Wednesday, October 22, 2008

More on writing styles

Once again, I am relying on the creative energies of another in order to have something to post. No apologies, merely an excuse. I am busy with other things. Some important, Godly, vocational things. Other things that, while not ungodly, are purely for my personal pleasure.

With that preface, here is a comment from Jesse on my picturesque speech post from way back on April 3.
I've been thinking more about prose style lately too, with a possibly vain hope to produce something worthy of publication. Your examples reminded me of the one Clive Cussler book I've read on the one hand, and Victor Hugo's Les Miserables on the other hand. The former style I found a bit tedious in a ridiculously entertaining way, almost like watching Army of Darkness. The latter style I found tedious in the way of 19th-century loquaciousness, yet almost painfully descriptive. Compare Clive Cussler to Brad Thor, whose adventures are similar, even a shade toward James Bond. Yet Thor's style is both easy to consume (partly an effect of good pacing) and lacking ridiculosity -- to use a Bushism.
I am mostly going to let this stand alone, because I have read perhaps one Cussler book, and nothing by Hugo or Thor. I am unfamiliar with Army of Darkness, and only moderately familiar with James Bond.

Perhaps I sell myself short on the James Bond thing. I've seen a number of the movies and have even read a few of the Bond novels by Ian Fleming. Still, compared to a real Bond fan, such as a certain pastor who lives South of us, I consider myself mostly ignorant regarding things Bond.

Alas, I digress. Jesse, are you familiar with the book on prose, "Talking Voices: Repetition, Dialogue and Imagery in Conversational Discourse" which was recommended by my husband in response to my former post. I would be interested in getting your thoughts on it, if you have. I have not read it yet. I rely on the thoughts of others.

I sometimes frustrate my husband. When he wants to know something, he immediately finds the answer. He pulls a book from one of our shelves. Or he searches on line. Or he requests a book from the library. And so he learns.

I like to think about things. I like to wonder. I like to talk about those things I have swimming around in my brain. But I have very little gumption to actually pursue these things in a concrete way. Does that imply that I do not progress in my learning?

Monday, July 21, 2008

On Motherhood

I received a comment on the motherhood section of my June 11 blog entry. Since it has been so long since I posted the original I thought Mary D's thoughts warranted their own post.
Ah, Mary, how blessed we are to be among seemingly only a few women who remain unfettered to the shackles of Feminism! So many who have abandoned their husbands, children, and home in pursuit of 'freedom' and 'self' and 'personal development' discover themselves to be in a state more miserable and less fulfilled than the first. It is admitable that homemaking is not always personally fulfilling. It is admitable that wifehood and motherhood does not bring us true, everlasting fulfillment - but that is only because we are sinners, sinned-against, in a terribly fallen world. To the degree we receive and live in the Paradise Christ Jesus regained for us and gifts us in His Means - and to the degree we maintain the natural design and order of the family - we have that much fulfillment in our roles as wives and mothers. In this life we will never be as perfectly content as Eve was before the Fall, but, we do experience many times of being almost that content, almost that needed, almost that useful, and almost that much personally developed. Those who reject their natural roles - their very reasons for even existing - and run here and there looking for Paradise where it is simply not found, are doomed to never even almost come close to knowing who they are or how to be fulfilled. In Christ and also in God's wisdom about families and order, females and their roles, you and I, as wives and mothers, indeed possess the 'secrets' to fulfillment that so many desperately long for. Just when you think it doesn't get any worse, girlfriend, let me tell you from what I've seen in Mendocino County amongst my secular friends, it doesn't get any better than what you've got! Praise Him who has SO blessed us! -Mary D.
Thanks Mary D.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Apology, Excuses, Etc.

OK, I know it's been forever since I wrote anything here. I have several really compelling and relevant posts in my head. They never seem to get on the computer. Here are my excuses. Pick the one you like the best and roll with it.
1) I hate to get interrupted half way through an entry. Since I have so many lengthy and interesting thoughts rattling around in my brain, I have had to deprive you of them all for the sake of not being interrupted.

2) I am so self-disciplined that I have had to deny myself the pleasure of writing so that I can focus on other more important things. Putting in a garden, going to Denver for a book signing, cleaning up John's and Stella's latest disasters, reading a few books here and there,...

3) I am expecting another baby in December and so have been sort of out of commission for a few months.
That's the best I can come up with. Hopefully sometime soon I can get caught up with all my thoughts. They are starting to vie for the limited number of available brain cells, so I better get them down soon.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Plum Lot of Thoughts on Life

First of all, this weather.

I try to never complain about the weather. I know that God has is all planned out. And that although a certain set of meteorological conditions may not be to my liking, it is probably necessary in some way to somebody.

That said, this weather really stinks. It is nearly the middle of June. I have periodically thought, living here in the far northern reaches of Minnesota where we have a last average frost date of May 31, and a first average frost date of September 1, that we have a week to plant our gardens. If we do it earlier than June 1, the seeds rot in the ground or the seedlings freeze. If we get later than the first week of June, nothing will mature before it freezes again.

Well this year we have had rain and wind almost non-stop from the last week of May through the present. Needless to say, I have no garden in. I did get my new strawberry patch put in. I got Joe's asparagus be cleaned out. Matt got part of the sweet corn area worked up for planting. But that is it.

My seed potatoes are cut and ready and molding on my garage freezer. They are really late. My seed packets all sit idle. I bought started plants yesterday even for cucumbers and herbs, things I usually just plant from seed in the garden.

I had to laugh today, as I sad huddled in the living room, fending of the chill from the constant wind and drizzle. I was reading Three to Get Deadly, and came upon the following description.
It was another gray day with a light rain beginning to fall. Temperatures were in the fortes, so nothing was freezing.
The thing is, in the story, it was January.

Thank you to our law enforcement relations and friends.

I think of you each time I read this section. I am sure Trenton does not have a monopoly on overworked officers. I think this passage from Three to get Deadly expresses well what you do for us all.
I watched him walk down the hall and disappear into the elevator. Only an idiot would think they could talk to Morelli and not be talking to Morelli the cop. Cops never stopped being cops. It had to be the hardest job.

Trenton cops wore more hats than I could name. They were arbitrators, social workers, peacekeepers, baby-sitters and law enforcers. Their job was boring, terrifying, disgusting, exhausting and often made no sense at all. The pay was abysmal, the hours were inhuman, the department budget was a joke, the uniforms were short in the crotch. And year after year after year, the Trenton cops held the city together.
On Motherhood

From Two for the Dough.
We had warm homemade apple pie for dessert. The apples were tart and cinnamony. The crust was flaky and crisp with a sprinkling of sugar. I ate two pieces and almost [fainted]. "You should open a bakery," I said to my mother. "You could make a fortune selling pies."

She was busy stacking pie plates and gathering up silverware. "I have enough to do to take care of the house and your father. Besides, if I was going to go to work, I'd want to be a nurse. I've always thought I'd make a good nurse."

Everyone stared at her openmouthed. No one had ever heard her voice this aspiration. In fact, no one had ever heard her voice any aspiration that didn't pertain to new slipcovers or draperies.
When I read this passage I am always reminded of the days I feel like I am losing myself in motherhood and homemaking. Like I no longer have anything to offer the world but supper and clean laundry.

My second thought is then usually one of guilt realizing that my Aunt Joan, who raised my sister and me--and her own six children-- probably also felt this way.

As children, we notice those things our mothers don't get right. We probably remember periodically to thank them for the dinner. But other than that we don't really think much about them. We are consumed with our own little world.

Only later, when we ourselves are mothers or fathers, can we imagine that perhaps our own mothers and fathers had never-fulfilled hopes and dreams and aspirations. Hopes and dreams and aspirations that they set on the back burner never to be revisited. Instead they dedicated themselves to bringing up their children "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord."

And compared to that, what higher calling is there. Really. I wouldn't trade motherhood for anything.

But there are days...

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Here's the mathematical limerick answer.
A Dozen, a Gross and a Score,
Plus three times the square root of four,
Divided by seven,
Plus five times eleven,
Equals nine squared and not a bit more.
Again, the original.
((12 + 144 + 20 + (3 * 4^(1/2))) / 7) + (5 * 11) = 9^2 + 0
I was unfamiliar with the carrot ^ being used to indicate the square function. But after I got that worked out, with ^1/2 half indicating square root and ^2 indicating square, it all made sense. But that ^ thing was new to me.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Limerick in Mathmatical Notation

I got this in an e-mail today. I thought it was cute. I will post the verbal rendition in a few days.

This poem was written by John Saxon (the author of Saxon Math textbooks).

((12 + 144 + 20 + (3 * 4^(1/2))) / 7) + (5 * 11) = 9^2 + 0

Sunday, June 1, 2008


I have periodically been accused of making obscure comments. I have had to apologize for strange and unusual comments to which others can not relate. Apparently my last post was one of those times.

I am a bit disappointed in my Jane Austen fan readers, however. Come on. Divierten muchisimo! To me that phrase just screamed out "exceedingly diverted."

As in, "Come now, Lizzie. Are you not diverted?"

"Oh. Yes, yes. Indeed, I am exceedingly diverted."

