Human technology, Language

The Power of Words


A new year, and words have produced results!

December was a month of action around here, of packing and unpacking, of moving, of painting and remodeling. Of transformations, tiring work, tangible physical results and visible transitions. No time for journaling or blogging or any of my usual word play. Too much stuff to get done!

It was refreshing for someone who spends most days in front of a screen typing away, pushing well crafted communications out into an indifferent world, with little to show for each completed project. A sale. A blip in web traffic. An email reply from a reader. Six likes. A share. Tweet. Tweet.

Then January happened.

Our house hit the market on a Friday afternoon. I’d spent time honing the language of the description with my realtor, though I knew the photos were more important. We had put in the labor to clear out the house and hired expert help to refresh and beautify it.

Still, I felt the rich community of the block was its best feature, far more important and enduring than the stager’s trendy hexagon end tables. I wrote a concise essay on the warmth of my neighbors, our memories of block parties and fire pits, and the texture of that special block. My realtor planted it at the open house that Sunday and distributed copies.

By Tuesday we had an offer. We sold our house in less than a week, and to someone we felt was a good fit.

Sadly, that same day I got news of a dear friend’s passing. The founder of my company, the man who hired me 20 years ago and changed the course of my life, left us that day. His contributions to the worlds of responsible business, economic empowerment, fair trade and sustainability will live on for decades. My respect for him is bottomless.

I quickly published the obituary I had written for him in anticipation of this moment. (He was 91, after all.) It was an assignment I’d been honored to take some months earlier, approaching the task with diligence and earnest respect rather than sadness. That brief biography may be one of the most important things I have written.

I also wrote announcements of his death and disseminated them to clients, staff and friends.

As people from around the world shared their memories and condolences, and as we grieved together, I was struck by how many people thanked me for my obituary and my beautiful words about Hal.

My words helped honor the man in the manner he deserved, beyond what his family and newspaper reporters could offer. And my writing provided comfort to readers who loved and grieved him as I did.

For the first time in a long time, I remembered just how powerful good writing can be, how articulate words can change minds, soothe loved ones, connect people and tighten communities. I felt a sense of my own power as a writer and felt grateful for my gift of language, my ability to encourage, persuade or comfort with well chosen words.

I watched the president’s State of the Union address with a new enthusiasm that week, eager to let the speechwriters’ soaring rhetoric elevate me. Wanting to join them, to turn my pen to civic matters. The world needs our crisp prose to inspire action and light the way of progress.

(Watch this space.) Write on!



Family, Language, Travel

10 Reasons Ireland Rules for Family Vacations

Ireland is a wonderland for family travel. The warmth of the Irish people and the county’s well established tourist infrastructure make it an inviting and accessible place even for novice travelers. The left-side driving is the only challenging part, but the freedom and spontaneity a rental car allows make it essential. Off-road Ireland is where the adventures begin!

My son Robin will remember this vacation for the rest of his life. Here are 10 reasons you should consider taking a family vacation in Ireland.

1. Happy dining

Bangers and Mash …and peas, and bacon. Bread and butter. Chips. Crisps. Baked beans. There are simple pleasures on kids’ menus throughout this fair green land. And the omni-present Early Bird dinner means mom and dad can dine in some of the cities’ best restaurants before 7 pm and enjoy two course for under 25 euro. Dinner is served from 5pm onward, and many places remain open serving food between lunch and dinner. We found kids’ menus in some of Dublin’s most sophisticated restaurants.

2. Family pricing   

All the major sites we visited in 5 different counties had family discounts. For a couple euro more than the cost of 2 adults, a family of four can enter, whether at the Rock of Cashel or the cathedrals of Dublin and Kilkenny. Under 6 is usually free. And the major museums of Dublin are free, so you can duck in for short visits and leave as soon as the kids start whining. And in terms of airfare, flights to Dublin and Shannon are among Europe’s lowest in cost, especially if you can plan for very early June.

