The Milk Incident

By John Focht

Jack threw the ball with all his might.  From the corner of her eye, Mom could see the ball heading straight for her grandmother’s antique vase.  All in slow-motion, Mom yelled out a “NOOOOOO” as she flew across the room to save the vase from its ultimate demise.

The ball smashed the vase into thousands of pieces.  Mom stood over the vase as though it were a carcass.  She stared at it without saying a word.

Jack was four years old.  He and his older sister Emily, who was six, had been in this predicament all too often.  Mom always told them not to play ball in the house.  Without saying a word, Emily and Jack looked at each other and both knew this was trouble.

“I’m sorry Mommy,” Jack uttered to his Mom.  “I didn’t mean to break Grammy’s vase.”  But Mom just stood over the vase without saying a word; she wasn’t even crying.  The silence was the worst part.  Emily and Jack could handle being yelled at, even at their young age.  But this.  They didn’t know how to handle silence from Mom.

Emily finally broke down and began to cry.  She scooted over to stand next to Mom.  Jack stood still.

“I hope you two are satisfied,” Mom said matter-of-factly at the two young children.  “I have asked you, and asked you, not to throw that ball in the house, but you continue to do it anyway.”  The more Mom spoke, the louder and angrier her voice became.  Emily wished the silent treatment would come back.

“You two need to be on your best behavior for the rest of the day until your father gets home,” Mom told the children.  “If there is so much as spilled milk in this house, you will both be punished for the rest of the day.”  Now being punished for the rest of the day for a six and four year old was heavy stuff.  That’s equivalent to an adult doing twenty-years hard labor.

Emily and Jack knew Mom was serious so they stayed clear of her and went about the rest of their day, mostly playing outside.  It was a beautiful spring day.  The other kids in the neighborhood were outside, so Emily and Jack just played along with them most of the afternoon.

As dinner time approached, Mom finally shouted to the kids that it was time to come home and cleanup for dinner.  The kids came charging into the house as they normally do.  Emily’s eyes quickly shifted to the living room where the vase once stood. In its place was a potted plant.  Emily looked back at Mom.  Mom smiled and told Emily to go clean-up.

Emily thought to herself Mom looked good.  She wasn’t sad from the broken vase.  It looked as though everything was going to be fine until Jack came running back into the kitchen bouncing the orange kickball.  All at once Emily could see Mom’s expression turn from happy to furious.  As Jack entered the kitchen, he dropped the orange kickball to his feet and gave it one giant kick pretending to score a goal through the table legs. The ball hit the one table leg and caromed back toward the kitchen counter directly at the two cups of milk Mom had just poured for the kids for dinner.

Emily shut her eyes in fear of what was about to happen.  Jack was laughing as the ball popped into the air; completely lost upon him the events from earlier in the day.  Emily thought Jack was in sure doom.  Just as the ball was about to land splat at the cups of milk, Mom reached out and caught the ball.  Emily peaked open one eye and saw Mom just staring at Jack.  Jack’s expression turned from glee to horror as he saw his Mom’s face.

“That’s it,” Mom shouted as she slammed the orange kickball onto the counter.  “I warned you earlier if you so much as spill a glass of milk tonight, you will be punished.  Do you understand me young man?”  Jack nodded.  “No ball playing in the house.”  The kitchen became just as silent as the living room had earlier in the day.  Jack and Emily washed their hands and sat at their usual spots at the kitchen table.  Dad was working late, so Mom just fixed-up some Hot Dogs, corn on the cob, apple sauce, and cups of milk for the kids for dinner.

“I am going upstairs for a few minutes.  So help me if I hear one bit of goofing around down here you are both going to get it.”  As Mom went upstairs, Emily and Jack looked at each other, shrugged, and then began to eat.  Within a few minutes Buttons, the family cat, sauntered into the kitchen.  Buttons loved milk and seemed to be able to smell it from a mile away.  Buttons also seemed to know she could get away with stuff when Mom wasn’t around, so she hopped up on the chair, then onto the kitchen table.

The kids giggled as Buttons shuffled across the kitchen table.  Buttons was definitely “top dog” when Mom wasn’t around.  She shifted around the table until she sniffed down the milk in Jack’s cup.  Emily and Jack laughed at Buttons, highly amused at the fat cat walking around on the kitchen table.  As she leaned up on the cup to try to get her mouth and tongue inside the rim of the cup, Buttons began losing her grip.  Down to the floor went Buttons and the cup.  The milk spilled all over the floor.  Emily and Jack just stared at each other.  Emily could not believe what just happened.  Of all things to spill it had to be the glass of milk?

Just then, Mom walked into the room.  She couldn’t believe her eyes.  The cat was licking spilled milk from the kitchen floor as the two young children sat motionless at the table.