Can't you just see the Spanish subtitles? "Si, si. Divertiero muchisimo."

Since as I said, I kind of guess at Spanish, I am sure my tenses, people and number are screwy, but I think you get the point. (Of course, I guess I thought the whole thing was obvious, so perhaps I should not assume others are on my planet, now should I?)

I did have one brave reader who made a diverting comment. The anonymous reader wondered, "Depends on which grandmas; It is either having a good time or much driven crazy."

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Streams of Spanish Consciousness?

OK, many of my readers may have no clue what this is about. You will just have to be patient and wait for any responses.

But from the comments I received on other posts along the same vein, I am going out on a limb here. I am banking on at least some readers enjoying this as I did.

We have several Spanish/English story books that we keep lying around in the hopes that one or another of us will pick them up and learn some Spanish. Periodically, my husband or I will pick one up during our cup of coffee time. One of us reads in Spanish while the other tries to guess the meaning. Since Joe has actually studied a bit of Spanish in a school setting he is usually the guesser, while I am usually the reader.

Yesterday we were reading Una visita a la abuelita from the Las aventuras de Nicolas series by Berlitz kids. This is a nice series that starts with a story (in both Spanish and English) in a basal reader style, so that many words are repeated several times to facilitate vocabulary development. The book has an audio CD that includes the story in Spanish, a audio of the picture dictionary that one finds at the back of the book, and several fun kids songs for which both the Spanish and English are in the book. It is very child friendly. The series is available in many languages.

To return to the story we were reading yesterday, A Visit to Grandma, there was point in the story at which Grandma's guests were said to be "divierten muchisimo." Now the book insisted the phrase ought to be translated, "having a wonderful time."

I would have translated it differently. Any guesses?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

HIlls, Mountains, and Cairns

I grew up in Washington State. Western Washington. In the Puget Sound area. Sandwiched between the Cascade Range and Puget Sound. With the Olympic Peninsula and its Olympic Range on the horizon to the West.

One of my most vivid memories of Tacoma is the hills. The city streets seem to go straight up. And then up some more. At each cross street, the hill levels for a moment to cross the perpendicular road, and then up some more.

The backyard I first remember in that area was only slightly hilly. The back lawn was quite flat, as I recall. Beyond the lawn was a little patch of woods that grew on the hillside toward the back of our property. And if you climbed the trail up the hill, hidden away behind the woods, the ground leveled off and there we had our garden. All along one side of our yard were the back yards of the houses that faced the street perpendicular to ours. I think there were three houses, maybe four, along our property line. Each house was perhaps 10 feet higher than the last as one went along that street.

After we moved from that house we lived in the valley of a very hilly area. Between our road and the next main road a mile to the west were several large hills. Large as in, perhaps 30 feet up and then down maybe 20 feet; then up another 10 and down 20; and then back up 10. Of course, I am just guessing, but I did scan a topographical map to see if I was in the ball park. I don't think I'm exaggerating. At any rate, we had hills.

Always along the horizons, when we got up a hill far enough to see a horizon that is, were mountains. The crowning topographical feature of the area is Mount Rainier.

Each morning we drove from our town, Puyallup, to Faith Lutheran School in Tacoma, along Hwy 512. And in the afternoon we drove back home along the same route. There is spot along 512, if I remember correctly it is near where Portland Ave intersects. For that 100 yards or so all the hills and valleys line up to give a person a most magnificent view of Mount Rainier. From this particular view Rainier seems close enough to touch.

I have a friend, Carrie R. who is originally from the Midwest. When she first moved to Tacoma, the weather was overcast for several days. Carrie said that when the weather finally cleared and she got her first view of The Mountain, she almost drove off the road. She was so startled. It was amazing to someone who hadn't before scene peaks such as the many along the Cascade Range.

This view of Mount Rainier is looking from Puget Sound across the Tacoma skyline. It is somewhat different than my favorite along 512, but it captures the "reach out and touch it" aspect pretty well. This image is from a public domain collection at the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory. They have a nice photo collection of all the various volcanic peaks along the Cascades.

Now pan forward 30 years. I am now living in arguably one of the flattest places on earth. Our friend, Steve, the first time he was here thought that the area of Kansas in which he had spent a number of years was probably flatter. I think that was the southwest corner of Kansas, but I am not sure. After he vacationed there a few years later he had this to say, "I was mistaken. Your part of Minnesota is probably the flattest area on earth. Even Kansas seems hilly in comparison."

When we first moved here it was the middle of winter. Cold. Snow-covered. I am sorry to all you locals for whom this is home. But to my eyes it seemed really desolate. There is nothing on the horizon. No hills. In the winter, nothing green. Seemingly, nothing alive on this entire prairie but the other poor lonely souls hunkered in, waiting for spring.

Our nearest neighbors are a mile away. With binoculars I could look in their living room windows. Don't worry, Muriel, we have never tried. But I guess my point is that we can see everyone. Just looking out our north windows we can see the home sites of seven fellow church members, our neighbors, the folks we first got to know when we moved in. And three or four home sites of non-members, whom we therefore don't know as well, but are still neighbors. All these neighbors.

But the nearest ones a mile away. Juell and Annabell or Chris and Alan are probably each 2 1/2 miles north of us, as the crow flies. We can easily see their places. Darrow and Shirley are not much closer as the crow flies. But counting driving distance, they are probably the furthest of the neighbors we can see. All these neighbors. Just down the road. And yet separated by the barren tundra all winter long.

I am so glad we have cars these days. I often think of how it was 100 years ago when a person had to either walk or saddle a horse. I just can't imagine having everyone within easy view and yet being mostly cut off from them for 4-6 months each winter. That is desolate!

Now I have been here six and a half years. I no longer feel quite so overwhelmed by the openness or the winter time barrenness. But add to that one more thing that I found ironic when Spring did finally come that first year. The soil here is very rocky. The farmers in New England also have stony soil. I am told in New England they use these rocks to build beautiful stone fences along their property lines.

But here! Here, they pile them up so that when spring comes and the snow melts what do we see? Piles of stone in the middle of the fields. Big piles, little piles. Some along the edges of the fields, some in the middle. And what do they remind me of? The cairns that Celts use to mark graves. Yes, I know, on the British Isles cairns are also used for landmarks and to memorialize something important that occurred at the spot of the cairn.

But, alas, the thing that I thought of that first spring was that I had been transported to some medieval Celtic hillside (minus the hills, of course) and that each of those little piles marked the grave of some poor unfortunate who did not make it through the winter. The ground was frozen so they had to just pile the rocks on top, I guess.

I am reminded of that impression each spring as the rock piles become visible with the melting snows. But now instead of thinking of rustic tombs, I wonder if there are any good rocks in there for my flower bed.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Again Ms Plum; this Time on Novice Firearms Use

And again, also in Two for the Dough, Stephanie is on stake-out with Grandma Mazur. The bad guy they are seeking sees them at the side of the road as he drives by.
...Kenny had U-turned at the intersection and was closing ground between us. There were no cars parked behind me. I saw the Suburban swerve to the curb and told Grandma to brace herself.
The Suburban crashed into the back of the Buick, bouncing us forward into Morelli's car, which crashed into the car in front of him. Kenny backed the Suburban up, stepped on the gas, and rammed us again.
"Well, that takes it, Grandma said. "I'm too old for this kind of bouncing around. I got delicate bones at my age." She pulled a .45 long-barrel out of her tote bag, wrenched her door open, and scrambled out onto the sidewalk. "Guess this will show you something," she said, aiming the gun at the Suburban. She pulled the trigger, fire flashed form the barrel, and the kick knocked her on her [bottom]....
...She had her hand to her forehead. "Hit myself in the head with the dang gun. didn't expect that much of a kick." ...
..."Where'd you get the forty-five?"
"My friend Elsie loaned it to me," Grandma said. "She got it at a yard sale when she lived in Washington, D.C."..."I guess I'm not so tough as them television people. "
This episode kind of summarizes how I felt when I first shot clay pigeons with my cousins on top of Badger Mountain in Washington state. I have no idea what gauge shotguns we were shooting, but the first time I fired I was knocked over. I had no idea what I was doing. The instructions went something like this. "Put this on your shoulder. Hold here and here. Then when we release the targets, pull the trigger." Since my cousins Chip and Dale had grown up shooting, they didn't think to warn me about the kick. Or perhaps they just wanted to laugh at the city girl. I don't know.

Later I fired a few rounds from various weapons belonging to another friend in Madison. I don't really remember any details about that episode. Later still I shot a bit with my husband's .22 revolver.

And finally, I got my own Bersa Thunder .380. Having a .380 caliber round in a semi-auto handgun really took me by surprise. It bounces around a bit more than the twenty-two. Unlike Grandma Mazur, I did not, however hit my forehead. But I can imagine doing so when shooting a forty-five without previous practice. Had the gun I first fired with my cousins been a forty-five handgun, I probably would have ended up with a lump front and center.

I have also learned that not only caliber, but also the weight of the gun and the length of barrel effect the kick. My husband has a 9mm Springfield XD. That one seems to kick less than my .380. I'm not sure which factors are primarily responsible for this difference.

