Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Annum Rasa *

It was a great trip to Grandma's house--my kids got to play with their two little cousins, Christmas itself was awesome, and we each had a chance to recharge in our own unique ways. But between the recharging and the 13-hour trip home in the snowstorm yesterday, my New Year's resolution turned into something like, "Do a lot more just sitting around next year."

The weather mirrors my resolution this morning. The whole street is still sleeping at 8 a.m., covered with a new blanket of snow--no paths defining where we need to/want to/are supposed to go or allowing us to get there easily. Just a blankness that invites staying in and sitting around.

*Just taking a stab at the Latin here.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


If you came to this blog for cleaning tips, you should leave right away. Occasionally, however, I pick up a useful

Remedial Cleaning Tip of the Day:

You know those rust "spots" that form when you get a chip in a porcelain sink? Well, it turns out that a spot of rust ("spot", to me, implies "surface stain") can spread like sink cancer, eating away at the iron under the porcelain. Then, when you finally decide to apply CLR and elbow grease, you punch your thumb right through the thin tissue of rust spots. You can't even blame the kids!

So, I needed a new bathroom sink, right in the middle of the Christmas shopping season. Luckily, we have a ReStore nearby. ReStore is a thrift shop run through Habitat for Humanity. Individuals, contractors, and businesses donate unused building supplies and household goods, which are sold to the public. The proceeds benefit Habitat for Humanity.

Here are the four "wins":
-- Someone got rid of that spare bathroom sink they didn't need anymore.
-- I got a used bathroom sink with no holes (or rust spots!) for $10.
-- My $10 helps Habitat build houses for underhoused families.
-- A perfectly good bathroom sink stayed out of the landfill.

Can't think how to keep my perfectly awful bathroom sink out of the landfill, though.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A mind like a steel sieve

My son Hammer loves all things geography—he started with flags and maps and quickly moved on to politics and history. I do my best to answer his questions ("Mom, what did lead to the breakup of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth?" etc. ad infinitum), but mostly I point him toward his dad, who's equally good at learning and remembering those areas. I wrote a whole, heavily researched novel about the Book of Ruth, but I stutter and stumble over questions about places, people, times, and Biblical teachings I used to know inside and out. It just doesn't stay in my head.

Fortunately, Hammer and I have found a way to talk about geography. He is teaching me all the capitals of the world. I already knew some of the Greater Antilles (Haiti, Puerto Rico, etc.) , so that went OK, but it's slow going in other areas. Here's my haul of new knowledge for today (Pop quiz! Put away your books!)

1. What is the capital of Krgystan?
2. What is the capital of Tajikstan?
3. Of what country is Ouagadougou the capital?

Answers: 1. Bishkek 2. Dushanbe 3. No idea. But I like to say Ouagadougou.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Frederick Weather

FrederickSharply-defined mountains against an achingly blue sky; sunlight filtering through the remaining golden's Frederick* weather.

If you missed Frederick by Leo Leonni as a child, quick go buy it used on Amazon (or, strangely, new in Spanish), before the weather changes. While all the other fieldmice gather grain and nuts, Frederick sits peacefully on the wall, doing his own kind of gathering. Then the mice take to the wall for winter. When the food stores dwindle and the stones grow cold, Frederick brings out the memories and feelings he stored on the stone wall in the sunshine.

Days like today make me want to harvest sunshine, before it crinkles up and blows away.

*And, um, if anyone from the FTC is looking for full disclosure, no one gave me a copy of this book. My sister got it for her birthday when she was three, and she let me read it. A lot. I got Swimmy, which is also fabulous, but not necessarily for a fall day. I was four. I accidentally found Frederick in my possession for a while, but gave it back when I was 32. Or possibly 38. The last fifteen years are kind of a blur, and full documentation was not maintained.

Saturday, October 31, 2009


Luisa tagged me "to the fifth power." Five is my favorite number, so here goes...

Five North American Cities in Which I'd seriously consider Living:
1. Seattle, Washington
2. San Antonio, Texas (but only in the winter)
3. Providence, Rhode Island
4. Danville, California
5. Reston, Virginia

Five Songs to Which I Know All the Words :
1. "If I Had a Million Dollars," Barenaked Ladies
2. "Young, Dumb, and Ugly," Weird Al
3. "You're a Mean One, Mister Grinch," from "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas"
4. Most of the musical "Cats"--words by T.S. Eliot
5. "Why Can't the English?" from "My Fair Lady" (Audrey Hepburn showed up in a dream last night. I was babysitting her kids.)
(Mostly thanks to kids playing them over, and over, and over...)

