Minted Holiday Collection 2013

Minted - Pine and Berries
pine and berries
After decorating the Christmas tree this past weekend, it’s finally beginning to sink in that the holidays are right around the corner. Like, right around the corner. Sure, I’ve been hearing a fair amount of Christmas songs on the radio and the holiday movie nights at the local cinema have served as a warm reminder of the season upon us, but I don’t really think the holiday spirit sets in until the decorations start popping up around the house.

For as much as the holiday spirit has struck me, however, my sending-out-Christmas-cards ability isn’t the keenest. I still haven’t mailed mine yet! Finding a card that is glitter-free (I hate opening an envelope to find a glitter bomb of a card that explodes all over the place! A little glitter, fine, copious amounts, not so much) is another daunting aspect. Which might explain why I’ve been sifting through Minted looking for a classy – glitter-free – holiday card to send to friends and family.

Minted’s 2013 Holiday collection has pages upon pages of timeless, graphic cards that I could easily envision dotting my walls this Christmas. I’ve picked out some of my favorite designs, just in case you’re still on the hunt for that perfect holiday card too!

Minted - Hand-Painted Branches Minted - Name in Brights
hand-painted branches | name in brights
I’ve ordered journals and announcements from Minted as gifts in the past, and have always been impressed at the quality and how unique the designs are. While I don’t know if my family and friends would appreciate a Christmas card with just my face on it, the designs are so much fun that I can’t help but drool over them!

Minted - Currant and Juniper
currant & juniper 
Have you sent out holiday cards yet? Any designs from the Minted Holiday 2013 collection strike your fancy?

This post is in collaboration with Minted. All opinions are my own.

5 Common Grammatical Mistakes and How to Avoid Them (with Grammarly)

As an English teacher, I have witnessed a myriad of grammatical atrocities committed at the hands of my students. I’ve seen adverbs used as nouns and whole paragraphs written without a capital letter in sight. I have nightmares about run-on sentences that are longer than a classic Russian novel. Grammar tends to take a backseat in education, which is evident by all of the poorly written Facebook status updates riddled with nonexistent punctuation and misused yours.

Grammarly is a nifty online proofreading tool that helps you find all of those pesky grammatical mistakes – no more sneaky prepositions or passive voice lurking in your papers. Having Grammarly at my fingertips while in undergrad would’ve made writing my seminar papers three thousand times easier, but it’s still a nice tool to have on hand post-college for formal emails, blog posts, and days when my proofreading brain decides to revolt.

I use Grammarly for proofreading because otherwise, I would lapse into the oh-so-wrong text-speak of my 7th grade students. If I see “kinda” written one more time…

To be honest, I’m pretty lenient when it comes to writing style. A fragment here or there for effect never hurt anybody, and I myself dole out commas without much of a second thought. But there are some grammar faux pas that are downright unacceptable, even for a comma abuser like myself.

  1. It’s vs. its – Every time you use “it’s”, you’re saying “it is”. So say it. Literally. Out loud. Replace “it’s” with “it is”. Does it make sense? Good. “The spider spun it is web”? Not so good.
  2. A lot vs. alot – ‘A lot’ will never be one word. Unless you’re Allie Brosh and are talking about the elusive creature, the alot.
  3. Subject/verb agreement – This one can get confusing, especially if you have a lot of clauses. Your verb should align with your subject; don’t get distracted by other nouns in a phrase or clause. “The cake, as well as the cupcakes, was delicious”.
  4. The Oxford Comma – This is a point of contention among many, but, love of commas aside, I’m a strong supporter for using the Oxford Comma to avoid ambiguity. What exactly is the Oxford Comma? Take a look at the following list of items: coffee, bacon, and ham. That comma after “bacon”? That’s the Oxford Comma. Now imagine this. A waitress asks if you would like coffee, bacon, green eggs and ham. Are you getting green eggs and green ham? Regular ham? Is “green eggs and ham” one dish? What if you don’t like green ham? Without the Oxford Comma, you’re not sure what items are grouped together. But if the menu says brunch consists of coffee, bacon, green eggs, and ham, don’t you have a better idea of what you’re ordering? Use of the Oxford Comma is not mandatory in most places, but it does help prevent ambiguity, which is why I say just make it a habit.
  5. Could of, would of, should of – No, just no. Even though “could of” and “could have” might sound similar when spoken aloud, it is always could have, would have, should have.

How many times have I expressed my exasperation in this post? Too many.

What are your biggest grammar pet peeves?
This post is sponsored by Grammarly, however, all opinions are my own.

6 Resources and Tools for Students

student resources dictionary

I have a whole folder of resources that I’ve used throughout my career as an English major (not all of which are as transferrable as the ones listed here, unless you all really want to hear about a text-searchable database of Early English Books Online and an interactive catalog of Blake’s works — this excites me, but probably not too many others). This list alone got me through many sleepless nights of churning out lengthy papers and researching topics, and covers everything from researching, free books, and easy citations.Frankly, I wish I would have known about half of these resources sooner! I can only imagine being a high school student and knowing that I could turn to the OED to help with a particular assignment, or create a stellar presentation with Prezi, but alas.

