Poets to the rescue!
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April is National Poetry Month, a celebration that could lift your spirits at such a trying time.  Social distancing and isolation have increased anxiety and boredom.  Those who are trying to entertain and teach school age children may want to check that features a treasure trove of free resources and activities, including a free poster, Dear Poet, Poem-a-Day, and the Shelter in Poems feel-good collection.  My personal favorite poetry resource is the DVD from the old HBO series Classical Baby: I’m Grown Up Now: The Poetry Show. The animated series features the voices of John Lithgow, Gwyneth Paltrow, Andy Garcia, Susan Sarandon and others reading poems by Frost, Shakespeare, Browning, et al.  It’s available from Amazon.

5 Feel Good Movies You May Not Know
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Featured Artist @trishalyonsart

Enjoy these 5 "feel good" movies you may not know that are low-stress and highly uplifting. What are your favorite "feel good" movies?

1. Far From the Madding Crowd

2. The Hundred-Foot Journey

3. Hotel For Dogs or read the book

4. Under the Tuscan Sun

5. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

5 Healthy Snacks We're Obsessed With
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Who else loves a crunchy and healthy snack that's not boring like carrots or celery? Move over boring health foods, you do not bring me joy! Small changes like adding a few of these snacks are important and can make a big difference not only in how you feel physically, but mentally.

Here are 5 that we're obsessed with. Enjoy with your favorite hummus, guac, salsa or by themselves! What are some of your favorite healthy snacks that excite you?

1. Real Food From The Ground Up Cauliflower Stalks 

2. Real Food From The Ground Up Butternut Squash Pretzels

3. Siete Grain Free Tortilla Chips

4. Popcorners Snacks Variety Pack

5. Angie's BOOMCHICKAPOP Sea Salt Popcorn

Life on the Mississippi
Life on the Mississippi

Featured Artist @trishalyonsart

Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain has been one of the Wall Street Journal’s WSJ Book Club selection of the month. Guest author and historian Adam Hochschild calls Life on the Mississippi “one of the greatest non-fiction works ever.” 

Why is Twain’s travelogue so important? Hochschild points out that Life on the Mississippi is one of the few books about work. Twain goes into detail about the actual job of steamboat pilot as the book describes voyages on the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Minnesota. Hochschild adds: “When you are writing about an extraordinary, fascinating profession at the peak of its glory, you don’t have to make things up.”

Back to School
Blog 22 Back to School

Back-to-School shopping is the second-biggest retail season of the year. Local retailers have kids to thank for the back-to-school bonanza. Kids don’t trust mom and dad to order lunch boxes and T-shirts online.

The recently published Deloitte 2018 Back-to-School Survey forecasts the following:

Biggest Season Ever. Shoppers will spend $27.6 billion this year. The average household will spend $510, an increase from $501 in 2017.
Let’s Go to the Mall! Foot traffic rules! Kids are picky about their clothes and supplies. They want to try stuff on, buy what’s cool, and see and touch selections. 83% of back-to-school buying is done in person at department stores and office supply retailers.
Clothes Top the List. Most of the budget is spent on clothes, shoes, and accessories. $15.1 billion will be spent on new duds, an average of $286 per household.

True Story for Black History Month
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Up From Slavery reveals a secret to academic success . . . learn how to sweep a room.

Booker T. Washington once worked as a servant for a Mrs. Ruffner who was a neatnik. She taught the teenage Washington how to thoroughly sweep a room, how to dust, how to keep everything organized and clean. When destitute and homeless Washington applied to Hampton Institute in Richmond, Virginia, he was not admitted right away. He had fifty cents in his pocket, had not eaten or bathed in days, and looked like a tramp. The head teacher handed him a broom and told him to clean a classroom.

Washington knew this was his chance to prove himself. He swept the room three times. He moved all the furniture so he could clean every inch of the floor. He dusted four times. He cleaned the woodwork and every bench, table, and desk. When he was through, the head teacher took a handkerchief and rubbed it over the woodwork, tables, and benches, finding no dust or dirt whatsoever. She approved Washington’s admission based on his self-discipline revealed in his ability to clean a classroom.

Washington claimed: “The sweeping of that room was my college examination, and never did any youth pass an examination for entrance into Harvard or Yale that gave him more genuine satisfaction.”

Check out's Black History titles: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass, Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriett Beecher Stowe, and Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington.

8-30 Mary Shelley

FRANKENSTEIN DAY is August 30.  Why?  Because it’s the birthday of Mary Shelley who was born on August 30, 1797.  Shelley began writing the novel Frankenstein when she was 18 years old.  The first edition of the classic was published anonymously in 1818 when she was 20.

Mary Shelley’s name appeared on the second edition published in France in 1823.

Happy Birthday William Shakespeare!
4-23 William Shakespeare

Sunday, April 23rd will be the bard’s 453rd birthday.

Harold Bloom, Yale University professor and Shakespeare scholar, observes that Shakespeare’s writing marks the beginning of the modern era and our idea of what it means to be human. Shakespeare explored human fears, virtues and flaws, giving each character a psychological profile and inventing complex relationships that still spark debate. Did Lady Macbeth force her husband to murder by questioning his manly courage? Or would Macbeth have killed the king anyway without his wife’s taunts?

