Friday, March 28, 2008

Starvation rations

My friend Erin and I used to spend a lot of time together. She lived really close to campus at the time so many days after school I would find myself at her apartment. We would eat together, go shopping together, do homework together, go to the temple together, and just generally hang out together. I even remember one night when I called her after I got done giving tours at the Conference Center at 9:00, and I ended up going to her apartment and eating with her. We were together much of the time.

Since Erin didn't have a car, sometimes I would take her to the grocery store or on other errands she needed to run. One time when we were at the grocery store, Erin was choosing fruit and I was standing near the fruit aisle with a basket. The thought came to me: "This must be what marriage is like." As we got closer to the end of our shopping trip, Erin said something to me like, "Sometimes I feel like you and I are like a married couple." I said, "That's what I was just thinking!"

Erin got married about a year ago. I was privileged to be one of the first people who found out that she and Nate were engaged. The day Erin showed me the ring and grinned until I figured it out was kind of a hard day for me. I was used to spending so much time with her and I have to admit that I was jealous that she was spending her attention on someone else but me. Not that I would have it any other way; she and Nate seem really happy.

The other day Erin and I went to Wendy's together and then I gave her a ride home. It felt a lot like old times in a bittersweet way.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Four new words I learned recently

It's not too often that I learn four new words in such a short period of time. Here they are:


Monday, March 17, 2008

Me and the Next Blog button

If you don't know what the Next Blog button is, just look in the upper left-hand corner of the page you're reading. Yep, there it is, right next to the search box. When you click this button, it will take you to another blog hosted by Blogger. It's an interesting way to see what is out there in the blogosphere.

I have to admit that I have some Internet habits of things that I will do or look at when I am just a little bored and want to surf for a while. A site I visit pretty regularly, for example, is and sometimes I even go to when I'm in the mood. I used to spend a LOT of time on Yahoo! Answers but not so much lately; it's not as interesting to me as it used to be. But the Next Blog button sort of hits me in the right spot; when you click it, it'll take you to another blog written by someone in the world. There's gotta be SOMETHING to see.

My experiences with the Next Blog button are kind of mixed. It could definitely get habit-forming if you're not careful. I mean, at what point do you decide you've seen enough blogs? I don't know how many there are, but I'm pretty sure there are more than I could have time to see. So what I do is I tell myself that I will push the button until I get to another blog in English. (There are actually a lot of blogs out there that I can read pretty well, either because they are written in a non-English language that I can read i.e. Spanish or because they have a lot of English interwoven with whatever it is. But I usually go until I see one that's at least mostly English. It takes a little longer and is therefore more fun that way.)

Theoretically, the Next Blog button could take you to something inappropriate. In practice though, this has only happened to me one time. Apparently the Blogger people are pretty good at keeping people off of the site with inappropriate pictures. If you see a blog that is inappropriate in some way, you can click "Flag Blog" and Blogger will check it out. They also have algorithms to search for spamblogs and keep those out of the possible sites that will come up on the Next Blog link. (In fact, my other blog "I'm Grateful For..." was flagged as a possible spamblog for a while and had to be cleared by the Blogger staff.) I can't remember coming across too many spamblogs while clicking Next Blog.

The more common thing that interferes with my Next Blog fun is when people edit their blog pages so that the Next Blog link does not appear. Come on people, I realize that the link at the top is stopping your page from being completely beautiful, but it's just a small banner at the top of the page... Happily it's easy to click the back button and give it another try.

I have found actually that Next Blog will tend to show me the same blog multiple times. For example, let's imagine that I click Next Blog 20 times on the same day. Maybe 4 of those might be the same one or two blogs. It feels sort of circular when this happens.

Yesterday, for the first time ever, when I clicked the Next Blog link, I saw a blog that had a picture on it of a person I know. That was kind of a weird feeling. Maybe the blogosphere is smaller than I thought it was...

Go ahead, click it!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Minutiae from today.

