Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Lions and Leopards and Lemurs. Oh my! (Plus hallucinatory eagles.)

Recently, I did another installment of silly sentence diagrams. This one involved alliteration. Or L-iteration. Also the occasional differentiation between indirect objects and prepositional phrases.

Eric handled it beautifully, of course.

1. Lee likes lions.
2. Laura likes loquacious lions.
3. Linda loves lions and lemurs.
4. Lou loves listless lions and lollygagging lemurs.

5. Luke lent a leopard to Leopold.
6. Luke lent Leopold a leopard.
7. Leopold loaned Luke a loon.

From some twisted sense of sentence solidarity, though, I also allowed Eric to assign me a hard sentence to diagram.

Wait, I remember what I was thinking. Foolishly, I hoped this offer would motivate him to compose a compound/complex sentence with multiple subjects. You know, like "My beautiful Mom and strong, brave Dad, both of whom are really smart, enjoy doing futoshiki puzzles while flirting with each other."

Instead, I was bonked with the boomerang of unintended consequence.

You may recall that, in a recent post, I mentioned how I taught Eric about dangling participles. Granted, it was a side issue brought about by my tricksiness. But it was very generous of me to take the time away from torturing the translator to explain the point.

And how did he repay my kindness?

With a craven act of vile vengeance.

[For a typed transcript, scroll to the bottom of this post.]

So, should I retaliate by giving him a super hard sentence? I'm afraid I'd rue that chicken coming home to roost. Obviously I should punish him by giving him really boring sentences.

Okay, Eric. Tomorrow's assignment is to diagram a "Dick and Jane" story.

See Dick yawn. Yawn, Dick, yawn. See Jane do grammar. No, no, Jane. It is a bad idea to deliberately split infinitives....

A note: I composed the text for this post while Jon was watching "Kid History" on youtube. Very distracting.

Any mistakes in my grammar should be blamed on him. Or Eric. Or karma. --GHB

My handwriting can be hard to read. I offer a transcription of the last two images.

[Eric's handwriting] Flying over the canyon, I saw an eagle.

[Gail's handwriting--lasts for the duration]

I told Eric to write a "really tricksy" sentence for me to diagram. That scamp deliberately threw a dangling participle at me!

I think I'll just re-write the durn thing.

If the eagle is flying:


If I am flying, I'm either hallucinating (and thus in no condition to be diagramming sentences -- ooh! purple platypus! with pustules!), or I have an amazing magical gift (and should be leveraging it into money, not wasting my time diagramming sentences), or I'm on an airplane. We'll assume the lattest (superlative of "latter").

Obviously I'm on a long flight and so deathly bored I'm alternating between staring out the window--look, an eagle!--and diagramming sentences.

[page turn]

How pathetic is that? I'd rather be hallucinating.

Wait a minute...what's an eagle doing at this altitude? Maybe I am hallucinating.

Perhaps if I ignore it by immersing myself in the dull prosody of sentence diagrams, it will go away.

(While) flying over the canyon (in an airplane) (on a broomstick)*, I saw an eagle.



[alternate diagram]

* remember my altitude concerns

Friday, September 14, 2012

Fun Friday: Translation Sensation

I have so many fun homeschool lessons. Recently, something Renae Kingsley said made me decide to give up on chronological order. Now I'll just post these things as is convenient. (Which generally means, as I unearth them from the piles of papers strewn all about my house.) How liberating!

Here's one from August 10, 2012. For history, we were discussing the King James Bible. I talked about the translation process and William Tyndale, and then pulled up several divergent English translations. We compared Psalm 23 in the KJV, the New International Version, and the Douai-Rheims. Also The Message, which was awful. Funny, but awful. It reads like he didn't even reference the original languages, but simply paraphrased from an existing English translation. "Your trusty shepherd's crook makes me feel secure" vs. "thy rod and thy staff they comfort me." Hopefully this link, to the entire side-by-side comparison, will work...

Then, to bring home the difficulties of translation, we tried one of my favorite activities, which involves running a block of text through an online translator. Tee hee. (Like this exercise from Bastille Day, 2008.)

