Friday, December 18, 2009

I Don't Mean to be a Scrooge, but

Let me start with a disclaimer. I love Christmas. I love presents. I love food. I love sparkly twinkling lights. But there are many things about the modern American observance of Christmas that drive me crazy.

Today my newspaper had an article about some families in the area who had decked out their houses with so many lights it looked like a scene from that movie with Mathew Broderick and Danny DeVito, Deck the Halls. Seriously. Now, the article was a nice one that encouraged people to drive around a view all these lovely lights. When I read it, not only was I aghast at the sheer gaudiness of it all, I was astounded at how ridiculous these homes looked with so many lights. And here's what bothered me: gas is $2.69 a gallon last time I filled up, not to mention it pollutes like the dickens. And the author of the article wants us to go drive around to see these lights? Second, think of all the electricity, money, and time spent on these displays. How much good could these families have done if they had put all that energy, money, and time into helping their fellow human beings? To their credit, one family asked everyone who came to their home to see the lights to make a charitable donation. Good for them.

The other day, Melissa and I were at Target. I've made it quite clear that I hate shopping, right? But I went with her, because I was in a rare shopping mood. But I have to say, everything at Target just reeked with sameness. Homogeneity. Plastic trash. I just was not inspired by anything there. It was all so...I don't know...useless. I confess that when I shop I prefer local businesses, but Target is one of my preferred chain stores in general. Yet, that day, I was struck with visual images of 25 dresses all exactly the same lined up on a rack. I had a very hard time feeling the joy.

My husband's Christmas party was last night. At times, depending on who plans the party, they can have a rollicking good time. One year they had a swing band and we stayed and danced until we closed down the party. In the early years, we had entertainment, like a high school choir or a short Christmas play. I liked that. Partly because I hate going to parties where I know very few people and I am expected to sit and chat with them like they're my long lost cousins, especially when the noise level is approximately the same as the runway when F-15s take off. But not this year. This year, we had a nice, but boring, meal at an exclusive club. That's it. A meal. No entertainment. No music. Not even a cheesy gift or the tiny bit of happy anticipation that you might win the centerpiece at your table. Okay, I realize we're in a recession and that the firm needs to keep expenses to a minimum. I"m all for that. I'd rather have a fun party with no dinner than an awkward dinner with people I don't even know.

Now, the party we had after the Christmas at the Cathedral, that was fun. Of course, I knew all the people, so that helped.

I guess my point is that I would rather have Christmas be less gaudy, less strained conversation with strangers, and less commercial crap. I have tried to fill my time with family, friends, and an occasional foray into the shops. I want to bake cookies, drink tea, and hope for snow. I want to sing Silent Night in the candlelight on Christmas Eve.

I hate to sound like a Scrooge, but maybe I am. Or maybe I have it figured out and the rest of the country just needs to catch up. I'm not saying those families don't enjoy hanging all those lights and stuff. I'm not saying buying one of those 25 same dresses at Target is wrong. Or that the person who planned the Christmas party is an idiot. I'm just saying, it's not me.

I hope whatever makes you happy this Christmas, you get to do it.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Christmas Stress?

So I'm sitting in my Weight Watchers meeting yesterday (yay me!) and we're talking about how to handle the holiday stress. I have to honestly say that I am finally at a place where I do not have major stress over the holidays anymore. Part of why this is so is what I want to share today.

Years ago, when the kids were younguns, I wanted things to be so perfect. I decorated the whole house, I made handmade advent countdown chains out of construction paper, bought presents for the less fortunate, I wrote my witty and heartfelt Christmas letter to one and all, blah, blah, blah. As I learned how to take care of myself, love myself, do what nourishes me instead of what I feel I need to do for the good opinion of everyone else, I learned to let go of my perfectionism. (Some say I may have let go too far, since now I am about as un-perfect as one can be, but that's their problem.)

Here are some things I did to make the holidays fun again.

First, I axed the Christmas letter. I still do it, just at some other time of year, whenever the mood hits me to reach out to people I never see anymore and still want them to know I'm alive. This not only saves stress, it saves money. I don't have to buy Christmas cards anymore. I just send a nice long letter in the middle of, say, spring break, and everyone is happy. They don't expect a card.

Second, I quit getting the tree up early. We now put up our Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, just like they used to in the "old country"--assuming we have any ancestors from the old country. Nevertheless, we don't have this large tree taking up half our living room using up electricity for the lights. It makes the moment more special, too, because all the presents aren't piling up for a month. It takes the focus off the presents, I think. A definite bonus.

Third, this year, I have yet to put up any Christmas decorations. At the risk of sounding like a Scrooge, I really don't feel like taking the time to put up a bunch of nick knacks that collect dust and then I just have to take them down again in a few weeks. I will eventually put up a few. Maybe this week. Maybe next. If the mood strikes. One of the kids, probably Peter, will likely decide it's time to get out some decorations and will go ahead and do it, if I wait long enough. (Which helps prove Melissa's theory that if you ignore something long enough, it will go away.)

Fourth, I refuse to go to the mall. I really hate shopping during "normal" times. I abhor it during Christmas. This is due most likely to the fact that I generally don't like people, especially in large quantities. I might do some shopping, in secret, on a Friday night, but definitely not at the mall. I still give presents. How they come to be in my house is a bit of a mystery to me, because the end up here without a lot of stress on my part. I do have to confess to using the internet a lot.

Fifth, due to the fact that I generally don't like people, I am not invited to many parties. In fact, we go to David's firm's party, and that's about it. I'm not begging for invitations, mind you, so don't invite me. I don't like people. Last year we did invite some friends over after Christmas, and that was a lot of fun. I will try to do that again this year. I really do like people, after all, only the ones I already know and like. Not a bunch of strangers all crowding around me.

Sixth, not having a job and being generally lazy in all ways, I have a lot of time on my hands, which lessens the stress considerably. I can practice my flute for the many musical gigs that happen during Christmas--which is my favorite part of the holidays really. I can watch the snow fall and sip my tea. I can cuddle with the dogs. It's a luxury, for sure. Doesn't help with the financial end of the holiday, but that's why I like the fact that we de-emphasize the presents. This year, I'm putting out a jar in which my family can write their "wishes" down, wishes for things they'd like others to do for them. Then we will draw them out and do them for each other. I hope it works. If not, I won't stress about it, because I'm just that lazy. It's an idea.

To sum up, I basically think that the reason my stress at holiday time is so much lower than most everyone else is that I pretty much continue about my ordinary life and celebrate the actual day without getting sucked into the insanity of months of preparation. I like it simple. I wish all of you a wonderful, blessed, warm and cozy, and totally imperfect holiday season.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Weight Watchers

I have spent the last 13 years coming to terms with being a "large" woman. I don't mind saying "fat," but other people seem to have a problem with that word. But it is what it is. After I had my lovely son, Peter, I felt so strong and capable (he weighed 10 lbs, 10 oz. at birth!--that is NOT a typo)that I wanted to keep feeling that way. I didn't want to put myself down for my size. I wanted to just love myself the way I was.

That's all nice and well, but then I got really sick and my health took a nose dive for several years. I was diagnosed with kidney stones, adrenal fatigue, clinical depression, hypothyroidism, and toxic heavy metals overload. I have spent years alternately working on and ignoring these conditions. All the while, my weight has crept higher and higher.

Recently, lab results on some tests were alarming. I showed signs of what they call pre-diabetes. I am severely anemic--gee no wonder I'm tired all the time. And my own observations include things like plantar fasciatis and back problems. In short, I'm a mess.

