Friday, December 23, 2011

Linguistic Ponderings

So, everyone knows I'm the Grammar Queen. But I should clarify that I'm not necessarily a snob about correctness. I'm perhaps a snob about clarity. But my love of grammar is actually just rooted in my love of analyzing structure and system.

While driving for six hours to Kansas yesterday, Hubby and I happened to wander into a discussion of "Ebonics". I was fascinated, when I took Linguistics in college, at the fact that the urban black dialect has its own structure, rules, and system. It's not just "bad English". That's true of most strong American English dialects, which is why they're hard to imitate and fool a "native speaker".

Hubby talked about how interesting it would be to take a 2011 inner city black kid back in time to speak to one of the founding fathers. He figures some of them would be appalled at the condition the mother tongue has evolved into. Others would find the boy's language remarkable and want to study it. His point was about how the founding fathers were very different individuals and not the unified blob we often picture them as. But I took from it a point about language.

I do think we, as a society, are becoming increasingly poor communicators. Lazy, non-specific, unpoetic, unmelodic, unclear. I once found a letter written by my grandfather, a relatively uneducated farmer from Western Kansas. I was struck not only by the meticulously precise handwriting, but the quality of his vocabulary and sentence structure.

I told Hubby, I think where we started losing it is when we stopped practicing "recitations" in the schools. If you read the Little House books, they talk all the time about the poems and speeches every person in the school had to memorize and recite. They also read aloud to each other in the evenings for entertainment. I think these things make a HUGE difference. They give you an internal sense of the rhythm of language. Complex vocabulary and sentence structures feel more natural, and your thoughts start to organize themselves more clearly and readily with such structures instinctually available to you.

I'm regretting now that I didn't do more of this with the girls. I guess I still have time with Eastin. Gotta break out the old poetry books!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Keepin' Things New

Last night, we did Christmas here at home with our immediate family. Yes, that's a week early. In New Jersey, we started opening our presents to each other at home before we flew back to Kansas for the holidays. It didn't seem to make sense to ship our gifts to each other to Kansas and then ship them back again. Anyway, the tradition has stuck. And every evening of this week is busy, so this was the only night we could do it.

And we had a new twist to the tradition this year . . . our eldest's boyfriend was there, too. He was over studying with her for finals (and yes, I think they got at least a little bit of actual studying done), and he just ended up staying. She had been invited to go with his family to his aunt's earlier today, but they ended up not going. Still, they're only 15 . . . only been dating a couple months . . . and they're joining each other's families for minor holiday get-togethers. Ah, it begins.

I thought it would be weird to add someone to our holiday traditions. It wasn't. He's a good kid. We didn't have a lot of gifts to open this year, so it was kind of low key. We all played Eastin's new Monopoly Deal game afterwards (the gift she got for finding the pickle ornament on the tree), and then Apples to Apples. A pleasant evening.

In a way, it was kind of nice to add something new. I'm all for traditions, but I like to freshen things up, too. Kind of like how the Bible says to "sing a new song" to the Lord. The old hymns are awesome, but you gotta add something new to keep things . . . well, new.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Questions, Questions

So, the youngest and I just got back from a Mitt Romney rally at Missouri Valley Steel here in Sioux City. (She started getting another big headache and is lying down now . . . you might say a prayer for her.) I'm not sold on voting for Romney yet, but we figured, as someone said recently, if your child grows up in Iowa and never shakes hands with a future president, it's your own fault. We haven't been able to see any Republican candidates live yet, and the campaign's almost over, so we took advantage of the opportunity this morning.

The rally was fine. Romney was just what I expected. Seems like a fine man. He's definitely in my top tier of choices. There are just so many things to consider in a presidential candidate.

Do I agree with their policy ideas, their agenda, the direction they want to take the country? I think most all of the Republican field, I would say yes to this one, in general. They're all at least much more safely in that direction than Obama is. (Although Ron Paul's foreign policy ideas scare me . . . he may be right, but they still scare me.)

Do I think they really believe what they say they believe? Or are they just saying what I want to hear to court my vote? Hmmm. I have to say, that's something Paul has going for him. You know where the man stands and I have no doubt he's sincere. I think most of the others are sincere, too. I don't have an issue, necessarily, with the "flip-flops" Romney and Gingerich are accused of. People are allowed to be wrong and change their mind.

Another VERY important one to me: will they be able to accomplish what they say they want to accomplish? If I could ask each candidate one question, that would be it. Just how are you going to get Congress on your side to do all you want to do? 'Cause Congress is very important . . .