YOU’RE Ham and Cheese Guide to Editing and Proofreading

Bu John Focht

You’re ham and cheese sandwich is one of the finest I have ever tasted, after you toast the bread witch way do you typically spread the mustard to make it so tasty, I has never tasted a sandwich like this before?  The grammar and spell check function in Microsoft Word did not catch any mistakes in the previous sentence, so it must be correct (for the record, there are three grammatical errors in this run-on sentence).  Many students struggle in editing and proofreading for a few reasons.  Number one, in some cases, they may never have been taught how to actually edit and proofread; and two, they may never have been taught the difference between editing and proofreading.  Students may pick-up on editing and proofreading in class exercises, but then continue to make similar grammatical errors in their own writing (Fox).  Students and teachers alike feel a sense of relief when their writing is compete, and have little desire to go back and read their own work (Fox).  An effective pedagogical strategy in editing and proofreading is to distinguish between the two stages and define how students review their papers.  Distinguishing the two phases will enable students to effectively understand what they will be reviewing during either the editing or proofreading phase.  Defining the editing and proofreading phases, through group sessions, elapsed-time, line-by-line review of a paper, and proofreading work aloud, students will be instructed how, and when, to edit and proofread.

Editing is defined as reviewing the content of a document while improving the language, flow, and readability; whereby proofreading is defined as the process of correcting grammatical, spelling, and typographical errors (Scribendi).  Defining the process of editing and proofreading as separate phases of the writing process will enable students to effectively understand what it is they are looking for while editing versus proofreading.  Instructing students that the editing phase is about making sense of their document, will assist them to better comprehend what they should be looking for during this phase.  Breaking students into small group sessions of 4-5 students per group helps further assist students in the editing process.  Students review each other’s papers and provide comments and feedback on each other’s work.  This process of group editing affords students the ability to take observations and suggestions not only on their work, but on other’s work, and apply to their own writing.  Group editing sessions also allow students the ability to better understand what it is they should look for in this phase of writing.

A challenge with proofreading is writers or students tend to read what they thought they wrote not what they actually wrote (Harris).  There is a fundamental flaw in how students proofread their papers; the flaw is they are reading, not proofreading.  Proofreading is vital in the success of writing, and the success of teaching writing.  Proofreading is not only a writing skill, it is a reading skill (Harris).  Proofreading should be taught as part of the writing process, not in addition to the writing scope.  Understanding what we thought we wrote verses reading what we actually wrote is an important distinction between students successfully proofreading their work verses simply re-reading their work.  A clear distinction between the two is that reading is a process of anticipation of reading ahead, whereby proofreading is looking at each word individually (Harris).  For instructors to effectively teach proofreading, it is important for them to impress upon their students to get out of the mindset of just re-reading their own text.  Len Fox notes in What to Do When Grammar Exercises No Longer Help: Group Proofreading that students, and himself, have little desire to go back and read their own work; the important point of note in Fox’s writing is he is not distinguishing reading versus proofreading. In Fox’s writing, he is not addressing the need for student’s to proofread, rather simply read their work prior to submission; this is the fundamental flaw in proofreading as a whole.  Most students do not understand what it is they should be looking for in this phase of the writing process.

A pedagogical proofreading strategy separates the writer from the proofreader.  Teachers should instruct students to walk away from their work once the work is complete prior to beginning the proofreading phase.  Allowing elapsed time between the two phases of writing is a mechanism to help students separate the two phases.  The elapsed time can be anywhere from five-minutes to a few days.  Instructing students to create a mental distance from what they wrote and what they are about to proofread may provide a productive fresh eye when it comes to proofreading (Purdue OWL).  A fresh eye will provide students a new perspective as they proofread from a different viewpoint; the tendency is students do not perceive errors because they read and do not proofread (Harris).

Once distanced from their own writing, the students not only have a fresh eye but will have a different mindset.  Students will be approaching their paper with the intention of finding mistakes through proofreading, not with the intention of re-reading their work.  Through line-by-line review, students are specifically looking at each word and mark of punctuation on their paper (Harris).  This provides a proofreading mindset in the students and enables them to carefully note, not only what is there, but what is not there (Harris).  An effective way to ensure students are proofreading line-by-line is to instruct them to actually print out their paper and hold a ruler or a straight edge against each line to ensure they are able to proofread each line effectively (Wisconsin).  The techniques of line-by-line proofreading can be further strengthened by also having the students read aloud.  Proofreading aloud will further focus the students attention on each word in a proofreading mindset, as opposed to simply reading, or re-reading, their writing.

