Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 Favorites List

Ending the year by looking back at some favorites from the past twelve months:

Top Books
Plain Truth by Jodi Piccoult
This was my first time reading Piccoult. It won't be my last.

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, by Jessica Day George
I read few books this quickly. I loved it, and it inspired me with writing ideas like nothing else has recently.

Top Movie Experiences
I had very few favorite movies produced this year. (I think Black Knight would be up there, but I can't think of many more. Oh, wait. Mama Mia was fun.)

On the other hand, I had a lot of fun movie experiences, particularly with my kids.

-I introduced them to some of my old favorites: Footloose, Girls Just Want to Have Fun, and other "oldies" from when I was young.

-Taking my girls to the theater to see Kung Fu Panda and HSM3, the latter on opening night. I was one popular mommy that day.

Kids' Accomplishments
-D getting onto the school Shakespeare team and taking a trip to Cedar City for the Shakespeare festival.
-S receiving 3 big awards for the N.O.V.A. program, including the overall achievement award, given to only one girl in the entire sixth grade (comprised of several hundred students).
-M going from a girl who likes to dance to a dancer with serious talent.
-A learning to read and ride a bike. Watching her become her own little person.

Personal Achievements
-Drafted and submitted a book that's different from any I've ever done.
-Began drafting another totally different book.
-Co-chaired a writing conference that went off swimmingly.
-Earned more doing freelance and editing work than any other year.

Top Events
-Hands down, the trip hubby and I took to Finland is my biggest and best highlight of the entire year. It'll stay with me forever.

-Second in line is getting my dream office. Yippee!!!

Top New Writing Tool
I have a laptop! With a cool red carrying case! I'll still use my Neo, of course, but holy productivity, Batman! I love my laptop. (Thanks, Honey!)

I'm very grateful for my family (both here and away), for my dear writing friends (who understand me like no one else can . . . and like me anyway) and for the bloggy friends I've met and gotten to know and care for.

I have a feeling that 2009 will only improve on 2008.

Have a happy new year, everyone!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Post-Christmas Stress

Because of the way weekends hit, this is the longest Christmas break the kids have ever experienced. They've been around each other all day, every day, for a long time already.

It was fine at first; they even spent hours in the snow making forts and snow houses and came in with rosy cheeks and grins. But now the Christmas cheer is wearing thin. I'm already getting, "I'm bored!" (What, did all your Christmas toys break already? Didn't think so.)

I'm also getting sibling fights that rival the WWF. Today, one child actually drew blood. "Accidentally."

Uh, huh. Sure.

I planned to get a bunch of stuff done during this week, including some housework stuff that's languished for months (my mending "pile" resembles Kilimanjaro, for starters). But I also feel pressure to make sure the kids have fun during their break.

Like how I promised to take them ice skating at some point. If they weren't so set on killing each other, I wouldn't dread that outing. Somehow I'm thinking that putting sharp metal edges on the feet of children already annoyed with one another isn't the wisest thing to do.

Today was a great start to the week: I had yet another appointment regarding my chronic headaches (I swear I live at the dentist's office), did a Costco run (not much food in the house after Christmas and a trip to Grandma's), and I managed to fold laundry, gather dirty clothes, and throw in a load. I don't have all the dirty ones collected yet, because I was too lazy to make the kids unpack properly when we got home yesterday.

I still have a few Christmas decorations up mocking me that I'm trying to ignore. Stupid, I know, because if I were to just put them away I'd be much happier and the place would be less cluttered. But that would make too much sense.

The kitchen looks like a cyclone swept through it. I can't seem to get the kids practicing piano again after a week off. The little one refuses to do her daily chore, although she's been pretending to do it for two hours now (a chore that would take a motivated 6-year-old oh, five minutes). She's gonna be so ticked when I tell her she can't have a friend over this afternoon because she ran out of time to play.

We have another week until school starts again. Heaven help me.

On a happier note, apparently being a Word Nerd is genetic. A few days ago, I overheard the following from my tween:

"Oh, cool, guys. Check it out. I found a typo on Club Penguin!"

My kids might be trying to kill each other, but at least I've passed on something useful.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

WNW: I'm a Paradox

Last Word Nerd Wednesday, I talked about how English changes, how it's useless to cling too hard to the "real" meaning of words and such that we can't see the natural evolution of the language.

It's an evolution that is happening, regardless of whether someone insists on "may" instead of "can" or cringes when someone says, "it sucks."

That's just the way it is. In that regard, I'm what could be called a descriptivist (someone who describes what's happening in language neutrally, without judgment).

But I'm also known affectionately among friends as the "Grammar Nazi." I wield a sharp red pen when I come across the misuse of lay/lie. My eye twitches at comma splices. So while I'm a descriptivist, I'm also a prescriptivist, meaning that in some areas, I insist that there are rules we should obey.

How can I be both? To explain, I'm going back to a class from my college days, taught by Dr. Oaks, my absolute favorite university teacher, hands down. He's a linguist (shocker, I know).

