Friday, October 29, 2010

All Hallow's Read

Author Neil Gaiman suggests a new Halloween tradition: give a scary book. I'm a sucker for book gifts, so even though I wonder how much this new holiday tradition will benefit this author of the scary books I love, I will promote it and possibly even hit the used book shop tomorrow (payday ain't 'till Monday, folks, and we've had an expensive month, not that I'm complaining as I type happily on my shiny, red laptop).

So here are some of my favorite literary creepies.

First, "Satan and Sam Shay," a 1940s short story by Robert Arthur. I don't know of any instances of this story currently in print. I grew up with it in an anthology called The Looking Glass Book of Short Stories. I found a copy in another anthology called Out of This World, edited by Julius Fast. It has been published in other anthologies as well. I actually  entered my 11-year-old's pit of a bedroom to find our copy and get the title and editor. That tells you three things: (1) I love you enough to get this information for you; (2) I love this story enough to get that information for you; (3) It appeals to an 11-year-old enough that he squirrels it away in his pit of a bedroom. (It's not that terrible. The main problem is the LEGOs on the floor. Like a minefield.) The story tells how the clever Sam Shay outwits the devil after a deal that seems certain to lose him his soul.  Naturally, the man who can cheat Lucifer starts up an insurance agency in the end. I don't think that's a spoiler. Hat tip to my dad for selling me on this story in my youth.

For out-of-this-world sci-fi creepiness and disturb-o factor, along with another level that makes you think about being human and religious and cultural judgments, The Sparrow and Children of God by Mary Doria Russell. The plot involves a Catholic missionary expedition to an alien world with (maybe this is too obvious) completely different mores than those of Earth - and all the aftermath of that contact.

These two were mind-changing books for me, with the added benefit of being total page-turners. That meant I had to read them twice each to absorb the ideas after my initial plot binge, and I almost never do that unless the second round is a read-aloud to my kids. These books are not for kids. For real.

But if you are an Orson Scott Card fan ready to go a new place, consider this trip. (There were some parallels with, for example, Children of the Mind.)

For a chilling dose of what's creepy in the type of people you meet on a daily basis, try Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. At first you won't see what's creepy about it. If I tell you much more, it will be a spoiler. But it's not a horror book. It's a oh-man-is-the-human-race-in-trouble book. Sometimes that's far scarier than ghosts and ghouls.

There is a movie coming up with a lot of stylish young stars in it. So if you want to read the book first (and if you see these kinds of movies), hustle. It is worth it. As for me, I see grown-ups' films so infrequently that it's probably more realistic to say I'll flip through the book again for my human-nature shivers.

Finally, ok, pretty much anything by Neil Gaiman. My friend Miriam is to blame for recommending his books. I've talked about them before. Coraline, The Graveyard Book, Anansi Boys, American Gods (which made me wonder if Rick Riordan read it before he wrote Percy Jackson) Good Omens ... you can start where you like. Make sure there's someplace you can get some sunshine when you've finished. Otherwise ... ooooh, creepy.

Happy All Hallow's Read.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

MLB, fall and Halloween

Just some season-associated randoms tonight.
  • Facebook makes it amusing, right now, to have friends in NorCal and in Texas. I have to say if I had to pick a side I would choose the Giants. But I have never watched a MLB game in my entire life, so my endorsement could not be more meaningless.
  • I love everybody's kids in their Halloween costumes. I think I may be getting over my years as the Scrooge of Halloween. Is it the chill in the air? The bare branches and snow-silvered slopes? The fabulously feathered faux ravens I found at K-mart? The fact that when we have a family pumpkin-carving activity I am no longer the only one actually doing anything?
  • Speaking of the weather, today K entered the house complaining that it was too hot. The thermometer on my back porch read 50 degrees. I guess he's acclimated.
  • I am really weary of homeschooling right now, 2.5 months into the school year. Here's hoping I find a rejuvenating factor, and pronto. 
  • Z and I made the most delicious cupcakes for the preschool Halloween party. From cake mix and canned frosting with Reese's Pieces on top. I am not my pastry-chef sister (and I do not pretend my cupcakes compare with hers). I am not Martha Stewart or Family Fun. I am not here to impress you. I got the cupcakes done, darn it.
  • On that topic. You do not have to make Halloween costumes. All you people who are staying up late tonight doing that, you know, it must be because you love doing it. Right?
  • Halloween on Sunday. Big topic for Mormons. We have decided not to trick-or-treat that day, but I can understand why others would make a different choice. The great thing is that we had a party for preschool today, as I mentioned; the elementary school kids have parties and a parade tomorrow; we can trick or treat around several businesses in town tomorrow; and there's a church trunk-or treat Saturday night. So really we have three days of Halloween celebrations, and that's pretty good restitution for missing out on a Sabbath-day candy spree.
  • We went to Big Hole National Battlefield last week in conjunction with S's homeschool history unit on the Indian wars in our region. The drive there (we went the Anaconda route) was supernally gorgeous, with golden leaves on the slopes and red willows by the creeks. The Pioneer Range is astounding. Dr. G's grandpa was born in the little town of Wisdom, Montana, so I talked that up for the kids. But of course the piercing, heartbreaking aspect of the day was the tragic battle that happened in that place - standing on the ground where Chief Joseph stood - amazing.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