I wrote a bad text and then ran it through several online translations. I documented each step, but in summary, let's just say that French, Japanese, Basque, and Swedish featured prominently. Finally, I had the google translator render it back in English. Eric had to guess my original intent, based upon the mangled text, which I quote below:

Wash up, I saw the Sun do gymnastics. He is sooo cute and tumbling pass with three turns of the rotation if you're shy, if you get my drift. Then he completely frustrated, she cries if strident. Your use probably buy it now, but I fine boring. However, I "practiceth. Long-suffering, patience, and a" remember the Bible says.

Too hard? Yes, Eric thought so as well.

I simplified it a bit and gave him some hints, but he was stymied. So was Jon.

I don't blame them.

See, I didn't just write a bad text. I deliberately wrote a text which I knew would trip the translator.

Here is the original idea, rendered in readable English:

While I was washing dishes, I saw Sam trying to do gymnastics. He is really cute but doesn't have much strength or coordination yet. Because he can't do much more than a somersault, he gets frustrated and then screams. You are probably accustomed to his screams, but I find them annoying. Still, when I start to get cranky, I remind myself that the Bible teaches us to be patient.

Now, my deliberately corrupted version, with commentary:

Washing dishes, I saw Sam doing gymnastics.

I put a dangling participle in to make it unclear whether it was Sam or I who was doing dishes. Later, this led to an explanation of misplaced modifiers in general and dangling participles in particular. See? Educational.

Sam turning into Sat, Saturday, and the Sun surprised me. It was a felicitous accident. Apparently the translator saw "Sam" and assumed it was an abbreviation for the word "Samedi," which means "Saturday" in French. Most languages base their day names on local mythology like Moon Day, Thor's Day, Saturn's Day, or Sun Day. At one point in the process, poor Sam even got turned into the Earth. I mercifully changed him back again.

He's soooo cute but still a few rotations shy of a triple twisting tumbling pass, if you get my drift.

Very idiomatic language. Both "soooo" and "if you get my drift" seemed to survive quite well; generally the translator simply didn't try to render them in the target language, so they re-entered the English without mishap. I thought it was hilarious to see "Sooo cute da, batzuk nire Deriva" in Basque.

"Shy," on the other hand, successfully wrought havoc.

Then he gets frustrated so he screams shrilly.

Mostly filler. I made the grammar slightly awkward with the conjunction "so," but I wasn't really trying.

Your probably use to him buy now but I fined it annoying.

Here my true evil shows. Homophones! Specially designed to "sound" right but befuddle an online substitution dictionary.

But then I remind myself what the Bible says about "he who practiceth patience and long-suffering."

The exercise wouldn't be complete without some Biblical language. (Plus I figured the archaic conjugation also wouldn't show up in a modern lexicon.)

As online translators get better, this exercise gets less fun.

I shall enjoy designing Turing Test Traps while I still can.

--The point of this exercise, naturally, was to show that it is sometimes hard to discern the "original intent" of an ancient message. Especially if original documents have been lost or poorly transcribed. This is why we need a living prophet! For more on my opinion about potential problems in translation, see this post about the Bible and science.

--The devoted reader might also wish to read this story about my stuffed animals trying to translate scripture (well, Green Eggs and Ham) from the "original" Latin. http://burgunbesiegt.blogspot.com/2009/08/mommiest-moments-june-2009.html

Thursday, September 13, 2012

More "Fifteen Minute" Poetry

On my most recent turn to be in charge of Family Home Evening, I announced another round of poetry writing.

Now, I believe in differentiation. For that reason, I made a few adjustments.

1) Sam and Jeff were off the hook.
2) Daniel's poem didn't have to rhyme.
3) Jon, Eric, and Daniel were all warned at least an hour in advance so they could begin brainstorming.
4) I would let them confer and assign me a topic, at the last moment, so my poem would be truly extemporaneous. (How's that for a handicap?)

After dinner, we convened in the living room. I started a timer. Fifteen minutes later, we read our compositions aloud.

I quote the unedited originals, including any errors.


Ok, I'm feeling hungry, I know! I'm feeling soooo hungry, I'll eat twenty-two, dehidrated, Thanksgiving feasts. A while later...BURP!!! Did I hit you with my sonic burp I aqired from eating sooo much, sorry. The End.