So I decided to start by getting more active. I challenged David to see which of us could/would exercise the most. (He could stand to drop a few pounds.) I have walked, done yoga, and used lots of garden work and housework to bolster my activity level.

Then a couple of months ago, I noticed an announcement in the church bulletin that they are having Weight Watchers meetings at church. I have been on Weight Watchers twice before, maybe even three times. It is the only program that has worked for me in terms of long-term, sustainable weight loss. Seeing this notice put a bug in my ear, and I finally decided there is no time like the present and it couldn't get any more convenient for me (unless they would hold the meeting at my house), so I went to my first meeting last week.

This is a huge step for me. And a scary one. While I want to acknowledge my own strengths and perseverance, I also have to admit that I bear the responsibility for this body. I want to feel good about myself, and to do that, I want to be a healthy weight where I won't have chronic health problems and have to ask for seat belt extenders on airplanes. I am pleased so far that it is not so hard to remember some of the habits and rules. I am wondering how Thanksgiving will go, but don't we all?

There is a long road ahead of me. I have to lose a LOT of weight to reach what was once my "goal" weight in WW. I may decide I don't have to get that far. I may decide a lesser goal is better. I don't know. Because I have so far to go, it will be a long, long while before I even get within 50 pounds of my weight goal. All I know is, like everything else in life, this will be a journey and one that I will take day by day.

I don't want to harp on WW in particular, but I like the way their plan has modified since I last attended meetings. So far, it is easy to follow. If anyone one wants to be a weight loss buddy with me, welcome. We can all use all the support we can get.

I know from my life experience that I am strong stubborn person who does not easily give up once I've made a choice. And since I still don't have a full-time job, now is the perfect time to spend this "free" time on myself, getting myself more fit and healthy so that when I do get a job my stamina to handle the daily grind will be super and I'll have energy to devote to all the things I love.

Hope you have a great Thanksgiving.


Monday, November 9, 2009

Cell Phones, Blackberries to be Precise

My dear husband recently joined the ranks of the Blackberry toting professional class. I was dreading this moment. I have a brother--you know who you are--whose obnoxiousness (and I say that in the most loving, sisterly way)is compounded by his Blackberry use. He can google anything at the speed of light, and while that is convenient, it plays in to his need to always be right. (Really, I do love him. Like a brother.) I have a friend/former boss who uses his Blackberry to be everywhere at once, and while it does make him easy to contact when you need to, it also makes talking to him in person most annoying.

Now, dear husband has been known to be annoying in many ways. But I still love him, luckily for him. Yet, up until now, cell phone mania has not been included in the list of things that he does to bother me. The list includes squirming around in bed before falling asleep, snoring on occasion, never being on time for anything, procrastinating, watching way to much televised sports, and so on. (Don't get me wrong. Dear husband is one heck of a guy. See my FB post today for evidence.) But I had remained blissfully free from annoyance of the Blackberry variety in my own home.

Until a few weeks ago. While he's had it for a couple of months, his obsession became most apparent to me when we were traveling together. The damn thing vibrates every time he receives an email message--on average, about once every three seconds. Why he feels compelled to take it off its cute little hip holster at every vibration is a mystery to me: he claims it's because it might be important. I suppose that might be true. After all, in one day, he was notified by REI that the sleeping pad he wanted was now on sale as well as a personal message from the President asking for support of the day's cause.

Okay, you say, why is it so annoying? Everyone does it. Exactly. Two things. First, I hate doing anything because everyone else is doing it. I will go to great lengths to avoid doing something the way everyone else does. I got married on a Wednesday, for crying out loud. Second, I know you have been in this position: you're trying to have a nice, real person-to-person conversation with someone while he/she continually checks his/her Blackberry for baseball scores, market trends, emails, and the like. The "It might be important" excuse wears very thin when I am the one on the receiving end. Am I NOT important? That seems to be what these actions imply. Or at least that I'm not AS important as today's You Tube joke. And when it's my spouse, the love of my life, the person who always has my undivided attention--unless of course he's talking sports, or mechanics, or law, or topographical maps--then it gets downright offensive. Bad enough when your brother or friend is doing it to you, but dear husband?

So come on, already. When you are talking to me, with me, or even in the same room with me and your Blackberry buzzes, think very carefully about unholstering it in my presence. I may not be able to maintain the calmness necessary to be held accountable for my actions. 'Nuf said.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

i don't know why i do these things

so today i had to get up early. on a saturday. me. not fun at all. mom had to practically force me out of bed. and of course my alarm didn't work. And why did i have to get up early you ask? to go take the sat subject tests, for absolutely no reason at all. NONE! none of the colleges i'm applying to require them or even mention them in their applications. But there i was at 8 in the morning being told to make sure to erase completely.

this wouldn't have been so bad, but the test was at Borah. no one likes Borah. i mean no one. And to boot, no, you can't go sit in the classroom before the test, you have to go sit in the cafeteria on the other side of the school until we tell you it's okay. Oh and in case you haven't been told enough times by now, don't bring your cell phone!

so after half an hour after the time we were supposed to start, we finally are all in the classroom. and what do you know, we get obnoxious kid. You. aren't. funny. get over it.

then the grueling test begins. math for starters. easy, but not when you can't remember how to do something and go about it the long way. And after that. oh! you get a five minute break! hope you don't have to go to the bathroom because if you're not back when my special little timer goes off your scores will be cancelled. Then comes...physics. ah, right at home. I was ready to dive into some simple kinematics problems and be done with time to spare. well, it wasn't all kinematics. it was also light, and electricity, and thermo. i learned thermo a year ago. i remember none of it. and as for the other stuff, i'm not entirely convinced i learned it in the first place.

so now it's over. i can go home and sleep. or other such nonsense. Oh, but wait! guy from physics you've never even spoken to before needs a ride! I'm always so surprised when people from school actually know who i am.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Christmas Mania

I opened my newspaper Monday morning to see an article about how to survive the holiday crush and stress. Eeek. This makes me really mad. We've been enjoying our holidays for years without stress and angst. Let me tell you a secret. You don't have to act like a typical American, buying everything in sight. Your children will still love you if you don't give them the latest electronic device, toy, or trip to Hawaii. Your friends will still be your friends even if you don't send out Christmas cards.

Here's our strategy for really loving our holidays.

First, we celebrate the holiday that is here now. We don't worry about Christmas when Halloween just ended. We think about Thanksgiving in November. It's one of our favorite family holidays. I suspect this has something to do with the fact that it is relatively non-commercialized. We make a big dinner and sit around with our loved ones chatting and playing games. Wow. Profound, huh? We have a great time.

Second, we don't go to every Christmas party we're invited to. Maybe one or two. Low key. Show up, eat, drink, be merry. Go home before midnight. Having fun, but not overindulging.

Third, I stopped sending out Christmas cards years ago. I do send out an annual update about our family and our lives. I do this when the mood strikes. Sometimes it's my birthday, sometimes Easter, sometimes Groundhogs Day. It depends. I like it this way. I do it when I want, and my friends get mail in the middle of the year. Radical.

Fourth, we decided years ago to put up our Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, not before. I never realized how much stress it created for me having a tree inside the house all month. We live in a pretty small house, and a tree takes up a lot of room. Now, part of our lovely Christmas Eve is putting up our tree and decorating it. It makes for a very festive Christmas Eve. And we take it down at Epiphany. Perfect. 12 days.

Fifth, we try not to be extravagant about gifts. If one person gets something really big and special, that doesn't mean everyone does. We try to give things we know that person will just love. I hate receiving gifts that are obviously something the person just bought the day before because they were desperate and needed something. I'd rather get nothing. Yes, you heard me. Nothing. I like homemade gifts. Books. Etc.

