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Friday, September 9, 2022

I Before E

Remember learning “I before E except after C” in grade school? I recently came across a longer version of this little ditty that includes other exceptions. The poet bug in my veins fiddled with it some to make it rhyme better.

I before E

except after C

or when sounding like EYE

as in HEIDI and STEIN

or spoken like SAY


Most Americans were taught to memorize the first part of this poem. Our teachers probably thought  getting us to spell a few I-E words correctly was at least a start given the vagaries of English. Now, of course, students can just ask Siri or Alexa.

There are tons of exceptions to the I-E "rule", partly because English is so wonky, partly because our language is sprinkled with words from many other tongues. Here's an example to illustrate some of these exceptions, one that would totally frustrate ESL students.

The heinous foreigners cried heigh-ho as they seized their meister’s sleigh and eight feisty reindeer.

Want a little refresher spelling test? Insert the letters E and I in the correct order in the following words. Have fun! 😊 

1.    s - - z e

2.    n - - t h e r

3.    r e c - - v e

4.    h - - g h t

5.    f r - - n d

6.    b r - - f

7.    d e c - - v e

8.    l - - s u r e

9.    m I s c h - - f

10.  w - - g h t

11.  - - g h t

12.  r e c - - p t

13.  s l - - g h t

14.  f r - - g h t

15. t h - - r

16.  n - - g h b o r

17.  c - - l I n g

18.  s h r - - k

19.  r - - g n

20.  p - - c e

Thursday, August 4, 2022

August 21 is Poet's Day

When I retired with the intention of doing what I call serious writing, I started slowly by taking an online children’s literature course. Although none of my writing assignments ended up in Brute Heart, I moved from playing with children’s stories to self-publishing my first novel.

To hone my skills and feel more like a writer, I joined Central Oregon Writer’s Guild. This led me to a critique group that gave advice as I slogged through the research and writing that went into my second novel, Never Done. Two members of my critique group were poets who shared their work every other week. I learned a lot from them as I read what they wrote and offered suggestions, tentative ones, to be sure. I grew a bit bolder and wrote a few poems of my own which they graciously critiqued. I wrote about whatever came to mind, some poems celebrating nature, others whimsical. I also read Sylvia Plath, Mary Oliver, Edna St. Vincent Millay, which gave me a greater appreciation for the genre.

Due to job changes and members moving out of town, after five years, the group disbanded. I kept writing. “No more novels,” I declared, as I concentrated on short stories and poems. I guess I had become a poet and didn’t know it, because as of this August (2022) 29 of my poems have been published, some in online journals, most with other poets in soft cover anthologies. I've been told my poems are easy to understand. More prose than traditional poetry, they flow freely, rarely rhyme.

Since August 21 is Poet’s Day, I decided to celebrate another poet by sharing the poem I read at my mother’s graveside service in 2016. I did not write this poem, but wish I had.

Although You're Gone

Although you're gone, I'm not alone,
And never shall I be,
For the precious memories of the bond we shared
Will never depart from me.

Our love surpassed the ups and downs
And helped us along the way,
And that same love will give me strength
To manage this loss each day.

On my mind and in my heart,
Mom, you’ll forever be,
For as much as I am a part of you,
You are a part of me!

© Shannon Walker

                P  O  E  T  R  Y

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Naming Characters

One of the many challenges faced when writing fiction is naming characters. Names should be appropriate for the historical period and country in which the story takes place, not too common, but not so unusual they become the central focus ("A Boy Named Sue," for example).

When writing Brute Heart, I used a map of Oregon--not the simple version below, but one that included topographical as well as political designations. I used the map to choose the first and last names of every character in the book, even those briefly mentioned. Since I didn't want my system to be readily apparent,  I steered clear of names like Willamette, Multnomah, Columbia, Cascade, etc.

It has probably been a long time since you read Brute Heart, but for a little trip down memory lane, below is a list of the main characters and their namesakes.

Jordan  Miller
Jordan Valley is a small town in SE Oregon near the Idaho border. Miller Lake--small lake north of Crater Lake in Klamath County.