I might not have quite as many chances to use all of these resources post-university, but I still find them really helpful when poking around the Internet or writing papers on my own (which I might do for fun, sometimes. Judge away). Whether you’re in college or just like writing academic papers for pleasure (someone please tell me I’m not the only one who likes to postulate about common themes in Disney movies, or morality in Batman), I’m to help you avoid the same writing and researching pitfalls!

Tools and Resources For Writing, Researching, and Presentations

  1. Oxford English Dictionary – If I could marry the Oxford English Dictionary I probably would. Somehow I made it through 12 years of public schooling plus one year of college before even knowing this amazing resource existed, but once I was introduced to the OED I’ve never looked back (and have probably used it in every paper since!). At a very basic level, it’s an incredibly detailed dictionary, but it also provides etymologies of words and traces definitions over time with examples aplenty – a tool that’s been invaluable in the way I write papers. Looking at a word’s meaning in a particular context is a great launching point for literary analysis, making the OED perfect for basic research and changing your paper-writing frame of mind.
  2. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and the American National Biography – We all do it. Use Wikipedia, that is, to look up basic biographical information (whatever happened to using more accepted encyclopedias to look up facts? You mean we don’t miss those gargantuan, heavy, hardcover, multi-volume beasts? No? Oh, ok). The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and ANB are more credible alternatives to reading the first few lines of Wikipedia entries.
  3. Google Scholar (and Google Books) – Pitt had an incredible online database of and access to journal articles, most of which where available in PDF form or to read online without having to trek into the library on my day off in the snow. On the other hand, there were instances where I just couldn’t find the type of article I was looking for and was on the hunt for other resources. One answer in both of these situations? Google! I’ve found articles on Google Scholar that I hadn’t had access to elsewhere, and on occasion found a much more useful critical essay to flip through. The only flaw with this, though, is that often, whole articles or essays in books aren’t available in their entirety. Usually, the few chapters given are enough for my purposes in Google Books, and I don’t usually run into this problem with Google Scholar, but take caution regardless.
  4. OWL @ Purdue – For all of your MLA and APA citation needs, the Online Writing Lab at Purdue University is a simple reference that explains how to format your entire paper, organize your bibliography, and how to correctly format quotations in your paper in various styles. I still don’t remember the correct order in bibliographies (Author. Title. Date published is in there somewhere….) so OWL is a lifesaver.
  5. Prezi – This is a fun alternative to your typical PowerPoint presentation. More graphic and animated, your finished presentation feels a little more fun and a little less cookie cutter (plus, it’s easy to use, with professional-looking results!)
  6. Written Kitten – Everyone needs a little motivation every now and then. What better way to reach that 500-word count response than with the help of adorable kittens? You’d be surprised how many times I’ve milked an extra few words out rather than just hit the minimum with this gem. You’re welcome.

While some of these databases and resources require a subscription, most universities and public libraries have access to them, so check with your local librarian to find out the best way to gain access.

Other Tips and Tricks:

  • EasyBib is a great way to compile your bibliography (and the basic MLA version is free!), even allowing you to look up books by ISBN number
  • If you’re compiling a lengthy bibliography you might want to spring for (some are free, or again, your university might already subscribe to these tools) a bibliography composer like NoodleTools, RefWorks, Zotero which offer more options than the free EasyBib and impeccable organization
  • I didn’t have log-in access to an article on JStor last term, but was able to find the article I needed in a softcover book of essays and criticism – combine that with availability on Kindle and I was able to rent a particular essay for a couple of bucks to use through the term, or as long as I needed, really, without fighting over it with the rest of my class in the library

Do you have any go-to resources for paper-writing, presentations, or research?

Proofread Like a Lit Major

literature major proofread

Like a Lit Major is a mini-series in honor of those school-time skills, where once a week I’ll be sharing tips to power up your reading and writing skills. Whether you’re a student, a blogger, a book club devotee, or just looking to polish your email correspondence, there’s a little something for everyone!

Confession time: I’m a stickler for grammar, but cannot stand proofreading. I usually pawn it off on my mother because I can’t always distance myself from my work to catch the fine distinctions that need to be found while reading. Despite my dislike of proofreading, it’s still a necessity, and I’ve managed to devise a few strategies to buckle down and be a better proofreader.

But first, a brief Public Service Announcement: editing is not the same as proofreading!

And now on to the tips!

