best day and time to blog. None seem to agree. For me, success is measured by your likes and comments that tell me how many smiles I created on Thursday.

 

 

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Shades of Gray

I dream in color. Only once did I dream in black and white. The absence of color jolted me awake. I don’t remember the dream—only the starkness.

I climbed out of bed and bolted to the bathroom mirror. All I saw was a disheveled white hair above snowflakes splattered across gray pajamas. What happened to color? Then I noticed the red drawstring. Whew! I returned to bed and snuggled under a purple rose patterned comforter with the assurance that the only place absent of color was my dream.

My mother’s hair was called jet black in the twentieth century. Following present writing trends, I would have to call it coal, ebony, jet, licorice, onyx, or raven. When it grayed then lightened in her advanced age, it was would have been designated as salt and pepper before it turned white. Today, a wordsmith might describe the silvery strands as argent.

I imaged blogging about my her hair or my black and white dream using synonyms. Licorice and lily or licorice and magnolia sounded like a southern writer’s work-in-progress title. Blending licorice and snow gave me shudders. I searched for wider options. Licorice and pearl? Nope. Coal and oyster? Ugh! Raven and milk. Definitely not. Ink and ice. Not so bad, but still nondescript compared to a color palette created from my HP printer in less time than trying to remember the drab dream.

Writing, like dreams, needs color. I experimented with azure, sapphire, cobalt, or indigo for shades of blue. I splashed crimson, scarlet, ruby, carmine, and magenta as stronger shades of red. I daubed flecks of gold, flaxen, lemon, and mustard for yellow. I skipped Princely Purple aka Ultra Violet (yes, it’s two words), Pantone’s color of the year.

CMYK printers diminish the value of black by designating it as K, supposedly for key color.  Digging for truth during the California political campaigns is a good time to advocate for writers to join me in a revolution to return to plain color names like red and blue and yellow. Writing advisors may tell me how to shape my novels, but like my dream, all blog posts can’t be CMYK, PMS, or RGB. Some words are like shades of gray paint—rich, warm, soft, airy, wispy, or charcoal. Other words must be bold statements in black and white.

 

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Once in a Blue Moon

I heard “Once in a blue moon” many times in my childhood. My family used the phrase to describe something that rarely happened, especially when trying to prompt someone to a specific action the second time. My child’s mind imagined an Indigo—or at least a turquoise—moon. The adults laughed at my expectations. Even though my father lived by the Farmer’s Almanac and knew every phase of the moon, he didn’t tell me that a Blue Moon was the second full moon in one month.

My superstitious mother kept me from staring at a Blood Moon in the mid-1940s. “It’s a curse,” she had said. “Something terrible’s gonna happen. Wait and see.” She never wavered from her belief to acknowledge the color was caused during a total lunar eclipse when Earth moved between the sun and the moon and created a reddish glow.

Tuesday evening, January 30, 2018, I stopped editing a manuscript to go outside and stare at the moon to witness something I’d never seen.  The bright light rose high in the sky looking much like any other full moon—not a deep cobalt or even a light sapphire. I went back inside, checked my printout of the promised total eclipse of the triple-decker treat of a Super Blue Blood Moon, and set my alarm for 3:45 a.m. Pacific Standard Time determined to witness the beginning of the umbral eclipse.

The alarm triggered the urgency to rise while it was dark. I staggered out of bed, slipped on shoes and pulled a long black coat over my pajamas. I hurried outside away from the lights of my apartment community and gazed upward. The excitement of the impending triple-header warmed me from the cold for a while. For the next three hours, I alternated staring at the marvel in the sky and returning inside for breaks, warmed by hot tea. The Super Blue Blood Moon was more spectacular than promised. When the eclipse ended and the Super Moon slid lower and lower until I could see only the top of the bright orb, I returned to my warm bed.

A second alarm reminded me that I had work to do on a manuscript edit. I clicked my way through and basic sentence structure and spell check. After a late breakfast, I traipsed through ninety screen prompts in a grammar program. If it disagreed with Chicago Manual of Style—the manuscript editor’s go-to book—I clicked ignore.

