Ilivetolearn's Blog

March 5, 2011

happy national grammar day

Filed under: crossword puzzles,Margo's life rules,names/language — ilivetolearn @ 12:24 am

Every year at this time I become even more of a word nerd, as I gear up for the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. And to the girls’ chagrin, I also ramp up my Grammar Police activities. I recently cringed when Margo came home with an English test for me to sign. The only thing marked wrong was this sentence, which the students were to punctuate correctly:

Girls who have red hair are very lucky.

Margo (the redhead), of course, had left it as is. No, according to the teacher. It should be:

Girls, who have red hair, are very lucky.

This is because the rule is to “separate the interrupter with commas.” Never mind that the meaning of the sentence has now changed from “redheaded girls are lucky” to “all girls have red hair and are lucky.” I think the teacher didn’t want to confuse the students with a longer sentence, but the length of the sentence is the point if you’re trying to improve its flow by the use of commas. A simple re-write of the example would have fixed the problem:

Irish girls, who are apt to have red hair and creamy complexions, are very lucky.

Maybe once Margo has graduated in June, I’ll suggest this for next year’s test. That would be after we go through this special session offered by the administration:

“The presentation by the Head of the Upper School will focus on 3 related topics:  ERB results, high school acceptances, and exist interviews with parents of graduates…”

I told Margo maybe I should go to see if I’m still alive. This may be a case of Spell Check Run Amok. Which brings me to Margo’s favorite new game of finding pairs of words always used together. Run amok (but “amok” does appear freestanding in crosswords) and wreak havoc (she said I was cheating by bringing up “Cry ‘havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war,” accusing me with “Is that Shakespeare?”) are her current favorites.

And for my parting shot, here is a sign put up by a different set of grammar-challenged educators at the elementary school all my kids attended in nearly consecutive years from 1990 to 2005:

Have they never heard of adverbs? And this is at a school with “Grammar” in its name!



November 13, 2010

and now the house gets love notes

Filed under: Margo's life rules,on the road — ilivetolearn @ 3:31 am

When retrieving our mail from the box the other day, we found this:

(Of course there were names and a phone number at the bottom.) I was used to house-envy when we lived across the river in the Stony Brook Lodge (we had to take the sign down because people used to stop and ask if there were vacancies); I lost count of how many people informed me that if we ever planned to move, we should contact them before listing with a broker. We also had real estate agents calling and ringing our doorbell out of the blue, asking if we would consider selling. But our current house is not much to look at from the street. Very little curb appeal, as the home stagers would say. Yes, it’s in a great location in the woods at the end of a short no-outlet road…which begs the question: who WERE those potential buyers putting a note in the box? A little Googling revealed that they live at least 5 miles away, so they were not just random dog-walkers. Perhaps friends of one of our neighbors? Or bikers who saw the house from the towpath across the canal?

Now when Margo and I drive around we play the love-note game, composing missives like “Please let us know if you ever want to dig up that gorgeous Japanese maple in your yard,” or “Any thoughts of offloading your perfectly serviceable gas grill when you upgrade to a new model?” or (my favorite), “This is such an attractive mailbox! But I see it’s been hit a few times by careless drivers. Want to relocate it to a quiet cul-de-sac?”


March 3, 2010

Christmas never ends

Filed under: food/groceries,Margo's life rules — ilivetolearn @ 10:22 pm

Every week I get another holiday greeting. In mid-February, I got a picture and newsletter that actually said Happy Valentine’s Day, but it was a Christmas card. The following week I got a photo card that said Happy New Year, and the sender did not mean the Year of the Tiger. Yesterday I got an electronic family news/photo combination wishing us Joyeux Noel and apologizing for liturgical incorrectness.

This all makes me feel better, as OUR annual card/photo montage still sits squarely on the virtual desktop and hasn’t made it onto the thumb drive for the trip to the copy store. I’m hoping we get it out before Easter. Several friends have called and asked if they were taken off the list for some reason. We’re just slow.

And, in time-honored Ross/Carmean tradition, our tree stood proudly until President’s Day. It was out at the beach, so we didn’t have to walk by it daily and see its forlorn browning, or swish by it and hear the cascading needles, or worry at every crackling sound that it was about to burst into flames. Actually, I have been reassured about Yulish fire hazards since the year Bill, demonstrating to the kids the danger of drying firs, took ours to a safe paved place with a bucket of water and a fire extinguisher, and held a match to a branch. No ignition. Then he tried a lighter. A candle. Finally a blowtorch. O Tannenbaum refused to cooperate with a satisfying WHOOSH…or indeed with any whoosh at all. Not that we aren’t still cautious…but the fireball threat seems overblown if you get a fresh tree.