He talked one day about dialects and how no dialect is inherently superior to any other. That dialects aren't just random ways of talking; they have their own grammar and pronunciation rules, even when the people speaking them aren't aware of those rules.

It's quite wild, actually, to take a Standard English sentence, apply a few specific grammar rules, and end up with a sentence that is Black English Vernacular, or BEV (an actual dialect studied by linguists). We did this, although not in his class.

During his course, I loved going around and hearing the way other people talked. My grandmother-in-law was from the south, and she'd pronounce an [r] after [a] sometimes, as in,

"I need to get the warshing machine fixed."

When I hear things like that, I don't cringe. I think they're delightful differences. They're totally awesome.

Some students challenged Dr. Oaks, saying, "Well, if my dialect isn't inferior than any other, than can I turn in my research papers in my own dialect. You can't mark it down because it doesn't have the 'right' grammar, because there is no such thing."

Dr. Oaks just laughed (when he laughed, his whole body laughed and rumbled, and you couldn't help but laugh along). He shook his head and said, "Nice try."

Then he went on to explain that while it was true that no dialect is inherently superior from a linguistic standpoint, that one is generally selected by the educated population as the standard. That dialect is something educated people are expected to learn and be able to use. By extension, part of our college education was to learn to use the standard dialect and use it well.

In other words, even though Standard English isn't a superior to the "Spanish Fark" or Brooklyn versions of English, we'd better know how to use it, and he'd grade our papers, in part, based on our knowledge and ability to write in Standard English.

He also pointed out that most people aren't linguists (new flash), so people's perceptions about dialects make an impact. If you walk around using certain accents and dialects (or use them in a job interview), you may well be labeled as uneducated or unpolished. That won't help you get the job or be taken seriously.

The reality is, we are judged by how well we can use Standard English.

Even Standard English changes over time, but slower than conversational dialects (which is where "suck" and other words change first). That's where a lot of the debate rages on what's "right."

In some areas here, I'm easy going (like may/can), but on others, I like to hang onto the old versions even though I know full well the language is changing (I don't like "alright," preferring the original "all right." It's a losing battle, and I know it).

But here's the important part: Writers, of all people, need to know how to use the Standard English dialect. It's part of their job. Just like a doctor needs to know anatomy or a mechanic needs to understand how an engine is put together, a writer needs to know Standard English and how it works.

Being sloppy with the language is just lazy and shows a disregard for the profession and the reader on the other end. On the most basic level, a writer's job is to use the language well. Invisibly. If a writer can't do that, the story gets bogged down and can't shine through.

There are times in a novel where the writer can depart from the standard, of course, such as in dialogue and when characters have their own distinct way of speaking.

But here's the catch: to depart from the standard effectively, you need to know the standard in the first place. You can totally tell when a writer doesn't know the rules they're breaking. And when rules are broken well, you can tell that, too.

Readers who know the standard will judge you an incompetent if you flounder with it. Worse, if you don't know the rules (especially ones involving punctuation), you may say things you never intended, because language in print is different than spoken language. In print, you don't have the luxury of things like intonation and body language to make meanings clear. A misplaced comma on the page can add a totally different implication than the one you had in mind.

I'm okay being a descriptive/prescriptive paradox. I don't twitch if, in casual conversation, someone uses "laid" wrong. I don't twitch when I hear "warsh" instead of wash."

(Okay, I'll admit that sometimes I twitch with "fewer" versus "less" and "imply" versus "infer." Those are pet peeves.)

And rest assured, kind readers, I rarely flinch with grammar and punctuation issues on blogs, because in my mind, blogs are in the conversational category. They aren't generally intended to be professional publications.

(So no going all paranoid on me, k? Good. I also reserve the right to have typos on my blog. Glad we're all on the same page there. :D)

I DO twitch when I'm reading a published novel with massive errors (I wonder, does this writer just not care? Where were the editors and proofers?). I twitch when I see a t-shirt from a teaching conference with a typo. Basically, I twitch when people who are supposed to know the standard show their ignorance or laziness.

And yes, I admit that when my kids started picking up constructions like, The carpet needs vacuumed, I put a stop to it and corrected them, fast.

I don't mind hearing dialectal differences in other people (in fact, I find it really fun and love finding out where certain patterns hail from geographically), but I want my kids to have the best shot at success they can, and that includes knowing the standard dialect.

Even if they speak it with a Utah drawl.

I'll be taking a holiday bloggy break now.

Have the merriest of Christmases! See you soon!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Pulla? Must Be Christmas!

According to #2, it's not Christmas until she's smelled the pulla. Apparently, the Christmas season officially began in our house today, because we fulfilled our family tradition of making the Finnish sweet bread.

Pulla has always meant Christmas to me. We had it every December when I was a kid. Dad was usually the one who made it, and I have lots of great memories of sitting at the kitchen counter watching and "helping."

I'm no expert, but I do enjoy making pulla, and this year was extra special, because I had fresh cardamom straight from a Helsinki grocery store. This meant that the cardamom was not only mucho cheaper than the stuff in the States (a bottle here can run you around $15), but it has a stronger, better flavor. One whiff had my eyes rolling into the back of head.