I truly think why we enjoy our holidays so much and so simply is that we observe them in due time. We don't ignore the joy of after-Thanksgiving glow by shopping our brains out on Black Friday. We are still thanks-giving. We don't spend all of December in a frantic rush of purchasing an entire city block of stuff. We like music, and movies, and simple things, and that's what we do.

I could go on and on about America's obsession with buy, buy, buy. It's sickening. So take the first step. DO NOT SHOP on Black Friday. Don't. Do. It. See how freeing it is to snub the corporate retail establishment. What fun. If you want, come over to my house for some hot cider and pumpkin pie instead. We'll probably have a rousing game of Apples to Apples going.


Friday, October 30, 2009

I Like Books Too

Okay, since everybody else is talking about books, I suppose I will as well.

I'm weird about books. I will pick up and take home almost anything from the library. But the chances of me actually reading and finishing a book I pick up are probably about 1 in 25. If I can't get into it right from page one, I'm not going to bother. Now, this doesn't mean that there has to be riviting suspense and action right from the first page. I'm okay if we get a chapter or two of normal life before the story really starts. I just mean that the voice, the character(s), the opening scene, something has to get my attention and keep it.

I like my books to be straightforward. I like to know exactly what is going on right from the beginning. It's okay if there's mystery or things that aren't fully explained. But, and this is why I can't get into most fantasy, I'm not going to keep reading a book if there are fifty place names and other things I've never heard of on the first page.

Historical fiction is my favorite. Historical characters (who, by the way, hardly ever think the way actual historical people would have, which is okay) and their problems just seem more real to me. I don't like those books about teenagers who have huge problems. To me they always seem to be blowing little problems way out of proportion or else creating their own problems with their rebellious attitudes. Somehow, I just always connected more with the stereotypical Medieval/Renaissance girl trying to escape an arranged marriage.

I like books to have a happy ending. It's okay if characters don't get exactly what they want. It's even okay if characters die. It's okay if not everything gets resolved (I don't know what kind of author would tie up every loose end and leave readers with nothing to wonder about, anyway). But there needs to be hope. There needs to be the potential for the characters to go on to live happy lives. And there needs to be the option for a sequal.

Anyway, that's my book spiel. I could write more, but I have to get to reading my sociology textbook, which I'm pretty sure is just about the dumbest book ever written. But first, I'm apparantly supposed to list seven things you might not know about me.

1. Sometimes, I actually miss high school.
2. My new obsession is Medieval Latin poetry.
3. I am really scared of stairs, especially winding, multi-level staircases.
4. I am so incredibly happy that I'm not a teenager anymore.
5. I've seen every episode of NCIS that's ever been made.
6. I've been in choir since I was four, and played handbells since I was eight.
7. One of my dreams is to go to London and see a play at the Globe.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

in emily's world of writing

so, today i broke the 200 page mark on the story i'm working on. Now to explain what this means. When i count a page i count one as a sheet of paper. this is so it will more likely match up with the pages when i type it. So 200 pages is 200 front and back. I'm very proud of this. i've written 20 pages more than i thought i would when i first started, and i'm no where near done. This is extremely exciting because usually the books i write tend to be shorter then i expected, not longer. take what you want from that.

in other news, walter moers is a god. if you don't know who that is, Shame on you! go find out right now. Him and shannon hale are my favorite authors ever. EVER. I just finished his book called The Alchemaster's Apprentice last night. Let me give you brief introduction into this story. The main character is named Echo. Echo is a crat. a crat is a talking cat with two livers. But that's not all. Echo's best friend is a cyclopian owl named theodore T. theodore. Theodore has speech dyslexia. ex. instead of saying "i hope so" theodore will say "i sope ho."

Now take into consideration that this is a pretty mild (if not terrifying) book for walter moers. the first book by him i read was called the 13 1/2 lives of Captain BLuebear. In as few words as possible this is what it's about: bluebear, minipirates, talking waves, hobgoblins, islands that eat you, blind pterodactyls, a guy with seven brains, and emo unicorn, a jelly prince from the 364th dimension, giant spiders, deserts made of suger, muggs who eat nothing but muggrooms, a tornado filled with old men, a quite literal ghost town, a giant head, atlantis, aliens, extreme storytelling contests, and thinking elements. and probably a few things i haven't mentioned.

i would love to spend a day with walter moers's mind.

now then, i'm supposed to say 7 things people don't know about me?
1) my hair has been every color of the rainbow except green.
2) i'm in love with ron weasley
3) i have a collection of over a thousand marbles
4)secretly i wish more stories had sad endings (in the world walter moers created, Zamonia, all stories are tragedies)
5)my worst injury was a small cut on my forehead that needed three stitches
6)for some reason i keep skipping things. i skipped 8th grade, i skipped french 2...
7)i once went to turkey for 5 hours and bought a turkish rug

that's it for now!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Books and Stuff

Okay, I hate to admit this in public, but I have recently read two Meg Cabot books. I've long avoided reading Ms. Cabot out of principle. But one of my critique group members, Sarah, suggested I look into her books, because her humor was similar to what I'm going for in one of mine. So I reluctantly asked Melissa to check me out some Meg Cabot next time she was at the library. (Melissa goes to the library often--it's her third home, after home and church.)

So--I know you're dying to hear what I think of Meg Cabot. They're not bad books. They have some good qualities, and I can see why they appeal to a certain reader. (Obviously, Meg is making a TON more money at this writing thing than I am, so who am I to judge?) They are easy to read, full of action, and have some interesting characters. On the down side, they are somewhat formulaic, predictable, and too full of Prada, Gucci, etc. But hey, the great Fred Astaire made TONS of money making formulaic, predictable movies: boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back.

The one I just read was part of the Mediator series, and is so appropriate for this week of Halloween. The main character is a mediator--that is, a person who is contacted by the dead who have not completely passed over for one reason or another. It has suspense, intrigue, murder mystery qualities to it. I liked that. But it does seem that every Meg Cabot book has the main character lusting after the cute, popular guy. I know not every girl in the world is after the cutest guy in school--cute is in the eye of the beholder.

So, I doubt I'll read all her books, but for quick airplane reads or anytime you want to read without really thinking, by all means, these are great books for that.

Another book I read this week is Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. I got it in Chicago on the recommendation of our tour guide. It's chock full of really interesting Chicago history, surrounding the 1893 Colombian Exposition. It's an oddly told book, with lots and lots of redundant parts. Part of the book recounts the difficulties and victories of the main folks working on the Exposition. The other part of the book ties in the serial killer HH Holmes--who really had nothing to do with the Exposition, just that he was in Chicago at the same time. So telling the two stories together is a little odd--they really have virtually nothing in common. Reading the book feels like reading two different stories. The writing is sometimes compelling and delightful, but other times it is bogged down in its own importance. Still, I'm glad I read it.

Okay, now on to some fun for all: My friend Amy ( our blog an award! Yippee. We're supposed to list 7 things you don't know about me/us, so here goes: These apply to Neysa only. The other girls will have to post their own.

1. My hair is entirely gray, I color it so I don't feel like Barbara Bush. I'm old, but not that old.
2. I used to be big into running, miles and miles every day.
3. I was high school valedictorian--along with three others.
4. I just wrote lyrics to a song commissioned for the Idaho Capitol renovation celebration in January, 2010.
5. I have never broken any bones.
6. If I could have any gift for one week, it would be the services of a handyman to fix everything in our decrepit house.
7. I've known my husband since I was 7 years old.

I'm also supposed to nominate 7 other blogs for the Creative Blog award, but Amy pretty much got all the ones I read. Oh well.