I am still learning about all this ammo stuff. A 9-mm and a .380 have nearly identical diameters. My .380 rounds are just a hair over 7/8" long. The 9mm rounds are 1 1/8 inches. Just the bullets themselves are also nearly a quarter inch different in length. Mine say they are 95 grain and Joe's say 115 grain. I think that is the mass of the bullet itself. But I also know that different rounds use different amounts of powder, too.

In the weights of the pistols themselves, there is also a difference. My Bersa is only 23 ounces. The barrel is 3 1/2". Joe's XD weighs in at 28 ounces with a barrel length of 4".

Whatever the differences are, his was much easier for me to shoot accurately with less practice than was mine. But I like my little one for other reasons. And I have gotten better with practice. I still would like to see more improvement.

I think it would be fun to take a course through The Site or Blackwater or Front Site or something similar. I think the discipline and routine that these courses instill is something to be worked toward. But I think that will remain a dreamed about vacation for awhile yet.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Ms Plum, Guns, and Urban Living

This is from Two for the Dough. Our heroine, Stephanie, is getting a manicure in order to get some scoop from the beauty parlor regulars that she hopes will help her find her man. While there she runs into her archenemy, Joyce.
"You know what I do for a living now, Joyce? I'm a bounty hunter and I carry a gun, so don't [tick] me off."
"Everybody in New Jersey carries a gun," Joyce said. She reached into her pocketbook and pulled out a 9-mm Beretta.
This was embarrassing because not only didn't I have my gun with me, but my gun was smaller.
Bertie Greenstein was under the dryer next to Joyce. "I like a forty-five," Bertie Greenstein said, hauling a Colt government model out of her tote bag.
"Too much kick," Betty Kuchta told Bertie from across the room. "And it takes up too much room in your pocketbook. You're better off with a thirty-eight. That's what I carry now. A thirty-eight."
"I carry a thirty-eight," Clara said. "I used to carry a forty-five, but I got bursitis from the weight, so my doctor said to switch to a lighter gun. I carry pepper spray, too."
Everyone but old Mrs. Rizzoli, who was getting a perm, had pepper spray.
Betty Kuchta waved a stun gun in the air. "I've got one of these, too."
"Kiddie toy," Joyce said, brandishing a taser.
Nobody could one-up the taser.
When I read fiction, I am often left wondering about certain aspects of life portrayed and how realistic a given portrayal might be. I grew up in a suburban area. Nice family oriented neighborhoods. No one I knew carried a gun. Or at least I didn't know it if they did. In fact, the only weapons I ever heard about were small pellet guns used for shooting neighborhood pets when they strewed trash from someone's garbage cans.

Later, after Joe and I were married, we lived for a year in Chicago. Actually in the near west suburb of Oak Park. But we were right on the Chicago-Oak Park border. Our apartment was across the street from the west side of Chicago. Within a few blocks of some not-so-nice areas.

We often took walks around our immediate neighborhood. And also ventured into some of the not-so-nice ones. I never felt endangered. I even walked the mile or so to church once with Jeremy in the stroller, and Matt not having yet made his appearance. But after getting chewed out by congregation members, I didn't try that again. Apparently I had passed by some crack houses unawares. I still walked nearly to the church on occasion, because there was park with a nice playground along the way to church. But I didn't tell the church members. Nor did I walk in the immediate vicinity of the houses of ill repute.

We noticed that although located in a purportedly crime-ridden area, the shop owners took pride in their little bit of sidewalk space. Although sometimes a lot of wrappers, cigarette filters, dust and other urban waste would build up during the day, each morning, the shop keepers would be out sweeping and cleaning up the space in front of their store-front.

But we also couldn't help noticing the apparent potential for crime exhibited in the gated doorways and barred windows.

Once there was even a shoot-out about three blocks from our apartment.

Comparing illegally concealed weapons was not a part of the normal conversation I encountered. Joe was privy to a few such conversations, however. As was Pastor Steve Schmidt, who served the same congregation after we left there.

So although the afore-quoted passage at first seems totally unbelievable, an excellent use of hyperbole, I know that such conversations do, in fact, take place.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Couple of Clerihews from a Reader

Thanks, Char. Great job. Can anyone guess from whence Char hails?
The star of Green Bay, Brett Favre,
Many football records he did carve.
But, alas, one day he retired.
Is excitement expired?

Or this one:

Good Fred Rogers
The nicest of all the old codgers.
He'd make us feel better,
Then put away his sweater.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Learn Something Every Day

I read once about a family in which the children were expected to learn something every day. (Was this perhaps in Cheaper by the Dozen?) Each day at supper they had to report to the father what they had learned. I have often thought this would be a fun way of generating discussion at the dinner table. But alas, having too quiet a supper table is not usually our problem.

Well I learned something new, and I think fun, today. I learned what a Clerihew is. I won't explain it any better than the given link, so you will just have to follow that to find out what a Clerihew is.

Here is my humble attempt.
A lifeguard who was called Ronald Reagan
When the water was fine put his leg in.
Was a fine sportscaster;
Told of football disaster.
Or how about...
Annie Oakley was a fine shot.
She hit the target on the dot.
Not like a certain DEA guy;
He hit his toe and not his eye.
It is not easy. You can probably do better. Please send me some of your attempts. I'd enjoy reading them.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Simple Pleasures

Before we moved up North almost six and a half years ago, we lived in Madison, WI, for a short time, around sixteen months. Joe and I had met in Madison a little more than ten years previous. I had lived there for five years at that time and Joe for three. So when we later returned for the second stay, we had many friends and connections still in that city.

On Sundays during that winter, our friend Ben, a bachelor, would often come spend the afternoon with us. It was just a nice relaxing, comfortable way to spend a Sunday afternoon. At that time we had five children, ages 1-7, so gadding about wasn't much of an option for us.

I would usually pull out a jigsaw puzzle after Clara and Elsie went down for their naps. Joe and Ben and I would listen to 70s and 80s music and talk about lofty things. Everything from theology to societal problems to reminiscing over old happenings.

Louisa and I would work on the puzzle with some help from Ben and a bit from Jeremy and Matt. Even Joe might periodically pop a piece in, but he is not much of a puzzler. By the time Elsie got up we were far enough along to find pieces here an there that she could help with and then when Clara joined the ranks after her nap, the puzzle was usually nearly done.

These days we don't do many puzzles. No particular reason, other than we just don't think about it. We are busy with different things and since we now live in a much bigger house, the puzzles are packed further away and out of sight.

But recently, as readers of Joe's blog already know, we have been rearranging and reorganizing the household. With switching rooms and general upheaval, it is a good time to go through everything. We have been sorting. Making sure all the bits and pieces of games and puzzles and toys are all packaged with their proper cohorts.

As a part of this process, the girls and I have again been doing jigsaw puzzles. With a bit of help from the boys. I don't know whether it is just my boys, or if in general boy brains do not enjoy puzzles. But the brains of us girls sure do. It is so nice to sit with my growing girls and see them progress in their spacial abilities.

But more than that, it is such a nice way to sit together with our hands busy and our mouths just chattering away. Most of my work as a parent involves the type of brain power that does not allow me to visit as I work. Please understand that while growing up one of my Dad's favorite phrases describing me was "Mary, you can't walk and chew gum at the same time."

So for a mom such as I, who can not walk an chew gum at the same time, it is especially nice to pursue an activity with my daughters that allows us to visit so freely. It gives me an opportunity to appreciate what fine young ladies they are, in a way that parenting through normal chores and school and sibling battles do not.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Winter Again

When I lived in southern Minnesota and Wisconsin, a good deep April snow was the norm. Everyone knew that winter was not over until we got that last heavy snowfall. In the six years that I have lived in northern Minnesota, I have not gotten the impression that this is usually the case. Yes, winter here drags on and on. But I have not noticed a pattern of a good thaw and warming trend followed by that one last April snowfall that is often 6-10 inches. But perhaps that is because the snow here blows around so much we never really know how much we get.

But this year we have had an April snow. Blowing. Drifting. Snowing. With our vinyl siding we really notice the scouring sound that settlers in Dakota Territory heard so much of during the winter of 1880-81 (The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder). But we know that winter will end and spring will come.

Here is a poem by my daughter, Louisa.
spring is here
let's give a cheer
hip hip hooray
4 spring today

A Book Not Worth Reading

OK, for Erica, a book I should not have wasted my time with. In her comment a while back, Erica mentioned books that, after reading the back cover, already frustrate. I would not, however, have been frustrated after reading the back of this book. The info there includes such deeply insightful descriptions as "wonderful," "rollicking, righteous," "offbeat, hilarious," "gross, quirky,"...Not alot of information. I guess it is in keeping with the minimalist design of the front cover, which is what originally caught my eye.

But I had not read very many pages before figuring out that Hoot, by author Carl Hiaasen, is a "save the owls" lecture under the guise of a light-hearted and satiric story.

The main character seems to have a normal life and family. Mainstream and well-adjusted. But everyone else is either very strange or totally inept. The book is filled with" 'cameo appearances" of characters fitting common stereotypes such as the drunken hunter driving a snowmobile. Anyone who is mean enough to hunt is also dumb enough to drive a snowmobile while intoxicated, right?