If you once had to memorize a Shakespeare passage, try to recite it again. Chances are you will discover fragments of Shakespeare’s verse in the cobwebs of your mind. If you never had to learn a passage by heart, try memorizing a few lines. Here are some short quotes worth committing to memory:

“Cowards die many times before their deaths. The valiant only taste of death but once.” (Julius Caesar, Act II, scene ii, line 32)

“For stony limits cannot hold love out.” (Romeo and Juliet, Act II, scene ii, line 67)

“The quality of mercy is not strain’d. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven. (The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, scene i, line 184)

“All the world’s a stage, and men and women merely players.” (As You Like It, Act II, scene vii, line 139)

“To be, or not to be: that is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or take arms against a sea of troubles . . . (Hamlet, Act III, scene i, line 55)

“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time; and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. (Macbeth, Act V, scene v, line 19)

“We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep. (The Tempest, Act IV, scene i, line 156)

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We say “Happy” birthday, New Year, Thanksgiving, Easter and lots of other holidays. But Christmas is the only “Merry” greeting. The answer lies in the tradition of drinking alcohol at Christmas. “Merry” used to mean “tipsy” or “drunk” and the custom of getting drunk at Christmas goes back to the 4th century.

- 324 A.D. Early Christians celebrated Easter only. Pope Liberius added Christmas to the church calendar and set the date December 25. The idea was to attract more converts who liked to celebrate the Roman winter festival Saturnalia when houses were decorated with evergreens and everybody played games, gave gifts and partied.
- Middle Ages. Christmas was celebrated as a rowdy party with dancing, drinking and sexual revelry.
- The Reformation. In the 1500s Protestants banned the wild festival of Christmas, but Catholics partied on.
- The Restoration. In England the Puritans banned Christmas when they seized power in 1640. When the monarchy was restored in 1660, Christmas made a comeback. So did the drinking and revelry.
- 1844. Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol, a novel where Ebenezer Scrooge says, “Merry Christmas!”
- Temperance Movement. In the late 1800s in England, women campaigned against drinking alcohol at Christmas. They proposed doing away with the tipsy “Merry” and replacing it with “Happy.” To this day the English and Irish say “Happy Christmas.”

O. Henry’s Banana Republic
O. Henry's Banana Republic Art 1

Featured Artist @trishalyonsart

How did O. Henry wind up in Honduras? O. Henry’s real name was William Sydney Porter. The author of beloved stories like The Gift of the Magi was also a criminal. Porter was arrested in 1896 for embezzling from the First National Bank of Austin, Texas. The day before his trial, Porter skipped town. He took a train to New Orleans and then a boat to Honduras. While holed up in a hotel, he wrote the novel Cabbages and Kings set in a fictitious Latin American country.

In the novel, Porter coins the expression banana republic that refers to countries in Latin America whose economies are dependent on a single resource such as coffee, sugar, silver, copper or bananas. Porter also invents the stereotype of the cigar-smoking former general who is the ruthless dictator at the helm of an unstable, corrupt government in Latin America.

After six months in the tropics, Porter returned to Austin when word reached him that his wife was dying. He was tried and convicted of the federal crime of embezzlement and sentenced to five years in prison. Porter spent his prison years writing short stories under the pseudonym O. Henry. Getting the stories published from prison was tricky. He mailed the manuscripts to a friend in New Orleans who would then send them to various magazines.

Porter was released from prison after three years for good behavior. He moved to New York City where he wrote 381 short stories and enjoyed considerable fame. A heavy drinker, Porter died in New York at the age of 47 and is buried in Asheville, North Carolina where he owned a summer home.

digital divide Melissa Harrell

Featured Artist @melissaharrellart

A digital divide exits in the world at large. Even if an individual has a smart phone, the cost of connecting to the internet is not affordable. According to Wired magazine, 4.9 billion people are not on the internet because it costs too much. Only 10-15% live in remote areas the internet can’t reach. All that is about to change. Several companies plan to offer low-cost or free wi-fi for planet Earth.

Google. Project Loon is Google’s plan to test thousands of helium-filled balloons that measure 49 feet in diameter. From eleven miles high, the balloons will beam wi-fi all over the planet. Project Loon has already run a small test in New Zealand. A much larger test will be conducted in Indonesia in the next few months.

SpaceX. Elon Musk’s plan to provide world-wide wi-fi involves 4,000 small satellites orbiting the earth. SpaceX plans to launch the satellites in the next four years. Unlike the other ventures, Musk’s internet service will be low-cost, not free. His plan is to use the revenue from worldwide internet to fund SpaceX’s plan to build a city on Mars. Musk boldly predicts that satellites will replace fiber optic cables in the next 10-12 years.

Facebook. Free Basics is a partnership between Facebook and Google. By late 2016 Free Basics plans to use ground stations to send radio signals to giant solar-powered drones high in the sky. The drones then send laser signals to more drones nearby that pass the signals to transponders that convert the signals to wi-fi or 4 G networks. These drones are not the kind you buy at Walmart. Called an Aquila, each giant drone is shaped like a boomerang and has the wingspan of a Boeing 737. Imagine a drone as big as a passenger jet surrounded by swarms of smaller drones – 10 thousand drones altogether – that deliver wi-fi to the world.

