Category Archives: blogging

How Two Llamas Jumpstarted my Writing Career

 

 

flashback friday

In 1981, big things were happening in the world.  Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as president, the Iranian hostages were finally released, and Judge Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman on the US Supreme Court

During the  tumultuous hostage crisis  our nation was glued to their TVs for days, watching world events unfold.

That summer I was hired by the local newspaper, the Cavalier County Republican, as a reporter. A 16-year-old kid in braces, I was thrilled to have a part in providing my journalistic slant on the changing world.

Except the news in Langdon, North Dakota, a small town you skip through on the way to Canada, wasn’t nearly as exciting.  For my first interview my editor had the scoop of the century; a local farmer had purchased two exotic animals.

The farmer was my next door neighbor, Don Quam, a man who could tell tall tales bigger than Paul Bunyan’s and tell you true tales you wished were tall tales, with a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his tan, creased face.  No, it isn’t a cliché, his eyes did twinkle.  Geneva was his perfect match, a spunky blonde who kept him in line.

Two Llamas Jumpstarted

Two llamas, two friendly neighbors, how hard could that assignment be?  Except  I’d never written a newspaper article before, not even in high school English class.  I hadn’t used a 35mm camera in a few years.  A pad of lined yellow paper, a pen, and a Canon camera were thrust into my hands.

While interviewing Don and Geneva  I scribbled frantically as they joked and spoke wise words worth quoting about their llamas, Lleo and Llouis. Because I didn’t have a telephoto lens, I cautiously entered the pasture for close-up pictures.  I’d learned the llamas were walking on lethal weapons and could spit.

My story was typed and submitted without any feedback from my editor.  I still wasn’t sure if it qualified as an article, but it was printed.

All errors aren’t necessarily mine, cringe, because the typesetter, who got an A in high school typing but not  in English, often felt the need to “correct” my work.

 

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(click on pic to enlarge and read or read full text below)

A few days later my jubilant editor waved a Grand Forks Herald in my face and pointed to a llama story.

He bragged that my first article was picked up by a big-city daily newspaper and assured  my career was off to a great start, thanks to Lleo and Llouis.

Thirty-three years later, the reporter in me wants to write a follow-up to my exciting career launch.  Would Liz Anne remember the llama spit?  Would she remember me?

Is it really suitable  to call someone thirty-three years later and ask, “Hey, do you remember being spit on by a llama?”

I know you’re wondering, too, right? Do ya’ double-dog dare me?

Stay tuned.  Monday’s follow-up is surely to be picked up by the Herald.

 

Tweet Two llamas jumpstarted a writing career.

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Llamas can be put to good use on farms
by Melinda Brainard
CAVALIER COUNTY REPUBLICAN, Page 5, Wednesday, June 17, 1981

Lleo and Llouis have long, shaggy, blonde hair, cute little faces and spit when they are angry or are attacked.

No, they’re not members of the latest punk rock band. They’re a pair of llamas that reside at the Don Quam farm, The Little Pembina Ranch, north of Langdon.

Don answered an ad in the newspaper advertising the Wahpeton Zoo had llamas for sale.

“Well,” explained his wife, Geneva, “after Don read the ad, he called the zoo and they told him all about the animals.  When he hung up, Edwin Olson, a friend of ours, said he’d buy one if we did.  They were only six months old when we got them late last fall.”

Llamas are a member of the camel family and originated in South America, where they were used for beasts of burden.

But why llamas in North Dakota?

“To keep coyotes away from our sheep,” laughed Geneva. “We had read an article that told about a rancher who leased llamas to other ranchers to keep coyotes away.  See, llamas are very inquisitive animals and will scare the coyotes away.

“Yes,” added Don, “anything comes into the pasture and the llamas are right there poking their noses in, seeing what it is.”

“When we first got them they were especially curious about people on bikes.  They would walk right up to them and sniff them out.”

As to whether the llamas are doing their job or not, Geneva said, “We haven’t had any coyotes here yet, so we don’t know for sure if they’re going to work. But the day before we picked them up from the zoo, a deer got into their enclosure and boy, did those llamas put the run on that poor deer! That led us to believe that Lleo and Llouis would put the run on any coyote that shows up.”

Apparently the llamas are very compatible with the sheep.

“Oh yes,” Geneva said, “they graze right alongside the sheep and eat whatever they eat.  There’s no problem at all.  llamas are very easy animals to keep.”

“They don’t even bother to try to get out, though I’m sure they could jump any fence,” added Don.

