Sunday, December 30, 2012

Rules, mistakes, and considerate corrections

As a person who loves the written word and appreciates all the structural "rules" about language and how it functions, I often make "mistakes" both in writing and in speaking. Everyone does this from time to time and it is often off-putting when corrected by another person. Some of my errors have been more embarrassing than others. I'll share just two that stand out in my mind as striking when they happened.

The first one was actually made on this blog. Honestly, I'm sure anyone reading my blog would be able to find several incorrect usages, punctuations, or confusing strings of phrases or sentences. I don't profess to be perfect. However, one post particularly made me shrivel in mortification. I am still relatively new to the blogging world, and I am excited about building a readership base steadily and slowly. I like to look at the stats to see how many page views and followers there are out there. One of my earliest posts titled "Lunch with a clarinetist and a beatboxer who improv together at TEDxLincoln" was particularly popular. As days went by, I was elated at the increasingly high-number of page views next to the title of that entry. Glancing at the title one day, I saw it. My heart dropped. I meant improv and I spelled improve. In the title! Upon further investigation, I realized I spelled improve several times throughout the post too! What would people think of me? Why didn't anyone bring it to my attention? I even shared the mistake all over Twitter and Facebook! I quickly, in shame, made my edits.

There is an actual term for making a mistake in a title. It is called Muphry's law:
If a mistake is as plain as the nose on your face, everyone can see it but you. Your readers will always notice errors in a title, in headings, in the first paragraph of anything, and in the top lines of a new page. These are the very places where authors, editors and proofreaders are most likely to make mistakes.
I'm great at ensuring that my unintentional mistakes (and what mistake is intentional?) are in prime locations for all to discover. I proof and edit a blog post multiple times before posting it, yet Michelle will point out errors in seconds that I have glossed over time and time again.

Another embarrassing experience of mine goes back many years ago when I was in college doing a practicum with a very smart class of 7th graders. Every week there were several spelling lessons in which it was my job to lead. As an English Education major, spelling has never been one of my strongest strengths. I can manage on my own but I wouldn't proudly say I'm an expert. Regardless of all this, I can hold my own and was pretty confident in my skills. One day I was up in front of these terrific kids grouping words, writing and talking at the same time like most teachers do. And I kept spelling a couple of words incorrectly. The first time the kids were considerate in their corrections. The second time it became a bit of fodder for the group. But soon I realized I had to make sure I was thinking and writing instead of talking and writing otherwise the mistakes would continue. I tried to turn the situation into a "nobody is perfect" lesson that, to this day, I'm almost certain didn't stick.

Luckily, my cooperating teacher sitting in the back of the classroom observing was intelligent, gracious, and had a sense of humor. She understood that mistakes are alright, part of the learning process, and, that being vulnerable and honest with your students creates a classroom culture of trust, collaboration, and synergy. A teacher of another persuasion may have viewed my missteps as a lack of intelligence, knowledge, preparation, or inability to be an effective English teacher. Luckily, I was working with the former and not the latter.

The last day of the semester, when my cooperating teacher handed me my teaching evaluation, she gave me a gift. It was a cup, with several spelling errors crossed out. Many students over the years have commented on this cup when they see it at my desk or in the classroom, providing me with my favorite opportunity to share the story of my first experience in a classroom as a teacher. It's a great story that all students love, making me--Mr. Pernicek--someone who can be real and fallible, a person just like them, imperfect on a journey of literacy development. That cup holds much symbolism and meaning today, constantly reminding me what kind of teacher I should be.

I read a post on a blog this morning that resonated with me (and that gift of a cup many years ago). It is what spurred this post. Chandra addresses the act of correcting another person's language mistakes all the while examining the interestingly complex world of linguistics and literacy privilege. It's worth taking the time to read. Literacy Privilege: How I Learned to Check Mine Instead of Making Fun of People's Grammar on the Internet.

Because of my field of study, oftentimes when someone points out my language (or literature) mistake they will follow it up with a comment referencing me being an English teacher (ie "But you're an English teacher!"). This has always caused me to cringe, because the premise behind that type of comment is that an English teacher should never make an English-related mistake. That is like saying people in every profession should be expected to be perfect: a mathematician will always compute a formula perfectly, a physician always makes the correct diagnosis the first time, a scientist is always accurate in enacting impeccable experiments, and an actress always remembers her line in order to give a flawless performance on the first take. We all know none of that is true. Flawlessness is basically nonexistent.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Dreaming of getting old?

