Thursday, July 26

Punctuation Pet Peeves

I got a tip for you ...
Okay - there are much bigger concerns in the world. But I would like to take a moment from serious topics and just rant about stupid stuff like punctuation.

The apostrophe (or flying comma - to my Dad) has two jobs. It would have been better for the English language if they had created another punctuation mark so that the apostrophe could be used for contractions (such as can't, don't, isn't) and something else would be used for possession (cat's paw, Karen's purse, The Howells' house). But they didn't - so people should go back to elementary school and get clear on the proper usage. Otherwise they will cause some of us to stroke out in frustration!

And I love my father...I have written about how much I love him right here...but the comma is not a cheap substitute for the apostrophe (which can be found next to the enter shifting needed!). But I must say, at least he puts his fallen apostrophe in the right places!!

How do you get one right
and the other wrong??
Let's get one part of this straight - plural vs. possession. When you are indicating that there is more than one of something...that is plural. No apostrophe!! Seeing signs indicating the sale on hot dog's, flower's or soft drink's makes me come a little unglued. Same thing for plural people! More than one Howell? Howells. More than one Frank? Franks. Several people named Chris? Chrises. I swear - even though Blogger has it underlined in red. Spell check isn't always right.

Possession - showing that something belongs to someone (or something) - THAT is where the apostrophe comes in. Frank's dogs. Mr. Howell's lawnmower. My cat's freaky behavior. It gets tricky when the possessor ends in "s" - like my name "Chris". Then you just hang the apostrophe on top of the existing "s" - Chris' cat, Mr. Edwards' plow, The Howells' party!

Now just to throw a whole monkey wrench into the proceedings...let's (which is a contraction of "let us") examine the confusing world of "its" and "it's". Because the whole possession='s rule goes right out the window. In this one case...something belonging to it is "its". And if you're trying to say "it is" a little quicker - that would be it's. The way that I remember goes back to my days of watching Electric Company on PBS. I look at that little apostrophe in it's and see it as the dot on top of an "i" (which is actually called a tittle). So if I see the word it's - I know the usage is "it is". And yes, when I'm typing a sentence I sometimes have to stop and picture it in my mind. I wish I could find a You Tube of that Electric Company skit.

Next time I may rant about they're, their and there. Or perhaps here and hear.
Your and you're (not to mention yore). And I think I could go on for quite a while about grown folks with keyboards who use U, R and 2. But for tonight - see a few signs that make me want to paint out offensive apostrophes. And if you haven't had enough...go visit this website.

Nice job, newspaper proofreader. If this is
what we get from people who put words on
paper for a do we expect better from
the unwashed masses?

Ah...quaint...homespun...still ticks me off.
Someone PAID a person to put this on their vehicle.
To advertise their professional service to the public.
More than one idiot contributed to this failure.
At least they got "cakes" and "occasions" correct. 
I think this makes me saddest of all. This passed through
a designer, a client, a fabricator and at least one
installer. I don't think I'd want custom cabinets
from these keen eyes. 

Friday, July 20

Reflections on Tragedies

What a difference that 24 hours makes. Last night I headed to bed with a summer cold. While attempting to breathe through my nose I decided to write my next blog post about how people need to learn the proper use of the apostrophe. It was going to contain many witty references and funny pictures...and tales of my Dad using a comma where apostrophes should be.

That was yesterday - and today it just doesn't seem important. Not that the topic of punctuation was important doesn't seem important to be amusing. In a way it almost feels inappropriate to be amusing.

I remember when my maternal grandfather was probably the first death in the family I was really aware of. And at age 10 or 11, I wasn't sure how to act. That evening over dinner it seemed wrong to be joking and laughing (as one of 5 kids...dinner was always a 3 ring circus). It didn't feel right to treat it like any other dinner.

I feel like that tonight. After seeing news reports and eyewitness accounts of the shootings in doesn't feel proper to do the things I would normally do. Seems disrespectful to waste time on silly Facebook games or playing Internet Backgammon. And yet, I can't spend another minute watching the media vultures dissect the few facts that they have...over...and over...and over.