There once was a deerling named Bambi
His story is quite Mamby-pamby
Then came a big fire,
and cooked up his dad
Now Bambi feels really bad.

Jon finished and then  announced that had been his "safety poem," composed during dinner. In his allotted fifteen minutes, he had also managed a couplet.

Knowing this means you're really quite fine
Now I know that you're just plain great

Two poems! And they rhymed this time! Good job, honey.


My python's not as dangerous as he looks,
Domestic, he is, in a family with books.
He tries to kill others, but never sucseeds,
But still, if you see him, go hide in the reeds.

He has not a name, but we're thinking of one,
Like Andrew? Elizabeth? Anakin? John?
That ought to describe him, now let's see what's next.
The cat is a good one. Let's see if she's hexed.


Quick flashback. We convened in the living room, then I left so the three "men" could confer. When they were ready, I entered the room and met my doom.

Jon took unholy pleasure in handing down my assignment: I had a mere fifteen minutes to compose an original, rhyming poem about "a conversation between a kangaroo and a tarantula, discussing the fjords of Uzbekistan."

I blinked. "Isn't Uzbekistan landlocked?" I asked.

"We didn't want to make it too easy for you," Jon explained, primly, then graciously said I was allowed to take some geographic liberties.

[Thanks, honey. Just remember, there are wars of words, and wars of escalation. But in an escalating war of words, I have the long-term advantage.]

Now, before you, the reader, judge me, the writer, let's try some role reversal. Go ahead and try the challenge yourself. I'll wait here.

See? It's harder than you thought. Remember that when you're judging my pitiful effort below.

A kilted killer kangaroo
(who was afraid of kittens)
encountered a tarantula
engaged in staging sit-ins.

Although our startled kangaroo
shrieked, screamed, freaked out, and fainted,
the selfish spider sat, unmoved,
and hieroglyphics painted.

Remonstrated the kangaroo,
"You really ought to move, man.
You frighten all who cross your path
Here is Uzbekistan."

Arachne, peeved, replied to this
"You speak most out of turn, sir.
For one thing, I'm a female. Plus
you'll never make me stir.

"I love landlocked Uzbekistan
with all its fjords resounding."
The kangaroo injected here
"There are no fjords abounding!

"A fjord lies on a coastline, see,
And Slartibartflast signs 'em.
And now I'm off to Norway for
the ice and snow to mine 'em."

Yes, it rather falls apart at the end. If I'd had but a few more minutes...

That's okay. Soon enough it will be my turn again for FHE. And I shall have vengeance!!!

Notes on the poem.

1. Arachne and the kangaroo both have quotes which span two stanzas.
2. Slartibartfast is a character from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series. I misspelled his name in my original poem. (Can you blame me?) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slartibartfast

Thursday, September 6, 2012

...and I'm living a b-grade gothic sitcom. Part II.

[Sorry about the delay. If you're looking for part I of this story, click here.]

Okay, a confession:

In my last post, I concealed vital information.  This enhanced the cliffhanger for dramatic effect.

In reality, slightly before leaving the Loderups, (around 10 p.m.), I finally found a reliable report that the Moonglow fire was 70% contained. Thirteen homes had burned.

While we were driving to the Latham’s house for the night, I got a call from a neighbor saying police were allowing families back into our neighborhood.

We decided to continue to the Latham’s, since: (1) we had already explained The Plan to the kids and didn’t want to stretch the limits of Eric’s flexibility; (2) “70% contained” did not sound like “100% controlled” or “guaranteed you won’t have to evacuate again if the winds worsen” or “you’re certain to have power tonight”; (3) we were almost to our destination while home was in the opposite direction; and (4) we had no idea how smoky the air would be and most of us have asthma (plus I can’t breathe when I’m eight months pregnant, even under the best of circumstances).

This does mean that when I collapsed wearily into bed that night, I was only slightly worried about my house.

See? The original ending, where I fall asleep without any information on the fate of my library, was much more dramatic.

Are you going to let an obsession with accuracy get in the way of a good yarn? The story was true, just not the facts.

I now return you to my dramatic slumber, already in progress…

I slept about four hours. I remember that stretch of sleep fondly, since it was the last such block I got for the next many months.

