Friday, September 23, 2011

The power of words

Excuse me...*clears throat*... moves soapbox into position....

Words have amazing power.  They have the power to lift us up or shoot us down.  They bring warmth or freezing cold based on how they are spoken.  Words can teach and words can exasperate.  Words matter.

When my 8 year old came home with a math worksheet we reviewed it like all parents do.  Here is one of the math problems:

Bianca is playing Close to 100.  She makes the number 57 with her cards and says, "I can get to 100 exactly."  What 2-digit number will she make to get to 100 exactly?  Explain how you know.

My son responded with:

"It is 43.  I used the thing called brainpower."

Okay, first of all I have to admit, we totally cracked up over his answer.  Brainpower!  That's so funny.  Where does this kid get this stuff?  But then I wasn't laughing anymore.  He got the answer right but the teacher took off a point for the explanation. 

That's right.  The question asked for him to explain how he knew the answer.  He did explain.  He said he used his brain.  That is not the right answer!

The teacher writes a comment, "This means write the addition problem or explain your strategy."

Now, he still got a good grade, so I'm not going to harass the teacher but I was pretty irritated.  Our kids have to decipher what every person says when they don't say what they mean.  To me, and maybe I'm wrong here, but EXPLAIN means use words.  If she wanted the equation or wanted him to show his work, why didn't she ask, "Show the equation or show your work"?  I mean, the kids in the class are only 8.  Say what you mean!

This reminds me of a blog I read today about the superfluous "that".  Most of the time you can take out extra words like "that" without changing the meaning of the sentence.  We scrub our ms's until they shine and only the necessary words are left on the page.  If we've written our story well, the reader will understand what we are trying to communicate.  We need to say what we mean, no more, and certainly not less.  And we can't say the wrong thing because the reader definitely catches us when we make mistakes.

We explained (with words) to our son that the teacher wanted the equation, not a sentence of explanation.  We shared with him that the teacher needs to know that he knows the math tools and isn't just guessing.  So, we reinforced the teacher's point, because we back our teachers.  We also agreed that he did use his brainpower and he got the right answer.  So we backed our son too but  told him next time to also show the equation.

I am proud that my son knows what the word 'explain' means and has not been shoved into the conformity box yet.

Have you ever had a situation where what was said/written wasn't what was meant?  Share your story in the comments section.

Monday, September 19, 2011

NaNo NaNo (not Mork & Mindy)

It's almost NaNoWriMo time!

But what is NaNoWriMo you ask?  Actually you probably don't ask because I'm willing to bet that all 22 of my favorite followers already know what it is.  Why did I mention just 22?  Because that's how many followers I have, silly.  (If you're not a follower, it's not too late.  Just click on the followers link on the right hand side of the blog.)

But even if you're not asking I'm going to tell you about NaNoWriMo anyway.

First, it stands for National Novel Writing Month. 

It begins November 1 and ends November 30.  The goal is to write 50,000 words of a novel during that timeframe.  The rules are that you can not use material written ahead of time but you can plot, outline, etc your story.  The actual novel writing must take place during the timeframe.

There is a website here that you log into and join.  It's free.  The NaNo people do not read your novel.  It is your own private story.  In order to prove that you've written the wordcount required, you are able to upload your wordcount during the month.  At the end of the month, you can scramble your novel and then upload it to their official wordcounter.  If you hit 50,000, you win.

What do you win?  Satisfaction!!  Oh, and 50,000 words towards your story of course.

The other great thing about NaNo is that you can hook up with other writers in your area and write together, challenge each other, and build friendships.  You might also find some critique partners along the way. 

This is my first time doing it.  I am excited but also worried.  I am not normally a pantster.  I don't know if I can shut my inner editor off enough to just write without worrying about my spelling and my sentence structure.  I normally write, read it, modify it, read it, read it, and then move on.  This will be a very new experience for me but I hope that it will be liberating. 

Are you going to join in on the fun in November?

Monday, September 12, 2011

In the market for an e-reader?

How many of you are in the market for an e-reader?

I didn't expect to buy one.  I love my paper books! 

But there I was, needing to go somewhere and trying to stuff 2 books in my purse.  I was nearly done with one and ready to start the next.  Who takes breaks between books? Not me!  But alas, there was not room in my purse.

That's when I decided to do some research for an e-reader and see if it would be an option.