Free worldwide wi-fi sounds great to Americans, but Free Basics has met with strong resistance to the plan. Both India and Egypt suspended Free Basics service after trial tests in those countries. The majority of people in the world live in countries where state-owned media agencies control internet access. Countries that block and jam websites include China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ethiopia, Azerbaijan, Vietnam, Myanmar, Eritrea and Cuba. The least censored countries are Sweden and Switzerland. (Source: Freedom House)

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has been traveling the world trying to convince repressive governments that wi-fi access will become as necessary as electricity. Zuckerberg even spoke in Chinese in Beijing, saying “Access to the internet is a fundamental challenge of our time.” Convincing the world’s repressive governments that free internet is in their best interest is an uphill battle. Zuckerberg’s biggest selling point is that driverless cars and smart homes will require 24-hour internet connection.

Google, SpaceX and Facebook are forging ahead no matter what. We can expect one of these plans – balloons, satellites or giant drones – to change our lives very soon.

The Most Important School Supplies
Most Important School Supplies 1

Featured Artist @blackeagleone

Breakfast and sleep are the most important school supplies.

Sleep is free and breakfast is the cheapest meal of the day. Adequate sleep and a carbohydrate and protein-packed breakfast affect the brain, behavior, and learning success. The lack of sleep and skipping breakfast can undermine a student’s success. Sleep deprivation is easy to fix. Making sure a child eats breakfast is challenging, but not impossible to remedy.


Preschoolers aged 3-5 years old need 11-13 hours of sleep each night. Children aged 6-13 years old need 9-11 hours of sleep. Teens need 8-10 hours. Here’s how sleep works . . .

    1. NREM. Non-rapid eye movement composes 75% of sleep. As we fall asleep breathing and heart rate are regular. Then body temperature drops. Blood pressure drops. Breathing slows. Muscles relax. Blood supply to muscles increases. Tissue growth and repair occurs. Energy is restored. In children and teens growth hormones are released.

    2. REM. Rapid eye movement composes 25% of sleep. REM occurs 90 minutes after falling asleep and every 90 minutes through the night, lasting slightly longer toward the end of sleep. After NREM relaxes the physical body, it’s the brain’s turn to recharge. During REM the brain is active and dreams occur. The brain “relives” what has occurred during the day. This is the activity crucial to acquiring and remembering knowledge because the brain re-visits the day’s learning. New information is reinforced and “filed” for later retrieval and connections with future learning.

Sleep provides us with a strong immune system. Humans spend one third of their lives sleeping. That time is crucial to physical health, emotional well-being and optimal brain function.


When we first wake up, our bodies are “out of gas.” After 8-10 hours of sleep children and teens need refueling. The body has used up nutrients in the night repairing tissue and restoring energy. Muscles need carbohydrates and the brain needs protein. Hormones have been racing through the body. One hormone in particular -- cortisol, a stress hormone – peaks just as we wake up. We need food to lower the cortisol level which will remain high until we eat something. An elevated blood cortisol level results in the breakdown of muscle protein, storage of fat, and increased appetite. Blood glucose levels are also low upon waking. If the body’s carbohydrate stores are not replenished after sleep, low blood glucose levels adversely affect concentration and mental performance.

A 400 calorie breakfast loaded with carbohydrates and protein (easy on the sugar) will give the body and brain the boost they crave. The traditional American breakfast is no longer bacon, eggs and toast, pancakes, hot cereal or other labor intensive offerings. As long as you can get children and teens to eat something with carbs and protein, anything is okay. Breakfast can be solid or liquid or leftovers for the non-traditional eater. Examples:

Carbohydrates: cereal, toast, whole grain muffin, banana or other fruit
Protein: yogurt, milk, protein drink, eggs, peanut butter

A slice of warmed-up left-over pizza, a Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwich, an Egg McMuffin, a breakfast burrito, chocolate Pediasure or Boost – whatever you can get kids to eat that contains both carbs and protein counts as morning fuel.

Breakfast also optimizes cognitive function (learning, thinking, creating and problem-solving) during the day. School performance is not just the grades on a child’s report card. Success in school involves mastering social skills, following classroom management rules, and learning intellectual and emotional discipline. Adequate sleep and breakfast establish life-long habits that will boost performance in advanced education, relationships and jobs.

Make sleep and breakfast priorities. They are two of the most important life skills that parents can teach their children.

Dog Days

Featured Artist @dlyons50

Welcome to Dies Caniculares! Ancient civilizations observed that temperatures were hottest in mid-July through mid-August when Sirius, the “Dog Star” rises next to the sun. Sirius means “glowing” in Greek. It is the head of the dog in the constellation Canis Major – the Big Dog. The star glows blue-white on the horizon near the sun at dawn. Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky because it is closer to earth – only 8.6 light years away – not larger in energy or light output. The only objects brighter than Sirius are the sun, moon, Venus, Jupiter, Mars, and Mercury.

Ancient Egyptians who worshipped the sun believed Sirius was a mysterious relative of the sun. They called Sirius the “Nile Star” because it signaled the annual flooding of the land. The Egyptians based their calendar on the rising of Sirius and considered it the most important star of all and a symbol of fertility. The Dog Days were a time of feast and celebration. The Egyptians built the pyramids in alignment with Sirius. Sirius shows up in Freemasonry as the “Blazing Star” prominent in Masonic art due to its association with Egyptian pyramids. Sirius is the star in the Order of the Eastern Star. Other civilizations that marked the Dog Days with feasts and celebration include the ancient Chinese and Japanese who called Sirius the “Wolf Star” and American Indians who called it “Coyote Star.”

