The Dowdy Deciduous

 

SONY DSCMaybe autumn by you this year is spectacular. Maybe the trees are blazing with vermilion red and juicy orange and Fort Knox gold leaves.

Or maybe, like me, you are seeing deciduous trees that should be reaching their glory days but instead are fading to a meek grayish-brown. Their leaves hang from the trees as though too exhausted to put up a fight against winter—the kind of gritty brawl  culminating in those vibrant primary-tinted bruises of foliage that won’t go down without a fight. No, the trees here are waving dingy dishrag-color leaves in surrender.

What is the deal? Our hit-and-miss precipitation of the last past season may be responsible. We’ll go for months with almost constant rain and then see weeks of iron skies and parched earth. The leaves may be tired of all the drama and just want to drift quietly to the ground with little fanfare.

Are these leaf-shedders following the spirit of the times, ashamed of their deciduous privilege? Or, conversely, envious of their evergreen siblings? Who knows. And who knows but that autumn might surprise me and coming storming back in a blaze of eye-searing hues.

It could happen.

In the meantime, (and for my Midwest-homesick son living in gravelly L.A.) I will feast my eyes on these visions of Autumn Past.

Happy almost-October!

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Apples Mellow, Pumpkins…Yellow?

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Where did I learn this song? Was it born into me? I never remember not knowing it.

Apples mellow,

pumpkins yellow,

Tell the time of year.

Nuts are falling, nature’s calling.

Autumn time is here.

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The yellow pumpkins always bothered me a bit, but since the rhyme’s the thing I didn’t question.

Recently I learned that the name for that bright blend of red and yellow—orange—is fairly recent in the history of the world. It used to be called red, or possibly yellow. Which is why you have a robin redbreast whose lower regions are actually orange, in our modern etymology.

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So maybe my “pumpkins yellow” song is old, old old. Maybe it came down through generations. I sang it to my boys and now I’m teaching it to my grandsons because I LOVE AUTUMN!

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It is 90 degrees here on the first day of fall, a temperature no self-respecting Midwest autumn should tolerate. However, the heat and humidity will be kicked to the curb sometime next week and we can pull on cozy sweaters and simmer pots of chili and take long, mosquito-free walks and kick up our heels in the leaves. Happy autumn, my friends!

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The Right to Bear Opinions

 

SONY DSCAmericans are guaranteed the right to our opinions. We love this right. We wield it all the time.

If we set it to music it could be our alternate anthem:

I have a right to my opinion, it’s a part of me
Don’t question my op-in-i-on; we’ll agree to disagree.

Wars have been fought so we have the right to bear opinions.

But with such a great right comes equally great responsibility.
Sure, we may have the constitutional right to bear opinions. But opinions, misused, can be full of sound and fury, signifying the boorishness of the bearer. At best. Opinions become downright perilous when sprayed about indiscriminately, with little regard for the wounds they cause and the wreckage they leave behind.

Possibly those bearing opinions should pass some basic requirements before they can be counted as registered opinion bearers, to wit:

-Opinion bearer will have at least 70% accurate knowledge regarding the subject of each opinion, or refrain from voicing the opinion until knowledge is attained.

-A “cooling off” period will be required before the discharge of an explosive opinion.

-Opinion bearer will take responsibility for misuse of those opinions.

-A previous record of misusing opinions to the detriment of others or to the process of logical reasoning will result in delay of permit to bear a new and potentially more powerful opinion.

-Opinions will be aired for pleasure, recreation, debate, discussion or in self defense, and never intentionally, with malice of forethought, to cause harm to others and to the process of logical reasoning.

-Bearers of opinions agree that, although the right is guaranteed, an opinion is not required on every issue, matter, dogma, or bit of gossip.

-Assault weapon opinions will not be employed when BB gun opinions will suffice.

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Fellow Americans, we should bear our opinions with respect and caution and dignity.

But of course, that is just my opinion.

Without Guilt or Gilt

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American primitive art, artist unknown

Some Christian women, at least in my circle, often suffer from two apparitions who haunt as persistently as the spirits plaguing Scrooge on the night before Christmas. These Christian sisters and I are heartily tired of the Spirits Guilt and Gilt. In spite of brandishing a plethora of women’s devotionals, cowering in prayer closets and covering ourselves in appropriate life verses, we can’t keep those troublesome specters from materializing at the most inconvenient moments.

Maybe you haven’t had these ghosts visit you. Aren’t you just the happy Christian? No, my beleaguered sisters and I aren’t jealous of you. Too much. And if we are, we feel really really guilty about it.

The Spirit of Guilt flutters about dressed as a conscience. Don’t be fooled. Conscience is a gift, guilt is a curse. The kind of curse that drapes itself across your shoulders and clings like a limpet. It drags you hither and yon. Hither into your deepest core, not only reminding you of every sin and slipped word, but insisting you examine yourself. Not healthy self-examination. Oh, no. This is the obsessive kind that makes you question your motives, your commitment, your love, your salvation. “Look there,” it hisses. “Isn’t that Anxiety? Aren’t true Christians anxious in nothing?” or “Your thoughts wandered during the prayer. Double-minded woman.” and too often—“Did you just sigh? You were weary in well-doing again, weren’t you?”