In memory of a good dog

Today, Dr. G's parents had to have their Australian Shepherd Dog, Katydid, put down. In memory of Katy, I write about dogs.

I didn't grow up with animals, really. We had sporadic experiences with pet hamsters, a couple of different cats for short periods of time, and once, a turtle that we caught on our rural Oklahoma road. There were times we had chickens and ducks, and even pigs, but those weren't pets. They were experiments in self-sufficiency.

For two weeks we once had a black lab mix named Lizabelle. My mom realized quickly that she was going to be the one to have to take care of it. Lizabelle went back to the pound. Guess my mom felt four children (numbers five and six had not yet made their entrances) constituted enough responsibility for one woman.

I waffle. Sometimes I think I don't need any more responsibilities. Sometimes I think my kids need a dog.

Here are the points that make me consider dog ownership.
  • I am always a little nervous around animals. I don't want my kids to feel that way. From the photo above, you can see that currently they don't.
  • We lived in Salt Lake at the time Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped. I actually saw her at Liberty Park once, during her ordeal, without knowing it was her. (If you remember, her face was covered when she was out in public.) I have always thought there would be a good chance that horrible thing never would have happened to her if there'd been a dog sleeping at the foot of her bed.
  • I would like someone to go with me to help me feel secure and protected if I feel like going on a walk in the dark. Or to go with me up a mountain trail. Or to camp with my family in bear country.
  • I am horribly allergic to cats. Heh.
On the other hand, I have two kids with ADHD and two with asthma. I'm a homeschooling mom. I am trying to maintain a freelance writing and editing business. I am trying to get the bare bones basics done in terms of exercise and spiritual practice. I am already neglecting my own personal and creative needs far more than I think is healthy. My husband is a first-year professor. I see him usually between 7 and 10 p.m. I am lucky he still cleans up after dinner. I don't think I could count on much help from him with a new canine companion. As for my kids, let's get real. I can barely get them to take care of their own bodily needs and physical surroundings in an appropriate way. Do I really want to fight the go-out-and-shovel-poop battle?

I look at pictures of dogs on the shelter web site now, wistfully, in the same way I used to look at photo listings of waiting children when I felt strongly we were meant to have more children in our family. Sometimes I tell myself it's time to pee or get off the pot. I have been thinking about this ever since we bought our house. That's almost a year. A long time to think.

Katy was a good dog. But she got her name because she was such a naughty puppy. If anything was chewed, peed on, or ruined in some other way, my in-laws could be pretty certain Katy did it, so she was named Katydid. She was so funny as a young dog, super smart and charming in a very breed-specific way. I remember her playing sock tug-o-war with my husband and herding us on our walks.

This summer when we visited Alaska, my little puppy-loving Z got to know Katy in her twilight. Katy was hurting, tired, old. Z was enthusiastic, loving, silly. Katy's patience was superb. She let Z read her stories, lead her around, use her as a canine pillow. She was a good, good dog.

Run fast in doggie heaven, Katydid.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Oooh, shiny

Look what I got. For work purposes. Ostensibly.
I'll call it reinvesting in my business. There you go.
It's super pretty.
Z named it "Sparkle."  She asked what our old computer was named. I told her, "Home PC." She said, "That's not a very cute name."

Monday, October 18, 2010

School pics

Just a quick post for these since I am on a facebook break. School pictures for A and K. What a rip off. If I had been in a portrait studio and/or with a real photographer for these, I would have been saying no for so many reasons. A is making a funny face. K was supposed to wear his fleece pullover over his by-now-vintage Hogle Zoo tee.

