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A Sign of the Times: Construction Ahead


Sign of the Times:


Construction Ahead and Ahead and Ahead


by Alice Jane-Marie Massa



For at least the past couple of decades, I have been a magnet for construction.  I do not care for this characteristic with which I have been charged.  The current construction–to the west, north, south, and sometimes east of my residence–disrupts or completely changes the planned walking routes of my Leader Dog Willow and me.  What makes these construction projects most perturbing is that a streetcar and its tracks are not at all on track with what is really needed in our community.  Would a theme park even want such an antiquated mode of transportation?  I do not live in a reconstructed historical village:  I live in a downtown area for its walkability, sidewalks, track-free streets with once-upon-a-time no cables overhead.


Numerous times, while Willow and I have been walking in the construction zone, strangers have commented with the refrain, “This streetcar construction must be really hard for you.”  Well, I could certainly live more peacefully, happily, and calmly without the repeated uprooting of our streets and sidewalks–without this entire project to take us back to the days of “Clang! Clang!  Clang went the trolley,” as Judy Garland sang.  Believe me, I am singing no tune about this streetcar construction project.


One positive point which I must PAWS to report is that my little Black Labrador Retriever does extremely good guide work despite the numerous types of challenges with which she is confronted on (at least) a Monday-through-Friday basis.  Her nature is to be cautious, careful, and polite.  My beautiful lab is a sound and steady dog who was selected for me at Leader Dog School (Rochester, Michigan) because of her abilities to do well midst the noises and challenges of city living.  When a gust of wind felled a construction sign right in front of us, Willow never even flinched; but my heart jumped.


Tomorrow the Wisconsin State Fair opens , and many ribbons will be awarded.  Well, if anyone is listening, I can fairly state that my Willow well deserves the blue ribbon for her guide work midst the construction for the “most unnecessary streetcar.”  I know she would proudly also accept “grand champion” and BEST-OF-SHOW purple ribbon.  My Leader Dog has probably worked around more construction in the past fourteen months (since she came into my life) than most guide dogs would in one entire working life.


If you see a British Lab receiving abundant praise from her handler and then notice that the Black Labrador is wiggling from nose to tail with delight, you will know that guide dog is my Willow.  She loves her praise, and I love giving her praise–with or without blue ribbons.


Happy August!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow


August 2, 2017, Wednesday



An Orchid-covered Kayak at Xochimilco


Preface to This Week’s Poem


During the summer of 1973, my sister and two of her friends enjoyed a trip to Europe.  Inspired by my sister’s adventures, I decided, after having taught for one school year, to plan a trip to another country–Mexico.  Although I was a “brave” twenty-three-year-old who initially expected to go on the tour alone, my older sister did accompany me for the holiday break spanning from the final week of 1973 to early 1974.  This trip marked my first travel by air and my only sojourn outside the United States.  I recall the two-week tour with fondness and appreciation for all that I experienced and learned.


Highlights of this tour of Mexico included the Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts where we saw the Tiffany glass curtain, the Ballet Folklorico, and the art galleries), Basilica of Guadalupe, Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon, Chapultepec Park, Alameda Park, El Zocalo (main plaza of Mexico City), the Anthropology Museum (where the Aztec calendar is displayed), and murals of Diego Rivera.  Outside the city, we visited Cuernavaca and the cobblestoned streets of Taxco.  Despite all the places of interest we toured, a mention of kayaks on Wisconsin Public Radio brought me back to Xochimilco, which inspired the poem at the end of this Wordwalk post.


Last evening, I shared this poem with one of my writers’ groups at our monthly critique session.  Our July session marked one year that the same five writers have gathered together to critique each other’s work.  Thanks to author and columnist Leonard Tuchyner who brought together are group of five writers!  Sharing suggestions, comments, and compliments about writing makes for a most interesting, inspirational, and educational evening.



An Orchid-covered Kayak


by Alice Jane-Marie Massa



On Wisconsin Public Radio,

I hear of the popularity,

the abundance of kayaks

on the waterways of Wisconsin.


Away from radio waves

and waves of Lake Michigan,

my mind drifts

to memories of Mexico,

where, in 1973,

at the Floating Gardens of Xochimilco,

I saw a kayak for the first time.

Floating languidly along side

our most touristy of boats

was a kayak covered with beautiful orchids.

Paddling the kayak

and selling the orchids to the turistas

was  an elderly Mexican woman

with the posture of a queen.


Instead of purchasing an orchid,

I let my camera memorize the moment

for a highlight of my carousel slide show

of my trip to Mexico.