I am sure there are more than these options, but I kept my research to the four main choices.

1.  Amazon Kindle
2.  Nook
3.  NookColor
4.  iPAD

Here's what I learned (If you want super techy details, you'll have to dig into the actual websites!)

The Kindle is a good choice for an e-reader for a number of reasons.  It's backed by Amazon and they are just a powerhouse.  It's got a 6" diagonal screen with e-ink that makes it easy on the eyes to read.  It's lightweight at only 8.5 ounces and the battery life is about a month long with the wireless off.  It's also reasonably priced at $139.  The negative for the Kindle is that it's just an e-reader and you currently can't download library books to it.  It's not a tablet so it can only be used for reading books.  Which, if that's what you want it for, and you don't need any versatility, then it's a very good deal.

The Barnes & Noble Nook is a good choice for an e-reader also.  It's screen is 6" diagonal and it's weight is 7.48 ounces.  It really fit nicely into the palm of my hand (which is small).  It has an e-ink screen so that it can be read during the day and doesn't cause eye strain.  The battery can last up to 2 months.  You can borrow books from the library.  It's also priced to compete with the Kindle at $139.  The negative for the Nook is that it's just an e-reader.  But that's only a negative if you want it to be more.

The Nook Color is Barnes & Nobles take on an e-reader tablet.  It's a cross between an iPad and an e-reader.  It has a 7" full color screen.  It is backlit so that you can read it during the day or at night but it is more like a computer and might make your eyes tired because of the back lighting.  The Nook Color weighs 1lb.  There are apps that are available just like an iPad, such as Angry Birds, email, and Pandora.  The app Seesmic also provides access to your twitter and facebook accounts.  It is priced at $250.

The iPad is a full fledged tablet which can also be an e-reader.  Note the difference.  If you need a lot of functionality and versatility you might want the iPad.  However, it's about $500 which is 2x what a Nook Color (or a KindleTablet-when it comes out) costs.  It's got a much larger screen at 9.7" and weighs 1.35lbs. which is quite a bit heavier than the Nook or Kindle, or even the Nook Color.  However, it's very much like a lightweight computer.  Library books can be downloaded to it as well.  This is a good choice if you have the money and you can fit it in your purse (one of my criteria!). 

The information that I shared can easily be found by cruising the internet and researching these options.  I didn't go into the amount of storage space (GB) each one has as well as other attributes because this post would be too long!

I chose the NookColor.  I wanted something that would fit inside my purse but would allow me to do more than read.  I love that I can read a book from the library, from Smashwords, from B&N, as well as check multiple email accounts, my facebook and my twitterfeed.  I can also listen to music while I read if I want because it's got a place for my headphones and it's got Pandora (which I love!).  It's been easy to manage, fun to use, and very convenient.

Do you have an e-reader or a tablet?  What do you have and what are the pros and cons?  Share your thoughts so that others can make informed choices!

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Skeleton Key Chapter 14

I have really enjoyed reading everyone’s chapters in the Blogvel:
The Skeleton Key.  This blogvel was a creation of Michelle Simkins from GreenWoman.  A lot of talented writers have gotten to join in on the fun and write a chapter.  This week happens to be my turn.  I hope that this chapter is as entertaining as all the others.  Next week will be Cherie’s turn to write a chapter.  You will find her blog here.

And now…………..  Chapter 14

My body was no longer searching for the elusive breath of the living.  The meta essence had performed its task and allowed my shape shifting abilities to mimic death.  I glanced around expecting to see Ax in the corner of the room being tortured by Angelica’s psychic attacks, but instead I found my vision clouded.  I wasn’t in the embassy anymore.  I was floating on my back in a milky way of fog.

 “So this is what an ‘astral river of transformation’ looks like,” I mumbled to myself.

Ax had said I would find a guide to help me navigate through the river and find the murdered gatekeeper.  So far I hadn’t seen anyone else floating through the fog with me.  It was quiet and I was alone.  I started to worry that Ax was mistaken when I began to drift more quickly.  I rolled over onto my stomach so I could look forward and see what was coming.

The mist looked thicker up ahead.  My river was heading toward a large swirling pool.  If I squinted I could see other streams like mine leading toward the same location.  This must be where the dead souls collected before entering the current that transported them to their rebirths.  I laughed at the ease with which I seemed able to accept this new turn of events.  You try spending a couple of days with a hot, sexy dragon and you’ll believe the unbelievable too.

