High School English with a Twist

The musings of Susan E dot Cohen

Month: July, 2012

When The Crown Still Ruled

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The Crown still rules daily in Colonial Williamsburg. The King is still King. Even on days when the city is set during the latter half of the Revolutionary War, post-Declaration of Independence, Colonial Williamsburg is not yet American.

I had the privilege of visiting this colonial city and experiencing a modern-day version of the 18th century. The heat and humidity alone gave me an idea of life in the colony of Virginia. In spite of the heat, I explored the city and reconnected with my nation’s history. Maybe reconnected is not the right word. It was an immersion. A chance to experience and learn about a life so different from my own.

For those who have not visited Colonial Williamsburg, the city is a combination of restored structures and recreations of establishments that once stood on Duke of Gloucester Street, Nicholson Street, and Palace Green Street. Everyone who works in the city is dressed in colonial garb regardless of the temperature. Some of these individuals even have colonial inspired accents to accompany their 18th century fashions. The horses are not cleaned up after to further the experience. No one confirmed this assessment, but cleaning up after horses, in the middle of the day, would likely take away from the authenticity of the experience. At least in my opinion. While visiting, I had the opportunity to spend time in almost every establishment in the city. For length purposes, I will highlight just a few.

I had the chance to tour a recreation of the Capitol where the House of Burgesses met and crimes were tried in the General Court. They still try cases in that Court and I spent an evening as a juror in a Witch Trial. I thought the “Witch” was innocent, but then again I was relying on 21st century knowledge in an 18th century case. That seems to be a bit unfair. Regardless of my opinion, she was found guilty and a good time was had by all.

Like the Capitol, the Palace was also a recreation of a building that played a prominent role in daily colonial life. The Governors of the colony of Virginia lived in this enormous home. Although, according to my tour guide, for Lady Dunmore, wife of Governor Dunmore, the home was a bit too small. I guess perspective is everything. The Palace provides visitors with a sense of what it was like to be the Governor or even his daughter, and what it was like to attend a ball. However, all the fun that was had in the Palace came to an end and by the battle of Yorktown, the Palace was turned into a hospital.

In addition to the Capitol and the Palace, I spent time at Richard Charlton’s Coffeehouse where I had the chance to meet the Editor of the newspaper and try some colonial inspired coffee. I do not like coffee, but this coffee was quite good. I also paid a visit to the wigmaker, the shoemaker, the silversmith, the milliner, and many other tradesmen and women who served the city of Williamsburg. If you are wondering, I did not visit the candlestick maker.

The best part of visiting these shops was the chance to learn about the crafts housed within the walls of these colonial shops. I leaned where the materials were obtained from, how the tradesmen and women performed their crafts, and who visited the shops during the 18th century. Of note is that each shop seems to compare the price of a good to the price of shoes. I did not have a chance to ask why everything is compared to shoes, but perhaps I will send 21st century Colonial Williamsburg an email and find out.

I also had the chance to dine colonial style at two Taverns. The food was authentic, but the entertainment was even more so. The desserts (well I should preface this by saying that I love dessert) were fantastic. At King Arm’s Tavern, my colonial dessert was meringue with vanilla ice cream and a hefty topping of strawberries. I am not sure how authentic this dessert was, but it was good.

On each of the evenings during my stay, I attended an evening activity. I felt like I was back at camp. As I mentioned, the Witch Trial was one such activity. I also took part in a Tavern Ghost Walk where I was told about the ghosts that inhabit the city at night. The leader stated that all of the stories were true and I believe her. Another evening was spent listening to stories told by ghosts during Ghosts Among Us. Some of the ghosts should really be acting on Broadway. Finally, with lightning and thunder in the background, I spent my last evening in Colonial Williamsburg learning all about Blackbeard through Pirates Among Us. The lightning really added to the authenticity of the activity.

There may no longer be a Crown that rules over us, but each day in Williamsburg, Virginia, the Crown still rules. Each day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. the 21st century becomes the 18th century. Yes, the city uses 21st century work hours with the exception of Tavern dining, evening activities, and one store that monopolizes on the fact that the others are already closed. With that said, below please enjoy some photos taken on my iPhone, a gadget that would likely have me accused of witchcraft in the 18th century.

