Grammar for Grownups

Just for fun: How many of these can you check off?

☐ Do you ever lose your train of thought when you stumble upon a typo while reading a magazine or newspaper article?

☐ Do you cringe when you see a billboard or signage in a store with an apostrophe being used to show possession when in reality the sign writer wanted to show a plural state?

☐ Do you wonder if anyone–ANYONE–is actually proofreading any article published on a website?

If you have checked off one or more of these, you are experiencing some of the frustration I have on a daily basis. My first career was in the legal field, drafting and negotiating legal documents between landlords of shopping centers and malls and their prospective tenants. Clear and concise language is imperative in a legal contract. Ambiguous language in a legal contract leads to future lawsuits over a tenant’s responsibilities versus a landlord’s obligations In my second career, I spent thirteen years as a middle school language arts teacher using my red pen (Flair Paper Mate, as all teachers know) to grade tests and quizzes, student work, essays, research papers, and reflections on literature. Teaching writing is challenging, and it is further complicated by the fact that technology (laptops, tablets, smartphones) has made us lazy. We are texting and ignoring the basic rules of grammar, and when we want to use a bit more care like for a school or work assignment, we are using spell check and Grammarly to suggest edits for us.

Now, a bit more serious: Which group are you in?

☐ Group A – Readers: If you are an avid reader, your basic grammar rules are ingrained and reinforced by materials that have been heavily edited and proofread. Yes, there may still be minor errors, nothing and no one is perfect, but a published print edition of a book —fiction or nonfiction —will be in much better shape than a magazine or newspaper article with the pressures of periodical publishing. You are probably a better writer because you are an avid reader, and your vocabulary and sentence structure will be stronger. You may not know the rule behind that comma being correct, you may not remember learning the difference between hyphens and dashes, you may not know when to use quotation marks instead of italics for the titles of short stories, poems, novels, songs, or albums, but you know instinctively how to use basic punctuation and capitalization correctly.

☐ Group B – Nonreaders: But, what if you are not a reader? I know people who haven’t read an entire book since they left middle school, where much of it was done in class. High schoolers and college students, left to read large portions of classics and contemporary literature on their own, use a variety of methods to skirt around the assigned reading. The internet once again can be at fault here with online study sources like SparkNotes, which instead of being used to supplement the reading experience and classroom discussions, is being used instead of the reading.

Recently, someone very near and dear to me asked, “What is a participle?” This comes from someone with an excellent high school education, a college degree with a BA and a minor in language based studies, published work, and professional writing credits. This person is a GREAT writer, but still isn’t quite sure what a participle is.

[A participle, by the way, is a verb whose ending has been changed so that it can be used as a different part of speech, usually an adjective or a noun. Example: shoot is a verb, but by adding “ing” to it, it becomes an adjective, as in “Mary saw a shooting star when she was walking her dog.”]

Do you need to brush up on your grammar rules? Do you wish you were a better writer? Do you want to do better in school or at work on assignments that require writing?

I CAN HELP!

Reach out to me for information on how I can help you with your writing, whether you need to know more about participles, or you need to know how to structure an essay. Email me at michardillo@gmail.com. All work will be virtual, and I promise to be kind with my red pen!

And don’t forget: commas are important, otherwise you might see something like this:

I love cooking my children and reading.

Kangaroo and Joey Words (yes, really)

Allow me to blow your 🤯 mind! I recently saw this image on a friend’s post on Facebook. I guess that makes Facebook an educational tool, right (LOL)?

To understand this, just look at the white letters above. The word “masculine” contains within its letters the word “male” which is another word for masculine. So, the word “masculine” is a kangaroo word, and the synonym contained within it is the joey word. You know, like the baby joey is carried inside the mother kangaroo’s pouch.

Since this was brand new to me (an English teacher of fourteen years, avid reader, and freelance writer), I turned to Google to get more info. If you are interested in learning more about kangaroo and joey words, please read this short piece and the list of sources that follow it!

https://www.thoughtco.com/kangaroo-word-word-play-1691210

Nordquist, Richard. “Kangaroo Word Definition and Examples in English.” ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/kangaroo-word-word-play-1691210.