Ooooh, yeah.

Lots of versions of the recipe are out there, but here's the one I use. The amount of cardamom listed assumes you have the fresh stuff. When I have to use a U.S. bottle, I double or triple the amount.

1 TB dry yeast
1/2 c warm water
2 c hot milk
1/2 c butter
1 c sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cardamom
4 eggs, beaten
9+ c white flour

Dissolve yeast in water and let sit for several minutes. Add milk, butter, sugar, salt, cardamom, and eggs. Add 2 to 3 cups of flour and beat until you have a batter. Add 3 more cups of flour. Beat until smooth and glossy. Stir in remaining flour until dough forms a stiff ball.

[At this point you're supposed to let it rest for 15 minutes and then knead until it's smooth and elastic. I let my trusty KitchenAide do the kneading because I'm lazy like that.]

Put in a greased bowl and let rise until double. Cut into pieces to make 3 large braids or several smaller ones. Let the braids rise for another 20-30 minutes. Brush with egg wash. Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes (large braids) or 15-20 (small braids) until they are golden brown.

Finns often put lump sugar on top of the egg wash before baking (something else hard to find over here).

Dad generally lets the braids cool and then drizzles a simple powdered sugar glaze over them. Sometimes he adds sliced almonds on top. I do it his way.

The kids love rolling out the dough and making the braids. I let them, because they love it so much. The resulting braids aren't as even as pretty as they could be, but the memories are worth it. We made the smaller braids this year, and the picture above shows a few of them.

One Finnish food I adore but have never tried to make is Karjalan Piirakoita (Karalian Pies). My new year's resolution is to learn to make them. Then my life will be a tad more complete!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Can't Wait!

And I don't even mean for Christmas. (Although I'm plenty excited for that, too.)

You may have heard already (it's been mentioned on lots of blogs the last couple of days), but registration for the 6th Annual LDStorymakers Writers Conference is officially open. The 2009 conference will be April 24 & 25, and like last year, the Whitney Awards Gala will follow.


I've blogged about the conference a few times, like here, here, and here.

And I've had the fortune to be part of the magic every single year. Last time I even co-chaired the entire puppy with Heather Moore. The conference is one of my favorite times of the year. I get to spend time not only learning more about my craft and networking with publishing professionals, but I get to hang out with some of my dearest friends . . . people who get the weirdness that is the writing part of me.

On top of all that, it really is a great conference, and it gets better every year. It also gets bigger, which became a slight problem last year, as Heather and I had to hold a limited budget together and find a bigger venue than some we'd used in the past. We tried to accommodate as many people as we possibly could, but as things were, it was tight, and we had to turn people away.

This year we don't have that problem. There's no cap to registration. (Celebration!) HOWEVER, as always, there is still a limit on the number of agent and editor one-on-one appointments, so if you want to snag one of those, you'd better register soon.

Likewise, there has to be a cap on the ever-popular Boot Camp, because if it gets too big, it's just not all that helpful. For those unfamiliar with the conference, Boot Camp is an optional early-morning, hands-on workshop held before the opening of the regular conference on both days. You get to bring pages from your work in progress, read it at a table of other attendees, and get critiques. Each table is led by a published writer.

Some of the Boot Camp details get tweaked year to year to make it better, and I've been part of Boot Camp every time except last year (Heather and I had enough on our plates, I figured), but I'll be doing it again this year. If you want to be in Boot Camp, again I recommend signing up early. (Trust me; you want to be in it. A lot of attendees say that the experience is the best part of the conference.)

To see the full details and to register, visit the LDStorymakers site here.

I've already registered. It's gonna be awesome!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

WNW: Evolving English

This one might get me into a tiny bit of hot water with some people. Be forewarned.

English, like all languages, changes over time. Anyone who's attended a Shakespeare play can attest to that. More recently, a lot of Jane Austen's humor can be lost if you're unfamiliar with some of the words used them. Or, going much further back, good luck understanding The Canterbury Tales if you try reading it in the original Middle English.

Thanks to the printing press, languages tend to change slower than they used to. But they still change, even from one generation to another.

Maybe a year ago, there was some discussion on a list I'm on where some people argued that writers shouldn't use certain words because of what they "really mean."

The irony is that what a word "really" means is extremely subjective and changeable.

When my father was a boy, someone could say, "I feel quite gay today," and no one would bat an eye. I'd wager that most children in today's world would have no idea what that sentence had to do with a few decades ago; it has a totally different meaning now.

Same goes with things like "toilet," which used to mean, essentially, primping. But people wanted to change perception of doing one's business, so they attached a prettier word. Instead of the act taking on a prettier definition, the word "toilet" took on the nastier connotation and a new meaning.

Think of all the other euphemisms we use for that place: rest room (Who are we kidding? No one goes there to rest), bathroom (okay, sometimes it has a bath, but not always, and when you go there, you aren't usually bathing). Water closet? Well, there is water, but that's not really the point. And so on.

Not accepting change is where some old English teachers tend to go crazy. You know the kind of thing I mean: A student asks, "Can I get a drink?" and the teacher replies, "I don't know, can you?" because she expects the student to use may.

