Mountain Lake, Warren County, New Jersey
Fall is here. BRING. IT. ON.
Even a writer knows that, sometimes, SHOW is better than TELL. So, for this month’s blog, I’ll let my photos serve as your passport to the magic that’s coming soon.
Fall is here. BRING. IT. ON.
Even a writer knows that, sometimes, SHOW is better than TELL. So, for this month’s blog, I’ll let my photos serve as your passport to the magic that’s coming soon.
I don’t know how it started. At some point, I began gnoming family members who came for a visit. I’d hide a cheerful gal or chubby fella in my guest’s suitcase, cooler, or purse, and include a note: You’ve been gnomed!
Of course, what goes around comes around, and before long, they were gnoming me back—like this trio my brother and sister-in-law recently hid in my gardens:
Or the one my son painted for me as a Mother’s Day surprise:
Or how about this “Ohm Gnome” from my sister:
My dad gnomed me with a guard for my back door:
Even my grandkids got into the action with this one:
And because every garden needs something blue, I gnomed myself with a Smurf-like fella:
Lately, I’ve been thinking about why I gnome my family members, and why they gnome me back. Is it just good, clean fun—a ping-pong of pranks at play? Or is there something deeper going on here? I suspect it’s a bit of both.
As a writer, I’ve learned that great ideas for plots and characters often spring from an encounter with reality. Family traditions are a great example. They offer rich material that can intensify the emotional tug in a story. A writer simply needs to look past the what, and focus on the why the tradition is happening.
For example, why does a grandmother spend three days making sage and cornbread stuffing for her family every Thanksgiving? Is it because everybody loves it? Not necessarily. There are always plenty of leftovers. The what—the cornbread stuffing—is not the richest ingredient in this scenario (although, my brothers would argue with me on this point). Instead, it’s the why behind this tedious effort that touches the heart. When the grandmother cooks her special meals, she’s expressing her love for her family through her fingertips. It’s one of the ways her mother showed love and the mother before her.
And this: Why does a son take his mom fishing every Mother’s Day? Is it to catch fish (the what)? They rarely catch a thing. Why he takes his mom fishing is the important element here. This is their moment, a special day that no one else can interrupt or steal from him. Oh, sure, a writer can evoke tenderness when she describes how the son hooks the minnow for his mom and shows her how to cast the line. But the real warmth of this river scene comes when he leans forward and says, “Remember the time…” The conversation that follows could be hilarious, poignant, or a multitude of other adjectives the writer can use to bring to life the precious relationship between a son and his mother.
And what about my gnoming tradition? Why do I continue to secretly send these creatures across the country, hidden in bags of dirty clothes, half-eaten cracker boxes, and tucked inside a shoe? The obvious reason is because practical jokes are embedded in my family’s DNA. But I believe my gnoming habit goes much deeper. Most of my family members live far away, and I miss them terribly. But through this volley of cute and quirky characters, I’ve cast a net of memories around my loved ones. We share something unique—our own family lore. And it all started with a simple surprise: the hale and hearty gnome.
Writers can be finicky about the writing process. I know one author who can only work in a small, cluttered room with no windows. Another writer requires peanut butter cookies and diet soda to notch up her creativity.
When I write, I need lots of natural light, room to pace and no distractions. You won’t find me hunched over my laptop in a coffee shop or blaring lyrics to happy music, although, low-volume Spanish guitar does seem to fire up the noggin.
Most of all, I need a great desk.
Furniture maker Matthew Holdren used barge board harvested after Hurricane Katrina to build my writing desk. The wood was once part of barges that moved along the Mississippi River to transport goods. Eventually, local residents broke up the barges and used the wood to build shotgun houses and cottages.
My desk has a story, and that makes it a great place to write one.
The anatomy of words fascinates me. Often, words have obvious meanings, like house and cat, but other words are rich with underlying secrets that require a bit of digging to uncover. And since I’m doing lots of digging during gardening season, I thought I’d unearth the meaning behind the word wort (no, not wart).