Sometime after 3 a.m. I woke up needing to use the bathroom. A very common occurrence in late pregnancy, one which had already interrupted my sleep a great deal. Each pregnancy, I threaten to break down and buy adult diapers rather than deal with hourly migrations, and each pregnancy I never – quite – do it.

Now, I wish to be delicate about this. Let’s just say I had some minor, ah, digestive upset, which I first imputed to stress, but which did not ease over time. I alternated between sitting on the toilet and lying in bed, but at one point I noticed a little spotting of blood and thought to consult my watch. After about twenty minutes, a preliminary data set indicated a pattern of variable discomfort, of strong but imperfect correlation, clustered around nodes occurring approximately every five minutes.

In other words, I was having contractions. Minor at first, but getting stronger. Lasting about thirty seconds, and spaced approximately five minutes apart.

I did not want to be an alarmist. Jon was exhausted, too, and I hated to wake him up if it turned out to be nothing. Still, given my experience with Daniel, I decided not to take chances.

I woke up Jon.

He was incoherent at first, but I finally got through to him. It’s a testament to his tuckered-out state that the words “contractions,” “labor,” and “hospital” did not send him leaping out of bed like flustered, flummoxed flea.

Next I hobbled down the hall to alert the Lathams. I felt guilty for repaying their hospitality by waking them up around 4 a.m. and saying “I’m foisting my kids off on you. They’ll wake up in a few hours, hungry, cranky, and disoriented, all of which will rapidly grow worse when they discover their parents have abandoned them to relative strangers. Sammy has some separation anxiety…oh, and did I mention that Eric is autistic?”

On the other hand, everyone agreed that just about any plan was better than my giving birth in their living room. (“Ouch! Owww.”)

The Lathams were so gracious about everything. I’m grateful that we left the kids in the hands of experienced parents who rose to the occasion beautifully. Thanks! There’s always room for honorary adopted grandparents in the family. If our faith tradition included the role, we would have asked them to be godparents.

Jon only missed a few turns on the way to the hospital. In his defense, he had reviewed the route from home and work, but not from an unfamiliar neighborhood. Labor rolled right along, but not with the breath-snatching speed I had feared. (This means I was only saying “OUCH!!! OWWWWW” by the time we arrived.)

We had some trouble breaking into the maternity ward. (Really poor signage. If I hadn’t been in labor, I’d have volunteered my technical writing skills to the problem.) After we finally figured out which button to push, I got to talk to an actual nurse. Filled out some paperwork. (No, I hadn’t filled it out in advance. Yes, I probably have ADD. Yes, I got excellent grades in school, but that’s because I’m apparently more terrified of a teacher’s disapproval than I am chary of natural childbirth. No, that doesn’t make any sense at all. Quit nagging. You’re distracting me from my breathing exercises.)

For a wonder, the nurse actually believed I was in labor. I was placed promptly in a room, examined, and treated. I emphasized, at five-minute intervals, how much I wanted an epidural. I was explicit on this point. (See? Good technical writing skills pay off.) OWWWWWCH!!!!! [Grunt]

Despite my continual reminders, it took a while. They had to set things up, start an IV, give me a dose of antibiotics (which took forever to drip and longer to diagnose—turned out I was sitting on the tubing, grrr), etc., etc.  Still, though I was progressing rapidly, it wasn’t the lightning-fast experience I had with Daniel. (For REAL delivery drama, read this post and scroll down to "Daniel.")

The nurse was doubtful I’d make it. I awaited the worst. When the anesthesiologist finally arrived, the nurse asked if I thought there was any point, since I was minutes away from pushing.

Again, I refer you to the Daniel Drama, referenced two paragraphs prior.

I don’t know why some women think that natural childbirth confers positive karma.  It’s like they think that unnecessary suffering is spiritually uplifting. Or it somehow “proves” their love for the baby.

Perhaps I am without natural affection. Certainly I am “without remorse or conscience.”

I took the drugs. Aaaaaah.

It slowed labor down, but I was “past feeling.”

 “It must be so pleasant to be the anesthesiologist,” I remarked to the angelic assuager of agony. “Everyone is always delighted to see you.”

The nurse pouted humorously.