Puh-leese. I think that's totally antiquated. Can has taken on the meaning of may and is just as legitimate used that way.

Another one is split infinitives, or saying that "to" and the verb have to stick together and can't be separated by an adverb. But sorry, folks, "to go boldly" sounds intensely lame. It really needs to be "to boldly go."

This is all why I just shake my head at some people who freak out over the use of some words that have totally changed meaning, but they personally cling to the old one. Words like, "suck." (Here comes the hot water.)

I know adults who have no clue about that word's history. But others bring it up and freak out and have to inform others what it "really" means, and then everyone's grossed out.

But it no longer "really" means that.

Let it go. The word has changed meanings.

Another example: back in high school, I learned the history behind "the mother of," and trust me; it's about as nasty as you can get. But the meaning has changed. I had to train myself to stop thinking about the old definition, to not freak out every time I hear someone use it, because they're using it in a different way, with a different meaning than it used to have.

For all intents and purposes, it's now a new phrase altogether.

Think of it this way: if you're a purist and insist that we stick with old meanings, then you shouldn't have a Christmas tree. After all, it's a pagan symbol.

Ridiculous, no? Of course we should have Christmas trees. That symbol has changed meanings now, right? It's a beautiful Christian symbol of everlasting life, a gift we have access to thanks to the birth, Atonement, and resurrection of Christ.

So how can I justify being all Grammar Nazi, flinching at dangling modifiers and lie/lay misuse, and insist at the same time that language is fluid, and rules change?

There's a pretty easy explanation. It goes back to dialects and standard English and a bunch of other things . . . which I'll get into next Word Nerd Wednesday!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

On the Bright Side

A head cold

+A sick little girl crying a good chunk of the night

+Almost no sleep

= I'd hoped that today I'd get to sit around in jammies, wrapped in a blanket, sipping hot cocoa as I read a book and blew my nose all day and tried to recuperate.

Alas, it was not to be. Instead I ended up with two doctor appointments, a pharmacy trip, plus a very much needed grocery run. On slick, icy roads. (I like to look at snow, not drive in it.)

But . . . I came home with $185 worth of groceries for $83.11.

So, you know, that felt pretty good.

Now pardon me while I sneeze my head off . . .

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Few Christmas Memories

1) Listening to Dad sing Christmas songs. Sometimes along with his reel-to-reel tapes. Other times just in the house or yard or car. In particular, I remember, "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town." Dad has a great voice (was in a barbershop quarter in college). I was sorely disappointed when I grew up and heard the song elsewhere because almost no one knows the real opening to it.

("I just got back from a long, long trip across the Milky Way . . ." Know it? Bing does, of course.)

2) Making gingerbread houses with Mom. Many a year we did one beautiful one together and displayed it on the dining table for all to see. We weren't supposed to eat the candy and ruin the beauty until after Christmas. What we kids did, then, after the front looked pretty, was plaster the back of the house with tons of random candies and then eat THOSE all December long. It kept us happy, and the front of the house still looked nice!

3) My royal blue toy typewriter that really worked. Awesome gift! I wore the ribbon into the ground. (Shocker, right?) Right up there was the printer toy I got a few years later. I loved making posters and signs.

4) Finnish pulla. To this day, the smell of cardamom is Christmas. I've carried this one on with my kids. We make pulla every year. This time it'll be extra yummy, because I brought home some cardamom from Finland, which is much stronger than the weak stuff you get in U.S. grocery stores. YUM! We're making it this weekend. If I have two brain cells functioning then, I'll take pictures and post the recipe.

5) Christmas tree hunting. I think we went two or three times is all, going with a couple of families in our ward (who were cousins living next door to one another) who owned some land. Great memories of hiking through the mountains, cutting down the tree, and then warming up with hot cocoa and singing goofy songs. (Good times, right, Blondie?)

6) REAL trees. Sometimes even flocked ones. They were always gorgeous. Mom made sure of that: sometimes it was pink and silver on a white flocked tree, other times red and gold or some other theme on a regular green one. One year the tree had a Persian theme. This is why I insisted on real trees when we got married. REAL is Christmas. Fake is NOT.

When Mom and Dad became empty nesters, they bought a fake tree. When hubby and I walked into their house and saw it, I gasped in horror. Hubby laughed and laughed. Mom and Dad had a fake one. I now had no good argument. Today we have a fake tree, and we alternate real/fake every year.

And I have to admit, the fake ones have their perks: No need to water them. You can put them up earlier without worrying about them dying. No falling needles. If you have a bare spot, just bend a branch.

But I still prefer the pine smell of the real thing. A pine-scented candle doesn't quite cut it. This year is a real tree year. Yay!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Book Club Freak

The very first book club I ever attended (aside from the L. M. Montgomery reading/writing club I formed in ninth grade) was part of a BYU married ward.

Here I was, a brand-new wife, an English major, and in a strange new place, looking forward to meeting other women and making friends. I was also looking forward to talking about books.