Today, as usual,

I tend to my front porch garden

and the garden

behind my townhouse;

but my summer recollections wander back

to the December of more than four decades ago,

to the blanket of orchids displayed atop a kayak

at the Floating Gardens of Xochimilco.



Whether through memories or miles, enjoy your travels this summer!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow


July 26, 2017, Wednesday


How to Be a Connoisseur of Pronouns


NOTE:  The following article appeared in the 2014 spring/summer issue of the online literary publication Magnets and Ladders.

Since I have been blessed with rounds of company during the past week, I am sharing with you a “summer rerun” for this evening’s Wordwalk post.  In recent months, hearing pronouns used incorrectly with greater frequency prompted me to reach into my saved documents and select this particular piece for a “summer rerun.”  (Please look for a new post on Wordwalk next Wednesday.)



PRONOUNcements about Pronouns


by Alice Jane-Marie Massa



“Ouch!  Ouch!” are my sentiments when I hear on a television or radio program an object pronoun used when a subject pronoun is needed.  I have the same painful reaction when I hear a subject pronoun used when an object pronoun is correct.  Yes, I have an allergic reaction to the poor use of pronouns.  KA-CHOOse your pronouns wisely.  With a little play-on-words, five PRONOUNcements will follow.


As you remember from your grade-school days, a pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun.  We, as writers, realize that using pronouns is one simple way of adding variety to our writing.  Clarity is of utmost importance to all writing.  To be certain that each pronoun is clear, the antecedent of the pronoun must be perfectly clear.  The “antecedent” is the noun to which the pronoun refers.  To achieve perfect clarity, the antecedent must be the closest prior noun which agrees in both gender and number with the pronoun.  Additionally, the pronoun must be the proper type.  Your choices of pronouns are subject, object, possessive, and reflexive.


PRONOUNcement Number One:  Watch ‘It’!


In my article “Checklist for a Better Writing Assignment” (posted on my blog on January26, 2013), the first and second points focus on the use of pronouns.  Number one on my list and other such lists for writing courses is to be careful with the use of the pronoun “it.”  While “it” can be a subject pronoun or an object pronoun, the problems usually stem from “it” used as a subject pronoun.  When I was teaching essay writing at the college level for many years, I told my students that I was planning to have made a t-shirt with “IT” printed on the shirt in bold letters.  Although to many people I would look as if I were working for the Department of Information Technology, I would actually be wearing the shirt to remind my students to consider carefully the use of each “it” in an essay or other piece of writing.  I always advise the avoidance of beginning an essay, short story, novel, letter, or e-mail with the pronoun “it.”  Using “It” as your first word can temporarily confuse, permanently confuse, or delay clarity for your reader.  Certainly, “It” as your first word most often will not lead into a first sentence that will be attention-grabbing nor creative.


Example 1.  It was the first day of summer.  Zoe and I walked to the lakefront.

Revision 1.  On the first day of summer after the Polar Vortex, Zoe and I finally walked to the lakefront.


PRONOUNcement Number Two:  This and That


Secondly, check each use of “this” or “that” as a subject pronoun.  Using these words as adjectives is not problematic, as the next two examples demonstrate.


Example 2.  This book is available through the National Library Service.

Example 3.  That guide dog is a golden retriever.


While the above sample sentences are correct, consider revising the following sentence when “This” or “That” may refer to the entire previous sentence, passage, or paragraph—rather than a noun.


Example 4.  This will help us to achieve our goals.

Revision 4.  Completing successfully these three steps will help us to achieve our goals.


PRONOUNcement Number Three:  Subject to Subject and Object to Object


Third, may the “Logical Force” be with you:  use a subject pronoun in the subject position, and use an object pronoun in the object position.  In recent years, too many people are skipping this very easy rule.  In a recent tournament on my favorite television program Jeopardy, one of the brilliant, young contestants told Alex Trebek and the massive audience: “Me and my brother went to Iceland.”  (To protect the identity of this superb contestant, the latter part of the sentence has been changed.)  Well, my immediate thought was:  “Alex, press that button to open the funny trap door in the floor and zap the contestant right off the stage!”  Of course, the subject pronoun should have been used; and the order of subjects should be arranged so that the first-person pronoun is listed last.  (Putting the first-person pronoun last in a list is polite and appropriate—but not technically a rule.)


Revision 5.  My brother and I went to Iceland.


