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.

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:


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.



  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

Guardian Angel III

At the end of my first semester at California State University, I traveled back to Minnesota for the summer. I had hoped to find either a summer job or a volunteer opportunity, but by the time I arrived, car troubles had drained my financial resources, and I knew I needed a job.

Instead, however, I learned Mom had worked on my other option: she had volunteered me to drive and translate for a Bolivian lay minister as he met with sugar beet farm workers who traveled from Texas to Minnesota each summer. The minister, Ruben, spoke no English and didn’t know how to drive. He had assumed he would be able to walk from farm to farm. The distances between farms in the US astonished him, as did the fact that, while the farm workers all spoke Spanish, almost none of the farmers or those working in businesses did.

Much as I thought I should find a job, I agreed instead to honor Mom’s commitment because of her conviction that something good would come from it. I also knew that if I really needed more money, all I had to do was ask her. I didn’t want to, but I could.

The churches who arranged for Ruben’s mission told me they couldn’t pay me for the work; they would reimburse me for my gas.

I spent the next six weeks filling the tank each morning, then driving the 60 miles to the farm where Ruben stayed. Each day from that point I drove more than a hundred miles on gravel county roads in four counties, Cass and Traill in North Dakota and Clay and Norman in Minnesota, so that Ruben could meet with the families of the farm workers. My tank was nearly empty each evening when I returned home.

One afternoon, Ruben pointed out a group of workers in a field. He asked me to pull over so he could talk with them. Usually he only met with the families of those who worked in the fields, in the cabins the farmers provided for them. I should have told him we shouldn’t stop them from working. But trying to figure out how to say that in Spanish was difficult. So I gave in. We were on a gravel county road with what looked like a wide, grassy shoulder. I pulled over and immediately felt the car begin to roll. Within seconds, the passenger door rested against a sign warning of a curve in the road ahead. The only sign for miles. Let me repeat that: the – only – sign – for – miles on that road.

Ruben, in the passenger seat, couldn’t get out, and the car tilted enough to make it difficult for me to open my door.

The workers saw what happened, ran from the field to the road, and pulled and pushed my car back onto the road. Shaken by what had almost happened, I silently thanked my guardian angel and told Ruben I needed to go home early that day. He understood.


Guardian Angel II

angel by maphler, on Flickr
angel” (CC BY 2.0) by maphler


The summer following my first semester at California State University at San Francisco proved to be a real test for my guardian angel. I had no classes in the summer so I set off for Minnesota, to spend the summer with family and relax before returning in the fall. I hoped to find either a summer job to earn money or a volunteer opportunity to get experience working with Spanish-speaking families who moved from Texas to Minnesota each summer to work in the labor-intensive sugar beet fields.

I had very few possessions, nearly all of which fit inside the trunk and on the back and the passenger seats of my VW Beetle. My bicycle fit on a rack in the back, over the engine. I took off on the nearly 2,000-mile drive and ran into a little trouble on my first stop to fill my tank, at the intersection of I-80 and I-505 at Vacaville. Once the gas tank was full, I tried to start the engine. The car didn’t fire up. I had experienced this before and knew what usually worked. I removed the bike from the rack and opened the engine cover.

Once the gas tank was full, I tried to start the engine. The car didn’t fire up. I had experienced this before and knew what usually worked. I removed the bike from the rack and opened the engine cover.

I was about to remove the distributor cap and poke around the points with a screwdriver when a young man wearing a cap with the station’s logo walked towards me. When he got close enough to see what I was doing, instead of offering to help, he said, “Well, it looks like you know what you are doing,” turned around, and headed back to the station.

After poking the points as a friend had shown me in the past, I replaced the distributor cap, closed the engine cover, and then tried starting the car. This time, it fired up as expected. After repositioning the bike rack and wrapping the bike tightly, I took off again.

The drive from San Francisco to my parents’ home took three-and-a-half days. I made it to western North Dakota before I had to play around with the points again. Then, smooth sailing–until I got to the Highway 75 off-ramp from Interstate 94, only two miles from my parents’ home. When I reached the stop sign at the top of the ramp, the car stalled and wouldn’t move one more inch. I engaged the emergency brake, removed the bike, pumped up its tires, and rode three blocks to a gas station on Highway 75 where I arranged to have my car towed to my parents’ home.

AAA paid for the towing. I had $240 in my pocket. I knew I would need $60 for gas and motel rooms to get back for the next semester. The estimate for repairing the engine was $180. I did the math: I needed a job. No volunteering for me. At least I had a no-cost roof over my head while I waited for the car to get fixed.

But this was just my guardian angel’s first job that summer.

Guardian Angel I

guardian angel by Prayitno / Thank you for (11 millions +) views, on Flickr
Great were the results of my mother’s prayers. She always got what she prayed for, or so we kids thought. When I complained that prayers didn’t work, Mom insisted that, while God answers all prayers, his answers aren’t always what we want. And then she would remind me of the nights she sat on my bed while I said my prayers, to remind me to ask for God’s help to stop biting my fingernails. And I remembered.


Years later, I stopped praying myself, but I know Mom never did. And I believed her prayers directed a guardian angel for each of her children.

For example, when my brother returned from his four-year Navy stint, Mom prayed he would meet a woman like a newcomer at her church. A year or two later, while my parents were away, my sister hosted a party at the house, and my brother dropped in and met that church newcomer, a friend of one of my sister’s classmates. My brother and that newcomer have been married for more than 30 years and have three sons and a granddaughter.