“They even tolerate people taking their pictures,” Geneva teased. 

“They’re also very gentle and will eat out of your hand.  At first I spent a lot of time showing them to people, but I had to coax them over with All-Bran, or some other kind of cereal,” she added.

“Only one thing, they don’t like to be petted at all.  make sure you stay away from their hind feet, too; they’re lethal.  that was the first thing they warned us about at the zoo.”

“Though they used to be pretty wild animals, llamas can become domesticated.  I even saw a llama in a nativity scene once, so that shows how tame they can be,” said Geneva.

Though they are a member of the camel family, llamas have no hump and have long, thick, course hair that is brown, gray, black, or white.

They are relatively small animals, standing only four to five feet high, and their body is only four to five feet long.

“They really have cute faces and are very intelligent and bright looking,” pointed out Geneva.  “They have bi eyes with long eyelashes.  Their legs are long and skinny with shaggy fur and they have a very high spirited run.  But most of the time they just stand there and look darling.”

“A lot of the time they stand right next to each other, with their heads facing the opposite direction. That makes them look like the character out of Dr. Zeus’ books, a Push me-Pull me. This character is actually a two headed llama.  It’s really crazy looking when they stand that way.”

It seems that having such unusual animals in North Dakota would attract quite a few curious onlookers.

“At first there were many people out here to look at them, but I really don’t think too many people even know we have them,” explained Geneva.

“You should have seen one day when the llamas were down near the dam,” said Don, his blue eyes twinkling.  “Some kid darn near fell out of the boat trying to see what they were!”

“I suppose they are a bit exotic for this area,” said Geneva thoughtfully.

Female llamas bear one kid per year, but there will be no offspring for Lleo and Llouis, they’re both male.

“But they’re always together,” commented Don, “you never see them apart from each other.”

Llamas have a split top lip and no teeth on their lower jaw.  This unusual mouth structure enables them to spit a foul smelling saliva when they are angered or attacked.

“We’ve only had one experience with them spitting, laughed Geneva.  “My daughter, Liz Anne, was the one who got spit on.  Now we just make sure nobody upsets them.”

According to Geneva, Lleo and Llouis are the rather silent sort, but Don swears he’s heart them speak Norwegian on numerous occasions.

So, until a coyote shows his face on the Quam residence, Lleo and Llouis will just have to pass time by looking cute and innocent, and telling Norwegian jokes.

I Gotcha’ Covered with Quotes

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My mother always told me, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Wise advice.  I should have followed it more often. 

The Bible gives a good reason for keeping silent. Proverbs 17:28 says, “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise.”  To be successful, you should probably have a wise look on your face, not a scowl.

There certainly is a time to be silent.  

There’s also a time to speak:  to encourage, enlighten, or empower. If you don’t have anything nice to say, and there’s a need for wise words,  I have a Plan B.

Quote someone else.

Quotes are the rage of social media, with all the cool graphics  that make us laugh until we cry, and cry until we run our mascara. They make us want to buy a dog and/or a gun and read labels for fear of ingesting anything with lotsa’ initials. Most of the time we share them or like them because we were moved to emotion.

Quotes play a part on influencing humans.

  • invoke action
  • inspire
  • empathize
  • motivate
  • sympathize
  • advertise
  • celebrate
  • humor
  • convict

Why waste the energy on a lengthy discourse when you can cover the territory with a one-liner?

Today’s Cool Tool helps create your own graphics using borrowed words or your own words of wisdom.  Introducing Quotes Cover.

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At QuotesCover.Com click on CREATE QUOTES PIC in upper right hand corner.

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On the next screen you choose a QUOTE or PROVERB from their lists or type in the CUSTOM WORDING box.

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I’ve read the article,  “Get Thee to a Writers Conference” several times and wanted to use James Scott Bell’s quote.

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Five choices on the next screen.  I chose VIRAL STATUS UPDATES. I’m a Facebook junky.

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I chose SQUARE.

 

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The options aren’t like  Word’s environment, where you choose text font and size.  You click “NEXT” and they randomly change your image’s text and color.

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Are you ready to go viral?

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It automatically puts the text of your quote as your status.  If you want to add your own status update, save your graphic to your computer, then upload as you would a regular picture.

Want to make your Facebook Cover inspirational?

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They provide an easy to understand tutorial.

I’d previously blogged about two other quote-making Cool Tools, Quozio and Recite This,  and I’m sure you remember my very exciting tutorials. Quotes Cover has a feature they don’t, it allows you to upload your own backgrounds.