My latest piece – published in a national outlet!

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/classroom-teacher-retired-covid-19-pandemic_n_5ff89e3bc5b63642b6fb71e4

New Article!

November is a busy month for me! Check out my new article in Baltimore’s Child!

http://digital.baltimoreschild.com/issues/November-2020/index.html

New Article!

Please check out my latest article in Washington Family!

http://digital.washingtonfamily.com/issues/November-2020/index.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=Delivra&utm_campaign=nov20

The Magic of the ABCs

Check out my guest post on the Nerdy Book Club website!

https://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/2020/10/19/the-magic-of-the-abcs-by-michelle-blanchard-ardillo/

In the Silence

Silence. As a former middle school teacher, I have often thought, “How can you hear me if you are talking?” Or, “Weren’t you listening? I just explained how to do this.” As adults and educational professionals who spend all day in noisy, busy classrooms, is it possible for even us to listen and talk at the same time? Are we not all guilty of daydreaming or making a mental to-do list during a meeting only to find out later that some big news was announced that we totally missed?

Silence. For some of us, the very word “silence” causes anxiety. Many of us judge our successes based on how busy we are. We go 100 miles an hour from sunrise to sunset. We are all busy being spouses, or adult children caring for elderly parents, or parenting our own children, or taking care of our home. When do we make time to just stop and listen? When we pray, do we bombard God with requests and prayer intentions and then carry on with our day, or do we take the time to just sit and listen?

Mother Teresa has written many beautiful reflections on silence, and in this passage, she ties it to prayer and service.

“God is the friend of silence, in that silence He will listen to us; there He will speak to our soul, and there we will hear His voice. The fruit of silence is faith. The fruit of faith is prayer, the fruit of prayer is love, the fruit of love is service and the fruit of service is silence.”

MOTHER TERESAWASHINGTON, DC JUNE 10, 1995

MOTHER TERESA WASHINGTON, DC JUNE 10, 1995

This of course is not as easy as it sounds. It means we have to step away from our busy lives, put down the smartphone, turn off the TV, stop doing chores, and even stop grading papers or lesson planning. The laundry will wait. The kitchen floor can be mopped tomorrow.  Maybe it means that we don’t check off every single thing on today’s to-do list so we have time to be still and listen for God in the silence.

I was once offered the opportunity to go with a friend on a contemplative retreat, where we would be in total silence for a whole weekend, talking was only allowed during meals. I was too busy to go, I told my friend, but deep down inside I didn’t think I could do it. I didn’t think I could be silent for an entire weekend, but now I wish I would have gone and experienced it. What might I have heard in the silence?

St. John Paul II often went away to a quiet place to sit in prayer and in silence. He told his people in the Vatican that he was emulating Jesus, who also broke away from the crowds and even his own disciples to be alone and sit in silence. In his homily at his inauguration as pope, John Paul II said,

“So let us leave aside words. Let there remain just great silence before God, the silence that becomes prayer.”

JPII

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI also spoke of silence, establishing a connection between silence and prayer,

“In our prayers, we often find ourselves facing the silence of God. We almost experience a sense of abandonment; it seems that God does not listen and does not respond. But this silence, as happened to Jesus, does not signify absence. Christians know that the Lord is present and listens, even in moments of darkness and pain, of rejection and solitude. Jesus assures His disciples and each one of us that God is well aware of our needs at every moment of our lives.” 

Benedict

In John 3:30, Jesus comes to be baptized as an act of solidarity with the sinners who have gathered, John the Baptist is the first to recognize Jesus as the One to come. Later when Jesus’ ministry is drawing followers away from John the Baptist, John calms his own anxious disciples by announcing,

“This joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease. The One from Heaven.”

john the baptist

Silence. We should make the time in our busy lives for silence. We should be still and know that God is near. If we can decrease, He will increase. He will speak to our soul. We will hear His voice. 