And yet, they are so, so cute, funny smiles and all.

I'm going to have to take S and Z into JCPenney or (gulp) WalMart or something to get fall portraits, I think. I meant to do that last year, but never did. Even with what those cost, I bet I will save money over the stupid school picture package. I am a sucker.


We are heavy on the Greeks this year in homeschool. We have the first volume of Joy Hakim's fabulous Story of Science. We have myths in our literature work using the D'Aulaires' gorgeous book, well remembered from my childhood. So, you know, why not bring it all the way around?

S is assigned this week to write his own Greek myth, his own hero's quest. I can't wait to see what he comes up with.

The prompt I wrote for him, I realized, makes a decent writing tool for grownup writers, too, because the elements of the quest get into the heart of conflict in such a simple way. That's hard for me. I can write characters with aplomb. Not to brag or anything. Writing conflict is whoa, hard. So, I thought I would share.

Who will be the main character? What is special about him or her?

What is his or her goal?

Who will help?

What will be the obstacles to the goal?




How will they be overcome?




What lesson is learned in the story?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Montana love

A year ago I wrote a list of things I loved about California. I still get homesick for California. Sometimes if you could peek into my head you might think I was a whiny little wimp Californian. Of course, I really am not. We have been in Montana for 10 months and I do love it. So, here is the first edition of ...

Things I Love About Montana

  • Uncrowdedness
  • Unhurriedness
  • Unspoiledness
  • Golden aspens in the sun
  • Pines in the rain
  • Evening thunderstorms
  • Rainbows on the East Ridge
  • Big Sky - they're not kidding about that
  • Amazing and plentiful state parks
  • Mining history
  • Cowboy history
  • Sacagawea/Lewis and Clark history
  • Native American history
  • Never being too hot
  • Alpine wildflowers
  • Rivers running through it
  • Pork Chop John's
  • Pasties (they're MEAT PIES, you perverts)
  • Fabulous 1890-1950 architecture
  • Lilacs
  • Yellow floribunda roses
  • Petunias in hanging baskets
  • Hot springs
  • Only 6 hours from my family
  • Local-flavored public radio
  • Local, independent pop music radio
  • Mennonites and Hmong at the Farmer's Market (sort of like California, only just in summer)
  • Summer festivals
  • Keeping garbage cans in the alley
  • No bugs or spiders in the house - winter kills 'em off
  • Wearing boots and sweaters and scarves and hats
  • Welcoming and wonderful neighbors and friends
  • A happy husband with a good job

Thursday, October 14, 2010


My great-grandparents lived in Park City, Utah, before it was a chi-chi movie star haven. When my grandpa was unsure whether he wanted to go to college, his mother arranged a job for him underground. He went to college, the first generation in our family. (If you went to high school in Logan or Preston, there's a pretty good chance he was your band teacher.)

I live now in Butte, Montana, where every day we look at the gigantic toxic scar that represents a good share of the copper that electrified the country and won wars and supplied technology throughout the 20th century. Similar to the big Kennecott mine in the SW Salt Lake Valley, but in a smaller context and filled with poisonous water. I think it's kind of like having to hunt for your protein. You can eat the meat, but you have to think about where it came from. We can turn on our lights in Butte, but it's with a keen awareness of the price paid.

My husband's parents grew up here. His grandfather ran a machinery company that supplied the mines. It completely changed the fortunes of his family.

My dad is a mining engineering professor. He works to make mining safer and to automate dangerous processes. His work has taken him all over the world.

My husband is a groundwater hydrology professor. He's just getting into studying mine water problems. It's possible that some of the damage we've done can be remediated, if it can first be better understood.

All this to say, mining is way down deep in my blood. And it's full of ugliness and tragedy and big mistakes. But it is different in many ways from how it used to be. I can see its blessings really clearly along with all the problems. I know I still need it, and I depend on it every day. It is kind of a leap of faith, but I believe overall it's for the greater good.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Last night Dr. G and I were laughing about people who say process-eez instead of processes. Science types, specifically. I wonder where that comes from? Is there an accent that pronounces a simple plural like that? Or do they just want to rhyme with fancy words like "isosceles?" Probably they see it as a social marker that means, "I am smart." But to me it makes no sense.

Another thing I see scientists do - engineers, too -  is use the word "novel" to mean new. Which is correct and fine. But I think it is another way of saying, "I am a smarty smart smart scientist." Well, today I am co-opting it.