Happy Halloween,


Thursday, October 22, 2009

this is my college essay, tell me what you think

I want to be an astronaut, but I have no idea why. I read a book over the summer called Riding Rockets, the autobiography of astronaut Mike Mullane. In his astronaut interview he was asked “Why do you want to be an astronaut?” In the months since, I’ve thought a lot about how I would answer that. This is where the “no idea” part comes in.
When I was six years old, maybe even younger, my family went camping out in Bruneau Sand Dunes. They have a planetarium there and a telescope, the largest one in all of Idaho. I don’t remember much from the trip, but I do remember the planetarium, stars and a woman with a laser pointer connecting the stars. Most vividly I remember walking outside afterward, looking up at the sky, and finding the big dipper for the first time in my life.
Jump ahead seven years to May, 2006. I hadn’t thought about the stars the entire seven years. I came to school that day expecting it to be like any other day. I found myself sitting in eighth grade earth science preparing to watch another of Mr. Hunike’s infamous disaster documentaries. I was in for a surprise.
The screen lit up. “The future of space flight.” I was in heaven, my overactive imagination pulled along with the movie. Plasma jets taking us to Mars, solar sails propelling us almost at the speed of light. I found myself agreeing with everything the documentary said. Yes, yes. We NEED to do this. Yes, yes, spend the money. Nothing could have made me happier. I went home that day thinking nothing in me had changed. The video in Hunike’s class inspired me to write a story, nothing more nothing less. My parents bought me my first telescope the following Christmas.
It was the middle of the winter, but I was determined to use it. I asked my mom to hike up the hill near our house to where the skies were clear of trees. I set up the telescope in the dark and pointed it at the constellation of Orion. I looked and looked, and then…
“I found the Orion nebula, found the Orion nebula,” I sang in a catchy tune of my own inventing. It was a triumphant night in the land of Emily.
I’m not sure when it transformed from a love of astronomy to wanting to be an astronaut. But that goal now dominates my life. If most astronauts know how to fly, I’ll learn how to fly. If there are lots of Russian cosmonauts, I’ll take Russian. You say astronauts would build rockets in their back yard? Then I’ll build rockets in my back yard. If it gets me half an inch closer to space, I’ll do it. I am going to be an astronaut. The only question worth asking is how?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Private Vs. Public Schools

Okay, so yesterday I was at a talk at a local private school (which shall remain unnamed). My reasons for being at this talk are unimportant (job stuff). The thing that got to me was that as the speakers were talking up their school and how great it is, they fell into a common mode of bashing public school.

Now let me add a disclaimer here. I have been known to do my own fair share of public school bashing. Back when I was a homeschooling mom, my fellow homeschoolers and I often spent our conversations pointing out the pitfalls of public schools. I think it helped us feel we were doing the right thing for our kids. Like we had to justify it or something. Now that I have had nearly ten years of having kids in the public schools, I can see things more objectively. I think.

So back to yesterday. The main speaker spoke about how the students at their school had extremely high reading levels. MY kids have extremely high reading levels. She talked about the fact that several of their students became National Merit Scholars. My kid was a National Merit Scholar. They talked about how their school aligns math and reading groups. Wow, they do that in our elementary school too. Virtually everything they discussed sent my brain into a tailspin.

What I decided was that those particular kids would have extremely high reading levels, would have been National Merit Scholars, would have been grouped in like math and reading groups, etc. even if they didn't go to this fancy private school. I think--and I'm generalizing here, I realize--that the private school just happens to have a skewed percentage of high performing students, who would have achieved those things no matter where they were.

I think a lot of what counts in education today is not so much exactly the method of the school in teaching, but the attitude of parents and kids alike about learning. My children are all smart. I'm not saying that to brag, but to point out that they were smart before they went to school. My homeschooling mindset tells me that they would be smart even if they never went to school. If they explored the world in their own way in their own time, they'd be smart.

I'm trying to downplay the wonderfulness of this or any other private school. I just think that the school's belief that their students' successes are because of the school is ridiculous. The students, as the head of school pointed out, come to the school already fully formed in their personalities and humanness, and as such, the school does not fill up their minds with stuff, but helps the students realize themselves. Yay for them. But my kids have been able to realize themselves despite the burden of having gone to public school. So what would she say to that?

As an educator, I hope to avoid the thought process that says one way of approaching learning is the best way. There are many ways, and probably all have their own worth. I hope I will be able to engage my students, excite them about our subject, and make personal connections with them. I hope they will remember my class as a time when they were jazzed about a subject, and if not that, at least jazzed to come to class because I made it interesting. What they do with their lives, what successes they become--that's up to them. I feel the same about my own children. I hope I have given them the space to explore their own interests, the common sense to see what needs to be done, and the support to follow their passions. I don't take credit for anything more than standing back and giving them the green light.

Have a day full of learning--you don't have to pay $8,000 a year for it.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Advent Conspiracy

Okay, I'm not gonna go all religious on you, so don't worry. But this morning at church I heard about an organization called Advent Conspiracy. I am constantly moved to do more to help the world--not about politics or who's in charge, or who's ahead. Just helping. Just doing. Sometimes it's hard to feel that one person--little ol' me--can really do anything that will be of significant help. That's why I was intrigued by Advent Conspiracy. According to their figures, Americans spend $450 billion--that's right, not a typo, billion--on Christmas every year. If we each just didn't buy one gift and instead gave it to buy clean water for the world's neediest people, we could make a tremendous impact. Think of it. You don't need to buy every person in your acquaintance a gift, do you? I know that many of the gifts I receive from others outside my family are often not things I want anyway. I'm sure they probably feel the same about mine. Why not, instead, give the money away and let your friends know that you donated it in their name?

The other piece of this equation is giving more than material possessions. Giving your presence instead of presents. Making gifts or giving the gift of time. One year our family decided that we were going to make all our gifts. It was incredibly fun, creative, and meaningful. We had to really think. So often, don't you find yourself shopping for someone and thinking "I have no idea what to give to this person." Then we just end up buying something, even if it's not great, just so there's a gift under the tree. Why not just offer your time to that person, your presence? A book of coupons for say, a walk in the park, a neck massage, a home-cooked dinner, or a drink after work. Time.

There are numerous organizations in addition to Advent Conspiracy. Heifer International is a great one. They've been around for years. Alternative Gifts International has a wide variety of good causes. You can customize the donation you make to fit the person you're giving for--my sister-in-law, Erica, has done this for years in honor of our family members. She knows I'm into children's and women's causes, so in my name she donates to causes that benefit women and children around the globe. I'm honored by it. You probably are aware of others, maybe mission work through your church, maybe peace organizations. Anything can have an effect.

And while I'm on the subject, let's not forget that day after Thanksgiving, on which the world seems to go nuts over Christmas shopping. Buy Nothing Day, sponsored by Adbusters, encourages us to not buy anything on that day. Protest the advertising craziness and stay home, or go for a walk, or eat more turkey. It's kind of freeing, actually. Our family has been known to go out to eat that day or go to a movie, but we definitely don't go shopping. I'm not big into the hype anyway--I like to celebrate one holiday at a time, thank you very much. (I haven't even put out Halloween decorations yet, for crying out loud.) I don't usually like shopping on a good day, and I certainly don't want to be at the mall with all the maniacs on the day after Thanksgiving. Yikes.