  • Read it aloud so you can hear things that automatically throw up the “red flag” alarm. Duplicate words and nonsensical phrases will be easy to spot when you hear it spoken aloud.
  • Have someone else read it to catch mistakes you might have missed. Having a fresh set of eyes can help catch things that made sense to you, or that you might’ve overlooked.
  • Print it out to get a new perspective. Follow along with a pen or your finger to focus on reading each word as you encounter it.
  • Assume the correct mindset. Proofreading is a completely different mindset from writing, and requires you to slow down and read more deliberately.
  • Wait! Give it a day after writing, longer if possible, before you start proofreading. If it’s still fresh in your mind, you’re more likely to fill in the blanks automatically with what you know you just wrote down.
  • Break it up. Some people will break their proofreading efforts into INSANELY small categories and focus on a different one with each read-through, but you can just do the biggies; focus on punctuation in one read-through, spelling in another, pay attention to formatting and citations, in a third, etc.
  • Watch out for boobytraps. Words like they’re/their/there or effect/affect and other homonyms are more likely to get mixed up, whether from autocorrect, spellcheck, or just hasty fingers.
  • Look up tricky words. I see too many emails and the like where names and other proper nouns aren’t spelled properly. Heck, I still get Facebook messages from family members who can’t seem to remember how to spell my name, much less look at the screen to see how it’s spelled.
There’s a lot of mixed feelings out there, but I’m firmly of the camp that it’s okay to make mistakes; they happen. I’ve poured over papers time after time after time, and still found one little typo after getting my final copy back. Try your best to avoid them – they really do influence how others view your credibility, but don’t freak out if one happens every blue moon.

Next week I’ll be wrapping up the back-to-school series by sharing some of my favorite resources for researching and presenting, so stay tuned!

Write Like a Lit Major

Write Like a Literature Major
Like a Lit Major is a mini-series in honor of those school-time skills, where once a week I’ll be sharing tips to power up your reading and writing skills. Whether you’re a student, a blogger, a book club devotee, or just looking to polish your email correspondence, there’s a little something for everyone!

Writing can be daunting, especially with a blank page or Word document staring you in the face. How do you stay organized? What do you do when you hit a roadblock? How do you edit to make your writing the best possible creature?

Here are my tips and tricks for breaking down the writing process and making it more manageable:

Once you’ve got your thoughts collected, organizing them can be quite the task. Left to my own devices, I start talking in circles and forget what I actually set out to say! Here are some ways to stay focused:

  • List it! Flesh out those ideas by jotting them down in bullet points. Which ones do you want to cover? Translating your ideas from thoughts to words can help you better see what you’re working with; recognize patterns in your ideas and identify overarching themes; and make sense of all of the ideas buzzing about your head.
  • Make an outline to make sense of how things fit together and give your writing a logical flow. Make a few logical categories out of your list and see where the supporting ideas fit best.
Where to Start?
You’ve got your outline – great! But those bullet points aren’t going to assemble themselves into something more cohesive and witty. But how do you put pen to paper and get those words to start flowing?
  • Write like you’re talking to your best friend. If the words just aren’t coming to you, forget the fancy lingo and just get your ideas down first. Say it simply, as if you were explaining it to a friend and go back later to polish it to fit your style, whether you’re writing a creative piece, a blog article, academic paper, or even an email. Just don’t forget to edit out your sass, if that’s how you like to initially get it down (I miiiight be guilty of this…)
  • Fill in the blanks. Write what you can, and if you have a mind blank leave a space and come back to that part later. Sometimes a really great sentence comes to you, but you just can’t find the right way to finish it. Move on to another part and mull it over in the meantime.
The Meat
Now that the words are flowing freely, it’s time to keep that energy going!
  • Highlight a word or phrase if you’re not keen on it and keep writing. Sometimes I don’t like the way something sounds, and if after a few moments I still can’t straighten it out, I’ll mark it to come back to and move on to something that’s a bit easier to write.
  • Explain your quotes. If you’re quoting a work for reference in your own writing, don’t just leave the quote hanging by itself. You should always have more of your analysis of the quote that you used than quote itself. Your readers aren’t psychic, and shouldn’t have to guess at the point you’re trying to make; walk them through your thought process.

Finally the grueling part: editing.

  • Write your introduction. Now delete it all and write it again. The adage that you should write your paper, then make your concluding paragraph your first isn’t too far from the truth. Often, by the time you reach the end you’ve got a better handle on your topic and where you’re going with your writing once you’ve got it all on paper. You don’t necessarily have to rewrite it all, but once you’re done writing do go back and evaluate if your introduction lines up with the points you’ve made.
  • Think Twitter: Be concise with your words and eliminate wordy phrases (things like the passive voice and meandering sentences can fit into this category too).
  • Power up your words to really pack a punch. Use descriptive adjectives and verbs to communicate your message. No “very” or bland verbs like “walk”. Did you saunter?  Scurry? Meander? You can fit so much more meaning into a sentence by using juicy words (and condense your writing too – take note Twitter-users!)
  • Summarize your paragraphs. As you go through and reread what you’ve just written, can you quickly and concisely summarize what point each paragraph is making, and how it ties into your argument or topic as a whole?
How do you get through a major writing block?
Next week on Like a Lit Major, I’ll be featuring one of the things I hate most in the world…