Thursday, August 31, 2006

Back to the Good Old Days

There was a book I loved about a nice old man who owned the corner ice cream shop. He would always weigh out nuts and candy for his customer and then add a few more in, just to be nice. He would always scoop a small scoop of ice cream inside the cone, then put a bigger scoop, with ruffly edges on top of the cone.

One day the old man got sick. His nephew, who knew all about new fangled business practices, came to take over. He would carefully weigh out nuts and candy, but would take a few away as he poured them in a bag. He would scoop a small scoop of ice cream inside the cone, then hand it to the waiting customer without adding the bigger scoop with the ruffly edges.

Business at the shop got worse and the young man couldn't understand it until his uncle explained about taking care of the customer. The nephew changed his business practices and sales picked up.

Unfortunately, business in America has not followed this trend. I'm so tired of going into the big box stores who never have what I'm looking for. I went to two huge national chain stores this week looking for help changing the tint of some paint I have. I didn't even find anyone who would try to help me.

So, I headed to the neighborhood hardware store, where I met Rob. As if he didn't have anything better to do, he listened to my question. He then took the time to match the color of paint I already have, then look up how to change it to the shade I want. He probably spent half an hour mixing pigments and testing to see if he'd reached the right shade. He even pulled out a hair dryer to dry the sample and show us what color it was.

Total cost: $1

Discovering a bit of small town America in the middle of strip-mall-land: Priceless

Wednesday, August 30, 2006


You know those puzzles where all the pieces fit together until you dump them out on the table and try to put them back in again?

That's what just happened to my living room.

3 lamps.

3 chairs.

A futon.

A piano.

A dog bed.

2 violins.

A harp.

And two trunks. All fit perfectly in place until I decided it was time to rearrange the furniture.

I needed help moving the piano, so once it was in its new spot and my husband left for work, I was stuck with that decision. Picture the tanagram with one piece glued down, whether it's in the right place or not. Now picture having to move the remaining pieces around it without going outside the lines.

Twenty tries later, I finally solved the puzzle. (Is it considered solved if you throw two pieces out in the process?)

Monday, August 28, 2006

"We stopped counting at 3000..."

Aleda Mae Hubbell

The funeral chapel was full yesterday as young and old paid their respects to Aleda Mae. Though she was housebound for the last 15 years of her life, she never lost touch with all of us.

Aleda Mae was probably best know for her crocheted kitchen towels. When Gene asked for a show of hands of how many mourners had received towels from Aleda Mae, every hand in the chapel went up. Her towels went out, with her prayers and love, all over North America, and into Africa, China, and Eastern Europe. The family stopped counting how many she made when she reached 3000.

I know for a fact that several dozen grace the prized kitchen collections of many Togolese women.

I loved Aleda Mae. She had a touch of mischief in her to let us all know she was human, otherwise we would have knighted her "angel" years ago. Birthday and anniversary cards, crocheted baby blankets, home-cooked meals around her table, and-- of course-- piles of kitchen towels, poured from her generous hands to me.

I hope to learn from her how not to die until I'm dead or, in other words, how to live and keep on living until I live forever.

I'll miss you Aleda Mae. Could you make some kitchen towels for me to go in my mansion over the hilltop? I think I'd like them in azure blue.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Market Day, le Jour du Marché, Asigbe

Around the world, in villages and cities, on every continent, people congregate at outdoor markets to sample, socialize, and stock up. Each market has its own flavor, its own specialty. Each offers a symphony of sounds, tastes and smells that combine into a colorful composition. Wherever you are, you can reconnect with the land and the people by spending a morning at the market.

Albertville, France
Honey made only from raspberry blossoms, cheese from cows who dine only on alpine clover in the Savoie region, old men in berets who carry on the traditions of many generations.

Tabligbo, Togo
Dried fish wrapped in cardboard, colorful fabrics, juicy fresh pineapple, voodoo dolls, pedal-powered machete sharpeners, shouts and echoes of "Yovo!"

Kampala, Uganda
Tourist trinkets-- carved animals, baskets, soapstone carvings.

Caracas, Venezuela
China town. A blend of Spanish and Chinese, but no English. Long green gourds, fresh fish slapped out on tables, chopsticks by the hundreds.

