7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 89)

July 16, 2010 | 54 comments

Update: Linky list is now fixed! (Evidently I am Linky-list challenged this month.)

— 1 —

My favorite picture from our trip to Mt. Angel Abbey:

One of the monks pouring wine at the Art & Wine Festival
— 2 —

I was talking to my grandfather about how I don’t like to fly, and he laughed and said that I should have seen air travel back in his day — especially where he lived! He spent most of his adult life working in Mexico and Colombia, and he and my grandmother would occasionally fly between the two countries to visit friends.

He said that they’d often go through storms that bounced the plane around so hard that they got bruises from the seatbelts. And the pilots used these commercial passenger flights to train new copilots, so sometimes they’d turn off an engine in mid-flight just to see how the trainee would react.

But here was the best one: my grandfather once took a trip with a friend of his who owned a small single-engine plane. On the flight (a Pan-Am airliner), the guy went into the cockpit to chat with the pilots…and then, a few minutes later, my grandfather sees both the pilot and the copilot come out and sit down to have a Coke with the stewardesses! They thought it might be nice to let him try to fly it for a while.

Next time I feel stressed by a little turbulence on a flight, I will definitely think of those stories and remember that it could be a lot worse.

— 3 —

Yesterday I took the kids to a local farm/petting zoo place. I got them all excited about seeing the “freaky bugs” exhibit, and we eagerly entered the darkened room full of glass boxes. I quickly realized, however, that one of the downsides of living in this kind of house (other than, you know, the obvious ones) is that exotic bug exhibits are pretty anticlimactic for my kids. “That’s like the one we saw on the porch, ” my son said nonchalantly, pointing to a brightly-colored centipede in a display case.

Large roaches, scorpions, gigantic “redhead” centipedes, lizards, wasps, tarantulas, big barn spiders — they all make appearances around here, sometimes in our living room. Our house is the exotic bugs exhibit.

— 4 —

I think that we, as a society, need to start a tradition of making every Monday “Check Your Spam Filter” day. I’ve recently had some exasperating miscommunications with people because emails from me got snagged in their junk mail folders: a blog reader with an important, urgent question thought I didn’t reply; I missed getting a good babysitter because she never saw my email; and, worst of all, a potential adoptive family had been interested to hear more about our Kidsave child, and by the time they saw my lengthy, enthusiastic reply weeks later (that I’d sent only hours after I received their email), they’d already moved on to another opportunity (though, luckily, there is another family interested now).

And, yes, it does keep me up at night to know that these are only the spam filter fiascoes that I found out about!

— 5 —

Okay, grammar people, I have a question for you: how do you state a universally true concept when it’s revealed as part of a past-tense story? For example, imagine that this is an excerpt from a novel that’s written entirely in the past tense:

The morning after his eye surgery, he stood at the door, looked around, and realized for the first time that the sky was blue.

Or would it be…

The morning after his eye surgery, he stood at the door, looked around, and realized for the first time that the sky is blue.

(The difference is whether the second-to-last word would be was or is.) I know that there are various ways to avoid the issue by writing in the present tense or phrasing the whole thing differently, but I’d be interested to know which of the two above sentences is correct. Or is it one of those things that’s simply a matter of personal preference?

— 6 —

A few of you asked how I made that bulletin board with used corks that I mentioned last week. Well, I went to Home Depot and had them cut custom lengths of wood for the frame. Then I sanded them, and…kidding. My dad gave us this cork board kit for Christmas (which made a great gift, by the way). It was so easy: we just glued the corks onto the ready-made board.

— 7 —

The other day I was in the “cry room” at church with the super-fussy baby and a grouchy toddler. I was really tired and irritable; to be honest, it was one of those days when I wouldn’t say “I went to Mass” as much as I’d say “I survived Mass.”

It occurred to me that I must look like the most unhappy person in the world, and probably not a very good Christian to boot since I had a scowl on my face all through the Mass. A man in the cry room looked over at my motley crew a few times, presumably to express his irritation at the baby’s whining, which only made me sulk and scowl even more. After the final blessing he approached us, and I braced myself for him to say something about the kids’ behavior. But what he said was far worse…in fact, perhaps, the worst thing a person could say to me on a bad day at church: “Do you have a blog called Conversion Diary?”

Below is a Linky list if you’d like to add a link to your own 7 Quick Takes post. (1) Make sure the link you submit is to the URL of your post and not your main blog URL. (2) Include a link back here.

I look forward to reading your posts!