I was sitting in church -- I think it was Relief Society -- when I realized that I had probably forgotten to brush my teeth in the morning. That is, I certainly couldn't remember brushing them at any point. I had already eaten breakfast and apparently my teeth weren't dirty enough for me to notice (I usually notice the not-smooth feeling when my teeth are dirty) so I don't think I had remembered to brush them. This is out of the ordinary for me; I'm a pretty regular brusher. Thankfully I had some gum with me so I popped in a piece and kept it in there for the rest of church. I did the whole hold-your-hand-in-front-of-your-mouth-and-check-your-breath thing and it didn't smell too bad... hopefully nobody noticed. I brushed after I got home.

I wanted to eat something when I got home from church in the afternoon so I got out some leftover potato soup that my mom had made last night and popped it into the microwave. While eating the soup at the kitchen counter, I dropped some onto my skirt. I wiped it off and decided to let the mark dry and see how it looked. After it dried I looked at it and decided that the vague whitish marks there weren't noticeable enough for me to change my skirt for my meeting with the bishop, so I didn't.

Hm... today's blog kind of makes me sound like a slob... hopefully I'm not the only person who does things like this from time to time.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The most random thing that happened to me today.

As I sat watching Act I of the Evergreen Junior High School musical, something small and squishy hit me in the left temple. At intermission, I looked at the floor and a fruit snack was sitting there.

Runner-up for most random thing that happened to me today: as I was driving on a major street near my neighborhood, some kids threw a snowball at my car. No damage, just a loud metallic thud.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

In loving memory

I'm thinking tonight of a dear friend of mine whom I haven't seen in some time. To keep things private for her family, I'll just refer to her as M.

M is one of the best people I've ever met. Period. She always treated me so kindly and approached life with such optimism. This is remarkable considering that she suffered from serious health problems, not the least of which was spina bifida. I doubt that she lived a day without pain in her life. Sometimes, for example, she kept her hands clasped in a fist because it was too painful to open them. She didn't let her limitations stop her from doing great things, though. She held a Master's degree in TESOL and used a scooter to get around because she couldn't walk long distances.

M first came into my life in the summer of 2001. This was an interesting time for me. I had just returned from a full-time mission some months earlier and was trying to figure out my place in life. I had finished my bachelor's degree in biology shortly before going on the mission and when I came back I was trying to figure out what to do with my life. I had been considering pharmacy school but wasn't as jazzed about that idea as I had initially been. In the meantime I was taking an intensive Spanish-language class.

Enter M. She had been living in Las Vegas but decided just to come to Salt Lake City for the summer. She was working on a certificate to be a proofreader and was doing an internship with a local organization. M just happened to be staying with a family that lives just a few blocks from me and she just happened to start going to the same ward that I attend and we just happened to be assigned to be visiting teaching companions.

In addition to being an excellent visiting teaching companion, M helped me with many issues that I was struggling with at the time. Being a returned missionary herself, she helped me make the transition back from a full-time mission. She encouraged me in the work I was trying to do with a less-active friend I cared about. And when I expressed interest in becoming an ESL teacher, she gave me advice, since she herself held a Master's degree in TESOL and had worked in the field for a few years. Her enthusiasm for the field encouraged me as I was just getting into it; I remember her telling me that she thought ESL teaching was the next best thing to teaching seminary. In other words, God couldn't have put a more perfect person in my life at the time to help me with what I was experiencing.

After that summer was over, M moved away to another adventure, but thankfully our relationship didn't end. She ended up having more health problems and ended up back in Salt Lake City to receive treatment at the University Hospital. During that time M and her mother stayed in my house while she received the treatment. Eventually she ended up in Las Vegas, and during the early part of 2003 or so, she entered the hospital and didn't really come out again.

During this time I called my friend M more than once on the telephone. Even though she was in great pain and the medications she was taking were so strong they slurred her speech, she could remember exactly what we had talked about in our previous conversations. She cared about and asked about people we had discussed, even people she had never met. I remember only one occasion in the whole time that I knew M where she mentioned to me the pain she was in. I noticed because it was so surprising to me. She just chose to focus on others and spread her love outwards instead of focusing much energy on worrying about herself.

