Sunday, January 9, 2022

Celebrating 2021 National Word Nerd Day

Today is National Word Nerd Day. I see it as a chance to make good grammar relevant again. Not sure who should be in charge of this movement, so I’m stepping up to lead the parade.

For some people, writing is just a way to communicate. For me, it's more of a passion for how words fit together.

I see writing as an intersection of creativity, experience, knowledge and connection. It's an art and a science where clarity and crisp communication converge with inspiration and flow.

For me, writing, editing and proofing are a fun puzzle, not a dreaded chore. I love reading anything connected to words and language. The day the new @APStylebook comes out is always reason for celebration. And doesn't everyone still have their high school grammar book?

Like any good word nerd, I have several grammar rules that are not negotiable (which translate into my pet peeve editing issues).

 “She is going with Mary and I” will never be correct. Ever. For any reason. (Read the full post to read about a near-miss with students over this one.)

2 – Dangling participles are insidious gremlins. (A participle modifies like an adjective does, so it must have a noun to modify.) They often go unnoticed in writing because our ears are so accustomed to hearing them spoken. You are likely to get the gist of what the speaker means if she says, “Opening the door, it was time for everyone to enter.” But, “it” didn’t open the door, and this construction can lose a reader who has to stop and think about who opened the door.

 Spelling is spelling. Period. Creativity isn’t an option in spelling.

 Apostrophes indicate possessive not plurals. Merry Christmas from the Smith’s. The Smith’s what? (a timely reminder after all of these atrocities mailed about during this holiday season).

5 – I believe the serial comma isn’t necessary, but I’m not going to touch that word nerd debate in mixed company. This provokes as much controversy among writers and editors as the preference of vinegar versus mustard sauces does among BBQ aficionados. Just decide how you’re going to use a comma in a series, stick to it and make sure your writers do the same.

There’s a time and place for being a little rebellious as a writer. Sometimes creativity has to win out over the rules. My personal guide for breaking a writing rule is to do it consistently, 

In the interest of avoiding the label of chief enforcer for the grammar patrol, I offer up a few rules that I fudge on a bit. We all have our own. I’ve already used a few in this piece. Read this post to get my take on several rules I allow my inner grammar patrol to ignore.

What grammar rules will you always obey and which are less rigid for you as a writer or editor?

Read a few of my past word nerd pieces below:

Making good grammar relevant again

How smoking a pork butt is like writing

2019 National Word Nerd Day 


Tuesday, January 4, 2022

It was a perfectly imperfect holiday season

Thanks Midlands Biz for sharing my pre-holiday post about tackling the perfection gremlins that are so rampant at this time of year. Now that I can look at the past couple of weeks in hindsight, I see everything was perfectly imperfect.

Over the holidays, we fed 32 people - from childhood buddies to brand new friends - around our cobbled- together expanded dining room table and hosted another 20 uke players around the fire on the patio. We pulled off a perfectly imperfect Christmas day with "framily" (that's friends who are family) honoring my dad's memory while trying a couple of new things. Our kitchen was in constant motion and our fridge remained jammed. 

The mini-Charlie Brown tree sparkled mightily from the sunroom window while a second one toppled over daily in the yard as part of the neighborhood lights. The red reindeer head adorning the sparkly white wreath took a few tumbles off the front door, but nothing a little plastic surgery (or superglue) can't fix. 

We found joy in reuniting with cousins while celebrating my uncle's life. We let messes pile up and kept the tree up until New Year's Day. Disappointment at no New Year's Day fire at the farm was replaced by flip flops and glistening 80-degree weather with friends and excellent new year's food. Long time traditions were missing a few people but we added some new ones to the mix.

This holiday season saw lots of accepting perfectly imperfect. Excellent practice to meet 2022 head-on with a perfectly imperfect resolve!

The high school gathering

Sip 'N Strum Christmas gathering

Yes, the tablecloth is my neighbor's drop clothes

Missing lots of Tyson girls for the annual sofa pic

Christmas day feast

Cousin time

Busy chef

80 degrees on New Year's Day

Sparkly house

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Joy in the lack of holiday perfection this year

I hate to think how many gatherings I didn’t host over the years because I worried that my house wasn’t _______ enough. Fill in the blank - clean enough, straight enough, decorated enough. Too much dog hair and too many fuzz bunnies. Too many magazines stacked on the hearth and too many guitar cases crammed behind the sofa.