3. Endless green

Parks, fields, and open greens — for kicking a soccer (foot) ball or tossing a foot (rugby) ball. Or hurling, I suppose …if you’re into that kinda thing.  (I wouldn’t trust my son with a large stick, and those pro players make our hockey players look like wusses.) Whether it is in a Dublin park, on a castle green like the lush acreage of Kilkenny Castle, or in the wilderness of Country Kerry, there’s open space that invites you to run around and be free. Hiking trails through moss-covered thickets. Rolling hills to roll down. (Robin rolled down the high slopes of the Rock of Cashel for almost an hour; we’ll visit the Hill of Tara next trip to do the same.)

4. Kid-friendly pubs
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Drink with yours kids. The locals don’t mind and won’t judge you. In fact, they will likely hand you a kids’ menu. Pubs are family friendly before 8 or 9 at night. Guidelines vary a little based on place or season, but pubs are a multi-generational affair. So grab a pint, and a half pint of milk. Did I mention the bar games? Go off peak for extended play time at the ring toss (above).

5. Irish music

Whether you are tutoring your child on the importance of early U2 or taking in an early evening trad (traditional music) session in a pub, music is everywhere. Stomp your feet. Clap your hands. Use your bodhran, a traditional drum used in folk music. You can pick up a decent one for 13 euro, and any local who sees your child holding one will warm to you immediately and may even offer a lesson. It seems the school kids here learn to play them, at least in the southwest of Ireland. The little drum is great and travels well. But under no circumstances should you buy your child a tin whistle. Seriously. They should tuck a set of earplugs into the box it comes in, wrapped in the sheet music for “Oh Danny Boy.”

6. Irish television

Turn on the tellie and make new friends. Peppa the Pig (though we think she’s British) is a favorite of ours. Better yet, listen in as your old buddy Dora is dubbed into Gaelic. Seriously. Dinosaur Train airs in Gaelic too! It’s just exotic enough to stretch a young mind.

7. Farm life 

I’m talking sheep. On the road. Cows up close. Goats sneaking up to the fence behind you, their MAAAAAAAAW so loud it makes you jump. Free range happy cows and hay baling. Tractors everywhere and farm pastures as far as the eye can see. In County Kerry there are places like Kissane Sheep Farm, Molly Gallivan’s, and the historic farmstead at Muckross House where kids can see it all up close. Explore the farmers’ markets and sample cheeses. Better yet, stay on a farm like we did. This is where food comes from, kids!

8. Everyone speaks English

It is so easy to get what you want and need, and the people here are generally so warm and accommodating. Your children can easily befriend the local kids at the playground and you can chat up their parents. The Gaelic signs keep it interesting, but it is really nice to be able to talk to everyone you meet, ask questions and make friends. Talking to the locals is one of the best ways to understand Ireland and discover its hidden gems, and it can get you out of a pickle quickly. Don’t be shy!

9. Fairies
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Yes, they are real. See this proof? Ireland has a sizable community of fairies and leprechauns. Evidence of their existence is everywhere, if you open your eyes and look. We recommend starting your search in the mossiest part of the forest, where the ferns grow tall. If you don’t succeed, have your child ask an elderly person. They are eager to tell your kids all about them and just as eager to hear reports of your sightings. They must remember a time when the fairies roamed free.

10. Each day ends like this… 

A creamy stout poured from a nitro can. And yes, those are wool slippers that are 76% more comfortable than the Uggs in your closet. Cozy cozy. The sun sets much later this far north, so days are longer and you can grab a little R & R outdoors after bedtime in summer. In cooler months you can just chill by the fire. This is me on a rainy June evening, when outdoor temps dipped and the sun didn’t set until 10pm, leaving us a nice long and quiet evening to enjoy while Robin slept upstairs.



Verbosity: The Gift of Language is Mine’s

As a lover of language, I’ve enjoyed watching Robin’s verbal skills evolve. I still misunderstand him sometimes, but at 4, he is able to rephrase or clarify. He is even able to think me lame for all that I misinterpret, and to verbalize his low opinion of me, sometimes quite creatively! So lest you be mistaken for an idiot too, here is a primer on 4-year-old speak, straight from my Robin’s beak.