And we meet the frightened construction foreman who investigates a noise in his bathroom with his .38 special drawn and ends up shooting his toilet when a little mouse runs out. I guess anyone who owns a gun is obviously a stupid moron who keeps keep his finger dangerously on the trigger.

The book is riddled with this kind of humor. Sometimes it is mildly funny. But as you continue through the book it gets old. The president of the pancake house corporation is corrupt; the school counselor is naive, and biased against the good guy; the former football star is married to the former lounge waitress and they scream at each other all day- if they happen to be on speaking terms; the construction foreman's wife and mother-in-law are always shopping at the outlet mall...blah, blah, blah.

The only character that seems to not fit this stereotypical world is the father of the normal, well-adjusted family. He works for the US government as a justice department investigator. That seems a little off. Most of the people I have come across who hold dear the stereotypes that fill this book would also assume that any government worker is either corrupt or a simpleton.

I did finish the book. I kept thinking it would get better. It did have redeeming qualities. It compellingly tells a story. The plot is well spun. Really well spun. Lots of twists and turns and just the right amount of ambiguity to keep the reader turning the pages and thinking ahead trying to figure out how everything is going to tie together. It is a shame the characters are so one-dimensional. A reader might then be able to overlook the underlying message that everyone is out to get the poor little owls and we are all driven by greed and selfishness.

Did I mention that Hoot was awarded a Newberry honor?

Apparently the book is well-received; I notice there is a study guide available for classroom use. Oh, and it has also been made into a movie. Must have been a winner. I remember hearing lots about it. Uh, I guess not.

For more of the same see Flush, also by Carl Hiaasen, in which he addresses "illegal dumping of raw sewage from a floating casino."

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A Gruesome Phase

As I was heading to bed last night I noticed some papers on the dining room table. Upon closer examination, I found them to be drawings done by my son, Matt, while most of the rest of the family was watching Cirque du Soleil, Midnight Sun, during family time last night.

Matt was not interested in watching the circus, so he spent his time in more, uh, well, he occupied himself differently. Let's just say that he likes to draw. Matt is a very good drawer. (As in one who draws not that which is drawn from a cabinet.) For subject matter when he draws, Matt chooses things that are on his mind.

For instance, after his fire arms safety class , hunting season, and continuing on throughout the winter months, since his father and I both got handguns this winter, Matt has filled pages with sketches of various models of weaponry. Mostly guns. some drawings demonstrate various actions and firing methods. He has done exploded diagrams and drawings of exploding targets.

Well, it seems Matt has moved on to other ground. Matt has recently seen several versions of The Mummy. He has read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. He now draws monsters. Let's just say that I am glad no one from social services saw the sketches on my table last night. Truly a sign of a troubled youth.

I realize that most adolescent boys are pretty morbid. I am not worried. It does not bother me to have my son drawing bloody, oozy wounds made by frighteningly realistic monsters. In fact I enjoy seeing Matt's skills improve with his constant practice.

Matthew is good with emotion. I could just hear the terrified gasp and feel the trembling knees shown in the body language of the man who Matt portrayed entering a room as Frankenstein's monster was leaving the scene of one of his atrocities.

I am not a big fan of Frankenstein. I agreed with Matt when he commented that he thought Shelly included too much detail in parts that were not necessary to the story line. But the idea of a monster such as Dr. Frankenstein's appeals to the gruesome side of a seventh grade psyche, I guess.

As for me, at the time of this writing, I am totally occupied with Eric, the opera ghost, in Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Ah, Spring!

I thought this picture was kind of neat. For those who are not local, I will try to create an appropriate visual image. We live in a very flat area. Very flat. Oh, did I mention it's kinda flat here? We also have lots of clay in the soil and a pretty high water table.

One of the survival techniques locals have developed is to incorporate low spots strategically around their properties so that during wet times, the water has someplace convenient to gather until it can seep into the ground.

And at this time of year there is also the fact that the ground is still frozen. The snow melts rapidly, but the ensuing water has nowhere to go.

So we have these low spots around the yard to collect the water. But these low spots also serve to catch blowing snow all winter long. The areas to which the water is flowing and in which the water is trying to collect are the last areas to melt because they also have the deepest drifts. So each year at this time we get some interesting designs in the snow.

I thought this year it looked like the bottom end of a glacier with the melting snow flowing from beneath it. I am not very technologically skilled, but I thought it would look cool if I could doctor the photo to have that slightly greenish cast glaciers have. But instead it just looked like a creme de menthe snowcone. Yuck!

Continuing on with more springly thoughts.
Like an army defeated
The snow hath retreated,
And now doth fare ill
On top of bare hill;
The ploughboy is whooping-anon-anon-
There's joy in the mountains;
There's life in the fountains;
Small clouds are sailing,
Blue sky prevailing;
The rain is over and gone!
These words are from a poem called "Written in March" by William Wordsworth. Yes, I know it is already April, but the poem expressed how I am feeling now. A week ago, when it was indeed March, it still felt like winter.

Joe and I took a walk today. Outside. Although it was a wonderfully warm 58 degrees, there was a gusty wind out of the WNW. We hunkered down and walked anyway. We went a half mile north and then another half mile west so that we could have the wind behind us later. The east-west road is minimum maintenance, so it is a dirt road that does not get plowed out in the winter. The areas that drift more deeply when the winter snows blow, are still melting, but there was grass at the sides and some in the center also which was dry enough to walk on.

I took a walk on this road two times earlier this year. I think it was late January or early February. Just after one of our extended below zero stints. If I remember correctly, that day was in the teens, so at that time of year it felt just heavenly to be out an about. Of course, then I was walking through and on drifts. In some places the snow was frozen and hard and I could skim across the top. In other spots I had to step out of snow each step, anywhere from just a few inches deep to knee high.

Joe came with me the second day I walked there. On that second day, as I was putting my foot down after one step, I went down into snow up to my hips. With just the one foot. It was quite startling, as you can imagine. After climbing out, we saw that I had stepped into a large gopher hole. We thought it somewhat ironic that with all the snow-covered stretch of road to walk on, I happened to find the hole. After seeing the same road today, with most of the snow melted, it is amazing I stepped in only one gopher hole. There is a crater every few steps waiting to swallow up the unwary.

After returning from our walk, we meandered throughout our yard, viewing the effects of a long winter and anticipating the time when we will start to see signs of new life. Lots of garbage where the snow has melted, broken branches in the bushes, gravel and asphalt left behind from the snow pushed off the church parking lot. These are not the things I long to see. Not do I enjoy seeing all the jobs that I did not get finished in the fall.

But the buds on the bushes signaling the leaves that will soon burst forth. Yes! and at last, what I am seeking, the first shoots of tulip poking up from the battle weary ground. This is what I love about spring!
I found the tulips in the in the bed nearest the house. Not only is this bed on the south side of the house, it also is sheltered on the west by the front porch. So each spring when I begin these annual expeditions, I always save this bed for last. The green shoots I finally find are that favorite piece of candy, saved for last, waited for and dreamed about.

I should also point out that tomorrow night we are supposed to get up to 8 inches of new snow. But it will be clean and white instead of gray. And better yet, it will not stick around long.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Do you enjoy graphic novels? What about silent movies? Stories of mystery and suspense? Do you like looking at beautifully done line drawings and charcoal sketches? Are you intrigued by gears and inventions? How about emotionally touching accounts of orphans?

Brian Selznick has amazingly captured all of this and more in his 533 page book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

In this novel, Selznick creates an action packed account that revolves around two Parisian orphans living in the 1930s, who who end up thrown together to solve a mystery. Unfortunately for them, they both are prone to secrecy and have developed some other bad habits. These things combine to throw continual roadblocks in their path.

Also included within this edge-of-your-seat storyline are the historical figure, Georges Melies, a pioneer French of cinema, and references to many well known silent movies.

In The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Selznick successfully combines many unique format devices. Although the 535 pages give the impression of a lengthy tome, much of the story line is told through drawings. And many of the pages of drawings are done in such a way as to imitate the progressive frames of a silent movie. Interspersed with these pages are a few pages of prose, sometimes entire pages, sometimes just a paragraph or two.

In all, the plot keeps the reader turning the pages. The artwork and stylistic elements are very appealing. There is just the right amount of emotion and moral dilemma to connect a reader with the characters. And best of all, the book leaves a reader wanting to learn something more. My 13 year old immediately asked to do a few library searches on Melies, silent movies and other historical facets Selznick included in his story.

I would guess that this book would appeal to a wide variety of ages. A middle school child would likely breeze through it independently. Younger independent readers would also have no problems with it. It would also work well as a read aloud if one or two listeners snuggle up next to the reader and look along at the same time. But if you have a larger number of listeners, as we do in our family, this would not be a good read aloud choice since the illustrations are integral to the story line.

Out of five stars this one gets a full five.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Mysterious Benedict Sequal

Just wanted to pass this on to any who might be interested. I just heard from a reliable source (thanks, Char) that the sequel to The Mysterious Benedict Society is coming out in May. Eager readers will request their librarians get on the pre-release purchase list.