Finally, after years of struggling with this, I think I’ve finally beaten the house perfection gremlins into submission. This week, I hosted my annual holiday “soup supper” for a group of girls I’ve known for well over 40 years. It’s a simple affair. Chili and two soups. Some years, I’ve made all three. Some years, I’ve ordered in all three. This year, my cook-of-a-husband made the soups, and I made the chili.

I wasn’t sure I was up for hosting this year. One friend offered to pinch hit at her house knowing the holidays might be dicey after my father’s death in October. I considered it. My house is still a mess from moving in furniture from my parents’ recently-shuttered apartment. I recognized my heart wasn’t into decorating a big tree. I knew everyone in my family had lots on their plates. 

But … I also knew that this gathering brings me joy – and most importantly, these friends don’t give a hoot that my partially wrapped gifts were laid out on the living room floor. They didn’t’ care that I improvised expanding my dining room table by commandeering my neighbor’s drop clothes and repurposing them into a rustic chic look draped over my husband’s desk that I pushed up to the end of the dining room table. 

They didn’t care that the normally expansive centerpiece was a simple flower arrangement set in a beautiful bowl my sister-in-law gave me for my birthday - one that I’d never properly thanked her for. They didn’t notice that my 3-foot Charlie Brown tree was set up on an end table in the front window so it kind of passed for a full-sized tree from the street.

But they did notice my kitchy, sparkly, white wreath resplendent with a red flocked reindeer in the center. And they noticed my dog's new reindeer antlers jauntily attached to her head. Plus 

they noticed I got to repurpose luminaries from the recent Homeless No More fundraiser to light my front sidewalk. I sure got more pleasure out of them noticing these than I would have for them noticing fancy mantle garlands or extra shiny silver serving pieces on the table.

As my kitchen (yes, everyone crams into the kitchen) filled with the hugs and laughs of these long-time friends on Sunday night, I was so grateful that I’d finally accepted that this gathering (or any gathering in our house) doesn’t have to be perfect – or even close. Sure, I crammed a few things into drawers as the first guests were arriving (and hoped I could remember where I had shoved my husband’s new hat), and I’m always in a last-minute frenzy to add one last touch to the table. 

But these girls know me well and know I don’t set up this evening up perfection. In the past I’ve burned the cornbread, forgotten to put out butter and cheese, served on paper plates, or completely overlooked the fancy coffee I’d bought to go with dessert.  

I’ve learned to let them bring something. I don’t have to do it all. I’ve learned to accept help from them and my husband to clear the table or bring the birthday cake or light the candles or stir the soup or refill the ice bucket.

I’m a little stubborn about this, and it took many years of my husband trying to convince me that people don’t come to our house because it’s clean enough or straight enough or highly decorated enough. They come because we enjoy bringing people together, making connections between our friends who may not know each other, and sharing a good meal made in our slightly disorganized kitchen. And that’s way more than good enough for me.

My mother has spoken a lot recently about sources of joy. It’s something I hadn’t given a lot of thought to. But as I stood in my kitchen listening the conversations twinkling around me - the laughter, the reminiscing, the connecting and the absolute delight we took in each other’s presence in that moment - I knew exactly what she was talking about. 

May everyone find some joy in the lack of perfection this holiday season.

This piece also appeared in the Dec. 23 issue of Midlands Biz.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Cheers to an elegant lady

This wonderful lady took a piece of my heart with her when she left us last week. She’s been part of my life since she and my mother got Katherine and me together as two-year-old little girls in smocked dresses and red Mary Janes.

It wasn’t until the past couple of years that I felt like I could call her anything other than “Mrs. DuBose” -  we finally settled on “Big Katherine” a few years ago. My growing up years were shaped by her grace, kindness and elegance. 

When I was too scared to spend the night out as a little girl, she made sure I felt comfortable and safe in their house. When I stayed with her family at the lake, she always remembered I couldn’t stand tomatoes. When I got married, she hosted my bridesmaid lunch. My mother has always said that she knew when she sent me to the DuBose’s house to play, her rules were our rules.

In more recent years, with her living in the same Still Hopes building as my parents, I loved seeing her deftly navigate around the campus on her motorized scooter. Her lovely white hair was always finely coiffed, and she was always dressed with a scarf and pin perfectly in place. The way she said my name will always resonate in my mind.

She and my mother had a mutual admiration society loving each other with gifts of soup and candies and other small “happys” they shared. This summer, while we were staying with my dad in my parents’ Still Hopes apartment, she showed up at the door one afternoon on her scooter with a box of my dad’s favorite ice cream cones.