After that, it was textbook.  Baby Boy Berry, still unnamed, arrived around midmorning. We alerted siblings and grandparents. Daniel asked, “Do I still have to go to school today?” We all answered “Absolutely not!” (For a post on his subsequent absence excuse note, click here.) I posted a picture on facebook.

Photo: Behold! My latest adorable baby! It's okay to be jealous. I understand.
Posted on Facebook, September 6th, 2011

Once I was in a regular room, I flipped through channels for news of the fire. Most reports were still focused on the Bastrop blaze, but I got snatches about what was now being called “the Moon Glow fire.” Apparently four teens had been seen fleeing the site of the outbreak. Vague descriptions were posted, but to my knowledge, no one was ever caught.

My theory is some fourteen-year-old borderline delinquent kids decided to experiment with smoking .  The police suspected arson. Does gross stupidity count?

I also noted, wryly, that the heat broke that day. After months of three-digit temperatures, the weather and my water broke at the same time. The high on September 6th was in the mid-nineties.

Apparently control over the weather runs in the family. I'll send baby Geoffrey to his Aunt Carolyn for instruction.

The next few days—well, actually, the next three months—are rather blurry.

Betty Latham graciously volunteered to watch the children the next day. Best babysitter ever! She took them to a park, to Chick-fil-A, and even helped them pick out a lovely bouquet for me. Awwwwww. Melissa Farnsley took over all my carpool duties for weeks. (Thanks—and just as well, since I would have been a disaster driving. As it was, I was still a menace when I did resume.) Lots of ladies brought meals and gifts. It’s so nice belonging to a church with a good support group.

A lovely bouquet from
Betty and the boys

So, there you have it. Drought, hurricane, and fire. Hideous heat. Juvenile delinquents. Inevitable plot points. Labor, not at the worst possible time, but the second-to-worst inconvenient moment, three weeks early. Epidural uncertainty. Homes destroyed. (Just, blessedly, not mine.)

Drama, delivered.

Geoffrey’s birthday was today.

I celebrated by trying to burn my house down.

No, really. See, our oven is broken. (Yes, I have called the repair guy. It only took me a week. I'm not that ADD.) Daniel desperately wanted some kind of cake on Jeff's actual birthday. I would have preferred simply to wait, but I was cajoled into trying a gruesome experiment. We took cake batter and divided it. One-third we ate straight. Another third we cooked on the stove. The last third I put in a bowl and nuked.

Yes, I checked it at frequent intervals. Who knew it followed such a steep exponential curve? It took only a few seconds to go from "I think it's about done" to "Aaaagh! We need ventilation!"

Naturally, Jon walked in at the worst possible moment. But I managed to get the charred confection out of the microwave and onto the back deck without setting off the smoke alarm.

This was a deliberate piece of performance art. That's my story, and I defy you to prove otherwise.

A year and a day ago, I was collapsing wearily into a strange bed, worried about my home.

I spent the next several months worrying about sleep and sanity.

Now, a year later, as I sniff the delicate carcinogens still wafting through the downstairs, I look back and smile. My home is fine. My family is beautiful.

Even if our house hadn’t survived, our family would still be beautiful.

The day Jon and I got married, lots of things went wrong. I lost the marriage license. He got lost on the way to the temple. I risked life and limb rushing down the interstate at 90 miles per hour in the rain.

The stress was terrible. But, eventually, we all got to the temple. Changed clothes. Walked into the sealing room.

As I knelt across the altar from Jon, I calmed down. “This,” I thought, “Is what really matters. Despite everything that has gone wrong today. Even if everything after this is a disaster, even if the wedding reception flops…this is the moment of true eternal significance.” I smiled peacefully.

(That is, I smiled peacefully until I had to kiss him in public. But that’s a different story.)

I love my house, my library, my piano, and all the appurtenances pertaining thereto. But they are temporary.

People are eternal. Family is forever.

Happy birthday, Jeff.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Peons, Peonies, and Pianos

On August fifth, I posted this on facebook:

You know how lots of people say "I really wish my mom had made me practice the piano more"?

Well, I just called my parents and left a message:

"Hi Mom, Dad. This is Gail. I just want to let you both know that I forgive you--Dad, for paying for all those piano lessons, and Mom, for making me practice. Even though it means I have been released as primary chorister and called as the primary pianist, which is the easiest and most boooooring calling I can think of."