Toward More Picturesque Speech

When I teach my kids creative writing there come various lessons on using adjectives, adverbs and other literary tools such as metaphor and personification. I remember my own writing lessons in which I learned about such devices and how they can add color and interest to one's writing.

I also remember my inevitable tendency to overdo the literary tools I was supposed to be making use of. Like Charles Schulz's Snoopy in It was a Dark and Stormy Night. I would creatively and interestingly string together colorful, picturesque, meaningful modifiers so the the reader would glide on the lilt of my words like the King listening to Scheherezade's spellbinding, suspenseful tales. And so it goes.

I've recently read several books that got me thinking about a writer's use of literary tools. When are they well-done and when are they overdone. What is it that makes Jan Karon's images rich while those of Nora Roberts seem silly? Why can Janet Evanovich so successfully use simile to transport her readers and Roberto Saviano makes no sense at all with his metaphors?

Here are some samples.

From Out to Canaan by Jan Karon. The context is a beautiful spring morning in Father Tim's yard.
The morning mist rose from the warm ground and trailed across the garden like a vapor from the moors. Under the transparent wash of gray lay the vibrant emerald of the new-mown grass, and the unfurled leaves of the hosta. Over there in the bed of exuberant astilbe, crept the new tendrils of the strawberry plants whose blossoms glowed in the mist like pink fires.
And now from Nora Roberts, Affaire Royale. The main female character, Brie is looking out across the Mediterranean.
The sea wall was single-minded blue. If it had had its way, it would have consumed the land. The wall prevented that, but didn't tame it. Farther out she could see the ships, big freighters that were on their way to or from the port, sleek sailing boats with their canvas taut.
Now maybe just getting excerpts like this is not enough to make my point, but I will try. I noticed first that in the scenery descriptions the choice of words in the Roberts book are much more violent sounding. A visual image that portrays a feeling a angst. That is consistent throughout the book. Perhaps that is an intentional part of the art of writing a romance? Maybe a romance author tries to subconsciously portray the struggle against human entanglements within other elements of the story line. A bit now and then is ok, but eventually the repetition starts to comes across as somewhat hoaky.

I also noticed that the development of a character who might be seeing something the author describes changes how the reader perceives a certain visual image. For instance, the Karon excerpt when taken alone may actually seem the most contrived of the two I highlighted. But in the context of Father Tim's personality it is just right. Hmm. Now it sounds as though I am saying that his character in general is contrived and overdone. And that is not really the case either.

Another excerpt from Out to Canaan. This one occurs shortly after the first, on the same morning. Father Tim is remembering an experience involving a blackberry he picked the previous summer.
He remembered it distinctly, remembered looking at it's unusual elongated from, and putting it in his mouth. The blackberry burst with flavor that transported him instantly to his childhood, to his age of innocence and bare feet and chiggers and freedom.
I love how Karon is able to touch the reader's own memories with the concrete detail of he blackberry and the list of nearly universal childhood summer features of innocence, bare feet, chiggers and freedom. And also she is describing the universal experience of having some specific sense, a smell or sound, or in this case a taste bring back such a rush of memory. Good detail in writing has to involve the reader somehow.

And again, from Affaire Royale. This time the main male character, Reeve, an independent security consultant, analyzing why he had decided to help.
He'd decided to help her because she needed help, but nothing was ever that simple. The puzzle of her kidnapping nagged at him, prodded, taunted. On the surface it seemed as though her father was leaving the investigation to the police and going about his business. Reeve rarely believed what was on the surface. If Armand was playing a chess game with him as a queen 's knight he'd play along, and make some moves of his own. It hadn't taken Reeve long to discover that royalty was insular, private and closemouthed. So much better the challenge. He wanted to put the pieces of the kidnapping together, but to do so, he had to put the pieces of Gabriella together first.
He just sounds like a cowboy, a renegade. And although he is supposed to be a very honorable man, there is this tough guy, take control sort of thing a reader has to deal with. Again, perhaps a trademark of the romance genre?

Now on to metaphor. I tried to read Gomorrah by Roberto Saviano. This book sounded so interesting, that I was really looking forward to reading it and learning a few things. It is a non-fiction book sharing the author's experiences and insights from when he infiltrated the Napolitano organized crime syndicate.

But talk about overdoing it. This book is so full of poetic prose that the reader eventually despairs of finding any fact hidden within the picturesque language. I am sure it is there. I started it twice to see if that helped. I put it down for a few weeks and tried again. Both times I did find some interesting information. But both times I also got impatient with the fluff. Here is an example.
The port is detached from the city. An infected appendix, never quite degenerating into peritonitis, always there in the abdomen of the coastline. A desert hemmed in by water and earth, but which seems to belong to neither land nor sea. A grounded amphibian, a marine metamorphosis. A new formation created from the dirt, garbage and odds and ends that the tide has carried ashore over the years...
I put the ellipsis in because I got tired just typing it in. That is about 1/4 of the paragraph. All told the actual info from the paragraph could have been said in 10-15 words. But one has to muddle through all the pictures to find the meat.

I guess I don't have the time for it in my life. If I want to read poetry, I'll read Longfellow or Sandburg.

And I also invite the readers of this blog to refresh their memories with one of my favorite Janet Evanovich quotes. I included it in a former blog post. This quote very successfully uses simile to put readers on a stretch of urban highway.

I know this has gotten long, but thanks for bearing with me. And really, please let me know what literary tools work for you. What makes one author's contrivances seem so natural while another author's attempts just get in the way of the story.

Or send me a favorite excerpt, either good or bad. And let me know why you like or dislike it.

I'll close with this. Now, forgive me if this is wrong. It is just an approximation from a book Joe and I started during the months Matt, who is now 13, was colicky. One of us would walk baby and the other would read aloud. We were never totally engaged in this book, but were trying to stick with it. After this we kind of gave up on it. And so from The Silver Chalice, by Thomas B. Costain.
We were standing at the doorway to the threshold of the land of enchantment.
And since I am standing at the doorway to the threshold of that land of somnia I am going to be a rebel and NOT proofread this. Yikes. Some of you may recall the Christmas letter I did for the congregations here?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Self Justification

No, I do not make a habit of reading romance novels. I borrowed a few Harlequins from friends during high school. Jump ahead ten years and I think I read a romance that one of my younger sisters had along when she was visiting my house once. It was the sisterly thing to do. I had to make sure she was reading appropriate material, right? So, all totaled, I have probably read fewer than ten in my whole life.

But I accidentally read one this week. Here's how it came about. As I might have mentioned once or twice, I have been reading the Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich. In them there is some romance involved, and as I have previously mentioned a few of them are more graphic in the "romantic" descriptions than I would prefer. But primarily they are light-hearted adventure books. Great fun to read.

Other Plum fans have recommended Nora Roberts as an author with similar abilities. "If you like Janet Evanovich, you'll love Nora Roberts..." That sort of thing. I am so far removed from pop fiction that I had no clue what kind of writing Nora Roberts did and I had somehow gotten the impression she was a mystery writer.

So I picked up one of her books at a used book store the other day. Actually it was a two-pack. Two stories in one book. Although the books do contain what one might consider suspense, as in the normal "looking forward to seeing how the plot will work out", they most certainly are primarily romance novels. Yeah. I wouldn't have wanted any of my kids to look over my shoulder reading these babies. Had I read the imprint, Silhouette, and the publisher, yes, Harlequin, I would have been privy to that fact sooner; but, alas, I did not.

But I did continue reading them and I'll tell you why. I like to write. I would like to someday write something worthy of publishing. So as I read I am always analyzing the writing to see what works and what does not. And these Nora Roberts books intrigued me. The two I read were called, Affaire Royale and Command Performance. The setting of both was a fictional Mediterranean island, Cordina, in contemporary times. The books involve the royal family and a certain amount of political intrigue.

I wanted to study how a person would realistically develop an entire fantasy type setting. I liked how Roberts developed the setting and the the characters. Very nice for escapist reading. But the writing itself was kind of cheesy.

I know Nora Roberts is quite famous. And I with a little leg work I have discovered that as of 1999 she had published 124 books. Wow! Prolific! I can't even imagine having that many original thoughts! I also found that Time magazine named her one of 2007s most influencial people. Hmm. Interesting.

I also realize that these books I read were written in the mid-80s. So she has had lots of opportunity to perfect her art since then. After all, these were only like her 30th and 40th novels. But I don't think I will go out an find a newer one.

Oh, and I did also learn that she does write mysteries. Under the pen name J. D. Robb.

I will return to this topic in my next post, but I really am just so embarrassed to have been reading what I probably should call a smut book that I first had to post on my reasons for having ended up with it in the first place.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Children's Chapter Books

A while back I posted on The Mysterious Benedict Society. I recently heard from a reader, Erica, who also enjoyed it. I am glad you liked it! Did you figure out the final mystery? I am so curious about that.

Erica was also expressing frustration in finding really good children's books. Since I wanted to respond to her, I decided to do it here.

I love children's books. Sometimes when life just gets to be too much for me and I don't want to tempt myself by getting into an adult book, which might occupy my thoughts for several days, I pick up a young adult novel.

Now I agree with the Erica that there is tons of junk out there. Even award winners are often just plain bad. At best many books are simply trite, meaningless drivel.