Wort comes from the old English wyrt and is used as a suffix with the names of plants, herbs, and roots that are believed to be beneficial to our health and well-being.
I actually have three worts in my gardens: spiderwort (pictured above), lungwort, and starwort (aka, aster).
The opposite of wort is weed, and I have a knack for cultivating them too—ragweed, milkweed, knotweed. (My neighbor says that every time I pull weeds, I’m just creating more weeds.)
Early botanists claimed that dozens of wort plants could actually heal organs and other things bothering us. Here’s a partial list:
I don’t have any proof that plantologists (my word, not Webster’s) were right about wort flowers, but here’s what I do know: Like plants, humans are not always exactly as they appear at first glance. Dig a bit deeper and you’ll find pain, patience, disappointment, kindness, wisdom, and even the ability to help others heal.
We’re like a garden full of worts. We just have to keep the weeds away.
“My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece.”—Claude Monet
That’s me in the pic above, smelling cow manure.
And below, comparing the stink to pig manure.
Now, before you judge, you need to hear the whole story.
Sometimes, writers get an assignment that takes them to unexpected places. In this case, I was writing a piece and needed to describe the smell of cow manure. I hadn’t been near the stuff in quite some time. So, I called a farmer friend from church and asked if I could stop by and sniff around. He was more than happy to help and even gave me a tour of the pig and chicken pens for additional comparison.
What did I learn? Not all pooh smells the same.
This year is my 25th anniversary as a freelance writer. Along the way, I’ve churned out remarkable – and remarkably strange – stories. To celebrate a quarter of a century and millions of words, I’d like to share a few unforgettable assignments.
Of my top five favorite types of assignments, case studies definitely make the list. A case study requires me to examine a problem—usually a topic I know zilch about—and uncover how someone solved the problem in a brilliant way. I’ve written case studies related to high-end car companies, meal delivery services, and candy, hardware, and grocery stores.
My all-time favorite case study involved knives. Lots of knives. And swords. And axes. When I toured the knife distribution center, I had no idea how many people collect anything with a blade. In fact, the center processed more than 800 orders A DAY!
If you’re wondering, the problem the company solved was finding a way to organize its growing inventory using the latest technology. The case study assignment gave me new appreciation for why my family members spend so much time (and money) making, trading, and buying blades to support their hunting hobbies. For example:
The above is a pic of my Dad’s favorite Buck® knife. He’s used it since the ’70s and keeps it shiny and sharp. I asked him how many deer he had cleaned with this knife over the years, and he said, “A wall full.” (Disclaimer: No animals were harmed in the writing of this blog.)
Yep, I’ve had my fair share. I once had to lean out a helicopter to videotape cattle trying to swim through flood waters. I don’t know what was more frightening: the idea of me falling or the panicked creatures who didn’t have my helicopter view, showing no dry land for miles.
My what-was-I-thinking assignment took place when I was asked to cover the annual rattlesnake roundup in Oklahoma (yes, it’s a thing). I actually climbed into a pen of rattlesnakes with a handler, who showed me how to pick one up without getting, well, dead. I did it. And somewhere in the video archives, I have the proof, but I’ll never try that again. I did, however, enjoy the fried rattlesnake on a stick. It tasted like chicken.
Thankfully, I don’t have rattlesnakes in my New Jersey gardens, but I have plenty of these critters. Harmless fellas, so please don’t reach for your blade if you see one.
By far, the best assignments that land in my inbox are those that represent people who step up, look out for others, and overcome daunting challenges.
I’ll never forget my interview with a woman who had been living on the streets with her dogs for years. A nonprofit organization provided free veterinary care for her pets—the fur babies that protected her and offered unconditional companionship. The nonprofit also connected her with human health resources. Today, she has a home, a job, a new life, and healthy dogs, all because some strangers cared.