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Since  I’m all about using COOL TOOLS to make COOL QUOTES, I take pictures  of unusual things to use for backgrounds.  This pink ceiling is in a historic building in St. Augustine, Florida.

Pictures of fences, streets, brick walls, clouds, sand, stucco walls, asphalt streets, doors, and windows are filling up my files.  (Note to self: label pics as I upload to find them easily.)

When you upload your own photos, choose VIRAL STATUS then LANDSCAPE.

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My picture of a stairwell in St. Augustine.  Doesn’t everybody take pics of steps while on vacation?

Using  Bing,  I typed in “quotes about stairs” and clicked to http://thinkexist.com to choose.  Vance Havner is a man worth quoting, so this was perfect for my picture and my life goals.

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You can’t change the font size, but you can use the little boxes to manipulate text size and move the text box.

Tip for the advanced: The Quotes Cover environment only allows horizontal pictures.  It cut off most of my door because my picture is vertical. I used Windows Live Photo Gallery to rotate my picture first, then uploaded it sideways.

Of course, I had to tip the text box sideways, too, and lean over my computer to create these graphics, but it worked.  After saving, I simply rotated it upright and massaged my neck for a few minutes before finishing this blog post.

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Put an asterisk in front of words you would like highlighted.  When you upload your own background, they allow you to add special effects by clicking a button.

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It’s a random process of clicking until you’re satisfied.

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Quotes Cover helps you create a graphic to encourage, enlighten, or empower.

When Words Become a Work of Art

Writers love words.  We love reading words, writing words, and saying them out loud.  They are the food for our soul.

Words are writers’ swords,  band-aids, and  lullabies.

Words are our best friends, and some days, maybe our only friends, especially if you’re an introverted writer.

What if you had the power to turn your words into works of art?

With today’s COOL TOOL, I will grant you that power. Remember my quest to provide you free and easy-to-use tools to keep your blog from being boring?

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Drum-roll please…this is exciting….introducing…one more way to embellish a writer’s love of words.

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Wordle is an easy-to-use free online tool for making those cool graphics you see on other people’s blogs, in their dining rooms, or on their Pinterest boards. On the Wordle home page, click image and it brings you to this environment.

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See how easy it is? Type in your list of words, then click GO.  It creates the word cloud for you.

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These are all the options in the FONT dialogue box, but you probably could have figured that out on your own.  I want to encourage you to start clicking on all the  buttons when you enter a new environment. You have to Click to Conquer.  (I wrote this linked blog to encourage people to overcome fear and click!)

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The layout tab gives you these choices. 

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There’s an option to create your own custom palette, choosing your background color and four foreground colors.  (choose edit custom palette)

If you aren’t happy with the design, click the imagebutton on the bottom of the creating space until you’re satisfied with colors and shapes.

Another option was to enter the URL of a web page and they will automatically generate the word list for you.

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I typed in my blog address and this was created for me.

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It was eery how they picked out the important things in my life.  I recently blogged a four-part series about losing a friend, Kari,  to cancer at 36.  I had thyroid cancer for ten years, I have six kids I adore, I homeschool, and have had a few years with several funerals.  Can you see the themes?

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A revised version of the same Wordle. If you don’t want to eliminate a word, right click on it.  I removed Kari, the contractions that weren’t spelled right, and a few random words.  This is what I came up with.  But, no, my husband isn’t the cause of my grief as it appears in the upper left hand corner.

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Another variation of the same word cloud generated with the randomize button. Getting antsy to try it yourself?

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Two Wordles to describe my passion.

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One just for bloggers.

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A Wordle about my family.  Is that hyphen in dinner table bothering you?  Yea, me, too.

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John 3:16 in a slightly scrambled version. I chose background and word colors with edit color palette and the Mail Ray Stuff font.

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For this creation, I used the url for author Lesley Ann McDaniel’s website and tried to match her website colors. Lesley’s third book in the Montana Hearts series with Heartsong Presents, Rocky Mountain Romance, is ready for pre-order.  It was fun to see the names of her characters, the settings, and the descriptions pop up. This could be a fun author promotional tool, especially if you were more deliberate with the word list.

TIPS for using WORDLE:

  • Words typed twice are largest.  (ex. FAMILY)
  • Use hyphens or omit space in phrases. (blue-eyes) (NorthDakota)
  • Right click on a word to remove it from the word cloud.
  • Their SAVE button saves to a public gallery. To save for personal use, cut out with  Snipping Tool  and save in your picture file.