Her final days were spent close to my parents in their Still Hopes skilled nursing rooms. I count myself so lucky to have had a few last visits with her over the past several weeks. She does indeed leave a behind a grand legacy, along with two people who are very special to me. Thank you Katherine and Beverly for sharing your precious mother and grandmother with me.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Cheers to dad

We lost our dad yesterday afternoon. I thought I’d have words for an elegant post when the time came. And I will. But I just can’t yet today. In the meantime, you can read his obit here.

I know he’s enjoying his scotch and soda in a short glass, ribbing with the angels, reeling in a salmon and seeing his golf buddies again.





Thursday, September 30, 2021

It's #NationalPodcastDay

Seems there's "day" for everything these days. Today it's #NationalPodcastDay. Seems fitting to fall on the last day of the month that my article on the topic is on the newsstands in Columbia Metropolitan Magazine. Read it here if you've missed it in your mailbox or in the grocery store line.

This article gave me the chance to interview lots of interesting folks who are jumping on the podcast trend. From real life public radio podcasters Gavin Jackson and AT Shire to Laura Smith, a UofSC journalism professor who teaches a podcasting class, readers can learn about some of the really well-done local podcasts and find out more about what it takes to get a podcast launched. I also dig into music and lifestyle podcasts with interviews with Anne Smith of the But Not All at Once podcast and John Furr who hosts Cola Town Underground about the local music scene. who Read the article here.

And as a bonus for my RCP readers - I'm sharing one interview below that got cut for space in the magazine's editing process. Read on to see what two former state senators, Vincent Sheheen and Joel Lourie, had to say about their podcast, Bourbon in the Backroom. 


While Gavin and AT have the resources and support of South Carolina Public Radio behind them, Joel Lourie and Vincent Sheheen are working toward the same goal of disseminating news, but from the conference room table in Joel’s Forest Acres office.

Joel and Vincent come from a legacy of Democratic political families, and they served together in the SC Senate as desk mates for 12 years. They launched Bourbon in the Backroom in January 2021 with the goal of giving listeners news in an easily consumable format. They rely on a pair of USC law students for technical expertise to produce the podcast.

“We’re not looking to do gotcha journalism,” Joel says. “We want a chance to give listeners an inside view of politicians and politics in South Carolina from different political perspectives. For being a small state - next to football, beer and BBQ - people love politics in South Carolina.”

Guests to date have included political leaders from both sides of the aisle including Attorney General Alan Wilson, Secretary of Education Molly Spearman, Mayor Steve Benjamin, former Congressman Mick Mulvaney and Senator Darrell Jackson.

Access to guests from their years of political work and making the podcast guests feel comfortable in a recorded conversation help make the chemistry of the podcast work. “A lot of these people might be hesitant to sit down for 45 minutes and talk like this,” says Vincent. “But they trust us. That’s something I didn’t realize would be as important.”

Bourbon in the Backroom hit its ten-thousandth download in early May with numbers that increase with each episode. Their download statistics show listeners in seven countries and 12 states. “We think we’re in the top ten percent of listener downloads,” Vincent says.


Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Happy Third Gotcha Day to Flossie

It's been three years ago today since I drove over to PetsInc in W. Columbia to walk dogs that had been evacuated from the coast during Hurricane Florence. I had no intention of bringing home a dog. 

But my heart had different plans. (Read that story here.) Since I was set on a golden - and figured it was pretty unlikely to find exactly what I was looking for that day – I wasn’t too worried about being tempted to bring a dog home. A series of God-winks, encouragement from a friend who happened to be at PetsInc that day, and a locking of eyes with this beautiful homeless dog allowed me to make the extremely impulsive decision to put this dog in my car and take her home with me.

I named her Florence after the hurricane but quickly shortened it to Flossie which seems sassier and less formal. Three years later, Flossie brings a calm and sense of peace to our lives. Turns out she was perfectly pre-packaged for us with excellent manners, a calm presence and loving nature.

She was my constant companion during those early at-home COVID days where she quietly settled herself under my desk as I struggled through moving my USC J-classes to online. She's brought a calm to a recent crazy time in my family's life. 

Flossie patiently waits for anything except food and walks. She is an excellent assistant to my growing consulting business. She tolerates the neighbor cats at the lake and recently survived an owl attack. Belly rubs are her love language, and she can sit calmly on the patio for hours just watching whatever is moving around in the yard. 

This photo that the front desk person snapped with Flossie and me that fateful day in September 2018 sums us up perfectly. If anyone ever tries to tell you that dogs don't have souls, just look at Flossie's expression here!