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Photo by Sam Moqadam on Unsplash

Do you mean to tell me you’ve never heard of Joe Comma and the FANBOYS? Why they’ve been around longer than Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. They’re more popular than Gladys Knight and the Pips. And they’re much more useful than Country Joe and the Fish. In fact, if you become a big fan of Joe Comma and the FANBOYS, you may be surprised at what happens to your grades this semester.

Joe Comma and the FANBOYS have been around for about 1,500 years, ever since people began writing and punctuating in English. No, they’re not a musical group. …


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Drawing by Jeff Mosher

I grew up in upstate New York, in Amsterdam, so I have been shoveling snow my entire life — for almost 70 years now. And quite honestly, for most of those years, I did not mind. Growing up, I shoveled with my dad, I shoveled with the neighbors next door, and I shoveled with friends. Later, I shoveled with my wife, Barbara, and with our two girls: Maria and Katrina. Shoveling snow is one of those winter rituals we share, a rite of passage, if you will. …


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Photo by Jim LaBate

On Friday, we celebrated Christmas in a way similar to the family at the center of the Christmas story; just the three of us: father, mother, and child.

We were merely three because our first child, Maria, passed away five years ago at the age of 30, and since Katrina works in health care and interacts with COVID patients, we decided to be extra cautious.

Such a small Christmas gathering is an anomaly for us. Usually, we unite with Barbara’s extended family on the 25th, a get-together that typically includes 20–25 people. Then, on the Saturday after Christmas, we often meet with my extended family and a similar amount of people. Only once during our 36 years of marriage did the four of us stay at home alone on Christmas, and that occurred only because a giant snowstorm kept everyone at home for the day and delayed the family gatherings by a day or two. …


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Photos by Jim LaBate

Though I no longer live in my hometown of Amsterdam, New York, I spent my most memorable Christmas there. In 1975, I had just returned from two years in Costa Rica as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I never realized how special Christmas was until I had to spend those two years away from my family and friends.

When I went away in November of 1973, I didn’t think I would miss home that much. After all, I had lived away from Mom and Dad for four years while studying at Siena College. …


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Image from Wikimedia

On Sunday night, my wife and I sat down to watch Dolly Parton’s Christmas Special. Quite honestly, we don’t normally watch a lot of network television. We usually watch movies or episodes of a series on Netflix. Earlier that afternoon, however, I was watching the New York Jets play the Las Vegas Raiders on CBS, and I saw a few commercials for Dolly’s show. When I mentioned the Special later to Barbara, she said, “Let’s watch it,” and so we did. By then, too, I needed a pick-me-up because my Jets had squandered a late lead and lost on a last-second, boneheaded, defensive play. (A blog post, perhaps, for another day.) I definitely needed something positive. …


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Photo by Sunyu on Unsplash

Writing a persuasive essay is at once the easiest and most difficult writing task of all. The persuasive essay is easy to write because you are surrounded by so many examples. For instance, most newspapers and news magazines include editorials that try to convince you to support a particular opinion, vote for a certain candidate, or take a particular action in your own life. In addition, those same newspapers and magazines are full of advertisements that are trying to persuade you to purchase various products or services. …


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Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash

Our church held its annual Thanksgiving service earlier this week, and because of the COVID-19 situation, the turnout was much smaller than normal. And while the virus did not alter the basic format of our Thanksgiving service, it did affect what people shared regarding their personal situations.

Normally when our church body gathers on Sundays, we sing songs of praise, we hear announcements, we offer our donations, we pray, we listen to the pastor’s message, and we sing one final song before being dismissed.

Our Thanksgiving service, however, is much simpler. We still sing, of course, and pray, but we do not have announcements, we do not make donations, and we do not listen to a message from our pastor. Instead, the church members present the message as many of us stand and give thanks to God. I have always enjoyed this unique service because it allows us to publicly acknowledge our appreciation for our families, our health, our welfare, our freedom, and for God’s specific blessings during the year. …


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When my daughters were in grade school, they loved to use colored strings to weave friendship bracelets for their classmates. Typically, though, Maria and Katrina became frustrated early in the process because their colored strings had become a tangled mess, and the girls had a hard time picking out the four colors they wanted to use for their bracelets. Inevitably, they’d come to me and ask, “Daddy, can you help us untangle this ball of string?” Though my daughters didn’t realize it, they were really asking, “Daddy, can you show us how to write a division/classification essay?”

When you write a division/classification essay, you’re really doing the same thing my daughters were trying to do. You’re trying to bring some kind of order or logic or organization to a subject that has not yet been categorized. In my daughters’ case, for instance, they solved the tangled-string problem by, first, separating all the different colors and, then, storing them in different compartments in a new, plastic divider they purchased solely for that purpose. The separation and organization by color made it so much easier for them to choose their colors and to begin work on their bracelets. …


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Photo by Pisit Heng on Unsplash

Usually when I tell my students that they’re going to write a definition essay, they look at me as if I’ve lost my mind. They think I’m crazy because definitions are typically one sentence long, and these students can’t imagine writing an entire essay on the meaning of a single word or phrase. And, quite frankly, they shouldn’t be expected to do so. Definition is a writing technique that cannot stand alone; definition essays must include at least one other technique to be truly effective. Choosing the correct technique, then, is paramount.

Narration — For example, when Frank Deford decided to write a book about cystic fibrosis, he could have written a scientific textbook to explain the disease’s causes and effects and treatments. Instead, however, Deford used narration to tell the story of his daughter Alexandra who suffered and died from this horrible disease (Alex, the Life of a Child). Personalizing the disease in this way allowed Deford to reach readers who may not have read the technical cause-and-effect approach. …


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Illustration by Wendy Nooney; Provided by Jim LaBate

Book Summary:

Streets of Golfito focuses on two individuals who meet in Golfito, Costa Rica in 1974. Jim (Diego) is a 22-year-old Peace Corps Volunteer from upstate New York, and he has been assigned to introduce sports other than soccer to the young people.

By contrast, Lilli is a shy, beautiful, 17-year-old Costa Rican girl who wants to learn English and escape her small town, a banana port on the Pacific side near the Panamanian border.

In alternating chapters, the first third of the book shows these two characters growing up in their respective countries. Then, after they meet, Lilli experiences a tragedy that will drastically change her life, and Jim does all he can to help her survive and thrive in her new circumstances. …

About

Jim LaBate

Jim LaBate works as a writing specialist in The Writing Center at Hudson Valley Community College (HVCC) in Troy, New York.

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