As for me, at 21 I married, graduated from college, and left my parents’ home. Even at that distance, I felt a protecting spirit. My husband and I arrived in Berkeley, California, with enough money for one night in a motel room and the cleaning deposit and first month’s rent for a tiny apartment we found the next day. Had we not found that apartment on that day, or had the landlord required first and last month’s rent, we would have been out on the streets. That night, I thanked my guardian angel.

Good fortune has limits, however. As we entered our third year in Berkeley, my husband decided the marriage wasn’t working. He moved out; I kept the apartment. He took our tent, a sleeping bag, and a bicycle; I kept the borrowed bed and the car I was still making payments on. I had never felt so alone.

To keep in touch with the few people I knew, I wanted to keep the same phone number. The phone company wanted me to set up a new account with a new number. Business practices at that time required I get my husband’s permission to keep “his” number (since another business practice was to issue all accounts in the husband’s name). Businesses presumed an angry wife would run up large bills on her husband’s accounts before a divorce.

I didn’t know where my almost-ex-husband lived and was close to giving up when, suddenly one day, he stopped by the apartment. He signed the form, and I kept the phone number. Such a little detail, but oh, so important for the rest of this story.

By this time, I had decided to go to graduate school and had been accepted at California State University at San Francisco for the following January. I didn’t know how I would pay for it. I would have to quit my job in Berkeley and assumed I would have to find a part-time job in San Francisco. Instead of worrying, I decided to wait to see how things turned out.

Then, one early November morning, I overslept. I was already late, and my hand was on the doorknob when the phone rang. I almost ignored it. But these were the days before answering machines, and my curiosity over who was calling prevailed. I answered the call. On the other end, the producer of a San Francisco television program, Pippa’s Prize Movie, explained my phone number had been selected at random from the phone book (remember those?), and she asked if I was willing to take part in their contest. She mentioned a consolation prize, complimentary dinner for two at a San Francisco restaurant. My mind began running through the names of people l knew, searching for someone I could invite to join me for dinner, as the producer explained she would call me back in five minutes for the contest itself.

During those five minutes, I recalled having read a piece by my favorite columnist, Herb Caen, where he mentioned this contest. I found the newspaper, reread the column, and located what I thought was a clue before the phone rang again. Pippa played a song, barely audible through the receiver of the phone (I didn’t own a TV). When she asked me to name the tune, I said, “I understand it is the theme from the movie, ‘They Call Me Mr. Tibbs.’”

“You’re right!” Pippa said.

“I am?” I asked.

All those events, set up by my guardian angel, and I didn’t know I had the answer.

The next day, Herb Caen mentioned me in his column; Pippa’s Prize Movie became Pippa’s Morning Movie, altering the format by eliminating the prize; and I had five minutes of fame as I received, on air, a check from Channel 7 for $2,219. More than enough for my first semester of graduate school in 1973.

Thank you, guardian angel!

Readers Write-Making Ends Meet

The Sun banner

Each month, The Sun magazine offers fiction, poetry, essays, interviews, and photos in a black-and-white format without advertising. Each issue includes provocative ideas from people of science, religion, philosophy, the arts, or a combination. Each issue also includes Readers Write, a feature compiling nonfiction submissions from the magazine’s readers on an intentionally broad topic. Occasionally I submit pieces for consideration. More often, I write essays on the topics too late to submit them.

This piece should have been submitted by March 1, 2015, for consideration for the September 2015 issue.

Is ignorance bliss? Or does a positive attitude beget positive results?

I married for the first time at 20 years old. Too young. And to the wrong man.

But the first few months felt like success. I’m still trying to figure out if it was because he and I were actually on the same page working towards the same goals or if I just didn’t know enough to recognize failure when it stared me in the face.

We were both still students, though set to graduate with our bachelor’s degrees within five months. We each had part-time jobs. His salary paid the rent. My salary paid for groceries. That’s all the expenses we had, and we had them all covered. At least for the six months our student loans were deferred and the four months of grace on our car loan. We didn’t have a plan for what we would do then. We just thought we’d figure it out when we needed to.

My part-time job was very part time. I worked 16 hours a week at 70 cents an hour. After withholding, my take-home pay each week was $7.67 cents. So long as I had three pennies to round the amount up to $7.70, I could cash the check at the Black Hawk bar next door to the movie theatre where I was an usher. The bar wouldn’t hand out pennies, and I didn’t want to settle for $7.65. Because that was all I had to buy groceries and all the other non-grocery items, such as toilet paper and shampoo, each week.

We got our checks every Friday evening. Saturday mornings, I headed for the warehouse grocery store in town with my detailed list of necessities. In order to stretch the money, I picked up canned and packaged goods first. Each shopper was handed a grease pen on arrival with instructions to write the prices on the items as we picked them up. I am amazed now at the trust the store placed in all its customers. But it never occurred to me to write anything other than the listed price. The act of writing also helped me total up the prices as I walked up and down the aisles.

Once I had the cans, boxes, and paper products I needed, I calculated how much money I had available for meat. Ground beef was about 49 cents a pound in those days, chicken was even cheaper, but only sold as a whole bird, and a package of hotdogs was also 49 cents. So for every dollar I didn’t need for canned goods, I could buy two pounds of beef, two packages of hot dogs, or a chicken. That determined the proportion of meat to rice or noodles in the meals I could prepare for the upcoming week.

It never occurred to me to complain that I had so little money. I had what I had. And that had to be enough. So it was.