Five Foods I'd Hope to Have in Unlimited Quantities on a Desert Island:
1. fresh tomatoes
2. fresh bread
3. chocolate
4. raspberries
5. bell peppers

Five Chores I should Be Doing right Now Instead of Blogging:
1. starting dinner
2. trimming the lavender off the sidewalk
3. moving a large pile of dirt to be a mountain in the train garden
4. cleaning up the front yard for trick-or-treaters
5. pulling up dead tomato plants

Five Childhood Friends I'd Love to See Again :
1. Kristi Steinman
2. Susan Willis
3. Ken Fischer
4. Gina Rhoden
5. Lori Hettinger
(Not counting Diana, Becky, Kathy, other friends I have had the blessing to see once in a while!)

Now, tagging five friends.
This blog doesn't have five readers, (Hi, Mom.) so...
Erin, Alison, Amanda, Jenn, Liz
Feel free to adapt or change the categories to your liking.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A raspberry is not a metaphor

So, I was in one of those moods, where I'm sick of being in my own head, but good and stuck there.

God: (to whom I wasn't especially talking at the time) You ought to go out back.
Me: Yeah, I guess You're right. Watching the weeds choke the life out of the strawberries won't put me in a worse mood, and I can put a hose on the tomatoes.
God: Whatever. Just go outside.

So I go outside and pull ugly weeds for a while.

Me: Hey, raspberries!

They've got viney weeds creeping up them, and they've developed an infestation of little black bugs I haven't seen before, but still I get a whole grundle—enough to eat AND share.

Me (working my way down a row of defunct broccoli): Whoa. Golden raspberries.

I bet I got a dozen—almost unheard of from this bush, whose raspberries are called "golden" for more than one reason.

God: Heh. Told you so.

Lots of Useful Mental Health Facts , and some Tedious Metaphors could be gleaned here. But a raspberry is not a metaphor. It's a very small gift from heaven. And a golden raspberry is an outright miracle.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Confessions of a closet Cruella

Hammer and Buffy just got done participating in a children’s musical version of 101 Dalmatians (they were a stage hand and a boxer, respectively). Fortunately, they both loved it, so they didn’t notice me living vicariously through them. I did costumes and backstage “kid wrangling”: “Shh! Knock it off! The audience can hear you!” But my soul was sashaying onstage with Cruella, calling everyone nincompoop, boxing evil henchmen’s ears, and throwing fits over my beauuuuutiful Dalmatian-skin coat.

Okay, it was a children’s production, starring a 16-year-old Cruella in a fright wig. But my soul has always yearned for the stage, and ended up sewing costumes and managing props.

The community theatre is holding auditions for Harvey soon. It seems like a no-brainer, from certain points of view: Go for it, girl! You’re not getting any younger! At least you won’t have to sing!

Except for all those other dreams and goals. My soul specializes in yearning. With Henderson the Rain King, it wanders around murmuring, I want, I want... It doesn’t yearn for glory or attention, but it likes to create. And it has no sense of proportion, balance, or timing. It gets a fair bit of what it asks for, but it still wants.

So. Presupposing a theoretical modicum of talent, do I bundle up existing commitments and dreams to throw under the bus if I “make it”? Or do I acknowledge that the current batch are more than enough for any reasonable soul, and save the theatre dream for some future life? When does achieving balance turn into burying your (theoretical) talent?

O woeful, woeful, woeful! (That’s King Lear, just in case...)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

1, 10, 100, 1000...

Hammer: Mom, I can’t sleep
Me: Try counting very slowly.
(5 minutes later)
Hammer: I tried counting, but I didn’t know what comes after septillion.
Me: This time, try counting by ones, not by orders of magnitude!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Might as well face it...

Last night, my husband said,

"I think I'm addicted to reading. Right now, I want that good feeling that comes from reading a book, without actually reading a book."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Happy Potter Day!

Instructions for awesome, cheap, and easy magic wands here. We made about a dozen.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Green Eggs and Ham Revisited

My friend Luisa blogged the other day about the "immersion" activities she's using to prepare her family for a trip to France. We're planning a trip to Boston, so we did a pared-down version of her plan, and on the way learned that Dr. Seuss was born in Boston. That, of course, meant we had to pull out Green Eggs and Ham.