Do I trust them to make good decisions in a crisis? Seeing how I don't think we have seen any of these people in a major public crisis situation, this one has to go on my gut feeling. I don't have good gut feelings about Bachmann, Perry, Huntsman . . .

And are they generally a person of character? Again, got to go with your gut. Here's where Gingerich has problems, and not just because of the affairs. He strikes me as a man who struggles with pride and discipline. There are a lot of things I like about the guy, but voting for him would feel like building a house on the sand.

And very important right now -- can they get elected?

I take this voting duty very seriously. Especially as an Iowan. I intend to be at a caucus on January 3rd, and I'm very excited to be a part of this process. So, you can expect a fascinating post here on January 4th. ;)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Craft Weary

I shared a link on FB to a picture of a Christmas tree made out of stacked books. Very cool. My friend Robin ran with it and wrote a story on the trend for her blog at Mother Nature Network. And posted a picture of the book tree she made herself.

I used to do stuff like that. I would see cool ideas at craft shows and such places and try to recreate them. I have a shelf full of craft books in the basement that I used to browse through, looking for ideas for things I wanted to try someday. I watched home improvement TV shows and got all sorts of ideas for things to do to my house. I used to LOVE hands-on creative projects.

Not anymore. I have a cross-stitch piece I started to make for my mother-in-law when I was pregnant with my 11-year-old. It's still not done. That's kind of appalling to me, when I really sit and think about it.

I'm not sure why I don't enjoy crafts anymore. But I think do remember when my shift in attitude occurred. It was during my MOPS years in New Jersey. We did a craft at every MOPS meeting, and I enjoyed those a lot the first year or so. By the end of my MOPS tenure, I was just annoyed at the idea of having another cheap, corny item to find a place for in my house.

I was in charge of planning crafts for the kids in MOPS for a year or two, also, as I recall. I only remember it because I remember trying desperately to come up with crafts that would somehow go away with use -- a snack to be eaten, bathsalts that got poured in the tub, that kind of thing. From Sunday School, church nursery, preschool, MOPS, and any other child care I had the girls at, I had piles of cheap artsy craftsy projects laying around the house that I was tired of looking at.

So maybe it's just the clutter issue. I know I sound more and more like my mother every day, complaining about knick knacks being "just another thing to dust". I'm much more interested these days in crafting words than crafting things . . . and I think I'm a lot better at it. And they store themselves away very neatly on my laptop.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Shawty, With You

For some inexplicable reason, I woke up this morning with Justin Bieber's "Mistletoe" running through my head. "I should be playing in the winter snow, but I'mma be under the mistletoe . . "

OK, let's stop right there. "I'mma"? Really? "Gonna" isn't quite a lazy enough contraction? Now we're going to leave out the main verb entirely? Words that identify a generation. Not that I wouldn't ever use the term, but I'mma reflect on its silliness anytime I do.

But back to the song: "I'mma be under the mistletoe . . . with you, shawty, with you . . . " Shawty. The first time I heard that word was in a song in dance class and I asked the other dancers if it was a term I should discipline my daughters for using or what. Shawty. It doesn't sound complimentary. It's not a cozy, mooshy word. It's a weird thing to call a girl you like. I googled it and apparently, it originally came from the word "shorty". That's what I want my man to sweeten me up with.

Hubby and I read an article years ago talking about nicknames lovers create for each other and how they tend to fit into certain categories. There are the names that have to do with animals. Tiger, Pooky Bear, and such. There are those that have to do with sweetness or sweet food: Sugar, Honey, Sweetie Pie, etc. (We realized that hubby didn't have such a nickname for me, so he immediately started calling me his little Sorghum -- my grandpa's word for molasses. It stuck, no pun intended, mainly because it's so bizarre.)

And there's a group of lover nicknames that have to do with smallness or cuteness: Baby, Cutie, Punkin, Snookums, and all. Does Shawty fit into that category? Somehow, calling someone "Shorty" doesn't sound cute -- it sounds snarky.

I don't know what I'd think if my husband called me Shawty. But then, based on the way the term is used, I think I left Shawtydom a couple decades ago. Words that identify a generation.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Other Little Grumblings

I'm really not in as much of a grumbly mood as this week's posts would indicate, but I do have a few grumbles I want to get out of my system.

- I think I'm going to have to break down and buy some long underwear. Iowa's cold. I can add more layers to my top half, but the bottom half is still always chilled.