Seattle, Washington
Incense, flying fish, a wall covered with ABC gum. Face painters, antique books, market spice tea.

Albuquerque, New Mexico
Propane fires roaring across rotating wire drums filled with fresh green chilis, blackened chili skins flake to the ground leaving soft, smokey flavor-packed pods.

Nairobi, Kenya
Ramshackle kiosks, pineapple and bananas, chocolate Milo, tomato can lamps, vervet monkeys begging for scraps.

Bucharest, Romania
Pan flutes, tomatoes, porcelain tea pots. Red and white table runners, flies on butchered beef.

Maragarita Island
Rainbow painted parrots, woven grass hats, absent vendors, pouring rain.

Portland, Oregon
Headgear formed from kitchen utensils, soup stands to feed the homeless, elephant ears and pad thai, hand-turned pottery, buskers and bridges.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

At an intergalactic bar in the Delta Quadrant

Bartender: Wow, you look like you've had a rough day. Can I get you something to drink?

Sphere: A rough week, actually. I'll have a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster. Make it a double.

Bartender (mixing the drink): What happened, man?

Sphere: I got demoted. You'd think 76 years on the job would give me seniority, but NO!

Bartender: You can always get another gig, can't you?

Sphere: You don't even recognize me, do you? (Sphere starts to cry)

Bartender (hands over a cocktail napkin. Sphere wipes his face on it): Um, I know I've seen you before, but I can't place your name.

Sphere: It's PLUTO! Pluto. I used to be a planet, but now... now I'm just a dwarf.

Bartender: That stinks. Well, look at the bright side-- at least now you can be king of the dwarves!

Pluto (bursting into tears): Oh, the humility of it all! No, I can't even be king of the dwarves. Turns out they gave that position to 2003 UB313-- Xena. Whaa-a-a! If they melted off all her ice, she'd be way smaller than me.

Bartender (patting Pluto's shoulder): There, there. That's the same argument Texas has used for years, but Alaska is still the biggest state. I'm afraid you'll just have to get used to your new position.

Pluto: Solar system restructuring stinks. Get me another drink.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Abiding Darkness: Author Interview and Book Review

Abiding Darkness: The Black or White Chronicles, Book One
A Book Review
Summers were most reliable.
They always followed spring. They always got hot. And they always promised twelve weeks of pleasure to the three children at Cat Lake.
The summer of '45 lied.
This promising beginning to Abiding Darkness by John Aubrey Anderson hooked me into reading more. Another hook at the end of the first chapter propelled me into the second. But a few well-turned teasers were not enough to hold my interest.
Life in Mississippi in the 1940's was frought with racial tension. Anderson explores this struggle through the life-like voices of his characters. Add on top of that a group of demons intent on bringing about chaos through the destruction of Missy, the golden child of the town, and you've got a story with a lot of potential.
Unfortunately, I didn't see Anderson carry through on that potential. He didn't make me love Missy the way the people of Cat Lake did, so while I could never root for the demons, I also didn't find myself rooting for the little girl, either. I found his action scenes confusing, with too many points of view for me to engage myself in the struggles of any one character.
Anderson has a way with words. He does a great job of making his characters speak like real people, of giving each a distinct voice. I also like the fact that he is exploring supernatural forces in his writing. So, while I can't recommend Abiding Darkness, I will keep my eyes open for later works by this same author. I think he has the potential to write a thrilling yet satisfying read.

Author of Abiding Darkness

(provided by Glass Road PR)

Why did you choose to write in this particular time period?

It's almost as if the series started of its own accord. It chose the 1940s because it was such a special time…it picked the Mississippi Delta of the 1940s because it was a special place. The value system was different back then. People moved at a slower pace over shorter distances and information exchange was limited. The communities were smaller; the people were closer and more involved in each others lives. Also, the people of that day didn't have to be strange to be colorful.

Did you draw from personal experiences to write this novel?

Oh, yes. The adventures and exploits that made up my childhood would provoke the envy of Tom Sawyer, but sharing a small part of them would take more words than I used in the novel. Just think ideal…then add boys, dogs, and energy.

The characters seem very real. Where did you pick up the voices for these people?