While reading aloud, I had fun watching Hammer, age 12, and Buffy, age 10, revisit the book with new eyes—and love it in a new way. They laughed out loud at the silly rhymes and stopped me so they could study the funny expressions on the characters' faces. Dr. Seuss's bio said that he'd taken a bet that he couldn't write a book using only 50 words. So Buffy and I went through the whole book, writing down each new word as it occurred: 49 total, if we counted right.

It happens that I'd recently spent a minute or two mourning the passing of the old Green Eggs days. But when a kid becomes a seasoned old critic of 12 or 43, it turns out Green Eggs is still waiting patiently to be rediscovered—and loved all over again.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


Sigh. I'm an empty-nester, as of July 2. At least this year there's the hope that Mama hummingbird will come back and rebuild the nest again next year.

Baby #1 disappeared before I noticed they were starting to fledge. Baby #2 stuck around for a few days, first in the nest, then on a branch beside it, preening, flapping—it looked like procrastinating to me. Perhaps he (she?) was just enjoying a little elbow room with #1 gone. I watched nervously all morning, but eventually #2 launched with no apparent trouble.

And now I'm all alone.

Picture by Kiyoteru Tokuyasu, and lots more hummer info here, as usual.

The place for me on the 4th of July... under a big old tree in a city park at noon, eating a hot dog, listening to a small-town community band play "Stars and Stripes Forever."

Then, at 10 p.m., the right place is the back of a minivan in a weedy field, surrounded by pickup trucks, all with our radios tuned to patriotic music on the local radio, watching fireworks. The music doesn't quite start and end in sync with the show, so the grand finale is to the tune of a tire-store commercial.

We had to travel 700-plus miles to my mom's house for this home-town Independence Day, but it's worth it every year.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A McKillip and a McKinley

Pinch yourself. This year is too good to believe: Patricia McKillip and Robin McKinley have both released new books: The Bell at Sealey Head for McKillip, and Chalice, for McKinley. Interestingly, they explore a similar theme: the roles, limitations, and importance of ritual.

McKillip, who often choses medieval-flavored settings for her novels, is writing in a more Jane-Austenesque world this time. In the sleepy, isolated fishing town of Sealey Head, for hundreds of years, an unseen bell has rung throughout the countryside, just as the sun sets. Most folk don't even hear it any more—it's just part of life. Judd Cauly, the struggling innkeeper, and Gwyneth Blair, the merchant's daughter, who's a closet writer, still hear it. So does Emma, the maid at Aislinn House, who sometimes opens doors in the old mansion and finds her friend, Princess Ysabo, diligently attending to a mysterious ritual that no one in that other world understands. Then Ripley Dow comes to town, full of questions about magic, and especially about Aislinn House, and everyone's lives change forever.

As usual with McKillip, the book has beautiful, haunting descriptions and a sometimes-comical lilt that keeps it from dragging or taking itself too seriously. I kept waiting for the tremendous experience that usually accompanies a McKillip book, but it fell a little flat for me. Was it that she'd created too many POV characters with not enough for everyone to do? Was it the evil bad guy, straight off the evil-bad-guy shelf? Perhaps it was that the ritual she portrayed, and the conclusions the book seemed to draw about ritual itself, fell flat for me. Or maybe I just had unreasonably high expectations. Even Patricia McKillip is entitled to an "off" book.

In Chalice, Mirasol the beekeeper has suddenly become the Chalice, in a land that requires a whole quorum of magical keepers and a complex set of rituals to keep it stable, wholesome, and productive. Mirasol's newfound powers work through her honey, and her bees, as a group, are an integral character. Most Chalices serve a long apprenticeship and take up their duties smoothly when the previous Chalice dies. But this time, both Master and Chalice have died horribly wrong deaths, the land is in an uproar, most of its keepers are brand-new at their responsibilities, and the new Master has been wrenched out of his training as a fire-mage. The moment he arrives, he accidentally burns Mirasol's hand to the bone with a mere brush of his burning hot finger. Master and Chalice must wrestle with unfamiliar new powers, political pressures, and their own doubts to save the land and themselves.

McKinley drops the reader right into the action, then backtracks repeatedly to explain what has gone before. This didn't work well for me, but the descriptions of the world were so lush, and the fantasy elements so fresh and unusual, I didn't care much after a few chapters. Who knew you could get attached to a special hive of bees as a character? And who knew honey could fascinate? In this book, what's known about the old rituals doesn't always fit with the alarming situation in which the main characters find themselves, so they have to let go of their preconceptions to understand, then evolve the rituals. I found this approach to ritual much more nuanced and satisfying than McKillip's. It got me thinking about the evolving role of the rituals in my own life.