- If musical artists are going to do covers of well-known Christmas songs, I wish they'd at least do something different with them. I mean, the same orchestration, the same melody, the same sound . . . what's the point? At least do the American Idol thing and make it your own.

- I usually love the wide open sky in Iowa, but not on mornings like this when the sky is the same solid sheet of white as the blanket of snow on the ground. It's a little freaky. Makes me feel like I'm living in a coloring book.

- My hands are cold. All. The. Time. My feet, too, but I can wear socks on my feet. I would feel very strange wearing gloves around the house all day. Not to mention how impractical it is.

- As I was typing that last one, hubby and I heard a thud in the kitchen and he said, "Well, Tagger bit the dust again." He can't get traction on the hard floor and goes splat on his belly. This poor mutt. Lord, make it clear to us when it's time to put the sweet boy to rest.

- The Republican debate here next week is sold out. Bummer. I don't know how often I'll get a chance to see something like that.

Grumble, grumble. On a positive note, the youngest and I ate lunch at Pizza Hut yesterday and I had a BBQ pizza. Mmmmmm. The small blessings of life.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Political Grumblings

We're getting scads of political calls these days. We just don't pick up the phone anymore if it's a Des Moines area code. Three times we've had messages on our machine from Mitt Romney, at least one of which we suspect may have been the actual man and not a recording. There's a Republican debate in Sioux City next week that I'm going to try to get to. Living in Iowa is kind of cool when you're a minor political junkie like me.

But I'm frustrated about how the Republican field is shaping up. Right now it looks like Romney or Gingerich (unless someone else makes some dramatic surge in the next couple months, which I suppose is not out of the question). And I don't care for either choice. Romney's the safe one, I guess. He's pretty much Steady Eddie; not likely to get any surprises out of him in the coming year. On the other hand, he's not likely to stir up much passion, either, unfortunately.

I kind of liked Gingerich from the first debate, and more with each subsequent one, but I know why. He's an intellectual. He speaks my language. Unfortunately, he's got a reputation for being undisciplined in a multitude of ways, and that makes him unreliable in a multitude of ways. I think he can rally the base, but I don't think he can unite the country or Congress to get anything done. And I don't think he can beat Obama.

And beating Obama is the important thing. I've been put in a political position here that I really don't like -- I'm going into this election (so far) not pulling for a particular person, but against someone. I am an almost-anyone-but-Obama person . . . and I don't like that.

It's not that I don't like the man. He seems like a fine person. He's decent and respectable. He's got an impressive list of accomplishments, especially considering where he came from. I think he's very sincere in wanting to do what he thinks is best for the country. I just disagree with him STRONGLY about what is best for the country.

I'm very, very worried about the road he has started us down. And if re-elected, he will see that as a mandate to continue in the same vein. Eight years of this direction will be very, very difficult to turn around.

I used to avoid talking about politics in this blog, but I may be doing it a lot more in the coming year. It's all just too troubling to me to let alone.

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Play for . . . Someday

I have a play I want to write. In Bible in homeschool, the youngest and I are reading about the last week of Jesus' life (which is more seasonally appropriate than you would think -- I mean, this is why Jesus came on Christmas in the first place). It's, of course, a very familiar story, so less familiar parts of it are standing out to me.

In particular, the Sanhedrin -- the Pharisees and teachers of the Law who came to see Jesus as a great threat and were looking for a way to get rid of him. Fascinating, really, to examine these people. We think of them as so evil, but I doubt they all were. Nicodemus was one who came to Jesus in the middle of the night asking him questions. Another complimented publicly an answer Jesus gave to a trick question, and Jesus told him he wasn't far from the kingdom of heaven. There were others of the group, I believe, who didn't run with the Pharisaic crowd in their condemnation.

And even those who were genuinely after Jesus . . . some of them were possibly just power-greedy jerks. But others, I think, honestly believed they were doing the right thing, protecting their people, preserving the faith. There's a story where the Chief Priest points out to the others an Old Testament passage about how someone would have to die for the salvation of the Jewish people, remarking that this points to the need to get rid of Jesus. Fascinating, isn't it, how he could be so right and so wrong at the same time?

I think this would be a cool play. The last week of Jesus' life from the point of view of the Sanhedrin. Seeing the discussion and conflicts between them, where their faith is genuine and where it is not, the plotting behind the scenes, the misunderstanding of scripture and of his words . . . the playing out of the sacrifice of the Lamb against the backdrop of the Passover rituals, and how so many of them missed it altogether.

Maybe I would be the only one who would find this interesting. But I bet not.