 

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I gave you the power to turn  words into works of art; use this art to turn words into works of power.

How will you  Wordle your life?

Making your home sing Mondays          WHWButton#2

Are ya’ PINNED yet?

 

In my mother’s teen years, if you got “pinned” you received a pin from your boyfriend and were going steady.  It might be from his frat house, one of his clubs, or a pin from his letterman’s jacket. The pin proved YOU were the one he chose above all the other girls and he was willing to publically display his commitment.

In “The Telephone Hour” in Bye Bye Birdie they sing about the teenage ritual of getting pinned.

Have you heard about Hugo and Kim?
Did they really get pinned?
Did she kiss him and cry?
Did he pin the pin on?
Or was he too shy?
Well, I heard they got pinned
Yeah! Yeah!
I was hopin’ they would!
Oho!
Now they’re livin’ at last,
Goin’ steady for good!

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Pinterest is the same thing, only different. It’s a Cool Tool that can improve your blogging.

Today getting pinned still means you were chosen – picked out of a crowd.  Someone liked your idea and displayed it in their inspirational corner of cyberspace – Pinterest.

If you’re not a crafty, kitcheny person, you might think it’s a waste of time. Think again. There’s an explosion of talent, ideas and inspiration useful to everyone.

I know, I know, one more thing to learn.  One more thing to take time away from everything else you don’t have time for. 

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One more thing to drive traffic to your blog.

In case you can’t read that little number, in the short time that I’ve limped along learning how to pin, 638 people have clicked to my blog from Pinterest.

I blogged for years before I added social media to my writing life.  My blog grew slowly. Followers were added one at a time by visiting blogs, leaving comments and creating relationships.  Some of these women became true friends and I’ve even met them in person. It’s been such a blessing! This is the best foundation for a blog, good internet relationships.

However, when you are trying to build a platform as a writer, you need to increase your audience.

I created a Facebook author page in February and started Pinterest in the spring. Prior to this,  I had been using my personal Facebook page to promote blog posts, so the stats aren’t just from this year.

The impact social media can have on your blog traffic can’t be denied.

 

You can create a board for the various topics areas you write about. When you pin from your blog, the title of the blog is in bold print and you can add a one-liner to entice the browsers to learn more. When people click on the image, it will lead them to your post.

If people like your visuals, they will pin them into their own Pinterest boards.  You get pinned and sometimes repinned. Being on Pinterest will also inspire you to have great visuals in your blog posts, visuals  worthy of being pinned.

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(Each icon is hyperlinked to a blog post.)

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MARRIAGE

 

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PARENTING

 

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INSPIRATION

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WRITING   INSPIRATION

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COOL TOOLS FORBLOGGING

There’s a lot of great bloggers out there, but having Pinterest-worthy visuals could give you an advantage in driving traffic your way.

Are ya’ PINNED yet?

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Upload Blog Photos Easily with Photo Gallery

If you’re already  blogging and uploading digital pictures for visuals, you might ignore this post.

DON’T DO THAT!

I mean, “Please, don’t do that.” I do have some manners.

A few free Microsoft programs have changed my blogging life.

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I used pictures, but they weren’t  enhanced, bordered, or watermarked. There were few options for fonts or headings.  My blogs were pretty boring.

I’ve already blogged about Staying a Live Writer, giving you 9 great reasons to blog with Live Writer, and Picture Your Blog with Live Writer, showing easy ways to enhance your pictures.

Amsterdam View

You can Piece Together a Photo Panorama using the tutorial I gave you using Live Photo Gallery.

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Today’s Cool Tool will again focus on Live Photo Gallery.  I know it’s already Thursday and you were looking for my advice yesterday, but life happens.  Oh, you didn’t even notice I was off schedule?  Why am I such a Tryhard then?

Photo Gallery is a free photo organizer  to view, manage, share, and edit digital photos and videos.  The compatibility with Windows Live Writer will prove there is always a Happily Ever After.

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If you tag your pictures right after you upload them, it’s easy to find them.  I know, I keep nagging myself to do that, too. You can also retrieve according to person, location, subject.  It’s like tagging a blog post.

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Click on the pic to go to Microsoft website to download Photo Gallery.  Gotta’ love the FREE part.

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Start in My Pictures and decide which pictures you want to use in your blog post. Then click on image to open up Photo Gallery.

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I edit pics usually by adjusting detail, color and contrast. There are many fun options, click around and explore.