  1. Leah

    I think I'd probably go with was. No long justification, it just sounds better. Also,I think the link list is having problems again. It lists everyone from last week and says it i closed now.

  2. Kristen @ St Monica's Bridge

    I love # 7, i can see me doing that too. Not sure what's up with Mr Linky (I think he's up from last week).

  3. It Feels Like Chaos

    I'm so sorry, but #7 is hilarious!

  4. Madeline

    #7 is so great πŸ˜€

    Yay grammar questions! I would say for a universal truth, if the truth is truly universal and thus not dependent upon time or place, then "is" would be appropriate.

    However, if the past tense statement is about something true that is tied inextricably to the past – e.g., "the sunset that night was beautifully orange," "it was a Monday," – then "was" would be appropriate.

    For example, I would always say "God is real" no matter the tense πŸ™‚

  5. Kathleen@so much to say, so little time

    #7 is HILARIOUS. (So are the bugs!) As to grammar, I'd say keep it in the past tense. But that's just my gut.

    I must have my days mixed up, as it says your linky list is closed. πŸ˜‰

  6. Sharon

    I always check my spam filter, because that's where my blog comments show up. Not that I get many, mind you… πŸ˜‰ As for the grammar thing, I would probably go with "is." Not an expert or anything, but my parents were both English teachers and I grew up with them constantly correcting my grammar. In fact, they still do; when I emailed them my very first blog post, my dad emails me back with, "Well you know, you shouldn't say 'I felt badly about such-and-such' because 'feeling badly' means 'feeling sick.' You should really say 'I felt bad.' I told him if I ever started writing for money, he could be my editor. I'm not sure if I'll (Whether I'll??) get a 7 Quick Takes post in this week, but if I do I'll try and link. Blessings!

  7. Tom L


    It should be "is blue", because it expresses a universal truth.

    This is an exception to the general rule that when the verb in the principal clause is in the past tense, the verb in the subordinate clause should also be in the past tense: "He said that he was blue." (Even if he said, "I am blue", and even if he still happens to be blue.)

    There are other exceptions to the rule, when the sense requires it. For example, "She explained in her book that she is now a devout Catholic, though she was an atheist most of her life."

    For more details, look up "sequence of tenses."

  8. Claire


  9. bearing

    Bad grammar example. It is not a universal truth that the sky is blue. That's why you're having so much trouble casting it. It only sounds wrong to you because of your choice. If it had rained the morning of his eye surgery, he would have looked up and realized for the first time that the sky was gray.

    Try it with a truly universal truth and you'll see what I mean.

    "The morning after her conversion, Jen went outside and realized for the first time that the deity is three persons in one God."

    See? "Is."

  10. Young Mom

    OH! I hope I never have to live in Texas if those are the kinds of bugs I would meet every day! And I love the picture of the monk, he's pretty cool.:)
    I can't get the Link to work either, and I'm not sure when I'll get the chance to come back, so I'll link here.
    Here's my post for the week

  11. brian

    Jen you're great! Yes, she does have a blog named Conversion Diary! And she, with her honesty and humility, has helped many.

  12. Debbie

    #7- Hilarious!

    And I think that more than one mentioned that Mr. Linky is being Mr. Stinky this morning.

  13. Mary @ A Simple Twist of Faith

    Happy Friday! Looks like the link is being lazy…your exotic insect report remember me of living in Hawaii. Once I found a ten inch centipede in my bed!

  14. Liesl

    I'm sad that the linkylist isn't working!

    And I think it would be "is" for your grammar question.

  15. Elizabeth

    AMAZING! I actually managed to link up…I'm so inept sometimes πŸ™‚
    I loved the one about the weird bug exhibit….LOL. The monk photo is awesome!
    I love grammer…but can't help on this one, but I'd go with IS.
    God is good to us…Conversion Diary is wonderful and his gentle reminders of our human nature are wonderful, too…it just doesn't feel that way sometimes πŸ™‚

  16. Owner of Homeschool Faith and Family Life Website

    As to your "was" or "is" question:

    The first example would mean that it was the first time THAT day that he had realized the sky was blue (on that day)…OR…that he realized that the sky was blue FOR THE FIRST TIME THAT DAY (meaning it had been gray earlier).

    The second example would mean that it was the first time he realized that the sky IS blue (as in, that is the "usual" color of "sky").

    Hope that helps.

    Can't WAIT for your book!

  17. Mary

    I think was or is depends on which you mean.