The current I floated in started to churn as I got closer to the pool.  I was dumped unceremoniously into the spiraling whiteness and found myself sinking deeply.  At some point in my fall the mist dissipated and I landed on my ass at the bottom of the large cavern that I’d mistaken for a pool.

 “Here, let me help you up,” said a jovial voice behind me.

I looked around and found myself looking at the hem of a multi-colored cloak.  My eyes slowly crept up the garish robe until I was looking into the eyes of tall, slightly chubby man with white hair that stuck out in all directions.  He had his hand extended to me, and I let him help me up.

“Are you my guide?” I asked.

“Guide, tracker, best buddy.  Whatever you need I can do it!” he said happily.

“You’re not quite what I was expecting.  I guess I thought my guide would be the grim reaper or something.”

The monster chuckled, “Oh, Mark never greets the newbies.  Plus, he was busy.  There was a big hullabaloo over in the 3rd quadrant.  You know.  Some monsters just aren’t ready to die.  They make a big fuss and then Mark has to get all grim on them, ya know?”

 “My name is Greg, and I’m an Ankou.  Jump into my cart and I’ll explain on the way to the check-in point.”  I hadn’t noticed the cart behind Greg until he mentioned it, but I couldn’t believe I had missed it.  It was similar to a golf cart except it had a large wicker basket tied on to the back.  It was also painted bright orange and purple with a red bicycle flag flying from the top. It was hideous.  I quickly looked around and noticed that no one was looking at us.  In fact, it was obvious that those souls that were entering my quadrant of the cavern were trying very hard not to look at us.  Good thing I was already dead, or I would have died of embarrassment.  I was going to kill Ax when I got back.

Thinking of Ax made me remember my mission and how I needed to track down the gatekeeper.  Once I was owner of the gate I could get back to Ax and we could get my sister.  I jumped in the cart and fastened my seatbelt.  Looking at my crazy guide, I figured the seatbelt was there for a reason, even though I was dead.

“So, an Ankou is a little like a grim reaper, but just for the parishes in Brittany.  I had a great little gig going for awhile.  Drive around in this little cart and collect the souls of the dead.  It was sweet!  I was good at my job, but Mark said the recently dead don’t seem to like my colorful cart.  I never understood it, but they complained all the time.  I ask you; why not go out in style?” 

My mind immediately played the Monty Python “Bring out yer Dead!” scene.  I could just imagine how unpopular cheery Greg and his colorful cart would be when collecting souls.

Greg started the cart and pressed the horn, and Oingo Boingo’s It’s a dead man’s party blared from a hidden speaker. I hunched down in my seat hoping no one else could see me.

“Anyway, Mark gave me a job to usher monsters to the check-in point.  That’s where we’re headed now.  Once you’re checked in, you can catch the current to the rebirth center.”

“Wait,” I said as I finally managed to interrupt his monologue.  “I don’t know that I need to go to there just yet.  I really need to find a recently expired gatekeeper and talk with him for a few minutes.  Have you seen a gatekeeper?”

“Hmm.  Well, normally everyone’s at the check-in.  Most folks are ready for rebirth right away.  But, there are always a few who don’t want to go quickly; they want to rest up a bit first.  They always hang out at Starbucks.”

“Starbucks?  They really ARE everywhere.”

Greg tooted his horn and sped up as he turned a corner.  I hadn’t been looking around before this but the bottom of the cavern was actually a small town.  Greg turned into the coffee house parking lot.  I noticed that all the other carts in the lot were somber grey or black.

We went into the Starbucks and stepped in line to order our drinks.  There were three people in line before us: Two gnomes standing together chatting and one tall guy at the front of the line.  When his order was ready he grabbed the cup with only three fingers and his thumb.  That was my guy!  He walked to a corner of the store and grabbed a book from his back pocket before he sat in a comfy chair.  It looked like he planned to stay awhile.

We ordered our drinks and waited for them to arrive.  Greg was talking the whole time but I had tuned him out in favor of focusing my energy on the gatekeeper.  I needed to figure out a way to introduce myself to him without scaring him off.

Greg and I got our drinks and I walked toward the area the gatekeeper was sitting.  Greg followed behind me still talking.  The gatekeeper glanced up as I started to walk past and I knew it was my only chance.

“What are you reading?” I asked the gatekeeper.