And there was the time I got to spend a weekend interviewing and videotaping the oldest person living with HIV in Canada…or the time I interviewed a young man hiking the Appalachian Trail to raise awareness of suicide prevention…or the time I wrote a video script to raise awareness of sex trafficking, or the time, well, I could go on.
I’ll stop reminiscing here and address the question that may be lingering in your mind from the beginning of my blog.
What did that cow dung smell like, anyway? The descriptor for the story went something like this: “a stinging stench of ammonia laced with stale corn.” Yum.
Yeah. Writing for a living is pretty great. Here’s to the next 25 years!
During the next three months, I’ll bookend my days with gardening. My fingers will dig in the dirt a couple of hours before and after I plow through my daily story assignments.
I am obsessed with gardening, almost as much as writing. And as with any obsession, it’s healthy to get to the ROOT of the issue. So, I perused the poets, scoured the literature, and even asked my friends to answer the question: Why do you garden? Here’s what I learned.
“Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.” – May Sarton, poet and novelist
“She turned to the sunlight / And shook her yellow head / And whispered to her neighbor: / ‘Winter is dead.’”- from “Daffodowndilly by A.A. Milne, author of the Winnie the Pooh books
“I like gardening — it’s a place where I find myself when I need to lose myself.” – Alice Sebold, writer
“All my hurts my garden spade can heal.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, poet
“I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars…And the running blackberry would adorn the parlors of heaven.” – Walt Whitman, poet
“The evening was hot; it was the fragrance of the lemon lilies that was cool, like the breath from a mountain well.” – Eudora Welty, author
“The man who worries day and night about dandelions in the lawn will find great relief in loving the dandelions.” – Liberty Hyde Bailey, horticulturist
“For me, it’s all about the rebirth of God’s beauty. I can work outside all day in the garden and never get tired. It’s about mental growth. I can relax my mind and just enjoy all the promises of a new day. Bonus is that it brings back fond memories of my mom and her love for nature and the garden.” – Fonda
“Simply one word for me – therapy.” – Mike
“To save the bees! And because I just love the smell of fresh herbs. I’ve never had much luck with flowers, but I’m trying this year.” – Anna
“It reminds me of God’s kindness and greatness. We don’t need flowers, but He provides them for our pleasure. What an awesome God we serve.” – Steve
“I could clear my mind of everything when I had my vegetable garden and fruit trees. Could work for hours. I also enjoyed canning. It was my relaxation after busy schedules.” – Eugenia
“Flowers inspire me to create – like this doily. I love pansies. Their faces are so friendly.” – Rose
“There is just something incredibly peaceful and rewarding about digging in the dirt and producing beautiful things!” – Janelle
“It’s always been my sanctuary. A place where time moves with the rhythm of nature. My medicine place.” – Jay
“I am reminded to slow down and enjoy. It’s not a race to complete a task.” – Kelle
“The color of a flower reminds us to use our spirit of awe and wonder God gives us.” – Tom
“For me, it’s about actually producing my own produce and knowing where and how my veggies are grown. I also enjoy sharing my bounty with my friends and neighbors. Food is love.” – Molly
“To garden is to have faith in an outcome you can only influence and not control. To feel the pull and urgency of each season and to invest the work necessary to realize the glory of nature. Much like pregnancy and childbirth, it is an opportunity for mere mortals to assist God in the making of a miracle. Each plant and blossom all unique and full of potential. In the garden, life proceeds each day as it should with no regard to anyone’s opinion of it. The garden is always authentic.” – Holly
Thank you, writers and friends, for answering the question: Why do you garden? The responses in this blog represent many comments I received. Having read them all, my conclusion is this:
We’ve all seen those signs with misspelled or misused words. They are hilarious. And the mistakes are understandable, considering our language has thousands of words, and more are added every year.
But errors are not so funny when they show up in our professional work. During the past 25 years of writing and editing, I have come across some doozies, such as:
The list goes on.
To help you brush up on your editing skills, I have created a list of commonly misused words, delete-worthy words, and new words to know.
The word “titled” means the name of something, such as a speech, book, play, or song. Here’s an example: The speech was titled “How to fall in love after 50.”