  18. Stephanie Y.

    #7 is hilarious. πŸ™‚

  19. Elizabeth

    How do I get the 7 Qick Takes linky button onto my blog???
    I'm at Markofhumility.blogspot.com.

  20. Elizabeth

    UGH…the baby is fussing and I am rushing…QUICK TAKES is what I meant to say!
    At least I know that you understand being frazzled by a fussy baby! πŸ™‚

  21. Anonymous

    Congrats on your article in Envoy magazine!!!! Awesome!

  22. Kaitlin @ More Like Mary

    I'm thinking "was". It just sounds better. And if it truly is a universal truth than all readers would know that you're not implying that the sky only used to be blue.

    And cute little house drawing πŸ™‚

  23. Karen

    I'd go with "is blue."

    I also usually skim my spam folder daily to make sure nothing important is there. I get e-mails from other addresses forwarded to my main one and for a lil while they were going to spam.

    Ew bugs!! If you read my quick takes, you'll see we've been having bug problems including spiders, earwigs, and centipedes.

    Sunday was a rough day at church for me, too, my son fussing almost the whole time.

  24. scmom (Barbara)

    I was going to say "was" but reading your other comments I now am so confused. Are you?

    Love the monk — awesome looking monk!

    And yes, Mr. Linky is being poopy (call me potty mouth).

  25. scmom (Barbara)

    Oops, I lied. Apparently I am Linky list challenged as well.

  26. Milehimama

    #5 – realized the sky was blue would be correce, because was and realized must agree.

    However, stylistically I think this also would work:
    The morning after his eye surgery, he stood at the door, looked around, realizing for the first time that the sky was blue.

    The gerund gives a little break from all the past tense.

  27. Milehimama

    I say was, not is, because although the sky is blue is a cliche truth, it is not a universal truth. The sky isn't always blue. Sometimes it's dark, white, gray, greenish purplish… and I am assuming that the author chose blue for a specific reason, not as an existential statement about the nature of the universe.

    Also mid-sentence tense changes really, really bug me. If anything if I were covering it, I'd ask the author to change it to "The sky is blue," he thought – because while the story is written in the past tense, dialogue is almost always in present tense.

  28. Dorian Speed

    I'd go with "is."

    He realized for the first time that life is like a box of chocolates.

    #7 is awesome.

  29. Katie

    I really like the cork board! That would be a perfect, fun gift to make people!

  30. marie


  31. Jamie

    Nothinn' like a monk pouring winw!

  32. Anonymous

    Sorry, I got caught in the multiple "that"s
    drop that and insert a comma.

    He looked around and saw, he could …

    I was taught the use of that instead of a comma was lazy

    so I pass the advise on to you

  33. Ruth Ann

    #5 If you are meaning to state a universal truth, that someone realized in the past, then use is.

  34. Flexo

    The sense of the sentence is his past life as compared to his present (new) life. It would actually read better if the implicit was stated explicitly — "for the first time in his life . . ." The sentence contemplates what he had experienced before. And since it is essentially backward looking to the past, the past tense would be more appropriate.

    "The morning after his eye surgery, he stood at the door, looked around, and realized for the first time [in his life] that the sky [had always been] blue [and not gray as he had supposed]."

  35. Athanasius contra mundum

    #1- Is that Brother Pio pouring wine?
    #7- I'm not sure but I think that means you're getting famous.

  36. Elizabeth@GoodnessAdded

    I love your stories about the the bugs in your house! I almost stepped on a scorpion the first time I visited my husband's family in Texas. I don't walk barefoot there anymore.

  37. Rachel Gray

    That monk picture is now my desktop. Thanks for the takes!

  38. Missus Wookie

    Ah I've done those days when people ask me questions and I cringe to admit who I am…

    As for the grammar.. I'm agreeing with people "is" as the sky is πŸ™‚

  39. Flexo

    For the record, when it is someone like Jesus or Mary, etc. that I speak about, I often say both, e.g. "Jesus was and is . . ."

    You could use both here too if you don't mind a clunky sentence.

  40. Anonymous

    Yes, the word is "is".

    And # 7 was — is! — out-loud FUNNY.

    I is still laughing.

    ~ Nona

  41. Scott Johnston

    On the grammar question, it could be either way. If you want to emphasize the person noticing the blueness of the sky at that particular moment on that particular day, "was" would be the word.