The Dog Days were dreaded by ancient Greeks and Romans. They thought the period between July 24th and August 24th brought forth evil. During the hot, dry Dog Days it was believed that wine turned sour, the seas boiled, dogs went mad, people contracted disease and fever and were susceptible to hysterics and frenzies. The Romans tried to bargain with the gods for a cooler July and August by sacrificing a red dog in April. Today Europeans do as the Roman aristocracy did – they go on holiday in August.

Superstitions die hard. Some people still think that hot weather causes violence during the Dog Days. Criminologists have studied seasonal crime in the U.S. for more than a hundred years and have yet to find any correlation between hot weather and crime. A study that analyzed crime in 2007-2009 in New York City found that the most crimes occurred in September, followed by August, October, July, and December. More than a hundred studies of crime statistics confirm that it’s not the heat, it’s the opportunity for social interaction that drives the crime rate. When teenagers are not in school, the crime rate for personal property crime (burglary, larceny, auto theft) goes up nationwide. During warm weather people leave bicycles in the front yard or leave the garage door open. They may leave their car idling to keep the air-conditioning on, or windows up to cool off a room. Does the rising mercury drive people mad or make them violent? Nationwide the month with the highest homicide rate is December.

The National Academy of Sciences issued a study in July 2013 that did conclude there is one aspect of human behavior that is recommended during the Dog Days: Summer is the best time to conceive a child. May is the worst month to conceive because the baby will be born in the winter. Babies born in winter have lower birth rates, weaker immune systems, poorer vision and hearing, slower cognitive development than babies born in spring and summer.

It seems the ancient Egyptians had it right when they recognized the Dog Days as a time to celebrate fertility!

back to school bootcamp image

It’s time. Don’t wait until the week or the day before school starts to get children and teens back on schedule. Three weeks should do it. Here is how to get into the back-to- school routine.

New Routine. Ease out of your summer schedule and back into school hours gradually by getting to bed earlier by 10 minutes and waking up 10 minutes earlier. Adults need to get on the new schedule too. Teenagers will want to stay up late and sleep in until the day before school starts. That won’t work. The human body needs time to adjust. By the end of two weeks the whole family should be on the new schedule and ready to go back to school. During the last week the whole family should no longer be up at the new time lounging around in pajamas watching TV. For the last seven days everyone should be up, dressed, eating breakfast on school time, and going outside at the time they will leave for school. Meals and snacks should be served on the new schedule. Younger children especially need to adjust to the school mealtimes.

REMINDERS. Breakfast should include protein, fat and carbohydrates. Suggestions include whole-grain cereal or oatmeal, whole-wheat toast, milk, yogurt, peanut butter, eggs, cheese and fruit. Children and teens need the following hours of sleep: Ages 1-3 need 12-14 hours; 3-6 need 10-12 hours; 7-12 need 10-11 hours; 12-18 need 8-9 hours. Breakfast and adequate sleep affect cognitive function. Remind children that eating and sleeping fuel the brain. 

Shopping. First, take an inventory. Who needs shoes? Jeans? Backpack? Back-to- school shopping is a “teaching” moment. Explain that the family will have to stick to a budget. Have children make lists of what they will need. Take stock of hand-me- downs from the older children. School websites usually post lists of supplies students will need. Search online for coupons and sales. Involving your children in planning and budgeting will head off tantrums once you get to the store. You will also be modeling valuable behavior for how to evaluate needs (not wants), working together, and compromising to satisfy the budget.

Message Center. Set up a message board where family news and plans are posted. Somewhere in or near the kitchen is ideal. Post a master calendar, school lunch menus, important dates from the school calendar, extra-curricular events and family events like birthdays.

Math Review. The budget and shopping will serve as a review of basic arithmetic, especially if you have children write down the amount of their personal budget. They can look up prices online and add up the cost of items on their list.

Reading Practice. Take your children to the library for three weeks of reading material of their own selection. If children don’t read at all during their summer break, they lose some of the skills they learned the year before. Reading for three weeks before school starts will better prepare them for the next grade.

Back-to-school boot camp will make a huge difference in children’s moods and attitudes. Preparation is key to maximizing performance. It will also reduce anxiety and develop confidence in students. Parents are the most important teachers in children’s lives. The back-to-school routine will teach children how to empower themselves, how to take action and get in gear for new experiences and challenges. Staging a formal back-to- school process will reinforce the self-discipline they will need to perform well through high school, college and beyond. How do you get ready for school or work? You organize and prepare.

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Yes you can start a sentence with so, but try to avoid saying, “So . . . you can start a sentence with so.” The introductory so is a verbal virus like well, um and like. It's not incorrect but it sure can be annoying. It's nerdspeak that started in Silicon Valley years ago and has since spread across the country. In TV interviews Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg begins almost every sentence with so, as does Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen. Economists, scientists, engineers, and computer experts who attempt to translate complex information into layman's terms often signal the translation with “So . . .”