To determine the subject of a sentence, place “Who” or “What” in front of the verb and the remainder of the sentence (the predicate).  Your answer will be the subject.  Who went to Iceland?  My brother and I.  Thus, in the compound subject, the subject pronoun “I” is correct.


SUBJECT PRONOUNS:  I, you (singular), she, he, it, we, you (plural), they


OBJECT PRONOUNS:  me, you (singular), her, him, it, us, you (plural), them


When you need a pronoun as a direct object, an indirect object, or an object of a preposition—use an object pronoun.


Example 6.  The committee nominated Fred, Evelyn, and me.


To determine the direct object of a verb, place the word “whom” or “what” after the verb.  The committee nominated whom?  Fred, Evelyn, and me.  Again, I used an example with a listing:  in this case, the verb has three direct objects.  The mistake of using the incorrect pronoun is more often made when the pronoun is part of a compound subject or compound object.


Example 7.  The park ranger will give a map to us.

prepositional phrase:  to us


In a prepositional phrase, place an object pronoun after a preposition.  In third grade, Mrs. Lenderman encouraged my classmates and me to memorize the list of prepositions.  I did as this wonderful teacher directed, and memorizing that list of prepositions has served me well ever since.  If you do not memorize the following list of prepositions, become very familiar with this list and keep it at your writing area.


PREPOSITIONS:  Aboard, about, above, according to, across, after, against, along, along with, among, apart from, around, as, as for, at, because of, before, behind, below, beneath, beside, besides, between, beyond, by, by means of, concerning, despite, down, during, except, except for, for, from, in, in addition to, in back of, in case of,

in favor of, in front of, in place of, inside, in spite of, instead of, into, like, near, of, off,

on, onto, on account of, on top of, out, out of, outside, over, past, regarding, since,

through, throughout, till, to, toward, under, underneath, unlike, until, unto, up, upon,

up to, with, within, without


PRONOUNcement Number Four:  Place a Possessive Pronoun before a Gerund


Fourth, if you think you use possessive pronouns well, you probably do.  My only advice for this group of pronouns is concerning their use with a gerund or gerund phrase.  A gerund is one of three verbals in the English language.  (Participles and infinitives are also verbals.)  A gerund is a verb that is acting like a noun in a sentence.  Although not all words that end with “ing” are gerunds, all gerunds do end with “ing.”  Verbals add variety to our writing.  If you need a pronoun before a gerund, be sure to use a possessive pronoun as in the next examples.


Example 7.  Their completing the construction by August 31 is a stipulation of the contract.


complete subject and gerund phrase:  Their completing the construction by August 31

gerund:  completing

possessive pronoun:  Their


Example 8.  Her speaking with more expression will help maintain the attention of the audience.


complete subject and gerund phrase:  Her speaking with more expression

gerund:  speaking

possessive pronoun:  Her


Example 9:  The student’s writing skills will improve by his memorizing the list of prepositions.


PRONOUNcement Number Five:  Relax with Your Use of Reflexive Pronouns


Fifth, in the past decade, more people are using reflexive pronouns incorrectly.  A reflexive pronoun must be used in conjunction with the corresponding subject pronoun.  The reflexive pronoun cannot replace a subject pronoun nor an object pronoun.



The reflexive pronoun “myself” must be used with the subject pronoun “I.”

The reflexive pronoun “yourself” must be used with the subject pronoun “you” (singular).

The reflexive pronoun “herself” must be used with the subject pronoun “she” or an appropriate noun.

The reflexive pronoun “himself” must be used with the subject pronoun “he” or an appropriate noun.

NOTE:  “Hisself” is NOT a word.

The reflexive pronoun “itself” must be used with the subject pronoun “it” or an appropriate noun.

The reflexive pronoun “oneself” must be used with the subject pronoun “one.”


The reflexive pronoun “ourselves” must be used with the subject pronoun “we” or with an appropriate noun(s) and “I.”

The reflexive pronoun “yourselves” must be used with the subject pronoun “you” (plural).

The reflexive pronoun “themselves” must be used with the subject pronoun “they” or an appropriate noun(s).

NOTE:  “Theirselves” is NOT a word.


Example 10:  The child emphasized, “I want to read this book by myself.”

Example 11.  He built the log cabin by himself.

Example 12.  Mrs. McKendry herself planted the entire garden.


If you have read and studied this entire article, you are a connoisseur of pronouns!  Congratulations!  Go forth, and write well.


POST-SCRIPT:  You are welcome to share this article with a student who is preparing to enter college in August or with a high school student who will return to classes during the fall semester.  I would like to forward this blog post to a few radio and television broadcasters.