For other gift ideas, you can see my article in the November issue of Treasure Valley Family Magazine about giving gifts of the arts.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

if you pass out, see a doctor

So i'm currently in the process of doing health online. This is not a fun thing and i find the fact that the class is required ridiculous. But here i am. I'm on the "disease prevention" chapter, which really should be called the "disease" chapter. There have been two sentences about preventing illness and 50 pages on what different illnesses are. (all of them increasingly gross). With each disease there are two things that are at least somewhat entertaining. The first is the list of symptoms for the disease with the warning "if you have any of these symptoms see a doctor." For every single disease, i kid you not, are these two very important symptoms. 1: fatigue. So, if you're tired at all you must be sick. Well better get down to the doctor. 2: lose of consciousness. Oh yeah, when i'm unconscious the first thing i do is head down to the doctor.

Nurse: "so what are you here for?"

Patient: "well i seem to be unconscious."

That makes perfect sense.

The other thing that can be interesting is the list of risk factors (they like lists). One of the more common risk factors is age. But my favorite one was "males over 20." Just wonderful. When i read that i kind of laughed inside. (haha, you males). I love how diseases can be sexist and rascist and overall discriminatory.

All of this reminds me of those lawsuit commercials on TV now. They don't do this any more but when they first started showing up they'd say "if you have experienced these symptoms or death, call now." Well, i'll be sure to call them from the grave, just as soon as they get reception down here.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Okay, so I've been reading Barbara Kingsolver's very good book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It's so inspiring. She and her family basically decide to spend a year eating only food they can find within their county lines, including food they grow themselves. And they do it. It's a fascinating book, along the same lines as many other food books on the shelves these days, such as Plenty and Fast Food Nation. And some of the sweetness of the book is that, not only does the whole family get on board for this adventure, they heartily join in and cook together, can together, and really are of one mind throughout the year.

My own household, in contrast, has become a hodge-podge of different eating habits, so much so that I have all but given up trying to get us all in the same library, much less on the same page.

I've never been much of a gardener, which is my own fault. When I was growing up, my parents had a garden, but I never once joined them in tending it. I did, however, join my mother on many excursions to pick everything possible: chokecherries, gooseberries, raspberries, green beans, corn, cucumbers, strawberries, and possibly other things I have repressed. She made jams and pickles and canned everything that would fit in a jar. My memories of the early days of school each year are punctuated with the tart, harsh, even unpleasant scent of pickling. So I had the role model. In fact, as much as she could, my mother did what Barbara Kingsolver did, only 40 years before it was cool and you could publish a book about it. Dang.

As an adult, I've attempted to grow tomatoes, sometimes squash (I don't think we ever had any edible ones), berries of sorts, but never more than a handful at a time to eat. I have been a member of many CSAs (community supported agriculture) and have frequented farmers markets and bought local as much as my budget will allow. I would like to do more of this, but my family is not enthusiastic, for the most part. In fact, I haven't been a CSA member for years because unfortunately, due to my picky eaters in the house and my non-interest in canning, much of our produce went in the compost pile.

Melissa is somewhat on board with me. She is happy to go to the farmer's market, but really she's more interested in breads and fruits than she is in greens and veggies. She's a meat and potatoes gal all the way, and would happily eat local meat and potatoes to the ends of the earth, but is just as happy to eat whatever comes from the chain stores as well.

Then there's Emily. While she has nothing against locally grown items, she doesn't eat many of the things that grow here. She's not into red meat, although will eat chicken and eggs sometimes. She is not a vegetable lover, except for corn and carrots. Her staples run more the lines of tortellini and pizza.

Peter has always loved berries and fruits of most kinds, plus broccoli. I don't know why broccoli, but he loves it. Again, he doesn't care whether his food is local or not, but he likes enough of the processed crap that it sort of offsets anything local he does eat.

Dear husband David is the ever-frugal-budget master of the house, and his eye is on the bottom line. Thank goodness. Someone's has to be. But he is all for buying whatever is the very cheapest of the cheap, and if it lacks nutrients or uses fossil fuels, that's not on his radar screen. He's the main foe I face in my goal of eating more locally. Now, he's not against local on any particular grounds except that it's usually much more expensive.

So here are the things I HAVE been able to put in place with some success in this mayhem of food in our home. We have local milk and eggs delivered each week through Boise Milk (Reeds Dairy). I love it. The kids definitely notice a better taste to the milk. Another creamery we love is Cloverleaf Creamery. But they don't deliver. I like having milk delivered because we consume a lot of milk and I get tired of constantly going out to get more milk. I buy local meat when I can get away with it, but you see, I hate shopping, so often someone else is assigned to go to the grocery store--and they usually choose the cheapest place, which doesn't sell much local stuff. I have a strong code that if I am not willing to shop/cook/clean, I have no right to complain, so I don't.

I am amping up my own garden. This year we managed to produce some edible tomatoes. We planted strawberries, so next year we can hope those produce. I plan to plant more berries this fall to see how they do. Next year, we'll add another crop or two to our very small vegetable garden. (Space is limited, since the back yard is owned by the three dogs.) If I can just get some sort of paying job, I can afford more of the pricier local goods.

Short of that, I might just have to move next door to Barbara Kingsolver.

Happy eating. Neysa

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

See Spot Walk

The Jensengirls are walking this Saturday in the See Spot Walk, benefiting the Idaho Humane Society. This organization is a big part of our lives, which I'll tell you more about in a moment. First, though, we'd love it if you could donate too. To see our fundraising page, go to and you'll find the information. I believe you can just make a donation right on that page.

Let me tell you how the Idaho Humane Society has been important in our lives.

Our first family dog was Charlie. We decided when Emily was not quite a year old that we really needed a dog. When I say "we," of course, I mean me. David was not entirely enthusiastic about the idea, but he went along with it. During Thanksgiving vacation that year, we tromped out to the Humane Society. We thought we wanted some sort of retriever--they have a reputation of being friendly, easy-going dogs. And trust me, easy-going was a high priority. We saw a dog named Samson, who was a huge yellow lab. He was lovely, adorable, and (did I mention?) huge. We took him for a sample walk and he almost pulled us over. Sorry Samson. I have to walk two young children along with you, and I just couldn't fathom it working with a double stroller. Then we spotted Charlie. He was a golden retriever. Furry and happy and wanting to please. We bonded, then we took him home. He was about five years old, but like all golden retrievers, he thought he was a puppy. And he made himself right at home. Although Charlie had a severe phobia of thunderstorms and a penchant for eating the occasional book, we loved him with all our hearts. He was the perfect dog for young children. He was easy to care for, and when we went on vacation, he stayed with some friends who had a big shade tree in their back yard and had a great time. Emily would stand at the top of our basement stairs and holler "Char-ee" in her little toddler voice to call him upstairs in the mornings.

Eventually, we decided Charlie should have a friend. Why, I don't know. But we thought two dogs would be great. Kind of like when you decide to have another child--you often wonder what you were thinking, but you wouldn't undo it. So this time, we went back to the Humane Society. Emily had decided, again, why I don't know, that a beagle was a good idea. And, amazingly enough, we found a sweet little beagle puppy, six months old. We named her Katie. Like all beagles, she was stubborn and nose-oriented. Unfortunately, we had not had her long at all when Charlie got terribly ill. He had surgery and seemed to be recovering when he relapsed. In the end, we decided not to torture him with more surgeries and uncertain chances of getting well. We put him to sleep. It was a horrible thing to do, but the right thing to do. We cried and cried. Emily was the most devastated. She spent several years grieving.

But we still had Katie. She was a handful. But she was loving and sweet, too. We adored her, even if the neighbors did not appreciate her baying at the squirrels in the trees.