    But (and I just looked this up in a grammar book I actually have sitting on my desk shelf), if you want to make the use of the term blue to describe the sky a timeless generality (note, this doesn't have to be a universal truth, just something you want to apply as a "timeless generality"–not that it is necessarily always and everywhere true, just generally true in a timeless way), then use "is."

    There is also something called the "historical present," but I'm not sure that would apply here.

  42. Christian H

    Like most, I am jealous of #7. Unlike most, I am also jealous of #3. Think of the photographs I could take!

    #5. The correct way is most emphatically and without ambiguity or doubt "is". I'm serious. There are no two ways about this. Yes, all grammatical issues are in one sense personal preference (if you're looking at it from a linguistics point of view), but if you're at all interested in the process of convention improving clarity, then very few grammatical issues are, in the end, personal preference.

    Of course, "was" does sound better, and, in this example, would be understandable. But if you're talking about something theological, which not all people will agree on, then I would go with the more certain and emphatic present tense.

    Also, sorry to previous commenters, but it would actually be, "She explains in her book that it was the first time she realized that the sky is blue." Anything that happens in a book happens in present tense, including and especially the narration itself. Even if the narrator/author is now dead.

  43. Christian H

    Sorry, correction. If you're talking about the action of book which is described, in the book, as the present moment (even if in past tense), then you refer to it as present tense when talking about the book. Narration always counts as this, and so does most action. But, if it's described as being more past tense than the rest of the book, then you can talk about it in past tense, too. Sometimes.

    If the book says, "Jennifer was grumpy because of her children," then I say, "In the book, Jennifer is grumpy." (Or, "Jennifer says she was grumpy," where you are the narrator.) If the book says, "Because Jennifer had been grumpy, she expected the man to scold her," then I say, "In the book, because Jennifer had been grumpy, she expects the man to scold her." But by the time we get to this much reporting, it does get more ambiguous.

    Your timeless truths and generalities aren't ambiguous, though.

  44. Flexo

    Goggle "realized for the first time" and see the results. At least for the first few pages (I didn't look further), most of the writers use "was" or "were" or some other past tense word.

  45. Summer

    Oh, I had one of those strange blog moments at Mass last week too. This time I was the one asking if a mom with a new baby had a blog. Yes, she did and yes, I had read about her family.
    My husband commented that blogs and the internet are strange things. Before blogs, knowing that much about a complete stranger would be creepy. Maybe, it still is a little.
    It made me think.

  46. Margaret

    Was–it's sort of indirect speech so it should be past. I love these little blurbs; they are fun to read!

  47. Maia

    Seriously, can we have shirts made that say, "I survived Mass." They can be plain white — because, really, the message will be that much stronger if they are "decorated" in baby urp, juice, milk, the chocolate-you-tried-to-sneak-to-your-Toddler-to-keep-him-quiet-which-he-then-smeared-all-over-blowing-your-cover, and the faint aroma of dirty diaper…

  48. G

    #7: Thanks for giving my first good laugh of this day! I'm glad I'm not famous πŸ˜‰

  49. Kel

    I actually disagree with a lot of the comments about the grammar question (although I'm a linguist, not a grammarian, so take this with a grain of salt). I think that the statement functions like reported speech, which is why "was" seems far more natural to me. Here's an example of reported speech:

    "The sky is blue," he said. ————->
    He said that the sky WAS blue.

    So what it feels like to me is:

    The sky is blue——->
    He realized that the sky was blue. —->
    He realized for the first time that the sky was blue.

    It's a universal truth, which means that it's ALWAYS true. So it's true in his past (was) as well in his present (is) but by choosing the past we can show that it's continuous nonetheless.

  50. Flexo

    Kel —

    I think what your gut feeling demonstrates is that language is a dynamic thing, which cannot be arbitrarily pushed into various rules by the grammar police and others. The right usage is the usage which accurately conveys the intended understanding to the other person, that which "communicates," i.e. creates communion, that is, union with, the other.

    If one were to use "was," everyone would understand its meaning despite using a past tense for a present comprehension. That's good enough for me.

  51. Patrick O'Hannigan

    I'd go with "sky was blue" in your example, because although the sky is blue, saying to in present tense yanks the reader from the timeline of the story, and you don't want to do that. Sky was blue in the story, sky is blue outside as I read that story, but the two worlds must meet gently.

  52. eulogos

    I think is conveys the immediacy of the moment better.
    And I think it is correct.
    Susan Peterson

  53. Kathy

    I'm not the first to say it, but I have to say that #7 made me laugh until I cried.


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