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Why say it in 10 words when you can say it in 30? What a gift, after all those months of futile crying and mumbling shyness. To wake up one morning speaking in complete, run-on sentences, able to narrate each thought and idea with a paragraph! Some mornings it is hard to get the toothbrush in. My sudden chatterbox!

The failure of logic
I’ve struggled to learn some Italian and pity anyone learning English. Robin’s errors are predictable. They run on perfect logic and expose every exception and failure in our complex language. His choices make more sense:
Goed (gode) – past tense of go; went: “I goed to the store.”
Tattoon (tat-TOON) – tattoo, though usually a temporary one of a character he likes
Heared (heerd) – past tense of hear; heard: “Mommy, I heared you! OK?! Stop talking.”
See also: builded (built), runned (ran), puted (put)
Leafes (leef-EZ) – plural of leaf; leaves: “I picked some leafes for you.”
Mine’s (minze) – first person possessive; mine: “Don’t eat that cookie, Mom. It’s mine’s. No, mommy. Please! It’s mine’s. You already eated the other five.”

When I heard a friend’s daughter say mine’s at a barbeque a year ago, I expressed relief. Oh yeah, she laughed. Everyone’s saying it. Pretty reassuring that the child of two PhDs is stuck in the same grammar tar pit. (Of course a year later my son is still saying it, and I’m pretty sure their daughter has moved on to writing sonnets or concerti for violin.)

The thing about mine’s is it’s impossible to eradicate. While I trust Robin will outgrow the bad grammar, I do repeat things back to him conversationally, slipping in the correction so he hears it. “Oh, you went to the store? That sounds like fun.” But I can’t repeat mine without a turf war.

This word is a fixture of Gen X speech. Over the years I’ve chided Randy: “Honey, you just said actually twice in one sentence.” We were bound to hear our offspring echo it. When he used it a couple years ago, he sounded precocious. (Surely thus would follow.) Now that he says it so regularly, he just sounds like us. Why do we overuse this word? Is it because my cohort bridged the actual-virtual divide? Or because we were reared on sarcasm and irony?

“Escoose me” and other attempts at nice
Oh the words are (almost) right, but the tone… These days excuse me is his conversation starter, even when he is not eagerly interrupting me. It is pronounced escoose me, or escoooooose me when he urgently needs my attention, or EH-SCOOSE-ME (!) when he is flat out exasperated. Similarly, sorry is sometimes barked and please is sneered menacingly. We’re working on it.

Proper word order really is arbitrary, if you think about it. A few of my favorites:
Here comes me!
What letter starts with ball?
Give me some couple of those, please.
I love you how much a diplodocus weighs.

a is forThe failure of Awesome
“Um, honey, our kid just said awesome.” Nooooooo! It happened way before The Lego Movie, so it must be our fault. As much as I’d like to blame those kids at school, I have to look in the mirror, or at least glare accusingly at my husband.

By teaching him awesome, we’ve contributed to Awesome Inflation. A 4 year old is even less capable of using it properly. The Everything is Awesome song only fuels it. He’s too young and literal to get the joke: “Rocks, clocks and socks! They’re awesome!”

R: The Final Frontier
The day Robin got the L sound he stretched it out in a llluscious, exotic way, like a flirtatious Frenchman. I could tell he enjoyed the feel and sound of the letter. All of his words have come into focus, but still the R sound eludes him. We started calling him Boston when he entreated us to “tickle my ahmpit!”

I’ll miss this last vestige of toddlerhood when it leaves us. For now, I enjoy these gems:
Gwehwel (gwehwel; kinda rhymes with squirrel) – girl
Caw (cahw) – car, not to be mistaken for cow (Context! Use context!)
E-wings (EEE-wings) – earrings; “Dogs don’t wea(r) e-wings.”
Gwanilla bow – granola bar
Pawty (PAHW-ty, NOT potty; please don’t mistake it for potty; I mean for chrissake, why would he want to have his friends over to eat cake in the potty?)