After a couple of years, we decided that we still needed a two-dog house, so back we went to the Humane Society. In the lobby was a volunteer petting a dog that looked like part golden retrieve and part something else. He was cute, but we wanted to look around. We looked at every single dog in the entire place, then went back and took that first one home. We named him Frodo. We decided he was Charlie reincarnated. He, like Charlie, made himself right at home. He too has a fear of thunderstorms, and he took to sleeping on Emily's bed. He and Katie made good companions. They loved going on walks together. It was a long, but not long enough, relationship. At six years old, Katie developed lymphoma in multiple organs, and died peacefully on her own at home. Again, we cried and cried. And poor Frodo did not know what to do. He seemed lost.

But I couldn't bear to replace my precious little Katie. I decided one dog was enough. Frodo was much loved and spoiled. And as he grew older, we were even able to plant a lawn in the back yard and hope it wouldn't be destroyed. But....the kids had other ideas. Two dogs was now the norm and they couldn't bear to see Frodo alone.

Back we went--you guessed it, to the Humane Society--where I announced that we were going to look for a small, adult, female dog. We came home with a male puppy of uncertain full-grown size. We called David from the Humane Society to tell him, and he was not too happy, but he came home with a possible list of names, so he couldn't have objected too much. We named this one Dodger. He's a very smart, but severely neurotic dog. He is easy to train, loves to cuddle, have his belly rubbed, play tug of war, and run around. We took him to the See Spot Walk the day after we adopted him, and he just had no idea what to do, so we ended up carrying him most of the time.

We felt complete, but fate has other ideas sometimes. One day Peter came home from school and told me a dog had followed him home. Right. I went to the front door and there sat this chocolate colored puppy. I let her in, and she went right to the food dish and started gobbling the food. I think it was sealed right then, but at the time I didn't realize it. We went around the neighborhood to see if she belonged to someone. We put ads on Craigslist. We took her to the Humane Society to check for an identification chip. After three weeks of ever-decreasing efforts to find her a home, we realized she had found one: ours. So we named her Ginger, and here she is.
So you see, because of the Humane Society, we have found most of our best friends. They do great work, they save animals' lives, and they care about the animals. Please help support them.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

School Zones and Old Folks and Red Lights, Oh My!

I hate driving. I absolutely hate it. I hate driving on quite streets on a nice day in a car with automatic transmission. Driving on busy streets on a 90 degree day in my persnickety old stick-shift makes me want to poke somebody’s eyes out.

I think it should be a law that everybody is required to drive 35 miles per hour on all streets at all times. Period. No exceptions. Ever. Inevitably I get stuck behind an old person or somebody poking along looking for an address or somebody who insists on breaking for every single speed bump or someone who thinks that because they are in residential neighborhood they should only go 20 mph even though the speed limit signs every couple of blocks or so clearly say 25 or somebody who just has no clue what they are doing or all of the above.

Then there are the school zones. There are two school zones on my way home. These are the kind where the speed limit drops to 20 when the flashing yellow lights are on. But one of these school zones is several blocks from the actual school and the light is still on until 4 p.m. even though school ends at 3:15 and even the kids who like to hang around on the playground after school have gone home by 4. I have never once seen a child in this school zone, at any time of day.

But what really gets me going is school zone number two. It’s for a private school that is, admittedly, on a rather busy corner. It would be impossible to drive faster than 20 anyway due to the procession of giant-SUV-driving mothers clogging up traffic. What bothers me about this school zone is the crossing guard. They have an adult crossing guard stationed at an intersection where—this is why it bothers me—there are lights, stop lights and “walk/don’t walk” lights. There are no left turn signals or anything that might be confusing. It’s a busy intersection, but not at terribly dangerous one (for anyone who lives in Boise, it’s 8th and Fort Streets). This crossing guard walks out into the intersection with her stop sign even though the light is red and the cars are already stopped. But here’s the real kicker. I was sitting at this intersection about a week ago and the crossing guard headed out into the intersection to cross two adult women who came from the other direction. No kids were crossing at the same time. These women didn’t have any kids with them. That really makes me angry. If they must have a crossing guard, she should be told to help cross kids only, not random pedestrians who just happen to walk by and are perfectly capable of crossing the street by themselves.

Why do crossing guards and school zones bother me? Well, to put it bluntly (and I’m sure there will be disagreement from any mothers who might be reading this) I think that if your kid is not old enough to cross the street by himself, he’s not old enough to be in school. But on a deeper level, it bothers me because I think it’s representative of the way childhood and adolescence are being continually extended, which I think is a serious problem. If elementary school children can’t be trusted to cross the street by themselves, then society is doing something very, very wrong. I have heard it said that people trust the kids, they don’t trust the drivers. But we trust drivers not to run over all the adults who cross the street downtown every day. And like I’ve said several times already, this intersection has lights. If drivers can’t be trusted to stop when the light is red, that’s also a sign that something is very, very wrong (and honestly, a driver who isn’t going to stop for a red light probably isn’t going to stop because some lady is standing in the crosswalk holding a plastic stop sign either). And finally, I am willing to listen to arguments in favor of the crossing guard being there, but there is absolutely no reason whatsoever why she should have gone out in the intersection to cross two adult women. That is where I absolutely draw the line. Period. No exceptions. Ever.

--Melissa J.

Banned Book Week

It's Banned Book Week. Read banned books. For a list of banned/challenged books, go to It will give you a brief synopsis of the reasons the book was challenged. PLEASE READ ONE OF THESE BOOKS THIS WEEK, then post on our blog what book you read. No one should be told what to read. Intellectual freedom is essential.

I have a magnet on my refrigerator that says "Everything I Need to Know, I Learned from Reading Banned Books."

Ironically, and justly, most books that are challenged have higher sales figures than they did before the challenge. Ha! Take that you book banners.

My friend Ellen Hopkins wrote a fabulous poem for banned book week. See her blog for the whole thing: And then read her books.

Never was an act of subversiveness so delightful as reading a banned book!


Monday, September 28, 2009

addiction much?

you would think the people at subway would recognize me by now. I go in there at least once a week, sometimes more. (subway is too convenient). The same guys are always there as well. so either they do know me by now and they're just really good at pretending or they're too thick to realize the same girl walks into their store far too often. I always order the same thing too, so it would make things a lot easier if they knew me cuz then they could just make my sandwich and get me my cookie. (by the way the sandwich i order is about the most boring thing you could imagine.)

It reminds of the snow cone shack. Over the summer's there is this snow cone place not too far from my house. Considering how hot it gets, snow cones are extremely appetizing. And sugery. very very sugery. yum. So over the summer i would go down there a lot and order the same thing. I swear the guy who works there thought i was stalking him or something, because i'd always go alone. I'd never bring anyone with me. Now the same thing is happening with subway. Great....

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Teenagers X 3

So today my youngest child became a teenager. I was relieved to find him very much the same as always. I've been freaking out over this milestone. I mean, Peter has always been my baby, my little boy, the one who likes to cuddle before bed, the little brother. This year he started junior high, and now he's a teenager. But you know what, now that the moment has arrived, I'm good with it.

Like any good teenage boy, most of Peter's presents were of the electronic genre. And I'm good with that too. I limited my children's electronics in their early lives. I did allow TV, and educational computer games. But I wouldn't allow televisions in their rooms, or computers. They recently got computers, rationalized as "for school," which is like saying the TV is for work. As the years have gone on, I've allowed more electronics, and they seem to handle limiting themselves pretty well. They still do plenty of reading, writing, and a host of other things.

I find it really fascinating, in fact, the variety of interests my children have. But there are two basic similarities: music and books. Melissa is a choir nut, including bell choir. Emily loves piano and frequently composes pieces for piano. Peter is a drummer and is also in a boys choir. As for books, their tastes vary hugely, but they all love books. And they all love to write.

Okay, movies would be another common interest, although it gets a little tricky finding a movie everyone wants to go see together. So we tend to go in pairs or three of us at most.