Image The Capitol

Duke of Gloucester Street

Just a typical day on Duke of Gloucester with Fifes and Drums

King Arm’s Tavern

Dining 18th Century Style

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Evening Approaches Colonial Williamsburg

Keeping up with Kate, Kim, and Katie

I follow a Kate, a Kim, and now a Katie. The Kate is the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton. I would like to refer to her as Catherine, as she prefers this to Kate, but for this piece to work, I need to use the latter. The Kim is Kim Kardashian of reality royalty fame. And the Katie? The Katie is the recently emancipated Katie Holmes. Beyond all three of these women having names that begin with a K, what do they have in common?  How could I be following a true Royal one moment and then be following a reality star the next? Why did I add on an actress most famous for marrying Tom Cruise alongside Kate and Kim? The simple answer is that I am intrigued by powerful women. The more complicated answer has to do with personal evolution.

Kate, Kim, and Katie started at very different spots than the ones they currently occupy. Kate was a middle-class British young woman who had attended the right schools, but would not have been considered Royal material. Kim grew up in LA, but prior to her friendship with Paris Hilton and an infamous tape, was not on America’s radar. Katie was famous for playing Joey on Dawson’s Creek, but was nowhere near the A-list. However, things changed.

Kate met William, waited, and then emerged from the Waity Katie period as the future of the British Monarchy. Kim’s tape leaked and her mother capitalized on her new fame by linking up with Ryan Seacrest to get America Keeping up with the Kardashians. Katie met Tom, he jumped on Oprah’s couch, they had Suri, were married, and then she performed  a Mission Impossible that led to her becoming Top Gun, while threatening The Firm of Scientology. Personal evolution at its finest. They did not start out powerful, but each, for very different reasons, is now a powerful woman.

If I like personal evolution and power, why these three women? Before answering this question, I should mention the following: I think Hillary  Clinton is as cool as they come (especially with that ponytail), count the Queen among my role models (Royal Watcher), and root for Serena Williams (ferocious). As my admiration for Hillary, the Queen, and Serena demonstrate, I have a wide network of women who I respect and follow. I could highlight any one of these women and write a thesis on them. Barnard required me to write a thesis so I feel I now have the skills to write a thesis on whomever and whatever I see fit. So that brings me back to why Kate, Kim, and Katie?

I selected Kate and Kim because I have had a chance to watch them evolve and  watch how they have handled themselves as they have evolved into a more powerful position in society. Katie has just started the evolution process. I will have the chance to see how she handles herself as she becomes a more powerful woman. Before supporting my thesis, I must fine define power. I define power not in the way of a President or CEO. I think it is more a power that is a combination of how society perceives them and how the media further solidifies that position through coverage. Kate is Royal, which although not directly powerful in British government, is still a very important status and symbol in the nation. The media attention she receives further solidifies Kate as a powerful woman. She has the power to wear an outfit and then cause that outfit to sell out minutes later. Kim is the ultimate brander. Her brand is her power. Each time she steps out, the brand steps out. I am not sure any of us realize what it means to carry a brand 24/7. Katie is new power. In asserting herself two weeks ago, she went from wife of an A-list actor to A-list all by herself. She is the new woman on the block. The world is her oyster.

Kate, Kim, and Katie have each had a very different personal evolution. Kate’s evolution is as far as you can go. I might have missed the Waitey Katie period, but I still watched Kate evolve from fiancée in the blue Issa dress, to bride, to budding Royal. Kate has done her due diligence when it comes to being a Duchess on everything from how she carries her self, to her wardrobe, to the charities she has selected to patron, and of course, that moment when she gave her first formal speech. Even before she was engaged, Kate kept her distance from the media and kept quiet. She understood that she had to stay out of the spotlight. Now that she is in that spotlight, she continues to keep a low profile, except for obligations. Each time she steps out for one,  she is more confident. I think we can each learn something from how her poise, elegance, and grace. I certainly have learned from her.

Kim has evolved on Sunday evenings and in the media over the course of several years. Although she is famous for the tape, since then, she has kept it pretty straight and narrow. She is never in compromising situations. Even though she dresses provocatively, her public behavior is the opposite. I should say a lot of Kim is thanks to having her mother Kris as her manager. However, Kim is savvier than the camera leads on and she definitely knows how to work it. When she decided to divorce Kris after 72 days, I believed she would come back bigger and better. I felt this way because it takes a lot of courage to admit you made a mistake. Yes, I knew they were a mismatch and that they had not spent enough time together, but it still took Kim courage to do what she did. After Kim admitted her mistake, she went into hibernation, and reemerged as a smarter, stronger Kim. I support this with the Oprah interview. Her vocabulary alone was superb. Her new boyfriend, Kanye, provides further evidence of a smarter, stronger Kim. She realized she must date someone who understands her lifestyle and vice versa.