I knew, of course, that there would be little to no chance of anyone there wanting to analyze anything according to the Rhetorical critical theory or wax eloquent about the Neo-Classical versus Romantic eras. Thank heavens; I wasn't there for a repeat of the English major stuff I was already getting at school.

But we'd talk books, and that would be fun.

The first one we read was an oldie but a goodie: James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl.

It was one I'd read as a kid, of course. (Who hasn't read it when they were young?) But reading the story as an adult was different, and I saw new things in it.

The book club gathered in a small apartment. We cooed at the five-month-old someone brought, made small talk, and then got down to business.

The gal leading the discussion began. "So, I'd like to go around the circle and have everyone tell us their favorite part of the book."

I blinked. Favorite part? That's not really a discussion. But okay, I'll go with it. This could just be a way to break the ice and find stuff to talk about.

But no. Everyone listed a "favorite." Every favorite was so shallow that there was no chance for finding a discussion topic in them. ("I liked the ladybug best." Niiice.)

Not a single answer was interesting, let alone thought-provoking.

When my turn came, I knew I'd sound like a dork, but I went ahead with my answer. I said something like, "I thought it was neat how James changed. At the beginning, he was scared and let everyone else decide things for him. But by the end, he'd really grown up and became the leader of the group."

***crickets chirping***

I looked around at them, waiting for a response, but everyone shifted uncomfortably in their seats and avoided my gaze. No one said anything until the hostess went on. "Okay, then . . ." she said, turning to the next person in the circle.

I remember sitting there wondering if I'd accidentally gone all English major on them after all. But no, I hadn't. I didn't mention themes or symbols or deep imagery or any of the dozen critical theories I'd studied. I didn't go off on Milton or Wordsworth or Faulkner (although I've since got off on the latter right here).

Instead, I sat there trying to figure out where I was and why. These women, most of whom were also university students, apparently weren't there to talk books. I think they were there for the chatty female togetherness.

It was either that, or they were dumb as walnuts. The evening was sorely disappointing.

I've since belonged to several book clubs that (fortunately!) haven't resembled that first one in any way. There have been a variety of books, an even bigger variety of opinions, and a lot of discussion (even debate, at times) about the plot, the characters, and how they impacted the readers.

That's what a book club should be. I'd like to think that most book clubs think about things like how a character is different at the end than the beginning. That they wonder why the author made a certain choice over another. Where they find themes that speak to them. Where book club members expresses honest opinions, even if they differ, and all feel welcome doing so.

I never did make any close friends from that group. Such a mystery . . .

My only other negative book club experience was with one I didn't attend. A relative came to me asking for title suggestions for when she would be hosting her own book club.

"Oh, but we don't read anything fluffy like LDS fiction," she warned.

I smiled and just looked at her with my eyebrows raised, waiting for her to backtrack just a tiny bit, maybe say, "Not like your books, of course, but there are some fluffy LDS books out there." Or, "These ladies are really intellectual and want to discuss only really hardcore literary stuff. You understand."

But she didn't say a word. It's as if she'd forgotten that I write LDS fiction. She just waited for me to spit out some literary titles, because of course, I read a lot and probably knew a lot of good books. I gave her a few that would probably work for her group.

I doubt she realizes even to this day that she basically pulled the rug out from under me and demeaned what I do. I remind myself that she's not a reader, that she's not my target audience, and therefore her opinion shouldn't matter to me.

Other comments she's made make it clear that she doesn't get what it takes to write and write well. She's just clueless about the work I've put into it and still put into it. I can't hold ignorance against her, can I?

I also remind myself that the current LDS market isn't what it was even five years ago, and what she's hearing from other people is more about what they think the market is like than what it really is like . . . because most people who can't stand LDS fiction either haven't read any in many years or had the bad luck of picking up one of crappy ones.

The amount of crap and fluff on store shelves goes down every year (but yes, some exists always, just like in the national market). The quality has been going up fast, and I could have given her a list of really great (non-fluffy) LDS novels if she'd been willing to take them.

I've received great reviews and awards. Those opinions should matter to me, right? It's not as if hers should make any difference. But it does. It would be nice if she thought what I did was even a tiny step above fluff.

(I hope I won't regret posting this, but I'm quite sure she has no interest in my blog and will likely never see it.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

WNW: Holiday Edition

Today's Word Nerd Wednesday is brief but relevant in the Christmas gifting season, and it revolves around a very simple but often-forgotten rule of punctuation that makes my eye twitch whenever I see it.

Remember this one, for my sake:

Plurals do not take an apostrophe.

You wear shoes, not shoe's.

You have kids, not kid's.

And when you deliver a plate of cookies to the neighbors, the gift tag shouldn't be addressed to the Jensen's.

You are giving the gift to a family comprised of lots of people named Jensen.

That's plural.

USE: Jensens

I invariably see little misplaced apostrophes everywhere on gift tags, Christmas card envelopes, and more. Twitch. Twitch. Twitch.

It's an illness. I know that. Humor me.

But why is the apostrophe wrong?

Here's the deal: An apostrophe before the S makes a word possessive. On gift tags, you're addressing a plural group, not declaring that one of them owns anything.