This is turning into a rather rambling post. But I meant it to reflect how I feel about my children growing up. They have turned out to be people I very much like to hang out with. That has always been my hope, that they would grow up to be the sort of people I would want to be friends with. They have taught me an infinite load of wisdom that I desperately needed to learn. They have made me a better person. It sounds so cliche, but it really is true. I owe them so much of who I am. I hope I can continue to be blessed to learn from them for many, many more years.

This does not preclude moments when I want to throttle them senseless. But the fact that I haven't (yet) indicates just how much they have taught me. Patience, for starters. My poor mother tried to teach me patience all during my formative years. She'd say, "Patience dear." I hated that. I didn't learn real patience until these three challenging persons entered my life. They've taught me, too, about true acceptance. I have had to force myself, even in those times when I so vehemently didn't want to, to allow my children to be their own persons, to acknowledge their ownership of their own lives. I suppose deep down most of us somewhere inside of ourselves wish our children would be little clones of ourselves. Wouldn't that be so affirming? I suppose it would also be tremendously boring. I accept each one of them for who they are and what they want for themselves. It's going to be exciting and probably quite entertaining to watch as they enter adulthood and try those things on.

Thirteen years ago, at this hour of the evening, I held my baby boy and rested in my bed at home. I felt so strong and capable--he was 10 lb., 10 oz. at birth. We joked that he was two months old at birth. He is now a delightful young man who loves band, chess, boy scouts, backugan (don't ask), baseball, school, grossing out his sisters, building and tearing apart things, cooking, riding his bike, playing with his dogs, and playing games on his new Nintendo DSi, the Wii, and his computer. Happy Birthday, Peter.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

this week is homecoming week (ug)

To show just how much school spirit i have, this is what happened on tuesday. On homecoming week or any other spirit filled week my school likes to create crazy dress up days. I never dress up. But my friend molly does. Tuesday was jersey day. So i walk up to her at break.

"Where's your jersey?" She asked.

i take a second to remind myself why this question makes sense. After i remember it's homecoming week i say, "I do not participate in homecoming activities."

"But it's senior year!" Molly gets excited about the weirdest things.

Then yesterday was western day or some other such nonsense, which means they also have to make it hat day so we can wear hats. Why they have to do both i don't know. But wait! it gets better. Today's theme was....where the wild things are. the same theme the dance is. How very creative. Tomorrow is red and white day (our school colors). but wait!! it gets even better!!! i swear i don't understand how our principle thinks.

This must have been what went through his mind: we're going to cut classes short on friday to have a pep assembly. But we're not going to do the smart thing. We're going to have it after lunch so half the students can go home first.

Great idea Mr. Anderson. (no i'm dead serious, they really do want kids to not go to the assembly).

Now naturally, i wouldn't even consider going to homecoming. The last dance i went to was homecoming sophmore year, and then i had a date (great story that goes along with that, remind me to tell it sometime). Yes folks, that's right. i didn't go to prom.


Okay, so again, i wasn't planning on going to homecoming. I don't have a dress or any desire to go. The only way i would go would be if a certain guy asked me out. Well, he's a little slow on the uptake so has no idea i like him, so, that would be a no. So, no, until today, thursday, (homecoming is on saturday) i wasn't planning on going to homecoming at all. But of course all my friends have to ruin it. They're going. All of them. yes, that's right. Even Brian, even andrew, and possibly even elliot. All three of them Capital kids. Oh won't that be interesting. All three of them together could beat up my entire school if they wanted to.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Latest Books

In case you haven't heard, known us before, or are otherwise not in the loop, we are a book-loving family. A serious book-loving family. No, really. Almost every wall in our house is lined with bookcases. When we go on vacation, about the first thing we do wherever we stop is find the bookstore. (I'll write more about the various bookstores in another post. If I forget, remind me.) You don't even want to know how much we spend on books in a year. I don't even want to know. And we read these books; we don't just buy them. So at any given time, most of our family members have multiple books in their stack of "currently reading."

Now, because I write young adult novels, I tend to read a lot of YA novels, but I also read a hefty number of non-fiction works as well as a variety of middle grade as well as adult novels. So from time to time, I will be posting about my latest reads.

Recently, I finished my friend Sydney Salter's latest release, Jungle Crossing. This is a cleverly written book in which a family with two daughters travels to Mexico for vacation. Kat is the narrator. She's going into 8th grade, and she is burdened with the most annoying little sister on the planet, Barb. They get trucked off to a daily excursion while their parents suck up the luxury at the hotel. They are guided by a couple of local guys, and one of them starts telling Barb a Mayan story. The novel goes back and forth between what's actually happening in the present and the story of the Mayan girl, Muluc. Muluc is an elite class, but is captured and sold as a slave for a while. She learns to treat others in a more compassionate manner, and that is sort of what Kat learns too during the book. She's been obsessed with her popular friends back home, but by the end of the book, she realizes that the way they treat others is plain mean. It's a delightful book. Great job, Sydney.

Before that, I read another friend, Ellen Hopkins' book Identical. I hadn't read it yet, and my oldest, Melissa, was hogging Ellen's newest book, Tricks, so I had to have my Ellen Hopkins fix. If you haven't read any of Ellen's books, then you need to get out there and try them. They are told in the most delicious verse, with crafty poems within poems. She deals with difficult subjects in an honest and straightforward way. It you don't like that, then don't read them. But if you can put aside any self-righteous ideas that kids don't do these things and realize that they sure as hell do, then you might enjoy this author. She is a master at her craft, and worth reading even if the subject matter bothers you. So, Identical is told from the viewpoint of two identical twins. Their lives are messed up like you wouldn't believe. There is incest, drug and alcohol use, abandonment, attempted suicide, and sexual Russian roulette. In the end, you find out the twist that you were not expecting, and it all makes sense. The end is also hopeful and uplifting.

Right now I'm reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle about a year of changing a family's way of understanding and enjoying food. So far it's excellent. I recently saw the movie "Food Inc." and it follows a similar message.

I'm sure the other Jensen girls will post about all the books they love, too. It's a different set than mine, at least partially.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I'm only posting this to avoid my homework

I can't wait until i get to college physics classes. The people there won't know what hit them. I'm currently in AP physics C. For those of you that don't know what it means, i'm effectively in my second year of college physics. In one year i'll be sitting in a physics lecture at who knows what university. I can see it now. Of course, no teacher i ever have will be as great as Bellomy. There isn't a more effective teacher than him. It's thanks to him that a good chunk of us will enter the world thinking all things go faster than 30 m/s. My physics friend paul described it perfectly.

"We'll be sitting in college working on some physics problem and then suddenyl, oh it's motorcycle riding pig problem."

There's also the robert Bellomy school of driving problems, and long drop sudden stop problems, and infamous chicken river problem. The poor B students couldn't figure out the chicken river problem this year. But i have to give them credit, the did come up with the ameoba-moose. I find this much more creative than the zombie chicken we came up with last year.

Yes this is Bellomy's physics class. There are giant bears dropping from space, and baby ignats sliding down hills, Bellomy himself being shot out of cannons, or in the case of today, catapulted onto ledges, there are soccer players that drive you nuts, and zeros are your friend while friction is the devil.

well i think we might have a physics test tomorrow, so i'm going to go study now.

All Righty Then

Well, hello there.

1. I did not know I was supposed to be one of the authors of this new blog.

2. No one is reading this.

3. Quirky is a dead word. Everyone in L.A. said so.

4. "Very Good" in Latin would be something along the lines of "multa bona," but I'd have to dig out my dictionary to be sure.

Okay, let's write a post then.