Not every introductory so is annoying. We all say things like, “So how was your vacation?” or “So have you decided on a college?” When Zuckerberg and Yellen start sentences with so, the usage is non-viral. When the introductory so creeps into everyday usage by ordinary people, that’s a virus, a speech habit that sounds condescending. If someone talks down to us, the tone makes us feel so-so, especially when that so-and-so intentionally assumes a superior attitude. So lose the so.

The Other Bronte Sister
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall Art

Featured Artist @trishalyonsart

The other Bronte sister Anne, little sister of Charlotte (author of Jane Eyre) and Emily (author of Wuthering Heights), was a novelist too. Anne Bronte wrote under the pseudonym Acton Bell. Her second novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848) is the new pick for the Wall Street Journal’s WSJ Book Club.

The early feminist work tells the story of a woman married to an abusive husband who parties with a wild crowd. She runs away, settles with her child in another town, tries to survive in a hostile social environment, and in the end falls in love with a local farmer.

When first published the book was widely read because it was considered scandalous. After Anne died at the age of 29, her sister Charlotte pre-vented Wildfell Hall from ever being published again.

Two themes made Wildfell Hall scandalous. First there was the legal question. In 1848 English women could not own property, enter into contracts, sue for divorce or win custody of their children. Not until the Married Women’s Property Act of 1870 could women in England live independently if they no longer wanted to be married.

The second scandalous theme was decadence and moral decay of both men and women. Anne got away with describing wild parties, alcohol, drugs, and adulterous affairs because she wrote under a man’s name.

Life on the Mississippi
Life on the Mississippi

Featured Artist @trishalyonsart

Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain is the Wall Street Journal’s WSJ Book Club selection of the month. It’s the first non-fiction choice by the 2-year-old book club that let’s guest author’s select titles. The author then guides readers via the club’s Facebook page, providing commentary and answering questions. Guest author and historian Adam Hochschild calls Life on the Mississippi “one of the greatest non-fiction works ever.”

Why is Twain’s travelogue so important? Hochschild points out that Life on the Mississippi is one of the few books about work. Twain goes into detail about the actual job of steamboat pilot as the book describes voyages on the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Minnesota. Hochschild adds: “When you are writing about an extraordinary, fascinating profession at the peak of its glory, you don’t have to make things up.”

The Mockingbird: Metaphor for Evolution
Mockingbird Art

The Mockingbird:  Metaphor for Evolution.  Charles Darwin couldn’t figure out why mockingbirds in the Galapagos Islands differed on each island and on the South American mainland.  Back in England a year after the voyage of the HMS Beagle in 1835, Darwin was going over his notes.  His data contradicted accepted scientific doctrine that species could not change.  Then, EUREKA!  Darwin realized he was in new scientific territory.  The mockingbird, along with Galapagos tortoises, were the proof that species evolved. 

In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch warns his children not to kill a mockingbird.  The songbird serves as a metaphor for innocence – the innocence of Tom Robinson and Boo Radley.  In light of its scientific importance, the mockingbird expands the metaphor to symbolize evolution.  Prejudice is not a permanent human trait.  Change is possible, including moral and cultural change.  People – even racists and bigots – can evolve.  

Harper Lee's Eulogy
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Harper Lee’s eulogy was a short speech by Wayne Flynt, retired history professor at Auburn University. The simple funeral for the author of To Kill a Mockingbird was held at the Monroeville, Alabama First United Methodist Church. 35-40 members of Lee’s inner circle attended. Lee had heard the speech, “Atticus’s Vision of Ourselves,” in 2006 when she was honored with an award in Birmingham, Alabama. According to Flynt, Lee hoped to die in her adopted home New York City and have her ashes scattered about Manhattan. But just in case she died in Monroeville, she told Flynt that she didn’t want any preachers at her funeral – just him reading the speech as her eulogy.

Lee was buried next to her father, A.C. Lee and her sister Alice Lee in the cemetery adjoining the church. Lee’s father was a lawyer and the model for the character Atticus Finch.

You can read Harper Lee’s eulogy at

Millennial slang is perking up politics. Here's what aggro and troll mean . . .
Banksy Aggro Troll Image 2-page-001

Featured Artist @trishalyonsart

AGGRO.  It means a combination of aggravate, angry and aggressive. What do reporters mean when they say Trump or Cruz went aggro or aggroed one another? In MMORPG (massively-multiplayer online role-playing games like World of Warcraft) aggro refers to mobs, monsters or characters who attack you on sight without provocation.

Using aggro as a tactic to draw out an opponent or put an opponent on defense is no school yard bully’s trick. In game theory there are algorithms that determine who the mob, monster or character is going to attack and predict if the mob will bring friends to join in the attack. Trump and Cruz are not using algorithms for stump speeches. They are natural politicians, but millennials observing them are reminded of video games where aggro happens all the time.

TROLL.  Troll has nothing to do with fishing, Norse mythology or those cute little dolls from the 60s with the colored hair. In Millennial slang, troll refers to someone who uses an internet post to start an argument. Those mean people who leave hateful, crude remarks in the Comments section of a website don’t count as trolls. A troll is far more provocative, clever and sophisticated. Here’s where aggro and troll intersect. A troll posts a statement or observation online or via Twitter, Instagram or other social media with the intent of getting a rise out of someone and forcing them to respond. A troll’s goal is to upset someone to the point that they go aggro.
When a commentator accuses Trump of trolling or being a troll, it’s a compliment in the world of political science.