M passed away in the summer of 2003 and I was surprised to find how much I missed her. The hole she left in my life was palpable for quite some time, even though I hadn't really seen her in a year or so. Her example continued to help me during that time, because with her passing my belief in the afterlife became even stronger. I very much wanted to see my friend M again, and it motivates me to know that she was a great person, so if I want to end up where she is, I will probably have to be pretty good.

Even in death M continued to touch people with her optimism and sense of humor. M left careful instructions in her will about her wishes for her possessions and her funeral. Having grown up in Hawaii, she loved Polynesian culture and desired to have a funeral where people wore light colors, not dark ones. She showed her love of music by giving special instructions about which songs and hymns would be performed at her funeral, and there were quite a few of them. Her sense of humor came out in her will as she gave instructions for the treatment of her body. I recall one of the statements was something like, "Don't let them put makeup on me unless I'd look totally dead without it." M's body was laid to rest in the cemetery in Laie, Hawaii. I hope that I can visit her grave someday.

It's humbling to think about the great effort God went to to put M into my life. She came at a crucial time just when I needed her and moved out of my city just as quickly when the summer was over. I'm sure there were many other people who could have benefited from her amazing love and example and I am positive that many people have. I feel privileged to be one of them. While preparing this post, I googled on her name and discovered that her former employer put out a newsletter in the summer of 2003 announcing her passing. It's obvious that they cared about her. I only knew M for a couple of years, but it's clear that she left behind her a long line of people who are better for her influence. I'm happy to be one of them.

(I did consult a couple of web pages while writing this post, but I have decided not to include the links for privacy reasons.)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A crazy theory...

...that I have a feeling pretty much nobody except maybe Linden will be interested in.

This is what I was thinking this morning as I was putting on my socks: these days when I communicate with people over the Internet I can't necessarily tell what dialect of English they use. If I were hearing their accent I would at least have a clue that, for example, they are from the UK instead of the USA or something like that. But the syntactic and vocabulary differences between the dialects are small enough that most of the time it's not completely obvious which dialect people are using.

BUT, as we all know (hee hee) people and groups use language to distinguish themselves, for social reasons. We don't WANT to be the same as other groups of people. Therefore, in the age of electronic communication, we might expect that the change in morphosyntax/vocabulary of the dialects is going to accelerate, since these kinds of change will be more effective at distinguishing ourselves from each other than phonological change.

Linden, is this EXACTLY the same thing you've already thought of?

(End of me being a crazy sociolinguist. For now.)

Monday, March 10, 2008


I love Sundays. No matter how terrible I feel before I get to church, I always feel uplifted afterwards. Part of it, I feel, is the opportunity to associate with my wonderful friends at church, who are so kind and giving. It's so nice to be with people I trust and feel their healing touch and tenderness. And of course a major part of it is the influence of the Holy Ghost, the great Comforter, which always makes me feel better. This weekend was no exception; I had been feeling lonely and worn out on Friday but after going to church I felt so much better. It reminds me of this quote from Elder Wirthlin, where he discusses the death and resurrection of Christ:

"Each of us will have our own Fridays—those days when the universe itself seems shattered and the shards of our world lie littered about us in pieces. We all will experience those broken times when it seems we can never be put together again. We will all have our Fridays.

"But I testify to you in the name of the One who conquered death—Sunday will come. In the darkness of our sorrow, Sunday will come.

"No matter our desperation, no matter our grief, Sunday will come. In this life or the next, Sunday will come."
"Sunday Will Come", Joseph B. Wirthlin

To the kind people who make effort to make church a good experience for me and share their friendship, thank you.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Another Laffy Taffy joke...

Q: What is the biggest pencil in the world?
A: Pennsylvania!

Christopher M., St. Louis, Mo

For a Laffy Taffy joke, I actually think that one's not that bad...

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

National (Prescriptive) Grammar Day

Thanks to Linden, who reminded me that today is National Grammar Day, as declared by the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar and MSN Encarta.