I don't like current popular music. I just don't. Occasionally I'll turn to a top 40 radio station and it gives me a headache and makes me plug my ears and scream. I don't like hip-hop, I don't like rap, I don't like American Idol-esque pop singers, I don't like screamo. I just don't like any of it.

What I do like:

The Clancy Brothers
The Kingston Trio
Early American Folk Music
Irish Dance Music
Ella Fitzgerald
Christian Rock

I do have a few CDs by bands that are actually still alive and making music, but even those aren't exactly what you'd hear on the radio or at your average high school dance.

I don't know how to explain this fascination with obscure music. I really don't. Put on some the latest album by some big pop singer (I can't even come up with a name, that's how out of that loop I am) and I want to go wrap up in my fuzzy pink blanket and hide for awhile. But give me the Boston Camerata CD of Revolutionary War era songs, and I'm good. I don't get it. It's just the way I am.

There you go.

--Melissa J.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Dropping Like Flies

It is a bad year for house flies. I don't know what it is. The unusually cool summer temperatures that rarely rose above 100 degrees? Global warming? A leak in the housing armor? Not sure. But we have tons of flies all around the house. In the past two days we have purchased four fly swatters and even those funny fly-catching "ribbons" as they are euphemistically called. I call them ugly and sticky. We now have four of those placed strategically around the house. We are at WAR.

(Sorry. Had to pause a second to kill another one.)

I don't know why I bring up the house fly situation, because it will go away eventually. Winter will come. And they'll die. (Ha! Sweet revenge.) But right now, they are driving us all crazy. Really. I think I may have to be taken away by men in white coats.

So here are a few other things that drive me crazy. (Now you see where I'm going with this.)

Emily just told me about a friend's recent twitter. He was appalled, rightly so, that his English teacher (grade 12) kept referring to Robert Frost's "Road Less Traveled" as a short story!!! A short story. Even the students knew it was a POEM. Hello! Now, I can understand a slip of the tongue once, maybe twice. But apparently this teacher continually refers to it as a short story. Yikes. And here's the rub. This person is employed as a teacher. I have been trying to get hired to teach secondary English for approximately six months now, and nada. How is this fair, I ask you? I could teach circles around this other person--with my eyes closed. Hello Boise School District, are you listening?

Okay, next. Does it ever feel like your belongings, house, car, etc. are falling apart faster than you can keep them maintained? It does to me. Just when I think all major appliances and household goods are repaired, five more break. Recently, our garage door opener broke down, which isn't such a surprise, as it was at least 20 years old. So you can't blame it. But at the same time, one of our cars needed an alternator replaced. This all happened about the same time we had to go back to school shopping. Hello, MoneyTree? We still have furniture that our dogs chewed on when they were puppies (they're now 3 years old) that still needs repair. Our stairway has been barren of carpet for over a year. Now, this is a factor of husband-neglect, which could take up several posts alone, so we won't dwell on that. The garage has needed painting for at least five years. And I finally am doing it myself after many attempts to entice the children with large sums of money. I have one side done. You get the picture. We are living in a constant state of entropy. I think, like chaos (see previous post), that is another natural state of the universe.

So are the flies, but I'm not going to let them win!

Have a great day.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Describing Our Life: Not Organized

Today I took Emily to the chiropractor. She's been going there for about six months or so. I really like these folks. They figured out quite early on that we are a forgetful group, and they seem to have other clients like this, because they have it set up to send an email reminder the day before the next appointment. I said that is great, and Emily interjected that yes, we would call our lives unorganized.

I bring that up because with the beginning of a new school year, you always see those articles in the newspaper and parenting magazines on "how to organize your kids, all their papers they bring home, and all the shoes, jackets, backpacks, and other junk." As if we can't figure this out for ourselves. Come on. Write something we can really use like "Ten Ways to Avoid Making Lunches." Or "The Lazy Mom's Guide to Alarm Clocks."

I mean, really. I read an article last week about how you should make school lunches the night before to avoid the mad rush in the morning. Wow--that's news to me! No one's ever written about THAT before. Sheesh. How original. (Okay, did I mention, sarcasm is my second language?)

My main point about this--well really I have two main points. First, don't these writers realize that evenings have their own set of chaotic issues, so it's not really less harried to make a lunch at night than in the morning? Do they HAVE kids? Really.

Second, and more importantly in my mind, kids should be making their own lunches--or learn to eat the school lunch.

The reason I say this is that I'm the laziest mom in the world. I'm pretty sure of that, although I'm too lazy to do any research to verify it. My kids have eaten school lunch since early on--mostly because they don't really feel like making their own lame sandwiches. I'm not about to get up and make lame sandwiches for them, so it's up to them. They haven't starved even one day in their lives. (Granted, school lunches are a lot better than when I was growing up.)

And I resent the idea that if I'm not organized or don't make lunches for my kids that I somehow don't measure up. My kids are the smartest ones in their classes. (Okay, I haven't researched that either, but let's just go with it.) They grow, they have energy, they have friends. Very important: they don't get in trouble with drugs, alcohol, or other stuff we don't want them to do. I won't go into details. You know what I mean.

And why is that? Even though I'm the laziest mom in the world, I am by far the most approachable and a great listener. My children can--and do--talk to me about anything. ANYTHING. And they know it.

But really, the way I look at it, I'm the best mom in the world. My hands-off approach has worked well. My kids all do their own laundry and have since about age 9 or so. They can manage to feed themselves if they don't like what I prepare for dinner--which I only do because I want dinner. They never like what I make, so I learned long ago not to sweat it--they can make their own.

I'm raising self-sufficient beings who can manage on their own. They won't be the ones at college who have never seen the working end of a washing machine or who can't make it to class on time unless their mom texts them a wake-up call. Melissa's freshman year roommate's mom, on the other hand, just told her to send all her clothes to the dry cleaners so she didn't have to worry about washing them. As if tuition isn't expensive enough!

So this is just to say that our life is not organized. We, or at least I, tend to go with the flow. Work with what I've got.

That means if you visit us at home, there might still be boxes stacked in the dining room that were there several months ago because we haven't gotten around to putting them away yet. Or that there might be as much dog hair on the floor as on the dogs. (Sorry--here's the lint roller.) Or the luggage from our last trip is still sitting in the hall. On the other hand, we're probably having a grand rousing game of Trivial Pursuit, reading a book, or writing one of several books. It may be unorganized, but you know--chaos is the natural state of the universe.

Entering the Blog Highway

Tres Bien. That's French for "good." Or even "very good." Maybe we're a little over confident. We hope this blog will be good reading. The premise is that we are three women occupying the same residence and the same planet, yet we see the world through vastly different eyes. Hopefully, this makes for lively discussion, interesting viewpoints, and maybe enough food for thought that you won't starve.

I'll leave it to Melissa to translate very good into Latin. That's her language. Have you heard the saying "The only good language is a dead language"? That's Melissa's motto.

I'm kind of a luddite for English myself. Although I took four terms of French at Carleton College and they told me I was proficient. Of course, that was 25 years ago. I can still make it out from time to time. Emily's in French now, so I'm getting a refresher course.

So I will comment on a great many things in this blog. Speaking for myself, the things I'll talk about with some frequency are my writing, other writers, books I love, maybe even some tips for beginning writers. Of course, my kids and family, the books we love, music--a love which the three of us share, our three dogs, the crazy guinea pig, education, ideas, health care reform, taxes, death, flowers, you name it.

Welcome to the blog. And now for something completely different, as they used to say on Monty Python's Flying Circus. (Yes, there will be many references to them, to Bill Cosby jokes, to oddities like Faulty Towers, etc. You will have to keep up.)