I grew up with the people in Abiding Darkness. Granted, some of the characters are compilations of people I've known—half of one person and part of another. For the most part, all I had to do was just tweak them a little, maybe boost the octane in their blood a bit. As soon as I figured out who the characters were, the rest was easy…I let them use the voices they'd used all their lives.
Your book's depiction of demonic thought and activity is often frightening. How have your readers reacted to the book’s intensity?

I appreciate your comment about Abiding Darkness being frightening. When I started this project, I really wanted a fiction work that would steal its reader's sleep—and I got it. I frequently receive reports from people, men and women alike, who have found they can’t read the book at night. Some readers say they won’t read it when they're home alone, others tell me they can only read a page or two at a time, and a final handful talk about becoming so frightened they have to put it aside…all because they are scared of what might happen next. On the other side of that coin are the reports from people who've stayed up all night reading because they couldn't put the book down. The response has been more than gratifying.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Made Up Words

I love the way words feel as they tumble around in my mind. A well-written phrase brings more pleasure than a piece of chocolate-- honest. The transience of language intrigues me, the way words morph and grow to reflect a changing culture.

Here are a couple of words that might find their way into our dictionary some day.

truthiness: n. This word coined by Stephen Colbert refers to a person who feels the truth about something in his gut and isn't bothered by facts or logic to the contrary. If something feels truthy, it is truthy.

writerliness: n. Writerliness (term first used by Sol Stein) is the substance of writing that makes it a pleasure to read. Literary turns of phrase that captivate the reader are writerly.

smunch, squwitch, splot, kachink: Words that imitate sounds are great, like the sound an apple makes when you step on it (pahsquit) or the sound of a moth butting up against a window (whrthwick).

Do you have any favorite new words?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

A Losing Battle

How many movies have made fun of the intrepid gardener taking on greedy critters-- moles, squirrels, deer, ants, squirrels, raccoons, mice, squirrels-- did I mention squirrels? How many times does the gardener win the battle. Hmm.


At my last house, raccoons and deer were the enemy. Especially the coons that would climb up onto our second story deck, pick each almost ripe tomato, take one bite and toss the rest, uneaten, to the ground.

Here, it's the squirrels. We have the most lovely walnut tree, limbs heavy with nuts, but not for long. Apparently our tree serves as a u-pick center for the entire metropolitan area. I kid you not, I was driving home the other day and had to stop 2 blocks away to let a squirrel cross the road, a round green nut from MY tree in its little mouth.

I resist the urge to run out and yell at them because of a theory I have. I believe that squirrels get a kick out of training people to do crazy things. I can just imagine them at Dad's house, whispering to each other.

Squirrel 1: "Stay back here by the bird bath. I've got to show you this trick."
Squirrel 2: "Over here? Do I need to hide or anything?"
Squirrel 1: "Nah. The more of us he sees, the better."

Squirrel 1 then proceeds to climb the bird feeder and help himself to two cheeks full of sunflower seeds. Dad jumps to the window, waving his arms and yelling. He flips the window handle to make more noise. Squirrel 1 cocks his head with a twinkle in his eye and scurries back to his friend's side.

Squirrel 2: "That was pretty good. How long did it take you to train him?"
Squirrel 1: "Not long, but you have to use intermittent reinforcement to get increasing reactions."

I'm afraid of what I might resort to if I started reacting. Doesn't the gardener in the movies usually end up in a straightjacket while the intruding rodent sits back in a lawn chair and sips lemonade?

Friday, August 18, 2006

fragrant offerings

Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel's hand.
Revelation 8:3-4 (NIV)

We are a fragrant offering, the aroma of Christ to those who are saved and those who are perishing. Our prayers waft up to God on the wings of wisps of an angel's offering.

Fresh tomatoes on the vine.

Melting chocolate.

Rubbed lavender.

Fresh gardenias.

Simmering spices.

All the best fragrances were created by God, yet it is the aroma of a life of praise that smells the sweetest to the master and creator of all.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Tunnel Vision

If a project is complex enough to hold my interest, I tend to get tunnel vision. I set aside all other responsibilities until said project is accomplished. That's why I haven't written much this week. I haven't returned emails and I certainly haven't done any house cleaning.

Wall #1 of the 11-year olds' bedroom is complete. I asked for a couple of days off before starting the next wall, which will sport a space scene.