And so I have retreated to the quiet of my room. And spent some time in prayer and contemplation. I do not know that I could ever make sense out of the chaos that unfolded at that theatre. I know that the people there entered with excitement and anticipation...and that was twisted into fear and grief. There is no way to make that make sense.

I know that life will continue. And it will feel okay to laugh and joke again. I even know that I will soon go into a movie theatre to enjoy a film and some popcorn with my friends and family. Because if I allow myself to be controlled by the demented actions of a clearly troubled individual - if I let that fear dictate whether or not I choose to go to the movies...then he achieves a victory that I cannot allow.

But just like the fact that I can't go into NYC without thinking about the lives lost on September 11 - I think I will always reflect on the lives lost and affected in Colorado, each time I walk into a movie theater. Never forget...because when we forget the past, we run the risk of taking the present for granted.

Tuesday, July 17

What is Shade and Fresh Water?

A very good friend of mine is headed to Brazil on a mission trip with the United Methodist Church. He is part of a team of eight mostly from Roanoke, VA that will be working on a Shade and Fresh Water Project in Recife (pronounced Ha-si-fi). When I first heard the phrase "shade and fresh water" I pictured teams of missionaries digging wells and building pergolas. And although I wasn't completely off-base...I wasn't really correct either. (that's my way of saying "I was wrong")

The amazing thing is that it is a program very much like our JIFF program at Centenary UMC! It is an after school program for children 6-14 that come from low-income areas! It provides education on self-esteem, health, sports, arts and Christian education. There are 68 projects throughout Brazil (and more in other countries) that include over 3,000 children. It started in 2000 as a way to move Brazilian children off the streets, away from drugs, prostitution and crime. The program accepts people, values them and encourages them to take positive steps in their lives.

When I was reading more on the website I saw even more parallels with our JIFF program. One person stated "Some children are rebellious, use very bad language and have a lot of relationship difficulties." Wow, have I seen THAT!! She went on to say, "We need to embrace them. At least at Shade, the child can experience love and care." That reminded me of a situation that arose soon after I started volunteering for JIFF. I noticed a young man who was sitting off by himself and rubbing the back of one hand. I went over and sat down next to him and struck up a conversation (well...a monologue, mostly). At one point I asked if his hand was bothering him. He said he had gotten it burned. I asked to see. It was a perfect 1 inch circle. In my ignorance I asked what he had burned it on. He took a long time answering. Finally he said one word "cigar". The truth hit me like a ton of bricks. This was no accident - he had gotten it burned - someone had done this on purpose.

I was stunned. I was furious. I was helpless.

I got some burn ointment from the first aid kit and applied it gently. He didn't want to say any more about what had happened. He didn't even want to take the rest of the ointment with him. He seemed to regret telling me what had made the horribly perfect mark. I told him that when he was with me at JIFF he was safe. I told him he was loved.

I wanted very much to find the hand that was on the other end of that cigar. I wanted to cause a great deal of pain to the person attached. But one of our wise volunteers had to remind me that vengeance was not mine to deliver. I had to do the opposite of revenge. I had give the young man a chance to "experience love and care." And so that is what I tried to do - and have tried to continue doing in the years I've volunteered. I can only imagine how much more difficult that task would be on the streets of Brazil, where abuse and exploitation are the norm.

So, during the next 10 days, as the team from Virginia is working on a building for the Shade and Fresh Water Project in Olinda, Brazil...I hope you will keep the project, the volunteers AND the participants in your thoughts and prayers. Everyone should have the opportunity to experience love and care.

Monday, July 9

The Commode Adventures

Recently I was made aware that our church had a pretty large water bill. So I formed an unofficial task force and we took it upon ourselves to analyze the needs of every toilet in the place. Not only did I learn a great deal about the status of the toilets there (all 22 of them) - but I was able to teach my task force a little bit about the parts of a commode.