Happy summer writing!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow


July 19, 2017, Wednesday


1944 V–MAIL from My Father


Words of My Father on the 104th Anniversary of His Birth


by Alice Jane-Marie Massa, daughter of James F. Massa (July 11, 1913-December 1, 1997)



A few years after establishing a new home in the United States, Italian immigrants James and Elizabeth (Liza) Massa welcomed into the world their second son, also named James and most often called “Jimmy” and later “Slim.”  Eventually, he was brother to five siblings.  Of the six siblings, only my Uncle Jules (age 91) and my Aunt Kathy (born 24 years after “Jimmy”) are still living to join my sister and me in remembering my dad on this 104th anniversary of his birth.  To honor my dad on this special day, I will share with you at the end of this Wordwalk blog post some words of my father–words which he wrote during World War II.


When, on a rainy day or other inclement weather day in the 1950s to early 1960s, my sister and I had exhausted ideas of something to do, we grabbed the stepstool from the kitchen and dragged it into my parents’ bedroom.  Built in 1914 by my maternal grandfather, our house was of the architectural design with two front doors, one which led into the living room and one which opened to the bedroom of my parents.  Another architectural feature of this house was a large closet above the clothing closet in my parents’ room.  Each of the closets had a typical, solid wooden door with a knob handle and hinges; the upper closet was not quite as tall as the lower closet.  Nevertheless, the storage closet was very spacious for holding the Hudson Bay blanket, other winter blankets, some old clothing, and family heirlooms.  Among the keepsakes was a cardboard box which contained “V–MAIL”–letters which my dad wrote to my mother during World War II (before my sister and I were born).  The V–MAIL stationary measured only four by five inches; thus, not many words could fit onto one page of the V–MAIL.  The one page did arrive in an envelope marked “V–MAIL Service.”


Climbing the two steps and then balancing atop the seat of the stepstool, my much taller sister could reach the doorknob of the upper closet.  Opening the door and handing down the box of the letters from my father became a special treat of which we never tired.  Somehow, reading these notes from my dad was more exciting than reading someone’s diary.  As the years passed and I matured, I did wonder if my mother had not saved all of the V–MAIL letters from my dad or if she kept some of them in a lesser known spot.  Now, my sister and I have only three of the V–MAIL letters from my dad and one from his older brother Charles (Charlie), along with one post card from Hattiesburg, Mississippi’s Camp Shelby and two post cards from Nice, France.  Another treasure from my dad’s days in France is a Christmas card which he sent to my mother in 1944.  While I wish we had more of these mementos, I am grateful for what we have to better keep in touch with the various stages of my dad’s life of 84 years.


To help, in a small way, preserve the memory of the V–MAIL Service of World War II and to hold even closer my dad to my heart on this July 11, I share with the family and friends of James F. Massa and my Wordwalk readers one of the V–MAIL letters which my dad (sergeant in the 638th Tank Destroyer Battalion) wrote.


* * *


November 20, 1944


Dearest Wife,


Haven’t heard from you in some time.  I am now somewhere in Holland.  It is much nicer than France.


How are Billy and Donald Ray [nephews Bill and Don Binole]?  Tell them I said “Hello.”


Honey, don’t expect over one or two letters a month from me now.  I guess you can understand why.


Have you been down home lately [my paternal grandparents’ farm house in Klondyke, Indiana]?  Tell the folks when you go down that I won’t be writing so often, from now on.


Honey, don’t worry.  I will always love you.


With hugs and kisses,

your husband Jimmy


* * *


In the comment section of this blog post, you are invited to share a remembrance of my dad or a remembrance of your loved one who wrote or received V–MAIL letters during World War II.


Wishing you warm memories of your loved ones of “The Greatest Generation,”

Alice Massa and Leader Dog Willow


July 11, 2017, Tuesday


July Sale! A Coupon for WORDWALK Readers!


July Sale!  A Coupon for Wordwalk Readers!


by Alice Jane-Marie Massa



As the temperatures are soaring throughout much of the United States, would you like to think of “Christmas in July”?  The Ninth Annual Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale gives me the opportunity to mention again my book The Christmas Carriage and Other Writings of the Holiday Season (copyright 2016, DLD Books).  I am pleased to announce that as a part of the Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale, the price of the electronic version of my book is $1.50 (US dollars) until the end of July, 2017.  (The print book is not a part of this sale; the cost of the print version of my book remains $7.50.)