This is my first full-size wall mural. I've done stenciling before and, back in the day, I worked on set backdrops for school plays. It's not a masterpiece by any means, but it was fun to see a task come together in just a few days.

If only I could write a novel so quickly.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

No Relation

Before I was capable of conscious thought, Jessie posthumously entered my life. She came in the form of photos, journals, fancy dishes, and Indian baskets. She came in the form of stories. She came in the light in Mom's eyes as she told visitors about acquiring Jessie's trunk from an Alaska State auction. I thought she was a distant relative, and was a bit disappointed to find that she was neither aunt nor grandmother, merely a fascinating lady with a fascinating story.

Jessie was born to a wealthy British family. She traveled with her father and mother in the early twentieth century to the Yukon territory and then into Alaska. Their trip came to a sudden and permanent halt on receipt of a telegram from England.

The world is at war. Funds inaccessible.

Mom has talked about writing down Jessie's story for years. For the past 2 years, she has been consumed by the task. A trip to Eagle, Internet research that has introduced her to new friends in Alaska, Arizona, and England, will soon reap their rewards.

Thanks to all of you who offered your input for the book cover. While I wish we could have featured the lady on the car's running board, unfortunately, it turns out that is not a picture of Jessie. So, taking that fact and so many opinions into account, I am pleased to present the (possibly) final cover for Mom's book. We hope to see it in print very soon.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

electric blue and innocence

Electric Blue and Innocence-- they're not retro disco bands. They're the colors I am boldly splashing on walls. I've decided to take a short hiatus from writing this week in order to direct my creative energies elsewhere...

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Store-bought Sludge

There's a filtration system in existance that I never noticed before I had kids. It's a sort of sifting that takes places in their bedrooms, in their drawers and toy boxes. And it works like this:

1)Everything they bring home goes into the giant tossed salad on their floor-- books, clothes, stuffed animals, Sunday school papers, crayons, Polly Pocket accessories-- everything.

2) I look in their room and say something like, "How can you live like this? It's disgusting. Clean it up." They counter with, "Do we have to really clean it or just the big stuff?" To which I normally reply, "Just do a quick cleaning so you can walk across the floor."* This begins the filtration process.

3) As toys, large and small, are tossed in baskets, bins and boxes, the biggest things stay on top while the small pieces find their way down through cracks to the bottom. Scraps of paper, pony tail holders, shoes and pen lids find their way under the bed. Barbie clothes climb, of their own free will, into the sock drawer.

4)Things begin to hide in plain site. Yesterday one of the twins spent hours looking for a paint set that was sitting on her shelf.

5) Clean up day-- We scrape the top layer of the toys aside and look at what is underneath. Most of what filters to the bottom of the box is either misplaced or unloved. In our cleaning adventure this week, we hauled 3 heaping laundry baskets of store-bought sludge to the garage for donation. 2 grocery bags full went out with the garbage this morning and one basket is full of treasures that need to go in storage (handmade baby dolls, baby blankets, outgrown favorite toys and clothes)

6) Stay tuned to see what we're going to do to jazz up the now clean room.

*Their last "quick cleaning took 7 hours and was back to its original cluttered state in less than a day, which prompted the thorough cleaning this week.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Imago Dei

One of the marks of the post-modern generation is that its members are searching for authenticity. They've had it with hypocrisy, with parents and teachers who tell them to act a certain way and then do the opposite. They've lost respect for authority because authority tends to say, "do what I say and don't ask questions."

The church has largely ignored the post-moderns because, after all, if they don't want to be told what to do, they certainly aren't looking for what God has to offer. Or, to be fair, perhaps we just don't know how to connect with them. Their loosy-goosy morality frightens us. When they ask questions, they aren't really looking for answers, so we shy away. The irony is that what God has to offer is exactly what they are looking for-- authentic life, real relationships, complete honesty.

On Sunday, we visited Imago Dei, a church less than a decade old which has successfully connected with this new generation. I don't know what "denomination" they belong to, but I suspect they would say that they're not into drawing lines, that life is complicated enough without erecting artificial border fences. I don't know what their stand is on all my favorite issues, but I do know that the words that came out of the preacher's mouth were pure gospel truth.

I'm also not saying I'm jumping ship at my church. I just think we have a lot to learn about connecting with people where they are and I'm interested in learning anything I can about bringing Christ to different cultures, whether next door or abroad.