Worse yet are the books for young people that aspire to push the envelope. The authors often seem to be saying, "Let's expose these poor sheltered children to the freedom of amoral living." Or those that preach as righteousness a value choice that ought to be personal choice.

Then there are the books that are filled with poor writing. Stilted dialog, run-on sentences, cheesy descriptions. Things that make reading them a chore even when the topic and general plot appeals.

Then there are those that seem to want to fill a young person with angst.

But really there are just tons of great books out there.

I consistently find my favorite children's books among those recommended in the Sonlight Curriculum catalog. As far as curriculum is concerned, I only qualifiedly recommend it. I have used Sonlight for at least parts of the last seven years. Really like some things about it. But not everything. That is a different post, perhaps.

With a very few exceptions, I can pick up and really enjoy any of the hundreds of books we have bought to use with the various curriculum levels. There are some cheesy ones. And a few boring ones. But by and large I love the books that the writers of this program incorporate into their curriculum.

Another recommendation, however, with regard to Sonlight is that you request a paper copy of their catalog. It is much easier to use than the web site, which unfortunately is slow and difficult to use. The catalog includes a brief description of each book and they are organized by historical topic as in American History or Eastern Hemisphere.

Even if you don't homeschool, or if you do but want to supplement your child's current reading material, just having the recommendations available for the various subject areas is so handy.

I know there are other homeschool catalog out there that are probably organized in a similar fashion. Since I have used Sonlight, that is the one I am most familiar with.

Other books I really like for kids are the Tomie dePaola chapter books based on his growing up years in a culturally Irish and Italian urban setting. I think they are called the 26 Fairmont Avenue series.

My friend Laura highly recommends books by Elizabeth Wainright. I have read Gone Away Lake and really enjoyed it.

The Ralph Moody books are great stories based on Moody's growing up years in various localities throughout the country during the early 1900s or so.

The Westing Game was a fun contemporary mystery.

I'm am not really much of a fantasy fan, but I enjoyed the Spiderwick Chronicles. (Did anyone see the movie? I wanted to but missed it at our cheap theater.)

I really like the stuff I've read by Patricia Riley Giff.

And some by Sharon Creech. But she is one who I think tries to push the envelop or make some deep statement on human existance. I like them for me, but would probably not recommend most of them for young adults. Too much emotion or something. Too much troubled youth stuff.

I remember reading Everything on a Waffle and thinking it was kind of fun. But it was perhaps seven or eight years ago, so I should really read it again now that my kids are of an age to read it.

I guess I could go on forever when I get on the subject of children's books. I would be interested in hearing about favorites from readers. Let me know what you and the young adults in your life like to read.

"I Still Love Technology"...NOT!

OK, so I'm not exactly Kip from Napoleon Dynamite. I feel safe saying I would never serenade my husband with a love song comparing my love for him with my feelings toward technology. Except of course we, all of us around here, do frequently sing Kip's original composition to each other in jest.

The other day I had written a nice long post. A, uh, treatise, perhaps. On double-knit. A sentimental journey to the 1970s.

But, alas, just as I was putting the finishing touches on my work of literary art, my foot was visited with a blinding flash. And the screen went dead.

The cord for the speakers had developed a bend near the plug end and the electricity chose that moment to arc through my foot in search of ground.

I guess I should be thankful that I had my rubber soled sneakers on. Just a small scorch mark on the bottom of my shoe and an iridescent pink stain really. I am also thankful that it was I and not one of my children who was favored with such an electrifying moment.

But instead of being grateful, I found my self just plain mad. I finally allow myself the luxury of sitting down to write a bit. Actually, I had been writing for about 20 minutes. And then, in a flash, my work is gone.

So we went on vacation instead.

And upon our return home guess what. The #@!* computer keyboard does not work. Nothing. After some tweaking and coaxing on the part of my very technologically inclined husband, there is still not the lightest indication of communication between the keyboard and the computer.

(Joe says I should probably translate #@!*, lest any of my readers have a dirty mind. It merely means "stinking". The stinking computer keyboard. He is a pastor, after all.)

This is the fourth-- no fifth!-- keyboard for our family in a year.

Joe and I used it as an excuse to run to town. We picked up milk and a new keyboard, deposited a few checks and went out to eat. Lemons to lemonade, you know.

And here's the clincher. What do you think was waiting for us upon our return home? The other keyboard was working.

I may someday revisit double-knit. Since no one else had the chance to read it I can say unqualifiedly that it was a really good post. But I have lots of other things bumping around in my brain waiting for their chance to be featured in virtual print. Double-knit will have to wait.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Mitford on Guns

From the third book of the series, These High Green Hills, here's the context.

Mitford is the idyllic "Currier and Ives" type town. The regulars at the the local cafe, Episcopalian rector Father Tim and buddy Mule, have been coaching the newspaper man and avowed bachelor, J.C., regarding his new sweetheart, a lady officer for the local police department. J.C. is bemoaning the fact that he doesn't really know where things stand with his lady friend.
The rector swigged his coffee. "Sounds pretty typical to me."
J.C. leaned forward. "It does?""
"Sure. One day you know, one day you don't. Pretty soon, if it's right, you really know."
"But how do you know if you really know?" asked Mule.
The rector looked slightly dazed. "I don't know," he said, meaning it.
Mule sighed. "We're kind of rusty at this."
"How come she wants me to get off coffee and axe the fats and lower my cholesterol if she wouldn't go out with me last night? I mean, what's the deal?"
"Maybe she had to work," said Mule, wanting to help.
"No way. She was home cleaning her gun."
"How do you know?"
"Because I called her up and that's what she said she was doing."
"Where had you offered to take her?" asked the rector.
"To Brendle's, they were having a sale on Tri-X film."
"No wonder she stayed home to clean a gun," said Mule.
"Have you sent her flowers?" asked Father Tim. "That's a good thing to do."
"Flowers? To a woman who carries a nine-millimeter?"
"Whoa, Buddy," said Mule. "You're sounding mighty macho there...."

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Fictional Heros

OK, I know I implied I was done with the Jane Austen conversations. But alas, my husband and other things have given me reason to revisit the subject. But there are several different aspects of my life and literary interests that have come together recently, so bear with me while I try to tie it all together for you.

Because I am a fan of Stephanie Plum, I frequent the Janet Evanovich web site. Her daughter, Alex, does a fun Q&A with subjects ranging from writing tips to information about future books to extra details on the lives of Evanovich's fictional characters. A fan asked recently which classical music selections might be enjoyed by the fictional Ranger. The answer given was Bach's Suite for Solo Cello No.1 in G Major. When I downloaded that on youtube to hear what piece it was, I found out it is one that my husband, Joe, enjoys playing on his classical guitar. Joe then specified that the Yo-Yo Ma version is the best. On the most recent Evanovich Q&A, Alex specifies that Ranger also prefers that version. So see, Joe is just like Ranger. What a guy!

Now we need to segue to my overnight road trip. Yesterday I loaded up my seven youngest kids to take a quick trip to visit my parents-in-law and my oldest son, Jeremy, who is living with them. The occasion was the annual Carnival at Jeremy's school, Echo Charter School. I thought it would be a good time to meet some of Jeremy's friends and teachers. And it was. I did not officially meet many of his friends, since the carnival is a fund raiser for the school and the students all were busy helping. But his friend, Peter, was helping Jeremy run the bowling game, and Jeremy pointed out several otherfrieinds to me when I asked. And I got a chance to meet his favorite teacher, Mrs. L.

So I had ten hours of driving with seven children in the last two days. I periodically found myself day-dreaming about some of my recent reading. Specifically I was trying to figure out what some of my favorite fictional characters would be like in real life. Would I like them? Now, in my defense, I have not read or re-read any Stephanie Plum books for about a month. I have forced myself to move on a bit to some of the other reading I was getting behind on. But of course, the Plum characters did eventually come into my internal dialog.

I have done this before, always with the same results. I probably would not become good friends with Stephanie or Morelli; they are fun to read about. But I have them pigeon holed as "pop culture" characters and much to my daughters' chagrin, I am kind of the antithesis of pop culture. I have boring clothes; I never shop; I don't watch TV; I don't keep up with sports; I try to be thrifty; and although I love take out food, I would have to be pretty wealthy to be in a position to waste as much money on take-out and convenience foods as do these two characters, not to mention the health aspects of indulging in a diet such as theirs. I am just too practical to allow myself to live like that. As much as I enjoy reading about them, I just can't see myself having anything in common with Stephanie and Morelli.

But Ranger has some noble character traits. I could imagine becoming friends with him, as much as anyone is able to be friends with him. I can imagine engaging him in arguments about his quasi-spirituality and the conflicts that I perceive in his life choices. I would like to pick his brain about his sense of right and wrong and the gray area of legality within which he operates. But of course, since he is Ranger, he would not allow himself to become engaged in any such conversation and so there's the rub. I suppose that is also why he can be portrayed as noble; because by virtue of his silently-mysterious persona, one can never really know him.

And so on down my list of favorite characters.