I recently posted about how I don't really dream at night. Apparently, I'm a liar. Because I had another dream two nights ago. The concerning thing is I think the dream was a premonition about aging. . . or maybe something else?

The gist of the dream was this: I was having trouble hearing out of my right ear. Of course, like most dreams, this one was very illogical and the setting kept changing. First I was in a doctor's office complaining of ear pain. The doctor kept telling me that I was not that old and that I was probably just imagining the symptom, comforting me, telling me that it would just subside on it's own.

Then I was transported to a vague situation where I was concerned about the noise level of the place. So, I wanted to wear ear-plugs or sound blockers in order to preserve my hearing. Now, I already do this in my waking life when working with loud machinery like saws, the snow blower, the mower, etc. I might get made fun of for doing this, but I am very conscious about protecting my ears.

Next, I was in a classroom, teaching. I kept asking my students questions and they wanted to answer. They were engaged. They were excitedly waving their hands in the air, wanting me to call on them. Yet, when I did, I couldn't hear them. I asked them to speak louder. I asked them to repeat what they said. I knew that I couldn't hear them because of my right ear. But the students didn't care. They were becoming very restless and upset that I couldn't hear them.

Finally, I was back in the doctor's office again, demanding she do an examination of my right ear. When she was finished, she confirmed that there was some serious hearing loss and asked me if I would like an implant or some sort of hearing device, which, obviously, I refused. I don't want a hearing aid! I'm not that old!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Christmas party invaded by frog-pirates

Last night we invited great friends over to the castle in order to relax and celebrate the holidays. In lieu of recent current events, I went to bed thankful for many things and thought it would be appropriate to blog about them this morning:

My wife, Michelle: Sometimes I am in awe that I married to her. The success of our party last night was largely due to her. It wasn't just the idea of the party itself, but also the warm-inviting atmosphere, the holiday-themed drinks, and the fact that we have such a core group of grounded, solid, supportive friends. Michelle is intelligent, beautiful, and puts up with every single one of my weird moods. We often joke that we're the gay couple from the show Modern Family because when no one is around our banter might slightly resemble theirs. The longer we're married the more confident I am that no matter what happens in life, her and I will be able to do anything as long as we're together. I'm constantly proud that I'm able to spend my life with her.

Friends: I couldn't ask for a better group of friends. Traveling through life with them is a blessing. Experiences with them make all the stress from the world disappear. When around them that moment in time is pretty great.

The imagination of a child: Almost every time that we hang out with Anna and Russ, Vivi will ask me to play hide and seek. So we took turns counting to ten (Vivi was adamant about it not being more or less) and I found different hiding places around the house while she continually rediscovered the same hiding spot under the kitchen table. When things got real, though, was when she suggested we play "pirates". What ensued was an elaborate, imaginative game of us being "frog pirates", complete with our own ship, flag, pirate accents, treasure, and alligator swamp filled with sharks (I know, I was a bit confused by that too). As an adult, it is amazing to revert back to being child-like and witness the imaginative creativity of kids. And Vivi is one cool kid.

Charlie: The jumpy, crazy Charlie did not last very long last night and only showed up a couple of times during a new arrival at the door. The majority of the night he was calm and well-mannered. He did follow Vivi around the house as she pulled a beanie baby around on his leash. And there might have been a little incident later on in the evening when he walked into the living room, stopping conversation because his dog parts were out for everyone to see. It was embarrassing. In spite of that social misstep, Charlie is still pretty wonderful.

Our castle: While I was curled up in the corner of the bedroom, hiding from Vivi, I overheard her saying something that absolutely no one would ever say about our meager 800 square foot home: "This house is soooo big. There are soooo many hiding places. This is going to take forever!" We have a great home that we've comfortably made our own, and filled it with important things that matter.

What are you thankful for this Christmas season?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Happy 3rd birthday!

Charlie turned 3 years old on Monday. In that short amount of time, we have learned much about Charlie and his personality. He has developed into a very loveable, loyal, and quite hilarious part of our family. As a tribute to his three years of canine-life, I want to share three moments with you.