But. Wrinkles and all, these are both fabulous books. Pinch. Buy. Read.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

This is the (itty bitty) forest primeval

To the south of my house, a thick forest grows. Note the closely-grown trees competing for sunlight, and the path clearly marked to protect unwary travelers. Three steps in, chokecherries, elderberries, and gooseberries set fruit to feed the abundant wildlife. A bright-orange mold slowly devours a weathered stump.

Another six steps, and you trip over the next-door neighbor's kiddy pool.

I live in the desert in the suburbs, but I want to live down the path from Hansel and Gretel. So I had to plant my forest primeval. And weed it, and prune it. But this year, there are at least three different camera angles from which you can't see suburbia at all!

I like the wildlife the best. Tiny yellow birds perch on wild sunflowers and eat the seeds. Lazy cats sleep all day in the shade. Cub Scouts pass off the "identify 20 native plants" requirement. And little girls flit among the trees, fleeing from fairies and Indians and witches...or sometimes becoming them.

Mom, he's touching me!

Our nest survived the torrential rains last week, and now our twin hummers are starting to look crowded. With those sharp beaks always pointing up, I don't blame Mom for spending more time away from the home.

Photos, again, from RBerteig, here.

Monday, June 8, 2009


Just got an email from the Honda dealer, congratulating me on my minivan's first anniversary. What's customary here? Should I buy it a present made of paper? And what should I expect it to buy for me?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I am not a wildlife photographer

This time last year, a single mom moved in near our house, reared a lovely family, then moved out. This year, she's back, fixing up the house, and preparing to raise another family. If I were a wildlife photographer, and if my windows were cleaner, I'd show you the tiny nest made mostly of dead crabapple blossoms, on the remains of last year's nest. Instead, here's a picture (by RBerteig) that looks exactly like "my" nest. For a lot more fabulous hummer photos, go here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I am not a re-reader

I think I was the last science fiction reader on the planet to discover Connie Willis. In some ways, that's nice, because I'm just now discovering the huge backlog of books she's been writing for the past 20 years. If you haven't read it yet, go NOW and find To Say Nothing of the Dog.

OK, you're back now. Let's talk about Passage. Except we can't, much. The huge, overarching, deep and beautiful metaphor that encompasses the entire book is revealed slowly, and it would ruin the book to reveal it. What's left, after leaving out that most important part, is a story about two doctors battling time, administrative craziness, a life-after-death loony author, an unbelievably complex maze of a hospital, and a whole cast of supporting crazy people, to discover the nature of near-death experiences (NDEs). They're pursuing the theory that the brain can use the NDE as a protective mechanism to bring itself back from the dead.

On the one hand, this book drove me nuts, as the cast of supporting crazy people and other obstacles were constantly, noisily interfering with the main characters' progress. That seems to be Connie Willis, and as in Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog, all the disparate threads eventually, improbably weave in with that central, towering metaphor we can't talk about. After taking its sweet time for the entire first half, the book suddenly turned up the pace and the tension to Extra High, culminating in a climax and resolution that were sweet, moving, and thought-provoking all at the same time. What is death? What is real? This book doesn't try to tell you, but it shakes up your tidy notions, no matter what opinions you came in with.

I don't re-read. Drives everyone who tries to talk books with me crazy, because I'll remember enjoying a book, but I can't remember characters, major events, author...nothing. I finished Passage, turned to the middle, and re-read the whole second half. For days, I sat around thinking about the resolution. One morning I woke up and just lay there, happily thinking about this book. Six months later, it's still with me.

Monday, May 18, 2009

I am not a horror reader

I am not a horror reader, but at BYU's science fiction symposium, I heard Dan Wells read from his new book, I Am Not a Serial Killer. The main character charmed me in disturbing ways: John Wayne Cleaver is a 15-year-old mortician, and a diagnosed sociopath...but he's trying very hard NOT to become a serial killer. It's kind of the ultimate application of all those rules about YA fiction: main character has to be a teenager, has to be relatable, has to be somehow different, all at the same time. In the part Dan read, John's getting bullied at the school dance. Relatable, right? He scares the bullies away by describing just how indifferent he feels to them as living human beings, and just how interesting he thinks it would be to take them apart and see what they look like inside. But he also manages to creep out the cute girl who almost asked him to dance. See? Charming. Creepy. Disturbing.