Worse, if the apostrophe is before the S (as is usual for this kind of mistake), it's singular. It's not even plural for the entire family to own anything.

Apostrophe-s ('s) means that there's just one shoe, one kid, one Jensen.

So these would be correct:

The shoe's lace broke.

The kid's teacher was nice.

I could find a correct sentence for the word, Jensen's, but it would probably sound weird, because you don't usually use a last name in a singular sense unless you're in the army or on a sports team ("Jensen's tackle was awesome"), and I can't think of a single situation where "the" belongs in front of it ("the Jensen's tackle"? Um, no.).

As a special Christmas gift to me, please, please, please, when you address gift tags or Christmas card envelopes this year, restrain your pen. Don't write that little jot of an apostrophe!

Simply address your well wishes to the Jensens, the Mitchells, and the Smiths.

My non-twitching eye will thank you profusely.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

1 Tree, 2 Sick Girls, 3 Winners, 4 Adorable Kidlets

1 Tree
It didn't occur to me to post pictures of our Finnish decorations until commenters mentioned it. So here we are: some close-ups of the straw decorations, including various kinds of stars and snowflakes, pine cones, angels, and even straw garland.

You can see the tree in all its splendor as well as the goats (on the mantel) at the bottom of this post.

I've always been a white light girl myself, but hubby likes multicolored. We tend to trade off from one year to the other to keep us both happy. But this year, I insisted on white. To me, multicolored just wouldn't work with the straw ornaments. Last time we used all white, some of the strands died, so yesterday I went to buy more before we got the tree.

Do you know how stinkin' hard it is to find plain old white lights?!

There were oodles of multicolored ones, but almost the only plain white I could find were icicles. Not what I needed. I ended up buying several boxes of the only other ones there: mini strands with of a paltry 20 lights on each . . . argh! But hey. It worked.

Our tree looks pretty good. At least, it looks good save for the bottom foot or two, which are pretty bare so the cat doesn't destroy my cool ornaments. She's already decided she likes taking flying leaps into the tree and sleeping on one of the boughs.

2 Sick Girls

In the middle of her piano lesson yesterday, #3 came down with a pretty nasty head cold. She was miserable for much of the evening, but with the help of some Advil managed to put a smile on her face enough to go get the tree with the family and take a picture (below). She's staying home from school today.

Then last night I was up for three hours with #4, who woke up in horrible pain with a UTI. She, too, is home from school.

Yeah. I had a ton of things on my to-do list for today. A doctor's visit and lots of cuddling with two little girls is pretty much going to replace most of that. Hope the fam isn't too hung up on having things like clean underwear.

3 Winners

As promised, I'm announcing the Pay It Forward winners today:




Congratulations, ladies! Remember to let me know which book you want and where to send it. And be sure to Pay It Forward on your own blogs.

4 Adorable Kidlets

With the tree up, we (finally!) took a picture to use on our Christmas cards. The kids look so grown up to me, it's sort of freaking me out. I swear, they were just babies. Babies, I tell you!

Note the Scandinavian sweater #2 is wearing . . . I wore that very sweater myself at that age.

The picture uploaded really little even though I picked "large" (no idea why . . . dumb Blogger), but you can sorta see the straw goats on the mantel above my son's head (one big goat, two little ones).

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 08, 2008

A Book to Add to Your List

I got lucky a few months ago when an e-mail landed in my in-box, asking if I'd be willing to get a free book (Hello?! Do you KNOW who you're talking to?!) and review it here on my blog.

Since it's non-fiction and hence not a contender for a Whitney Award, I can review it. Yippee!

(To explain for readers new to my blog: I'm on the Whitney Awards Committee this year and get to judge two of the categories to decide the finalists, so my opinion of 2008 LDS fiction releases has to stay mum. You'll note on my Good Reads profile that any 2008 releases I've read this year don't have any ratings. That would be why. Nominate your favorite fiction by any LDS writer—that includes national writers as well as those in the LDS market. You have until December 31. Do it at the Whitney site.)

It was with much giddiness that I opened up my copy of the mother in me, a collection of essays, poetry, and photography entirely about motherhood, particularly the early years.

Considering what great book this is, that's a really dry (and lame) description. In short, the book is amazing. And it's not a little pamphlet-length ditty. It's 256 pages of (hardback!) awesomeness.

This is a compilation by the staff at Segullah, which is a literary journal for LDS women, including some names you'll likely recognize (like the famous C Jane). These ladies can write.

They're also all mothers. Every one of them has been in the trenches. Each has a different story to tell.

What I found so wonderful is that every essay and poem has a unique blend of being both unique and universal at the same time. Any woman who's been pregnant, given birth, been up in the wee sma's of the morning with colic, nursed a newborn, wondered if she's really up to this motherhood thing, or been so tired she couldn't see straight, can relate to these women and their experiences.

I've never juggled a stroller in Manhattan. I didn't have problems nursing. I never had a C-section. But the essays by women who did those things and more resonated with me anyway.

I love how not one of the writers whitewashes motherhood as some perfect fantasy life. It's real. You see the love, the patience, and the boundless joy mixed right in with the fatigue, the frustration, and the impatience.