As you can tell from the title of this post, though, I think that National Grammar Day is a misnomer, since the point of National Grammar Day, according to the website, is to: "Speak well! Write well! And on March 4, march forth and spread the word. If you see a sign with a catastrophic apostrophe, send a kind note to the storekeeper. If your local newscaster says 'Between you and I,' set him straight with a friendly e-mail."

So it's not actually about grammar, it's about telling people what grammar to use.

A problem that I have with many prescriptivists is how they seem to believe that you cannot communicate unless you are following their rules. Here's an example from the NGD website: "If we don't respect and honor the rules of English, we lose our ability to communicate clearly and well." Put simply, I think that the implication that we do not communicate well if we don't follow prescriptive rules is basically baloney.

Ambiguity is a feature of all human language. Many linguists (such as the chair of the department of linguistics that I work in) would argue that ambiguity is actually what gives language its power. It is not necessarily something to be feared. This is probably one of the reasons why languages like Lojban haven't caught on; we don't need them. For example, the Encarta feature on the topic includes the following statement: "I shaved my head when I was 17. I sold it for $500 to a famous Broadway wigmaker." This statement is supposed to be ambiguous because it supposedly sounds like the person is saying she sold her head instead of her hair. But in normal conversation no reasonable person would believe that she sold her head instead of her hair, so there really is no ambiguity.

Another implication I resent in prescriptive statements like the ones above is that it's only by following THOSE rules that one can be the most precise. An excellent example of how this is not true is the well-known "habitual be", a feature of the dialect called African American Vernacular English (AAVE, also known as Ebonics). In AAVE, the following sentences have different meanings:

He be happy.
He is happy.

The first sentence refers to the person's general personality, while the second refers to the person's current condition. This is a distinction that standard English rules do not make, since there the same two meanings are expressed in standard English with the same construction:

He is happy.
He is happy.

Therefore, we have an example where a non-standard dialect is actually more precise than the standard. So, if precision is your goal, standard English is not the ideal way to go, apparently.

Don't get me wrong. As a teacher of writing I believe that "good" grammar is important to writing, but only in a sociolinguistic sense: using the grammar rules that are considered to be prestigious will get you more respect and prestige. The problem is that many people (even ardent prescriptivists) don't have a good enough understanding of grammar to understand when rules truly should or shouldn't apply. Thus we get weird rules like "Don't start a sentence with because," or "Don't use too many gerunds." (A professor I had actually used to use that one.) And when people ask why, the answer might just be, "Because I said so." ;) (Thankfully, Encarta included this article about grammar errors that aren't.)

I agree that there is some merit to the claim that errors in grammar can make language difficult to understand. In the great majority of cases, though, the types of grammar errors addressed in prescriptive grammar rules are not the kinds that would cause true misunderstanding. Compare the following two examples:

I sold it for $500 to a famous Broadway wigmaker.
I it sold $500 for a famous Broadway wigmaker to.

There is no prescriptive grammar rule that says, for example, "Put the preposition at the beginning of the prepositional phrase before its object," but the sentence that follows this rule is much more understandable than its counterpart.

So Happy National Grammar Day, but instead of encouraging you to offend your friends and neighbors by correcting their grammar, making them feel that they're not listening to you, I instead encourage you to truly study grammar, the amazing patterns of morphosyntax as they are embedded in their full semantic and pragmatic contexts. And, if you really feel the need to correct people, then you'll really know what you're talking about.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Me me me again

This survey is slightly different from the one I did in this post.

What time is it?
10:40 pm

What's your full name?
not gonna answer this one on my blog, but if you know it, you know it

What are you most afraid of?
Still pleading the fifth on this one...

What is the most recent movie that you have seen in a theater?
It's been so long I can't even remember.

Place of birth
Salt Lake City, UT

Favorite Food
Yes. :) Okay, if I have to name, I would say Greek, Mexican, Italian, and others.

What's your natural hair color?
Blond. I have never colored my hair.

Ever been to Alaska?

Ever been toilet paper rolling?
What is that? Is that when you put toilet paper on people's trees and stuff? We call it "toilet papering" around here. And no, I haven't done it.