My parents are staying for a week at a timeshare condo near here. We are having a good ol' time. We went to the hot springs, which has pools and hot tubs both indoor and out. Even the regular pools are like 95 degrees, so it's pleasant to swim even in the chilly October weather. Also there is a giant waterslide. If the littles wear life jackets they are allowed to go down by themselves. They quite wore themselves out. Wonderful.

Last night my parents came and took my homeschooler and my preschooler to spend the night at the condo. Which means that after getting A&K off to the neighborhood elementary this morning, I am utterly alone with no one to dress, feed, teach, or placate.


I can see how a person could stay completely sane.

What I will do is turn on some loud Indigo Girls, take my time in the shower, and then get going on my smarty smart smart freelance work about agenda setting in the U.S. Senate (a copy edit), study abroad in China (a story), mining methods in Chile (another copy edit) and churchy stuff (volunteer work for the LDS Church's Web site).

That's how the smart people party.

Monday, October 11, 2010


Today I went to my class at the Y, as I do most Mondays. I arrived a few minutes late, as I often do (I have Responsibilities). My classmates, whom I know pretty well by now, were running sprints. Something seemed off. I squinted a bit, because I don't wear my glasses to work out. I'm a sweaty person, like, more than normal, and they slip. Thus, squinting. I'm sure it was very cute.

Oh. No teacher.

So guess what we did? People took turns teaching. We had sprints. We had laps with weights. We had step. And then it was time for our normal strength portion of the class. Guess who taught yoga and Pilates for 20 whole minutes? Me!

Guess all those years of sweating to the DVDs paid off.

I will put that on the list of things I never thought I'd do. But guess what? It was kind of fun!

Wednesday our teacher is going to be gone again. I am already thinking of ideas for a resistance ball workout.

Thursday, October 07, 2010


As you know, we've been eating homemade bread lately. Not just yeast bread, either.

I found a fabulous cornbread recipe called Yankee Cornbread in the book at left (great book!) and sweetened it up a bit, making it reminiscent of the ultra sweet and soft cornbread we used to get at a restaurant called Frontier Pies. Sometimes we called it Frontier Cow Pies, but we did like the cornbread.

Sweet and Soft Cornbread

2 c all-purpose flour
2 c yellow corn meal
1 c sugar
8 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt

1 c milk
1/2 c vegetable oil
4 eggs, lightly beaten

Heat oven to 425.

Place all dry ingredients in large bowl. Whisk together until evenly mixed.

Add wet ingredients and stir just until everything is incorporated.

Pour batter into 9x13" pan and spread evenly. Bake in 450 oven for 30-35 minutes.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010


Z was in the shower with me while I shaved my legs this morning. This was a landmark occurrence, being a weekday. But I accidentally wore capris to my class at the Y and oh, embarrassing. Thus I shaved in shame. Anyway, Z was pretending to shave, too, using a little bit of my Aveeno shaving foam. And then I heard,

"I don't know why they call this cream. It doesn't taste very good."

Tuesday, October 05, 2010


So over the weekend I made a decision to follow my sister M2's wise decision, a decision I realized I perceived as way too momentous, to step away from Facebook for a while.

I stink at controlling my use of that colossal timesuck. I get too emotionally involved in things that are none of my business or not that important or out of my hands. I play time-wasting games and resent my kids' interrupting my turn at Scrabble (really Lexulous, but you know, whatever). I look at blackmail-worthy high school photos over and over again. It's just not right for me to be there all day, every day.

I posted about it yesterday (so yeah, I'm an attention whore a little bit, I wanted all the "I'll miss you" comments) and this morning, deactivated the account.

It's more a symbolic gesture than anything else. All I have to do is log in again, and everything will be right there. But I've said I'm taking a break, and I'm taking a break. I would feel too stupid showing up again just a couple of days after my dramatic exit. Ah, pride.

I felt a little lost today. I wanted to post the funny things the kids said, like Kimori explaining to his friend that we moved away from California because we were all just way too hot there. And there were more, but I forgot them because I didn't have a place to post them in hit-and-run fashion as I am accustomed to doing. Maybe I will have to start keeping a notebook.

In between homework time and dinner prep time, I kind of wandered around wondering what I was supposed to do. And then I got out my planner and mapped out the next couple of days. I emailed some folks. Hey, productivity!

Tomorrow I am probably going to have to actually clean the house, or tackle some crazy thing like mending or filing. Ugh. No wonder I love facebook. Maybe once I get the piles down, I'll go back.