You read of times where a mother is a brain cell away from losing her mind completely . . . and the moments that make every last sleepless night worth it.

In short, the mundane and the divine interlock in a beautiful way.

If you haven't bought your share of books for gifts yet this season, put this one on your list for a mother you know (or put it on your own list for Santa to bring you). Buy it here.

Oh, and a warning: you'll probably cry. More than once. Just know that going in. It's that good.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Feelin' Like Christmas

The Christmas spirit is starting to find its way into my heart . . . finally. I'm having a hard time grasping that the time is here again (where did the year go?!). To make matter worse, I'm nowhere near done with the shopping and all that. (Is it just me, or does having Thanksgiving so close to the end of November totally throw a wrench into things? I lost a week!)

We sat the kids down a few days ago and wrote down every Christmas-y thing we wanted to be sure to do this year. Then we plugged them all into the calendar. We have very few blank days; we'll be busy! I have a feeling we'll have a ball getting them all done.

The first item that made it onto the list is a family tradition inspired by my dad.

I grew up listening to Christmas carols on his old reel-to-reel player: Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra. You know, the classic goodies.

Because of those songs, I grew up with a simple belief: Christmas ain't Christmas without Bing.

Hubby discovered this early on in our marriage, so our first Christmas, he bought me a Bing Crosby Christmas CD. It was a day of much rejoicing in the land.

We generally listen to Bing as we decorate the tree, but he makes another annual appearance as well: We always, always watch White Christmas.

I feared for a while that my kids wouldn't enjoy the show. Like most classics, it lacks the action-packed excitement of today's offerings. But somehow they've been bit by the Bing bug. They each have their favorite parts (although one scene that makes everyone's list is the guys' version of "Sisters." Gets me every time.)

Another landmark of the season: We're finally getting our tree tomorrow. We've been putting it off for a very good reason. First off, it's our "real" tree year, and I don't want it dying too soon. (The real vs. fake saga a story in and of itself . . .)

Second, several packages have been making their way from Finland, bearing the one thing I wanted to bring home from our trip but couldn't very well find in September when we visited: traditional Finnish Christmas decorations.

Mom hunted down some of the most beautiful straw ornaments and shipped them over. I can't wait to get them on the tree now! We've even got a wreath, a window hanging, and three traditional Finnish straw goats. All handmade, all gorgeous.

If our tree has those ornaments on it and so looks like many of the trees I had growing up and I have Bing's voice wafting through the house, it'll really feel like Christmas!

Remember to enter the drawing here! I'll pick the winners Tuesday morning.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Paying it Forward: A Giveaway

Those not in the publishing industry may not have heard about the ripples that the economy has made there. In short: it's very, very ugly.

This is an industry unlike any other: it's the only one I'm aware of where stores can order all they want and not pay upfront, then, if the books don't sell as much as they want, they just return them and never have to pay.

Here's what happened this fall: readers stopped buying books because of the economy. So bookstores had tons of extra books they hadn't paid for. They returned those books in droves. The result: Publishers are floundering, because they lost enough money in a month or two (not being paid at all for books, not selling any, and then losing more through returns and shipping) to throw them into the red for the entire year.

In many ways, it's an odd industry, because today's money comes from books acquired months if not years ago. Money from the books they're working on and publishing today won't come in for months or years in the future. In a sense, they have to be fortune tellers, guessing what will be hot in twelve or more months, and then hoping against hope that when a specific book hits shelves, that nothing (like a recession) will cause any problems.

I'm not explaining this very well.

But the point is, readers need to buy books as gifts this Christmas. Books are always a great gift, especially for kids.

Like most people, I adore the library and use it a ton. But the other day, I went to the store and bought a book I'd read from the library that I especially liked. It was my way of supporting both the author and the publisher.

This season, publishers really need the help. They're laying off people left and right in an attempt to tighten purse strings today, even though their money is tied up elsewhere (in past books and future books). But hey, it's the only way they can save money today. Some publishers have even temporarily stopped acquiring new books.

I've done my part: In the last week, I've bought a bunch of books for my kids and myself.

For two reasons, then I'm doing a giveaway:

1) To encourage my readers to GIVE BOOKS this year, even if it means a free one.

2) To pay forward the prize I won through Shelle at Blokthoughts. I won a $10 gift card at It's already spent on a book I've been wanting to get for some time. It arrived yesterday. Can't wait to read it!

Here's how it'll work: THREE commenters will get a copy of one of my books, their choice. I'll pick the names randomly.

The ONE rule: Winners have to be willing to PAY IT FORWARD on their own blogs by giving something away to their readers. If you don't want to do a giveaway, don't leave a comment. (Or say as much IN your comment. That works, too.)

Oh, and make sure I have a way to contact you if you're the winner.

Notes about my books:

I can sign them to the winners or to a friend, or family member if you want to give the book as a gift.

My first two, Lost Without You and At the Water's Edge, are out of print. I bought up some of the very last copies around. So if you're interested in one of them, this might be a good place to get one.