What is the best way to use Grammardog?
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Best practices include the following classroom use of Grammardog Teacher's Guides:  

  • As quizzes, tests and exams
  • As a diagnostic tool for grammar, style, spelling, capitalization and punctuation
  • As practice for state tests, AP tests, the ACT and SAT
  • As a review of grammar, style and proofreading
  • As an introduction to specific grammar elements, figurative language or literary devices
  • As a springboard for class discussion of an author’s style
  • As a tool for analyzing grammar and style in context
  • As ready-made lessons for teaching how to write literary analysis
  • As a tool to improve reading comprehension of challenging material such as Shakespeare plays, classic novels, essays and poetry
  • As an easy way to compare different authors’ styles
  • As a tool to get reluctant readers to engage the text in a book, short story, play, essay or poem

Grammardog Teacher's Guides use sentences from literature.  Titles include novels, short stories, plays, poems, essays, and non-fiction.  Each Grammardog Teacher's Guide includes more than 125 multiple choice questions, an Answer Key, a Glossary of Grammar Terms and/or a Glossary of Literary Terms.  Grammardog Teacher's Guides are classroom reproducible.  Teachers may photocopy Grammardog quizzes or project them electronically on a white board.

Did You Know Grammardog is Global?
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Teachers in more than 20 countries use Grammardog.

Gotta Have Faith
Martin Luther King, Jr - gdog

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
- Martin Luther King, Jr.

The LL Cool J Way
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“Do what you love; you’ll be better at it.  It sounds pretty simple,
but you’d be surprised how many people don’t get this one right away.”
- LL Cool J

Yoda-Speak in Shakespeare Quiz
Yoda-Speak in Shakespeare Quiz

Like Shakespeare, the Star Wars character Yoda sometimes plays around with word order.  Both Shakespeare and Yoda change familiar speech patterns.  Examples:

YODA                                                                 SHAKESPEARE
Much to learn you have.                                 The castle of Macduff I will surprise. 

      The Phantom Menace                                     Macbeth
(Translation:  You have much to learn.)        (Translation:  I will surprise the castle of Macduff.)

Strong am I in the Force.                                 Rude am I in speech . . .         
       Return of the Jedi                                          Othello  
(Translation: I am strong in the Force.)          (Translation: I am rude in speech)

Answer the following questions by unscrambling the word order in sentences from Shakespeare’s plays.
1.  More needs she the divine than the physician.  (Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 2)

     The best modern translation of the sentence is:
      a.  She needs the divine more than she needs the physician.
      b.  The physician needs her more than the divine needs her.
      c.  She needs the physician more than the divine needs her.
2.  Younger than she are happy mothers made. (Romeo and Juliet, Act 1, Scene 2)
      The best modern translation of the sentence is:
      a.  Happy mothers are younger than she is.
      b.  Younger girls than she are happy mothers.
      c.  Mothers are made happier when they are younger than she is.  
3.  From that place I shall no leading need. (King Lear, Act 4, Scene 1)
      The best modern translation of the sentence is:
      a.  That place does not need me to lead it.
      b.  I don’t need that place to lead me.
      c.  I won’t need anyone to lead me from that place.
4.  At this same ancient feast of Capulet’s sups the fair Rosaline whom thou so loves. (Romeo and Juliet, Act 1, Scene 2)
      The best modern translation of the sentence is:
      a.  Rosaline, the one you love, eats at the Capulet’s traditional feast.
      b.  At the Capulet’s traditional feast you will eat with Rosaline who loves you.
      c.  Rosaline will eat at the Capulet’s traditional feast you love.
5.  Forget not in your speed, Antonius, to touch Calpurnia.  (Julius Caesar, Act 1, Scene 2)
      The best modern translation of the sentence is:
      a.  Don’t forget to speed up, Antonius, so you can touch Calpurnia.
      b.  To touch Calpurnia, Antonius, don’t forget your speed.
      c.  Antonius, don’t forget to slow down so you can touch Calpurnia.





 1.  A     2.  B     3.  C     4.  A     5.  C


In English the most common word order is subject-verb-object.  Adjectives come before nouns (He is a tall man.).  Adverbs come after verbs (She speaks softly.). Prepositional phrases typically follow the word they describe (The house on the corner is mine.).  Yoda switches the word order like this:

STANDARD ENGLISH                                           YODA
You are strong, Luke.                                           Strong you are, Luke.

I go sadly into the mist.                                        Into the mist sadly go I.

The future is always in motion.                          Always in motion the future is.

I can’t go there.                                                     Go there, I cannot.

Shakespeare’s plays are full of examples of syntax inversion:

Look I so pale, Dorset, as the rest?  Richard III

Repays he my deep service with such contempt?  Richard III

So foul and fair a day I have not seen.  Macbeth

Round about the cauldron go. In the poisoned entrails throw.  Macbeth

Weeds of Athens he doth wear.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Out of this wood do not desire to go.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Blind is his love and best befits the dark.  Romeo and Juliet

Came he not home tonight?  Romeo and Juliet

Vexed I am of late with passions of some difference. Julius Caesar

Knew you not Pompey?  Julius Caesar

Syntax inversion is a literary device that pre-dates Shakespeare.  Translations of Homer’s Iliad use it:  “Proud is the spirit of Zeus-fostered kings.”  Inversion is common in the King James Version of the Bible:  “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither.” 