“Entitled” means you deserve something: She worked seven days straight and is entitled to some time off.
The abbreviation “e.g.” stands for exempli gratia and means “for example,” like this: You can choose anything you want on your hotdog (e.g., mustard, relish, onions, chili, or peanut butter).
The abbreviation “i.e.” stands for id est and means “that is” or “in other words.” We use the abbreviation to clarify something: I am a pescatarian (i.e., seafood is the only meat I eat).
Note: Both abbreviations often appear in parentheses and with a comma: (e.g.,).
Although people use this word to describe someone who is very famous, the actual meaning is a bit different. “Infamous” refers to someone who is famous because (s)he did something bad. Serial killers are infamous.
The word “ensure” means to guarantee; “insure” has to do with insurance.
INCORRECT: I used the best fertilizer to insure my roses bloom.
CORRECT: I used the best fertilizer to ensure my roses bloom.
INCORRECT: The policy ensures all three vehicles.
CORRECT: The policy insures all three vehicles.
DELETE-WORTHY WORDS (AND PHRASES)
Irregardless: This is not a word. Use “regardless” instead. Note: The word “irrespective” means the same thing as “regardless,” but few people use that word anymore.
Heartwrenching: The correct word is “heartrending.” That said, “gut-wrenching” is correct.
Without further ado: We hear people use this phrase when they introduce a speaker or performer to indicate “without waiting any longer.” The phrase is correct but sounds archaic, bland, and lazy – in my opinion – so I vote to get rid of it.
Unbeknownst: Unless you want to sound like Charles Dickens, I suggest you stop using this word. Just stop it.
NEW WORDS TO KNOW
Amirite: This word is now in the dictionary and is slang for “am I right?”
GOAT: Used in all caps, this word means “greatest of all time.”
Ish: The dictionary defines this as “of, relating to, or being.” This handy little adjective suffix adds umph to lots of other words.
Here’s an example of all three: This blog is GOAT and helpful-ish, amirite?
Happy editing in the New Year!
Could you use some help editing content for external and internal audiences? Do you need someone to write a blog or feature story for a website or employee publication? Contact Terri McAdoo at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You may love Halloween, but I’m here to tell you that nature is spookier than any of those artificial ghouls and goblins. It’s true. And the best part? You don’t have to wait until October to experience all things creepy. Instead, simply take a walk around my neighborhood.
I came upon this spooky sight while hiking around a lake near my house.
I thought these birds were getting ready to attack something, but then I did a bit of research. I learned vultures spread their wings to increase the surface area of their bodies so the sun can warm them. This is called the “horaltic pose” – completely harmless, but scary just the same.
So, if you are squeamish, you might want to skip down a couple of paragraphs.
This is a green caterpillar known as a hornworm, and it can destroy a tomato garden. The white spikes are little wasp cocoons. Here’s how this works: A female Braconid wasp (tiny thing and harmless to humans), lands on the hornworm and lays her eggs just under the worm’s skin. As the eggs hatch, they chew their way to the surface (meals on wheels!) and puff out into these white cocoons that look like rice. They will hatch into wasps, which are very good for the garden. Meanwhile, the hornworm grows weaker and weaker until it dies, preventing any additional damage to the plant.
I love to see nature at work, but hornworms with wasp eggs give me goosebumps every time.
These are spotted lanternflies.
They hitchhiked into the United States and are a plague on the East Coast. I have hundreds of them crawling all over my maple trees. They don’t sting or bite, but these planthoppers do nibble their way through crops and trees and leave behind masses of sticky gray putty filled with eggs. Wildlife experts tell us to kill as many lanternflies as we can to stop their sinister path of destruction, and I’m doing my part. You’ll find me trolling my trees with a fly swatter and squirt bottle filled with vinegar and water most afternoons.
Although I was terrified, I got close enough to photograph about 200 baby spiders hidden in a plant off my front walkway.