Then a real, live serial killer comes to the kid's town, and it's up to John to outwit the killer while holding onto his own sanity.

You don't want to give this book to your precocious preteen reader. My kids—even the full-on teenager—were intrigued by the title while seeming to know they needed to leave this one alone. But even if you don't usually like to read about murder, guts, autopsies, and seriously sick individuals, you might be disturbed to find that you really enjoy this book.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Go to Zion

We almost never go on non-Grandma's-house vacations, for outdated reasons: once there was a diaper of legendary proportions in a restaurant, once we got yelled at by the management for being too loud in a hotel...stuff that made a big impression, but isn't currently applicable.

So, we took the family for an overnighter to Zion National Park and the St. George LDS temple. It takes a lot to make my kids stop and say, "Whoa!" But the park and the temple both did it. Here's our top ten (in no particular order):

1. Little kid in a video at the temple visitors' center: "Jesus helped sick people, and he made the leopards feel better."

2. Giant mule deer head in a Subway restaurant somewhere between Nephi and Fillmore, UT. The kids took pictures.

3. JC Mikkelson's. We hadn't been to this Nephi restaurant in ages. When we went this evening, they'd just finished remodeling and putting in a huge G-SCALE TRAIN! It goes all over the ceiling on tracks, and there are two big central things made of trees, with no less than 6 different trains running.

4. JC Mikkelson's. The food is good, too. I like my BBQ sandwich, but my husband's Italian chicken on foccacia with a huge dollop of pesto was to die for. Please go eat there, so they'll stay open for another 100 years.

5. Zion Park tour guide: Most of them were content to run the pre-recorded tour tape, but this one guy was an original: "That tall mountain with the red splotch on it is called the 'Sacrificial Altar.' If you bring food on this tour bus, the ranger will give you a guided trip up to the Sacrificial Altar. One-way."

6. Cloud pictures in the sky. Buffy saw about 47 different staple removers. Hammer saw a rabbit dressed like Ironman flying and carrying a chainsaw. Best I saw was a flying ostrich, but I'm way out of practice.

7. Zion park: Different people named different landmarks. The "Three Patriarchs"--Abraham, Issac, and Jacob were named by a Protestant minister. They stand peacefully together with a mountain named Moroni. There's also the Temple of Sinawava. Tour guide: "That was named by the Union Pacific, trying to get people to come and visit. There ain't no temple there. Never has been."

8. Zion park: You have to love a park with a landmark named "Menu Falls," so named because the waterfall's picture was on the menu at the restaurant.

9. Weather: It was snowing, lightly and a little weirdly, at the park. On the way home, we were heading north as a huge storm front was heading south. We could see squall after squall coming as we drove into it (see cloud shapes, above).

10. National Parks Service: Usually it costs $25 to get in for a week at Zion. But my mom was with us. For $10 they sold her a lifetime national parks senior pass. Good business. The kids are already plotting how to haul Grandma out to more national parks.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Just call me Tom Sawyer

Did you know that you have to cut back elderberry bushes to the ground every spring? I have three, and I'd managed to cut down one so far. Buffy and her friend Rosmerta found the long, straight sticks and immediately started building a teepee (the Great Idea of the previous post). But they didn't have enough sticks. Would I cut some more for them? No, I was busy, but I allowed them to cut down the bush themselves. They were so pleased with the results that they ran back in to ask if they could cut down the other one. Heh, heh, heh.

I can relate

My daughter Buffy started typing up her novel today. But the weather's nice, and her friend Rosmerta called up with a Great Idea, so off she went. Here's her manuscript so far:

Chapter 1

Monday, March 23, 2009


Outlines are my hardest thing--I can do characters, I can write scenes. It's the figuring out What Happens, and What Happens Next that drive me crazy. So a week in which I manage to write down two complete outlines is an amazing week.

Of course, announcing the arrival of twin outlines is like announcing the conception of twins. Might not be quite time to for an announcement...

Friday, March 20, 2009

You know you've been married a long time when...'re looking through your high school yearbook, and you look for yourself under your married name!

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Contest

It could be your lucky day! Go visit Anne Bradshaw's blog:

Now make a comment, and link to your blog, and you could win a copy of my newest book, Tiny Talks 9, My Eternal Family.

Then cruise around Anne's excellent blog for a while.
Lee Ann Setzer's blog about books, writing, and life in general.