Writing By The Rules

I received an email not long ago from the folks at WordPress. I’m sure many of you may have received it as well. It was about avoiding the grammar police. I didn’t read the email, although maybe I should have, but I’m pretty sure my grammar isn’t all that terrible. I did of course have English in school, but I finished school more than thirty years ago. Sister Charlotte, my freshman year English teacher was deaf. Seriously deaf. So deaf that we obnoxious young ladies of St. Scholastica would run our pencils along the grated book holder attached to the desk when her back was turned just to make sure. She was a very sweet old woman, far nicer than we probably deserved. It was the year in high school that we were supposed to be focused on grammar, but sadly we didn’t learn a lot. It was there however that I discovered my favorite book, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. All these years later it is still my favorite. I reread it from time to time for pleasure.

The other year in my academic life that was focused on grammar was seventh grade. Mr. Helms, a former Boys Town educator, was my teacher. We were terrified of him. Rumor had it that he killed a kid at Boys Town. There was a boy in my class, Austin H., a troubled kid who I later heard sadly died young. He acted out in class one day and Mr. Helms took him out into the hallway. I’m not sure what happened, but everyone swore there was blood on the wall. I don’t think he even noticed me, well except to call me Marion. Marion is my older sister, she is blond, I was not. Unfortunately seventh grade was also the year my eyes abandoned me. I desperately needed glasses. It took me the entire school year to convince my Mom that I was blind, so essentially I missed the whole year. I couldn’t see the board if my life depended on it, and I was far too afraid of Mr. Helms to talk to him. I suffered in silence. These days thanks to “spell-check” my spelling is usually correct. Except that once in a while it changes a word on me that I don’t catch until the next day when Dan points it out. I don’t know about anyone else, but I swear I read and reread several times before I publish, yet there it is, the wrong word. It happened to me just last night. As for the spelling, I recently heard about a German study that is going on. The German scientists are testing their theory that when we get older our memories fail not because we are decrepit (my word, not an official study term), but because our brains have so much information in them that it takes time to push through all the clutter and find what we’re looking for. (Again, me) I love this theory, it makes me happy. As for grammar, I have been corrected from time to time by my children. They are very smart and educated people, so am I, I just don’t put as much thought into sentence structure. I write like I speak, although I probably don’t use as many commas or my infamous ” …’s” when I talk. (Is there a name for …? Dot, dot, dot?? Is it etc.? I forgot, it’s in the back of my cluttered brain) I do care that what I write is readable but I’m more interested in getting the thoughts out of my brain and onto the page than sweeping through the cobwebs in my mind to remember that I am writing a really, really, really run on sentence.

This morning Dan and I had a wonderful hike through the lovely Santa Rosa Plateau. We were fortunate enough to see the vernal pools. Vernal pools, also called vernal ponds or ephemeral pools, are temporary pools of water that provide habitat for distinctive plants and animals. (That sounds really smart doesn’t it? It’s from Wikipedia.) We are lucky enough to have these pools at the Plateau in the Spring. We got out there at about eight thirty. It was sunny, but there was still fog billowing in from the coast. Just beautiful. I was inspired to try to capture some of what we saw in pastel. Pastels are not my strong suit. I find them a difficult medium and don’t understand why I torture myself with them. First photo is my pastel of the vernal pools. The second photo is God’s handiwork, I just snapped the picture.

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Our Secret Garden

Have you ever discovered what for you is a magical place? A place that you feel drawn to, somewhere that you would love to spend time at each and every day? We had a place like that in Illinois. Before we moved here to California we lived about 40 miles north of Chicago. We had moved to the village of Lindenhurst in 1998. To be honest I hated it. I grew up in the city, and I loved it. I love Chicago for all the reasons most people do, the architecture, the great restaurants, and the amazing museums, but I also love the diversity of people, the grittiness, the Michigan Avenue crowds, and the sounds of the El train running overhead. Lindenhurst was boring to me, the only salvation was Milburn, a sprinkling of historically marked Victorian homes that were down the street from us. We had been living in Lindenhurst for a year or two and had often driven by a sign that said McDonald Woods Forest Preserve, about a half mile from our house. We hadn’t bothered to stop. Lindenhurst borders farm country, there were fields of high grasses, row upon row of beautiful tall trees, and fields of corn all around us. We couldn’t see from the road what was in the preserve, tall grasses blocked he view. I don’t remember what prompted us to finally go there, but when we went it was a revelation. We chose the path going left, a gentle, sloping road that curved around a bend. Fields of flowers on either side of us, Queen Anne’s Lace, Echinacea, Black-Eyed Susan, and so much more, as far as we could see. Towards the bend, graceful Oak and Pine trees offering shade in the summer heat. We rounded the bend to find a beautiful pond, framed by grasses and Pussy Willow.  We would eventually discover that on some days if we were lucky, Egrets would be standing at attention by the water’s edge. The pond on our right, and to our left? An open field, small bushes, grasses, and more flowers, and the sounds of nature rustling in the breeze. Birds, butterflies, and bees flying about enjoying the bounty of nature. We continued along the path, soon we found ourselves in a grove of tall trees, a noticeable drop in temperature as the trees offered shade, a sun dappled vista of green and silver leaves, and moss-covered fallen limbs. We came again to a clearing, where the path led to a small wooden bridge that spanned the far end of the pond, and to our left two beautiful swans floating just yards from where we stood. Here the pond is edged with Weeping Willows, and all around us, everywhere there is land, there are flowers. We continued our walk through yet another canopy of trees, and finally out again in the open fields of flowers where our path ended, rejoining the place where we began. All in all a little over a two-mile path. From that day on we walked in those woods often, revisiting McDonald Woods many, many times. We have returned there on our visits home, and never tire of seeing the beauty there. If the opportunity should present itself, and you find yourself in the Northeast corner of Illinois, drive north on Route 45 to Deep Lake Road, turn left, and drive about a mile up the road. It’s on your left. Our magical place, someplace I wish we could get to more often.

Tonight a painting in watercolor from McDonald Woods.


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