Imagine my surprise when arriving home I found waiting a web site Joe had pulled up for me to read. He saw a link to it on Drudge while skimming headlines and he thought I'd have fun with it. The author of this little article lists several literary heroes and using their fictional personalities, describes their good points, the reasons women love them. But then the author also goes on to sketch a bit of what a woman who marries such a hero might really expect in a marriage. Included in her list are Emily Bronte's Heathcliffe, Rhett Butler of Gone with the Wind fame, and naturally, Mr. Darcy, among others. Notably missing are the Plum men, Joe Morelli and Ricardo Carlos Manosa aka Ranger.

When later this evening my real life hero, Joe, returned home he asked whether I had seen the article he had saved for me. From the piano at which I was trying to rid myself of some built up car tension, I responded in the affirmative. Ironically, the pieces I was then playing: The Dreame, and Weep You No More Sad Fountains, (Marianne's vocal numbers in Sense and Sensibility), followed by the aria from The Marriage of Figaro that Lizzy sings at Pemberley.

In case anyone is interested, here and here are piano books with music from the various Jane Austen movies. Although I don't usually take time for the Jane Austen fan site stuff on the internet, while researching music in the various movies I did find this Republic of Pemberley site a helpful resource. They appear to have information on every JA novel and all the movies and even on the knock-off Jane Austen stuff. I have referred to it on occasion when curious about a historic detail or if I wanted to check on something from one of the books. It appears to be a very extensive web site and I have not had reason to do more than scratch the surface. But I can say that the lists of music used in the various movies and where it is available is comprehensive.

Monday, March 10, 2008

One More Pride and Prejudice Post

I have a few updates on my previous posts. Char had apparently also answered the original quiz question, but her comment did not come through for some cyber reason. She had also pointed out Jane's pronunciation which, I agree, make the quote so enjoyable. When one reads, "I believe it is of great doctrinal import, sir," one must think of the i in doctrinal as having the long i sound as in nice, instead of the American short i sound as in itch.

Since Char also told me her favorite quote over the phone, I'm not going to quote it here, because I'd get it wrong. I will merely allude to it.

Picture Elizabeth at the piano with Colonel Fitzwilliam and Darcy around her. From the other room, Lady...Catherine...DeBourgh feels like she is missing something and demands admittance into their conversation. She then regales them with the great line about being sure she would have been a true proficient had she ever learned to play piano.

Thank you Char. Wonderful!

And one more thing, the quote I included of Mrs Bennet's about winking at her daughters... Well, my daughters pointed out my error in that one. I had it "Wink at my daughter? Why would I wink at my own daughter, pray?" I've been informed it ought to be, "Wink at my daughter? What a notion! Why would I wink at my own daughter, pray?"

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Mitford on Italian Men

Do any of you enjoy the Mitford books? I started reading this series by Jan Karon about the time my oldest started school. The only reason I remember that is because I kept seeing them in the homeschool catalogs I was frequently perusing at the time. One of them referred to Karon's books as candy reading for tired homeschool moms.

At some point I ended up purchasing the first one, At Home in Mitford. I really enjoyed it, but was too cheap to buy the rest. I have read some of them from the library. For some reason, I never did finish the series. But because I really do like them, I've decided to start over and reread the ones I had previously read and go on to finish the series.

Ah, what comfort reading! I have not ever read one of the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" books, but When I think of what kind of things are just a pleasure to read, reading which brings me solace in some way or another, these books fit the bill. They are set in an old-fashioned community, a small town with an intact main street. The characters are colorfully drawn and for the most part, the kind of people you would want as neighbors. There is always some mystery or difficulty the main character, Episcopalian rector, Father Tim, has to surmount. There is humor in how the characters address each other's idiosyncrasies. And there is a love story which evolves throughout the series. But it is a good clean love story.

In the second book, A Light in the Window, Father Tim is in a pickle about his hair. While he is a faithful customer of the local barber, there comes a time when he really needs a haircut but barber Joe Ivey has his closed sign up. So Father Tim is forced to try out the services of the new "unisex" hairdresser in town. As it happens, hairdresser, Fancy Skinner, has had too much caffeine that morning, so is extra chatty. Here is one of the ramblings by which Father Tim is entertained while getting his hair trimmed.

Well! What do you think? See how it slenderizes your face? You ought to let me give you a mask sometime. No, I mean it. Men in Los Angelees (sic) and New York do it all the time. It cleans out your pores. Oh, and Italians, they do masks. They even carry handbags, did you know that? Italian men are different. My girlfriend used to date an Italian. He was so macho, you wouldn't believe it. How can you be macho and carry a handbag, I wonder? I don't have the slightest idea.
Since I am a diehard Stephanie Plum fan, I couldn't help wondering if Morelli carries a handbag and gets his face masked. Italian Americans must be exempt from that.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

More great Pride and Prejudice quotes

Sorry to be exclusive, but if you want to enjoy the quotes, you'll just have to see the movie.
"Shelves in a closet. Happy thought indeed."

"I shall overcome this! I shall!"

"No! no lace, Mrs. Bennett. I beg you, no lace!"

"And how are your parents? and your er, uh, your sisters? They are all in good health?"

"Only a little and very ill."

"I must confess, I encourage that, also."
And then there is the one about the flutterings and pains that Mrs. Bennett experiences. But I would have to have the movie right here to get that one right. As it is I have probably messed up several of those above. Let me know if I have. I had to return the DVD to the library last week after having already renewed it once.

Oh, and here's the favorite one among my girls.
"Wink at my daughter? Why would I wink at my own daughter, pray?"
Feel free to send me your favorites and I will add them to the list.

Bonnet Movies

Thanks to Amy and blogger, cattail, for participating in my Jane Austen quiz. And you were both right, although cattail was more specific.

I've been told that talk radio host, Glen Beck calls the movies of old books of a certain era, Bonnet Movies. I have come to sort of like that name for them. I find myself in need of a bonnet story, either a movie or book, on a somewhat regular basis. I love reading Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters. And for a slightly later setting I like some of E. M Forster's.

My first introduction to Bonnet Movies was actually Forster's, A Room With A View, which I saw on my 1986 birthday with dear friends, Lisa, Jenny and Katie, in Madison, WI. It is a lovely movie; I can't say enough in praise of the casting, music, filmography and stylistic touches the producers included.

Others that I also like are the PBS, Jane Eyre, and the 1995, Sense and Sensibility.

But for those of you who may never have seen the BBC Pride and Prejudice, you don't know what you are missing. This six hour rendition is the creme de la creme of all Bonnet Movies. Everything about it is well done.

One of the joys of reading a Jane Austen Novel is the way she can take a certain kind of personality and so aptly put that personality into her books. And she gives the personalities in the stories just a little bit of exaggeration to make the reader laugh and appreciate human foibles. Just about every character in her books is someone with whom readers can equate. We have all met a Colonel Brandon or Captain Wentworth. We have all felt at times like Emma or Catherine Morland.

And in the BBC P&P, one of the greatest parts of the movie is the casting. The actors so well depict the idiosyncrasies of the characters they portray. And then as is so Austenesqe, they give them that little bit of over-the-top-ness, to keep the viewers laughing.

We don't have a TV here, but I understand that movies of all these classic stories are being aired on Sunday Nights these days. So if you have nothing else to do tomorrow evening, or if you just need some down time, make yourself a cup of hot chocolate and curl up with a Bonnet Movie.

Fun Children's Book

I stumbled upon this book at the library. I guess not literally stumbled, but it was an especially nice surprise to see a book on display while checking out, toss it in our pile, and later enjoy it so thoroughly. The book of which I speak is called The Mysterious Benedict Society, by first time author, Trenton Lee Stewart. The author also has a fun web page for kids and adults alike with an interview and games and other fun stuff.

The story revolves around four gifted children, who answer an ad in the newspaper and must pass a series of tests to be chosen for a secret mission. The tests are allegedly portrayed so that a reader might be able to test themselves as they read along. I did not have any luck with that part; I think one must think like a child or something. Although my 13 year old son shared some of my sentiments regarding the tests. We both felt that not enough information was given for several of them to work.

But regardless of that, the story is exciting, the characters are very colorful and endearing, and there are many twists and turns in the plot. I didn't have it all figured out at any point; and unlike some cliffhanger plots, when looking back later, this story line holds together.

Even after reading the entire thing, a reader turns the page and finds one last mystery yet unsolved. I think the author included information within the story line to be able to solve the final question, but neither Matt not I had any success with it. Jeremy, if you are reading this, you should try to get your hands on this book. You might have the kind of brain for the final puzzle. But no cheating and reading the last page first, anyone.

There was a point at which I became suspicious about the direction the author was taking the readers. A part of the plot involves a bad guy taking over the hearts and minds of humanity through secret messages being kind of beamed into everyone's brains. I thought perhaps the tone of the story would get preachy or too philosophical for how it had started. But really that aspect of the story was just a part of the adventure.

Another thing I liked about this book was the lessons the kids had to learn in order to succeed at their mission. They had to learn to work together to use everyone's strong points, trust each other, and have compassion for the weaknesses each of them struggled with in turn.

All in all the book told a lively tale of suspense and intrigue and at the same time was a beautiful story of childhood friendship.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Quiz time.