Editing, proofreading, and re-reading are areas in writing that often get confused, overlooked, or combined into a single task to be complete prior to submission of an assignment.  As a result, sentences like you’re ham and cheese sandwich is the finest I’ve tasted is the end-result.  Proofreading should not be a hurried or forced process, nor should it be treated as a reading exercise.  It should be a methodical process that highlights to the students the areas of improvement on their own paper.  Through this pedagogical strategy of distinguishing editing and proofreading, and the mechanism within each phase, students are taught the intricacies of editing and proofreading, but more importantly, they are not simply being told to re-read their paper.  Now go enjoy you’re ham and cheese.

Works Cited:

Fox, Len. What to Do When Grammar Exercises No Longer Help: Group Proofreading. JSTOR. October 1981. Web. Article Stable URL:  JSTOR is an online research and teaching website founded in 1995.  Utilized by researchers and scholars, this digital library, JSTOR content is provided by more than 900 publishers; the database contains more than 1900 journal titles in more than 50 disciplines, according to Wikipedia (

Harris, Jeannette. Proofreading: A Reading/Writing Skill. JSTOR. December 1987. Web. Article Stable URL:  JSTOR is an online research and teaching website founded in 1995.  Utilized by researchers and scholars, this digital library, JSTOR content is provided by more than 900 publishers; the database contains more than 1900 journal titles in more than 50 disciplines, according to Wikipedia (

Scribendi. Editing versus Proofreading: Decide whether your document needs editing or proofreading. Web. Founded in 1997, Scribendi is an editing and proofreading company based out of Ontario, Canada.  Scribendi was founded as one of the first online editing and proofreading companies.

Wells, Jaclyn M. Proofreading: Where do I Begin? Purdue OWL. 17 April 2010. Web. The Purdue Online Writing Lab provides online writing and research services to instructors, trainers, and students.  According to Wikipedia (, the Purdue Online Writing Lab was founded in 1976 on request of the Department of English at Purdue to establish its writing lab.  Dr. Muriel Harris designed the campus-based service to assist learners with rhetorical writing.  Today, the Purdue OWL is available via the internet and is open to users worldwide.

The Writing Center @ The University of Wisconsin – Madison. The Writer’s Handbook: How to Proofread. 2 July 2012. Web.  The Writing Center @ The University of Wisconsin – Madison is designed to assist students from all disciplines in writing.  Opened in 1969, the Writing Center @ The University of Wisconsin – Madison, staffs academic staff, classified staff, graduate teaching staff, and undergraduate Writing Fellows.  Their mission is to provide short-term writing instruction in all disciplines.


How to Write a Book

By John Focht

This title sounds simple enough; especially if you are a writer.  Just open a new Word doc, give it a title and start typing away.

Is it that simple though?  For many writers and authors, getting a book started is a lengthy process of researching story lines, ideas, and characters that fit best their story.  Even before typing a single letter, there is quite a bit of prep work required in this process.   For some, this is a very effective means of writing a book.

Other authors, though, go the old school way and simply sit, type and see what it looks like at the end.

While still others go through a process of writing, reading, re-writing and re-reading their story as it evolves; incorporating their entire writing, editing, and proofreading process into an inter-twined writing process.

Writing a book can be a challenging endeavor, particularly for first-time authors.  Trying to get the perfect match of story line and characters can be an ever-evolving process throughout the whole writing cycle.

When writing a first book, authors should focus beforehand on what the general idea and story line of what their book is about.  This sounds simple enough, and it should be.  Creating an outline of the book will enable authors to get a good sense of what they are looking to achieve in their book.  Whether the book is a fictional story, a screen play, a reference book, or a non-fictional book, creating an outline provides would-be authors a good sense and vision of their own story line and plots.

Once an outline is created, start the writing process.  With a general outline in place, the writer will be able to flow through the path that they outlined for themselves.  Of course as writes begin getting into the details of their story, and the plots and sub-plots begin to develop, the path of the initial story may take sudden twists and turns that weren’t initially planned.  That’s ok, continue with the writing.

Writers should keep an eye on the initial outline though to see how the new story line still fits into what was initially planned.  If not, perhaps re-review and update the outline.  While writers don’t want to lose the creative juices, they still want to have a general sense and purpose of the overall story.

Of course there is no harm to sitting and writing – it’s similar to the old golf adage “grip it and rip it”.  As in golf, sometimes overthinking the process too much may cause a case of writers block as authors try to write a story that fits an outline.  Authors and writers don’t want to block themselves into a rigid outline, but they also don’t want to get to the end of their book and realize that they have taken the story in a few different directions and nothing ties together.

The “grip it and rip it” vs. outline approach will generally come down to individual authors styles and likes and dislikes.  Experience level may also dictate what type of approach an author may take in writing their book.  The outline approach may work best with first-time authors, but not as well anymore with more experienced authors.

And of course there are the writers who are in the constant write, edit, and re-write cycle throughout their entire writing process.  This sounds like a complicated process, but as the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  Some very successful authors and writers create their work in this fashion.  If you fall into his category, you’re on your own with this one.