Katie is actively evolving. Yes, she has previously evolved upon marrying Tom, but that pales in comparison to the evolution that is currently taking place. In declaring her independence, she asserted a Katie we did not know existed. She showed that she is a smart woman and mother. She stated what she wanted and it appears she got it. Katie was not going to be muscled by Tom and Scientology. She was able to outsmart both of them. It is too early to tell who Katie will become, but I look forward to watching her evolution.

The process of evolution is powerful. Maybe that is the power that intrigues me. The power to evolve and change oneself. Evolution is a chance to decide who you want to be and how you want to get there. Kate has decided what kind of Royal she wants to be through her wardrobe that ranges from Top Shop to Alexander McQueen as well as her charity work. Kim had the chance to rebrand herself as a calmer, more interesting Kardashian after her split from Kris. Katie, as I previously stated, is actively evolving. It is too early to tell who she will become.

I think that each time I watch a woman in the public eye evolve, it reminds me that I too can change. I too can decide who I want to be and how I want to become that person. I have Kate, Kim, and now Katie to thank for that lesson. You go girls.

Grammar as Told by Susan E dot Cohen

I have been writing your welcome wrong. I was informed of this over Gchat last week after posting a “your welcome” on Facebook. Technology is definitely picking up the educational system’s slack. What makes that mistake even worse is that I thought “your welcome” was right. Even worse is that I graduated from Barnard. The shame. Some might call for my degree to be revoked, especially those who graduated from Columbia.

I also make the “your” for “you’re” mistake when welcome is absent. Evidence of this comes from countless corrections from Meghan (if you do not know Meghan, you should) on Gchat. All of which I have ignored. I also failed to learn from a “your” for “you’re” email mistake, which occurred  when I sent out a group email with “you know your…” The mistake led to prompt corrections by email and phone as well as a friend asking me on Gchat if “your” for “you’re” was a linguistic thing. I had to write back that it was not some linguistic thing. It was simply just me. I quickly sent a group email thanking those who had pointed out my error. However, as great a grammar lesson as it was, I forgot about it and proceeded to continue making the mistake. I clearly have a little problem with “your” and “you’re.” Admitting is the first step.

I want to believe the reason for my error stems from a lack of contractions in my colloquial writing. Sure I use the standard faire such as I’m, I’ll, what’s, that’s, it’s, let’s, can’t and don’t while gchatting, texting on Facebook, and occasionally when emailing.  However, I never use you’ll, we’ll, he’ll, she’ll, you’d, we’d, he’d, she’d, they’re, they’ve, and so on. I even had to look up some of these contractions. How ridiculous that these contractions are foreign to me. They are practically exotic to me. When I see friends type them on Gchat or read them on blogs, I am always amazed. I am in awe of their ability to contract. I am in awe of their command of the English language. Each time I see one of these contractions, I question my English abilities. If you want to look smart to me, just make a contraction in a text. You will go to the head of my class.

Even if given the option of  selecting from my small repertoire (idiolect) of contraction for an article, I will not (see no won’t). I prefer to write out will not or do not. Although not a preference, in articles I write “you are” if the article is directed at the reader. I have several articles under the Published tab on this self-publishing space that have “you are” all over them. This is a little bit of a paradox. I use “you are” but then contract it incorrectly to “your.” I am also aware that “your” is possessive. Yet, I do not see an issue with “your welcome.” I should know you cannot possess the welcome.

I do use contractions when I am speaking. We all do. My ability to contract while speaking is evidence that I know how to contract. If you asked me how to make the contraction she’s, I would not think twice. I clearly know how to do it, but I think there is a disjoint  between contracting when I speak and when I write. Perhaps this disjoint is the root of the problem.

When I say “you’re welcome” (already using correctly), I hear the r and do not realize that the r results from “you are” becoming “you’re.” To me, it is simply your. How I hear it may have led to my thinking “your welcome” is correct. The step to make the contraction is lost in the translation between my inner monologue and the paper. If there is truth to this theory, which I think there is, I have a problem with contracting when I write. If this is the case, I would be reliant on being corrected. I would need to learn to write “you’re welcome.” I have my doubts on this theory. I had to have learned it. Maybe I just forgot it?