Some readers have asked about which of my temples books are what:

  • House on the Hill is about the Logan Temple.
  • At the Journey's End is about St. George. It's also about one character from House on the Hill. You can totally read it as a stand-alone, since it's not a true sequel (more of a spin-off), but if you don't want the end of House on the Hill ruined, don't read At the Journey's End first.
  • Spires of Stone is about the Salt Lake Temple and is a retelling of Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing. Don't let the somber cover fool you; it's my most light-hearted book.
  • If you'd prefer to get a copy of Tower of Strength (my fourth temple book, about Manti), you can defer your prize until March when it comes out, and I'll send you one then.

Go on: Comment to enter and then head to the store to buy some books!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

WNW: A Non-Native English Tongue-Twister

Wow: Word Nerd Wednesday two weeks in a row. It's a record. :P

I mentioned this one before, so I thought I'd elaborate on it (because of course these things fascinate me; I guess that's the point of WNW).

When I lived in Finland for a few years of grade school, the students were already taking foreign language classes. They started in third grade and got to pick either Swedish (the second national language of the country) or English. When they'd reach the equivalent of junior high, they'd pick up the other language.

I was part of the English class, which actually helped me learn Finnish. If you get a quiz where you have to write down "ruoka" in English, you have to know what it means in Finnish first (it means food, in case you were wondering).

My friends often tried out their English on me. When I first arrived in the country, the boys in our class yelled English phrases they'd heard on TV and in movies. I got a lot of "Bond, James Bond!" and "Knight RRRRRider!" (with a long, rolled R) in my face. One boy even tried swearing at me repeatedly, but I just laughed, because he kept telling me to sit. (There is no [sh] sound in Finnish.)

But one of my most distinct memories was about the tongue twister my friend Katja just couldn't wrap her mouth around:

The big, pink pig.

It sounded like, "The big, big, big."

I couldn't figure out why she couldn't say it right. Each word sounded so different to me. Dad (Mr. Linguist) helped explain the difference between voiced and voiceless consonants.

A voiced consonant uses your vocal chords to make the sound.

A voiceless consonant does not.

I'd never noticed that the only difference in how you pronounce [b] and [p] is whether you're using your vocal chords.

Both sounds are bilabial plosives, so you're basically blowing air in a burst and using both lips to do it. But for [b] you also use your vocal chords (it's voiced), while with [p] you're just using air and your lips (so it's voiceless).

The same principle applies to [k] and [g], which are both velar (which describes what area you're using to make the sound—the back of the roof of your mouth), but [k] is voiceless and [g] is voiced.

Katja was voicing all the consonants in, "Big, pink pig," so it came out instead as, "Big, big, big."

"Twinkie," a woman we knew from church, often passed as American because her accent was so good. But she had one big shibboleth: [j] and [ch]. To her they sounded exactly the same.

Juice came out as ch-uice.

If I've explained today's concept well enough, you can probably figure out what her problem was.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Chocolate! And a Cool New Site for Writers

First off, I've discovered an interesting phenomenon. My top three posts (based on hits and comments) have been about the following:

1) Politics
2) Twilight
3) Winning chocolate

Hmm. I should post more often on topics that people feel passionately about!

NOW . . . announcing the winner of the Word Nerd Wednesday contest:

Really truly, I used an online random number generator to pick the winner. I typed in the number of people who left their scores in the comments. The site picked #7. Then I counted down to find the winner.

I swear this isn't a matter of family loyalty, but it's still pretty darn cool that my sister-in-law at Lyon Pride won! (Yay, Tina!)

And for the sake of the sheer creativity of her comment, I'm going to award a second truffle bar to LisAway! (Lisa, e-mail me your address, k? I already have Tina's, so we're good there. :)

Finally, I have to point any aspiring writers to a cool new site where you can get critique feedback from other writers. It's called Review Fuse, and I found out about it through my brother-in-law, who's one of the brains behind the thing. (Check out the about us page. You'll see a Lyon there!)

Here's the idea behind Review Fuse:
You post your work. When you get reviews back, you get to comment on how helpful each one was. You also then review other writers' work and get reviewed on how helpful you've been. The result is that the site learns your skill level and learns to better connect you with people on your level. In addition, you decide whether to keep your work in the public catalog for anyone to view or to keep it private for just your reviewers to look at.

All around, the concept is way cool.

They've recently added the ability to create critique groups, so you and several friends (even ones geographically distant!) can create your own groups and run it on the site, or you can create a group from current site members.

They've even got a blog with advice on writing, where I (and some of my friends) might be guest blogging at some point. Stay tuned.

The site is still in beta. Members are coming on daily, so it's really growing. The best news? It's FREE.

I know there are tons of people out there who love to write but for whatever reason have a hard time finding readers and/or a critique group. This could be your answer. Check it out here.

Final note: During my bloggy break, I kept composing posts in my head as I fell asleep at night. Of course I wouldn't forget what they were about, right? Not after I thought through them so thoroughly. Never.

Yeah. Of course they're all gone now. I have no earthly idea what they were about. But trust me; they were brilliant.


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