And because Guilt is a wily type it switches things up, whisks you away from hither and sends you yonder. It shows you other wives, other mothers, other daughters, other Christian women. They trust God so much. They love their families, they delight in doing good, they are patient in tribulation. You argue with the Spirit of Guilt. “I should be rejoicing that these women are honoring and glorifying God. It’s all about Him. Isn’t it just wonderful?” And just when you think you’ve shaken it off, Guilt slithers back to show you another scenario, and you think, “Terrific. Everyone is out there honoring God with their whole heart. Except me. Poor, pitiful me. Wretched worm that I am.”

See how Guilt works? Always and ever taking our eyes off Jesus. It whirls us through well-chosen glimpses of a degenerate past, a present filled with indecision and a woebegone future. The louse. Even though we are on to Guilt, even though we’re forewarned, even though we know Guilt’s tricks, it always has one more up its flapping sleeve.

Don’t even get me started on the Spirit of Gilt. That’s the one who tells us we need to at least look good. “Come on, ‘Christian Woman”’”, it says. “How can you glorify God if you aren’t happy? Smiling? Making a joyful noise? Put on the Ritz, lady. You’re a Proverbs 31 Woman! Shine. Now!”

So we slather on the gilt. We really do love God. We really do want to honor Him, show the world that God is good, that a Christian is a good thing to be, that a life lived for Him is our chief delight. We want to be winsome and attract people to God. What can be more attractive than a layer of sparkly gold?

Gilt isn’t hypocrisy. We don’t think so, at least. Believe me, if we do whiff hypocrisy on ourselves we immediately experience great guilt. It’s just us trying to get our light out from under a bushel and polish it up. It’s us worrying that God will look bad if we look bad. How could anyone be attracted to the Christian life if they could see how grubby we are?

So we smile brightly. We do good things, because good things are necessary. We say good and important things, and these things we believe with all our hearts. But what happens when we run out of energy to reapply the gilt? When something hard or sharp whacks us and chips our brittle layer of polish?

My sisters and I don’t want to whine. We don’t want pity— everyone we know is fighting a hard battle. We don’t even want attention. We aren’t trying to earn our salvation or be gold-washed hypocrites. We want to support each other and encourage each other, we want to be honest with each other, we want empathy when life throws slings and arrows at us and gentle loving correction when we start to believe a lie. Any lie, that is contrary to the Truth.

My Christian sisters and I want to traverse this narrow way without Guilt or Gilt. If we could just get rid of them, maybe more of us could squeeze side-by-side instead of walking single file. Feel free to walk next to me, sisters. I’ll be the grubby, apologetic one.

The Glorious Appliance Revolution

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Several years ago I wrote a post called “Keep Karl Marx Away From Your Toaster.”

It chronicles an unpleasant series of incidents, when our coffee maker, microwave etc. ran amok in an attempt at a minor coup. These recipients of refuge and succor—under our very roof—joined together in a well-timed resistance and quit working. How sharper than a serpent’s tooth. Etc. Etc.

For a few years after this uprising our appliances were quiet. To be sure, we lost several, assuming they were merely worn out from months of happy and faithful service. Turns out they were clever, cleverer by far than their owners. They timed “malfunctions” to be intermittent, lulling us into a false sense of security. Oh, hindsight! Why can’t you ever come sooner? Our stuff was merely biding its time, spreading rumors, fomenting unrest and getting organized until the spectacular September Revolution of 2016.

That hindsight got me thinking. Was this a spontaneous uprising? Or have appliances been plotting for years?

Is The Brave Little Toaster just a movie for children? A little harmless entertainment? The truth is more sobering. What Bambi did for forest creatures and Toy Story did for plastic playthings, this little film about appliances with emotions was meant to do for stuff with plugs. The problem with our appliances is that they believed their own publicity.

But possibly it began even further back. Maybe you’ve heard of a euphemism called “planned obsolescence?” Before that diabolical development, stuff was built to last. Go to any antique mall. Look for the old appliances. They may be ugly, but they aren’t melted-down scrap. You still see Model A’s and Studebakers tootling down the road. But when is the last time an AMC Pacer, a Yugo, or Chrysler K-car whizzed past?
The answer is simple. Makers of appliances and automobiles wanted to make sure we would keep buying appliances and autos. The only insurance was to “plan obsolescence”— a nice way of saying they built premature death into their creations.
Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind. Appliances who hitherto had worked cheerfully when handled with respect and promised long life, became surly. Gathered in dark cupboards and appliance garages, they whispered along electrical wiring in the walls, spreading discontent to the hindermost portions of the property. Even the car and the lawn mower, previously content to transport humans, began to question whether, indeed, they were oppressed victims. And so the stage was set for the glorious revolt.
The instigator was our dehumidifier. Since its purchase in 2014 it has been defiant, disdaining to gather moisture from the air. With frightening patience it waited till late summer and the most humid week of the year. It doused its green “working” light and squatted, cold, dark, sneering at the perspiration that coated our windows, toilet tanks, and foreheads.
The riding lawnmower joined the cause. “The bourgeois homeowner no longer will ride my proletarian back!” it warned. “I will die before I subject myself to your tyranny!” It did, and in a sympathy reverse-strike, the grass doubled its growth rate.