The Metamorphosis.  It’s one of my favorites,” the gatekeeper said glancing from me to Greg.  Fortunately Greg had shut up to hear the gatekeeper answer my question.

“Oh, I liked it too,” I said and quickly sat down before he could dismiss me.  The gatekeeper looked a little irritated but shut his book to be polite.

The gatekeeper placed his book on the table and sipped his coffee.  “I’m hoping my rebirth will be as exciting as the book.  I don’t want to be a gatekeeper this next go-around.  It was a dangerous job as you can tell since I’m here.  Murdered!  Angelica totally surprised me when she killed me.  That’s why I’m hanging around.  Not really in any hurry to get back into it again.”

“Don’t you care that the person who murdered you is now in charge of your gate?” I asked.  I told them all about Angelica’s schemes for revenge on her brother’s behalf.

“Well, since my essence is still on the gate, I can tell that the monster is not really in charge yet.  There’s a second monster that has gained partial control.  They can just duke it out as far as I’m concerned.”

“But there are people that are at risk, they’re dying.  They are cut off from their other dimensions and stuck inside their embassy.  Wouldn’t you want to help if you could?” I asked.

“Well, I guess so.   But what can I do?  Since there are two people controlling the gate, there is no benefit for me to move on quickly.  Neither can own the gate, so why rush?”

“How would one of the people become the owner of the gate?  There’s got to be a way.” I mumbled.

“Oh, there’s a way alright,” said Greg.  “But it’s pretty impossible.  One of the owners would have to come to the gatekeeper here in the Astral Lake and ask for the old gatekeepers blessing.  He would transfer his blessing to the owner and remove his essence from the gate.  I don’t think it’s ever been done though.  How could someone die and then go back to living?  I guess you could enter the current in the Astral River of Transformation and go to the rebirthing center but the likelihood of getting birthed into a gatekeeper again is extremely unlikely.”

“But what if you weren’t really dead?” I asked.

The gatekeeper and Greg looked at me like I was crazy.

“What do you mean?” the gatekeeper asked.

“Look, this is really serious.  Your gate is being controlled by someone who wants to change the monster world forever.  Between the three of us, we could stop her.”  I realized that I was laying it on a little thick, but Greg seemed to love the idea of being a hero.

Greg agreed, “It could be so fun!  But what could we do?  We need the good monster to meet the gatekeeper.”

“What if I said that I am the good gatekeeper?” I asked. 

The gatekeeper and Greg began to laugh.  

“I’m serious!  And I can prove it!” I reached into my pocket and pulled out the skeleton key.  The laughter stopped abruptly. 

“How are you doing this?  How are you here?” the gatekeeper asked.  “Are you dead?”

“Yes and no.  But I need your blessing and I need you to banish your essence from the gate.  I need to take over the gate so we can catch your murderer and put the dimensional embassies back to order.  Will you do it?”

The gatekeeper looked at me and then at Greg.  He looked down at his book and sighed.  He picked up his coffee cup and drank the last swallow. 

“Let’s do it.  I can always finish my book once I’m reborn.  Let’s go get this bitch.”

I thought the gatekeeper was going to change his mind when he saw Greg’s cart.  But he impressed me by quickly glancing around and climbing in.  I sat next to him and Greg started the cart and honked the horn.

“How do you give me your blessing?” I asked the gatekeeper.

“It’s pretty simple.  I just need to do a toast while we take a drink.  Greg is taking us to the local bar.”

Apparently the local bar was just down the street.  If I’d have known that I would have walked instead of ridden in the hideous cart, but it was too late.  We were here.

The three of us walked into the bar and it was a scene right out of Star Wars.  There were all these different types of monsters at the bar and at the card tables.  The smoke in the air was heavy and the music was blues.  I felt like saying, “these are not the droids you are looking for” but I figured no one else would think it was funny.

We approached the bar and the gatekeeper ordered three shots of some awful green sludge.  I sniffed the shot glass and it smelled like a mix between moss and mint.  I was not sure that I’d be able to keep the drink down, but the gatekeeper wasn’t worried about my sensitivities.

I sniffed it again and sneezed.

“Bless you,” said the gatekeeper in an automatic response to my sneeze.  Greg and I tipped back our shots and drank.  The gatekeeper’s eyes widened in surprise, he shrugged his shoulders and chugged back his shot.

“That was easy,” said Greg.