Last week, on one of my afternoons off from work, Charlie and I were hanging out together in the living room when we heard a truck pull up in front of the house and honk. Charlie immediately jumped up, running to the window. He stared out the window. I stayed sitting on the couch. Charlie was still. Then his tail started slowly moving from side to side. It quickly began to pick up a frantic pace until it enveloped his entire body as he shook furiously. His monkey noise followed. I knew that the UPS man was delivering something to our front door.
For as long as I can remember, Charlie and I have shared a love for popcorn. Once in a while, he might get a kernel or two. He knows when I am getting popcorn from the kitchen. And when I'm trying to enjoy my little snack all to myself, he is moving every way possible to try and get close enough to steal some. Just the other day, I put up my legs on the couch, as a barrier, to keep him from coming too close to the delicious bag of popcorn. Charlie rested his head in the blanket, and just looked at me longingly with his eyes... until he fell asleep there, in a very strange prostrate position.

For his birthday, Charlie received a small raw-hide bone. He doesn't get these frequently, however, when he does, eating one is the last thing on his mind. Since his birthday, he has been carrying the raw-hide around the house, clawing at objects that don't move (like the carpet on the floor, the couch, or the Christmas tree skirt) in an effort to bury it. After some intense clawing, he will drop the raw-hide and walk away, only to "discover" it later and continue to carry it around the house. As he transports it from various locations, he will make growling or monkey noises. I'm sure in several weeks, he will finally start to begin chewing it.

For all of those reasons, and many more, I love him. Happy birthday, Charlie!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Charlie and I are plumbers

My day away from work this week allowed me the opportunity to install a new toilet. This was not exactly my ideal hope for a day off but when I was finished with the project I did feel pretty accomplished and good about myself. One may think that replacing a toilet is a tremendous undertaking but it really is a quick and easy job, despite the initial apprehension most people probably have about plumbing in general and the thought that you are tinkering with the inner workings of the porcelain god.

The tank of our existing toilet had cracked and water had been slowly leaking behind the bowl onto the bathroom floor for many months. The repair was long overdue. I was just putting it off because, sometimes, I am an expert at procrastination. We even had the new toilet purchased already and it had been sitting in a box in our living room for over a month.

Michelle occasionally states that the castle is not "our" house, that it is "my" house because I purchased it before we were married. I see her point. That is partially true. Her main justification is that I've put a lot of heart and effort into updates and repairs. Since we've been married, I've made a concerted effort to make sure she gets to be a part of the decision process when changes are made: she helped pick out the carpet in the spare room, she chose the floor tile in the kitchen, she approved of the new kitchen cabinets, the two bedrooms and kitchen now have new "Michelle" colors on the walls (which I really like, I might add), and I forced her to go toilet shopping with me. At first, my beautiful wife was not as thrilled as I was about this great excursion. She initially told me to buy the toilet. But now I can say she also participated in this house project too!

Charlie gets very excited when he and I are able to spend a day together during the week. Whether we're working outside in they yard, reading books on the couch, or installing a toilet, he is always right there alongside me, helping. I love the fact that he is such a loyal companion, even though he sometimes can be in the way. Here he is helping me set up all the parts to get the project up and going (no, I did not force him to pose for this picture, he was really there doing this):

 Notice how his food dish and toy ring is right next to everything else.

Removing the old toilet was relatively simple. The pictures below are actually of the new toilet going in, but the steps are the same just in the opposite order.

Turn off the water supply valve that is behind the toilet running to the tank. Flush the toilet several times after the water is turned off to empty most of the water out of the bowel and the tank. It may even be necessary to take a cup to dip out any remaining water in the tank.

Next, undo the water supply line from the tank. Put a small bucket underneath as leftover water in the supply line will trickle out as the connections are loosened. Less water mess will be made when the water goes right into the bucket.

Loosen the bolts that are attaching the tank to the bowl. Again, put the small bucket back behind the tank, as remaining water in the tank will stream out onto the floor if you don't. Lift the tank right off of the bowl.
Loosen the bolts that are holding the bowl to the sewer pipe. These may be rusted and, if so, they might just have to be cut off. Once loosened, just lift the old toilet up and off of the sewer pipe. When pulling up, the wax ring and seal will break from the sewer pipe.
A little side anecdote: Charlie was right alongside me the entire time, inspecting and approving of the process. However, when I wasn't paying attention, I heard the lapping of water. When I looked over, he had his head in the bucket that I had used to collect gross water when taking the toilet apart. Charlie was drinking it. I yelled at him. He jumped and ran out of the bathroom. I scared him. Poor guy. He can be such a gross dog.