What Y’all Want to Eat Tomorrow?

If high school football is classified as a religion in Texas, then food is certainly a religion in Louisiana where it is always a prime topic of conversation. While enjoying a delicious meal, someone will inevitably say, “What y’all want to eat tomorrow?” 

I grew up in southeast Louisiana, where from a young age I was schooled on the true meaning of good food. Friday nights meant no meat, which was no sacrifice for us living in the Mississippi delta. We congregated at my dad’s sister Helen’s house for supper, eating whatever my Uncle Guy caught that day at “the cut”, the local fishing hole, frying up crispy strips of catfish or redfish lightly dredged in Zatarain’s Fish-Fri. I can see him coming in from his outdoor kitchen with each batch of fried fish, a frosted mug of beer in one hand and a cigarette dangling from his lips. Often, he would trade a bag of groceries from his store for a sack of oysters or an ice chest filled with Gulf shrimp. There was always Aunt Helen’s seafood gumbo in a pot big enough to bathe a toddler in. My mom’s contribution would be macaroni salad or potato salad, Louisiana-style, almost the consistency of mashed potatoes. My cousin Penny made the best desserts. I never knew how good I had it until I ordered my first seafood dinner as a college student…utterly shocked at paying for fried shrimp for the first time in my life. 

Occasionally someone would go duck hunting and gift us three or four cleaned ducks. My mom, born to Scottish immigrants, wasn’t raised on Cajun food, but that didn’t stop her from making the best roast duck in the world. Stuffed with quartered onions and Louisiana navel oranges, seasoned with ordinary salt and pepper, she roasted them in a low oven for hours. The meat was tender and juicy while the skin was ebony-colored and crisp. 

Two recipes of hers were reprinted year after year in the local cookbook. Oyster Stew with Spaghetti was one of my dad’s favorites. He always requested it whenever he hosted the men’s card game. Her other specialty was something she called Scottish Potatoes, which was nothing more than a peeled Russet potato wrapped tightly in tin foil with thin slices of onion and thick slabs of butter. The outer layer of the potato caramelized and stuck to the foil while the inside of the potato stayed soft and fluffy. The onion virtually melted into the pool of butter at the bottom of each foil packet. Perfectly simple and simply perfection. 

The sight, taste, or smell of a favorite food can conjure up the greatest of our memories. Proust had his madeleines and Laurie Colwin memorialized her mother-in-law’s Latvian bread. While I’ve never successfully replicated my mom’s Scottish Potatoes, my memory of those silvery jeweled orbs lined up in a pan next to the stove in her kitchen remains just as fresh as ever.

Small Town Girl in a Big City

The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which aired from 1970 to 1977, was a sitcom about a young single woman moving to the big city of Minneapolis. The show began my freshman year of high school and lasted through my junior year of college. It was designed as a star vehicle for Mary Tyler Moore (1936-2017), who only four years earlier had finished her five-year run as Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show. The new show was a very successful move as Moore’s show garnered 29 Emmy Awards and launched three successful spin-off series.

While I loved this show and will still watch the reruns when they are on, I always found it ironic that this show about a single woman moving to a big city with a big job in a traditionally male work environment, dealing with dating and relationships, aired on Saturday nights, which meant that its captive audience was single women all over America home dateless on a Saturday night.

The lyrics to the theme song still come immediately to mind if I happen upon a rerun showing Mary Tyler Moore throwing her hat into the air during the opening credits:

Love is all around, no need to waste it
You can have a town, why don’t you take it
You’re gonna make it after all
You’re gonna make it after all

In March of 1988, I moved from Hammond, Louisiana, to Bethesda, Maryland; just me, my two Persian cats, and all my furniture and belongings, neatly contained in 132 boxes all stamped Security Van Lines. In January of 1988, I had been flown into Washington, DC, for an interview with a large real estate development company based in downtown Bethesda. I was offered the job, a decent starting salary, and a moving allowance. Yes, this was a huge career advancement for me, but the real reason I was moving was to get closer to my then-boyfriend, not yet fiancé, and hopefully future husband, who was a graduate student at the University of Virginia.