My next step, an editing program that claims to be “smart” enough to reveal misused words, punctuation inconsistency, and multiple other variances. Three popped up in the em dash category. My edited punctuation was correct according to Chicago Manual of Style. That’s when I looked up, waiting for the program to enlighten me like the Super Moon had earlier. I saw this instruction on my computer screen above the questionable areas.

 

 

Maybe this only happens once in a blue moon, but if this paid program isn’t smart enough to catch its own mistakes, how can it find mine?

In a spare moment between writing and editing today, I took a look at Super Blue Blood Moon Video, NASA TV. Now that’s  something I can trust.

 

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Thanksgiving Memories

My mother always began preparations on Wednesday for our abundant home-cooked Thanksgiving feast with the main dish of turkey, ham, chicken, duck, or goose–sometimes more than one. Deviled eggs, black olives, pickles and cranberry sauce nestled among bowls brimming with homemade dressing, mashed potatoes or potato salad, and green beans. Mincemeat, apple, and sweet potato pies covered the kitchen counter. Occasionally, a fresh coconut cake towered over the pies, giving it bragging rights. Mama made room for other side dishes brought by my married siblings just before noon. Papa was serious about the precise time. We ate at noon by his pocket watch—not one minute earlier or later.

The adults sat with Papa around the food-laden table in the dining room. Mama seated the younger children at the square drop-leaf table in the kitchen. I ate in the living room with my twin sister and nieces and nephews our age, balancing our plates on our knees. Mama served everyone first and ate later. After lunch, the women washed and dried dishes. Children played on the covered porch. Men gathered in the tiny living room to talk. A couple of my brothers drifted outside for an afternoon smoke, forbidden inside our home.

The night before Thanksgiving, the smell of chicken frying in a cast-iron skillet wafted from the kitchen. The sweet smell of fried apple turnovers replaced the aroma of baking pies. I listened from the open doorway as my parents talked about working on Thanksgiving Day.

Oh, no! It can’t be! 

The next morning after breakfast, Mama packed the refrigerated chicken and turnovers in a sturdy cardboard box with eating utensils. She covered it with a tablecloth just as Frank, my oldest brother, arrived to take us to work.

I stepped down from the old Model A Ford running board. On the ground, I pulled the strap of my cotton sack over my head and under my left arm and shook eight feet of canvas between two rows of late-blooming white cotton basking in the early morning sun.

Five minutes before twelve, Mama stopped picking and spread the tablecloth on a patch of flat ground. Papa removed his hat, wiped his perspiring forehead with a handkerchief and checked his pocket watch. At noon he nodded to Frank to say a blessing for the food.

“Thank you, Lord, for family gathered here on this Thanksgiving Day. Bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies so we can finish this field before dark. Bless the farmer who allowed us to work today. Prosper him abundantly for his kindness. Amen.”

Bless the farmer? Without him we’d be home heaping our plates with turkey and dressing and eyeing the tantalizing desserts, not eating cold fried chicken in a cotton field. My complaining thoughts were interrupted by my nephew’s voice.

“Please pass another piece of Grandma’s fried chicken,” he said. “It’s the best I ever ate. And, could you hand me a couple more fried apple pies. Grandma knows how to make them just right.”

The next year, the Wednesday cooking rituals returned to our home. About thirty of us gathered around the dining room at five minutes before twelve. My father checked his pocket watch. At precisely noon, he bowed his head and gave thanks for the abundant meal. While children waited for their plates to be filled before moving to the kitchen to eat, adult talk turned to the previous Thanksgiving meal in the cotton field. One of my brothers mentioned Frank’s prayer.

“No more picking cotton for that farmer. He did so well after that prayer, he bought a cotton-picking machine and put all of us out of work.”

 

 

Posted at 12 noon, Pacific Standard Time, Thanksgiving Day, in honor of my father’s pocket watch time.

Disclosure: Revised third annual post, my Thanksgiving tradition, adapted from my original story in Double Take (Carr Twins & Co., 2014).

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