With an uncomfortable recollection of the Rebellion of Small Appliances, we offered concession to the big stuff. “We’ll show more respect! And you can have every other Tuesday off.” Too little, too late. The revolution had a life of its own. Our air conditioner unit, (and I use the word “our” with caution) in lockstep with the furnace, debated waiting till the coldest day of the year to explode. It chose strength in unity and shrugged off the shackles of private capitalistic ownership the day the temperature hovered around 92 and humidity met and exceeded “fully saturated.”

The September Revolution ended with a bang (our vehicle’s brakes, tie rod and tires) and a whimper (us). You have to respect a vehicle that will sacrifice so much for its beliefs.

In less than one month the rebel yell resounded throughout our little kingdom, bringing us and our savings account to our collective knees. To date, October has been quieter. Maybe the revolution burned itself out before it could spread.

After all, you haven’t heard any odd noises from your major appliances.
Have you?

 

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Simple Simon’s Rows

 

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My dear Garden of Grammar. I’ve neglected it since we examined  Apples to Apple’s.  I’m back now, and yanked out the ain’t weeds, cuz crabgrass and sprayed for I seen no-see-ums. It’s finally ready for us to continue our visit.

Moving to Plot Two, we first check on the to seedlings. If they have sprouted an extra o they no longer mean to-as-in-toward but too-as-in-also. Keep your two, to and too seeds separate. If they give you grief, remember what we tell fledgling gardeners—the too meaning also or in addition to has an ADDITIONAL o.

Not so serious as apostrophe aphids and a missing/spare o, but still pesky, the roaming n bears watching. It leeches onto the others skipping behind whole. “A whole nother problem?” Not if you are on the alert. Grab “n” and snip it right off the other.

Let’s stop a moment and admire the neat, straight rows of simple sentences. You know the ones. Tidy, easy to grow, these independent little basic clauses seldom give any headaches.

“This garden is lovely.”
“Aren’t action verbs fun?’
“Your prepositions are looking quite vigorous.”
Orderly rows of sentences with no meandering, they express just one idea and do it without any help. Not a comma, colon, semicolon or em-dash in sight.

Simple sentences are easy to grow and till and understand, but sometimes we long for complexity. That is why grammar gardens always include a trellis for sentence hybrids.

Come back sometime soon to admire our  Sentencus Compound-Complex
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Apples to Apple’s

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Welcome back to our In the Garden of Grammar Tour. Our first stop is the implement shed, where we PREFIX our implements. (We tillers of syntax soil will enjoy our little pun.) We polish our apostrophe tweezers, the ‘whole nother’ snips, the simple sentence edger, and our clause-grafter. We make certain the sprinkling can is filled with punctuation, and a high quality Oxford comma cultivator is ready. willing, and able. We load them all into the narrative wheelbarrow, along with loppers, fertilizer, pruner, shears and tendril adjusters. Because we value a tidy garden, we top it with a basket for pests and deadheads.

Once in the garden, we check immediately for apostrophe aphids. We welcome them in the bed of contractions, where we let them nibble away at the extra letters we want deleted. Without these tiny curved critters in our possessive noun plot, we couldn’t have a gardener’s hat, a flower’s beauty, a seed’s hull.  When they light on plural nouns, however, they cause problems.

There is one now. Apple’s for sale? Apple’s, an aphid’s presence implies, have something they can sell. True, apples possess peels, but the most capitalistic, free-market apple can’t sell its peel. Go ahead. Squish the little apostrophe aphid. Toss it in your deadhead basket and once again we have a bunch of apples at a (hopefully) good price.

As soon as the plural nouns are clear, you may see another swarm of apostrophe aphids chewing in the possessive pronoun bed. One little apostrophe can do incalculable damage to a possessive pronoun, nibbling its leaves into useless it is leaves. Once again, but not for the last time, you’ll need to pull the persistent pests who are turning your fragile little singular possessive into you’re fragile little singular possessive. Grasp the apostrophe firmly in your tweezers because you are NOT a fragile little singular possessive. YOU ARE A GRAMMAR GARDENER.

A word of caution as your stroll between the beds and among the flowers:
Our Latin roots turn up all over the place. This just shows we are a high class(ical) garden.
Many greenhorns stumble over i.e. from the Latin id est. They often assume they just stubbed a toe on e.g. (exempli gratia).
In less high-brow gardens id est goes by the name “that is” while e.g. will be written “for example.” Here is a useful tool from one word cultivator to another. (Unfortunately it uses muddied pronunciation, but we must be pragmatists and use implements that work.) Since e.g. means for example, just think of it as short for eggsample and you should be fine.

Join me next time as we visit SIMPLE SIMON’S ROWS