Kids, let this be a lesson to you: Defy your parents. Refuse to practice, ever again.

In other words, I pouted.

Well, really, I grieved. I'd had all these plans for how the kids were going to wow everyone in the primary program. They were going to sing two-part harmony on the hymn "Choose the Right." (I taught senior primary the alto line.) They were going to sing "I'll Walk With You," a song about being kind to those with disabilities--while doing ASL-based signs. I'd entertained visions of a spiritual show-stopper.

It also felt like a demotion, too, since I was still in primary--just behind the piano.

Now, I'm sure this experience will convey all kinds of positive lessons. Humility, for one thing, and obedience, for another.

The problem with growing experiences is they're uncomfortable in the moment. I'm thinking about C. S. Lewis's metaphor about God stretching a believer into a palace rather than a "decent cottage." The renovations are painful, but ultimately worth while.

A few days later, I had this conversation with God:

Gail: I feel like a machine. I show up, I play what they tell me to play. I don't need to practice. How can I magnify my calling when it's basically a binary "on/off" switch?
God: Not whining anymore would be a good start.
Gail: Oh. Right. Um, sorry.

So I decided to go straight. "No more whining!" I decided. I was really good, too--for a month.

Then today Sam woke up with a nasty cough.

"Oh, drat, he can't possibly go to church today!" I announced. "And, sweetie, I know how often you had to stay home during the last two years because I had primary callings. I think it's my turn, now that I'm replaceable." (Of course, I'm not all that replaceable, because there are sadly few people in the ward who play the piano. Which was my mother's stated purpose in making her children learn. Drat her foresight. This is why I also posted a notice on facebook offering free piano lessons to anyone who would agree to concentrate on church congregational singing.)

Naturally, we were already running late, so my sub options were limited. I sent a text message to the primary president, and then called my predecessor, who had already left home. I sent him an email, which I quote below with minor modifications:

Hi _____,

You strike me as the kind of guy who might be geeky enough to own a smart phone. (That's a compliment; after all, Jon and I both own smart phones.)

I know you just barely escaped the crushing python of primary peonage, but I have a little piano problem. See, Sam woke up with a nasty cough this morning and I'm going to stay home with him. I'm looking for a substitute....

I'm trying to analyze the possibilities:

1) You don't have a smart phone ==>> you don't get this message until it's too late ==>> no reply is necessary.
2) You don't check your messages in the middle of church, no matter how boring be the lessons. Very noble of you! And in this case, likely to pay off ==>> you don't get this message until it's too late ==>> no reply is necessary.
3) You check your messages, but then pretend you didn't. Feign ignorance. That's between you and your conscience, though I confess I'd be tempted to do the same thing ==>> you don't "get" the message until it's "too late" ==>> no reply is necessary.
(See? Not only will I not judge your duplicity, I will get the same result either way and will charitably assume either outcome 1 or 2.)
4) You get the message and rise heroically to the occasion ==>> you send me a reply message and then sub for me ==>> I thank you profusely and say all debts are now squared.
5) Regardless of your receipt of this message, Sister West waylays you.
--5a) You manage an excuse and escape. Congratulations. I'll try to imitate your technique.
--5b) You are sucked back into substitute serfdom. My sympathies. On the other hand, I thank you profusely and say all debts are square.

I know it would work better as a flow chart, but I'm not
that geeky. Well, actually, I am, but this message is already over budget, timewise.

Whatever happens, I did make an attempt to warn you. My conscience is clear! I'm off to perform all manner of disgusting parental grooming rituals on my tuberculous toddler. See? Wouldn't you rather be substituting in primary?

Gail Homer Berry

Does it count as whining if I'm laughing? Exaggerating for effect and poking fun at myself? Crowd source time. What's your opinion?

Regardless, I'm back on the wagon. Rather than spend my time pouting about peonage, I will think about peonies. Peonies are pretty. They are the state flower of Indiana, plus my own favorite flora. I used them extensively at my wedding.

Doubtless I'll use them in my Heavenly mansion someday.

I'm in my happy place with my peonies.

Maybe I'll even try draping some over the primary piano.