What have you learned today?

What have I learned so far this week? That’s a very important question for me, because I believe a successful day is one where I have learned at least one new thing.

 Here’s a partial list of my week:

  • I’ve learned the devastation of a hurricane crashing into a nor’easter. Not first hand but I’ve followed the adventures of those on the East Coast and am impressed, as always, at the courage and resilience of many people. A friend of mine who lives in Sandy’s crash zone wrote on Facebook today that her family was fine. The neighbors’ huge oak tree fell, taking out her fence and power line while splitting her shed. But she was thankful for hot water, a gas grill, and a phone that worked.  She asked for prayers for those who really had problems.
  •  I’ve learned about Tune Up, an app which lets me clean up the songs in my playlists. Too many of my mp3 files have lost the connection between title and cover art. No more. Cleaned up the music nicely.
  •  I’ve learned new medical terminology due to my mother’s stroke. I’m not very medical, but I now understand the difference between acute and sub-acute therapy. But don’t quiz me on it. I don’t think I’m too sharp yet.
  •  I’ve learned why Peyton Manning was a good choice for the Denver Broncos. He may be topping John Elway’s legend.  We’ve been privileged in Colorado to watch two first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterbacks play for the Broncos.
  •  I learned that a governor could change the date for Halloween. Chris Christie signed an executive order in New Jersey for that purpose. I understand it. I just didn’t know a governor could do that. Will the goblins take notice?

After every activity we do, my poor children have to ride home with their mother who asks, “So, what did you learn today?” They haven’t lynched me yet so I’ll ask you the same. What have you learned today?


Good dirt

When both of my sons were boys, I sometimes intercepted their beeline for the supper table to ask if they had washed their hands.

 Both of them would stare at their hands. “They look clean to me.”

Then they trudged to the sink for a nice scrub. They had spent the afternoon digging in the dirt.

But there may be vindication. There’s a whole batch of research going on extolling the benefits of dirt.

The scientists couch their comments in politically-correct verbiage. We’ve been taught for years that you can’t get too clean.

But now there’s research to suggest that exposure to dirt triggers serotonin, the chemical that helps combat depression. Mice exposed to dirt are better able to cope and seem calmer.

Actually, I’ve noticed the same thing with children. My kids dug holes in the sand, ran cars over dirt tracks, wore streaks of mud on their foreheads and cheeks (apparently not their hands, though, if you can believe the boys.) They were pretty happy playing in the dirt and may still dig in the dirt for all I know.

If life is heavy right now, go find a sturdy spoon and dig a hole somewhere. You might be surprised how good you feel afterward.

A new storm

Chaos wrapped its stubborn tendrils around my ankles and brought me stumbling to my knees last week.

My mother, vibrant and energetic at 83, crashed to the floor with a stroke and now we wait. We sit beside her hospital bed, counting her breaths, charting every twitch  of her toes.

Hopeful. Fearful. Will she survive this attack on her brain and her body? How well can her body heal?

And what have we lost?

Chaos swirls like a dripping fog, drenching us with plans draining away.

But I haven’t asked why. Once I would have shook my fist at heaven demanding to know how this unfairness could descend onto my family.

But no more. The old urge to control my world, to conform all plans to mine, is gone. I am no god. I’m weak. I’d be fickle with fairness, my vision limited by selfishness and ignorance.

So we walk not by my willpower but  by faith, knowing that there is One who is not selfish or ignorant. He knows what I cannot discern and he lifts my yoke with his strength.

We walk step by step doing the next thing although we’d love to know where the end of the journey lies and when the path twists.

The tragedy cannot penetrate our hearts or steal our peace because we do not walk alone. There’s the meaning in this cold chaos.

Mac writing tools deal

I just discovered MacHeist, a website that puts together a set of Mac apps for a fraction of     the retail price. Apparently they offer packages several times a year but the current one is special to me because it includes two of my favorite writing programs, Evernote and Scrivener.

For $29, you get both (Evernote is the Premium version) plus several other apps that don’t interest me as much but might interest you.

If you don’t have Scrivener yet, this is a cheap way to pick it up. I have Scrivener but am interested in the Premium Evernote. Check out MacHeist if you’ve got a Mac.

Another brainstorming tool

I talked about brainstorming tools last week and now my favorite writing software group (Literature and Latte who developed Scrivener) has a unique new software alternative to tossing ideas on a sheet of paper.

Scapple lets you put ideas on a board, make connections, change connections and more. Scapple is still in beta so there may be some bugs but it’s available for a free download if you’re willing to accept the limitations of beta software. It’s only for Mac right now.

I’m playing with Scapple now. Maybe you’d like to take a look, too.

When students write

The business of writing can get too serious at times. This list isn’t original with me but it made me smile today. Maybe you, too?

 From high school English tests:

  • Define first person.  Adam
  • Define metaphor.  Something you shout through
  • Define simile.   A picturesque way of saying what you really mean, such as calling your mother an old trout.
  • List two parts of speech.  Lungs. Air.
  • Define adverb.  The horses run vastly. This is an adverb.
  • Define an abstract noun: something you can’t see when you are looking at it.
  • Define an abstract noun: the name of something which has no existence, such as goodness.
  • Define an abstract noun: something we can think of but cannot feel, like a red-hot poker.


NaNoWriMo is coming is less than a month. The acronym stands for National Novel Writing Month and the challenge is to write 50,000 words in the 30 days of November.

The first year I tried it, I came up with a novel idea on October 31 and began writing. Writing over 1500 words a day when you don’t know where you’re going is like following a two-year-old through a barnyard.

So planning is in order. And November 1 is closing in.  So the brainstorming will begin. But what method?  Here are a few ideas that I will try when brainstorming:

  • Freewriting. Just put pen to paper or, in my case, fingers to keyboard, and write for at least five minutes without stopping. This one works, even though I have to put up with at least 30 seconds of “I am writing even though I have nothing to write and I wonder how long I can keep this up before my brain goes to mush…” About then, the ideas start popping.
  •  Mapping. This is a visual way of listing ideas. Basically you start with a word or idea, write that in the center of a big sheet of blank paper, and start running lines off the circle to other words or ideas. This method can turn rabbit trails into amazing ideas.
  •  Cubing. This one is new to me but basically it attacks a word or idea from six different directions. It incorporates the who, what, when, where, why, and how for an idea.  Describe the topic (what is it?) and then start asking questions. That appeals to my journalistic background.
  •  Researching. Take the idea and start to investigate it. Learn what you can about the topic and see what ideas spring forward.
  •  Ask my sister to lunch. My sister and I brainstorm together very well. We laugh and throw goofy ideas onto the table, which are almost guaranteed at some point to lead us to some great ideas. Inviting others into the brainstorming process can be amazing.

I’m off to storm some ideas.