Installing the new toilet is easy. Basically all the steps above need to be completed in reverse. But, before I did, I cleaned up the sewer pipe of any remaining wax from the wax ring. 

I noticed a pungent smell from the pipe, which is sewer gas. I know, disgusting. I Just stuffed an old rag into the pipe until I was ready to put on the new toiled. I inspected the flange on the top of the sewer pipe to make sure that it was in good shape. It was rusted but we live in an older house and a little rust it fine. The flange was still in fine condition and not cracked or broken. If not, I would have needed to replace or repair it. Here is a video for how to do that:

Before I put down the new toilet, I needed a new wax ring to establish a seal between the toilet and the sewer pipe. A bad seal will cause water leakage and it will also allow those awful sewer gases to escape into the house. While at the hardware store, I did stumble upon a product called a wax free toilet seal. Basically this is a piece that adheres to the bottom of the toilet and then fits snugly inside the sewer pipe. It is less messy than a wax ring. I was sure to measure the diameter of the sewer pipe to make sure I got the right size of seal. I was skeptical about this wax free toilet seal at first, until I decided to use it to see what would happen and was pleasantly surprised. I attached it to the underside of the toilet bowl and tried to pull it off, noticing, after much effort, that it was moving nowhere.

Charlie also seemed to think it was working just fine. (Again, this was not posed. He was there.)

Next I slid the bolts under the two notches in the flange. I carefully lined up the holes in the bottom of the bowl with the upright bolts and then pushed on the toilet, and the wax free seal went down into the sewer pipe. I had to press kind of hard but could immediately feel the seal. It was very simple. If using wax, it would work similarly: just put the wax on the flange and then press the toilet down hard so that it establishes a seal. When I was tightening all bolts, I made sure not to make them too tight because it could cause the toilet to crack.

After a couple of hours, and several flushes later to ensure there were no leaks and everything was working fine, the toilet replacement project was complete. Hopefully there will not be any more castle repairs for a while. Maybe Charlie will be able to help me with other things instead, just like he was helping me write this blog this morning.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Who moved my chair?

I'm not much of a dreamer. Actually, I should probably clarify that statement. I am a dreamer during my waking hours. My dreams contain all sorts of things: random thoughts and prayers for the future, imaginations of how things might be, and hopes for those people whom are closest to us.

Dreaming while I'm asleep is a completely different story. Generally, I don't dream. Technically, I know that people dream every night but we don't always remember our dreams. I never remember mine.

Michelle, however, always dreams. I get to hear about the crazy machinations that go on in her mind while she is sleeping. They are quite wonderful, except when I'm a part of them. For some reason, I tend to do things wrong in Michelle dreams. I say the incorrect thing or frustrate her. And when she retells these dreams during waking hours, I get to hear about everything I shouldn't have done. There was even an instance when Michelle had a dream and she was mad at me for several days afterward. I don't remember the details, but, yes, that happened.

So, basically, dreaming isn't really necessary for me because my wife dreams for two.

Occasionally, I have a dream. Lately, I'm having one reoccurring dream. It's stupid really. And I can never recall any of the specific details, aside from one, very annoying scenario. I'm at work, sitting in my small office and I walk behind my desk to sit down.

When my bottom hits the chair, I know immediately what is happening: my chair is not my chair.

It doesn't feel right.

It is not the correct height.

It doesn't roll the same on the floor.

It has a different backrest.

But I don't do anything about it. I am just mildly irritated at the fact that I have a different chair. And I wonder what happened to my other chair but I don't really care. Nor do I take any action to resolve my frustration. This all makes me wonder who took my chair and why they would want it. And, if someone really wanted to take my chair when I wasn't present, why did they replace it with a different chair?

I guess this dream has some sign of significance. All dreams mean something, right? What is my chair in real life? What does the chair represent? Why do I feel it is being taken from me?

If anyone out there has a psychology degree, respond to this post. Or, if you do not have a background in dreams, reply to let me know what you think. Even better yet, what are your own reoccurring dreams that you just can't seem to let go?

Please respond to any of those questions... I would like to hear the answers.