Annie Creek--a tributary of Wood River that flows out of Crater Lake

Cooper Mountain rises 700+ feet over Washington County (near Aloha); Cooper Creek is in Douglas County.

Jude Lake in Marion County

Dusty Saddle Canyon located north of Pendleton

Perry--a community in Union County near LaGrande

McKenzie Scott
The McKenzie River is a tributary of the Willamette River; Mt. Scott rises on the SE flank of Crater Lake.

Morgan Scott
There are two Morgans in Oregon, one north of Heppner and one west of Roseburg  (both are quite small).

Kimberly is a small town situated north of the John Day Fossil Beds right on the border of Wheeler and Grant counties.

Riley Palmer
Riley is a community in Harney County west of Burns; Palmer Creek is a tributary of the S Yamhill River located in northwest Oregon.

Parker--a community located in Polk County south of Monmouth

Leona--a community in Douglas County between Reedsport and I-5

Drew Murphy
Drew--a small community located in Douglas County; Murphy, another small community, is located in Josephine County in the Applegate Valley

Kent Warner
The town of Kent is located in Sherman County between Shaniko and Grass Valley; Warner Valley is in the eastern part of Lake County.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

The Goose Girl's New Ribbon

Much of my writing is inspired by my interest in history, especially that of my family. My latest venture into self-publishing, The Goose Girl's New Ribbon, developed from bits and pieces of my Bohemian mother's life growing up on a farm in South Dakota during the Great Depression. Since the protagonist is a ten-year-old girl, and the historically accurate story is full of teachable moments, I thought I might find a children's magazine eager to publish it. 

I soon discovered children's publications can't use stories that run over 9,000 words. Some were interested in publishing my story as a children's book, however I had just broken ties with the publisher of my second novel and didn't want to go that route again. I truly liked my story, shocking for someone who finds fault with everything she writes, so I decided to self-publish it as a children's book. The Goose Girl's New Ribbon will most likely be my only children's book.

I love to write but hate to promote. About the only time I make an effort to sell copies of my books is at holiday bazaars. I sometimes tell myself I'm too old to be hawking my work, but I enjoy these small "craft fairs" where the other vendors are friendly and the people who stop by are looking for Christmas gifts. Covid-19 stopped these events for two holiday seasons. This year, when November finally rolls around, I will have a children's book on display next to my two novels and a couple of anthologies that include my poems.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

"Walks into a Bar" Jokes

Which type of joke have you heard most often—a “blond” joke or a “walks into a bar” joke?

Below are some clever “walks into a bar” jokes that are also useful examples of terms used to describe features of the English language. I would credit the writer if I knew who it was.

After joke #10 is a poem I wrote about being in a bar. Those of you who are familiar with my writing will say—What? This isn’t the kind of poem she usually writes. That is true, but I had a lot of fun writing it. 😊 

  1. An Oxford comma walks into a bar where it spends the evening watching TV, getting drunk, and smoking cigars.
  2.  A dangling participle walks into a bar. Enjoying a cocktail and chatting with the bartender, the evening passes pleasantly.
  3.  A bar was walked into by the passive voice.
  4.  A malapropism walks into a bar, looking for all intensive purposes like a wolf in cheap clothing, muttering epitaphs and casting dispersions on his magnificent other, who takes him for granite..
  5.  Franklin Gothic and Comic Sans walk into a bar. The bartender says, “Get out—we don’t serve your type.”
  6. A mixed metaphor walks into a bar, seeing the handwriting on the wall but hoping to nip it in the bud.
  7. A synonym strolls into a tavern.
  8. A cliché walks into a bar—fresh as a daisy, cute as a button, sharp as a tack.
  9.  A verb walks into a bar, sees a beautiful noun, and suggests they conjugate.
  10. A gerund and an infinitive walk into a bar, drinking to forget.


Feed the Head


I walked into a bar with my head under my arm.
No blood—
just a flat manikin neck
between my shoulders.