The move to the Washington DC suburb was very exciting for me, having stayed in Hammond after college graduation. I was living in a two-bedroom, two-bath condo and quite happy working as a paralegal by day, heavily involved in community theatre by night. Hammond was a small town then, but it was much larger than my hometown, Port Sulphur, a town in southeast Louisiana since devastated by Hurricane Katrina. But along came Mr. Right, and somehow, Hammond no longer captivated me as it had since August of 1974.

My big city life began, moving sight unseen into my apartment on the 14th floor of Triangle Towers on Cordell Avenue. Frightened by the astronomical cost to park a car in my apartment’s garage, I sold it and moved here without a car. So on March 14, 1988, I woke up, got dressed for my first day of work, and stepped out of my apartment’s foyer to walk to work, six city blocks away.

Photo Cred: https://www.apartmentfinder.com/Maryland/Bethesda-Apartments/Triangle-Towers-Apartments

I was ready: dressed for success, navy suit, white silk blouse, pantyhose, and navy and white spectator pumps. I was not ready, however, for the weather . . . it was snowing! This southeast Louisiana girl was totally unprepared for the cold, much less snow; I did not even own an overcoat! My new co-workers filled me on the essentials I would need and that afternoon, on the way walking home from work, I bought an all-weather coat, an umbrella, hat, gloves, and a scarf! I must say, I felt like tossing that brand-new winter hat into the air when I arrived in front of my apartment building a few blocks later. Properly outfitted for the weather, I knew I would make it after all.

Tom’s Truths

My husband Tom is the smartest person I know. Lots of people throw these kinds of platitudes around, but I’m serious. He remembers everything he learned in school, and I don’t mean college or grad school. He remembers science facts from middle school. He remembers the title of every book he was assigned to read all throughout his academic career. There are very few bodies of water or islands that he can’t identify, as well as tell you the military conflicts that settled who has sovereignty over them. He’s a superb writer, has excellent math skills, and has a deep understanding of the ancient Greeks and their literature. I tease him that high school football is the only thing that saved him from being a Class A nerd. 

Aside from his book smarts, he has a good head on his shoulders for just basic common sense. This is aided by his sharp analytical skills. Over the course of our three decades together, he’s taught me a few things that I use on a daily basis; yes, these are things I should have been taught somewhere along the way, and maybe I was but wasn’t tuned in when it was presented to me. I always passed these on to my students, because while they are simple and basic, they are very helpful in everyday life. So, today, I pass them on to you. If you know them already, great! If you don’t know them, you can thank Tom!

Tom’s Truth #1: Maps

When looking for a state capital or the capital of a country on a map, look for the star. Texaco, which later merged with Chevron, trained American drivers to look for the star, the great big Texaco star! City and country capitals are usually marked with a star.

texaco star

Tom’s Truth #2: Elevators

When in an elevator of a building with multiple floors above ground level as well as multiple levels of parking below ground, it can be confusing to find the button that will take you to the lobby. Sometimes it is marked with an “L”, sometimes a “G”, but it is more likely to be marked with, you guessed it, a star. This can be especially helpful in some countries like in the UK where the first floor is not actually the ground floor, but what we would call the second floor. 

elevator

Tom’s Truth #3: Taking Measurements

When you need a rough measurement but no ruler or meter stick is at hand, use a piece of printer paper or looseleaf. Everyone (in America) knows printer paper and looseleaf is normally 8-1/2 by 11 inches. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve measured a rugor a tablecloth in a store by using a piece of paper! Just be careful with this outside of the US, because elsewhere the standard size of printer paper, called A4, is 8.27 by 11.7 inches.

So, there you have the first batch of Tom’s Truths. Stay tuned, as I’ll share some more with you in the coming months!