Imago Dei and a few other churches in the area are deploying over a thousand Christians this weekend to reclaim run-down areas of town, restore them to their intended beauty, and name them sacred spaces, dedicated to God and his kingdom. I love this idea of claiming territory for God, and doing it alongside Christ followers, city workers, homeless bums, troubled teens, and landscape professionals.

How can Jesus not smile on that?

This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
James 1:27 (NASB)

Monday, August 07, 2006

Boiled Frogs

Edwin says we're like frogs in a pot of boiling water in regard to gas prices. The prices go up, up, slowly up. When they drop a few cents, we sigh with relief and brace ourselves for the next big hit.

Well, brace yourself, 'cause the prices are going up again. Corrosion in the pipeline at Prudhoe Bay has shut down the Alaskan Pipeline, supplier of 8% of America's crude oil. If you're interested in the whole story, check out CNN, or just wait. You'll probably be bombarded with this story on local and national news throughout the day.

The pipeline was big news in a Alaska when I was a child. Men moved north for months to work on building the 800-mile long tube. It brought hope and riches to our great state. I remember standing by a cross-section of the pipe in the State Museum in Juneau (nowhere near the pipeline) and marveling at its size. I remember standing beside the long tube and thinking that it didn't seem quite as huge in person, just really long. And I remember looking at it from the air and noting what a tiny vessel it is against the vast Alaskan frontier.

The feats of man, incredible though they are, pale in comparison to God's wonders. The pipeline was built in my living memory and it's already corroding away. It will take some shoring up, some cleaning and scouring to get it back on track. Meanwhile, the caribou still graze alongside it. Denali still looms over it. Mosquitoes still butt against it.

And we sit in our nice warm bath of water, barely noticing the temperature change.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Another Vote

Thanks to all of you who left feedback about the book cover. We will be working up another cover design taking your comments into account and I'll share the new cover when it's ready.

I have the opportunity, as a Christian writer, to pass along free books to my blog readers. I've had several book reviews come across my desk that I have not posted because of some high-falutin' idea that to advertise books would somehow compromise the integrity of my blog. But this week, I read a description of a book that intrigues me so I asked for a free copy.

When I receive the book, what should I do with it? The choice is (sort of) yours. Cast your vote to let me know what you prefer.

A. I should post interviews to this blog and let you, the readers, have a chance to win a free book by commenting.

B. I should post book reviews on this blog and forget about letting you win the free copy.

C. I should start another blog just for posting interviews and book reviews.

D. I should forget the whole idea and just keep doing what I've been doing.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Life's a Journey. Enjoy the Ride

Camp Irondyke, Eastern Oregon

The thirsty ground baked to powdery dust in the scorching July sun. Twigs and branches crackled underfoot, ready to lap up any offering, whether fire or water. Smoke from nearby fires rose in giant grey plumes on the horizon. And God's people bathed in soothing streams of living water.

Fellowship with friends, old and new, and with family (also old and new) quenched a thirst I didn't know I had. In the middle of the week, we took some time off camp to visit Baker City and its Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. I could just picture the sunbonetted women trudging along beside the covered wagon, day after miserable day. They lived with fear of Indian attack, fear of Cholera and other deadly diseases, and hour after hour of crippling boredom.

I stood in the rut permanantly worn in the landscape by hundreds of thousands of wooden wheels, oxen hooves and tired feet. I imagine the sight of the Blue mountains up ahead broke many a spirit, but most pushed on... and on... and on.

Oregon Christian Writers, Canby Grove. Oregon

I stood in the midst of a crowd of writers (or should they be called a thesaurus of writers?), soaking in knowledge I thirsted to receive. While I appreciate all the advice on writing, publicity, agents, and marketability, what I longed for most, I received-- confirmation.

I wasn't looking for confirmation that my work is good or that I am somehow worthy to be a writer, though I did hear some of that. I wasn't looking for confirmation that I can help out with the family income by writing, though I would have liked to hear it.

What I did hear was, "Life's a journey, enjoy the ride." In other words, be faithful to what God called you to do and don't worry about whether you are successful in any worldly sense of the word. Use your talents and leave it to God whether he wants to use them for masses of people or for one specific soul. Let him grow you along the way and, always, give him the glory.