Our methodology for finding leaks was simple. You CAN go to your local home center and get a package of  leak detector for a couple of bucks - we chose the el cheapo route: unsweetened red koolaid powder. Some folks use actual food coloring...but that has been known to stain! You put a little bit of the powder in the tank (that's the back of the toilet...the part where you stack magazines and an extra roll of paper) and then take a 5 minute break. When you go back to look at the bowl of the toilet (that's the part that you sit know) look for color. If there is color (this is why we use cherry koolaid, not lemonade...) then you've got a leak. The most common cause is a leaky flapper/flush valve.

You want to know what often deforms flappers (making them leak)? Toilet cleaning products like the pretty blue tablets you drop in there to make your friends think you run a super-clean bathroom! Seriously! Skip those things and just clean the commode once in awhile. The blue water is only useful in helping small children understand that yellow and blue make green. But I digress...

A broad understanding of the parts of a toilet:

The bowl - the place where the waste goes before the flushing. 
The tank - I believe we have established that this is the area that you put your extra washcloths and perhaps a book of matches... The water in the tank goes into the bowl during the flushing.
Now the parts inside the tank:
The fill valve - connected to the water supply, this is the device that makes the tank fill back up after flushing. If you look at the wall of your house under the see the valve? The thing that that hose is attached to - that's the fill valve.
The flush valve/flapper - the way this looks completely depends on the type of tank innards you've got. But if is connected to the handle and lifts when you flush...that's the flush valve. Sometimes it isn't a flapper, but a ball! They don't warp very often but they can get mis-aligned.
The overflow tube - a tube that is about 1" in diameter. The water level in the tank needs to be below the top of that tube! Otherwise water is trickling into the bowl all the time.

Other than that - in my toilet tank there is a brick. Saves a little water because there is less water volume in the tank. Still plenty to get the job done!

If you want more details about the various parts and their functions - visit the website

Mostly I just wanted to remind people that toilets need a little TLC from time to time - if you HEAR your toilet run off and're already losing $$ because you're wasting water. A single commode can waste 30 to 500 gallons per DAY!! And sometimes even more. So - move the stuff on the tank and take a look inside. You may find it more interesting than you think!

Sunday, July 1


Friday night during Jeopardy there was a storm warning. I didn't think too much about it, after all the extremely hot day was likely to bring an evening thunderstorm. Spent a little time goofing on the computer (thought of blogging - but nothing really came to mind) and said goodnight to my housemates as they went back about 9. I was just finishing a rousing game of Facebook Press Your Luck when the power flickered off. Came right back on, then off, then on...then off for good. I flicked the power strip for the computer off and decided to go see what was going on outside.

When I stepped onto the deck I was hit with a powerful hot wind and dust. It only took a couple of minutes to decide that this was going to be an extraordinary weather event. Got Dad to help roll up the nifty sunsetter awning and saw that we already had limbs down in the driveway. Worried that he was going to be crushed by a tree, I helped get some chairs in from the deck and we declared the rest would just be fine, or not.

Since I use a CPAP, I knew that sleep wasn't going to be possible, so I settled in a chair to watch the storm (from inside!!). The wind was incredible - going from almost calm to gale-force in seconds. It seemed to build and decline for hours. I texted with my sister (who had to go save next-door cats when a window blew open. She feared they might attempt escape!) and my brother (who was calmly passing the time at his favorite local bar).

Gordon suggested that I text our river house neighbor to see if the power was on there. Although I thought it was HIGHLY unlikely - and it was now after 11 - I did. And miraculously, the power was on. So I packed up my machine and headed for "the cool room" at the Riva Howse. And this is where I have stayed. Most of the family has spent their days here - staying cool in the river and storing all the food they could in the two fridges.

Tonight I ventured out with Denise to see the devastation around town. There is not an area in Lynchburg that escaped damage. The worst part of the city that we visited was the Link Rd area - at least two houses appear crushed by large trees. I don't believe either is repairable. There are trees and lines down all over the city. But I think it was incredible to see how many near-misses there were. Numerous times we saw trees lying next to a house or car - but not touching. Many trees that were fallen away from the house, toward a street or open area...this could have been much worse.

It will be awhile before power is restored and a while after that before things are back to "normal". But until then - it has been great to see people reaching out to help their neighbors.

When the chips are down - you really see what people are made of.
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