The Star Wars screenwriters use syntax inversion to characterize Yoda as an ancient Jedi Master.  Inversion also makes Yoda’s lines stand out, reinforcing his superior wisdom and status. 

How Yoda Helps Students Master Shakespeare
How Yoda Helps Students Master Shakespeare


The new Star Wars movie is a gift to English teachers.  Easy Shakespeare is when Yoda-speak know you.  Yoda’s speech patterns can help students overcome one of the biggest obstacles to understanding Shakespeare:  the unfamiliar word order known as syntax inversion.  Yoda, like Shakespeare, plays around with word order. 

Why so strangely Yoda speaks?  In English the most common word order is subject-verb-object.  Adjectives come before nouns (He is a tall man.)  Adverbs come after verbs (She speaks softly).  Prepositional phrases typically follow the word they describe (He shops at Target.  The house on the corner is mine) Yoda switches the word order like this:

STANDARD ENGLISH                                  YODA

You are strong, Luke.                                 Strong you are, Luke. 
I go sadly into the mist.                              Into the mist sadly go I.
The future is always in motion.                Always in motion the future is.
I can’t go there.                                            Go there, I cannot.

Shakespeare’s sentences often sound like Yoda’s.  Here are some examples:

YODA                                                              SHAKESPEARE

Much to learn you have.                             The castle of Macduff I will surprise.
      The Phantom Menace                                   Macbeth

Around the survivors, a perimeter            Round about the cauldron go. In the    
create.    Attack of the Clones                     poisoned entrails throw.  Macbeth       

Strong am I in the Force.                            Rude am I in speech . . .  Othello        
       Return of the Jedi                                        

Agrees with you, the council does.            Look I so pale, Dorset, as the rest?    
       The Phantom Menace                                   Richard III

Need that, you do not.                                Repays he my deep service with such    
      The Phantom Menace                           contempt? Richard III

The shadow of greed, that is.                     Crowns in my purse I have . . .            
       Revenge of the Sith                                     The Taming of the Shrew             

The boy you trained, gone he is.                 A gallant knight he was.                      
       Revenge of the Sith                                            Henry IV Part 1

If into the security recordings you go,        From that place I shall no leading      
only pain you will find.                                    need.  King Lear                              
         Revenge of the Sith

Syntax inversion is a literary device that pre-dates Shakespeare.  Translations of Homer’s Iliad use it:  “Proud is the spirit of Zeus-fostered kings.”  Inversion is common in the King James Version of the Bible:  “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither.”  The Star Wars screenwriters use syntax inversion to characterize Yoda as an ancient Jedi Master.  Inversion also makes Yoda’s lines stand out from all the other characters’ lines, reinforcing his superior wisdom and status.

Star Wars:  Episode VII – The Force Awakens opens December 18, 2015. 
Coming soon on . . . a free downloadable syntax inversion quiz that uses Yoda-like lines from Shakespeare. 
May the Force be with you!

Trending . . . Proper nouns are popping up as verbs, nouns and adjectives . . .
Trending . . . Proper nouns are popping up as verbs, nouns and adjectives . . .

Let’s Marvin Gaye tonight (have sex)

We Hemingwayed all over Paris (bar-hopped)

Less Poe, more Disney, dude!  (lighten up)

She went all Amy Schumer on me (told a dirty joke)

He went all Mel Gibson on me (anti-semetic)

He went all Trump on me (bragged a lot)

He’s my Yoda (wise advisor)

Her tweets are so Kardashian (shallow)

Her mom’s got this Sophia Vergara vibe (sexy)

Sherlock it for me (solve the mystery)

We’re used to brands becoming verbs (google, fedex, xerox, photoshop) but current everyday usage leans heavily on the names of celebrities whose names are associated with specific behavior.

BIGLY could be HUGE!
BIGLY could be HUGE!

Donald Trump has said, “Iran is taking over Iraq and they’re taking it over bigly.”  “We are going to turn this country around.  We are going to start winning bigly on trade.”  “Obamacare will kick in bigly in 2016.”  So is BIGLY a word?  The answer is YES.  Bigly is not used often by Americans, but it is a legitimate adverb form of the more familiar adjective big.

At first political pundits and late night comedians thought they had Trump in a Sarah Palin or George W. Bush grammatical error.  Palin was taken to task for making up the word “refudiate.”  Bush was famous for mispronouncing (nucular instead of nuclear) and for making up words such as “misunderestimate.”  Maybe Trump plays scrabble and knew about bigly or maybe he is trying to cut down on his use of HUGE.  Bigly is a word and Trump uses it correctly.  Will it catch on?  It just might.  One of George W. Bush’s errors did.  Bush famously said “the internets” instead of “the internet.”  That caught on.  I’m not sure anyone remembers “the internets” as a goof.  If bigly catches on, we’ll know soon because the late night comedians will add it to Trump’s trademark word HUGE.  Watch for it on October 3 when the new season of Saturday Night Live premieres.  If Trump impersonations incorporate bigly, bigly could be HUGE. 

Like, what's the like virus anyway, like?
Like, what's the like virus anyway, like?

