Eight Week Challenge

In May of last year, one of my favorite bloggers, Queen of Blank (real name, Danielle), undertook an eight-week challenge in advance of her marriage to her sweetheart Brad and her move to Texas. She and Brad are now married, she now lives in Texas, and I know she took part in last year’s NaNoWriMo, though I haven’t seen as many posts from her this year.

Last year, to prepare for her move, Danielle set herself an eight-week challenge. And she inspired me to set up my own eight-week challenge. My goals last year were simple enough:

  • eat more nutritious food with fewer empty calories,
  • walk at least 5,000 steps per day,
  • spend one day a week reading the backlog of magazines sitting on the end table, and
  • write at least 500 words per day for at least five days each week.

I succeeded in my goals last year, but wouldn’t you know it? I’m almost back where I started from. I’ve slipped up on my nutritious food goal by letting a lot of calorie-laden foods back onto my plate, and my weight and waistline show it. I have a long list of excuses for why I can’t get out the door for a brisk walk each day. The backlog of magazines I had to read last year peaked at 38. As of today, I have 45 magazines in my stack of “to read.” And I’ve been concentrating on reading books for my Goodreads challenge instead of writing much.

Bottom line: All four of my goals for last year are relevant again this year. I’m thinking it’s like spring cleaning: I need to take the time to do these things, and I know I’ll feel great once they are done. But I’ll probably have to repeat the exercise again next year.

This year, I’m not waiting for someone else to set up a challenge to follow. I’m setting my own. I don’t have a specific event to mark the end of the eight weeks. But eight weeks seems like a good length of time. And the weather outside is glorious during summer.

Because we have a trip planned at the end of May that will complicate taking the right steps, I’ve set June 4 as my start date, a week later than last year’s challenge. The eight weeks will take me almost to the end of July.

I invite anyone who wishes to challenge themselves with a little mid-year adjustment of habits to join me. Include a link back to this post so I’ll know you’re joining in the challenge. Let me know what your goals are and I’ll check in on you each week to see how you’re doing. Maybe Danielle will join us, too.

I’m ready to dive in. I hope the water’s not too cold.

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Skunked Words and Other Oddities

I recently came across the phrase skunked words or skunked terms to describe words for which the usage is in flux, evolving from the original meaning to one that may differ so much from the original that its meaning in context is ambiguous. Thanks Josh Bernoff of Without Bullshit.

The word Bernoff referred to when he introduced the term was fulsome. The original meaning for fulsome was copious or abundant. Over time, however, the word has been used more often to convey excessive or ingratiating flattery. Quite a different matter.

Bernoff cited three recent examples of politicians using fulsome, presumably with its original meaning. Because of the shift in meaning, however, the statements, when read with the negative connotations the term more recently conveys, may seem either humorous or sarcastic. Take a look at Bernoff’s examples below:

First, Sally Yates, former Deputy District Attorney, in her opening statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 8, said

I also want to note that I intend my answers today to be as fulsome and comprehensive as possible while respecting my legal and ethical boundaries. As the Subcommittee understands, many of the topics of interest today concern classified information that I cannot address in this public setting, either directly or indirectly.

Then Republican Senator Corker commented on President Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey this way:

It is essential that ongoing investigations are fulsome and free of political interference until their completion.

Finally, Secretary Tillerson had described a call regarding Syria between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin this way:

It was a very constructive call that the two presidents had. It was a very, very fulsome call, a lot of detailed exchanges. So we’ll see where we go from here.

The phrase, skunked terms, appeared first in the Dictionary of Modern American Usage which included these examples: data, decimate, effete, enormity, fulsome, and transpire.

Those examples got me thinking about other problematic words. A few months ago I pointed out my dilemma about whether to use gantlet or gauntlet when referring to a figurative double line through which someone must pass with difficulty. I chose gantlet, the word with the original meaning of a form of punishment involving people armed with sticks forming two lines through which a person being punished must run in a piece I submitted to an anthology, OASIS Journal 2016. In contrast, the original meaning of gauntlet is an armored glove.

I’ve had my copy of the anthology around for several months, but hadn’t looked at my submission in it until this evening. I guess I’m not surprised that the editor changed my choice, gantlet, to the now acceptable alternate, gauntlet. But I wonder if she knew that my word choice is historically correct. Or am I really a linguistically pedantic snob?

I hereby propose both gantlet and gauntlet be added to the list of skunked terms.

Mother’s Day

The approach of Mother’s Day started me thinking about the books my mom gave me to read over the years.

Of course, she gave me lots of books when I was a child, but she gave me those so that she could read them to me.  The first one I recall she gave me to read for myself was Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I figured if she gave it to me, it must have something in it I needed to read. I would never have dared ask her why. That’s just the way conversations in our house went. Mom and Dad told us what we should do. And we kids didn’t ask questions.

The family was on one of our annual vacations, staying at a lake in a cabin Dad rented for the week. It may even have been the year my twin brothers were born which would have made them less than three months old at the time, still demanding most of Mom’s time. Mom’s parents also spent the week with us that summer, too, squeezing four adults and six children into a rustic cabin with only two bedrooms. My brother and I slept in the car many nights that week.

So with twin infants and four older children around and responsibility for cooking meals for ten, Mom may have handed me the book simply to give me something to do to keep me out of her hair. But at the time I thought she must have had a specific reason.

I ran into a few words in that book that I didn’t understand. Chiffarobe was one. But I could figure out it was a heavy piece of furniture. It didn’t matter if it belonged in a living room, dining room, or bedroom. Knowing it was a heavy piece was all I needed.

But then there was that word rape. I didn’t know what that was except that it was something bad or else Tom Robinson wouldn’t have to go to trial with Atticus Finch to represent him. I decided I needed to know more, so as rare as it was for me to ask Mom anything, I dared to ask what the word meant. Because I hadn’t finished the book during the week of vacation, we were home by the time I asked, and she sent me to the dictionary to look it up.

I don’t recall just what dictionary we had in those days. But I remember what the definition said, or something very like it:

rape

transitive verb

  1. forcible carnal knowledge

That didn’t help. I had no idea what carnal meant either.  I already figured out there wasn’t much point in asking Mom another question since I already had the dictionary out. So I looked up that word, too.

carnal

adjective

  1. of the flesh

To be truthful, there may have been some other options for both words, but if so, they didn’t help. Nor do I remember them.

Bottom line: I spent plenty of years after reading that book having to be satisfied with knowing rape is something bad and chiffarobes are heavy.

Years later, as I was about to turn 50 years old, Mom sent me a book (I lived in Abu Dhabi at the time), Erica Jong’s Fear of Fifty. At least I understood why she chose that one for me.

What books do you recall your mother giving you to read?

What books would you love to be able to give to your mother today? In honor of Mother’s Day