Are you wondering why the promotion is called a “Summer/Winter Sale”?  During this July sale, while we, in the Northern Hemisphere are enjoying summer, the Southern Hemisphere, of course, is in the midst of winter.  Smashwords readers are from around the world, and I would be delighted to know that the electronic version of The Christmas Carriage and Other Writings of the Holiday Season is being read by people in more than one country.


If you are not familiar with my holiday book, you may read the table of contents and a sample of my book at my author’s web page:


My author’s web page has links for ordering my book in a variety of ways.  If you wish to take advantage of the e-book sale, please go to the above link.  Then, on my author’s web page, you will find six options under “How to Order the E-book.”  Click on the Smashwords link, and you will go directly to the ordering information for my reduced-price book.  Although the coupon code is noted for you on this portion of the Smashwords site, I will tell you that the coupon code is:


The “50” at the end of the coupon code refers to the fifty percent off the regular price.


If you purchased either the electronic or print version of my book previously, I thank you very much.  If you have not yet read my collection of holiday short stories, memoirs, essays, and poetry, I hope you will consider purchasing the 101-page book at this half-price offer.  The e-book from Smashwords may be downloaded to Kindle, i-devices, Barnes & Noble Nook, and Sony Reader.


Next week, I will post a more traditional blog on Wordwalk.


Happy Reading!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow


July 5, 2017, Wednesday


Thank You, America!


Thank You, America!


by Alice Jane-Marie Massa



Thank you, America,

for welcoming to your eastern shore,

in the early 1900s,

four immigrants from Italy–

later to become

the parents of my parents

and good citizens of the adopted,

the chosen country–



Thank you, Lady Liberty,

for holding high your torch

to light the way

to Ellis Island,

where my grandparents’ dreams

first met  land of the USA.


Thank you, Indiana,

for giving my paternal grandparents

some of your precious farmland–

a grape arbor, too.

Thank you, Indiana,

for allowing my maternal grandparents

to build a grocery store and Italian bakery

in your Vermillion County.


Thank you, Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini,

for blessing these four immigrants

from Italy to Indiana,

with a safe voyage,

with seven sons

and five daughters,

with eighteen grandchildren–

all of whom went on to do well

in this new home of our immigrant forefathers.


From the banks of the Wabash

to the shores of Lake Michigan,

from the foothills of the Rockies to Disneyland,

from the shores of the Atlantic to the Pacific Northwest–

all the relatives

of those first four immigrants

of our family tree

wink at you, Lady Liberty,

and wave our thanks

in red, white, and blue wishes

for a Happy Fourth of July!



NOTE:  Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini is one of the patron saints of immigrants.


Best wishes to you and your family

for a safe, sunny, and very Happy Fourth of July!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow


June 28, 2017, Wednesday


The Gift of Summer?


The Gift of Summer?


by Alice Jane-Marie Massa



Oh, Summer, sweet Summer–

at last, you are here!

I have waited one long Wisconsin winter

for your short visit–

each day of you like a vacation

to be relished and revered.


Through your lush, warm days,

I need not bedeck myself in

polar-bear coats, doubled hats,

scarves, gloves, and fake-fur-lined boots

each time my guide dog and I venture outside.

Thank you!  Thank you!


Through the tender days of Summer,

I need not shovel my Snow Garden:

I shovel soil

into my flower and herb garden

which soothes my soul

all summer long.


Okay, okay, the soil is

a concoction

from a plastic bag;

and the containers are plastic,

painted to look like clay pots.

You see, I live in the heart of

a sidewalk city.

My precious garden may not be


but daily,

during this season of growth,

I am energized and enriched

by my pink and white geraniums,

Gerbera daisies, lavender,

rosemary, mint, and basil.

I have no purple sage yet this summer;

nevertheless, in my summer garden,

I feel wise and wonderful.


On these beautifully bright days

or caressing velvet nights of Summer,

walks with Willow,

my fourth Leader Dog,

wipe away frozen thoughts

of salt-covered sidewalks and streets,

snow stacked at curbs, and surprising ice.

(I do prefer my ice

in other forms,

such as iced tea and ice cream.)

Carefree, Willow and I walk

as if we are at a state park

and enjoy the melodious sounds of songbirds,

occasional whiffs

of lavish lilacs and other fragrant flowers.


Oh, Mother Nature,

you could take this season

of Summer–

this superb gift–

and tie it with a bow.

Oh, NO!  No, you can’t!

Someone from the city–

please blame the mayor–

already tied up the season

not with a bow,

but with




Best wishes for a happy and construction-free summer!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow


June 21, 2017, Wednesday