I know that my dear husband offered prizes for his quiz. I can't promise to do that. But if I think of something, I may just send it to any winner. I have a feeling that I may be able to predict the winner. Not because I know all my readers that well. Just because I really have pretty much just a few of you. And I can name two or three who would get this right away, but only one who I can be pretty sure would read this in a timely manner.

So here goes. In what popular movie does this quote appear?
I believe it is of great doctrinal import, sir.
This is one of my favorite quotes from the above mentioned movie. I say quotes, for there are many, and all equally fine.

Aaahhh! New Keyboard!

I haven't been posting lately mostly because of my keyboard. I know, it sounds like a lame excuse, but really, my keyboard was driving me nuts. I can't say too much, of course, because my dear husband is the IT specialist around here and he really was doing his best.

Joe is the pastor of four churches and during Lent things get kind of wild for him. My keyboard suddenly stopped working about the the same time as Ash Wednesday rolled around. He picked up what they had a Wal-mart. This particular computer that we currently have only uses some sort of special attachment for the keyboard. Now this shows how much I don't know. I think he called it a universal connection.

But anyway, we probably have 10 keyboards in our basement on the storage shelves. But, alas, none of them work with this computer. So he want into Wal-mart and found this funky new-fangled thing that doesn't use cords to hook up to the computer. It has a receiver type thing that hooks up, but then the mouse and the keyboard are cordless and transmit signals to the little doohickey that is attached to the computer. I guess the idea is to eliminate one of the cords.

But what a worthless piece of technology. At first we just assumed that it was having some sort of trouble working with our computer since, of course, we use linux. Another geek thing. Basically means that in order to use anything that comes ready to use, Joe, in fact, needs to have time to do all kinds of research to get the linux tweeks to make it work. In defense of linux, it is a much more secure OS and compared to our one Window machine, our multiple linux machines hardly ever crash. I guess that means something, too.

Monday Joe got sick of the keyboard, too. Really, I think he had been sick of it, just had no time to figure it out. But for whatever reason, he finally had the time to get the linux "cheats" for this particular keyboard/ mouse/ receiver combo. Even so, the thing still didn't work. It's like the keys only sporadically connect with what they are supposed to connect with.

But, to make a long story short (oops, too late) we got a new keyboard in town yesterday. Yeah! Now I can type without correcting every other word for spelling errors when it really was just the dumb keyboard. It either skipped letters all together or periodically would spontaneously add six of a given letter. Then add to that the shift key that only worked occasionally. "Caps locked" worked, so at least at the beginning of a sentence I could get caps if I remembered to use "caps lock" instead of shift. aND THEN i HAD TO REMEMBER TO TURN IT OFF AGAIN. But the things like parenteses and the @ symbol in e-mail addresses were totally inaccessible.

Oh, I guess it's a long story again. Sorry. But hopefully I will have time to sit down and write all the wonderful, spell-binding things I've been thinking about. I know you can't wait.


Anyone there?

Hello? hello?

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Why Do We Learn?

Did you ever stop to wonder why you learn things. As an adult, what things trigger your interest. What motivates continuing education.

As a child and young person I think I learned by some fluke of our educational system. In spite of myself, I learned.

I went to a Christian day school, Faith Lutheran in Tacoma, WA, for grades 1-8. I would describe it as a well-rounded, back-to-basics education. A good, solid foundation. Perhaps similar to what is currently being marketed as classical education.

I was likewise privileged to attend two quality Lutheran high schools, Evergreen Lutheran, formerly in Dupont, WA, [currently in Kent, WA, I think] for one year; and the now defunct, Martin Luther Prep School in Prairie du Chien, WI, for the three remaining years. Both of these schools offered those who chose to learn a good solid college prep curriculum.

Did I make good use of these opportunities? Probably not. I liked school when it was easy. I pretty much pulled As and Bs without trying, so why try harder, right? I liked to be smart and look smart, but again, only when it did not involve much work.

But in spite of my bad attitude, I still learned much of the stuff I was supposed to learn.

When I got to college, I really wanted to learn. Well, I guess to be honest, I should say, " After my first year, I really wanted to learn." My first year I was heavily into social life.

Then I took a year off and worked for a living. Mostly I wanted to get WI residency so I could qualify for instate tuition. But by the time that year passed, I really wanted to learn. In fact, I wanted to learn perfectly. So I started on a cycle of study hard and intensely and even read all the source material given in footnotes, etc. and then burn out half way through any given semester. Only to restart and do the same thing in the next semester's courses.

I quit college after three years. I got married at that time. But that was not primarily why I quit. I could see my poor learning habits. I saw that I was wasting money by my "race and then crash" mentality.

I also figured that since I had the strong foundation of knowing how to learn, I didn't need college classes. I could check out books from the library, often the same books assigned for any given class, and read them on my own. I could do it on my own time, according to my own energy level, and not have to pay money.

Often I found myself at odds with the professors or TAs of the various classes. If quit school, and got the books from the library, I could read and analyze the information presented in the readings on my own time, in my own way, at my leisure.

I have a friend, Lisa, who has been tossing around the idea of returning to school to get her PhD. I commented on how, although I love to learn, I also think I would still not be a good student.

We got to talking about why that is. Lisa mentioned that since she had a particular career goal in mind, that was her motivation to do well in a school setting. In this case, "jumping through the hoops" can help a person learn.

So that got us analyzing why I learn. I can give one reason that I like to learn. It is not very noble. I want to be smart. I just plain and simple like to know things. I guess it is vanity. So I can't call that a good reason to pursue knowledge.

But I think I can "fabricate" a valid reason that I seek knowledge. I don't mean fabricate as in make up from nothing. I guess I mean that although it may not be a primary, gut level, human vanity kind of goal, I can still, from my own value system, come up with this reason for learning. I can rationalize a value in learning that is more noble than my own vanity. I am a homemaker, a wife, mother, home school mom...Under the mother and home school mom vocations, I can make a claim. Here goes. This is my best shot at legitimacy.
God has blessed America with a stable constitutional government. The particular form of government our constitution grants us is that of a representative democracy. We have the privilege to vote for those who will represent us in government.

In order to best maintain our form of government, a voter must have a certain amount of knowledge. This would include a foundation in Western thought; a cultural awareness of Western thought within world history; historical knowledge of how human decisions have effected world events; and a reasonable awareness of current events.

If any one of these is absent or weak in the education of our voters, the system will become less stable. We will start to see some of the freedoms that we hold dear disappearing. Conceivably, if the education of the electorate is weak enough the system could fail entirely.

Now, I can't solve the world's problems, America's problems, or even Oklee, MN's problems. But I have been given, by God, the job of raising my kids. He has also led us to home school those children. The more I learn and keep myself sharp, the more I can share with my kids the tools necessary for good citizenship in the temporal world.
My meaning here is not to idolize the temporal world or American traditions. Certainly, our eternal souls and therefore religious eduction is on a different plane. And equally important is the knowledge that God has in His hand world events. As the Psalmist says in Ps. 46,
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two;
He burns the chariot in the fire.
All our learning will be meaningless if God decides it is time for the America we know to fade away.

I would be interested in hearing the reasons you continue to pursue knowledge.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Isabel Dalhousie on Texans and their Guns

Isabel Dalhousie is a philosophical sleuth. She is the creation of Alexander McCall Smith; who also created Precious Ramotswe, of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Series. I have read the three Isabel Dalhousie books, and really enjoyed them.

I tried to get into the Ladies' Detective Agency stories, with no success. Perhaps I should give it another try; they seem to be very popular. But there is no shortage of books in the world that I really enjoy. Sometimes I try to challenge myself to read things with less interest to me, but I always have a good long list of those waiting for me, so it could be that I will never get to Precious Ramotswe.

Returning to Isabel Dalhousie, she is a Scottish lady, independently wealthy. By education she is a philosopher, by profession she edits The Review of Applied Ethics journal. These books are interesting to me because Ms Dalhousie enjoys Scottish poetry, orchestra music and art. I always come away from one of these books feeling like I have learned something and there is always something in the books I end up doing a little further research on. (Isn't that a great thing about the internet? Everything from William McTaggart to Arthur Waley at your fingertips.)

The other interesting thing about these books is that as McCall Smith walks you through the storyline, Ms Dalhousie is always thinking. Any given situation may trigger an episode of philosophical musing on her part. So the reader is constantly called upon to examine his or her own stand on any number of ethical situation. Makes for some good practice at applying ones' belief system to everyday situations.

Not all of Ms Dalhousie's musings take much work to think through however. In the following paragraph, from the third book in the series, The Right Attitude to Rain, she overhears a conversation in which a woman from Texas is telling about a woman murdering someone.
Why, Isabel wondered, had she shot him? And who was she? Women shot abusive husbands, in desperation, or husbands who went off with other women, in fury. It seemed unlikely, but she was talking about Texas, where guns, shamefully, were part of the culture. And that was an absurdity, she thought, and such a blot on American society, this little-boy fascination with guns and toughness. Something had gone so badly wrong. (p. 118)
I thought this stereotype of America and specifically Texas was pretty funny. I'm curious to know whether this is McCall Smith's opinion or only the opinion of his character, Isabel Dalhousie.