I would like to think that somewhere, in my files from elementary school, there is a “you’re welcome” hiding on those jumbo elementary ruled pages with dotted lines. I must have learned to contract you are to “you’re” and learned she’ll, they’vre, they’re, and the rest of the contractions. I must have used them regularly in my class journals and homework assignments. I may have even used them when talking to friends on AIM (remember AIM). If I used a larger number of contractions in my informal writings, the question becomes when did my repertoire of contractions shrink? When did I forgot what can be contracted?

I could hypothesize that I stopped when I started doing larger quantities of formal writing. Formal writing dislikes contractions and maybe that carried over into my informal writing. I think I then developed a preference for formal writing. One exception is when I write its for it’s in texts and emails. I usually realize it after I have done it, but sometimes I do not realize the error. Maybe this further supports my theory that I have issues with creating contractions.

If I truly did not know better, I needed to be caught. Why was I not caught sooner? The answer is one of several possibilities. The first is that I am far from alone in writing “your welcome.” The other options is I am alone and no one wanted to correct me. There is also the possibility that there are less “you’re welcomes” circulating in emails, texts, and on Facebook. I think people sometimes just use welcome, or they instead will use no problem, which can then be abbreviated to np. Another factor is that when we thank people via email, a “you’re welcome” email back is not always necessary. If the “you’re welcome” email was necessary, I would have been caught during my time at the law firm. Clearly I was not caught at the law firm, but I have been caught now. I am grateful for the correction.

Although this grammatical error and my issues with contractions in general may have led you to question my Barnard degree, I think I have reclaimed it. I essentially just wrote a personal thesis on why I was making a grammar mistake. If that is not Barnard, I am not sure what is. Yes, I just ended a sentence with is.

If you happened to have learned from this personal thesis and want to thank me, you’re welcome.

The Firm – Literally and Figuratively

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I worked at a law firm after graduating from college. Prior to this job, I had no legal dreams. I also had no real world experience, but that is besides the point.

Growing up, I never wanted to be a lawyer. I never heard “the call of the law. I never thought about pursuing justice. For me, Law and Order was just a show. Although just a show, I have to say that the show’s chime is definitely something I associate with American justice. If I ever sit in a real courtroom, I envision myself inserting the Law and Order chime as needed. In spite of not hearing “the call of the law,” “the call of employment” led me to a law firm.

My interview was the first time I set foot inside of one. I distinctly remember being asked during the interview if I had been to a law firm before. My interview was also the first time I really encountered the word firm. Sure I had heard of law firm, brokerage firm, but not firm by itself.

During the interview, the word firm was used over and over again. Obviously this is a law firm interview so that makes sense. The only other occasion I had heard the word firm pertaining to the law was the movie, The FirmI am sure you all know where I am going with this story. So what did I do during the interview? I started thinking about The Firm. As a 21-year-old, The Firm was the only firm I knew.

Each time the word was mentioned, I associated it with the film. I repeated the word in my head with a tone that I felt represented the film’s plot well. Each time I repeated the word in my head, I laughed on the inside. I thought I was funny. I should also say I gave no indication of the word association game I was playing in my head.

Once I started working at a firm, The Firm association faded as I adjusted to law firm lingo (or register for linguists). I also started calling lawyers attorneys because in a law firm, you are an attorney, not a lawyer. Even though the association stopped, it did not stop having meaning. I like to think of it as my introduction to working in a law firm. It would join a list of many law firm firsts. A list that includes thinking that attorneys just move bankers boxes around.

I no longer work at a law firm. However, my time there definitely shaped me as a person and as a professional. I am proud to say I know what summary judgment means. More importantly, I understand how hard attorneys work and what it takes to be one. I have tremendous respect for them. I also have tremendous respect for each and every person who works for one. It truly “takes a village” when it comes to firms.

As to whether I ever heard “the call of the law” while working at a law firm, I heard it momentarily.  However, it was a false call. Law and Order is still just a show to me.

1776 – The Movie

In fifth grade, Mr. Rilander showed the class the film 1776. The film was part of our Revolutionary curriculum. I say Revolutionary curriculum as my class spent the entire year learning about the war. In fact, even before we started learning about it, the Revolution was introduced to us through student-made posters that adorned the classroom’s walls.