On a recent mother-daughter slog through 8″ of snow on the canal towpath, Margo let slip that she has never made Christmas cookies with me. It’s true that I’ve all but given up Christmas baking–other people bake and I reap the rewards–as I apparently have given up on timely seasonal greetings. Margo catalogues the “fourth child syndrome” but usually doesn’t complain about missing out on this or that experience; this time her wistfulness made it clear that the right thing to do was turn around (looking for an excuse anyway; not enjoying the wet and cold), get out the mixmaster, and roll and sprinkle away. We even put on Christmas music and sang along, lit a piney-scented candle, and pretended that the chicken in the oven was the Christmas turkey.

And while the Christmas cactus blooms are long gone, and the poinsettias are finally not pretty enough to keep, we do at least have an appropriately hued amaryllis right in the kitchen window:

So happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!

January 27, 2010

offspring humor at parental expense

Filed under: Margo's life rules — ilivetolearn @ 7:47 pm

Margo, while watching TV ad for weight loss program: “Did you know that 75% of all New Year’s Resolution diets fail by February 1st?”

Me: “Really?”

Margo: “No. Did you know that 86% of all statistics are made up on the spot?”

July 10, 2009

how to have a perfect day at the beach house

–wake up, drink coffee, read My Stroke of Insight, fascinating book by a neuroanatomist who had a stroke at age 37 and writes about her recovery and right brain/left brain stuff (thank you Lea Pearson for recommending it)

–work on Kalahari tote #3

–have Ella over for the morning; pick wildflowers and press them for future bookmark project, teach her new solitaire game
–play Set with Margo
IMG_1525 –do laundry, hang on line
–attempt to remember how to make sewing machine make letters in order to produce name tapes for girls’ camp clothes; finally succeed

–see 4″ baby bunny in bayberry patch out front
–drive girls to camp, stop on way home for first of raspberries and last of snow peas
–pick rosa rugosa flowers and mint leaves for essential oils; bake at very low temperature for 3 hours to infuse aroma into oil; make house smell wonderful
–bike to Art and Bette’s with Margo (who is on fitness kick), visit one hour, discuss Palin’s resignation, bike home
–cook artichokes for dinner
–make 7 jars raspberry jam
IMG_1528 –at sunset, go to dock; bail 6″ rainwater out of creek boat. Escape gnats by wandering to beach, find jingle shell the exact color of my toenail polish
–mix up token martini in olive green teapot used as Mattituck martini pitcher by Phoebe and Art in years past
–eat dinner with Margo

–watch Religulous, setting phone alarm for 9:43 so we can take a break to watch moon rise over Robins Island. One day past full, orange, partly obscured by thin clouds. Point out big and little dippers to Margo

–finish Religulous, attempt to finish an evil Sudoku, fall asleep

May 30, 2009

mediocre movie night

Filed under: Margo's life rules,movies — ilivetolearn @ 9:41 pm

During Bill’s latest trip (5 weeks’ odyssey across the country in our “new” 1979 diesel Mercedes) another tradition has emerged at our house. On Sunday nights we watch a movie from the library or Netflix. After a couple of these, Margo decided we should call it Mediocre Movie Night. The idea is to avoid anything too thought-provoking, too depressing, too hysterically funny…we just want to wind down after the weekend and slide back into Monday-to-Friday mode without high drama.

Often this becomes a game of Find the Fatal Flaw.  For Saving Sarah Cain it was: too earnest (I think this is a Michael Landon thing). For The Love Guru: too vulgar. For How to Deal: too contrived. I’m not sure Bill will agree to watch movies we know are not great just so we can find fault, but it’s actually instructive to discuss how the film-maker could have injected a little humor here, or taken a less predictable plot twist there, or given a certain character a shade more nuance. It’s a step up from the game we used  to play watching movies on the Disney channel, which involved listening to a few bars of the background music and saying the next line to be spoken before the actor got it out. Margo got incredibly good at it.

March 6, 2009

American Crossword Puzzle Tournament; an exercise in humility

Filed under: crossword puzzles,Margo's life rules — ilivetolearn @ 4:27 pm

About this time last year, I entered a local crossword puzzle contest, a fundraiser for the Makefield area AAUW. This was a result of Margo picking up an event-advertising bookmark (she collects them), which was sitting on the circulation desk of the local library branch. “You should go, Mom…you’d be great. It would be fun.” As usual, she was right. Bill often says that if we want advice on how to live and especially how to get the greatest enjoyment out of life, we should just do everything Margo suggests.