I was tempted to poke the web with a stick to see what would happen, but then I noticed the mamma staring at me through the leaves.
I backed away slowly and avoided the walkway until I was certain the fanged, eight-legged creatures had left their post. I am sure we will meet again when spring rolls around, and I’m shaking already.
Speaking of spiders…. My yellow garden spider freaks out most people. To me, she’s magical.
The garden spider is also known as the writing spider because of the zig-zag patterns she weaves. Some gardeners say if you disturb her web, she’ll write your name in it, and death will soon follow. Not exactly the feel-good “Charlotte’s Web” story you read as a kid, right? I like her because she eats mosquitos and other pesky insects. Bugs should fear her, but this bizarre beauty is welcome in my garden any time.
While I’m having a little creative fun with you, how about looking at the creepy snacks I made?
The pumpkins are simply clementines with a stalk of celery. The monsters are made of sliced green apples, pumpkin seed teeth tucked into peanut butter, a slice of strawberry for the tongue, and googly eyes I picked up in the baking section of the grocery store.
I recently ran into this strange fellow outside a local restaurant.
Could he be the man of my dreams? No way. I could never date this guy. It’s not that he’s creepy. I just could never date a man whose makeup is better than mine.
Happy Halloween, Everyone!
“I’m the ghost with the most, babe.”— Beetlejuice
Even a writer knows that SHOW is better than TELL. So, for this month’s blog, I’ll let my photos serve as your passport to the magic that’s unfolding right now.
Hi. I’m Elvis. Not THE Elvis, but my human’s Elvis. Terri said she doesn’t have anything interesting to say for her blog, considering she’s been hanging out at the house for—well, I don’t know how long. I live in the present.
Because a blogger’s gotta blog, she said to me, “Why don’t you write my blog? I’ll pay you in bacon.” I’ll do anything for bacon.
So, instead of curling up under her writing desk, I wagged my tail, jumped into her chair, and put paws to paper.
What does a Frisbee-catching rump-shaking Border Collie have to say that’s worth your time?
Hey, dogs got it going on. Three of us survived the sinking of the Titanic. Others endured a blizzard to deliver diphtheria medicine to families in Alaska. Another dog guided a blind man across the Appalachian Trail. We can see in the dark, detect bad weather, smell your feelings, and sniff out diseases. Can YOU do that?
And don’t forget: We’re fiercely loyal and protective. Here’s a picture of the bear that came too close to my human. I barked, the bear ran, and then I chased him all the way up the mountain. Big ole scaredy cat.
And here’s a picture of my handsome face after running off that 400-pound bear:
Okay, maybe I’ve put on a couple extra pandemic pounds since that photo was taken. (Haven’t we all?) My point is this: Dogs are cool, which you probably know. I’m blogging to give you the scoop on four things that might surprise you.
#1. We know you adore us, and that’s why you can’t help but hug us. But just stop it. Don’t get me wrong. We like affection, like belly rubs and back scratches. But a big squeeze makes most dogs uncomfortable. Dogs are not huggers in the same way humans are not butt-sniffers. Of course, there are exceptions in both cases.
#2. Stop tempting us with that cold toilet bowl water. It’s like drinking from a keg for canines. We know what happens in that thing (we like following you in there), but it’s just too hard to resist in the middle of the night. Do us a favor. Put the toilet seat down.
#3. Give us pupsicles. Yeah, I spelled that right. Get one of those empty bones from the pet store, stuff it with wet dog food, and freeze it. While you watch your movie and eat popcorn, we’ll snack on a pupsicle.
#4. This is the most important thing. You seem to be home a lot more often these days, and we love that. But you still have your phone calls and video chats and gardening chores and canoe rides. Keep in mind that YOU are all we have. That’s why we shake our rumps so hard when you come in the door. It’s why when you sit down to read or watch TV, we bring you every tug toy and ball from the toy box. We adore you and want to play. How great is that?
And that’s all I have to say for Terri’s blog. Elvis has left the building…in search of bacon.