Throughout that year, Mr. Rilander lectured the class regularly about the events leading up to and during the war. I use the word lecture as these were not typical elementary school history lessons. This was the real deal. He sat in front of the class and brought the war to life. The lectures were so vivid that the class was momentarily transported to the Boston Tea Party or the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

I distinctly remember watching 1776 at some point during that school year. I sat in the middle of the room, in the second row, at a desk that I considered to be the coolest in all of the school. It was not cool because I sat at it (although I like to think that) but instead, it was cool because our class had unusual desks in comparison to the rest of the school. If I remember correctly, the desks were like a mini table and then underneath, on the right, there was a shelf for my books.

The desks were one of the reasons I hoped to be placed in Mr. Rilander’s class. I should also say that each year his class had a Thanksgiving meal together, played touch football after that meal, and also had an end of the year barbecue. For elementary school standards, his class was as good as it gets.

Returning to the film, I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the juxtaposition of John and Abigail Adams as they read their letters to each other. I connected to Thomas Jefferson’s struggles to write the Declaration of Independence. I even remember the moment when John Hancock signs the Declaration and says something witty about the size of his signature and King George. I also remember thinking that Mr. Feeny is John Adams. This connection makes sense given that it was circa 1996-1997 and Boy Meets World held a prominent spot in the TGIF lineup.

I have not watched the film since, but I owe it a view. I also owe Mr. Rilander another thank you. I say another thank you as I have thanked him before. A few years ago I proudly told him that I was majoring in History with a concentration in American History, and it was in part, because of his class. I owe him another thank you because you can never thank a teacher enough.

I feel so fortunate to have been placed in Mr. Rilander’s class. Yes, I had originally wanted to be in that class for cool desks and touch-football, but I left that classroom with so much more.

Thank You Mr. Rilander for the best introduction to American History a fifth grader can ever ask for.

Figure Skating is My Winter Gymnastics and Gymnastics is My Summer Figure Skating


For the last week, I have been watching the US Olympic trials in diving, swimming, track, and gymnastics. As the previous sentence implies, I take my Olympics viewing seriously. So seriously, that I watch the Olympic Trials. I probably should be thanking NBC for the unlimited access (underwater swimming views) and of course, for Bob Costas.

The fact that I watch the Olympic trials should be enough to convince anyone that I am far from the average Olympics fan. I am not even sure I can be considered a fan. I am more a fanatic. My enthusiasm deserves the whole word and not the abbreviation. To understand why I am watching the Olympic Trials, one first needs to understand my relationship with the Olympics.

For two weeks, every two years, I watch the Olympics. That is right. I watch the summer games and the winter games. I am an equal opportunity Olympics fanatic. However, I must confess I do have two favorites. I love watching figure skating and gymnastics. Figure skating is my winter gymnastics and gymnastics, my summer figure skating.  In other words, if the winter olympics are on, I want to be a figure skater and if the summer olympics are on, a gymnast. The two sports, although different, are linked to each other through their artistry, power, and the flying factor.

In all seriousness, there is something about watching athletes perform at the highest level under pressure. There is something about watching their focus and how they take that focus, and turn it into a performance. The pressure, focus, performance trio, is a trio I can watch over and over again. Yes, I favor swimming over track, but give it a night or two, and I am the biggest track fan in the land. I have such admiration for any athlete who can overcome the pressure and perform. The chance to see that daily, over a two-week period, is incredible.

The pressure, focus, performance trio, is only part of the Olympics fanatic equation. In fact, it is only part of the Olympics equation period. What makes the Olympics so special are the athletes’ stories. Each athlete is more than their performance. They took a journey to reach this athletic feat. Knowing the athletes’ journey makes watching them more meaningful. That is where the Olympic Trials come in.

The Trials offer viewers the chance to participate in part of the Olympic journey. A chance to see the athletes achieve their dreams. Qualification is the dream. Without qualification, there is no gold medal. To see the athletes qualify, and the emotions expressed when they qualify, is incredible. Whether it is an athlete making her first team or in the case of Michael Phelps, his fourth team, the trials are special.

I feel privileged for the opportunity to watch the Trials. For a chance to join the Olympic journey. I look forward to continuing that journey later this month during the Olympics.

P.S. Never too late to want to be a gymnast. Well it probably is since I cannot do a cartwheel. There is after all, always figure skating.