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When I was done, highlighted them all, CONTROL A.

They should all be blue, but you shouldn’t be blue in the face at this point, it’s that easy.

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Look for this little icon under the CREATE tab and click it. It opens a new draft in Live Writer and drops your photos in.

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You’re one click away from completion, choose if you want your pics in the post
or in an album.

Back in the day when I was uploading directly in Blogger or WordPress, I could only upload one at a time and then could barely move them around.  It was so frustrating.

Upload four pictures at a time?  Piece of cake!

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The new blog post was created with the four pictures dropped in order.

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Now you can jazz them up even more with the options in Live Writer.  I LOVE using  the watermark feature. It makes me feel like a Big Girl Blogger.

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I take so many pics, I can forget what I planned for a blog post.   It helps to edit pics and drop them into a draft after I dump the pics off my camera.

Microsoft’s Photo Gallery a free and simple way to store, edit, and upload your pictures.  This TOOL will make your life COOL.

Put the Grammar Girl in Your Writing Toolbox

 

Many writers were weirdos in high school, the kids who got their high underlining the noun once and the verb twice. I hated dissecting stuff, (Sorry, Dad, you probably figured out I wasn’t really sick that day you dissected frogs in your Biology class) but enjoyed tearing apart a sentence and diagraming it.  I didn’t even ask why we had to learn it.  I did it just because I could.

We weirdos also did our homework in study hall, duh, so we could read for hours at home.  We even liked helping others with their homework.  We also were slightly obsessive about grades.  If we received an A-, we didn’t see the “A” we saw the “-“.

Now the stakes are higher.  We aren’t writing for a tired teacher with too many papers to grade, so will skim ours and give us an “A”, we’re writing in public.  We’re writing blog posts, social media blurbs, articles and books.  Those grammar rules so articulately spittled by my teachers in high school  slowly decayed into blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah in my brain.

I’m forgetting. It’s easier to restructure my sentences than try to use a semi-colon.  What if I use it incorrectly?  Would it effect my blog stats or ruin the affect of my social media presence if I used affect/effect incorrectly?  Answer me now, are you dying to get to the comment section to correct me?

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I know some of my readers hang on the edge of their seats, bite their nails to the quick, writhe in agony, and pace the floor waiting for another Cool Tool to inspire their writing and make them geniuser, or would that be more genius?

Today, I introduce my new BFF, a girl who made being smart totally cool.  She critiques my writing, reminds me to use visuals , and smiles at me all the time.  We’re just like thisFingers crossed. Yep, there’s nothing better than a BFF, even when you’ve been out of high school for, well, a few decades. 

 

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So, here is my secret grammar weapon Cool Tool, Mignon Fogarty, The Grammar Girl.

Actually, she’s not really my BFF, we’re only Facebook friends. 

Well, not exactly Facebook friends, because she didn’t like me back, but I  liked her.  But, I’m pretty sure if we’d ever had study hall or English class together we’d be BFF,  even though I’m old enough to be her teacher.

She combines English Teacher and Social Media to take the pain out of learning to whom we could affect with our improper language and punctuation, usage and not make the mistakes our English teachers warned us of.

(Click on graphic to find article.)

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Doesn’t your heart pound in admiration and envy when you hear someone correctly use whom?  Now I can speak English betterer!

She covers word usage like gray/grey, affect/effect and lay/lie. Since my husband once told me he needs a wench on the front of his Jeep, I sent him her advice on using wench/winch.

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The one we wish everybody would read, the tutorial on apostrophes and plurals.

Seriously, peoples, get those apostrophe’s  and plurales straight!

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Endless worksheets didn’t eliminate the need to review those simple punctuation rules.

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If  you’re a Word Nerd, her articles about the origination of words are worth losing sleep over. (Note to self – Check her website to see if we can end a sentence with a preposition yet.)

She defines Ghost Words as “words that weren’t real to begin with—they came about because of an error or misunderstanding—but they made it into the dictionary anyway.”

And since I’ve outgrown that high school obsession of not sharing my friends, you can be Grammar Girl’s BFF, too.  Find her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and YouTube.

 

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And since we’ve outgrown passing notes, you can sign up for her newsletter.

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If you keep up with the modern generation, check out her podcasts.  Now my daughter has a brilliant substitute teacher for her homeschool English course.

If you miss homework, buy her books.

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Make sure you add the Grammar Girl to your Cool Tools Toolbox. She’s your grammar’s BFF.