Featured Artist @trishalyonsart

Like, what’s the like virus anyway, like?  The “like” virus going around may not have infected you yet.  If you are over 50 you’re probably immune.  How can you tell if you’ve got it?  Simply count the number of times you use the word like in a sentence.  Here are some examples:

The school is like only five blocks from my house.

They like love you!

I have like no clue.

What’ll be like your major?

What’s like wrong with your sister?

Just be like quiet.

I like don’t care.

I didn’t go anywhere like.

Sound familiar?  Peppering one’s speech with like has become epidemic in America.  It’s been growing since the 1950s.  Linguists think that a television character named Maynard G. Krebs on the Dobie Gillis series (1959-1963) popularized the use of like.  The Krebs character did not invent the like virus, but he exposed millions of viewers to it.  The use of like died down for a few decades, then caught fire again in the 1980s when the stereotype Valley Girl was celebrated in pop culture.  The spread of like was also fueled by the TV character Shaggy on the cartoon series Scooby Doo.  Shaggy’s personality and speech were inspired by the Maynard G. Krebs character.  The like virus has proven to be enduring and powerful because it is versatile. 

-          Like can function as a filler similar to “you know,” uh, er, and um.  Examples: 

My math teacher, like, told me, like, the pop quiz wouldn’t, like, hurt my 6-week’s grade, because he used this, like, formula to, like, curve my average. 

-          Like can function as a filler similar to “you know,” uh, er, and um.  Examples: 

My math teacher, like, told me, like, the pop quiz wouldn’t, like, hurt my 6-week’s grade, because he used this, like, formula to, like, curve my average. 

-          Like can also be used to replace standard words such as “say” or “think.”  Examples: 

She was like, “Don’t wait for me.”  He was like, “Okay, I guess so.”  They were like, “You’re acting immature.”

-          Like can be used to approximate a quantity or shade of meaning.  Examples:

There were like 100 people in the store. Like 3,000 live here.

-          Like can be used to introduce gestures and unspoken ideas and sentiments.  Examples: 

He was like (speaker shrugs shoulders).  We were all like (speaker rolls eyes).  I like (speaker nods head “yes”), and she was like (speaker moves head from side to side “no”), so now we’re (speaker waves hand in dismissal).

-          Like can be used as punctuation to signal the end of a sentence.  Examples:

            We don’t want to go to grandma’s, like.  Batman is not my favorite super hero, like.

The strange thing about the like virus is that it is strictly verbal.  It doesn’t show up in formal writing.  Teenagers use some forms of the like pattern in texting, but when word count is at stake, they omit the like, opting for wow instead of Like wow.

There’s no linguistic vaccine or cure for the like virus, but some activities succeed in stamping it out.  Learning to speak, read, and write in a foreign language drastically improves one’s ability to be precise and articulate in speech and writing.  The practice of writing also improves thinking, logic and speech. 

If you are like virus-free, you can be proud that you did not pick up a speech pattern that makes one sound less than articulate and intelligent.  If you used to have the like virus and now you don’t, be reassured that as we get older we sound smarter!

Who's in charge of the English language?

The answer is “no one.”  Unlike Chinese, Spanish, French, and other languages, English has never been regulated by an academy of experts who decide whether new words and phrases should be admitted to the language.  English is a dynamic, free-wheeling, constantly changing language.    

An American president once tried to police the English language.  In 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt issued an executive order that created the Simplified Spelling Board.  The executive order listed 300 words that would be spelled differently in all government publications.  Some of the words simplified British spellings.  Ardour became ardor, arbour became arbor and clamour to clamor.  Purr was changed to pur – no need for that double r.  (Also makes you wonder why the word purr appeared in a government document)  Other words were spelled phonetically.  Blessed became blest, kissed became kist, though became tho, and through became thru.  Seems like Roosevelt was way ahead of his time.  Many of his spelling reforms are now the language of millions on social media.

Roosevelt’s executive order was met with laughter and outrage.  Newspapers made fun of Teddy’s spelling.  The Louisville Courier-Journal published an editorial written entirely in phonetic spelling, saying of Roosevelt, “No subject is tu hi fr him to takl, nor tu lo for him tu notis.”  Both Congress and the Supreme Court refused to follow Teddy’s spelling rules.  Roosevelt was accused of being a dictator, and of trying to set up some sort of French academy.  Roosevelt issued the executive order on August 27, 1906.  Due to public outrage and ridicule by newspapers, Roosevelt withdrew the executive order three months later on December 13, 1906 when the House of Representatives passed a resolution saying all government documents would follow spelling rules in dictionaries. 

Who has the power to change English today?  Several associations issue guidelines and monitor usage.  Dictionaries try to keep up with changing definitions and new words, and slang dictionaries abound online.  Social media recently responded to a celebrity’s request for change.  Twitter isn’t the Merriam-Webster Dictionary or the Modern Language Association, but it wields pop culture influence when it comes to contemporary spelling and usage of English.  The celebrity is Kim Kardashian West.  The source of her power is 33.8 million Twitter followers.  Kim simply asked Twitter for help with her misspelled words.  She suggested that Twitter add an editing function so when she misspelled a word, she wouldn’t have to delete her tweet and start over.  “Great idea,” responded Twitter.  Presumably they are adding the feature soon.  Presumably Kim sent Twitter a big “thk u.”