Love someone so much it made you cry?
Well, it has made me cry when someone I lived did something that made me sad...

Been in a car accident?
Yes, but nothing major.

Croutons or bacon bits?
If I have to choose, croutons.

Favorite day of the week?
Sunday, I think.

Favorite restaurant?
Cafe Rio, The Olympian, and lots of others. I like most restaurants.

Favorite flower?
Daisy. Iris. Lilac. And some others.

Favorite sport to watch?
Football. Gymnastics. Basketball. Volleyball.

Favorite drink?

Favorite ice cream?
I'm not picky. Anything chocolatey, like Ben and Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Brownie.

Disney or Warner Brothers?
Weird question. Both.

Ever been on a ship?
I've been on a boat, does that count?

What color is your bedroom carpet?

How many times did you fail your driver's test?
Once, but just a little. They let me do it again like the next day or something.

Before this one, from whom did you get your last e-mail?
The president of my Institute class (at least, I think she's the president).

What do you do when you are bored?
Surf the net. Watch or listen to TV.

Getting earlier. Usually not any later than 1. I would like it to be earlier.

Who will respond to this e-mail the quickest?
doesn't apply.

Who is least likely to respond?
No clue. I don't know who is reading this blog. I have gotten hits from some places where I totally don't know anyone.

Who is the person that you are most curious to see their responses?
Pleading the fifth...

Favorite TV SHOW?
I watch a lot of stuff on

Last person you went to dinner with?
I went out last weekend with three awesome friends for dinner and gelato.

Favorite time of year?
Fall. Honest.

What are your favorite colors?
Blue and green.

How many tattoos do you have?

How many pets do you have?
None currently

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
The question is still open. To be answered later.

What do you want to do before you die?
Get married and have a family. Travel some more.

Have you ever been to Hawaii?
No, but I hope to go there someday.

Have you been to countries outside the U.S.?
Yes, so far I've been to Mexico, Canada, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria and England.

How many people are you sending this e-mail to?
Whoever reads it.

Time this survey ended?
10:53 pm

Irony, Part 2

Yesterday I wrote: "In fact, I feel like irony is sort of a main principle of how things work. It seems that no one is exempt from it at some point or other."

I have continued to think a bit about this topic and thought I would explain a little more about what I meant by that. It seems like irony is just the way that things work on sort of an eternal scheme. At least, a lot of things that way. Now, don't get me wrong, I believe that God is just, and I believe that He rewards people according to what they deserve (although you might argue that His rewards are usually much, much more generous than what people really deserve, because of the mercy of Christ.) But in the meantime, there are some unjust and ironic things that will take place.

Consider, for example, these scriptures:
Matthew 19:30
But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.

Matthew 10: 39
He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.

These are beautiful scriptures that actually explain the character of God's justice, but, in my interpretation, they are full of irony.

Isn't it the ultimate irony that the only sinless person to ever live on the earth, Jesus Christ, took upon Himself the sins of the world? But I am very glad that He did.

And so it seems that irony is a part of everything. Isn't that cool?

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Life's little ironies

I was happy the other day when I got a message online from one of my long-time friends saying that she was going to be coming to Salt Lake City for the weekend. We originally met when I was living in Winnipeg (she grew up there) and we have managed to see each other several times over the years in different locations. She decided to come down to Salt Lake City from Calgary because there was a seminar taking place this weekend that she really wanted to attend. She called me on Friday night to pick her up from the shuttle and she stayed with us Friday night, in anticipation of going to the seminar on Saturday.

Things didn't work out like she hoped, though. It turned out that she became ill onthe trip and instead of attending her seminar, she spent the whole day in bed. At the time of blogging, she is still in bed, too weak to get up and do much of anything.

Life has some ironies in it sometimes. In fact, I feel like irony is sort of a main principle of how things work. It seems that no one is exempt from it at some point or other.

The title of this post is based on a comic strip called The K Chronicles. Occasionally in his strip he posts "Life's Little Victories", small things that happen in life that make you feel happy.

Well here's hoping that my friend feels better soon.