There were between 40 and 50 people competing and although I came in 11th (they gave prizes to the top 10) I did bring home a prize for Sudoku, and I later realized that all the solvers who had beaten me were veterans of the ACPT (the national tournament run by Will Shortz) and had finished in the top 100 there! So, bitten by the competitive puzzling bug and mistakenly thinking I was in their league, I went to Brooklyn this past weekend to play against the big boys. There’s evidence of me sitting a couple of rows behind the now five-time winner at:

In photo #7, you’ll see Tyler looking up; he’s finished and is checking the clock. I am looking down, probably thinking, “Damn! I don’t know half this stuff.” Other photos show how these ACPT-ers are a species unto themselves, with crossword-themed clothing, etc. They cheerfully label themselves geeks and nerds, and the overlap with Star Wars enthusiasts is about 90%. If you’ve seen Wordplay, you’ve had a glimpse of this alternate reality.

Let me just say that this year’s final was more exciting that any scene in that movie. And despite my lackluster finish (I was 427 out of 674, 83 out of 178 rookies), I at least squeaked out of the humiliating E division (the bottom 35%) so I’ll probably go back next year and proudly compete as a D-minus!

May 11, 2007

why is this woman smiling?

Filed under: books/authors,Margo's life rules,on the road,Spain — ilivetolearn @ 11:13 am

Much as I might be complaining about Galician weather and the woeful state of my knees and toes, I loved doing the Camino. I loved having everything I needed on my back. I loved thinking of Evan on cold mornings when I wore his fleece (which is on this side of the ocean awaiting pocket patching and zipper repair), thinking of Margo on hot afternoons when her pink bandanna kept the sweat out of my eyes, thinking of Elliot (who coached me in book-downloading) when I listened to Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert after lights-out in an albergue, thinking of Phoebe when I used one of the hair ties she made sure I packed, thinking of Cherie whenever I reached for my trail map in the waist pack she left here after their visit, thinking of Rich whenever I took shelter under his poncho, and in general having time to step out of the maelstrom of daily life and feel gratitude for simple things and essential people.

Two little incidents at the very start of my 115 km, as I walked up a set of stairs in Sarria, set the cheerful tone for the whole journey. First, Margo walked along with me explaining the system of having your Pilgrim’s Passport stamped at least twice a day as proof for the pilgrim’s office in Santiago that you did the requisite distance; she said, “Say-yo.” So I responded “Yo.” She said, “No…say-yo.” I said “Yo.” Then I realized she was telling me the word for stamp—sello.  I was laughing so hard I didn’t have the presence of mind to dig out my camera and document the very Spanish sign at the top of the stairs: Desvio provisional—Camino de Santiago. A temporary detour—even the Camino is not immune to las obras (construction).

June 19, 2006

Flag Day without the Pledge

Filed under: Margo's life rules,sewing/knitting,Spain — ilivetolearn @ 3:58 pm

Another event happened on Flag Day—the ASM lower school awards ceremony, which we attended because we were tipped off that Margo would be getting one (but told to keep it secret). The Citizenship Award, given by the guidance counselor on the recommendation of each classroom teacher, is “awarded to the student who most shows and promotes a positive attitude towards classmates, the school and the community, and possess (sic) strength of character and courage to do what is right.” At least they spelled her name right.

For the fifth graders, there was the President’s Education Award for Outstanding Academic Achievement–gold for those with straight A’s (unfortunately no one in this year’s fifth grade), and silver for all A’s and B’s (there were lots of those). Again, it’s a certificate suitable for framing, accompanied by a letter from the President himself, complete with folksy Bushisms like “Dream big” (wince) and “I want to appreciate your parents for all the support they have given you.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Bush speech without the word “appreciate,” which may mean to feel gratitude, but it doesn’t mean to thank, in my dictionary.

Despite caviling (is that a word?) about grammar, I really do enjoy the end-of-the-year assemblies and ceremonies. We’ve watched Margo fly up to Junior Girl Scouts, Evan collect some trophy hardware, and Phoebe perform with her hip-hop class, I’ve gotten lots of knitting done (I even saw one other mom knitting), and we have not once been asked to say the Pledge of Allegiance–a feature of every parent/student gathering at Toll Gate. In fact, during the last five or so years there, we were subjected to the musical version, which turned a pro forma 10-second recitation into a performance by the kids of a meandering tune, each phrase repeated several times, while parents stood there with their hands on their hearts feeling awkwardly left out. Now I doubt most Toll Gators can recite the Pledge as written, though probably Margo remembers that I coached her to say “this phrase optional” instead of “under God.”

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