I sat my curly noggin on the stool next to me
‘I can’t see the TV,’ it whined,
mumbling something under its breath
about the evening news.

‘Margarita, no salt,’ my head told the bartender.
The pale green liquid arrived with a long straw,
and my mouth wolfed it down
like a parched camel.

The tavern teemed with zodiac animals.
A Taurus poked my cheek to see if I was real;
fell back with a shriek
when I rolled my eyes.

‘You gotta see this,’ Taurus said to Scorpio.
Aries sampled my salt lick neck;
got a taste of my fists
though my aim suffered some.

By our third margarita
my head was showing off,
harmonizing with Prince, Cher, Willie
and doing Sylvester Stallone impressions.

‘What does your other half do?’ asked Leo.
‘He’s my body guard,’ answered my head.
It was my turn in the spotlight
so I flexed my biceps, did some squats.

The happy hour circus muscled closer.
When Pisces began gasping for air
I paid the bartender
picked up my head and left.

‘We’re not done here, are we?’
my mouth whispered to my armpit.
‘Only the worm in the tequila knows
how to survive in this land of lunacy.’

Ginger Dehlinger

Sunday, March 6, 2022


Heteronyms are words that are spelled the same but have more than one meaning. They are one of  many idiosyncrasies in the English language that make it a challenge to master. Listed below are a few examples. The haphazard nature of heteronyms becomes even more apparent when they appear in the same sentence.

The insurance card the INVALID showed to the receptionist was INVALID.

I winced when the nurse WOUND a bandage around my WOUND.

During mating season, a buck DOES bizarre things when DOES are around.

I shed many a TEAR when I saw the TEAR in my new blouse.

A farmer needs rich soil to PRODUCE organic PRODUCE.

The recycler's bins were already so full of REFUSE, he had to REFUSE what I brought.

I was too CLOSE to the cupboard door to CLOSE it.

The Captain could LEAD us to our bivouac if we would just get the LEAD out.

I did not OBJECT to the ridiculous OBJECT he gave me for Christmas. 

No time like the PRESENT, the young man decided, to PRESENT his girlfriend with a PRESENT.

Let's face it - English is verbal insanity.

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Westward the Women

Two weeks ago, I happened upon Westward the Women, a movie I hadn’t seen since I was about eight years old. I grew up a fan of the Western genre, and back then there were plenty of Westerns being filmed to keep my fire lit. At the age of five, according to my mother, my boyfriend was Roy Rogers. One day she saw me making mud pies and asked who the pies were for. “Roy,” I answered. A year later I carried my lunch to school in a Roy Rogers lunch pail.

Many western-themed movies in the 50’s and 60’s treated America’s westward expansion lightly and tritely. There was always singing and dancing around a campfire and an attack by indigenous people which the natives usually lost. Westerns featured male actors more than they did female, and actresses along for the ride usually had well-coiffed hair and pretty dresses that were clean and unwrinkled.

Westward the Women was an exception. This movie about a wagon train of mail order brides traveling to California was filmed in black and white, one way to highlight how dirty and treacherous such trips were. It has since been colorized, but for me, blue skies and blue eyes are a distraction. These women got muddy, sweaty, sunburned, broken and bloodied. Their hair was usually a mess, and their dresses looked like rags by the time they reached California. The stark realism in the black and white version I saw as a child may be why this movie made such an impression it stuck with me most of my life.

Movies filmed years later such as Meeks Cutoff (2010) also show how strong women had to be to make the endless trek across deserts and mountains. I have seen two episodes of 1883 since it was released this year, and thus far it appears to have even more realistic roles for women than Meeks Cutoff or Westward the Women.

Another accurate depiction of women pioneers can be seen at the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center located in Baker City, Oregon. In the museum’s living history displays, the hems of the women’s dresses are caked with dirt as they walk alongside, not ride in covered wagons. Painstaking details, such as the fatigue etched on mannikin pioneer faces and artificial flies perched on artificial oxen dung, make this replica of the true Oregon Trail experience worth a trip to Baker City.